Pre-partition #4 The Ancient Empires

These farm communities were the forerunners of the great Indus Civilization, which developed at roughly the same time as the Mesopotamia and the Egyptian empires, around 3000 BC.


The Indus civilization was a well-organized urban society and developed a (still undeciphered) photographic form of writing and united the Indus Vally under a strong central government. The sites of the two major excavations of this civilization are Moenjodaro in Sindh and Harappa in Punjab.

Although there were about 400 sites in all.

1) Aryans (about 1700 BC):

In about 1700 BC Aryans Swift down from Central Asia in horse-drawn Chariot. Though culturally less advanced than the Indus Civilization, their Vedic religion developed into Hinduism. They raised and venerated cows, spoke an Indo-European language, and composed the Rigveda, the oldest religious text in the world, which describes battles against people living in cities. They also composed great epic poems, the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

2) Buddhism (6th Century):

Buddhism evolved in the 6th century BC, at about the easternmost province of the Achaemenid empire of Persia, then at its height under Darius the Great, Gandhara was a semi-independent Kingdom with capitals at Pushkalavati (now known as Charsadda) and Taxila, where from the 4th century BC existed one of the most outstanding universities of the ancient world.

3) Alexander The Great (327-325 BC):

Alexander the Great conquered the region between 327–325 BC taking Gandhara and visiting Taxila before marching across the salt flange (south of Islamabad) to the Beas River. He then sailed down the Beas to the Indus and continued South to the sea. He finally returned to the west by Marching across the Makran desert in Balochistan.

4) Mauryan Empire (In 321 BC):

Alexander’s empire was short-lived, and in 321 BC Chandragupta founded the Mauryan empire, which is composed of modern Pakistan but had its capital, to the east at Patna, on the Ganges River. His grandson, Ashoka promoted Buddhism and build Buddhist shrines all over the empire.

History records little of Sindh and Baluchistan from the third century BC to the 6-century AD, these provinces being effectively lost at the Eastern edge of Indian influence and the Eastern edge of Persian influence. Northern Pakistan, on the other hand, has a fully documented history. Wave after wave of inwards from Persia, Afghanistan, and Central Asia entered through the passes of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and swept across Punjab towards Delhi.

5) Bactrians, Scythians, and Parthians (185 BC 75-20 AD):

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In 185 BC Bactrian king Demetrius (descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers in Bactria now Balkh in North-Central Afghanistan) Marched over the Hindu Kash, into Punjab, and down the Indus, bringing much of Pakistan under his control. They built new Greek cities at Taxila and Pushkaravati. The Bactrians were followed by Scythians(Sakas) in 75 BC by Iranian nomads from Central Asia and in about 20 AD by the powerful Parthians, from east of the Caspian Sea.

The Parthians defeated the Romans in 53 BC by waving silken banners from which the Roman soldiers’ fled, thinking that such line lightweight fabric must be the product of sorcery. The Parthians by then had to grow rich as middlemen in the trade that developed along the Silk Road between China and the Roman empire.

6) The Kushan Rule:

The Kushans from Central Asia overthrew the Parthians and assumed their position at the center of the lucrative silk trade. The rule of the Kushans was one of the most decisive periods in the history of the Sub-continent. By the second century AD, the Kushans had reached the height of their power and they ruled from the Oxus (Central Asia) to the Ganges River and from Eastern Iran to the Chinese frontier. They made their winter capital in  Peshawar and their summer capital north of Kabul.

Under the most famous king Kanishka (128–151 AD) Buddhism prospered and thousands of monasteries and stupas were built in the Peshawar plain a nearby Swat. Gandhara became the Buddhist holy land and the center of the pilgrimage. It nourished for five centuries.

The real significance of the Kushans, however, was not the size of their empire, nor the wealth they accumulated. Rather it was the way they choose to spend and that wealth. They transformed Gandhara into a religious Holy land and spiritual center of the empire.

As the Kushans declined, the northern reaches of their empire were absorbed by the Sassanian empire of Persia, and the southern areas by the Gupta empire. In the 4th century, a narrow dynasty of kidar (little) Kushans came to power with their capital at Peshawar.

7) The Gupta empire:

Although it is unlikely that the Guptas ever had absolute control of the Indus Valley and probably never exacted anything more than tribute from Punjab it is impossible to ignore this dynasty in the history of Pakistan because the Gupta period has often been referred to as the classical age of India. During their period, Indian culture was established or consolidated, particularly in the fine arts, literature science, philosophy, and, of course, all of this has a great bearing on the evolution of Pakistan.

The empire reached its height under Chandra Gupta II (AD 375 – 415). During the Gupta empire, a strong revival of Hinduism took place because it was patronized by the court, and King himself came to be looked upon as Vishnu. The past system continued to be refined.

The Gupta Empire appeared to have been steadily weakened by worsening economic problems. Additionally, by the fifth century AD, there was a fresh threat coming from the northwest in the form of Huns.

8) The White Huns (Hephthalites):

In about 455 AD the white Huns from Central Asia invaded Gandhara from the northwest and sacked its cities. They quickly established a Kingdom, which extended into Sindh and as far East as Central India. The Huns were considered to have been excellent horsemen and first-class archers. The white Huns worshipped Shiva and the Sun god Surya. Buddhism declined in their period (although it continued in an altered form and died ultimately in the 6th century in Swat valley). The white Huns were converted to Hinduism and may have become the Rajput warrior class.

The Sassanians and Turks overthrew the Huns in 565, but they late in the 6th century Hindu Kings ruled again in what is now Pakistan: Turkey shahi rulers of kapisa in Afghanistan controlled the area west of the Indus, including Gandhara; the Raja of Kashmir ruled east of Indus and northern Punjab, and numerous small Hindu Kingdoms occupied the rest.

Brahmanical Hinduism spread at the expense of Buddhism. In 1870, Hindu Shahis from “Central Asia overthrew the Turkey shahis and established their capital on the Indus. They ruled an area from Jalalabad in Afghanistan to Multan and extended east to include Kashmir until 1008.

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