Since we decided to narrow down our key time period to 5th c BCE – 5th c. CE (see James’ post in the summer) I have been attempting to educate myself further about this period of South Asian history in general. I know a fair amount about the texts already, but tying these to material evidence such as inscriptions and images has tended to be outside my area of expertise. As part of my mission to embrace the material evidence for early South Asian history, I have just read Jason Neelis’ book Early Buddhist Transmission and Trade Networks (Brill, 2011).
The book is seriously dense, drawing together a multitude of data from primary and secondary sources. The focus is upon trade routes that provide evidence for the presence and movement of Buddhism, and the author is particularly interested in the Northwestern borderlands surrounding Gandhara. However, the education provided by this book is far broader. In particular, chapter 2, ‘Historical Contexts for the Emergence and Transmission of Buddhism within South Asia’, provides a lengthy (116 pages) and detailed overview of South Asian history throughout our own period of interest and a little further on into the late first millennium.
Reading this book was an enriching experience, but with my poor memory for names and dates I can’t imagine I will remember very much more than the broadest overview. Its real value – at least for my purposes – is as a reference tool, bringing together the latest research and supplementing the written summaries with maps, tables and images. Unfortunately the prohibitive price of Brill books means this particular reference tool will not be able to live on my shelves, but will have to be taken back to the university library. Nonetheless I am sure I will be returning to it again and again.