The Nanda Empire of Magadha in northern India escaped invasion by Alexander the Great when, at the end of his epic campaign of conquest, his troops rebelled at crossing the Ganges to confront ‘6,000 of the largest-sized war elephants’. Their good fortune was short-lived; a few years later Chandragupta Maurya emerged from obscurity (possibly a family of peacock-tamers) to overthrow the Nanda. Alexander had destabilized the northern Indian city-states, leaving much of the west under the control of his satraps. Chandragupta used the vast army and ‘largest-sized war elephants’ he inherited from the Nanda first to subdue Bengal then to mop up the satrapies of Alexander. When he eventually confronted the powerful satrap of Babylon, Seleucus I Nicator, they reached a deal. Seleucus recognized Chandragupta’s dominion east of the Indus, and offered his daughter in marriage in exchange for 500 of those elephants (303 BCE). The Mauryan Empire would reach its zenith under Asoka (r. 268–232 BCE), whose Buddhist beliefs were inscribed in stone all over his vast empire (rock edicts). Chandragupta had established one of the largest empires on the subcontinent; his work done, he renounced his worldly power and became a Jain monk.
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