The civilization of India is very ancient. In the Indus Valley are ruins of a civilization of high order that flourished from about 2300 B.C. to 1750 B.C. The Indus Valley civilization probably was destroyed by the Aryans, people of the Indo-European language family who entered through the northwest mountain passes between 2000 and 1500 B.C. The Aryans settled first in the Punjab and the Indus Valley, and from there spread eastward and southward. They introduced the Sanskrit language and the caste system into Indian culture.

In the sixth century B.C. the Persians made northwest India part of their empire. Alexander the Great of Macedonia conquered the Persian district in 326 B.C. Macedonian control lasted only a few years, but trade was established between India and Mediterranean countries. The Roman world knew India as the exotic land from which came spices, drugs, and cotton fabrics.

After the period of Macedonian rule, northern India was controlled in turn by native dynasties and invading tribes from beyond the mountains. India became known by the Persian name Hindustan (land of the Hindus). The most famous of the native dynasties were the Maurya and the Gupta.

Mauryan Empire.Mauryan Empire. This map shows the location of the Mauryan Empire, the first empire to unite almost all of India under a single government. The empire lasted from about 324 to about 185 B.C. Under the rule of Chandragupta Maurya, which ended about 298 B.C., the empire included much of what is now northern India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Chandragupta’s son Bindusara and Bindusara's son Ashoka expanded the empire far into South India. The empire's capital was Pataliputra (now Patna).

A Gupta-ruled empire fell to Hun invaders early in the fifth century A.D., but small states ruled by Gupta princes survived until the end of the century.

Gupta Empire.Gupta Empire. This map shows the location of the Gupta Empire. The Gupta Empire extended across present-day northern India and portions of present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh from about A.D. 320 to about 500. At this time, India became a center of art, learning, and medicine.