Patrick Olivelle, "Ashoka: Portrait of a Philosopher King" (Yale UP, 2024)


There are few historical figures more integral to South Asian history than Emperor Ashoka, a third-century BCE king who ruled over a larger area of the Indian subcontinent than anyone else before British colonial rule. Ashoka sought not only to rule his territory but also to give it a unity of purpose and aspiration, to unify the people of his vastly heterogeneous empire not by a cult of personality but by the cult of an idea--"dharma"--which served as the linchpin of a new moral order. He aspired to forge a new moral philosophy that would be internalized not only by the people of his empire but also by rulers and subjects of other countries, and would form the foundation for his theory of international relations, in which practicing dharma would bring international conflicts to an end.

His fame spread far and wide both in India and in other parts of Asia, and it prompted diverse reimaginations of the king and his significance. In Ashoka: Portrait of a Philosopher King (Yale UP, 2024), Patrick Olivelle draws on Ashoka's inscriptions and on the art and architecture he pioneered to craft a detailed picture of Ashoka as a ruler, a Buddhist, a moral philosopher, and an ecumenist who governed a vast multiethnic, multilinguistic, and multireligious empire.

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Kshitij Jain

Kshitij Jain is pursuing an MPhil in Classical Indian Religion at the University of Oxford.

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