The Sātavāhana Empire
The Sātavāhana Empire or Andhra Empire, was a royal Indian dynasty based from Dharanikota and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh as well as Junnar (Pune) and Prathisthan (Paithan) in Maharashtra. The territory of the empire covered much of India from 230 BCE onward. Although there is some controversy about when the dynasty came to an end, the most liberal estimates suggest that it lasted about 450 years, until around 220 CE. The Satavahanas are credited for establishing peace in the country, resisting the onslaught of foreigners after the decline of Mauryan Empire.
Sātavāhanas started out as feudatories to the Mauryan dynasty, but declared independence with its decline. They are known for their patronage of Buddhism which resulted in Buddhist monuments from Ellora (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) to Amaravati. The Sātavāhanas were one of the first Indian state to issue coins struck with their rulers embossed. They formed a cultural bridge and played a vital role in trade as well as the transfer of ideas and culture to and from the Indo-Gangetic Plain to the southern tip of India.
They had to compete with the Sungas and then the Kanvas of Magadha to establish their rule. Later, they had to contend in protecting their domain from the incursions of Sakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas. In particular their struggles with the Western Kshatrapas weakened them and the empire split into smaller states.
In the Pūrānas and on their coins the dynasty is variously referred to as the Sātavāhanas or Sālavāhaṇa, Sātakarnīs, Andhras and Andhrabhrityas.A reference to the Sātavāhanas by the Greek traveler Megasthenes indicates that they possessed 100,000 infantry, 1,000 elephants, and had more than 30 well built fortified towns:
Next come the Andarae, a still more powerful race, which possesses numerous villages, and thirty towns defended by walls and towers, and which supplies its king with an army of 100,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 1,000 elephants.
The Sātavāhanas ruled a large and powerful empire that withstood the onslaughts from Central Asia. Aside from their military power, their commercialism and naval activity is evidenced by establishment of Indian colonies in Southeast Asia.
The Edicts of Ashoka mention the Sātavāhanas as feudatories of Emperor Ashoka. Fragment of the 6th Pillar Edicts of Ashoka (238 BCE), in Telugu (Brahmi), sandstone. British Museum.
The Sātavāhanas began as feudatories to the Mauryan Empire. They seem to have been under the control of Emperor Ashoka, who claims they were in his domain, and that he introduced Buddhism among them:
Here in the king’s domain among the Yavanas (Greeks), the Kambojas, the Nabhakas, the Nabhapamkits, the Bhojas, the Pitinikas, the Andhras and the Palidas, everywhere people are following Beloved-of-the-Gods’ instructions in Dhamma.
The Satavahanas declared independence some time after the death of Ashoka (232 BCE), as the Maurya Empire began to weaken.
It is believed that they were originally practicing Hindu religion (as per Sthala Purana of Amaravathi. Some rulers like Maharaja Satakarni are believed to have performed Vedic sacrifices as well.
They were not only worshipers of Vishnu and Shiva but also respected Buddha, but also other incarnations of, Gauri, Indra, the sun and moon.They were mostly Buddhistic Vaishnavites. Under their reign, Buddha had been worshiped as a form of Vishnu in Amaravati
Śātavāhana, Śālivāhana, Śātakarṇi seem to be Sanskritised versions of the aboriginal name Sātakaṇi and appears as Sālavāhaṇa in Prakrit vernacular then.
The Early Satavahanas ruled Andhra and present Telangana regions which was always their heartland. The Pūrānas list 30 Andhra rulers. Many are known from their coins and inscriptions as well.
Simuka (c.230–207 BCE)
After becoming independent around 230 BCE, Simuka, the founder of the dynasty, conquered Maharashtra, Malwa and part of Madhya Pradesh. He was succeeded by his brother Kanha (or Krishna) (r. 207–189 BCE), who further extended his state to the west and the south.
Satakarni (c.180–124 BCE)
Satavahana 1st century BCE coin inscribed in Brahmi: “(Sataka)Nisa”. British Museum. His successor Sātakarnī I was the sixth ruler of the Satavahana. He is said to have ruled for 56 years. Satakarni defeated the Sunga dynasty of North India by wresting Western Malwa from them, and performed several Vedic sacrifices at huge cost, including the horse sacrifice – Ashwamedha yajna. He also was in conflict with the Kalinga ruler Kharavela, who mentions him in the Hathigumpha inscription. According to the Yuga Purana he conquered Kalinga following the death of Kharavela. He extended Satavahana rule over Madhya Pradesh and pushed back the Sakas from Pataliputra (he is thought to be the Yuga Purana’s “Shata”, an abbreviation of the full name “Shri Sata” that occurs on coins from Ujjain), where he subsequently ruled for 10 years.
By this time the dynasty was well established, with its capital at Pratishthānapura (Paithan) in Maharashtra, and its power spreading into all of South India.
Kanva suzerainty (75–35 BCE)
Many small rulers succeeded Satakarni, such as Lambodara, Apilaka, Meghasvati and Kuntala Satakarni, who are thought to have been under the suzerainty of the Kanva dynasty. The Puranas (the Matsya Purana, the Vayu Purana, the Brahmanda Purana, the Vishnu Purana) all state that the first of the Andhra rulers rose to power in the 1st century BCE, by slaying Susarman, the last ruler of the Kanvas.This feat is usually thought to have been accomplished by Pulomavi (c. 30–6 BCE), who then ruled over Pataliputra.
Victory over the Shakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas
The 1st century CE saw another incursion of the Sakas of Central Asia into India, where they formed the dynasty of the Western Kshatrapas. The four immediate successors of Hāla (r. 20–24 CE) had short reigns totalling about a dozen years. During the reign of the Western Satrap Nahapana, the Satavahanas lost a considerable territory to the satraps, including eastern Malwa, Southern Gujarat, and Northern Konkan, from Broach to Sopara and the Nasik and Pune.
Gautamiputra Satakarni (78–106 CE)
Eventually Gautamiputra (Sri Yagna) Sātakarni (also known as Shalivahan) (r. 78–106 CE) defeated the Western Satrap ruler Nahapana, restoring the prestige of his dynasty by reconquering a large part of the former dominions of the Sātavāhanas. He was an ardent supporter of Buddhism.
According to the Nasik inscription made by his mother Gautami Balasri, he is the one…
…who crushed down the pride and conceit of the Kshatriyas (the native Indian princes, the Rajputs of Rajputana, Gujarat and Central India); who destroyed the Shakas (Western Kshatrapas), Yavanas (Indo-Greeks) and Pahlavas (Indo-Parthians),… who rooted the Khakharata family (The Kshaharata family of Nahapana); who restored the glory of the Satavahana race.
Gautamiputra Satakarni may also have defeated Sakas in 78 CE and started the calendar known as Shalivahana era or Shaka era, which is followed by the Gujarati, Marathi, Kannadiga and Telugu people and is the Indian national calendar. Earlier in 56 BCE, Vikramaditya king of Ujjain defeated Sakas and started Vikram Samvat era.
Gautamiputra Sātakarni’s son, Vashishtiputra Pulumāyi (r. 106–130 CE), succeeded him. Gautamiputra was the first Sātavāhana ruler to issue the portrait-type coinage, in a style derived from the Western Satraps.
Gautamiputra’s brother, Vashishtiputra Sātakarni, married the daughter of Rudradaman I of the Western Satraps dynasty. Around 150 CE, Rudradaman I, now his father-in-law, waged war against the Satavahanas, who were defeated twice in these conflicts. Vashishtiputra Satakarni was only spared his life because of his family links with Rudradaman:
“Rudradaman (…) who obtained good report because he, in spite of having twice in fair fight completely defeated Satakarni, the lord of Dakshinapatha, on account of the nearness of their connection did not destroy him.”
As a result of his victories, Rudradaman regained all the former territories previously held by Nahapana, except for the extreme south territories of Pune and Nasik.Satavahana dominions were limited to their original base in the Deccan and eastern central India around Amaravati. However, the last great king of this dynasty, Yajna Satakarni, defeated the Western Satraps and reconquered their southern regions in western and central India.During the reign of Sri Yajna Sātakarni (170–199 CE) the Sātavāhanas regained some prosperity, and some of his coins have been found in Saurashtra but around the middle of the 3rd century, the dynasty came to an end.
Decline of the Satavahanas
Four or five kings of Yajna Satakarni’s line succeeded him, and continued to rule till about the mid 200s CE. However, the dynasty was soon extinguished following the rise of its feudatories, perhaps on account of a decline in central power.
Several dynasties divided the lands of the kingdom among themselves. Among them were:
· Western Satraps in the northwestern part of the kingdom.
· Andhra Ikshvakus (or Srīparvatiyas) in the Krishna-Guntur region. (r. 220–320 CE).
· Abhiras in the western part of the kingdom. They were ultimately to succeed the Sātavāhanas in their capital Pratishthānapura.
· Chutus of Banavasi in North Karnataka.
· Kadambas of Banavasi in North Karnataka.
· Pallavas of Kanchipuram, of whom the first ruler was Simhavarman I (r. 275–300 CE).
Royal earrings, Andhra Pradesh, 1st Century BCE.
The Satavahanas are the first native Indian rulers to issue their own coins with portraits of their rulers, starting with king Gautamiputra Satakarni, a practice derived from that of the Western Satraps he defeated, itself originating with the Indo-Greek kings to the northwest.
Satavahana coins give unique indications as to their chronology, language, and even facial features (curly hair, long ears and strong lips). They issued mainly lead and copper coins; their portrait-style silver coins were usually struck over coins of the Western Kshatrapa kings.
The coin legends of the Satavahanas, in all areas and all periods, used a Prakrit dialect without exception. Some reverse coin legends are in Telugu language,which seems to have been in use in their heartland abutting the Godavari, Kotilingala, Karimnagar, Krishna, Amaravati, Guntur in Andhra Pradesh.
Their coins also display various traditional symbols, such as elephants, lions, horses and chaityas (stupas), as well as the “Ujjain symbol”, a cross with four circles at the end. The legendary Ujjayini Emperor Vikramditiya on whose name the Vikram Samvat is initiated might be Satakarni II a Satavahana emperor as the Ujjayini symbol also appeared on the Satavahana coins.
An aniconic representation of Mara’s assault on the Buddha, 2nd century, Amaravati.
Of the Sātavāhana kings, Hāla (r. 20–24 CE) is famous for compiling the collection of Maharashtri poems known as the Gaha Sattasai (Sanskrit: Gāthā Saptashatī), although from linguistic evidence it seems that the work now extant must have been re-edited in the succeeding century or two. The Lilavati describes his marriage with a Ceylonese Princess.
The Satavahanas influenced South-East Asia to a great extent, spreading Hindu culture, language and religion into that part of the world. Their coins had images of ships.
Art of Amaravati
Scroll supported by Indian Yaksha, Amaravati, 2nd–3rd century CE.
The Sātavāhana rulers are also remarkable for their contributions to Buddhist art and architecture. They built great stupas in the Krishna River Valley, including the stupa at Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh. The stupas were decorated in marble slabs and sculpted with scenes from the life of the Buddha, portrayed in a characteristic slim and elegant style. The Satavahana empire colonized Southeast Asia and spread Indian culture to those parts. Mahayana Buddhism, which may have originated in Andhra (northwestern India being the alternative candidate), was carried to many parts of Asia by the rich maritime culture of the Satavahanas. The Amaravati style of sculpture spread to Southeast Asia at this time.
Art of Sanchi
The Satavahanas contributed greatly to the embellishment of the Buddhist stupa of Sanchi. The gateways and the balustrade were built after 70 BCE, and appear to have been commissioned by them. An inscription records the gift of one of the top architraves of the Southern Gateway by the artisans of the Satavahana Emperor Satakarni:
Gift of Ananda, the son of Vasithi, the foreman of the artisans of rajan Siri Satakarni
Throughout, the Buddhist art of the Satavahanas remained aniconic, denying any human representation of the Buddha, even in highly descriptive scenes. This remained true until the end of the Satavahana rule, in the 2nd century CE.
List of rulers
Indian ship on lead coin of Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi, testimony to the naval, seafaring and trading capabilities of the Satavahanas during the 1st–2nd century CE.
Puranic list of Satavahana rulers. This list, the most complete one with 30 kings, is based on the Matsya Purana.
- Simuka or Sisuka (r. 230–207 BCE).
- Krishna (r. 207–189 BCE), ruled 18 years.
- Sri Mallakarni (or Sri Satakarni), ruled 10 years.
- Purnotsanga, ruled 18 years
- Skandhastambhi, ruled 18 years
- Sātakarnī I (195 BCE), ruled 56 years
- Lambodara, ruled 18 years.(r. 87–67 BCE)
Probably as vassals of Kanva dynasty (75–35 BCE):
· Apilaka, ruled 12 years.
· Meghasvati (or Saudasa), ruled 18 years.
· Svati (or Svami), ruled 18 years.
· Skandasvati, ruled 7 years.
· Mahendra Satakarni (or Mrgendra Svatikarna, Satakarni II), ruled 8 years.
· Kuntala Satakarni (or Kuntala Svatikarna), ruled 8 years.
· Svatikarna, ruled 1 year.
- Pulomavi (or Patumavi), ruled 36 years.
- Riktavarna (or Aristakarman), ruled 25 years.
- Hāla (r. 20–24 CE), author of the Gathasaptasati, an Indian literature classic, ruled 5 years.
- Mandalaka (or Bhavaka, Puttalaka), ruled 5 years.
- Purindrasena, ruled 5 years.
- Sundara Satakarni, ruled 1 year.
- Cakora Satakarni (or Cakora Svatikarna), ruled 6 months.
- Sivasvati, ruled 28 years.
- Gautamiputra Sātakarni, or Gautamiputra, popularly known as Shalivahan (r. 25–78 CE), ruled 21 years.
- Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi, or Puloma, Puliman (r. 78–114 CE), ruled 28 years.
- Vashishtiputra Sātakarni (r. 130–160), or Shiva Sri, Sivasri, ruled 7 years.
- Shivaskanda Satakarni, (157–159), ruled 7 years.
- Yajna Sri Satakarni, (r. 167–196 CE), ruled 29 years.
- Vijaya, ruled 6 years.
- Canda Sri Satakarni, ruled 10 years.
- Pulomavi IV, 7 years.
- Madhariputra Svami Sakasena (r. c.190)
- 1 Origins
- 2 Etymology
- 3 Early rulers
- 3.1 Simuka (c.230–207 BCE)
- 3.2 Satakarni (c.180–124 BCE)
- 3. Kanva suzerainty (75–35 BCE)
- 4 Victory over the Shakas, Yavanas and Pahlavas
- 4.1 Gautamiputra Satakarni (78–106 CE)
- 5 Successors
- 5.1 Decline of the Satavahanas
- 6 Coinage
- 7 Cultural achievements
- 7.1 Art of Amaravati
- 7.2 Art of Sanchi