January 24

The Satavahana Empire - Dawn of a new Era

The Satavahanas succeeded the Mauryas in the Deccan after a gap of nearly 100 years. They are identified with the Andhras of the Puranas. The rule of this dynasty began in the mid 1st century BCE and ended in the early 3rd century BCE. The Satavahana empire covered modern Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. At times it also included northern Karnataka, eastern and southern Madhya Pradesh, and Saurashtra.


The founder of the dynasty Simuka was succeeded by his brother Kanha. The third king of the dynasty was Satakarni I. Later the Satavahana kings included Hala who authored the Gatha Sattasai.

Their biggest adversaries were the Shakas who had established themselves in the upper Deccan and western India. They dispossessed the Satavahanas of their dominion in Maharashtra and western India. The empire was restored by Gautamiputra Satakarni who defeated the Shakas and destroyed many Kshatriya rulers. He also brought under his control Malwa and Kathiawar which were previously controlled by the Shakas. His achievements have been described and eulogised in inscriptions by his mother Gautami Balashri at Nashik, which were engraved after his death during the reign of his son Pulumayi II.

Rudradaman I, the Shaka ruler of Saurashtra defeated the Satavahanas twice. The last great king of this dynasty was Yajna Sri Satakarni who recovered north Konkan coast and Malwa from the Shaka rulers. He was a patron of trade and navigation, and his coins bear the images of various ships, some single masted, others double masted.

The successors of Yajna Sri Satakarni included Gautamiputra Vijaya Satakarni, Chanda Satakarni, Vashishthiputra Vijaya Satakarni, and Pulumayi. The breakup of the empire paved the way for the rise of the Vakatakas in the Deccan, Kadambas in Mysore, Abhiras in Maharashtra, and Ikshvakus in Andhra.

Satavahana Empire, Deccan, Simukha, Simuka

Source: Map created from DEMIS Mapserver, which are public domain. Koba-chan.Reference: [1], CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons


The megalith builders of the Deccan were well aware with the use of iron and agriculture. Socketed hoes, sickles, spades, ploughshares, axes, razors, etc. relate to this age. Tanged and socketed arrowheads as well as daggers have also been discovered.

The Satavahanas issued coins of lead, potin, copper, and bronze. However, unlike with the Kushans, we don’t find gold coins.

The people of the Deccan were aware of the art of paddy transplantation and the area between the Krishna and the Godavari was known as a great rice bowl. As a result, the society and the economy were very advanced. According to Pliny, the Satavahanas maintained an army of 100000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, and 1000 elephants. This depicts that the peasants produced enough to support such a large military strength.

The people of the Deccan learnt use of coins, burnt bricks, ring wells, and the art of writing due to their contact with the north. There is evidence of fire baked bricks and flat perforated roof tiles. The area was densely habituated with covered underground drains to channel waste-water into soak pits. According to Pliny, the area included thirty walled towns and numerous villages.

Towns prospered in this period due to the thriving trade with the Roman empire. Tagar, Paithan, Dhanyakataka, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Broach, Sopara, Arikamedu, and Kaveripattanam were prosperous towns in western and southern India during the Satavahana period.


Names such as Gautamiputra and Vashishthiputra indicate that mothers enjoyed greater importance in Satavahan Dynasty

The Satavahanas originally seem to have been a Deccan tribe. However, they claimed Brahamana descent. The prakrit inscription of Gautami Balashri describes Gautamiputra Satakarni as ekabamhana (a peerless Brahamana) and khatiya-dapa-manamada (one who destroyed the haughtiness and pride of the Kshatriyas). The absorption of the Shakas in brahmanical society as Kshatriyas was facilitated by intermarriage between the Shakas and the Satavahanas. The Satavahanas were also the first to make land grants to brahamans. The Naneghat inscription of Naganika mentions that villages were among the items offered as dakshina to priests when certain sacrifices were performed by her husband Satakarni I. An inscription of Gautamiputra Satakarni records the grant of a field to Buddhist monks. It states that land was not to be entered or destroyed by royal troops, was not to be dug for salt, was free from the control of the state officials, and was to enjoy all sort of immunities.

Craft and commerce increased at a steady pace during this period. As a result, merchants and artisans made generous contributions to the Buddhist cause and set up small memorial tablets. The Gandhikas or perfumers are repeatedly mentioned as donors.

A very important aspect of this period was the trace of matrilineal social structure. In the Aryan society of north India, the father enjoyed greater importance than the mother and the north Indian princes generally belonged to a patriarchal society. However, the Satavahanas presented a contrast to this. It was customary for their king to be named after his mother. Names such as Gautamiputra and Vashishthiputra indicate that mothers enjoyed greater importance in their society. Sometimes we find instances of an inscription issued jointly under the authority of the king and his mother. Queens made important religious gifts in their own right, and some of them even acted as regents. However, the Satavahana ruling family was basically patriarchal because succession to the throne passed to the male member.


The empire was divided into a number of large administrative units called Ahara. Their officials were known as amatyas and mahamatras.

The Satavahana rulers strove to establish the royal ideal set forth in the Dharmashastras. The king was represented as an upholder of dharma, and in him were assigned divine attributes. The king is represented as possessing the qualities of mythical heroes such as Rama, Bhima, Keshava, and Arjuna.

The Satavahanas retained some administrative qualities of Ashokan times. The empire was divided into a number of large administrative units called Ahara. Their officials were known as amatyas and mahamatras. Their administrative divisions were called rashtra and high officials were styled as maharashtrikas

Certain military and feudal traits can be seen in the administration of the Satavahans. The senapati was appointed as the provincial governor. The administration of the rural areas was placed in the hands of a gaulmika, the head of a military regiment consisting of nine chariots, nine elephants, twenty-five horses, and forty five foot soldiers. The head of this regiment was posted to the countryside to maintain peace and order.

The use of terms like kataka and skandharva depict the military character of the Satavahana rule. These were military camps and settlements which served as administrative centres when the king was there.

The practice of granting tax free villages and land to brahamans and Buddhist monks led to establishment of small independent islands within the Satavahana empire. They helped establish rule and order as well as enforce the rules of the varna system which promoted social stability.

The Satavahana kingdom had three grades of feudatories. The highest grade was formed by the king known as the raja and had the right to strike coins. The second grade was formed by the mahabhoja and the third grade by the senapati. They enjoyed some authority in their respective localities.

The Satavahana era inscriptions mention three types of settlements: nagara (city), nigama (market town), and gama (village).


Since the Satavahana rulers were brahmanas, from the very beginning kings and queens performed vedic sacrifices such as ashvamedha and vajapeya, thus paying liberal fees to the brahamanas. They worshipped a large number of vaishnava gods like Krishna and Vasudeva.

They also promoted Buddhism by granting lands to the monks. The Mahayana form of Buddhism commanded a considerable following, especially amongst the artisan class. Nagarjunakonda and Amaravati in Andhra became important seats of this culture under the Satavahanas and later under the Ikshavakus. Buddhism also flourished in the Nasik and Junar areas in western Deccan in Maharashtra.


In this phase many chaityas (sacred shrines) and monasteries were carved out of solid rock in northwestern Deccan or Maharashtra with great skill. The two common religious constructions were the Buddhist temple called chaitya and monastery called vihara. The chaitya was a large hall with a number of columns and the vihara consisted of a central hall surrounded by doorways with a verandah in the front. The most famous example of chaitya is that of Karle in western Deccan. The viharas or monasteries were excavated near the chaityas for the residence of monks during the rainy season.

Another form of architecture that gained importance was the construction of stupas in Andhra in the Krishna Godavari region. The most famous of these are in Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda. The stupa was a large round structure or mound erected over a relic of the Buddha. It consists of a pradakshinapath, anda, medhi, chhatri, and yashti.


The official language of the Satavahanas was Prakrit. All their inscriptions were composed in this language and in Brahmi script. However, there are also instances of usage of Sanskrit in political inscriptions and another language ‘desi’ which may mean the native language of the common people.


Satavahanas rule led to the beginning of a new era in the Deccan that was marked by prosperity, bustling trade, and establishment of many new cities

Several inscriptions in Brahmi script from this period are available. The earliest found inscription is from Nashik cave 19 which states the commissioning of the cave during the reign of king Kanha.

Another inscription at Naneghat issued by Nayanika records the lineage and mentions the sacrifices performed by the royal family. The next oldest inscription of Satavahana era appears on a sculpted gateway of stupa 1 at Sanchi. This probably belongs to the reign of Satakarni II.

The Satavahanas left a rich legacy that was carried forward by many other lineages in the Ancient and early Medieval era. They played a great role in reviving Vedic Brahmanism and the corresponding rituals like the Ashwamedha yajna.  Their rule led to the beginning of a new era in the Deccan that was marked by prosperity, bustling trade, and establishment of many new cities. Their religious tolerance made possible the assimilation of diverse cultures and people, and their military strength and rich trade with the Romans makes them one of the most important empires in the history of the Deccan.

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