Political and Economic History: NBSE Class 12 (Arts) History notes

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Get summary, textual answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF to NBSE Class 12 (Arts) History (Themes in Indian History) chapter “Political and Economic History: How Inscriptions Tell a Story”. However, the educational materials should only be used for reference and students are encouraged to make necessary changes.

AN Indian king, illustrating the chapter Political and Economic History How Inscriptions Tell a Story


Political and economic history are intricately linked, and in ancient India, we can trace this connection through inscriptions. Inscriptions are a valuable source of information that historians use to understand the past. In the case of ancient India, inscriptions provide a glimpse into the political and economic history of the region.

After the Rig Vedic Age, there is a dearth of material on the condition of the north-western territories of India. However, the Buddhist sources tell us about sixteen great states (Mahajanapadas) in India, but only two states of the north-west India, namely, the Gandhara and Kamboj are mentioned in this list. There were also many small states in the north-west in the 6th century BC, but we do not even know their names. For many centuries, this region remained aloof from the Gangetic plains politically as well as culturally.

In the east, Magadha had risen to be a very powerful state during the rule of Bimbisara, Ajatasatru, and the nine Nanda rulers. In 325 BC, Chandra Gupta Maurya overthrew the Nanda dynasty of Magadha and laid the foundation of the Mauryan Empire in India. From the sixth century BC (approximately), there were visible trends of the emergence of the early states, empires, and kingdoms. Underlying these political developments, some changes in the agricultural organization are also evident. Besides, simultaneously new towns were also appearing throughout the subcontinent.

To understand these developments, historians drew material from different sources such as inscriptions, coins, texts, and visual material. However, these sources do not provide the complete picture. In the 1830s, some significant developments took place in the study of Indian inscriptions when James Prinsep, an officer in the mint of the East India Company, deciphered Brahmi and Kharosthi, the two scripts used in the earliest inscriptions and coins. He discovered that most of the inscriptions referred to a king as Piyadassi, meaning “pleasant to behold.” He also found some inscriptions which referred to the king as Ashoka, one of the great rulers known from the Buddhist texts.

This discovery opened up new avenues for historians to study ancient India’s political history. They began to use inscriptions and texts composed in various languages to reconstruct the lineage of the important dynasties that had ruled in the subcontinent. By the early twentieth century, the broad contours of political history of ancient India were in place.

Next, the scholars began to focus on the context of political history and investigate whether there were connections between political changes and socio-economic developments. This process was not simple and direct. Nevertheless, inscriptions played a crucial role in this investigation. Inscriptions provide information about land grants, taxes, trade, and commerce. For example, the inscriptions of the Mauryan period reveal a highly centralized system of administration that imposed taxes on various economic activities.

Inscriptions also provide insights into social and religious practices. For instance, inscriptions tell us about the construction of stupas, temples, and other religious monuments. They provide information about the donors and the social and economic status of the people who contributed to these constructions.

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Textual questions and answers

1. Very Short Answer Questions

1. What was the name of Capital of Magadha?

Answer: The capital of Magadha was Giriviraha.

2. Who was the founder of Mauryan empire?

Answer: The founder of the Mauryan Empire was Chandragupta Maurya.

3. Write the meaning of ‘Piyadassi’.

Answer: The term ‘Piyadassi’ means “pleasant to behold”.

4. What is Epigraphy?

Answer: Epigraphy is the study of inscriptions or epigraphs engraved into hard materials such as stone, metal, or ceramics. It is a primary tool of archaeology and historical research, as it provides information about the culture, language, religion, and society of the people who created the inscriptions.

5. Who was Gahapati?

Answer: In ancient India, Gahapati was the owner or head of a household who exercised control over all the members of the family who shared a common residence.

II. Multiple Choice Questions

(i) Epigraphy is the study of:

Answer: (iii) inscriptions.

(ii) Word ‘Janapada’ belongs to which of these languages?

Answer: (i) Prakrit.

(iii) How many Mahajanapadas are there in the sixth century BCE?

Answer: (ii) Sixteen

(iv) A form of government where power is exercised by a group of men is called:

Answer: (i) oligarchy.

III. Short Answer Type Questions-l

1. What is the importance of the 6th century B.C. in the history of ancient India?

Answer: The 6th century B.C. was an important period in the history of ancient India because it witnessed the rise of the Mahajanapadas, the sixteen great kingdoms that emerged in the northern and eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent. This period also saw the emergence of Buddhism and Jainism as major religions, and the development of new philosophical and scientific ideas.

2. Give the names of Mahajanpadas and its Capital.

Answer: The sixteen Mahajanapadas and their capitals were: Anga (Champa), Assaka (Potana), Avanti (Ujjain), Chedi (Shuktimati), Gandhara (Taxila), Kashi (Varanasi), Kamboja (Rajapura), Kosala (Saketa), Kuru (Indraprastha), Magadha (Rajagriha), Malla (Kusinara), Matsya (Viratanagara), Panchala (Ahichchhatra), Surasena (Mathura), Vajji (Vaishali), and Vatsa (Kausambi).

3. Who was the last ruler of the Mahajanpadas of Magadha?

Answer: The last ruler of the Mahajanapadas of Magadha was Shishunaga.

4. What do you know about the city of Rajagaha?

Answer: Rajagaha (present day Rajgir in Bihar) was the capital of Magadha. Rajagaha was a fortified settlement surrounded by the hills.

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8. Give the names of any two temples built during the Gupta rule.

Answer: There were several temples built during the Gupta rule. Two of the well-known temples are:

i. The Dasavtara temple at Deogarh in the Jhansi district
ii. The temple at Bhitaragaon near Kanpur

IV. Short Answer Type Questions-II

1. What do you know about the Mahajanapada?

Answer: Mahajanapada was a term used for the sixteen powerful and vast kingdoms or republics that existed in ancient India from the 6th century BCE to the 4th century BCE. These sixteen Mahajanapadas were located mainly in the northern part of India, in the valleys of the Ganges and the Yamuna. Some of the well-known Mahajanapadas were Magadha, Kosala, Vajji, Avanti, and Panchala. The Mahajanapadas were ruled by kings, some known as Ganas or Sanghas, who shared power with a number of men of influence, often collectively called the Rajas. The Mahajanapadas were engaged in internecine struggles and raids on neighboring states were recognized as a legitimate means of acquiring wealth.

2. What was the importance of the Mauryan empire? How did the central government control the provinces?

Answer: The Mauryan empire was important because it was one of the largest and most powerful empires in ancient India, covering a vast area of the Indian subcontinent. The central government controlled the provinces through a system of appointed officials. 

At the apex of the whole administration was the emperor who was the fountain-head of all authority. His powers were unlimited. He appointed some men of high character and great wisdom as his ministers whom he consulted before deciding any policy. The ministers were of two ranks—the Mantris and the Amatyas. The mantris were senior ministers who were his chief advisors and also helped him in the conduct of administration. Amatyas were executive officers working under the mantris carrying out the work of different departments. For the efficient administration, the Mauryans had divided the Empire into provinces. The Governor of each province was styled as Kumara or Aryaputra and was generally a prince of royal blood.

3. Write a note on Ashoka’s concept of Dhamma.

Answer: Ashoka’s concept of Dhamma was based on the idea of moral and ethical conduct. He believed that true happiness could only be achieved through leading a highly moral life. Ashoka picked up the well-known principles of ethics common to all religions and styled them as Dhamma. The principles of Dhamma preached by Ashoka are found on his rock inscriptions.

Ashoka appointed a special class of officers called dhamma Mahamatta.They were touring officers and were to see whether the people and the public servants were carrying out the principles of Dhamma.

Ashoka’s Dhamma was not a religion but a code of conduct that emphasized the purity of conduct and moral and ethical values of life. He laid stress on the practice of certain simple virtues, such as respect for parents, teachers, and elders, compassion for all living beings, and tolerance towards other religions. Ashoka’s Dhamma was an attempt to create a just and humane society based on moral and ethical values.

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5. Discuss the evidence of craft production in early historic cities.

Answer: Craft production was an important aspect of early historic cities in India. The artisans were organized into guilds or shrenis, and there are references to the guilds of weavers, braziers, oil-millers, bamboo workers, corn dealers, ivory workers, and more. The organization of guilds gave craftsmen political and economic power. The goods were sold under the supervision of government officers, and a tax of 10 percent was levied on the sales.

The craftsmen were classified into many more classes, and there were three prominent features of these classes, namely, localization of vocations, hereditary professions, and the working of the artisans under their chiefs. With the passage of time, these classes of craftsmen grew into important institutions. These craftsmen also employed slaves to increase production. Greek writers refer to the manufacture of arms and agricultural implements and the building of ships.

V. Long Answer Type Questions-l

1. Describe how the inscriptions open the doors of history.

Answer: Inscriptions are writings that are usually inscribed on hardstone or metal. They may be either official documents set forth by the kings and other authorities or records made by private persons for various purposes. They are engraved on pillars, rocks, walls of caves, copper plates, and stone in many Indian languages like Sanskrit, Pali, Tamil, Telugu, etc. These inscriptions give information about the common people. They also throw light on the social, economic, and religious condition of the times. Such inscriptions often contain information about reigning kings and their ancestors. Most of the inscriptions are dated. The inscriptions have been so far helpful in unfolding ancient Indian history run into many thousand years.

2. Describe the history of Mahajanapada of Magadha. How did it rise into prominence?

Answer: Magadha was a very ancient kingdom that comprised the districts of Patna and Gaya in South Bihar. Between the sixth and the fourth centuries BC, it became the most powerful Mahajanapada. It had some special advantages over the others. It had a sort of natural defence due to the hills surrounding its ancient capital Giriviraha. The fertile lands, watered by the rivers such as the Ganges and the Sone, yielded rich harvests. Facilitated by the Ganges, the prosperity of Magadha increased by trade and commerce. Besides, iron mines were accessible and provided material for making tools and weapons.

Early Buddhists and Jainas, who wrote about this Mahajanapada, attributed its power to the policies of the individuals. Bimbisara was the first ruler of the Haryanka dynasty who ruled from 543 BC to 491 BC. He was succeeded by his son Ajatashatru who expanded the kingdom by conquering the neighbouring states of Kashi, Kosala, and Vajji. He also built a new capital at Pataliputra.

The most famous ruler of Magadha was Chandragupta Maurya who founded the Mauryan Empire in 321 BC. He overthrew the Nanda dynasty and established his rule over Magadha. He was succeeded by his son Bindusara and then by his grandson Ashoka who is known for his policies of non-violence and religious tolerance.

Magadha’s rise to prominence was due to its strategic location, fertile lands, and abundant resources. The rulers of Magadha were also known for their military prowess and administrative skills. They maintained a large army and a well-organized bureaucracy. The kingdom of Magadha became a model for other kingdoms to follow, and its legacy continued to influence Indian history for centuries to come.

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5. To what extent were agricultural practices transformed in the period under consideration.

Answer: During the Mauryan period, there was a significant expansion of agriculture. The Mauryan state encouraged agricultural production by constructing irrigation systems, digging wells, and building canals. The state also provided loans to farmers and distributed seeds and cattle. The Arthashastra, a treatise on statecraft, mentions the use of manure, crop rotation, and the cultivation of multiple crops in a single field. The treatise also describes the use of plows and oxen for cultivation.

The Mauryan state also regulated agriculture through land surveys and the collection of taxes. The state collected taxes in the form of a share of the crop, and the amount of tax varied depending on the quality of the land and the type of crop grown. The state also maintained granaries to ensure food security during times of famine.

During the Gupta period, there was a further expansion of agriculture. The Gupta state encouraged the cultivation of cash crops such as cotton, sugarcane, and indigo. The state also introduced new crops such as rice and wheat. The Gupta period saw the development of new irrigation systems, including the construction of dams and reservoirs. The use of iron plows and bullocks for cultivation became more widespread during this period.

The Mauryan and Gupta periods saw significant transformations in agricultural practices, including the expansion of agriculture, the use of new crops and irrigation systems, and the regulation of agriculture through land surveys and taxes.

VI. Long Answer Type Questions-II

1. What is inscription? Explain.

Answer: Inscriptions are writings or carvings on hard surfaces such as stone, metal, or wood that provide valuable information about the past. They can be found on a variety of objects, including buildings, monuments, coins, and pottery. Inscriptions can be in the form of text, symbols, or images, and they can provide information about a wide range of topics, including political events, religious beliefs, and cultural practices.

Inscriptions are an important source of historical information because they provide direct evidence of the past. They can tell us about the people who created them, the events they witnessed, and the beliefs and values of the societies in which they lived. Inscriptions can also provide information about the languages, scripts, and writing systems used in the past, as well as the artistic and technical skills of the people who created them.

However, there are limitations to what inscriptions can tell us. Some inscriptions may be damaged or incomplete, making them difficult to interpret. In addition, inscriptions may reflect the perspectives of the people who commissioned them, rather than providing a complete and unbiased view of the past. Nonetheless, inscriptions remain an important source of historical information and continue to be studied by scholars around the world.

2. What are the different explanations offered by early writers and present day Historians for the growth of Magadhan Power?

Answer: Early writers and present-day historians have offered different explanations for the growth of Magadhan power. Some of these explanations are:

i. Natural resources: Magadha was blessed with natural resources such as fertile lands, iron mines, and rivers that facilitated trade and commerce. These resources helped Magadha to become prosperous and powerful.

ii. Geographical location: Magadha was located in a strategic position, surrounded by hills that provided natural defense. This made it difficult for enemies to attack and conquer the kingdom.

iii. Military strength: Magadha had a strong military, which was well-organized and well-equipped. The army was composed of infantry, cavalry, and elephants, which gave it an advantage over other kingdoms.

iv. Political leadership: Magadha was ruled by powerful and ambitious kings who were able to expand the kingdom through conquest and diplomacy. These kings were able to maintain a stable and efficient administration, which helped to consolidate their power.

v. Religious and cultural factors: Magadha was home to several important religious and cultural centers, such as Bodh Gaya and Nalanda. These centers attracted scholars and intellectuals from all over India, which helped to spread knowledge and ideas throughout the kingdom.

vi. Economic factors: Magadha was a center of trade and commerce, which helped to generate wealth and prosperity. The kingdom was able to collect taxes and tribute from traders, artisans, and cultivators, which helped to fund its military and administrative expenses.

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4. How would you classify the people in terms of their occupations?

Answer: In ancient India, people were classified into different occupational groups based on their professions. The four main occupational groups were Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras. Brahmanas were the priests and scholars who were responsible for performing religious rituals and teaching the Vedas. Kshatriyas were the warriors and rulers who were responsible for protecting the society and maintaining law and order. Vaishyas were the merchants and traders who were responsible for trade and commerce. Sudras were the laborers and artisans who were responsible for manual labor and other services. These occupational groups were further divided into subgroups based on their specific professions. For example, the craftsmen were organized into guilds or shrenis, and there were guilds of weavers, braziers, oil-millers, bamboo workers, corn dealers, ivory workers, and many more.

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