How Greek and Persian architecture influenced Mauryan-period architecture


The influence of Greek and Persian architecture is evident in Mauryan-period architecture. The Greeks and the Persians influenced India throughout history, not only through architecture but in every aspect of human culture. Art and architecture are two of the main areas that are observable in the influence of Greek and Persian culture. During the Mauryan period, this cultural influence appeared to be significantly noticeable regarding architecture. By the time the Mauryan period began, Greeks and Persians had developed two of the most sophisticated architectures in the ancient world. With the political background that has been processed throughout the past centuries, Mauryan period architecture had a major breakthrough with the influence of Greek and Persian architecture. By doing this study, it is expected to examine three major topics: the background that resulted in the Greek and Persian architecture influencing Mauryan period architecture; the evident Greek and Persian influences on aspects of Mauryan period architecture; and the state of the Greek and Persian influences evident in Mauryan period architecture.

A brief introduction to civilizations in India, Greece, and Persia up to the end of the Mauryan Empire

1.1. Indian civilization in Mauryan period

1.1.1. Geopolitical background

Indian civilization has been in its second urban state since the 6th century B.C. Among the sixteen states, four monarchic states emerged and among those four states, Magadha became the most powerful state. Pātalīputra was the capital of the Magadha Kingdom. . In 321 BC, Chandragupta Maurya took control of Pātalīputra by overthrowing the Nanda dynasty and founding the Maurya dynasty with the help of Chanakya and it was the first most powerful Indian empire that brought almost the entire Indian subcontinent under a single rule. e. Chandragupta Maurya, expanded the empire into the Persian boundary and to middle Asia. a. His successor, his son Bindusara (298 BC), expanded the kingdom further, except for Kaling. Bindusara’s successor, King Aśoka (274 B.C.), expanded the Mauryan Empire to its most powerful geopolitical state by invading Kalinga and by diplomatic relations with other territories. s.

1.1.2. Economy/Subsistence Pattern

During the Mauryan period, Indian civilization had a complex economy that had already been well developed and organised by the 6th century BC. Since it was the 2nd major civilization in India, agriculture, animal husbandry, internal commerce, and trade commerce were at their peak in the contemporary world. As per any civilization in the world, trading manufactured items and raw materials was a major part of the Mauryan economy. Traders were organised as trade guilds independently of the government. 

1.1.3. Religions and beliefs

In the 6th century BC, in India, there were two major distinct religious traditions, namely, Brahman and Shramana. The Shramana tradition includes Buddhists, Jains, Ajivakas, and Paribrajakas. Before the Mauryan period, though the Brahmin tradition was spread in most of the regions of India as it was older than the latter, the Shramana tradition was limited to a few regions in north India. During the Mauryan period, Shramana traditions became more powerful under the patronage of Mauryan rulers. Chandragupta Maurya was a Jain believer and Aśoka was a Buddhist. Hence, the Shramana tradition spread over India and even beyond India, corresponding to the expansion of the Mauryan Empire. Yet, the Mauryan rulers sponsored both religious traditions, and Mauryan rock-cut temples are the prime example of that, as in the same rock-cut crop, temples belonging to Brahmin, Buddhist, and Jain traditions have been carved out. And also, there were religious activities such as worshiping Yakshas and mother-goddesses. Including those minor religious beliefs, the religious traditions in India in the Mauryan period were sponsored by the rulers as well as merchants and other civil persons unconditionally for both genders.

1.1.4. Society

The society of the Indian civilization in the Mauryan period consisted of various ethnic groups that shared a vast variety of cultures. People from pre-harappan village cultures and the people who came to the Indian subcontinent via invasions and migrations, starting with the post-harappan period until the Mauryan period, from ancient Near-East and East-European human cultures contributed to the society of Indian civilization in the Mauryan period. The society was indeed highly influenced by religions, as religions played a powerful role in evolving social theory in Indian civilization from the beginning. Brahmin tradition, which was male dominant, became more rejected in the Mauryan period than ever before. Hence, the evidence that has been found regarding the collective patronage of Buddhist temples during the Mauryan period clearly indicates that the women were free to engage in contemporary society. 

1.2. Greek civilization up to the Mauryan period

1.2.1. Geopolitical background

The ancient Greek civilization emerged around the 2nd millennium BC on the islands around the Mediterranean Sea. The history of civilization is divided into four periods: the archaic, the dark, the classical, and the Hellenistic. The Dark Age and the classical age are again referred to as the Hellenic period, which emerged about 900 BC and ended with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. From the death of the emperor up until 30 AD, the time in which the Hellenic culture spread beyond Greek lands was referred to as the Hellenistic period. Prior to the Hellenic era, the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures had existed in the region, but both ended by 1100 BC. Influenced by those cultures, the Dorian, Ionian, and Corinthian cultures emerged subsequently on the Greek mainland. Since 700 BC, they have colonised the Aegean islands and Asia Minor and ruled those regions as Persian subordinate rulers. Among those Greek colonies, Sparta was the first to fight against the Persian Empire. Those wars referred to the Greco-Persian wars, which declined Persian power into its borders around 500 BC up until Alexander the Great defeated the Persian emperor Darius II  and conquered the entire Persian Empire. Alexander the Great colonised the conquered regions with Greek people. After his death, those colonies were ruled by Greek generals who fought for control over his empire. Seleucus Nicator was one of them who ruled the northwestern colony of India and maintained diplomatic relations with the Mauryan Empire.

1.2.2. Economy/subsistence pattern

The Greek civilization contemporaneous with the Mauryan Empire had a well-developed economy. The Greeks traded their high-quality manufactured items, such as pottery. Agriculture and animal husbandry were obvious food sources. Fishing was also a major part of the subsistence pattern due to the fact that they lived in a group of rocky islands that were not suitable for agriculture or finding clay for pottery making except in coastal areas. Therefore, the civilization was built to have one of the best maritime commerce in ancient times.

1.2.3. Religions and beliefs

The religion of the Greek civilization was a form of nature worship that emerged from earlier cultures. Unlike earlier cultures, the natural elements were personified as gods and goddesses of human form and human behavior. Zeus was the supreme god, the ruler of the sky, and his wife was Hera, the goddess of marriage; Athena, goddess of wisdom; Poseidon, god of the sea; Demeter, goddess of the earth; Apollo, god of the sun, law, reason, music, and poetry; Artemis, goddess of the moon, the hunt, and the wilderness; Aphrodite, goddess of love; Ares, god of war; Hermes, god of commerce and medicine; and Hephaestus, god of fire and metalwork. The worship was done outdoors, like many activities in civilization. Large statues were built to represent those gods and to house those statues, buildings were also built, which led to the development of Greek architecture.

1.2.4. Society

The society of Greek civilization was much more liberal compared with that of contemporary India because of the nature of the religion, as mentioned above. Men were considered citizens who could equally be part of ruling the population and were portrayed as muscular, as defending the state was their duty. Especially, women also had respectful lives. Sports, drama, and other physical activities were important parts of their lives. For those social activities and needs, particular buildings were built, such as an open-air theatre and a stadium. And also, those who colonised the Aegean islands, Asia Minor, Persia, and Egypt became part of the indigenous cultures of the lands that they settled by marriage as well as becoming devotees of local religions. That led to the emergence of hybrid cultures in those regions, which consisted of Greek features far from Greece.

1.3. Persian civilization

1.3.1. Geopolitical background

The Persian Empire was a continuation of the former civilizations of Babylon and Assyria, as it appears that the Persians borrowed a few aspects, such as administration, art and architecture, inscriptions, etc., from prior cultures in the region. (van der Spek 2015: 447). In 553 BCE, Cyrus, the head of the Achaemenid clan of Persians, who ruled in Parsa under Median dominance, overthrew the Median ruler and then dominated the region by victories in a series of wars, establishing the first empire of the world, referred to as the as the Achaemenid Empire in Persia. (Taghizade 2012: 5). In 521 BCE, Darius became the king of the Empire and moved the capital of the empire to Persepolis, which was constructed as a preplanned city and included the finest works of Persian architecture (Taghizade 2012: 5).

Although the Persian civilization in the Mauryan period was under Greek dominance, the Persian civilization before the invasion of Alexander the Great was an empire widespread into Asia Minor regions. In 540 BCE, Persians started to subdue the Greeks of Asia Minor under King Cyrus’ rule. In 526, the son of Cyrus, Cambyses, led the expedition against Egypt, having the Ionian Greeks and Aeolian Greeks as his subordinates (Rung 2015: 257). Darius (I), who ruled many of the Greek coastal cities situated even in Europe when he rose to power, subdued some more Greek cities and islands and installed his loyal Greek supporters as tyrants in several cities that were under his rule (Rung 2015: 257). As mentioned in the description of Greek civilization above, initiated by the Spartans, the Greco-Persian wars reduced the power of the Persian Empire only to its Persian borders. And then Alexander the Great conquered the entire Persian Empire and after his death, Greek generals of his army ruled the regions of Persia.

1.3.2. Economy

The economy of the Persian civilization consisted of maritime trade and commerce based on the Persian Gulf Sea. The trade route from India to Greece had been extended across Persian civilization. Persia was the center of the trade road network. Persian emperors like King Cyrus have facilitated trade and commerce. Agriculture was done in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The Empire was indeed a wealthy and prosperous one as it conquered the lands from Northwest India to Greece and Egypt.

1.3.3. Society

The society of Persian civilization consisted of Persians, Greeks, and Egyptians as skilled workers and craftsmen who were settled in the Persian capital Persepolis by the Persian Emperor, Darius II, to construct the city itself in the 6th century BCE. And also, the Greek colonisation in Asia Minor regions under Persian rule and in Persia after the invasion of Alexander the Great has led the Persian society to be a mixed one, especially with Greek people. Alexander the Great married the daughter of Persian King Darius II  and encouraged his fellow Greeks to follow in his footsteps by marrying local women from the regions he conquered. This appears to be the major reason for the emergence of the Greco-Persian. In addition, Alexander the Great opened the road from Northwest India to Greece via Persian terrain, which led the civilizations of India, Persia, and Greece to be connected with trade and commerce. Hence, being the middle region across which the road is laid, Persia had more social interactions with different societies than ever before. That led Persian society to carry several identities and origins from various cultures and to combine them together.

An overview of ancient Greek architecture up to the Mauryan Period

2.1. Introduction

The architecture of the Greek civilization was developed according to environmental factors. The mainland and islands of Greece are rocky, with a deeply notched coastline and precipitous mountain ranges with few notable forests. Hence, high-quality stone, such as readily available marble, was abundant. This high quality of raw material led to the precision of smooth and detailed constructions. And also, high-quality potter’s clay deposits were the major factor in the high-quality Greek pottery, as well as the roofing tiles and notable amount of decoration in buildings. The climate of Greece was maritime, which led to a lifestyle of outdoor exercise. Therefore, temples were built on hilltops, completing the need for visual focus. Theatres were often built using naturally occurring slops in the site, which led to the open-air theatre tradition. Colonnades were built encircling buildings or surrounding courtyards to provide shelter from the sun and cold breeze, which led Greek architecture to invent their fine works of pillars (Azad 2014: 95–96).

Key features of Greek architecture

  • exclusive use of pillars
  • trabeate form, the use of a beam as an entablature
  • open spaces or courtyards surrounded by colonnades
  • urban planning

2.2. Themes and utilisation

The themes of Greek architecture have been highly affected by the environment and the culture (Figure 4). Due to the environmental factor, all of those themes were created to be either open spaces or courtyards. Temples have been built to house the huge statues of gods and goddesses. And also, these temples usually had other small structures that would often be similar in structural and aesthetic elements, such as monumental gates, as well as smaller structures to house the dedications for the various deities.

As society was enforced by religion for worldly pleasure rather than spirituality, they invented architectural themes such as theatres for drama, gymnasiums for male citizens, hippodromes for horse racing, stadiums for foot racing, and fountain houses for collecting water for household work. 

Fortification of the cities has been a part of Greek architecture. In Attika, the region where Athens ruled, a series of ashlar masonry walls were built (Khansacademy).

2.3. Structures and structural items.

The structures of Greek architectural themes appear to fulfil both structural and decorative purposes. Mathematical proportions such as the golden ratio have been used to promote the elegance of buildings structurally. The length of a rectangular building seems to be twice as long as its width. This is certainly true in the case of temples, where each building seems to have been presented as a sculptural part within the landscape, so with those proportions and the effects of light, it would provide an elegant view (Azad 2014: 92). Although the buildings have been constructed with stone, the style of the buildings appears to be the one that originated in wooden structures with vertical posts carrying beams that carried the roof. This is because of the open spaces in buildings due to the environmental and cultural factors mentioned above. 

Column and lintel

Since the constructions were often associated with open spaces, the use of columns and beams, or lintels, namely the trabeate form, was established in Greek architecture. Columns were of three types: doric, ionic, and corinthian, each representing individual Greek states where they emerged subsequently.The stone columns have been made of a series of solid stone cylinders that were placed on each other without mortar. Each column has a capital of two parts. The uppermost part is referred to as “abacus,” and the lower part, which is a part of the column itself, is referred to as “echinus.” This capital differs according to the order as follows: plain in the Doric, fluted in the Ionic and foliate in the Corinthian. The capitals of the first two orders have been fluted with vertical grooves, which are retained elements from wooden columns (Azad 2014: 99).

Entablature and pediment

The columns of a temple support a structure that rises in two main stages: the entablature and the pediment. The entablature is the major horizontal structural element supporting the roof and encircling the entire building. The pediment is the triangular area between the lintel and the roof (Azad 2014: 99).


Door and window openings have been constructed to be narrowed towards the top. Light into the naos entered only through the door as temples were constructed without windows, which has led to the suggestion that some temples had been lit from openings in the roof (Azad 2014: 99). 

2.4. Aesthetics

Decorations of Greek architecture appear to be highly considered while constructing. Carving the structural items was one type of decoration, while adding sculptures to the construction was the other type. As mentioned above, the three orders of Greek architecture consist of three types of columns, each being carved. The shaft of the pillars and the capital of the pillars appear to have been developed subsequent to the order Corinthian being the highly decorated one. The Greeks were the first to use the human body for architectural decorations. Columns that have been created as human female figures, referred to as caryatids, can be seen in temples such as the Erechtheion.

2.5. Material Technology

In the eighth century B.C.E., Greek architecture started evolving towards permanent materials from ephemeral materials such as wood, mud brick, and thatch (Khansacademy). Since then, stone, particularly fine-grained white marble, has been the major raw material in Greek architecture. The structural items of buildings and architectural decorations such as carvings and sculptures were also often made out of marble because of the abundance of the material as well as the high quality of the material, which made it suitable for precise cutting. Potter’s clay was used for roofing tiles and a notable number of architectural sculptures.

The technology of Greek architecture evolved with the changes in raw materials. Bronze was used along with wood structures. Iron technology and stone cutting were related to each other. Iron drills and chisels were used to cut stones and iron and bronze clamps were used to hold stone blocks together in place. Those clamps have been covered with a layer of lead to minimise the corrosion that could damage the structure. Stone blocks have been held in place by a centred weight. Smoothing out stones seems to be done with the use of abrasives and layers of finishing compounds have also been used. A layer of marble dust stucco has been added to the rock surfaces and the carvings have been polished with Chamois leather.

Well-developed masonry was also a part of Greek architecture. Around the 6th century BC onwards, starting with temples, all kinds of masonry were used for construction. To minimise joints, the finest ashlar masonry was used in regular courses and large sizes. And also, the stone blocks have been cut and kept in place precisely to minimise the use of mortar (Azad 2014: 99). 

2.6. Craftsmanship

The craftsmanship of Greek architecture has been composed of skilled artisans. During the Greco-Persian wars, the Persians had the influence of Greek architecture and King Darius gathered artisans to construct Persepolis from Greek and Egyptian sources, which corresponds to the fact that craftsmen and craftsmanship in Greek architecture had been pioneering. 

2.7. Patronage and Urban Planning

The patrons of Greek architecture were the people in the city states in the beginning. Later, the Greek kings and Emperor Alexander the Great were the patrons of Greek architecture. During the late 5th and 4th centuries BC, town planning became an important aspect of Greek civilization, where architectural creations were placed systematically and strategically (Azad 2014: 97). Cities such as Pasetum and Priene were laid out with a regular grid of paved streets and an agora or central market place, surrounded by a colonnade (Azad 2014: 97). And also, there were public fountains to supply water for household use (Azad 2014: 97). The ancient Greek city states developed a standard plan for the city, which consisted of three defined elements: the town, acropolis, and Agora (Dewidar). The houses were simple courtyard ones separated by streets (Dewidar). This Greek urban planning spread over the empire of Alexander the Great due to his ambition to establish cities with Greek features everywhere he conquered.

An overview of ancient Persian architecture up to the Mauryan Period

3.1. Introduction

Persian architecture is developed through each of the cultural phases of the region. Influenced by earlier cultures (Babylonian and Assyrian), people of the Elamite, Achaemenid, Parthian, and Sassanid cultures were the creators of ancient Persian architecture (Taghizade 2012: 1). Here, Achaemenid architecture is in focus, as it was prior to and contemporary to the Mauryan Period architecture of India. 

The structures at Persepolis indicate that Achaemenid architecture was influenced by elements and details from many lands across the Persian Empire. The concept of the royal structure on a raised platform, certain plan forms, and the use of colossal bulls appear to have been absorbed from Assyria, while specific decorative elements and the profiles of certain mouldings seem to have been an Egyptian influence (Taghizade 2012: 6).

3.2. Themes and utilisation

Palaces have been the main theme of Persian architecture (Figure 12). There are several palaces, namely, the Apadana palace, the palace of Darius, and the palace of Xerxes (The University of Chicago). . Town planning was also a theme demonstrated by the construction of Persepolis, which has been constructed genuinely according to a plan from bottom to top (Figure 13). The other significant theme of Persian architecture is tombs. The most significant of all is the tomb of King Cyrus, which was built in Pasargadae, where the capital was under his rule (Figure 14). Then the tombs of King Darius (I), Xerxes (I), Artaxerxes (I), Darius (II), and Darius (III) have been built in the rock face of a mountain in Naqsh-e Rustam (Figure 15). This form of tombs indicates that rock-cut architecture in Persia had emerged by the 6th century BCE.

3.3. Structure and structural items

Dome and arch

Domes and arches are one of the major traditions in Persian architecture, whose origin dates back to Mesopotamian architecture around 3,000 BC (Taghizade 2012: 2). This tradition appears to have been invented and carried along as a roofing style because of the scarcity of wood in the region where civilization established itself. The dome seems to have evolved as a single structure as well as a roofing style for square buildings, while the arch seems to have evolved to be a roofing style for rectangular buildings. In the context of religious beliefs portrayed in Persian architecture, some argue these domes were associated with the divine side of life, as their circular shape represented perfection, eternity, and the heavens. Taghizade 2012: 2). The tomb of Cyrus the Great is an example of this structural element. A tomb has a lower part, a mound, which is similar to the ziggurat-style step pyramid. On top of that, the chamber has been built. The chamber is rectangular in plan and has an arch-shaped roof.


The columns have been composed of capitals on which the beams of the roof were placed (Hejazi 2015: 12). The palace, referred to as Apādana, has been constructed with 72 columns, each standing to a height of 24 metres, and 14 of them are still remaining. The capitals of the columns were sculptured with integrated animal figures for aesthetic and symbolic purposes (Becker). The columns have been built on a foundation rather than erecting them in deep holes in the ground, replicating wooden posts and establishing tradition.

Rock-cut structures

Rock-cut structures came into the architecture during the Achaemenid period in Persia. Naqsh-e Rustam contains four tombs on one rock outcrop. The rock has been carved out to let the preferred structure remain.  In addition, in Persepolis, the water supply system and drainage system were underground, cut out of the solid rock prior to the construction of the top structure (Hejazi 2015: 12). 

3.4. Aesthetics

The column capitals of the building referred to as Apādana were assumed to have had the form of either twin-headed bulls, eagles, or lions for aesthetic as well as symbolic purposes. It has been concluded that those animals represented royalty, power, and kingship (Figure 16) (Becker). The base of the columns was on a foundation, unlike doric columns in Greek architecture. The lowermost part of the capital of the columns has been carved, illustrating an inverted lotus flower (Figure 17). Apart from that, the application of mathematical proportions to the structures as well as the high-quality finishing of stone surfaces served the aesthetic purposes of Persian architecture.

3.5. Material technology

According to the Achaemenid inscriptions, raw materials have been gathered from every part of the empire to the sites where construction was done. Cedars have been brought a long distance overland from the groves of Lebanon (Taghizade 2012: 6). 

Beams have been put together to increase the effective surface area for force from the weight of the roof, which indicates the applied mechanical principles. When assembling stone parts together, it has been done with the notch and groove technique and stone dust was poured with glue into the place where two block surfaces connected together (Taghizade 2012: 6, 7).

Iron and bronze clamps covered with lead were also used for the assembly of stone blocks in some constructions in Pasargadae (550 B.C.), Susa (521 B.C.) and Persepolis (518–330 B.C.) (Hejazi 2015: 11). Obviously, iron technology has to be at a highly sophisticated stage to achieve the stone constructions found in Persepolis. Evidence such as the iron chisel also establishes the fact mentioned above (Kleiss 1992). The fact that they used such metal clamps and stone as raw materials reveals their metallurgy and its application in Persian architecture.

When it comes to finishing techniques, polishing and coating have both been done for stone surfaces. Polishing or final smoothening has been done with abrasion techniques using water and fine sand (Kleiss 1992). A bone-white layer has been used for coating (Ridol et al. 2018: 272-287).

3.6. Craftsmanship

Achaemenid inscriptions reveal that skilled workers were gathered from every part of the empire (Taghizade 2012: 6). That means the craftsmanship of Persian architecture was cosmopolitan. The artisans were highly skilled with Greek and Egyptian influence as well as with the Assyrian and Babylonian foundations.

3.7. Patronage and urban planning

Patrons of Persian architecture were kings who ruled the empire, both Persian and Greek. The Persian Kings wanted their palaces to be elegant and their monuments to be remarkable. Therefore, they use the high ground to build their palaces. And also, they constructed a mound to use it as a stage to build the preferred buildings. Then, those structures have been constructed to be massive and symbolic (Figure 12). Then they arranged their buildings on the land according to a plan. The emperor Darius (I) constructed the Persepolis city from bottom to top. Which means he designed the town plan and executed the plan and the successors followed his footstep. Therefore, the royal patronage contributed urban planning to the architecture of Persia.

An overview of Mauryan Period architecture in India

4.1. Introduction

Mauryan Period architecture was developed under the Mauryan Empire in between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC in north India, which later spread into the middle and south regions of the Indian subcontinent. Mauryan period architecture does not necessarily mean the architecture emerged with royal patronage; it means the architecture emerged with both royal patronage and individual patronage. Here, the insight into Mauryan period architecture will be focused on the basic aspects of architecture in any historical context, namely themes and utilisation, structures, aesthetics, material technology, craftsmanship, and patronage. 

4.2. Themes and utilisations

The themes of Mauryan architecture were palaces, fortresses, stupas, pillars, and rock-cut caves, which served a variety of purposes.

According to Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to the Mauryan Empire, the palaces of the Mauryan kingdom were great creations of mankind. Fa Hien, who visited India after the Mauryan period, has also mentioned Mauryan palaces as god-gifted monuments. Those literary sources, along with archaeological evidence, confirm that the theme of well-planted palaces was among the architectural themes during the Mauryan period. These palaces have served the obvious purposes of housing the royals and being the headquarters of administration.

Material remains of the Pātalīputra fortification wall indicate that fortresses and cities with fortification structures such as walls with reinforced gates were a theme of Mauryan period architecture. . Kautilya, the royal adviser to Chandragupta Maurya and co-founder of the Mauryan Empire, has mentioned in his book Arthashastra why a city needs to be fortified and how it should be done, which again establishes that fortresses and fortified cities were themes in Mauryan period architecture. . This theme also appears to have the obvious purpose of defending the capital or city to protect anyone or any possessions that were inside. . 

Stupa was another major theme of Mauryan architecture, which was very unique in plan form, structure, and structural items and functions. Emperor Asoka built the famous Sanchi stupa after he became a Buddhist. Stupa’s general function was to house the relics of Lord Buddha and to be worshipped by the devotees, while Emperor Asoka used them to spread Buddhism and establish his power.

In Mauryan period architecture, columns weren’t just a part of architectural structures but were a major individual architectural theme introduced to the context by King Asoka. He established a number of pillars with or without inscriptions on them, covering major places he thought to be important, such as the places where the life events of Lord Buddha took place and the place where he became a Buddhist. The other purpose or utility of these pillars was to establish and announce the Emperor’s power in India symbolically. 

There is evidence of natural caves, such as Sapthaparni caves, that Buddhist monks have been using since the 6th century BC in literature sources (Figure 21). This tradition of cave temples, referred to as vihara, were the living quarters of Jain and Buddhist monks. During the Mauryan period, caves were artistically created to fulfil the requirements of Vihara according to the cave tradition. The seven caves in the Makhdumpur region of Jehanabad district in Bihar were created for the Ajivaka monks by Emperor Asoka. These caves are carved out of huge rocks, which are usually situated on high ground in mountainous areas such as Barabar Hill Caves and Nagarjuna Caves. Barabar caves consisted of four caves, namely Lomas Rishi, Sudama, Karna Chupar, and Vishwamitra. Nagarjuna caves, which were created during the period of Mauryan king Dasharata, the grandson of Asoka, consisted of three caves, namely, Gopi, Bahayak, and Vedantika, which are situated in the Bihar region. Likewise, huge rock outcrops have been carved out to remain cave structures, which have developed into a highly sophisticated architectural theme.

4.3. Structures and their items

The most noticeable remaining structures are pillars, stupas, and caverns, which indicates that the structures of Mauryan period architecture were advanced in both design and execution. 

Pillars have been designed as monolithic structures since each pillar has been made out of a single rock. Those have not been erected using a foundation or any kind of addition support rather than burring a considerable amount of the base of the pillar into the ground, similar to the establishment of a simple wooden post in a dug hole in the ground. The shafts of the pillars are cylindrical and consist of a capital with two parts, the lower part sometimes being carved as an inverted lotus flower while the upper being sculptured with one or four animal figures. 

Stupa in Mauryan period architecture consisted of several features, namely, chatra, harmika, anda (stupa dome), pradakshina pathas (ambulatory passageways), double stairways, medhi, vedika, and thorana (monumental gateway). Chathra is the uppermost part centred on the top of the stupa dome and consists of three chathras that have been placed in a vertical pole named Yashti. Then, there is a four-directional fence called Hermika, which makes a perfect square around the Chathras. The stupa dome is surrounded by a walking path called Pradakshina Patha. Again, at a lower level than the previous walking path, there is the main compound or main walking path, called Medhi. Surrounding Medhi, there is a circular fence of Buddhist railings called Vedika. To enter the Medhi, there are four monumental gateways in four directions, called Thorana. Likewise, the stupa in Mauryan period architecture was a complex structure.

As mentioned above, caverns are carved out of huge rocks, which are usually situated on high ground in mountainous areas because they have been carved out of huge rock outcrops in the ground. Material is carefully carved out according to a plan, remaining within the suggested structure. These rock-cut caves have been divided into two parts in structure: a dome-like circular structure and a rectangular structure with an arch ceiling. The entrances to the caves have been created to serve structural as well as aesthetic purposes. And also, there are caves with no decorations in the entrance and just the door as a structural item. The interior rock surfaces of the caves have been created using different finishing methods. Most of the interior walls and the ceiling of the caves have been completed with mirror polish. But in some cases, the interior rock surfaces are let to be rough or even with chisel marks. That might be due to an external factor such as political instability, the death of a skilled worker, a shortage of funds, an inability to complete the work within the time given or a just and underdeveloped stage of rock-cut architecture.

Furthermore, as archaeological evidence of the fortification wall of Pātalīputra, remains of the wooden staircase to the top of the wall have been unearthed. . That evidence seems to be parallel to the descriptions given by Kautilya and Megasthenes regarding the architecture of the capital, Pātalīputra.

4.4. Aesthetics

The aesthetics of the Mauryan period have been accomplished with symmetry, mathematical proportions, decorations, and fine finishing.

Symmetry as well as mathematical proportions appear to be considered when designing and executing the structures of any theme. As examples, it’s clearly noticeable that the pillars are cylindrical, and the ratio of the height and the diameter has been maintained so that they can be seen as eye-catching towers; the animal figures in the capital of the pillars have been well directed in the main 4 directions; the entrances and the ceiling of the interior hall of rock-cut caves are symmetrical on the vertical axis; and the pillars have been erected in the ground without a base yet well centred with the centre of gravity. 

Decorations in Mauryan period architecture have been carvings and sculptures of certain elements. Animal figures such as lions, bulls, horses, and elephants have been used for architectural sculptures. The pillar capital of Saranath is the prime example, which has been sculpted as four integrated lions facing four main directions (Figure 26). Human-form sculptural figures have also been part of the decorations of Mauryan architecture. Yaksha and Yakshi figures were sculpted in the Mauryan period for the minor religious traditions that made their way into co-existence with Jainism and Buddhism. For the decoration of Buddhist stupas, those Yaksha and Yakshi figures have been used (Figure 27). The entrances of the stupas have been decorated with Yakshi figures and the carving panels of the Buddhist fence have also been decorated with these figures. Particularly, those carving panels carry a narrative of the important incidents of Lord Buddha’s life, which provides evidence for decorations being used for communicating meanings.

In addition, rock-cut temples can be seen decorated with carvings. As examples, the Lomas Rishi cave entrance can be seen with a decorative one. The structural door is rectangular and there are dome-shaped secondary carvings around the door. The space between the edge of the door and the inner mark of the dome-shaped carving appears to have been created with decorations (Figure 23).

When it comes to the fine finishing of the architectural structures for aesthetic purposes, the famous mirror like Mauryan polish can be determined (Figure 28). Although there are some exceptions, the rock-cut cave interiors and pillars have highly polished rock surfaces. One can argue that the polish was done for the structural purpose of avoiding cavities on the rock surfaces of outdoor structures, which could lead them to decay with time. Although some structures made out of stones without a fine polish have been well preserved, there could have been a structural purpose too, as polished stone surfaces are much safer from natural deterioration caused by water, algae, and moss. And also, polishing the pillars that were erected by the Empire might have given them an additional aesthetic value and a symbolic value of political power. Therefore, the polishing finish appears to be done for aesthetic and symbolic purposes rather than structural purposes.

4.5. Material technology

Materials that have been used for construction in Mauryan-period architecture are wood, brick, and stone. By the 6th century BC, bricks made out of clay were the main building material of Indian architecture since India had flourished in the second urban civilization. According to the Buddhist literature as well as the enormous archaeological evidence found, it is clear that the raw materials for construction were wood and clay at that time. Clay was turned into mud bricks and terracotta bricks as building materials for foundations and walls. Mortar has been used for laying bricks, while roofing structures and columns have been made using wood. This material technology continued until the Mauryan period. Pātalīputra capital, Chandragupta Maurya’s palace and Asoka’s palace at Kumrahar had been built using wood as the principle building material. . According to Megasthenes, Pātalīputra has been encompassed by a large timber palisade, punctured by holes or slits through which archers might have sho Nevertheless, excavations carried out at Bulandi Bagh in Pataliputra by Spooner and Waddell revealed the ruins of a timber palisade. One structure among them consisted of 80 wooden pillars, which indicates the popularity and technology behind the material. l.

Stone, as a raw material for construction, appears to have come into the equation later during the Mauryan period. Although Kautilya has provided considerable descriptions of these raw materials, including the advantages and disadvantages of materials, explaining when and where to use each one of them, including stone and wood, was the traditional selection of raw materials. During the time of Asoka, Mauryan period architecture made a significant turn towards stone as a material. This selection of stone as a raw material for architecture as well as art was indeed a trend during and beyond that period. Hence, the remains of Mauryan-period architecture since the time of Asoka have been comparatively well preserved. According to that evidence, it seems that the technology to handle stone material was highly sophisticated. The stone surfaces of pillars and the interior walls of rock-cut temples have been finished with mirror polish. And also, the pillars are not made of stone blocks but a single monolithic structure, except for the capital of the pillars, which has been fixed into the pillar. This pillar alone reveals the technological sophistication of material technology. Buff-coloured sandstones were the most preferred stone material used for pillars, while fine-grained, hard rock outcrops were used for rock-cut temples.

While wood and stone were the most significant raw materials, clay was used as a raw material to continuously produce bricks. It is clear that wood or stone were ideal materials to use for certain structural frameworks of a construction, while bricks were being used to construct walls and foundations filling the gaps. Regarding stupas such as Sanchi and Saranath, which were built during Asoka’s rule, it appears that brick masonry was significant for them along with stones. However, brick masonry was always a part of the material technology of Mauryan period architecture.

4.6. Craftsmanship

The craftsmanship of Mauryan-period architecture appears to be highly skilled. Carpentry and masonry might have been done by specialized workers. Regarding the stone cutting, carving, and polishing, artisans must have been well-trained groups of craftsmen. Otherwise, features like the quality of the stone polishing would not have been accomplished. With the evidence of high-quality brick masonry dating back to the 6th century BC, brick masonry could have been developed to such a sophisticated level of craftsmanship. But, with no evidence of full-scale stone works before the period of Asoka in the 2nd urban civilization, the technology or skilled artisans might have been imported from foreign civilizations.

4.7. Patronage and urban planning 

The patronage of Mauryan period architecture was mainly royal, but there were individual patrons as well. Palaces, Pātalīputra city, pillars, stupas, and rock-cut temples have been sponsored by the royal family for the use of royalty and religious traditions. . And some of the architectural themes, such as rock-cut temples, pillars, and stupas, have been sponsored by merchants, officers, and other civil servants. . especially, the rock-cut cave architecture has emerged with individual patronage. . Establishing pillars also seems to have evolved into an architectural form that could spread with individual patronage. . And also, town planning appears to have begun with Chandragupta Maurya in India. . Kautilya has stated a well-designed plan is needed for a city and he has suggested a complete town plan. . There is evidence that indicates the Pātalīputra city had been constructed according to that plan. Therefore, with the royal patronage, urban planning has been a part of the Mauryan period architecture. e.

Greek and Persian influences were evident in aspects of architecture during the Mauryan period.

5.1. Introduction

The Greek and Persian influence on India is indeed a historical fact. Here, the discussion will take place considering how Greek and Persian architecture influenced Mauryan period architecture, focusing on each of the major aspects of the means of architecture.

5.2. Themes and utilisation

There are few architectural themes in Mauryan period architecture that appear to be influenced by Greek and Persian architecture. 

The palace of Chandragupta Maurya is said to have been inspired by the Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis. And also, Arthashastra provides some evidence to indicate that the Mauryan royal traditions have been affected by the Achaemenid traditions of royalty during the time of Chandragupta Maurya (Barti 2014: 1004). Persians considered the palaces for royalty to be elegant, while Greeks had city states with several buildings, the temple being the most elegant. So, the Mauryan Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and his advisor Kautilya might have absorbed the idea of using a palace from the Persian Empire. Likewise, the theme of the palace has been influenced by Persian architecture.

The rock-cut architecture also appears to be influenced by both Greco-Persian. Carving the proposed structure out of a rock outcrop had been done in Persepolis when they built the underground water supply system and drainage system. The Lomas Rishi cave on Barabar Hill was built by a king who ruled the regions inhabited by Greeks under Emperor Asoka. If the rock-cut architecture was brought by Greeks, it could have originated in Greek civilization, or it could have originated in Persian civilization and been brought to India by Greeks who came across Persia. Either way, it can be indicated that the theme of rock-cut architecture emerged in India in the Mauryan period due to the influence of Greeks and Persians. (Further evidence of influence on rock-cut architecture is discussed under subtopic 3.3. Structure.)

Pillars, which have been promoted in India by Emperor Asoka, also appear to be influenced by Greek and Persian architecture. Mauryan pillars were erected in the ground without a base, similar to the doric-style pillars of Greek architecture and the pillars of Persepolis. And also, pillars have been considered symbolical indicators of power by Persians. That very usage has been adopted by Emperor Asoka in India.

5.3. Structures and structural items

In the Mauryan stupa architecture, the structural items appear to have been adopted from Persia. The brick mound on which the Stupa dome has been built and the double stairway that has been built on the same side, each coming together from opposite directions to enter the upper-level passageway, are very similar to the structures of Persian palaces. Persian buildings such as Apādana palace and the ceremonial hall of the king Darius (I) have been constructed on a mound and those buildings consist of double stairways, the same as those of Mauryan stupas (Figures 30, 31). And also, the supa dome is very similar to the dome structures of Persian architecture. In Buddhist literature, it is evident that Buddha himself taught the structure of a stupa by turning a bowl upside down on the ground and placing a stick (Yashti) on the top of that upside-down bowl, which appears to be the basic structure of Mauryan stupas. But if the structure was built only following Lord Buddha’s advice, the structural items such as the mound, the double stairway, and the pediment would not have been added to the stupa structure. Hence, it is clear that some structural items of Persian architecture have been directly employed by Mauryan stupas.

The stupa structure of Mauryan period architecture was a complex one. It is clear that there have been a few structural elements combined together, completing the theme of Stupa. As already mentioned above, among those main structural elements, some other smaller structures, such as Yaksha and Yakshi sculptures, have also been included in stupa architecture. Those figures represent the minor religious beliefs of the Mauryan period culture and have been included in the Buddhist architecture purposefully in order to attract people from different religions to the Buddhist culture, empowering co-existence between religious groups. Although the original purpose of the carvings and sculptures in stupa architecture was to serve aesthetic value, those carvings and sculptures carried a communicational purpose too. Therefore, the idea of adding small structures or reproducing small structures to represent other traditions along with the main tradition in stupa architecture has to have originated somewhere internally or externally in India. Perhaps this idea originated in Mauryan architecture itself, as Buddhism encourages, and also because Emperor Asoka himself encouraged the peaceful coexistence of people with a variety of beliefs. And perhaps it might have been adopted from the Greek temple architecture, which had been constructing smaller structures to house the dedications to various deities, accompanied by the main structure. Or, it might have been both, encouraged by Buddhism and influenced by Greek temple architecture, which led the Mauryan stupa architecture to add deities of other religions to the structural elements even in means of decoration.

And also, the Greek temple structures accompanied other smaller structures, such as monumental gates. Stupa architecture during the Mauryan period also accompanied several other smaller structures, such as monumental gates and fences. Although the established idea is that these smaller structures, such as Buddhist railing and monumental gates, have been constructed under the direct influence of early Vedic village architecture, it is noteworthy that the tradition of main structures accompanying smaller structures has also been a feature in Greek temple architecture.

When it comes to rock-cut architecture, window openings need to be highlighted in this discussion. Early rock-cut structures had no windows and only one doorway opening served as the entrance for the occupiers as well as light. With time, this structure evolved to have one window opening above the doorway to receive daylight into the chamber. Overall, it is clear that the openings of rock-cut architecture in the Mauryan period were narrow and limited. This narrow opening and no window opening feature could also be seen in Greek temples. Hence, this similarity could happen due to the fact that rock-cut architecture was introduced to India by the Greeks and the structure did not consist of window openings or to the fact that they thought carving out more openings would damage the structure and waste time and effort. In my opinion, considering available evidence, it cannot be certain to say that only the Greek influence led that structural feature to occur. But it is certain that there’s a possibility of Greek influence on the structural design of the rock-cut architecture in the Mauryan period.

Furthermore, Persian architecture could have influenced the rock-cut architecture in the Mauryan period by not only the idea of carving out a rock to create a structure but also the structural plan. As I have already mentioned, constructing arches and domes has been a sophisticated approach to Persian architecture that served structural purposes. Taghizade 2012: 2). In rock-cut structures in India, the interior has been designed as a dome and a hall with an arch-like ceiling. But, unlike building a roof using blocks of stone or bricks, when carving out a structure from a hard material like stone, the ceiling of the structure does not necessarily have to be in the form of anin the form of an in the form of an arch or dome to keep the structure strongly intact. Hence, it appears that the structure of the rock-cut architecture in the Mauryan period was more likely to have been adopted from Persian architecture.

The Asoka pillars, as a theme and also as a structure, appear to have come from the Achaemenid architecture of Persia. In Apādana Palace in Persepolis, there are pillars that have been designed with capitals such as lions, bulls, and imaginary animals (Golabchi 2009: 163). The bull figures in a three-metre-high capital have been created as bulls sitting back to back (Golabchi 2009: 163). This same integrated animal figure design can be seen among Asoka pillars, specifically in the Saranath pillar, with four lions sitting back to back and facing forward. And also, the sculptural capitals of pillars with winged animals and the style of edicts on pillars have been borrowed from Persia (Barti 2014: 1003). So, the structure of the capital of the pillars seems to have been adopted from Persia.

5.4. Aesthetics

When considering the aesthetic aspect, it appears that both Greek and Persian architecture have initiated or shaped that aspect in Mauryan period architecture. In other words, the aesthetic aspects of architecture can also be included in art. Therefore, the influence on art in the Mauryan period is also relevant to the subject.

The Greeks were the first to use the human body for architectural decorations. Columns that have been created as human female figures, referred to as caryatids, can be seen in temples such as the Erechtheion. A torso of a nude male figure and a Didarguji Yakshi figure have been found in Patna, indicating that the theme of nude human body sculptures was present in the Mauryan period, which seems to be evidence of Greek influence on Mauryan art. During the Mauryan period, female figures, such as Salabanchika Yakshi figures, were used as architectural sculptures for decorative purposes. As mentioned above under the subtopic structure, those Yakshi figures might have served several purposes, but the primary purpose seems to be fulfilling the aesthetic value. Indians have used the human body as a theme for carvings and sculptures during Harappan civilization, though the tradition of using the human body for aesthetic purposes seems to have come from Greek architecture to Mauryan period architecture.

The pediments of the Greek temples have been decorated with sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses depicting stories. In Persia, King Darius depicted the story of his victory on a rock surface as carvings. A similar tradition can be seen in the decorations in Mauryan stupa architecture. The Buddhist fence element of the stupa structure has been decorated with carvings, initially with simple carvings of individual themes such as the Lotus Medal and then with narratives of the Jataka stories as well as important incidents of the life of Lord Buddha (Figure 33). . And also, Persian Emperors had depicted their victorious stories in carvings of rock surfaces of buildings (Figure 32). . That tradition was more likely to have an impact on Mauryan depictions. .

As mentioned above, the theme and the structural design, as well as some of the aesthetic aspects of the Asoka pillars, appear to have been influenced by Persian pillars. The lower part of the capital has been created as an inverted lotus, similar to the Persian pillars. Then the square part of the abacus on which the animal figure is sitting has also been created.

5.5. Material Technology

When the Greek and Persian influence on Mauryan period architecture is examined through the aspect of material technology, raw materials, manufactured materials, and the technology behind employing those materials, it seems to have been significantly influenced during the Mauryan period. 

The most significant influence of all in the means of architecture appears to be the shift that took place from wood to stone during the time of Emperor Asoka. Wood has been the principle material of construction in Indian civilization since the Vedic village culture until the Mauryan period. The palace of Chandragupta Maurya, the Palisades, and the and the Pātalīputra capital have been constructed using wood as the principle material, while brick masonry played the role of foundations and walls. . But in the time of Asoka, the wood was replaced with stone on a large scale. . That shift to a new, different type of raw material seems to be a sudden phenomenon. . Although Kautilya has noted the advantages of using stone and brick instead of wood, considering the fact that wood catches fire easily, a lack of archaeological evidence of the utilisation of stone before the time of Asoka corroborates the conclusion above. . In that case, the question would be how Mauryan architects improved their skills in working on such a different and newly introduced material. . Therefore, it is clear that they had technological support externally, from Greek and Persian traditions. . The Asoka pillars, rock-cut caves, and Buddhist railing fence are clear indicators of that influence. . Emperor Asoka seems to have wanted to follow up on the elegance of Persian architecture, which he might have heard of from individuals such as merchants and diplomats who had seen the Persian monuments and cities. . Therefore, the choice of stone for construction work might have been introduced to Mauryan architecture. . 

Furthermore, the highly polished finishing of stone surfaces during Mauryan period architecture is noteworthy. As mentioned above, the quality of stonework has been extraordinary. That polishing technology is said to have been taught by Persians. Some scholars indicate that Persians received stone-working technology from Greeks during the time when Greek civilization was under Persian rule. However, by the time Emperor Asoka ruled, Persians as well as Greeks had the ability to create highly polished rock surfaces. It has been hypothetically concluded that the polish was accomplished using abrasion techniques with water and fine sand by the Persians and the Greeks (Kleiss 1992). So, the influenced Indians during the Mauryan period are more likely to follow the same techniques to achieve mirror-polished stone surfaces.

5.6. Craftsmanship

When examining the aspect of craftsmanship, the artisans of the Mauryan period architecture must have been definitely well trained and skilled craftsmen in carpentry, stone cutting, and masonry. Among those artistries, stone-cutting and stone-working appear to have been introduced by Greeks and Persians to the craftsmen. There is evidence to suggest that craftsmen from the Persian Empire have been employed by Mauryan kings. The Persian nobles have been employed for administrative work of the empire, such as the govener of Kathiawar, a Persian named Tushaspa, under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya (Barti 2014: 1003). Hence, the possibility of hiring Persian artisans to introduce stonework and stone-cutting to Mauryan India is much higher.

5.7. Patronage

When considering the aspect of patronage in Mauryan period architecture, royal patronage seems to be influenced by Persians. The Persian emperors were the patrons of those glorious constructions in cities like Persepolis and have marked the power of the empire via architecture. The palaces, the Pillars of Persepolis, and the city plan of Persepolis seem to be highly appreciated by the people in the area. And also, the cities that Alexander the Great built according to Greek architecture in the conquered regions of his empire might have established the trend that royal palaces and cities needed to be constructed to gain recognition, reputation, and eminence. That might have been the case for Chandragupta Maurya to build his palace with the inspiration of Persian palaces, as well as for Asoka to erect pillars symbolically marking his power. So, it seems that the royalty needed the architectural creations done by them to be significant during the Mauryan period. That idea of royalty in architecture had been introduced by Persian kings.

In addition, King Asoka seems to want to provide the best patronage to the religious groups. Therefore, he might use the most popular trend contemporaneously, which was the use of stone, which has already been marked for its notability by the Greco-Persians.

5.8. Summary

The Greek and Persian influences on Mauryan period architecture can be examined through aspects of architecture. It is clear that Greek and Persian influence on Mauryan period architecture is a historical fact by now. The themes, such as palaces, were there in India even before the emergence of Magadha in the 6th century BC. Each king had a palace as the residence of the royal family as well as the headquarters of the monarchic administration. During the Mauryan period, the theme of a palace seems to have been influenced by the Persian tradition of palaces. That influence appears to be one of the main reasons for Mauryan palaces to be massive structures with elegance. The theme of stone pillars was directly established due to the fame of Persian royal architecture. And the theme of rock-cut architecture also seems to be adopted from Greek and Persian traditions. The structure of most of the stone works in the Mauryan period was similar to that of Greek and Persian architecture. Structures of major religions have been accompanied by comparatively smaller structures, such as monumental gateways, as well as smaller structures for minor religious beliefs, most likely due to the influence of Greek temple architecture. Rock-cut structures consisted of a rectangular hall, whose ceiling is arch shaped and a circular dome-shaped space under the clear influence of Persian architecture. Regarding the aesthetic aspect of Mauryan period architecture, it is clear that the use of architectural sculptures, specifically human figures for stupas, has been adopted from Greek architecture. The use of animal figures, specifically integrated animal figures, to decorate the capitals of stone pillars has precisely been adopted from the Persians. The Buddhist railing carvings, which depict narratives, may have been influenced by the Persians as well as the Greeks. Apparently, the sudden shift from wood to stone on a major scale that took place in the time of Asoka was due to the influence of both Greek and Persian traditions. The highly polished finishing visible in Mauryan architecture strongly suggests that Persian and Greek influences shaped every aspect of stone-based architecture in the Mauryan period. Craftsmanship appears to be a cosmopolitan one that absorbed and employed highly sophisticated Greco-Persian technology, knowledge, and skilled artisans. Patronage-wise, Mauryan royals seem to have followed the Persian rulers. The royalty have been depicted through elegant architecture developed under their patronage.

The state of adaptation of Greek and Persian influence observable in Mauryan period architecture

The influence that Greek and Persian cultures had on Mauryan period architecture is not just an embracement of Greek or Persian traditions. Some traditions are directly imitated by influencers and some traditions are modified. This can be examined through the main architectural creations of Mauryan period architecture.

Asoka Pillars, as discussed in previous chapters, are the most significant element that has been deeply influenced by Greek and Persian cultures. The shafts of those pillars are single monolithic structures, unlike the Greek and Persian pillars, which are constructed by placing several stone blocks on top of each. Among Asoka pillars, some consist of highly polished surfaces without any carving or other means of decoration. In Greek and Persian traditions, the shafts of pillars are most likely to be carved or fluted, while Asoka pillars are more likely to have shafts that are plain, polished, and cylindrical with edicts on them. When it comes to the capital of the Asoka pillars, the lowermost part of the capital has been created as the inverted lotus carving, which is similar to the Persian pillars. Then, in pillars like Saranath, they are created to consist of a part that is carved with chakra. Then again, indicating Persian influence, an animal figure has been created. In some cases, integrated animal figures have been created in the capital of pillars, similar to the pillars of Persepolis. The Asoka pillars have been established on the ground without a base, following the same method of erecting a wooden pillar in a hole dug in the ground. Only the pillars of the first Greek column style, Doric, have been erected without a base following this method of erecting wood posts. But the influence that can be determined from Greek to Indian is not by doric style. Therefore, it is clear that erecting a pillar has been done according to the local methods, which were suited for India.

When considering Mauryan stupa architecture, it is clear that they had influence from Persian architecture as well as Greek architecture. The mound, which has been built using brick masonry and the two staircases, which come from opposite directions but from the same side in the stupa structure, clearly indicate the direct influence Mauryan stupa architecture had on Persian architecture. But the Harmika, Chathra, and Vedika appear to be pure Indian-origin structural items. When it comes to the decorations of the Mauryan stupa, the carvings that depict narratives about incidents important to Buddhism and other religions are similar to the narratives depicted in Persian decorations. The Persians have narrated the incidents as mostly politically important, but religiously important incidents have been narrated in Mauryan stupa decorations.

Hence, considering the facts discussed above, it is clear that the Greek and Persian originated traditions in the means of architecture have been adopted, adjusted, adapted, amended, and reworked in the Mauryan period architecture rather than imitating them directly.

The causes of Greek and Persian influence in Mauryan period architecture

7.1. Introduction

The influence that Greek and Persian cultures had on Mauryan-period architecture was not an isolated phenomenon. The context of that influence was much more complex, in which roots are evident at least from five centuries ago. The historical events that occurred in India, the Greek mainland, the Aegean islands, Asian Minor, Persia, and Egypt during the preceding years as well as during the Mauryan period have been significantly involved in shaping and enforcing the influence Greeks and Persians had on Mauryan architecture. This background can be inspected through political, religious, economic, and socio-cultural aspects.

7.2 Political

The political background is the major reason for the influence of Greek and Persian cultures on Mauryan period architecture. 

Invasions played the main role in all of the influences that were shared between any human culture. The invasions between Greek and Persian civilizations led to the emergence of Greco-Persian culture. Persian emperors conquered Asia Minor, the Aegean islands, and the Greek mainland but did not force Persian culture on them. Greek rulers had the authority to continue the governance of their regions under the dominance of the Persian Empire. That caused the Persian Empire to accept Greek culture. Then, during the time of Alexander the Great, the Persian Empire got conquered but Alexander also did not force Greek culture on Persians. This led both cultures to share aspects such as technology, art, and architecture. The king Cyrus avoided the prior Persian tradition of deporting different populations and supported local religions and cultures (A Brief History of Ancient Greece). During the time of the Persian Emperor Darius (I), artisans from everywhere in the empire gathered to construct the new capital, Persepolis. Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians have contributed to the construction of Persepolis. That tradition practiced by Persian kings led Persian architecture to be cosmopolitan, which later made its way to India. Therefore, Greek influence on Mauryan architecture has not always been a direct influence but rather both direct and indirect due to the fact that Greek traditions have made their way to India with Persian traditions. 

Alexander the Great had the ambition of establishing cities according to Greek traditions in the areas he conquered. He named those colonies after the Greek city of Alexandria. However, due to the goal of the Greek emperor, Greek architecture has been brought into Persia, Egypt, and Northwest India. Therefore, the northwest region of India became familiar with Greek architecture. As with the Mauryan Empire, those regions were conquered by Indians, and the architectural traditions that occurred in that region had a chance to enter India. 

As mentioned here, invasions by Greeks and Persians made a massive contribution to the background. Then the Greek invasion into the northwest region of India and Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka’s invasion beyond the northwest region of India completed the latter half of the background.

Under Mauryan rule, diplomatic relations with Greeks and Persians continued, resulting in another way to have cultural influences. Megasthenes was the ambassador of Greece to the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta Maurya and Asoka both had Greeks and Persians as officers and regional rulers under their governance (Barti 2014: 1003). This could have also resulted in a Greek and Persian influence on Mauryan period architecture. 

One of the other facts that might have resulted in the influence of Greek and Persian aspects on Mauryan-period architecture is the ambitions of the royal patronage. As mentioned above, Persian rulers as well as Alexander the Great had the goal of constructing highly sophisticated and elegant buildings to establish royalty and power. That resulted in both Greek and Persian architecture becoming more advanced in both structural and aesthetic aspects. Following in the footsteps of Persian kings and the Greek emperor, Mauryan kings also started to mark their royalty and power through extraordinary constructions. Hence, the Mauryan period architecture under the royal patronage created the latest and most sophisticated architecture in the region. Architecture became the official medium for communicating ideological agendas in both the Greek and Persian Empires. The Emperor Asoka adopted that tradition and that resulted in the shift from wood-based architecture to stone-based architecture in Mauryan India. And also, King Darius created the Bisitun monument, which depicts how he overthrows the usurper Gaumata and defeats nine other rebel leaders (Colburn 776). He also depicted the same incidents in a trilingual inscription (Colburn 776). This tradition of narrating incidents that royal patrons needed made its way to India with Emperor Asoka. Stupas such as Sanchi, which were built under Asoka’s patronage, evidently have narratives describing not only the incidents of Buddhism but the incidents of the royalty and Asoka himself too. That tradition continued not only through royal patronage but also through individual patronage in Mauryan-period architecture. So, it is clear that the royal patronage of Mauryan period architecture was influenced by Persian and Greek royal patronage in the sense of the agenda behind the royal patronage. 

7.3. Economical

The other major reason for the influence of Greek and Persian culture on Mauryan period architecture is an economic factor. Long-distance trade between civilizations via land and the sea occurred even in the Harappan civilization period. According to Buddhist and Jain literature sources, long-distance trade was a part of the Vedic economy by the 6th century BC. This connection might have had some influence on overall Indian culture, mostly in art and architecture. As Greek sources suggest, Darius (I) has facilitated travel for commercial purposes. He has even built a canal connecting the Nile and the Red Sea to facilitate maritime trade (A Brief History of Ancient Greece). And Alexander the Great also opened the road from Northwest India to Greece after invading Persia. So, with or without the intervention of politics, economic reasons have become a part of the background for Greek and Persian influence on Mauryan period architecture.

7.4. Socio-cultural reasons

As a result of those invasions and colonisations, there were Greeks among the Persians settled in Persia. Alexander the Great encouraged his fellow Greeks to marry in Persia and he himself married a Persian princess (Ciordia 2020). The trade commerce also might have encouraged foreign communities to have such socio-cultural relations. These two aspects resulted in each civilization having a foreign community that settled temporarily or permanently within the local community. This resulted in more socio-cultural connections, such as marriages and worship. King Ashoka has entrusted the Buddhist monk Dharmaraksita, who is said to be a Greek, to spread Buddhism across Maharashtra (Ciordia 2020). Within this community, there might have been individuals like artisans and skilled workers. Those people might have been affected by the architectural work on a small scale. Perhaps King Asoka or other individual patrons might have employed those artisans who were already living within society. And also, there are inscriptions that reveal numerous Greek individuals as patrons for the construction of rock-cut cave temples in Nasik and Karla in Maharashtra (Ciordia 2020). In Karla, 7 out of 17 patrons were Greeks (Ciordia 2020). So, it is clear that the community who were permanent residents in India or who visited India seasonally were Greeks and they became the patrons of rock-cut architecture, which is a tradition India adapted from Greeks and Persians during the time of the Emperor Asoka.

Apart from that, a new hypothesis has been proposed that the rock-cut architecture originated from a simple naval tradition of turning over a ship to camp underneath it, practiced by ancient Greek seamen in the 2nd millennia BCE (Ciorida 2007, 2020). Furthermore, the researcher proposes that the ship without a deck might have been turned over on a brick wall or stone wall structure to have meetings among the naval community in Greece. Then, in the 7th century BCE, this entire structure might have been built of stones. If that is the case, the Greek community is not only the inventors of the structure of rock-cut architecture but spreaders as well.

7.5. Summary

The Greek and Persian influences evident in Mauryan period architecture have a complex background. As per other cultural aspects (in the sense of culture as human culture, which includes every aspect such as political, economic, religious, and social.), architecture has been mainly influenced by political activities. The approach of the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek Empire made up the first half of the background, setting up highly sophisticated Greek and Persian architectural traditions. Then the Mauryan Empire completed the second half of the background by absorbing those architectural traditions. The need of elegant architecture that indicates the royal power in rulers resulted the monumental architecture to be developed. As a new trend The need for elegant architecture that represents royal power in rulers led to the development of monumental architecture. that only royals could afford in the beginning, stonework began. The agendas of royalty in each Greek, Persian, and Mauryan empire enforced monumental architecture, city planning, stonework, and narrative depiction. Commercial activities also served as a major part of the background for this influence to happen. Merchants who came from the Greek and Persian regions accompanied the culture, including architecture, to India. Those individuals became a part of a patronage that contributed Greek architecture to India. As a result of political and commercial activities, a Greek and Persian community lived permanently as well as seasonally in India. Between this community and the local community, there were marriages and all sorts of relationships and connections. To fulfil the needs of those communities as well as the knowledge individuals in those communities can provide, architectural structures have been built according to their traditions. Either way, Greek and Persian traditions influenced Mauryan-period architecture.


The approach to interpreting the similarities between Mauryan Period architecture in India and Greek or Persian architecture is typically biased towards those external cultures from an Indian point of view. It usually interprets the aspects of a succeeded culture or a later culture as being influenced necessarily by the aspects of the previous culture within or beyond geopolitical or geo-cultural boundaries. The evidence often used for such an argument is the similarities in any aspect of two or multiple civilizations and the external relations between civilizations, such as invasions, trade, marriages, missionaries, diplomatic services, etc. But having evidence that two or more civilizations had some similarities in single or multiple aspects and having evidence that two or more civilizations had external affairs with each other doesn’t necessarily mean that every one of those similarities notable between those civilizations indicates the influence those civilizations had on each other. Because of the cognitive function of humans, two distinct groups of people who live in similar conditions or in similar environments can develop some similarities, though both groups are completely isolated. That is because humans share the same cognitive capabilities and a similar natural environment at some levels, which are the building blocks of human culture. Hence, the similarities in certain aspects, such as material culture, architecture, subsistence patterns, etc., could emerge in two or more civilizations without any kind of human cultural connection between each civilization. In the context of architecture, this understanding is very important. Because, as discussed above, in both the past and present, humans tend to discover new ways of using the raw materials they have been given, as well as new raw materials from the natural resources they have been given. As an example, if we take ‘stone’ as a raw material that people from distinctive human cultures have been using since ancient times, it can be seen that in many civilizations, wood has been replaced with stone to a certain extent. First, wooden pillars have been replaced with simple stone pillars. Then, those stone pillars have been taken to a finishing stage to be polished or decorated with carvings to add aesthetic value, as the wooden pillars were well finished and decorated. This process of replacing material indicates the cognitive aspect of the creators. They might have wanted their constructions to be durable, as most of those constructions are essential buildings for their civilizations, such as fortifications, temples, palaces, and other public buildings. Hence, they might have searched for an alternative to wood due to its higher deterioration rate and higher destructibility. Then, they might have chosen stone to replace wood since stone is fireproof, has a very low deterioration rate and yet can fulfil the same utility provided by wood. Then they might have tried adding decorations to the stone pillars. So, in order to replace wood with stone, the creativity or cognitive ability of the man and the naturally occurring resources or raw materials seem to be the minimal requirements needed. Once the human creator decided to use stones, he might have invented the technology and equipment needed using the subsequent knowledge that was accessible to him. So, an external influence is not the only cause of something that occurred in past human culture. There have always been some other factors that caused something to occur. In this case, when considering the Greek and Persian influence that occurred in Mauryan period architecture, it is clear that Indian architecture only adopted suitable features from Greek and Persian architecture and some similar features might not have even been adopted. As an example, it can be mentioned that in Greek context, the Doric column evolved out of the earlier wood-style columns and has no base underneath them, similar to the Asoka pillars in India. When considering the scale of time, obviously, it can be easily recognised that older Doric-style Greek columns influenced later-period Asoka pillars. But, when critically evaluating the basic logic behind such pillars without bases, it is more likely that the Mauryan architects also followed the same method that they have been employing to erect wood pillars for thousands of years. And there was a background forming for thousands of years that caused the Greek and Persian influences on Mauryan period architecture.

So, according to the facts that have been discussed here, it can be concluded that, within the same architectural theme, some features have been directly adopted while others have been adapted, adjusted, or even reworked. And also, the state of influence that has occurred in each aspect of architecture, namely, architectural themes, structure and structural items, aesthetics, material technology, craftsmanship, and patronage, tends to differ dynamically and has a complex cultural background. And it can be concluded that the Greek and Persian influence that occurred in Mauryan period architecture was more of a process than a phenomenon. 


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