chapter  2
9 Pages


The aim of this chapter is to position the research agenda outlined in the previous chapter within a broader temporal, geographical and theoretical framework. Although the book’s primary focus is on the social and economic underpinnings of Buddhist propagation in central India from c. third century BC, it is important to consider the earlier history of Buddhism in the Gangetic valley, and its relationship to urbanisation, state-formation and other major economic and political processes taking place during the mid-first millennium BC. This will involve a summary of the prevalent models of state in ancient India, highlighting a number of methodological shortcomings in the archaeological contributions to these debates, as well as the problematic relationship between archaeology and history in the study of early Indian polities. The archaeology of irrigation and land-ownership will also be explored in light of the prominent position that irrigationbased agricultural surplus has occupied in traditional explanations for the rise of cities and monarchical states during this period. A major aim will be to assess the degree to which the archaeological record supports the received view that ancient Indian irrigation was dependent on centralised administration. To this end, I will draw on evidence for ‘monastic landlordism’ in Sri Lanka, which presents a more devolved model of irrigation control than suggested by the traditional view. The Sri Lankan material provides a helpful parallel for assessing the ancient dams in the Sanchi area, discussed in chapter 14, and their relationship to wider aspects of the religious and economic landscape.