By the end of the third century BC, most of North India was knit together in the first great Indian empire by Chandragupta Maurya. His son Bindusara extended the Mauryan Empire over virtually the entire subcontinent, giving rise to an imperial vision that was to dominate successive centuries of political aspirations. The greatest Mauryan emperor was Ashoka the Great (286-231 BC) whose successful campaigns culminated in the annexation of Kalinga (modern Orissa). Overcome by the horrors of war, he was probably the first victorious ruler to renounce war on the battlefield. Ashoka converted to Buddhism, but did not impose his faith on his subjects. Instead, he tried to convert them through edicts inscribed on rock in the local dialects, using the earliest known post-Harappan script known as Brahmi.
The Mauryan economy was essentially agrarian. The State owned huge farms and these were cultivated by slaves and farm laborers. Taxes collected on land, trade and manufacture of handicrafts were the other major sources of income during this era.
In 327 BC, Alexander of Macedonia crossed into northwest India. He conquered a large part of the Indian territory before his generals, tired of war, forced him to return home. Alexander left behind Greek governors to rule over Indian territories won by him. But with time, these regions were lost out to Indian states through conflict and slow absorption. However, the contact between the two cultures left a more lasting impact on Indian art. Sculptures of the region bear a marked Greek influence.
Following Ashoka’s death in 232 BC, the Mauryan empire started disintegrating. This was an open invitation to invaders from Central Asia to seek their fortunes in India. This period saw the rise of several smaller kingdoms which did not last very long.