The Deccan before the emergence of the Satavahanas was settled by the iron-using megalith builders, a characteristic feature of the entire peninsula. The settlements of the period are mainly associated with red ware, black-and-red ware and russet-coated painted ware. The users of these wares, i.e. the megalith builders, were stimulated to new activity by contacts with the material culture from the north.
Wheeler for the first time stated that the material culture of the middle Gangetic plains spread to the Satavahana dominions, through the agency of the Mauryan Empire. This influence is demonstrated by the Ashoka inscriptions found at two places in Kurnool district, adjacent to the borders of Karnataka where the edicts of Ashoka have been found at nine places.
This suggests the prevalence of Brahmi script and Prakrit language in which the northerners communicated with the southerners. Therefore, at least one section of the people in those regions was familiar with the Mauryan state system. During this period, economy was based on agriculture and animal husbandry.
However, there is a gap of 200 years between the rise of the Satavahana state and the Mauryan rule. Therefore, it is postulated that the elements of Ashokan territorial administration and the use of Prakrit may have spread through the mediation of the pre-Satavahana chiefs.
The existence of such chiefs is shown by a good number of punch-marked coins and uninscribed cast coins in pre-Satavahana layers at Adata in Nagpur district. A more important factor disclosed by archaeology is the creation of military, artisanal and agricultural preconditions by the megalithic builders for the formation of the Satavahana state, society and economy.
This is supported by unearthing of sickles, hoes, ploughshares, lancers, daggers, swords, spearheads and arrowheads – all made of iron. The people produced wheat, lentil, horse gram, rice and ragi. The use of horse, on a considerable scale, in Vidarbha in the megalithic phase could contribute to the strength of various chiefs and ruling classes. This class evidently consisted of the rathikas/rathis or chariot-users, out of whom grew the maharathis or maharathas.
Ultimately, these chiefs may have been transformed into regular tax-receiving warrior feudatories under the Satavahanas. The local elements were so powerful that the Satavahanas had to establish matrimonial alliance with maharathis.
And it seems that the metronymics of the Satavahanas were the result of such alliances. In the making of the Satavahana state system the stimulus from the southern states of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas as well as the trade network that developed because of the contact with Roman Empire, can hardly be overestimated.