Ashoka's Conquest of Kalinga, c.271-261 BC

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The conquest of Kalinga of c.271-261 BC was the only aggressive war fought by the third Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, and the suffering he saw during this war helped turn the Emperor away from violence and towards a more peaceful path.

Ashoka had inherited a vast empire from his grandfather Chandragupta Maurya and father Bindusara, covering most of northern and central India and much of the south. At the start of his reign the two main areas outside his control were the Tamil southern tip of the sub-continent and the coastal kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa, between the Mahanadi and Godavari rivers). When Ashoka came to the throne Kalinga was surrounded on three sides by the Mauryan Empire (indeed the Empire's heartland of Magadha was just to the north of Kalinga).

According to a surviving report from Megasthenes, the Seleucid ambassador to the Mauryan court, the kingdom of Kalinga had an army of 60,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry and 700 war elephants. Ashoka's invasion took place in the eighth year of his reign (the exact chronology of Ashoka's reign is still somewhat uncertain, thus the wide range of potential dates for this campaign).

The conquest of Kalinga was completed within a year, but only after the defenders put up a stubborn resistance. According to Ashoka's own inscriptions 150,000 people were taken into captivity, 100,000 were slain and many more died of famine or because of disturbances caused by the passing armies. This heavy cost distressed Ashoka, who came to realise that all of these deaths were entirely his fault as the aggressor. Within four years his inscriptions stated that even 1,000th a part of the cost of the war would now be a matter of deep regret. Ashoka renounced aggressive war, and spent the rest of his reign promoting Buddhism and concentrating on the enlightened government of his empire (defensive wars continued to be fought around the Empire's borders). 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 February 2010), Ashoka's Conquest of Kalinga, c.271-261 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/wars_ashoka_kalinga.html

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