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 The Indian subcontinent since ancient times has functioned as a matrix for networks of trade and culture. It has been the target of conquerors and empire builders and the origination point of philosophical and artistic trends that have radiated outward along the land-based routes linking Asia with Europe and the seaborne routes connecting South Asia to Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. The civilizations of classical India have had a profound effect that endures to this day on the arts, literature, religion, and philosophical beliefs of the world.
 The subcontinent called India was a land of sometimes dense settlement as early as the Stone Age, dating back 500,000 years. An area diverse in climate, geography, language, and ethnicity, it was a primarily village-based agricultural society and remains so today. In these ancient times discussed here, India produced an extensive riverine civilization in the northwest that ultimately declined, absorbed tribes of immigrating Indo-Europeans (Aryans) who became dominant, generated a second wave of urbanization in the east that matured into a vast empire embracing most of the subcontinent, and again absorbed several waves of invasion and immigration from the northwest. Synthesizing the social ideas and the philosophical and religious beliefs and practices of the immigrant Indo-Europeans and the indigenous Dravidians, India developed three major religious traditions during this time, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, the last of which spread far beyond the bounds of India to become a pan-Asian and today global religion.
 India comprises an area comparable to Europe in size and internal diversity. And like Europe, the religions and peoples of India came to be roughly divided into two major language groups, the Indo-European in the north and the Dravidian in the south; each group embraces a number of separate languages. In the centuries between 1500 B.C.E. and 300 C.E. the emerging Hindu cultural synthesis gave the subcontinent a general cultural unity similar to the unity afforded to Europe by the spread of the Christian religion in the first millennium C.E.
 In this chapter we trace the important threads of Indian history to the third century C.E., a time when the Pax Romana in the West was coming to an end and when India was poised for the rise of another great empire in the north, the classical Hindu empire of the Guptas. This period was the formative age of Indian civilization, when its basic institutions and cultural patterns were determined.
Source: Brummett, P., Edgar, R.B., Hackett, N.J., Jewsbury, G.F., Taylor, A.M., Bailkey, N.M, Lewis, C.J., Wallbank, T.W., Civilization: Past & Present, New York, Addison Wesley Longman, pp. 141-143.