The Satavahanas emerged as a critical dynasty in the post-Mauryan age. They are usually associated with the Andhras as mentioned in the Puranic king-lists. At its greatest extent, the Satavahana empire covered the whole of the Deccan and spread far into Northern India, perhaps even as far as Magadha. The Trans-Vindhyan region remained under the sway of the Satavahanas for over two centuries, leading to them being hailed as Dakshinapatha pati- Lords of Dakshinapatha. Most of our knowledge about the Satavahanas comes from inscriptional and numismatic evidence found in regions like Nasik and Nanaghat.
The name Andhras or Andhra-bhritya is an allusion to their jati (tribe), but multiple speculations are made on the essence of this name. While some claim that they may have been servants to the Andhras, others believe that they earlier served the Mauryas, and thus derived the nomenclature approximating servants. Satavahana on the other hand refers to the specific kula of the rulers of this empire. Courtesy inscriptional evidence, scholars arrive at Pratisthan (Paithan) in Deccan as the point of origin for the Satavahanas, from where they expanded in all directions. Pratisthan also remained the capital of the empire for the longest time.
The Satavahanas emerged out of the ruins of the Mauryan Empire that declined and disintegrated by the first half of the 2nd century BCE. The Andhra country and the Deccan at large had been under the sway of the Mauryans, and the baton was passed on to the Satavahanas and Chedi rulers of Odisha. While the exact date of the foundation of Satavahana power cannot be determined with precision, Puranic lists suggest that the first king, Simuka began to reign about 230 BCE. Evidence, however, suggests that Simuka was only a descendant of Satavahana, who was the real progenitor of the dynasty. According to inscriptions, the Satavahanas first made their mark in the Deccan by decimating the Kanva forces in the first century BCE.
According to Jain accounts, Simuka (who ruled for 23 years), grew so wicked towards the end of his reign that he was dethroned and killed. He was succeeded by his brother Kanha who extended the kingdom to the west as far as Nasik if not farther. Kanha was followed by Sri Satakarni who conquered Western Malwa and possibly even triumphed over the Sungas, who were the imperial force of North India. This consolidation reached its zenith under the 56-year reign of Satakarni II, who wrested Malwa from the Sungas.
The history of any empire is often characterised by its conflicts with other contemporary forces, and in the case of the Satavahanas, the Sakas of Seistan proved to be a constant threat. The Sakas belonged to East Iran and established their presence in the Indus valley before the first century BCE. Thus, they are also referred to as the Indo-Scythians. The expansion of the Saka power at the expense of the Satavahans probably occurred in the period AD 40-80, with the greatest conquerer being Nahapana. Historian RC Majumdar alludes to this phase as a temporary eclipse of the Satavahana power. [ref]
Gotami-putra Satakarni is often credited with reviving the fortunes of the Satavahanas after acceding to the throne in c. 106 AD. He is described as the destroyer of the Sakas, Pahlavas and Yavanas (Saka-yavana-pahlavanisudana). He decisively defeated the powerful Kshaharatha ruler Nahapala and recovered many territories that the Shakas had earlier wrested from the Satavahanas. He is considered to be among the most charismatic emperors to have ruled the subcontinent, being the refuge of the virtuous, the asylum of fortune and fountain of good manners. He was an embodiment of integrity, and ensured that justice was dispensed without any fear or favour. However, he was stoutly opposed to varna-samkara or the intermingling of different castes. This may be in tune with his ambition of bolstering his Brahmanical credentials, and may have been plain political ambition. However, it will be incorrect to remark such a policy as casteist in the modern sense as the social imperatives in the beginning of the first millennium AD were vastly different than they are today.
The Nashik inscription of Gautami Balashri suggest that Satakarnis rule extended from Malwa and Saurashtra in the North to the Krishna in the south and from Berar in the east to Konkan in the West. However, his success seems to have been tainted towards the end of his reign, as Ptolemys geography (written approximately during his son Pulumayis reign) refers to Malwa having been passed on to a new lineage called the Kardamakas.[ref]
As noted above, Gotami Putra passed on the throne to his son Vaishishtiputra Pulumavi, who ruled from c. AD 130-159. Although he was not in possession of the northern provinces that had been under the control of his father, he was probably responsible for the extension of Satavahana rule in and around the river Krishna. He was followed by Yajnashri Satakarni, who was the last significant Satavahana ruler. After his reign, the empire gradually declined, for hitherto unestablished reasons. It can be surmised, however, that the succeeding monarchs werent able to maintain their control over feudatories who in turn may have gained in strength. All in all, the illustrious Satavahana empire came to an end around the mid-3rd century BCE.
The Satavahanas were followed by Abhiras in Maharashtra, Kadambas in Mysore, Vakatakas in the Deccan and Bruhatpalayanas in Andhra Pradesh. Later, the Vishnukundins and Chalukyas emerged and became dominant in the region that had earlier been in the possession of the Satavahanas.
The Satavahana polity was extensively decentralized, as local administration was left largely to feudatories subject to the general control of royal officials. The king was at the apex of the administrative hierarchy and was considered the guardian of the established social order. Though the royal power was absolute, it was subject to religious dictates & public opinion. The king had to rule in accordance with the rules laid down in the Dharmashastras.
The kingdom had three grades of feudatories:
- Rajas (who struck coins in their names),
- Mahabhojas and Maharathis (very influential families in the western Deccan). From the inscriptions of the Satavahana period, we find that the feudatories in Thane & Kolaba districts were known as Mahabhojas while those in the Poona district were designated as Maharathis.
- Mahasenapati (instituted late in the history of Satavahanas)
Janapada denoted the largest territorial division of the empire. It was subdivided into rashtras for the purpose of administrative efficacy. The head of a rashtra was known as Rashtrika. If the rashtra division was of a large size, then its head came to be known as Maharathi. The next sub-division was ahara which corresponds to modern districts. They were ruled by officers called Amatyas. The aharas were apparently divided into vishayas. The villages were the lowest unit of administrative division & their names mostly ended in grama or padraka. The village headman was called Gramani as mentioned in some gathas of the Gatha-saptasati.
We have very little information about the civic administration of cities & villages. There was generally an organization called Nigama-sabha which looked after local administration. It consisted of representatives from different strata of society.
The Satavahana kings did not bear high-sounding titles; rather they were simply called Rajan. Maharaja was rarely used. The ruler appointed several ministers & executive officers to assist him in administration. The officers in the king’s ministry were called Raj-amatyas. Besides, other officers mentioned in the inscription were: Senapati (the Army Commander), Rajjuka (the Revenue Officer), Bhandagarika (the Treasurer), Paniyagharika (the Superintendent of Water Works), Karmantika (the Superintendent of Public Works) & Avesanika (the foreman).[ref]
The income of the state under the Satavahanas was derived from land revenue & other cesses, taxes levied on commodities, excise duties, fines imposed on offenders, & other means. Some portion of income was also derived from State-owned lands. On the subject of grants & immunities, some royal grants consisted of whole villages. This did not mean dispossession of the village by landowners; rather the land revenue was to be donated to the donee. They were also given various immunities. For instance, fines imposed on offenders in the case of agrahara villages would often accrue to Brahmana donees. Brahmana learned in the Vedas was exempted from the payment of all taxes.
Inscriptions make no mention of the crops produced in the Satavahana age but some crops like rice, wheat, sugar, jawar, bajra, cotton were mentioned in the Gathasaptasati.
Trade also formed a critical component of the Satavahana economy. Maritime trade was flourishing from the ports of Broach, Kalyan, & Sopara. The Indians carried on a flourishing trade with foreign countries like Egypt & Greece. The exports included sesame oil, sugar, animal skins, cotton fabrics, silk, muslin, jewels, ornaments, etc. The goods imported were Roman wine, copper, tin, lead, and glass among many others. Trade was usually carried on through the guilds. These guilds were engaged not only in the production & transport of merchandise, they also did banking business.
The Satavahanas were the first rulers of South India who issued coins in their names. Various kinds of coins of copper, lead & potin were in circulation in the age of the Satavahanas. The Naneghat inscription mentions karshapanas which denoted a coin of silver as well as that of copper. But the coins recorded in this period were probably made of copper. In the excavations at Kondapur, several punch-marked coins have been found. Gold coins were also in circulation.[ref]
The Satavahanas made significant contributions towards Indian culture at large. The Mahabharata attained its present form as a work containing lakhs of verses in this age. They were the first Indian kings to give royal grants of land to those practicing Buddhism and Brahmanism. A Nasik inscription reflects this palpable concern as Gotami-putra Satkarni attributed to himself the title of Kshatriyadarpa Mardana (Destroyer of the Pride of Kshatriyas). Hala, a famous Satavahana ruler, is said to have composed a treatise called Saptasati opens with a passage in adoration of Shiva. It also refers to temples being constructed for Gauri, and vratas of fire and water. Sage Vidnyaneshwar also wrote a commentary on the Yadnyavalkya Smriti during the Satavahana period. As evidence of the literary richness of the times, one of the ardent poets also wrote a tome called 'Tambulmanjari' setting out the details of betel leaves, lime, and other thirteen ingredients commonly called paan in Hindustani.[ref]
Inarguably, the most intriguing practice instituted by the Satavahanas was that of metronymics, i.e, the name of emperors was often derived from the female lineage. This is particulatly evident through names like Gautami-putra and Vaishishti-putra. It will be an oversimplification to conclude that the Satavahana society was matriarchal or matrilineal. Nonetheless, it sheds some light on women's status in India, which may have been far superior to what it was in other parts of the country and even in the world. Sculptures show women worshipping Buddhist emblems, taking part in assemblies and entertaining guests alongside their husbands. Moreover, many women gave grants of land to monks, showing that they had considerable agency.
During the age of Satavahanas, all three religions – Hinduism, Buddhism & Jainism – were flourishing in India. The Satavahanas were followers of Hinduism. Historians suggest that initially the Satavahanas belonged to a lower caste, but as they consolidated their foothold over the Deccan, they cast themselves in Brahmanical credentials.
They were influenced by the sacrificial tradition of Vedic religion. This is corroborated by the Naneghat inscription, which records queen Naganika performing Vedic sacrifices with her husband Satakarni I. It also mentions the names of various sacrifices performed by the rulers: Agnyadheya, Anvarambhaniya, Angarika, Asvamedhas, and Gavamayana, among many others. This was the period when the Apastamba branch of the Black Yajurveda was formed in the Deccan. Besides the Vedic religion, Puranic Hinduism also flourished in that age. They worshiped a large number of deities such as Krishna & Balarama, as is evident from the opening obeisance to them in the Naneghat inscription. The performance of Vedic sacrifices & the worship of Puranic gods prevailed not only at the beginning of the Satavahana age but throughout the period. This clearly establishes the efforts taken by the Satavahanas to revive Vedic Brahmanism in the Deccan.
The Satavahana rulers gave liberal patronage to Buddhism as well. Gautamiputra Satakarni, Pulumavi, Yajna Satakarni & some other kings financed the excavation of caves, stupas, chaityas & viharas in the Deccan. This move was also adopted by the feudatories & zamindars. This period saw the spread of Hinayana Buddhism in south India. However, towards the end of their reign, we see the rise of Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who was a propagator of the Mahayana School of Buddhism. The above information gives us a picture of society in the age of the Satavahanas where Hindus & Buddhists lived side by side amicably. Land grants were given to both Brahmanas & Buddhist monks.
Yaksha worship was also in vogue under the Satavahanas. Numerous villages & fields were named after Yakshas & Yakshinis. For instance, the field Ajakalakiya derived its name from the Yaksha Ajakalaka. Sudisana was the name of a village derived from that of a Yakshini.[ref]
The Satavahanas left a rich legacy that was inherited by many other lineages in the Ancient and Early Medieval era. The stupa of Amaravati was enlarged and embellished, and many new stupas were also built in places like Gudivada and Alluru. As seen earlier, they revived Vedic Brahmanism and the corresponding rituals like the Ashvamedha yajna. Their assimilation of faiths, military power and trading prowess makes them one of the most important empires in the history of the Deccan region and at large, that of Bharatavarsha.