top of page

Archaeological Sources for the Study of Ancient Indian History

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Archaeological sources includes:

  • Inscriptions

  • Coins

  • Monuments (palaces, forts, temples)

Inscriptions

Inscriptions refers to the letters cut on various surfaces. The study of inscriptions is known as epigraphy.There are different types of inscriptions such as copper plate inscription, cave inscription, pillar inscription, etc.

Copper plate inscription

Significance of Inscriptions

  • We get the knowledge of the language used in the age. Eg: In Ashokan edicts, we can see Prakrit language.

Ashokan Rock Edict

  • We get the knowledge of the script. Eg: In Ashokan edicts, we can see Brahmi, Aramaic, Kharosthi scripts.

  • We get knowledge about the calligraphic skills of the age. Eg: In Ashokan edicts, large amount of content is present. Still they were inscribed without a single mistake.

Ashokan Pillar Inscription

  • We get knowledge of the material culture of the age. Eg: large number of rock edicts during Mauryan age suggests that rock was the main building material of that age.

Ashokan Rock Edict

  • We get knowledge of the social life of the period. Eg: The Eran inscription of Gupta king Bhanugupta tells us that the practice of Sati was present during Gupta age.


  • We get information about the politico-administrative life of the age. Eg: Ashokan edicts mention the name of officers and their duties.

A Mauryan Officer: Sculpture

  • We get knowledge of the religious life of the age. Eg: Barabar and Nagarjuni cave inscriptions tell us that these caves were donated to Ajivikas by Ashoka and his grand son Dasaratha. Mauryan rulers were followers of Buddhism. It means people of that age were religiously tolerant and benevolent.

Barabar Cave

  • We get information about the economic life of the age. Eg: Lumbini pillar edict of Ashoka tells us that Ashoka visited Lumbini and reduced the tax rate from ¼ to 1/8 of the produce.

Ashokan Pillar at Lumbini

  • We get information about the foreign relations. Eg: 13 th major rock edict of Ashoka says that Ashoka sent ambassadors to the courts of 5 contemporary rulers.

Ashokan Major Rock Edict

  • We get information about the military successes of the rulers. Eg: Allahabad pillar inscription of Harisena describes about the military successes of Samudragupta. Aihole inscription of Ravikirti mentions about the victory of Chalukyan king Pulikeshin II against Harshavardhana.

Allahabad Pillar

  • Geographical locations of the inscriptions help us in determining the territorial extent of the kingdom. Eg: Ashokan edicts are found from Afganistan and Pakistan. So we can understand that these areas were under Mauryan rule.


  • Many important pieces of information are available only from inscriptions. Eg: Defeat of Harsha against Pulikeshin II would be unknown without Aihole inscription of Ravikirti.


Coins

  • Earliest coins in India were issued in 6 th century BC (post Vedic period). These were punch marked coins (symbols were punched into the coins; moulds were not used). These coins were not issued by the rulers; they were issued by the merchants and guilds. These coins were made of silver and copper.

Punch marked coin

  • For the first time, gold coins were issued by Indo- Greeks in 2 nd century BC.


  • Purest gold coins were issued by Kushanas.

Kushan Coins

  • Largest number of gold coins were issued during Gupta period.

Gupta Coin

  • Study of coins is known as numismatics.

Historical significance of coins

  • Coins provide information about the material culture of the age. We can understand which were the materials known to the people.

  • We get information about the dynastic history (name of the kings, their titles, etc.). Eg: Entire Gupta history is reconstructed from Gupta coins.

Gupta Coins

  • Coins help in the chronological reconstruction of the history. We can understand which king came first and who succeeded him etc. Eg: The Kushana coins gives us the information about the chronological order of their kings.

Kushan Coins

  • Purity of coins indicate the level of prosperity. Eg: Pure gold coins of imperial Guptas indicate that India was prosperous during the imperial Gupta period(300 AD -450 AD). Impure gold coins of later Guptas indicate that prosperity was low during the later Gupta period (450 AD to 550 AD).

Later Gupta Coins

  • Abundance of coins reveals the health of trade and commerce. Eg: Large number of coins during the Imperial Gupta period indicate that trade and commerce was prosperous at that time. Limited number of coins during later Gupta period indicates that trade and commerce was not prosperous at that time.


  • Coins gives us information about the foreign relations. Eg: Large number of Roman coins were discovered from peninsular india. It indicates that Indains had trade relations with Romans during the ancient period.

Roman Coins from Peninsular India

  • We get knowledge of the language and script of the age. Eg: In Gupta coins, Sanskrit language and Devanagiri script are found.

Script in Gupta Coins

  • Coins help us in understanding the religious life of the age. Eg: Garuda emblems are found from Gupta coins. It indicates that Guptas were followers of Vaishnavism.

Gupta Coins

  • Coins provide information about the social life of the age. Eg: Queen Kumaradevi is depicted in coins of Chandragupta I. It indicates that women enjoyed high status during that period.

Kumaradevi Type Coin

  • We get information about the cultural life of the period. Eg: Samudragupta issued veena type coins. It indicates that he patronized music.

Veena type coin of Samudragupta

  • Without coins, many dynasties would be unknown to us. The dynasties such as Yodheyas, nagas which ruled during the post-mauryan period would have been unknown to us without their coins.

Youdheya Coins

Monuments


Monuments comprise temples, stupas, caves, pillars, palaces, forts, etc.


Historical significance of monuments

  • We get information about the material culture of the age. Eg: the remains of the stone palace of Ashoka was found from Kumrahar. It indicates that stone was the main construction material during that time period.


  • Large number of monuments indicates the level of prosperity. Eg: More than 2300 temples were built by Chola rulers in south India. It indicates high level of prosperity.

Chola Temple

  • We get information about the religious life of the age. Eg: More than 84000 stupas were built by Ashoka. It indicates that Buddhism was dominant during Mauryan age.

Ashokan Stupa

  • We get knowledge in the progress of civil engineering: Eg: The Great Bath of Mohen Jo Daro was made using gypsum and bitumin to make the walls waterproof.

The Great Bath

  • Monuments gives us information about the foreign relations. Eg: A monastery was constructed by Sri Lankan king Meghavarman at Bodhgaya. It indicates that India- Sri Lanka relations were cordial.

A Monastery at Bodhgaya

  • Monuments throw light on the attitude of rulers. Eg: Large number of Buddhist monasteries and stupas were destroyed by Pushyamitra Sunga. It indicates that he was religiously intolerant. Even though Gupta rulers were Vaishnavites, they constructed some Buddhist temples. It indicates that Gupta rulers were religiously tolerant.

Pushyamitra Sunga


6,697 views

コメント


bottom of page