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Chapter 17. The Age of the Satvahans (Old NCERT History Ancient India)

17. The Age of the Satvahans

Political History

The most important of the native successors of the Mauryas in the north were the Shungas followed by the Kanvas. In the Deccan and in central India, the Satavahanas succeeded the Mauryas although after a gap of about 100 years. The Satavahanas are considered to be identical with the Andhras who are mentioned in the Puranas. The Puranas speak only of the Andhra rule and not of the Satavahana rule. On the other hand the name Andhra does not occur in Satavahana inscriptions. Pre Satavahana settlements are attested by the finds of red ware, black-and red ware and russet-coated painted ware at many sites in the Deccan. Most of these are associated with the iron using megalith builders who were stimulated to new activity by contacts with the material culture from the north. The use of iron share, paddy transplantation and the coming of urbanism, writing, etc. created conditions for state formation under the Satavahanas. According to some Puranas, altogether the Andhras ruled for 300 years and this period is assigned to the rule of the Satavahana dynasty. The earliest inscriptions of the Satavahanas belong to the first century B.C., when they defeated the Kanvas and established their power to parts of central India. The early Satavahana kings appeared not in Andhra, but in north Maharashtra where their earliest coins and inscriptions have been found. They set up their power in the upper Godavari valley, which at present produces rich and diverse crops in Maharashtra.
Gradually the Satavahanas extended their power over Karnataka and Andhra. Their greatest competitors were the Shakas, who had established their power in the upper Deccan and western India. At one stage the Satavahanas were dispossessed of their dominions by the Shakas in Maharashtra and western India. The fortunes of the family were restored by Gautamiputra Satakarni (A D. 106-130). He called himself the only brahmana. He defeated the Shakas and destroyed many kshatriya rulers. He claims to have destroyed the Kshaharata lineage to which his adversary Nahapana belonged. This claim is true, because more than 8,000 silver coins of Nahapana, found near Nasik, bear marks of being restruck by the Satavahana king. He also occupied Malwa and Kathiawar which lay under the control of the Shakas. It seems that the empire of Gautamiputra Satakarni extended from Malwa in the north to Karnataka in the south. Possibly he also enjoyed general authority over Andhra.
The successors of Gautamiputra ruled till A.D. 220. The coins and inscriptions of his immediate successor Vashishthiputra Pulumayi (A.D. 130-154) are found in Andhra and show that by the middle of the second century this area had become a part of the Satavahana kingdom. He set up his capital at Paithan or Pratishthan on the Godavari in Aurangabad district. The Shakas resumed their conflict with the Satavahanas for the possession of the Konkan coast and Malwa. Rudradaman 1 (A.D. 130-150), the Shaka ruler of Saurashtra (Kathiawar), defeated the Satavahanas twice, but did not destroy them on account of matrimonial relations. Yajna Sri Satakarni (A.D. 165-194), one of the later kings, recovered north Konkan and Malwa from the Shaka rulers. He was a lover of trade and navigation. His coins have been found not only in Andhra but also in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. His love for navigation and overseas trade is shown by the representation of a ship on his coins.

Aspects of Material Culture

The material culture of the Deccan under the Satavahanas was a fusion of local elements and northern ingredients. The megalith builders of the Deccan were fairly acquainted with the use of iron and agriculture; Although before circa 200 B.C. we find some hoes made of iron, the number of such tools increased substantially in the first two or three centuries of the Christian era. We do not notice much change in the form of the hoes from the megalithic to the Satavahana phase. Only hoes were now fully and properly socketed. Besides socketed hoes, sickles, spades, ploughshares, axes, adzes, razors, etc., belong to the Satavahana layers of the excavated sites. Tanged and socketed arrow-heads as well as daggers have also been discovered. At a site in Karimnagar district even a blacksmith’s shop has been discovered. The Satavahanas may have exploited the iron ores of Karimnagar and Warangal, for in these districts indications of iron workings as early as the megalithic phase have been found. Evidence of ancient gold workings has been found in the Kolar fields in the pre-Christian centuries and later. The Satavahanas may have used gold as bullion, for they did not issue gold coins as the Kushans did. They issued mostly coins of lead, which is found in the Deccan. They also issued potin, copper and bronze money. The Ikshvakus, who succeeded the Satavahanas in the early third century A.D. in the eastern Deccan, also issued their coins. Both the Satavahanas and Ikshvakus seem to have exploited the mineral resources of the Deccan.
The people of the Deccan knew the art of paddy transplantation and in the first two centuries the area between the Krishna and the Godavari, especially at the mouths of the two rivers, formed a great rice bowl. The people of the Deccan also produced cotton. In foreign accounts, Andhra is considered to be famous for its cotton products. Thus, a good portion of the Deccan developed a very advanced rural economy. According to Pliny, the Andhra Kingdom maintained an army of 100,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry and 1000 elephants. This presupposes a large rural population and apparently the peasants produced enough to support this military strength.
Through contacts with the north, the people of the Deccan learnt the use of coins, burnt bricks, ring-wells, art of writing, etc. These components of material life have come quite important in the Deccan a couple of centuries later. In Peddabankur (200 B.C. A.D. 200) in Karimnagar district, we find regular use of fire-baked bricks and use of flat, perforated roof tiles. Ml this must have contributed to the longevity of constructions. What is further remarkable is the fact that as many as 22 brick wells belonging to the second Century A.D. have been discovered at that site. Naturally these facilitated dense habitations and we find there covered drains underground to lead waste water into soakage pits. Towns appeared in Maharashtra by the first century B.C., when we find several crafts. They emerged in the eastern Deccan a century later. Pliny informs us that the Andhra country in the eastern Deccan included 30 walled towns, besides numerous villages. Several towns of the second and third centuries in this area are known from inscriptions and excavations. Increasing trade is indicated by numerous Roman and Satavahana coins. They appeared about a century later in the eastern Deccan, in the Godavari-Krishna area.

Social Organization

The Satavahanas originally seem to have been a tribe of the Deccan. But they were brahrnanized and their most famous king Gautamiputra Satakarni claims to have established the four-fold varna system which had fallen into disorder. He boasts that he put an end to the intermixture between the people of different social orders. Such confusion was probably caused by the Shaka infiltration and by the thin and superficial brahmanization of the tribes living in the Deccan. The absorption of the Shakas in brahmanical society as kshatriyas was facilitated by intermarriage between the Shakas and the Satavahanas. Similarly, the indigenous tribal people were more and more acculturated by the Buddhist monks, who were induced by land grants to settle in the western Deccan. It is suggested that traders also supported the Buddhist monks for the earliest caves seem to have been located on the trade routes. The Satavahanas were also the first rulers to make land grants to the brahmanas, although we have more instances of grants being made to Buddhist monks.
According to the Dharmashastras, it was the function of the kshatriyas to rule, but the Satavahana rulers called themselves brahmanas. Gautamiputra boasts that he was the true brahmana. Since the Andhras are identified with the early Satavahanas, probably they were a local tribe who were converted to brahmanism. The orthodox brahmanas of the north looked upon the Andhras as a mixed caste. This shows that Andhras were tribal people who were brought within the fold of brahmanical society as a mixed caste.
Increasing craft and commerce in this period brought many merchants and artisans to the forefront. Merchants took pride in naming themselves after the towns to which they belonged. Both artisans and merchants made generous donations to the Buddhist cause. They set up small memorial tablets. Among the artisans the gandhikas or the perfumers are repeatedly mentioned as donors. At a later stage the term gandhika became so general as to connote all kinds of shopkeepers. The modern title Gandhi is derived from this ancient term.
The most interesting detail about the Satavahanas relates to their family structure. In Aryan society in north India, father enjoyed greater importance than mother and the north Indian princes whom we have considered so far seem to have belonged to a patriarchal society. But the Satavahanas show traces of a matrilineal social structure. It was customary for their king to be named after his mother. Such names as Gautamiputra and Vashishthiputra indicate that in their society mother enjoyed a great deal of importance. At present in peninsular India the son’s name includes a part of the father’s name and there is no place for mother in it; this shows patriarchal influence. Queens made important religious gifts in their own right and some of them acted as regents. But basically the Satavahana ruling family was patriarchal because succession to the throne passed to the male member.

Pattern of Administration

The Satavahana rulers strove for the royal ideal set forth in the Dharmashastras. The king was represented as the upholder of dharma.
To him were assigned a few divine attributes. The Satavahana king is represented as possessing the qualities of mythical heroes such as Rama, Bhima, Keshava, Arjuna, etc. He is compared in prowess and lustre to these legendary figures and to supernatural forces. This was evidently meant to attribute divinity to the Satavahana king.
The Satavahanas retained some of the administrative units found in Ashokan times. Their district was called ahara, as it was known in the time of Ashoka. Their officials were known as amatyas and mahamatras, as they were known in Maurya times.
But we notice certain military and feudal traits in the administration of the Satavahanas. It is significant that the senapati was appointed provincial governor. Since the tribal people in the Deccan were not thoroughly brahmanized and reconciled to the hew rule, it was necessary, to keep them under strong military control. The administration in the rural areas was placed in the hands of gaulmika, who was the head of a military regiment consisting of nine chariots, nine elephants, 25 horses and 45 foot-soldiers. The head of the army platoon was therefore posted in the countryside to maintain peace and order.
The military, character of the Satavahana rule is also evident from the common use of such terms as kataka and skandhavaras in their inscriptions. These were military camps and settlements which served as administrative centres so long as the king was there. Thus coercion played a key role in the Satavahana administration.
The Satavahanas started the practice of granting tax-free villages to brahmanas and Buddhist monks. The cultivated fields and villages granted to them were declared free from molestation by royal policemen and: soldiers and all kinds of royal officers. These areas therefore became small independent islands within the Satavahana kingdom. Possibly the Buddhist monks also preached peace and rules of good conduct among the people they lived with and taught them to respect political authority and social order. The brahmanas, of course, helped enforce the rules of the varna system which made society stable.
The Satavahana kingdom had three grades of feudatories. The highest grade was formed by the king who was called raja and who had the right to strike coins. The second grade was formed by the maharja and the third grade by the senapati. It seems that these feudatories and landed beneficiaries enjoyed some authority in their respective localities.

The Satavahana rulers were brahmanas and they represented the march of triumphant brahmanism. From the very beginning kings and queens performed the Vedic sacrifices such as the ashvamedha vajapeya, etc. They also worshipped a large number of Vaishnava gods such as Krishna, Vasudeva and others. They paid liberal sacrificial fees to the brahmanas.
However, the Satavahana rulers promoted Buddhism by granting land to the monks. In their kingdom the Mahayana form of Buddhism commanded considerable following, especially in the artisan class. Nagarjunkonda and Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh became important seats of Buddhist culture under the Satavahlmas and more so under their successors, the lkshvakus. Similarly, Buddhism flourished in the Nasik and Junar areas in the western Deccan in Maharashtra, where it seems to have been supported by the traders.


In the Satavahana phase many chaityas (sacred shrines) and monasteries were cut out of the solid rock in the north-western Deccan or Maharashtra with great skill and patience. In fact the process had started about a century earlier in about 200 B.C. The two common religious constructions were the Buddhist temple which was called chaitya and the monastery which was called vihara. The chaitya was a large hall with a number of columns and the vihara consisted of a central hall entered by a doorway from a verandah in. front. The most famous chaitya is that of Karle in the western Deccan. It is about 40 metres long, 15 metres wide and 15 metres high. It is a most impressive specimen of massive rock architecture.
The viharas or monasteries were excavated near the chaityas for the residence of monks in the rainy season. At Nasik we have three viharas. Since they carry the inscriptions Of Nahapana and Gautamiputra, it seems that they belong to the first second centuries A.D.
Rock-cut architecture is also to be found in Andhra in the Krishna Godavari region, but the region is really famous for independent Buddhist structures, mostly in the form of stupas. The most famous of them are Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The stupa was a large round structure erected over some relic of the Buddha. The Amaravati stupa began in about 200 B.G. but was completely reconstructed in the second half of the second century A.D. Its dome measured 53 metres across the base and it seems to have been 33 metres in height. The Amaravati stupa is full of sculptures which depict the various scenes from the life of the Buddha.
Nagaijunakonda prospered most in the second-third centuries under the patronage of the Ikshvakus, the successors of the Satavahanas. It contains not only Buddhist monuments but also the earliest brahmanical brick temples. Nearly two dozen monasteries can be counted here. Together with its stupas and mahachaityas it appears to be the richest in structure in the early centuries of the Christian era.


The official language of the Satavahanas was Prakrit. All inscriptions were composed in this language and written in the Brahmi script, as was the case in Ashokan times. Some Satavahana kings may have composed Prakrit books. One Prakrit text called Gathasattasaior the Gathasaptasatiis attributed to a Satavahana king called Hala. It consisted of 700 verses, all written in Prakrit, hut it seems to have been finally re-touched much later, possibly after the sixth century A.D.


1. Explain the meaning of the following terms and concepts: matrilineal, gandhika, chaitya, vihara, stupa, Prakrit
2. Who were the Satavahanas? Give an account of their political history.
3. Were the Satavahanas the true successors of the Mauryas in the Deccan? Discuss.
4. Describe the system of administration under the Satavahanas.
5. Describe the development of art and architecture under the Satavahanas.
6. Describe the social organization during the age of the Satavahanas. Discuss its special features.
7. Give an account of religion in the Satavahana territories.
8. On an outline map of India, show the territories under Satavahana rule. Also show contemporary kingdoms in other parts of India.

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