The Second Urbanisation

Second Urbanization: Overview

The "Second Urbanisation" occurred after 500 BCE, with new urban centers popping up throughout the Ganges plain, precisely the Central Ganges plain.

During the second urbanization, iron was widely utilized, and agricultural productivity increased, leading to the establishment of several towns and cities. The Central Ganges Plain, where Magadha rose to prominence and founded the Mauryan Empire, was a separate cultural zone influenced by Vedic civilization. And in the whole South Asia region, only the central Ganges plain was the site known for huge rice production. Also, the Sramanic movements flourished in this region only, and Jainism and Buddhism were born here.

Janpadas and Mahajanpads in Second Urbanization

During the Later Vedic era (900–600 BCE), a tribal government based on ancestry gave way to a territorial state. The Janas who traveled east began to settle in diverse areas. These areas were referred to as Janapada(territory) where people advanced from the Jana (tribe or clans). Janapada is properly translated as "the site where the tribe sets its foot." The janapadas competed for resources and political control. Some janapadas expanded their domains and incorporated new janas under their authority. These janapadas developed into mahajanapadas. A state's territory, people, administration, and sovereignty are all vital components. All of these components were discovered in some of the mahajanapadas.

According to Buddhist, Jain, and Puranic traditions, there were sixteen mahajanapadas.

They were as follows −

  • Chedi

  • Gandhara

  • Vatsa

  • Kamboja

  • AssakaKuru

  • Panchala

  • AvantiS

  • Hurasena

  • Malla

  • Matsya

  • Kasi,

  • Vajji (Vrijji)

  • Anga

  • Kosala, and

  • Magadha.

Based on the state and political entities these mahajanapadas were divided into −

  • Oligarchies or Gana-sanghas

  • Monarchies or Kingdoms

Gana-Sanghas (chiefdoms and oligarchies)

Gana-sangha or Gana-Rajya includes the word gana, which signifies equally. Whereas the term sangha refers to an assembly, Rajya, or government.

  • Gana-sanghas worked on an assembly model where the head of the clan or a family used to manage the territory and all the necessary work of the assembly.

  • In gana-sanghas, the members of a few clans or families only used to enjoy political power. This way of government was first thought to be a sort of democracy, but it was subsequently discovered that the system was not the same as a democracy since power was concentrated in the hands of tiny families, and only they engaged in governing. The vast majority of the people who lived on the land had no rights and were denied access to resources. As a result, the most fitting title for this form of governance was a republic.

  • The gana-sanghas followed a different form of government than the monarchs. Because authority was concentrated in the hands of governing families, the ganasanghas' government style might be compared to oligarchy.

  • The gana-sanghas may have been called pre-states or proto-states, but they were not kingdoms. The Gangetic proto-states were known as janapadas and included chiefdoms, republics, and tiny kingdoms. The early scriptures mention sixteen mahajanapadas. There were also ganasanghas, or oligarchies based on clans.

  • The Vajji or Vriji was one of the most well-known gana-sanghas who rule the Mithila region. Vajji made Vaishali their capital. These kingdoms were not subject to the sole decision-making power of a monarch but were made collectively by the leaders of several clans. Smaller such kingdoms like Kosala and Kasi also existed.

Kingdoms and Monarchies

The Gangetic plains' mahajanapadas were all monarchs. In these kingdoms, Vedic orthodoxy was a well-established practice.

  • The priestly elite enjoyed the dominant position in the mahajanapadas, unlike Ganasanghas. Kingship ruled the kingdoms, and the government was centralized. Through different rites, the brahman priests supplied legitimacy to the ruler.

  • The kingdom was hereditary, and most successions followed the law of primogeniture. The monarch was aided by Parishad and sabha councils. The councils were advisory only.

  • The king took the agricultural surplus through land revenue, with the exception of a few extra charges. Bali was a tax levied based on cultivable land area. Bhaga was collected as a portion of the harvest. Other taxes collected during this time period included Kara and Shulka. As a result, the king used taxes to fund a complex administrative apparatus and an army.

  • The wealthier landowners were known as grihapatis ad were treated as village heads. These landowners hired dasas or Karmakar laborers. Kassakas and krishakas were the minor landowners.

  • Based on varna, society was split into classes. It evolved into a status symbol. The shudras were classified as cultivators and craftspeople. During this time, a new social group formed that was positioned below the Shudras on the social ladder and was dubbed untouchables. Those considered untouchables were forced to live on the village outskirts.

  • Usually, hunting and gathering their sustenance without any help. As urbanization increased, they were side lined and assigned lowly tasks. They spoke their own linguistics, which was unique from the Indo-Aryan language.

Trade in Second Urbanization

Inland trade was well established by the sixth century BCE. External commerce, as well as internal trade, benefited from the agricultural surplus of the second urbanization.

  • External Trade − During this time, the Northern Path (Uttarapatha) was directly linked to the Silk Route. It was due to the roles of Darius I (Persian King) and Alexander. Both seized North-Western India and connected it to the Silk Route.

  • Internal Trade − Gahapati (Rich Farmers) arose as a result of agricultural excess. This created demand in the economy and encouraged internal commerce.

As a result, increased internal and external commerce established the groundwork for the Second Urbanization. The beginnings of mercantile guilds may be traced back to the same time period. The chiefs of the guilds or srenis were known as sresthins and were highly regarded members of society. The sarthavahas were caravan merchants. Caravans would transport products across large distances. There might have been some type of international commerce as well during the second urbanization with the Achaemenian Empire of Persia via Taksasila. Persepolis' Achaemenian palace (Persian empire palace) was built using wood from India.


The Second Urbanisation, which began in the sixth century BCE, reached its apex under the reigns of the Mauryan rulers. During the Kusana era, cities such as Mathura grew into fullfledged urban areas (1st century CE to 3rd century CE). Under the dominion of the Satavahanas, early Colas, and Pandyas, the Deccan and Southern India also witnessed periods of urbanization.


Q1: When did second urbanization begin?

Ans: Second urbanization begins in the 6th century B.C, somewhere around 500 BCE.

Q2: Who were treated as village heads in Mahajanpads?

Ans: Grihapatis controlled a large part of the land in mahajanpadas and were treated as the head of the village.

Q3: What are some main features of second urbanization?

Ans: The primary characteristic of this period includes extensive use of iron. This aided agricultural development. The iron plough and axe aided in clearing enormous expanses of forest land for providing farming land to increase agriculture production.

Q4: Name some ancient towns that flourished during the period of second urbanization.

Ans: Some towns, including Madurai, Ujjain, ptaliputra, and Shravasti, were designated as capital cities. Arts and crafts were thriving in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, respectively. On significant trade routes were cities like Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, and Kondapur in Andhra Pradesh and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.


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