The empire was founded by Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321–297 BCE) after he overthrew the Nanda Dynasty and defeated the surviving forces of Alexander the Great. It would be expanded further under his son Bindusara (reign: 297–273 BCE) and grandson Ashoka (reign: 268–232 BCE).
Ashoka was said to have been deeply remorseful after personally witnessing the destruction and cost in human lives resulting from his conquest of Kalinga, which is the present-day Odisha and parts of Andhra Pradesh. Following this, he renounced any further conquests and converted to Buddhism.
Following his conversion, Ashoka sent Buddhist missionaries far and wide, accelerating the spread of the religion to China, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. His reign would also see the erection of some of South Asia's most famous Buddhist monuments, most notably the Pillars of Ashoka (Ashoka Stambha) that have been found at many sites in India and Nepal. Today the lion capital that topped those pillars is used as the national emblem of the Republic of India, and the wheel of Ashoka is on the national flag.
The empire would, however, decline following the death of Ashoka, and eventually fractured into numerous small states. Over centuries Buddhism mostly died out in India, but remained strong in various countries where Ashoka had sent missionaries, and the Buddha was incorporated into the Hindu pantheon as the ninth avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu.
During the Mauryan Era, a stretch of road ran from the mouth of the Ganges near present-day Kolkata to Bactria, via the capital Pataliputra (today's Patna) and Taxila. The road was known as uttarāpatha (road to the north) and was the ancestor of the modern Grand Trunk Road.
- 1 Pataliputra (Patna) (in present-day Bihar, India). The empire's capital.
- 2 Takshashila (Taxila) (in present-day Punjab, Pakistan). A centre of trade and learning, now known mainly for its Greek-influenced Buddhist art.
- 3 Ujjain (in present-day Madhya Pradesh, India).
- 4 Vaishali (in present-day Bihar, India).