After the downfall of the vast Mauryan Empire when Magadha saw the rise of the Sunga and the Kanva dynasties.
Kalinga saw the rise of the Chedi Mahameghavahana Dynasty, South India also saw the rise of the Satavahana Dynasty in its Andhra region.
The founder of this southern dynasty was a King named Simuka. While this name ‘Simuka’ is seen in the inscription, the Puranas mention him as Sisuka and Sindhuka.
From the descriptions in the Puranas it is understood that this hero defeated some of the last surviving rulers of the Sunga Dynasty who ruled in the North and also the King of the Kanva Dynasty who ruled over Magadha, and established his power in the South. It is believed that Simuka rose to power during the First Century before Christ, after conquering an extensive territory in the Deccan.
A definite historical evidence is available regarding the authenticity of the Satavahana rule in the South. It is mentioned in the Hatigumpha Inscription of the Kalinga Emperor Kharavela that he defeated a King of the Andhra Satavahana Dynasty named Sri Satakarni. Since Kharavela belonged to the 1st century B.C., it can be historically said that the time of the rise of the Satavahana Dynasty in the Andhra region also took place in that century. King Sri Satakarni might have been one of the descendants of King Simuka, the founder of the Satavahana Dynasty.
The original home of the Satavahanas was somewhere in the Deccan, and most likely they belonged to the Andhra territory. Because, the Puranas described them as the Andhras. In other words, though the Dynasty became famous as the Satavahana, they were the inhabitants of Andhra. The Andhras were no doubt one of the most famous races of ancient India.
Apart from what the Puranas described of them, one finds the name ‘Andhra’ in the ‘Indica’of the Greek Ambassador Megasthenes who lived in the Court of Chandragupta Maurya. The Asokan Inscriptions also contain the name ‘Andhra’. Most probably, the Satavahanas were a branch of the Andhra race. That is why the first King of the Satavahana Dynasty, Simuka, was described in the Puranas as a man of the Andhra Race.
Rule of the Satavahana Rulers:
The first King of the Satavahana Dynasty Simuka conquered a large territory in Southern India and established his authority as a successful ruler. In the North, he extended his power as far as Vidisha. But he could not advance as far as Magadha even though the ruling Kanva Dynasty in Pataliputra was on its path towards decline and fall.
After the death of Simuka, the next King of the Dynasty named Krishna ruled over the Satavahana Kingdom for eighteen Years. After him, Sri Satakarni came to the throne. He was a powerful king. He tried to conquer new territories in the Deccan and succeeded in his attempts. It is for his new conquests that his queen Nayanika described her husband in the Nanaghat inscription as the ‘Dakshinapatha-Pati’ or the Lord of Southern India. Sri Satakarni ruled over many portions of the Godavari Valley and the northern regions of the Deccan. After conquering some territories of the Magadhan Kingdom and extensive areas of Western India, Sri Satakarni proclaimed his royal glory by performing both ‘Rajasuya’ and ‘Ashwamedha’ Yajnas.
But, to the misfortune of King Sri Satakarni, when he was trying to become the paramount lord of the South, the Kalinga Emperor Mahameghavahana Aira Kharavela led his aggressive military expeditions towards the South to conquer new territories for the Kalinga Empire. As a result, war broke out between the armies of the Kalinga Mahameghavahana Dynasty and the Andhra Satavahana Dynasty. In that struggle for supremacy, it was the Kalinga power which won victory after victory. Kharavela annexed a large part of the Satavahana territory to his Kalinga Empire.
By the time King Satakarni died, his sons were minor in age. The wife of the dead King, Queen Nayanika, therefore, looked after the administration of the kingdom. But, it was difficult for her to save the kingdom from decline. By the 1st century A.D., the foreign invaders named the Sakas invaded the Satavahana Kingdom again and again and took possession of the north-western regions of that Kingdom.
The power which the rulers of the Satavahana Dynasty enjoyed in the 1st century B.C. was no longer there during the first century of the Christian Era. Yet, the Satavahana Dynasty did not disappear from the history of the Deccan like the Sungas and the Kanvas of Magadha in the North. The dynasty continued to rule over the Andhra region even if the size of the territory was reduced.
It was during the first half of the 2nd century A.D. that the Satavahana power once again rose into eminence in the South. The man of destiny this time was a king named Gautamiputra Satakarni. By his achievements as a conqueror and as an able administrator he raised the prestige of the Satavahana Dynasty to a new height and came to be regarded as its greatest monarch.
Gautamiputra first increased the size of his army and made it a strong fighting force. Next, he led expeditions against the foreign Saka rulers and drove them out of the Maharashtra region. After liberating that area, he fought against the Yavanas and the Palhavas and conquered their territories in the west. Like Emperor Kharavela of Kalinga, Gautamiputra Satakarni recorded his victory over others in his inscriptions.
It is known from his inscriptions that the empire of Gautamiputra Satakarni included such territories as Asmaka in the Godavari basin, Suratha or modern Kathiawad, Aparanta or northern Konkan, the land of Anupa on the bank of river Narmada, Vidarbha or modern Berar, Akara or Eastern Malwa, and Avanti or Western Malwa. It is thus estimated that the territory of Gautamiputra extended from Kathiawad in the north to the river Krishna in the south, and from Konkan in the west to Berar in the east.
Though Gautamiputra established his power over a vast territory, yet it proved difficult for him to consolidate his rule over the lands to the north of the Vindhyas. The conquered areas beyond the Vindhya Mountains could not be held for long because of the foreign invasions. During the life time of Gautamiputra, a foreign race called the Scythians conquered the land of Malwa. Other conquered regions on the northern side of the Vindhya ranges also became independent of the Satavahana power.
Gautamiputra Satakarni was a patron of Brahmanism. True to Brahmanical orthodoxy, he did not permit intercaste marriage among the people of the established ‘Four Varnas’. On the other hand, he was a benevolent king who looked after the welfare of his subjects. He took several steps to benefit the peasant population of his country and to improve the condition of agriculture. He was also a ruler of humanitarian attitude to help the poor and the needy. On the whole, during his liberal monarchy, the subjects lived in peace and enjoyed prosperity.
Gautamiputra was described in his inscriptions as the destroyer of the Sakas, Pahlavas and Yavanas. He was also mentioned as the ‘Lord of the Western Vindhyas’. Proud of his power, he styled himself as the ‘Raja-Raja’ or the King of Kings, and as the ‘Maharaja’. After a long reign, this King died in 104 A.D.
The Later Satavahanas:
Gautamiputra Satakarni was succeeded by his son Vasishthaputra Pulumayi. In his religious policy, he was not as orthodox as his father. While Gautamiputra did not permit marriages among the people of four traditional Varnas, his son Vasishthaputra did not hesitate to establish matrimonial relation even with the Sakas who belonged to a foreign race.
During his time, the Saka Satraps (Kshatrapas) were the most powerful rulers in different regions of Western India. The ruler of Ujjayini, Saka Mahakshatrapa Rudradaman became so strong that he reconquered the territories of Malwa, Kathiawad and northern Konkan which lands were once annexed by Gautamiputra Satakarni to the Satavahana Empire.
In view of the growing aggression of the Saka King, Vasishthaputra Satakarni decided to establish matrimonial relation with that foreign ruler and himself married a daughter of King Rudradaman. Because of that marriage, the hostility between the Satavahanas and the Sakas got diminished. The Saka Raja Rudradaman, of course, could proudly proclaim that even though he defeated the Lord of the Deccan (Dakshinapatha-pati) in battles, yet, because of the family relation between the two royal families, he did not put an end to the Satavahana rule in the South. In other words, Vasishthaputra’s matrimonial relation with the Sakas appears to be more of a political alliance than social or racial friendship.
Vasishthaputra could not overcome the Sakas in the North. On the other hand, he consolidated his power over the Andhra territory extending between the rivers Godavari and Krishna in the South.
The next notable king of the Satavahana Dynasty after Vasishthaputra was Sri Satakarni. From some of his silver coins, it is presumed that this King perhaps recovered from the Sakas some of the lost territories of his predecessors in the West. The inscriptions of Sri Yajna are found in such places as Nasik, Kanheri and Chinna-Ganjam. He was perhaps the last powerful king of the Satavahana Dynasty with a big kingdom to rule over. This King died towards the close of the 2nd century A.D.
Some later kings of the dynasty seem to have ruled over much smaller regions in the South for some years more, as is evident from available coins. But, in course of time, the powerful neighbouring enemies conquered those areas and the Satavahana Dynasty vanished from history.