CHAPTER-15 : Territorial States and the Rise of Magadha

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

Rise of Large States in Ancient India

Shifting Loyalties:

  • Rise of large states with towns weakened tribal identity.
  • People identified more with their territory (janapada) than tribe (jana).

The Mahajanapadas:

  • By 450 BCE, over 40 janapadas existed (including parts of Afghanistan).
  • These janapadas developed into larger states called mahajanapadas.
  • 16 major mahajanapadas emerged, mostly in the upper and mid-Gangetic plains.

Location and Key Mahajanapadas:

  • Mainly located north of the Vindhyas, stretching northwest to Bihar.
  • Magadha:Powerful state with capitals at Rajgir and Pataliputra.
  • Lichchhavi:Powerful dynasty with capital at Vaishali.
  • Kashi:Kingdom centered around Varanasi.
  • Kosala:Eastern UP with capital at Shravasti.
    • Included the Shakyas (Buddha’s tribe) with capital at Kapilavastu (Piprahwa).
  • Mallas:Republic near Kosala, with a capital at Kushinara (where Buddha died).
  • Vatsas:Kingdom along the Yamuna with capital at Kaushambi.
  • Avanti:Malwa region with capitals at Ujjain and Mahishamati.
  • Gandhara and Kamboja:Northwestern mahajanapadas (Kamboja in Central Asia).


  • Most mahajanapadas were monarchies.
  • Some were ganas (oligarchies) where power was shared by a group.

Rise and Growth of the Magadha Empire

Early Rulers:

  • Bimbisara (Haryanka dynasty) expanded Magadha’s territory through conquest and alliances.
    • Acquired Anga, married strategically to strengthen position.
    • Ruled from c. 544 to 492 BCE.
  • Ajatashatru (Bimbisara’s son) succeeded him after a violent takeover.
    • Reigned from 492 to 460 BCE.
  • Shishunaga dynasty followed, briefly moving the capital to Vaishali.
    • Noted for defeating Avanti.

The Nandas:

  • Most powerful Magadha rulers.
  • Conquered Kalinga under Mahapadma Nanda.
  • Established a tax system:
    • Taxes on crops (1/6th production)
    • Taxes on crafts (labor)
    • Taxes on herders (animals/products)
    • Taxes on trade goods
    • Taxes on forest produce

Reasons for Magadha’s Success:

  • Geography: proximity to iron deposits near Rajgir (early capital).
  • Strategic location of Pataliputra (confluence of Ganges, Gandak, Son rivers).
  • Rise of towns and use of metal currency.

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