© 2015 by Kit Patrick

Special episodes

In this special episode, we live a morning in the life of a rich householder in Kushana India. Where did they wake up? What did they wear? And much more besides. Along the way we stop in on his wife and his slave.

A business trip from Ancient India to Rome, stopping along the way to peer into spice carts heading for the coast, Indian ships, and the curious story of the Romans and the monsoon winds.

We continue our business trip from ancient India to Rome. We stop at Islands populated by Indian sailors, cross the great desert to the Nile, and finally making our way through the streets of Rome to sell our wares in the forum. Also, how did all this trade affect India and Rome? Listen and find out.

In this special episode we take a virtual tour around the famous Buddhist monuments at Sanchi. We find a hidden stupa, search for the stories in the carvings, see through the invisible Buddha figures. And we see how this holy place fits into the lives of ancient Indians.

The Cholas: crowned kings of South India, people of the sun, their tiger flags leading their armies into battle. We meet their kings and poets and hear about their generous spirit, their homeland, and their fates. First of three specials on South India.

The Pandiyas: crowned kings of South India, famous for hosting the legendary 'Sangam' academies of poets. We dig into those legends of the patrons and their poets, and unearth the truth within. Plus, a bonus quiz. Second of three specials on South India.

If you were an ancient Indian woman, would you choose to be a nun or a wife? This episode has all you need to decide this thorny question, from the legal facts to words of wisdom from ancient Indian women themselves. Well ok, not all you need to know, but hopefully we do get some idea of what some ancient Indian women's lives might be like.

This week, we meet the barbarians. Outsiders from tribes in the hills to kings from foreign lands. What was it like to live as an outsider? What was it like to live alongside them?

The Cheras: crowned kings of South India. They ruled ancient Kerala and beyond as a family estate. This episode, we cover the first dynasty of the Cheras as told by their court poets. Third of three specials on South India.

An introduction and apology for the series. What we'll be talking about, how I'll screw it up, and how a mysterious red liquor almost ruined ancient India.

The story of Pushyamitra Shunga, the general who ended an empire. To consolidate his power, the general became a passionate supporter of the old-time religion. We look at the accusation that he persecuted the rival, Buddhist sect. And we learn how to perform his grandest ritual: the horse sacrifice.

Ancient Afghanistan: rich and fertile. Its Greek kings are powerful and ambitious enough to try to carve a new empire in India, cutting through the ruins of the old empire all the way to the walls of its grand capital city, Pataliputra. Will the Greeks break through? To find out, listen on. 


An ancient Indian love poem leads us to the pinnacle of two great houses: the Shungas who inherited an Indian empire, and the Indo-Greeks. After their fateful meeting, we watch as both houses begin their steady decline, until at last they slip out of view. [Audio slightly fuzzy. Apologies]


The once grand Imperial capital of Pataliputra is brought low. Its people watch as the great and good leave their city. Those that remain face repeated invasion from west, south and north. In this episode we meet these invaders, explore their caves, and tell their stories


India is under attack. Tribes fleeing from the great wall of China pour into India. We watch the first invasions sweep in from the North West. How far did these alien people get? How alien were they? Listen, and find out.


India is being invaded by outsiders. But the rulers of its last empire are distracted by more sensual matters. We listen to the rulers and the people in the years before the invasion, and track the progress of the invaders from West to East.


The Indian empires strike back. For too long, the Shaka invaders have dominated the land, and plundered its riches. This week, a new Indian king will take the throne. By force and guile he will throw the invaders back, off the Deccan plateau. But things are not all as they seem.


Old tales tell of a king who threw out the invaders, full of cleverness and wisdom, a man so generous that he was always willing to sacrifice his own life to help one of his subjects. He founded his own calendar, which is still used today. These are the legends of King Vikramaditya.


We travel with a tribe of nomads from China across the vast grasslands to central Asia. There, they finally settle down into the cities on India's doorstep. They unite, form an empire, and get ready to invade India itself. This is the story of the Kushans.


The story of the Kushans. An empire caught between two continents: its body is in India, but it left its heart back in central Asia. So all its central Asian customs are brought into India: warm clothes, pointy hats, and kings who think they are gods

Kanishka the Great has conquered India. We can get to know him intimately, by getting to know his friends: the doctor, the minister and the poet-monk. We hear their stories, how they influenced the great warrior, and how ignoring their advice lead to his death.

The great city of Pataliputra had been destroyed. In this episode, the city will be rebuilt. But as soon as it reappears on the world stage, it will attract the attention of one of the greatest conquers in Indian history: Kanishka the great. Will the city survive yet another invasion? What was life like in the rebuilt city?

The Kanishka stupa deserves its place amongst the wonders of the world. But its splendor has been long forgotten, and the stupa itself has been wiped out. We set about rediscovering it. We look at the construction of the wonder, and the religious fall out for Kanishka's empire and for Buddhism today.

This week, the end of the Kushan empire. The old order is crumbling. Roman emperors are slaughtered, China splinters, and the Kushan empire is beaten by a new menace from the west. What was it like to live in the age when empires die?

Further reading for series 2

A selection of some of the most accessible and best secondary texts for anyone interested in taking it further. Please contact me using the forms below for more specific recommendations, or if I've left anything huge off.


* = Accessible primary source (I've left out all the trickier primary sources).

*** = I read this with a huge smile on my face all the way through.

The best introductory texts

***Singh, U. (2008). A History of Ancient and Early medieval India: from the Stone Age to the 12th century. Pearson Education India. Still amazing for this period

***Habib, I. (2002). Post-Mauryan India, A People's History of India volume 6 Tulika Books. Good for those interested in the special episodes - focuses on economic history. 

Kulke, H., & Rothermund, D. (2004). A history of India. 4th edition. Routledge. Best of the western introductions

***Raychaudhuri, H. (2006). Political history of ancient India. Genesis Publishing Pvt Ltd. Old but good.

The Shunga Dynasty
  • ***Thapar, R. (1973). Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas. Oxford University Press. (The debate on whether Pushyamitra really persecuted the books is scattered throughout works on other topics. This is a starting point.)

  • Sinha, B. C. (1977). History of the Śuṅga dynasty. Bharatiya Pub. House.

  • *Kale, M. R. (1999). Kālidāsa's Mālavikāgnimitram. Motilal Banarsidass. (Drama where the hero is Pushyamitra's crown prince. Great read, but written much later than the Shunga dynasty. Also available free online).

  • *Strong, J. S. (2002). The Legend of King Ashoka. (A translation of the Buddhist primary source, including the accusation that Pushyamitra persecuted Buddhists).

  • *Keith, A. B. (1914). The Veda of the Black Yajus school: entitled Taittiriya sanhita. Harvard University Press. (A translation of one of the relevant Vedas. Tricky, contentious, and missing some parts altogether)

  • Knipe, David M. (2015), Vedic Voices: Intimate Narratives of a Living Andhra Tradition (Interesting book based on discussions of the rituals with Brahmins in modern Andrha Pradesh)

The horse sacrifice


  • Narain, V. K. (1957). The Indo Greeks. Clarendon. (Mostly a hatchet job on Tarn)

  • ***Woodcock, G. (1966). The Greeks in India. Faber & Faber.(The popular history version, very readable)

  • *Pesala, B. (1991). Debate of King Milinda. Motilal Banarsidass.

  • Harmatta, J. (Ed.). (1994). History of civilizations of Central Asia. 2. The development of sedentary and nomadic civilizations: 700 BC to AD 250. Unesco Publ..

  • Tarn, W. W. (2010). The Greeks in Bactria and India. Cambridge University Press. (A re-issue of the old classic. Source of the old history story in the podcast)

The Indo-Greeks
Patailputra during the Shaka invasion
  • *Mitchiner, J. E. (2002). The Yuga Purāṇa: critically edited, with an English translation and a detailed introduction (Vol. 312). Asiatic Society.

  • That's about it.

The Shakas and Pahalavas


  • Mirashi, V. V. (1981). The history and inscriptions of the Sātavāhanas and the Western Kshatrapas. Maharashtra State Board for Literature and Culture.

  • Gupta, P. L. (1972). Sātavāhana Coins from Excavations', Coinage of the Sātavāhanas and Coins from Excavations, ed. Ajay Mitra Shastri, Nagpur University, 128-40.

  • Ray, H. P. (1986). Monastery and guild: Commerce under the Satavahanas. Delhi: Oxford University Press. (Just made for a special episode)

  • ***Shastri, A. M. (1998). The Satavahanas and the Western Kshatrapas.

  • Dani, A. H., & Masson, V. M. (Eds.). (2003). History of Civilizations of Central Asia: Development in contrast: from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century (Vol. 5). Unesco. (Brief and up to date. Free online)

  • Olivelle, P. (Ed.). (2006). Between the empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE. Oxford University Press. (Collection of academic conference papers.)

  • *Khoroche, P. (2009). Poems on Life and Love in Ancient India: Hala's Sattasai. SUNY Press.


The primary sources are few and far between, and translations of the major edicts are contined in most of these books

  • *Edgerton, F. (Ed.). (2000). Vikrama's adventures or The thirty-two tales of the throne: a collection of stories about King Vikrama, as told by the thirty-two statuettes that supported his throne. Harvard University Press.


Great fun. Also check out ‘Vikram aur Betaal’ the 80s TV show, or any of the many comics, retellings, and children’s books.)

The Kushans
  • ***Mukherjee, B. N. (1988). The rise and fall of the Kushāṇa Empire. South Asia Books.

  • *Loeschner, H. (2012) The Stupa of the Kushan Emperor. Sino-platonic papers. (Contains translations of the relevant portions of the Chinese texts. Contains references for details of the original finds).

  • Olivelle, P. (Ed.). (2006). Between the empires: Society in India 300 BCE to 400 CE. Oxford University Press. (Collection of articles on a range of interesting issues, which didn’t get covered by the podcast).

  • Mukherjee, B. N. (2004). Kushāṇa studies: new perspectives. Firma KLM.

  • Mathur, S. (1998). Art & Culture Under the Kushanas. Bhartiya Kala Prakashan.

  • Chattopadhyay, B. (1975). Kushāṇa State and Indian society: a study in post-Mauryan polity & society. Punthi Pustak.

  • Kumar, B. (1973). The early Kuṣāṇas: a history of the rise and progress of the Kuṣāṇa power under the early Kuṣāṇa rulers--from Kujula Kadphises to Vāsudeva. Sterling Publishers.

Clothing, the social role of women and everyday life
  • ***Thaplyal, Kiran Kumar (2004). Village and village life in ancient India : a study of village and village life in northern India from 6th century BC to 1st century AD. Aryan Books international. (There’s a beautiful version with illustrations. A seminal work, full of life and interest)

  • ****Auboyer, J. (2002). Daily life in ancient India: from 200 BC to 700 AD. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. (A French book now translated into English and widely available. Reads more like a novel than a history book, without many citations. Parts are adapted from academic historians or primary sources. Highly enjoyable nonetheless).

  • *** Pandey, I. P. (1988). Dress and ornaments in ancient India. Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan. (My favourite of the works on the topic)

  • *Ghosh, M. (1975). Glimpses of sexual life in Nanda-Maurya India. Manisha Granthalaya Private Limited.

  • *Doniger, W. (1991). The laws of Manu. Penguin UK. (Plenty of translations or the original text are available online).

  • Singh, Vijaya Laxmi. (2015) Women and gender in ancient India : a study of texts and inscriptions.

  • Bader, C. (2013). Women in ancient India: moral and literary studies. Routledge.

  • Smith, F. M. (1998). Sacrificed Wife, Sacrificer's Wife: Women, Ritual, and Hospitality in Ancient India. The Journal of the American Oriental Society,118(3), 422-426.

For those interested in the extreme range of views about women, try comparing these quick and sometimes passionate articles: Bhattacharji, S. (1991). Economic Rights of Ancient Indian Women.Economic and Political Weekly, 507-512., Indra, M. A. (1940). The status of women in ancient India. Minerva Bookshop., Chaudhuri, R. (1953). Women's education in ancient India. Great Women of India, 87-111.)

Trade with Rome
  •  ***Cimino, R. M. (Ed.). (1994). Ancient Rome and India. Munshiram Manoharlal. (Great collection of concise sections)

  • ***Deloche, J. E. A. N. (2010). Roman trade routes in South India: Geographical and technical factors (c. 1st cent. BC–5th cent. AD). Indian Journal of History of Science, 45(1), 33-46. (Something about the use of seafaring knowledge, archaeology and a concern for everyday folk made me really enjoy this charming little article.)

  •  Chandra, M. (1977). Trade and trade routes in ancient India. Abhinav Publications.

  • Chakraborti, H. (1966). Trade and Commerce of Ancient India, C. 200 BC-c. 650 AD. Academic Publishers.

  • Chaudhuri, K. N., & Chaudhuri, K. N. (1985). Trade and civilisation in the Indian Ocean: an economic history from the rise of Islam to 1750. Cambridge University Press.

  • De Puma, R. D., & Begley, V. (Eds.). (1992). Rome and India: the ancient sea trade. Oxford University Press.

  • Prasad, P. C. (1977). Foreign trade and commerce in ancient India. Abhinav Publications. (A bit dry, better than the amazon reviews say it is.)

  • Rawlinson, H. G. (1977). Intercourse Between India and the Western World, from the Earliest Times to the Fall of Rome. Rai Book Service.

  • Sidebotham, S. E. (2011). Berenike and the ancient maritime spice route (Vol. 18). Univ of California Press.

  • Singh, A. K. (1988). Indo-Roman Trade. Janaki Prakashan.

  • Tripati, S. (2011). Ancient maritime trade of the eastern Indian littoral.

  • Varadarajan, L. (1983). Indian Seafaring: The Precept and Reality of Kalivarjya. The Great Circle, 5(1), 1-12.

  • Warmington, E.H. (1928) The commerce between the roman empire and India. Vikas Publshing, Delhi.

Many of these could get three stars. Much of the rest of this episode was picked from detailed archaeological surveys, or the odd paragraph or phrase in Roman writers such as Pliny which would be too long to list here. References for most of these can be found in the more recent items listed above.

  • Shaw, J. (2013). Buddhist Landscapes in Central India: Sanchi Hill and archaeologies of religious and social change, c. third century BC to fifth century AD (Vol. 58). Left Coast Press.

  • *Basant, P. K. (2012). The City and the Country in Early India: A Study of Malwa. Primus Books. (Contains a very detailed analysis of the Sanchi inscriptions, including numerical break downs)

  • Mitra, D. (2003). Sanchi. Archaeological Survey of India.

  • Dhavalikar, M. K. (2003). Sanchi. Oxford University Press, USA.

Mlecchas (Barbarians)
  • Parasher, A. (1991). Mlecchas in early India: A study in attitudes towards outsiders up to AD 600. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

  • Bhattacharyya, A. (2003). The Mlechchhas in ancient India: their history and culture. Firma KLM.

  • Thapar, R. (1971). The image of the barbarian in early India. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 13(04), 408-436.

(There’s not a lot else out there, beyond the primary sources which are scattered around, and the odd remarks in works on larger issues.)

South India during the Sangam era
  • *Sangam Poems Translated by Vaidehi https://sangamtranslationsbyvaidehi.com  (I cannot emphasise enough how much I like this. Deep thanks to Vaidehi.)

  • *Parthasarathy, R. (1993). The Tale of an Anklet: An Epic of South India–The Cilappatikaram of Ilanko Atikal, Translations from the Asian Classics .(There’s a penguin classics version of this book which might be more readily available. Outstanding)

  • ***Nilakanta Sastri, K. A. (1975). A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagara. Delhi. (Classic. There’s an illustrated version somewhere out there).

  • Kanakasabhai, V. (1904). The Tamils 1800 years ago. (Old school history, not quite reliable on all issues)

  • Sastri, K. N. (1955). The Colas. University of Madras, 67-69.

  • Krishnan, K. G. (2002). Inscriptions of the Early Pāṇḍyas: From C. 300 BC to 984 AD. Northern Book Centre.

  • Sastri, K. N. (1929). The Pandyan Kingdom.

  • Manickavasagom Pillai, M. E. (1970) Culture of the ancient Cheras; a study in cultural reconstruction.

  • Swaminathan, S. (1998). The early Chōḷas history, art, and culture.


Main episodes