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BIMBISARA (c. 555–493 b.c.), king of Magadha. Bimbisara, the king of Magadha (southern Bihar), made his capital, Rajagriha, the splendid center of the first empire in eastern India. Having added to his realm both Koshala, to the west of Magadha, by matrimonial alliance, and Anga, to the east, by conquest, he ruled over a large territory with fertile rice fields and access to iron ore and other natural resources in the adjacent forests. By controlling the River Ganges (Ganga) from about the present-day western border of Bihar to its mouth, he could profit from the river trade of eastern India. Bimbisara introduced a land-revenue system and an efficient administration and could thus support a strong army. It is said that in his administrative policy he may have been influenced by that of the Persian emperors Cyrus II and Darius I. Cyrus had founded an empire that extended from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan when he died in 530 b.c. The brilliant usurper Darius, who ruled from 522 to 486 b.c., then held sway from the Nile to the Indus. Bimbisara must certainly have been aware of their grandeur.

Bimbisara is a prominent figure in the Buddhist legends ( Jataka tales), which portray him as a contemporary of the Buddha, whom he is said to have admired and protected. He may also have extended his support to Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. His ambitious son, Ajatashatru, forced Bimbisara to abdicate, and then imprisoned him and starved him to death. According to the Jataka tales, the motive for this crime was that Bimbisara was a staunch follower of the Buddha, which was resented by his son's evil advisers. Bimbisara had founded the first great royal dynasty of India, and the territory that he ruled also served as the base of the empires of the subsequent dynasties, the Nandas and the Mauryas.

Dietmar Rothermund

See alsoGuptan Empire ; Magadha ; Mauryan Empire


Thapar, Romila. Early India: From the Origins toA.D. 1300. London: Penguin, 2002.