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Ashoka was Emperor of the Mauryan Empire of India between 273 and 232 BC. After he succeeded in war, he was upset by its horrors and became a great advocate of Buddhism. He displayed tolerance towards all religions and helped erect shrines to Hinduism and Jainism, another religion of India. He elevated the status of women. In Buddhism women could become monks. He also promoted trade with the expanding Roman empire to his West. After Ashoka died, the empire fell into civil war, and became vulnerable to outside invaders, such as the Bactrian Greeks in the second century B.C. and the Buddhist Kushan in 100 B.C. A council of Buddhist monks was convened under Kanishka to regulate Buddhism, and the result was Mahayana Buddhism.

Ashoka is considered to be one of the greatest rulers in world history. Writer H.G. Wells said about Ashoka, "In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'their highnesses,' 'their majesties,' and 'their exalted majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief moment, and as quickly disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star, even unto this day."

Perhaps the most important event in the history of Buddhism was the conversion of Ashoka Mauryan, the Indian emperor (269-232 B.C.). He chanced to meet Nigrodha, a Buddhist monk, who convinced him to devote his life to peace. Ashoka caused thousands of rock pillars to be erected, engraved with the teachings of Buddha. This was the first time Buddhist teachings were recorded.