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History of South Asia

This article is about the history of South Asia.

Indus Valley civilization

Main article: Indus Valley civilization

The territory of South Asia has been the home of many civilizations. Archeological explorations have revealed impressive ruins of a 4,500-year old civilization in part of the Indus River in the Indian sub-continent. This urban culture, based on commerce and sustained by agricultural trade, declined between the 19th and 17th centuries BC, probably due to ecological changes.

Vedic civilization

Main article: Vedic civilization

A major (but politically contentious) theory is that the Indus Valley civilization was crushed by successive invasions (circa 2000 B.C. and 1400 B.C.) of Aryans, Indo-European warrior tribes from the Caucasus region in what is now Russia. According to this theory, as they settled in the middle Ganges River valley, they adapted to antecedent cultures.

See also: Aryan invasion theory

Middle Kingdoms

Main article: Middle kingdoms of India

The political map of ancient and medieval India was made up of myriad kingdoms with fluctuating boundaries. The Aryans were followed in 500 B.C. by Persians and, in 326 B.C., by Alexander the Great. The "Gandhara culture" flourished in much of present-day Pakistan. The Indo-Greek descendants of Alexander the Great saw the most creative period of the Gandhara (Buddhist) culture. For 200 years after the Kushan Dynasty was established in A.D. 50, Taxila (near Islamabad) became a renowned center of learning, philosophy, and art. In the 4th and 5th centuries, northern India was unified under the Gupta Dynasty. During this period, known as India's Golden Age, Hindu culture and political administration reached new heights.

Rise of Islam

Main article: Rise of Islam in South Asia

Islam spread across the subcontinent over a period of centuries. Muslim traders arrived in present-day Pakistan by the 8th century. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Turks and Afghans invaded India and established sultanates in Delhi. In the early 16th century, descendants of Genghis Khan swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal (Mogul) Dynasty, which lasted for 200 years. From the 11th to the 15th centuries, southern India was dominated by Hindu Chola and Vijayanagar Dynasties. During this time, the two systems -- the prevailing Hindu and Muslim -- mingled, leaving lasting cultural influences on each other.

British Colonialism

Main article: British Raj

British traders arrived in South Asia in 1601, but the British Empire did not consolidate control of the region until the latter half of the 18th century. After 1850, the British or those influenced by them governed virtually the entire subcontinent.


Main articles: Partition of India

As the British left, they handed power in the region to two successor states: Pakistan and India. Pakistan was comprised of the Muslim-majority provinces (part of Bengal in the East, along with half of the Punjab and other Northwest provinces). In 1971, East Pakistan seceded to become the present-day state of Bangladesh.

For information on the histories of present nation-states in South Asia, please read: