The short answer is that he was Chandragupta. But it gets complicated when you try to find out which of the many Chandraguptas was he from ancient Indian history ?
Gold coin of Chandragupta I with his wife Kumaradevi
Sandrocottus of the Greek accounts was an self-made emperor who rose to power in the late 4th century BCE Ancient India. He was a contemporary of Seleucus Nicator, one of the generals of Alexander’s army who came to inherit the largest portion of his disintegrated empire, stretching from the Hindu Kush in the east to the eastern Mediterranean coast in the west.
The identity of this Sandrocottus had been the primary focus of early colonial Indology and his identification with Chandragupta Maurya eventually became the sheet anchor of ancient Indian history around which everything else has been dated.
So the identity of this Sandrocottus is of vital importance in ancient Indian history. What I wish to argue here is that there are no solid grounds to suggest that the Sandrocottus of the Greek records was Chandragupta Maurya. In fact, there is much greater evidence to suggest that this Sandrocottus was none other than Chandragupta I, founder of the Gupta Empire.
William Jones and the Puranas
It was William Jones, the man famous for setting in motion the study of Indo-European languages, who is also responsible in establishing the identity of Sandrocottus. And his primary Indian source to help him out in this task were the king lists of Kaliyuga era mentioned in the Puranas.
We may note here that in that era, while there were scholars in Europe who were trying to push the envelope, the Church belief of Earth being only 6000 years old was the dominant narrative in the academic circles across the continent. In that prevailing atmosphere, astronomers and mathematicians like John Playfair and Jean Sylvain Bailly, had already caused some sensation when they argued that Indian astronomy had observations as old as 5000 years but it would not be until the last decades of the 19th century before the Church doctrine lost its hold in the academic circles of Europe.
When William Jones himself started the task of determining the antiquity of Indian history he published the dates of ancient Puranic kings as calculated by the learned Brahmins in his service keeping the base year as the start of the Kaliyuga or the Mahabharata war.
The above page is from one of the papers written by William Jones’ titled ‘On the Chronology of the Hindus’. You can read the paper here. You can clearly see that the date of Chandragupta Maurya’s ascension to the throne as calculated by the Indian tradition is given as 1502 BC.
Now the question is this – on what basis did Jones deem it fit to decide that this same Chandragupta Maurya in fact ruled as much as 1200 years later from this date during the time of Alexander ? For one, Jones did not believe in the claims of great antiquity of Indian history as made by Brahmin scholars whom he was acquainted with. To him, the beginning of mankind began with Adam around 4004 BC, as per the prevailing church doctrine. While the timescales claimed of pre-Kaliyuga Indian history are certainly too high to be believable, the timescales of post-Kaliyuga are much more reasonable and deserved a respectful consideration. But this was not done.
Jones, on the one hand, reading through ancient Greek accounts of India during Alexander’s time came to know of the great Indian emperor Sandrocottus and on the other hand, became aware of the Puranic Chandragupta Maurya while scouring through its king lists. Since Sandrocottus was undoubtedly the Greek transliteration of Chandragupta, Jones reasoned that he had finally hit upon a solid sheet anchor through which ancient Indian historical dates could be put on a firm footing.
Unfortunately, while in Indian history there were 2 Chandraguptas who were the founders of empires, the Gupta Chandragupta is not mentioned in the Puranas. The Puranic account of the kings of the Kaliyuga end when the Guptas were just a minor dynasty in Magadha and Chandragupta I had not risen to power. Therefore Jones never got to know of the other Chandragupta in Indian history and he went on to propose that the Indian king Sandrocottus mentioned in Greek texts was none other than Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of Mauryan empire. Jones’ proposal of identifying the 4th century BCE Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya was taken as fact and it is believed to be a fact until this very day without any challenge.
But is it a fact ? One really needs to wonder – why does Indian tradition date Chandragupta Maurya so early ? And was Jones justified in bringing down Chandragupta Maurya to the 4th century BCE wholly dismissing the Puranic dates
Xandramas, Sandrocottus & Amitrachates
The Greek accounts, apart from preserving the name of Sandrocottus also mention his son who name is mentioned as Amitrochades/Amitrachates or Allitrochades while the king ruling the Gangetic plains during Alexander’s time, i.e. the king who ruled in that region a few years before Sandrocottus, is noted as Xandramas or Agrammes. Sandrocottus himself is also recorded as Androcottus in some accounts. However, Sandrocottus, Xandramas and Amitrochades/Amitrachates are considered to be more accurate preservations of the original names of these Indian kings as recorded by the Greeks and the others are considered corruptions.
Now, in Mauryan history, Chandragupta Maurya defeated a Nanda king, presumably Dhanananda, and ascended the throne of Magadha while his son who succeeded him was Bindusara.
Neither is the name of Dhanananda anywhere similar to Xandramas nor is that of Bindusara to Amitrochades. It has been rather fancifully conjectured that Amitrochates refers to Amitraghata in original Sanskrit and that it was an epithet borne by Bindusara. Yet there is no proof that Bindusara ever bore any title of such nature.
Let us move to the Guptas. The Guptas came to power when majority of North and Central India was under the powerful Naga and Vakataka kings. Fortunately enough, the Puranas give the names of some of these kings, who ruled just before the rise of the Imperial Guptas. In that list, one Naga king’s name is given as Chandramsa.
Is Chandramsa similar to Xandramas. It most certainly is.
Next, it is well-known that the Gupta emperor Chandragupta I was succeeded on the throne by his son Samudragupta. Is Samudragupta similar to Amitrochades ? If we break down the names in prefixes and suffixes and compare, the suffix -gupta does appear very similar to -chates/-chades which is itself quite similar to -cottus of Sandrocottus which is without doubt a transliteration of -gupta.
What about Samudra- and Amitro- ? If we add an initial ‘S’ to Amitro- , it becomes Samitro-. Is that not remarkably alike to Samudra- ? Infact, it is not far fetched to think that the Greeks could have lost the initial ‘S’ sound in Amitrochades and that the original name could have been noted down as Samitrochades. Later Greek authors corrupted the names of Sandrocottus to Androcottus and Xandramas to Agrammes, in both cases the initial ‘S’ sound being lost. Strabo in the 1st century BCE refers to Sandrocottus while Plutarch in 1st century CE and Appian in the 2nd century CE name him as Androcottus. Similarly Diodorus Siculus in 1st century BC mentions the Gangaridai king as Xandrames while Quintus Curtius Rufus in the 1st century CE mentions him as Agrammes. A similar corruption in the name of the aforementioned Amitrochades is also very plausible and entertaining that possibility gives us the name of Sandrocottus’ son and successor as Samitrochades.
So then, could (S)amitrochades be a likely reference to Samudragupta or to Bindusara ?
We may now observe that while in the Mauryan age, we only have Chandragupta Maurya whose name corresponds to Sandrocottus of the Greek accounts, in the Gupta we have 3 kings in succession Chandramsa, Chandragupta and Samudragupta whose names correspond to Xandrames, Sandrocottus and (S)amitrochades respectively as mentioned in the Greek records. How is this possible if William Jones’ identification of Sandrocottus with Maurya Chandragupta is correct and unquestionable ?
The Gupta Era
It could be argued that the beginning of the rule of the Guptas has been fixed based on the start of the Gupta Era which is known to have begun in 319 CE. If Guptas ruled much earlier as you propose, who established the Gupta Era in 319 CE ?
To answer this, we should find out the about the origins of this era. It was J F Fleet who was instrumental in fixing the beginning of the Gupta Empire with the establishment of the Gupta Era in 319 CE. His primary source for the existence of such an era was Al Beruni and some of the Gupta inscriptions which are dated in a Gupta Era. It is Al Beruni’s testimony that is the primary basis for taking the beginning of the Gupta Era from 319 CE. Let us read what Al-Biruni says,
As you can see, Al-Biruni clearly says in no uncertain terms that the Gupta Era was established 241 years after the Saka Era (78 CE) i.e. 319 CE, to celebrate the end of the wicked Gupta kings. That is how it is known to have originated, with the end of the Guptas. However, the colonial scholars decided that Al-Biruni’s testimony was not entirely reliable and that 319 CE was the year of the beginning of the Gupta Empire and not the end of the Guptas. Why did they decide it to be so ?
Well, because it had already been established by William Jones that it was the Mauryas who ruled in 4th-3rd centuries BCE and considering how the Guptas came several centuries later to the Mauryas, the historians conjectured that the Gupta rule could not have begun anytime before the 250-300 CE. But they had a hard time figuring out when exactly. It is in this context that Fleet found Al-Biruni’s testimony very useful. But he and other historians that followed him dismissed the inconvenient bit about Al-Biruni‘s testimony as absurd. But is it really absurd ?
It is true that the Gupta emperors did have an era of their own but there is no good reason to assume that it was one and the same era that Al-Biruni was referring to. And moreover is it really believable that if Gupta Emperors initiated their era in 319 CE, within a few centuries people would forgot all about the origins of this era and come up with a bizarre association of this era with the end of the Guptas ? The Guptas, if their rule began in 319 CE, would likely have died out in the 6th century CE if not later, so why would we not have an era to celebrate their end beginning in the 6th century CE or thereabouts ? However, no such era seems to have existed.
To cut it short, there is very little basis to suggest that the Gupta Era of 319 CE was established by the Gupta emperors. On the contrary, on the testimony of Al-Biruni, there is every reason to believe that the Guptas rule must have began a few centuries before 319 CE since by 319 CE they ceased to exist.
Achievements of Sandrocottus and Chandragupta I
Based on the Greek accounts, we know that there was a major showdown and maybe a large battle between Seleucus Nicator and Sandrocottus alias Chandragupta along the banks of the Indus or the Sindhu river. Sandrocottus had captured all the territories won by Alexander east of the Indus and thus his empire bordered the Indus River in the west. At the same time, Seleucus had also captured Cappadocia, Arabia, Armenia, Mesopotamia, Sogdia, Bactria, Arachosia and his sway extended upto the western coast of the Indus River. As a result a showdown was imminent and Seleucus decided to cross the Indus River to fight Sandrocottus and regain the lost territories east of Indus.
The details of the war are unclear but from the post-war treaty concluded between the two, it becomes clear that Seleucus must have been comprehensively defeated. Instead of winning any territory to the east of the Indus as was his aim, Seleucus ceded 4 large provinces to the west of the Indus River namely Arachosia, Gedrosia, Paropamisadae and Aria to Sandrocottus which extended his empire upto the Kabul River and the Hindu Kush. In return Seleucus got 500 elephants. Considering how Sandrocottus is recorded to have had a standing army of 9,000 elephants, this does not appear to be much of a concession. There was also a marriage alliance between the two parties apparently.
There is absolutely no corroboration of such a war from Indian sources on the Mauryas, neither for Chandragupta Maurya, nor for Bindusara or Asoka.
On the other hand, here is an inscription of Chandragupta I of the Guptas, inscribed on the famous Mehrauli Iron Pillar,
While it has been argued that this inscription belongs to Chandragupta II, it is more likely to be that of his grandfather Chandragupta I. In this inscription, note that this Chandra is said to fought the Vahlikas on the Indus River. So the scene of this battle was the same place as the one described by the Greek accounts that had been fought by Sandrocottus. The result is also said to have gone in Chandra’s favour, just as in the Greek account on Sandrocottus.
The battle is one of only 2 battles that are mentioned in this posthumous inscription of the great emperor, who is said to have acquired supreme sovereignty over the earth for a long time through his own prowess. It cannot be doubted therefore, that this must have been a major career defining battle of his illustrious reign.
The opponents mentioned are Vahlikas or Bahlikas i.e. the Bactrians. One night argue that the Greeks were not exactly the Bactrians, which is true. However, if one read the classical Greek accounts, it can be seen that the Greeks, from the time of Alexander, entered the Indian subcontinent from the north via Bactria, crossing the Hindu Kush. Bactria was a prosperous and important region in its own right which had recently come under Greek political control but which was, as a region and as a people, known to Indians since a long time. It is also undeniable that in the battle fought by Seleucus against Sandrocottus, he would have brought forth an army with a large contingent of Bactrian generals and soldiers under his command. Therefore, if we were to identify Sandrocottus with Chandragupta I, this account of the battle on the Indus with the Vahlikas may be plausibly considered considered as the Indian version of the event that is the Seleucus-Chandragupta war.
Further indirect corroboration of such a battle during the early Gupta period, comes from the Allahabad inscription of Chandragupta I’s son, Samudragupta. It is a very long inscription and parts of it give us an account of his military and political might over various subjugated and submissive kingdoms and tribes, within and without. Many of these kingdoms were defeated and even exterminated by Samudragupta.
In this long description of events, an interesting passage (highlighted above) mentions about the Kings whose domains adjoined Samudragupta’s empire and were apparently submissive in posture towards him. One of these kings has a grand title Devaputra Shahi Shahanushahi. Shahi and Shahanushahi were grand titles used by Iranian kings or emperors. So it is undeniable that the reference here is to some powerful Iranian emperor.
If we place Samudragupta in the beginning of the 3rd century BC, following his father whom we identify with the Sandrocottus of the Greek accounts, then during that period, the Iranian throne was under none other than the Seleucid emperors who had been defeated by Chandragupta/Sandrocottus and who had sent ambassadors to the court of Chandragupta and his successor. It is also instructive that unlike the kings of Aryavarta and southern India who seem to have fought against Samudragupta, there is no indication that Devaputra Shahi Shahanushahi fought or resisted his power, an indication that the Iranian monarch’s submission may have been achieved before Samudragupta’s time, in his father’s reign.
The inscription also states that these neighbouring powers which included the Iranian monarch as well as the Saka lords, were paying service to Samudragupta by such acts as self-surrender and by offering their daughters in marriage. Both of these acts can very well be taken as reference to the Seleucids who had surrendered much territory to the Indians and had also offered their daughter in marriage as per the Greek accounts.
Therefore, if we place the Gupta emperors in the 4th-3rd century BCE, there is much more in the way of evidence from Indian sources that can corroborate the Greek accounts of India of the same period in contrast to the little we have of the Mauryas.
Buddhism in the Greek accounts
A very curious aspect of the Greek accounts of the 4th century BC India is the almost complete silence of these sources on Buddhism. On the contrary, these accounts suggest that Vaishnavism and Shaivism were predominant across India. If the Buddha had lived only 2 centuries earlier in the 6th century BC, how does one explain this major discrepancy ?
Infact the earliest mention of Buddhism by the Greeks comes from Clement of Alexandria in the 2nd century CE.
Some have tried to argue, taking the dating of the Mauryas in the 4th-3rd centuries BC and that of Buddha in the 6th century BC as sacrosanct, that the Greek accounts prove that Buddhism was not very popular before the time of Asoka.
However, from the early Buddhist accounts that were written after a few centuries of Buddha’s death, we know that Buddhism was already quite a flourishing religion in its early days and it’s influence had already penetrated much of North India much before Asoka. In the lifetime of Buddha himself, his teachings had spread to Magadha, Avanti and Surasena where important centres of Buddhism were founded. Within this backdrop, it is quite extraordinary that Megasthenes makes no mention of Buddhism because he is known to have spent several years in Pataliputra in Magadha, the very region where Buddha had chiefly lived and transmitted his teachings.
On the other hand, if it is true that Sandrocottus was not the Maurya but the Gupta emperor Chandragupta I, it would then push the Mauryas to a much earlier epoch, compared to the 4th century BC where they are presently dated, and push Buddha’s date even further back. We can then try and figure out why Buddhism was not noticeable to the Greeks. Quite simply, by the 4th century BC, as per our dating scheme, Buddhism was already quite old in India and was declining or waning when the Greeks came.
There is also another interesting phenomenon that could have taken place which led to the resurgence of Hinduism and waning of Buddhism. Adi Shankaracharya is dated by modern scholarship to the 8th century CE. However this is totally in contrast to traditional view which puts Adi Shankara in the early half of the 5th century BC.
The 8th century CE dating is also too late for another major reason which is that Adi Shankara was a major opponent of Buddhist philosophy and he is credited with dismantling the influence of Buddhist schools across the country through philosophical debates. As a result subsequent Buddhist historiography does not have a good opinion of Adi Shankara to put it mildly. But by the 8th century, Buddhism had long ceased to be major opponent to Hinduism and the accounts of 7th century Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang are testimony to that fact.
The very reason why the traditional dating of Adi Shankaracharya was rejected was that it would make him a younger contemporary of Gautama Buddha whereas Adi Shankara was even younger to the Mahayana Buddhist philosophers such as Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu who came many centuries after Buddha. Infact, Adi Shankara is considered to have critiqued the views of Dignaga who was a disciple of Vasubandhu or at least belonged to his school of thought.
As we see, Gautama Buddha could have potentially lived much earlier to the 6th century BC. This allows us enough room to consider the traditional dating of Adi Shankara more favourably. If indeed, Adi Shankara lived in the 5th century BC, it would explain why in the late 4th century BC, the Greeks found Hinduism prominent across India and failed to see any noticeable presence of Buddhism. The Greeks were effectively seeing an India where Hinduism was again ascendant after Adi Shankara’s revival while Buddhism was facing a major crisis and a loss of patronage.
There are still a lot of other aspects related to this very important topic that I have not covered here. That shall be done in a later piece. But whatever has been covered here, I believe, is enough to make people think and ponder. Have we done proper justice with our ancient history or have we created a big gigantic mess that no one has the courage to tackle ? It is high time we start questioning the 18th century colonial era identification of Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya which was based on fairly limiting knowledge of Indian history. As it is likely, if Sandrocottus was Chandragupta I of the Guptas, admission of this fact will undoubtedly revolutionise our understanding of ancient India and may help us to a much better understanding of ancient Indian history than we have now.
26 thoughts on “Who was Sandrocottus ?”
There is a famous civil engineering design problem to be tackled while designing railway platforms in urban stations. The length of the platform has to match the length of the longest train that will stop at the station. It also has to be a straight line to meet rail safety design codes. While the land availability in urban areas is rarely humongous enough to meet both the safety and convenience requirements. Result – you see twisted or curving platforms where the driver rarely can spot the end of the train – the guard rake.
The “rail platform” of Indian history is the period from 1500 BCE to 300 BCE. The Gupta period cannot be pushed backwards because the other end of the platform will start hitting the incoming Aryan train that “can only arrive” in 1500 BCE. The British designers of Indian history were alive to this conundrum.
Noone – whether a student or professor or a researcher -iswi lling to break this jinx . The piece about the “missing Greek knowledge of Buddhism” is the dead giveaway. It is the curious incident of the dog in the night-time. Not one mainline historian is willing to talk about it . IT is actually serious – neither Arrian, Megasthenes, Strabo display any knoweldge of Buddhism. In the exact period where everyone claims that Ashoka lived and Buddhist missionary activity was strongest in India.
The unfortunate thing is that when you raise these issues and point out the real glaring contradictions that point to an alternative view of history, Ill-informed people with half-baked knowledge come after you thinking you are crazy 🤷🏻♂️
Not assuming you are referring to my rebuttal !
I wouldnt call your points as crazy but myopic- excessively focusing internal chronologies as a basic and then retrofitting.
While i agree most of initial history was done in similar fashion – like dating of Rgveda for 1500 BCE.
Also you have to be able to face up being called Outlier (some would call it crazy but thats counterproductive for debate)/ revisionist etc – until you convince others.
The Kurgan hypothesis was called crazy (though u dont agree with it) | Pre clovis america was called crazy – ITs not anymore given the vastness of evidence – your arguments dont have that yet in my eyes.
I am generally referring to those people who don’t read what is being written but start acting as defenders of the status quo without having much clue about how the status quo has been arrived at. Why not appreciate the data that is being put in front of them, try to verify its truth and if found true, ackowledge that there may be an issue ? Is that too much to ask ? After all it is your own country’s history and I am not trying to demean it, am I ?
I understand that this is part of how things are. Just grin and bear it I suppose but you wish that it generates some excitement in those who are interested in Indian history.
I should also stress that this subject got me interested about a decade ago when I came across some old books by Kota Venkatachalam who mainly highlighted how Indian historical tradition, as known from Puranas, Rajatarangini of Kashmir and Gopalarajvamshavali from Nepal, is completely at odds with the modern reconstruction. That got me thinking because it did seem strange as to why all these native Indian traditions were dating things by as much as 1,000 years or more compared to the colonially reconstructed stuff. Why would the ancient Indians bluff ? Did it serve them any purpose ?
However, what really influenced me the greatest was ‘Ancient India in a New Light’ by K D Sethna, who was a great scholar in his own right. K D Sethna is usually considered the earliest Indian scholar who in the 1980s, fired the 1st salvo against the AIT. But his magnum opus is the book I just referred to. It is a massive 600 page tome and its central theme is about the dating of the Mauryas and the Guptas. Most of what I have written here is just a rehashing of his arguments. I deserve little credit here.
Lastly, I am not excessively focussing on internal chronologies. I have also shown the evidence from ancient Greek texts which is much at odds with a Mauryan India but more at home with a Gupta India. And I shall write a few more articles on this subject before stopping. There is quite a lot of stuff to reveal and ponder.
Unfortunately textual data is the primary source upon which we date these events of ancient India. Archaeology has not played much of a role though it should have. For example, we have little in terms direct scientific dates to confirm the eras of the Mauryas and the Guptas.
Fa-Hien also visited South Asia and he corroborates Buddhism was more than fine.
And Buddha/Buddhism if even older would have shown up in Chinese texts.
Behave properly and respectfully or I will put your crap in the trash where it belongs.
The point about Buddhism not noted by Greeks is a fact. I am not making it up you dimwit.
I will talk about Fa Hien’s testimony in a later post. Don’t you worry.
As for the Chinese texts, you should perhaps know that as per Chinese Buddhist texts, Buddha lived before 1000 BC. Are you aware of that ?
Plus Archaeology and dating schemes.
What about archaeology and dating schemes ? Do you have any clue about how it happens or are you just throwing things around to sound cool ? Do you think Indian archaeologists were dating things using scientific dating techniques such as C14 and TL ?
You ignore the evidence from your next door neighbor Buddhist country, Sri Lanka and give much credence to the Greeks (kind of white guys, noh).
Asoka, his grandfather Chandragupta and Bhimbisara were part of Sri Lankan culture and thought for over two millenia, even at village level. Why. because Asoka sent his son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta to Sri Lanka to introduce Buddhism.
Finally, Asokas pillars were identified using the Sinhala Mahavamsa.
Feature of the Mahavmsa is
a) Longest continuous history in South Asia (since around 500bc)
b) Consistent dating system, i.e. after the Buddha.
Many event dates have been cross referenced and the years are consistent.
To quote from the Mahavamsa Chapter 5; This Chapter references the Moriyas, Bindusara and Chandragupta among others.
Be it known, that two hundred and eighteen years had passed from the nibbana of the Master unto Asoka’s consecration.
Note: Buddhism is a single person origin religion/philosophy in historical times. Much like Christianity, Islam and Jain. The various sects may have ideological differences, but the dating of the founder is consistent.
That is not the case for Hinduism and Judaism, much of dates are shrouded in myths and no consistent dating.
I am not ignoring the data from Sri Lanka. However, in the Buddhist world, there are a myriad of different opinions on the date of Buddha. The Chinese and Tibetan traditions date Buddha before 1000 BC, as does the Indian Puranic tradition and the Kashmiri historical tradition as given in Rajatarangini. There is no particular reason to give primacy to the Sri Lankan tradition over these other differing traditions.
The only reason the Mahavamsa tradition has been given primacy is because it accorded well with the early colonial scholarship’s belief that the Mauryas ruled in the 4th-3rd centuries BC. The Sinhalese Buddhist view acted as a supporting corroborative evidence for these scholars who dated Asoka to the 3rd century BC.
Just FYI, modern western scholarship is now on the verge of dismissing the Sinhalese Buddhist tradition of 218 years passing away between Buddha’s paranirvana and Asoka’s coronation. So there is nothing sacrosanct here.
Chinese and Tibetan traditions date Buddha before 1000 BC, as does the Indian Puranic tradition and the Kashmiri historical tradition as given in Rajatarangini.
Were these traditions continuous and have other event dates being cross referenced and verified. The Mahavamsa is a continuous history and many event dates have been cross referenced. Plus non of these calendars have Buddha as and anchor point, like the west uses Jesus Christ. (Incidentally what is Indian Puranic tradition, and in what book does it even refer to the Buddha, reference please).
The Theravada calendars in SL and South East countries are pretty consistent give or take a few years. The year ranges from 543 to 545 BCE. Not bad at all for fixing a 2500+ date in my opinion.
Just FYI, modern western scholarship is now on the verge of dismissing the Sinhalese Buddhist tradition of 218 years passing away between Buddha’s paranirvana and Asoka’s coronation.
Link or reference please
half a billion Buddhists worldwide – marked the birthplace of the Buddha in the third century BC. But the timber structure revealed by archaeologists was radio-carbon-dated to the sixth century BC.
Is this the new archaeological discovery you refer to. Does not seem at odds with the Mahavamsa dates. Carbon dating will have a plus minus range.
I hope you realize doubts of the dates of Buddha puts into question Mahavira, Pūraṇa Kassapa, Makkhali Gosāla and other Buddha’s contemporaneous.
Here is the recent view on what western scholarship is veering towards. They are trying to date the death of Buddha as later 370 BC. Obviously I don’t agree. But the point is, there is not much faith in the Sinhalese Buddhist chronology among the Western scholars. Don’t be misled otherwise.
The only reason they persisted with it so far was because it, as you said, seem to have been corroborated by other external evidence, which is primarily the identification of Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya and the dating of Ashoka to the 3rd century BC.
The Indian Puranic tradition is actually a reference to the early Indian historical tradition as recorded in the ancient literature of Puranas, which are mainly considered to be religious texts but which give plentiful information about history and geography, much of which is difficult to find elsewhere. The Puranic tradition of the kings of Kaliyuga show the kings that ruled from the end of the Kaliyuga (3102 BC) or the end of Mahabharata war (3138 BC). Buddha is mentioned as a scion of the Ikshvaku family and named as either Gautama or Siddhartha (can’t quite recall which one). As per that, Buddha’s date comes to around the 19th century BC.
I do not say that we take this dating at face value. But this early Puranic dating is also corroborated by Chinese, Tibetan, Central Asian, Kashmiri and Nepali traditions which all place Buddha before 1000 BC. How did they all get it wrong by such a big margin ? Do keep in mind that nothing has been radio-carbon dated. All the younger dates accepted by western scholarship are merely inferential. There is concrete direct proofs for these dates.
As for the new radiocarbon dates from Kapilavastu, Nepal – it proves that Buddha must have at least lived before the shrine was made. In other words, before the 6th century BC or earlier.
As for Purana Kassapa and Makkhali Gosala, they were contemporaries of Buddha because the Buddhist texts say so. I do not doubt it. However there is no mention of Mahavira. The Jain texts mention Gosala as Mahavira’s contemporary and one time disciple but these texts are from the 5th century CE, about a 1000 years removed from Mahavir’s time and there is no reason to believe that Gosala’s story as mentioned in it is accurate. Likewise there are no good grounds to believe that Gosala was Mahavir’s contemporary because a much later Jain text says so.
From the Mahavamsa Ch 5
When, one day, the monarch heard of the naga-king Mahakala of wondrous might, who had beheld four Buddhas, who had lived through one age of the world, he sent for him to be brought (into his presence) fettered with a chain of gold; and when he had brought him and made him sit upon the throne under the white canopy, when he had done homage to him with (gifts of) various flowers, and had bidden the sixteen thousand women (of the palace) to surround him
Naga King MahaKala (big black ?)
lol. Kala in this case means time -> death.
So I think maha kala is beyond death. ie immortal. Which makes sense when you consider the context as well.
Another data point –
One of the best Indian sources for the period 400 BCE to 100 BCE is the Arthashastra (authorship: perhaps Chanakya but it was also redrafted over time by a series of ministerial scribes in the succeeding empires).
It is the most complete Indian source for that period – taxation, governance, personal law, administrative law, statecraft, welfarism as a central function, road maintenance, religious laws, spy tradecraft, diplomacy, coinage and even metrology.
The manual describes all the existing schools of thought – mimamsa, samkhya, sramana, Upanishadic philosophies. Not a single mention of Buddhism or a specifically pure nastika school.
The asynchronicity becomes all the more glaring as Chanakya is mentioned in almost all Buddhist lores. But never the inverse. Modern Indian historians attribute the Samkhya references in the Arthashastra as representing Buddhism.
But ask any self-respecting Buddhist or Hindu scholar – Samkhya is not Buddhism. Samkhya has strands of astika which Buddhism completely denies.
So we have three legs of an imbalanced stool – the Greek historians don’t have any knowledge of Buddhism, the Arthashastra has not encountered Buddhism, the Buddhist philosophers wrote extensively about both Chanakya (negatively as a scheming Brahmin) and the Greeks (positively as receivers of Buddhist missionary efforts).
The Buddhist texts do not talk very much old about the Greeks. Yona or Yavana does not automatically mean the Greeks in ancient Indian texts. However most scholars blindly take it as fact. A testament to the tradition of shoddy scholarship in India.
Not here to refute all the claims made in the passage – Lot of reasoning sounds pretty tenuous at best and is not supported by any archeology.
Some points (of a many that come to mind):
From what we know – Second Urbanization probably began in Kuru-Panchala region (Ahichhatra, Hastinapur) before spreading across the Janapadas which became Mahajanapadas. This is pretty solidly dated archeologically. We see no signs of Urbanization before 1st Millennium BCE outside the IVC (that too mostly belongs in the 3rd millennium BCE).
Secondly Guptas are not randomly dated – they faced the invasions of White Hunas which is documented in various ways. We know from external sources exactly when White Hunas rose and came South. Also tied to Guptas are the Vakatakas and Western Kshatrapas.
Both Sakas and Kushanas are dated solidly externally especially from Persian sources.
Trade with Rome is also pretty robust in dating Indian history – 3 kingdoms and Satavahanas/Kshatrapas
Also as sbbarkaum has pointed out previously – Srilankan dating of Buddhism is pretty robust
I got triggered because you made some archaeological assertions. As a discipline, the only odd man out or lone dissenter in the room to Western Indology’s claims is archaeology. It starts all the way from AIT to the Gupta Era.
First piece of evidence – The Buddha’s date of birth keeps getting pushed further back by newer excavations at Lumbini. The latest “earliest” date is 550 BCE. Fully backed by solid C14 dating and peer reviewed in Antiquity, the journal – the Buddha’s date has pushed further back by 150 years roughly.
One of the tricks of modern historiography is to use circular logic to sequence everything. Not textual or epigraphic synchronism (sorry Sri Lankans and Persians). C14 is the gold standard here. One of the sorry circumstances of Indian epigraphy – its mostly on stone or caves.
Coming back to the latest archaeological finding – 150 years is a lot, a hell of a lot of time. It means Ashoka was already dead when Alexander invaded. Can you see the sheet-anchor’s logic collapsing??
Agree that the lack of reference in Greek narratives is circumstantial, but the C14 dating of Lumbini should make you pause. The Nepalis claim even greater antiquity for the Buddha based on their traditional lores.
Let me answer you point by point.
1. The assumption that the 2nd urbanism began in the Gangetic plain as late as the 1st millennium BC is quite old and not based on C14 or TL dating. It is based on archaeological guesswork. Nothing more. As C14 and TL have been used in recent years here are some interesting discoveries –
Northern Black Polished Ware or NBPW is conventionally dated to 700-200 BC and usually taken as a marker of Mauryan period. However in recent years, NBPW has given dates as high 1500 BC as per C14 dating as places such as Ayodhya no less.
The Painted Grey Ware or PGW is conventionally dated between 1200-700 BC. C14 and TL dates in recent years have pushed its beginnings to 2200-2100 BC at sites such as Mathura and at some sites in North India such as in Alamgirpur it is found at the same level as late mature Harappan phase.
In other words, there is nothing that is set in stone as far as archaeology is concerned.
2. About the Huna invasion, what is likely is that India faced a Huna invasion in the 6th century CE. However, Skandagupta, as per even the conventional dating lived in the 5th century CE and no external source corroborates the presence of Hunas in India during that era. Furthermore, Hunas or Huns or Xiungnu are known from Chinese sources as early as the 3rd century BCE and already during that early period they were powerful enough to force major reverses on the Chinese empire. It is very probable that at the height of their power, their sway extended to the immediate north of the Indian subcontinent and their invasions or forays in that early period cannot be ruled out.
The Huna also appear to have been known to Indians atleast as early as the 1st century BC based on textual data.
3. The Vakatakas were contemporary to the Guptas but just like the Guptas, there is no independent corroboration that they infact lived in the 3rd-5th centuries CE.
4. As for Western Kshatrapas, I believe their era began in the mid-6th century BCE in India and not in the 1st century CE. The western Kshatrapas were Sakas and if you were to look at the period in history when the Sakas were at their most dominant it was just before the rise of the Achaemenids in the 6th century BCE. Moreover, for many centuries after that they continued to remain influential. But after the beginning of the common era, they are no longer mentioned in western sources.
It is also mentioned in one of the Greek sources on Cyrus’ history, that Cyrus was fatally wounded by an Indian who was fighting under the Sakas. So Indians were apparently fighting under the Sakas as early as the 6th century BCE.
5. Kushans have little to do with the Sakas. There is no evidence that they ruled in India during the same period. Infact, there is evidence from inscriptions that argue against them being contemporary. If you are interested, I have written a fairly detailed article on my blog about the true dating of the Kushans.
6. About the Roman trade, nothing is about the kings or kingdoms or empires of India that traded with Rome, from the Roman sources. Neither Ptolemy’s Geography nor the Periplus text can help us in that regard. Kingdoms are mentioned aplenty but few names of contemporary rulers are mentioned and we cannot be sure who they were. For example, there is king mentioned as Mambanus, perhaps in Periplus and he is assumed to be none other than Nahapana, an early Kshatrapa ruler. However, if you do not assume that Nahapana ruled in the 2nd century CE, there is nothing to suggest that this Mambanus is infact Nahapana.
7. As for Sinhalase Buddhist texts, see my reply to Sbarrakam.
1. we will have to wait for more C14 TL dates – so yeah cant say
2. Huna – I am confidently unconvinced by your rebuttal – Even if chinese did encounter the Huna in (3 Century BCE) we know the Hellenic and Persians didnt to so before CE. So finding Skanda Gupta (also Kumaragupta i presume) in 2nd Century BCE fighting Hunas who are unknown to our Western neighbours seems very far fetched to me.
3-4-5 will need to do some more reading
6. Roman trade – dating roman trade goods ought to be easier. Also the rise and fall of W Kshatrapas and Satavahanas correlates well with Rise and Fall of Rome.
Also read some blogposts from India facts by someone called Ram Mohan Roy –
I can see obvious holes in traditional dating but this interpretation rests on Piyadasi as KumaraGupta – which also seems very unbelievable given what we know – also not to mention some Minor edicts call Piyadasi Asoka;
So i would concede the sheet anchor of Sandrocottus is a bit weak but Asoka as Piyadasi seems more robust.
Regarding the Hunas, it maybe noted that there is nowhere an invasion of Hunas, being mentioned by Skandagupta. The Bhitari inscription simply refers to Skandagupta having fought a terrible battle with the Hunas but the location of the battle is unknown. It could very well be beyond the borders of the Indian subcontinent. The Junagadh inscription of Skandagupta refers to people of the Mleccha countries accepting their defeat against him.
How does the rise and fall of Western Kshatrapas and Satavahanas correlate with that of the Romans ? Do shed some light on it.
Lastly, I don’t think Piyadasi is Kumaragupta. He may be Ashoka but the historians have done a botched job on making this a strong identification. However I don’t have any intention to doubt it at this point because if he was not Ashoka, who was he ? He was certainly not a Gupta because the Brahmi script used is of an older variety while the Gupta Brahmi is a later and a more stylised form of the script.
Thanks Jaydeep. Looks like a lot of unknowns. The wooden shrine should post date Buddha. Dating non organic artifacts is possible.. https://www.chemistryworld.com/features/chemical-clocks-for-archaeological-artefacts/3010778.article.
After the battle of Tarain b/w our very own Great ‘Razib’ Khan vs the defender of Hind ‘Rathod’ sa, comes the sequel, the upstart Maratha ‘Gaurav’ bhau going toe to toe with old royalty of Mewar in the battle of Patan.
Khamma Ghani Hukum…
Betting for the winner is on. Checks accepted.
You mean to imply that the Great Khan won against the Rathod Saab ? (naturally i agree with Razib in their debates)
If anyone is interested in learning more about Long Chronology, I highly suggest you guys look into Vedveer Arya’s books on this topic. His works seems to be the latest and most updated research on the Long Chronology.
No trained historian worth his salt will take William Jones’ identification (Sandrocottus = Candragupta) as primary evidence for the academically agreed Indian chronology. It is at best a secondary evidence. Historians agree on the currently popular chronology on the evidence of the Brahmi inscriptions of Asoka which are the earliest datable inscriptions of ancient India and could be fairly fixed within definite timeline. The calculation logic is as follows:
1) The earliest Brahmi edicts found all over India are by a king who calls himself ‘Devanampriya Priyadarsi Asoka’ (specifically calls himself Asoka in Maski inscription)
2) The Sinhalese traditions (Dipavamsa) know of only one Priyadarsi Asoka who is the grandson of Candragupta of Maurya dynasty and is a near contemporary of Devanampriya Tisya of Anuradhapura. The near contemporary inscriptions of this Tisya are in the same Brahmi script as that of Priyadarsi Asoka (and not in any later variants of Brahmi). So, the Sinhala claim stands on fairly certain grounds.
3) This Priyadarsi Asoka names his contemporary yavana rajas as Amtiyaka, Tulamāya, Amtekina, Makā and Alikasudara. The names of these kings can be fairly reconstructed as those of the five near contemporary Greek kings whose reigns have been independently dated between 300-239 BCE: Antiochus II Theos, Ptolemy II Philadelphos, Antigonus II Gonatas, Magas and Alexander II. This is the strongest evidence and any disputation has to come up with a plausible explanation for this ‘sheer coincidence’.
4) Now since Asoka dates his inscriptions in his regnal years, so we can calculate approximate dates of all events/persons with respect to the dates of Asoka. Buddha, Candragupta and Bindusara’s dates can be calculated based on relative chronology culled from Pali vamsas, Sanskrit/Chinese agamas and Sanskrit puranas.
The above and not the naive identification of Jones is the ‘sheet anchor of Indian chronology’.
The discovery of Ashokan inscriptions was done by James Princep several decades after William Jones ‘identified’ Sandrocottus with Chandragupta Maurya. So the British were already quite sure, before the discovery of Ashoka’s inscriptions, about the dating of the Mauryas.
Princep’s ‘discovery’ merely added further credence to that. Therefore it is important to keep that in mind and show how shallow that whole exercise by Jones was.
Moving to the Ashokan inscriptions, Princep was also the 1st one to decipher these unreadable inscriptions and it is certainly quite doubtful how he read the names of 5 Greek kings, 4 of whom were not even Ashoka’s neighbours, in these inscriptions.
1. The Buddhist sources of Ashoka’s life, never mention him sending such missions to the distant Yona countries.
2. The ancient Greeks themselves know of no such mission having been received by them. Infact they don’t even know of any Ashoka. There is very good reason for this. Around the 260-250 BC period, the regions of Margiana and Bactria, the very regions which connected the Indian empire with the Greek, were lost by the Seleucids and it was only in 206 BC, that Antiochus III managed to win back Bactria and renewed relations with India. Infact, the Greeks did not even knew anything of Buddhism until the 2nd century CE.
3. The mention of the names of these 5 Greek kings, 4 of them quite distant, is quite of character with the way nations and peoples are mentioned in these Ashokan inscriptions. Besides the 5 Greek kings, who are mentioned without the country to which they belong, no king of any other nation or kingdom is mentioned anywhere in all of these edicts. Infact, only names of the tribes or kingdoms are mentioned and they are either within Ashoka’s territories or in adjoining neighbourhood. The names of these so-called Greek kings stick out like a sore thumb.
4. If the readings have minor errors, it is possible to read place names in these rather than the names of the Greek kings. For example, Maka could be a reference to Makran, whose name already in Bronze Age is known as Magan (SE Oman coast and adjoining Baluchi coast). The other name is Turamaya and not Tulamaya and Turamaya could also be a place name in the north, perhaps Turan ? However this is just a speculation and I don’t put too much faith in it. My only intention is to show that names of places and peoples could also be read here if one wanted.
Considering these facts, it is indeed quite peculiar that the mention of missions to these 5 Greek kings, in Ashokan inscriptions (which cannot be corroborated by any ancient text, Indian or Greek, and whose mention itself stick out as quite odd and out of character in the edicts), is the most important piece of evidence to date Ashoka and the Mauryas in the 3rd century BC. I say, it is high time we reread these Ashokan inscriptions and confirm whether Princep got it right and whether we indeed have the names of these 5 Greek kings in the edicts.
Archaeological evidence doesn’t support that Alexander visited India during the Gupta era. Numismatics evidences of the Indo Greek coins followed by Sakas and Parthians suggest that Guptas are dated exactly right.
The Pauranic literature puts 74 kings between the last Nanda and the battle of Kurukshetra which mostly puts Kurukshetra battle around 1800-1900BCE is according to me more accurate.
We need to be stressing more on who were “Yavanas” rather than dating? Scholarship identifies it with Ionians and assign them Greek ethnicity. I am not able to get any convincing reports, papers regarding Yavanas.
My personal take is Yavanas were Yagnobhis Indo European Eastern Iranian people who later became Tajiks. Yagnobhis location as per the Indian epics point to the NorthWestern regions around the subcontinent. Yagnobhis and Sogdians may have common ancestors like the Turkic and Mongols. If anyone knows any books regarding the Yagnobhis and Sogdians available in India do reply!
@Jaydeepsinh Rathod @GauravL @sbarrkum
Wanted to post this latest tweet (less than 14 hours ago) by TrueIndology or Bharadwaj (in his latest avatar).
Why was Buddhist stupa built on top of the settlement of Mohenjodaro? The city remained buried under the stupa and sand. It had to be excavated.
When Mohenjodaro was excavated, it was to fully unearth stupa. The discovery of city underneath was unexpected result
It is a fascinating question that could only have been asked by a lateral thinker. Almost all archaeologists agree that the massive structure overlooking Mohenjodaro’s bronze age city is a Stupa of Buddhist provenance. Kenoyer recently proposed that excavations should start underneath the Stupa to find out if there is a IVC religious structure there.
Now the other question is…..what amount of timelapse between the IVC city (1900 BCE – last occupation – secure C14 dates) and the Buddha (500 BCE – assessed historicity) could have caused Buddhists to build over something else?
We are talking not only about a 1400 years supposed gap but also a non-contiguous Buddhist zone. There are no other Buddhist stupas around the Mohenjodaro region in Pakistan. Instead there are in the North leading into the Kabul Valley – Silk roads.
This feels like an artifact of a time paradox. Absolutely no efforts to explain it in academia.
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