UPSC History - Prelims, Mains & Optional

History is one of the most important topics of the UPSC syllabus and is included in both prelims and mains examinations. Also, it is one of the optional subjects for the mains phase of the examination. Thus, one must have exceptional knowledge of the subject to improve their overall scores in the IAS Exam.

In this article, we bring forth the all-inclusive and elaborate syllabus for history. This includes Modern, Medieval, Ancient Indian history and World history. Aspirants can familiarise themselves with the same through the information given below. 

Also, to get the subject-wise UPSC Syllabus for the upcoming civil services exam, candidates can visit the linked article.

UPSC 2021

UPSC History Prelims Syllabus

The history section of the IAS Prelims Exam General Studies Paper Syllabus comprises questions from Indian art, culture, Ancient, Medieval and Modern Indian History. 

Also, visit History Syllabus for IAS prelims page for more details.


1. Prehistoric cultures in India

2. Indus Civilization. Origins. The Mature Phase: extent, society, economy and culture. Contacts with other cultures. Problems of decline.

3. Geographical distribution and characteristics of pastoral and farming communities outside the Indus region, from the neolithic to early iron phases.

4. Vedic society. The Vedic texts; change from Rigvedic to later Vedic phases. Religion; Upanishadic thought. Political and social organisation; the evolution of monarchy and the varna system.

5. State formation and urbanization, from the Mahajanapadas to the Nandas. Jainism and Buddhism. Factors for the spread of Buddhism.

6. The Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta; Megasthenes. Asoka and his inscriptions; his dhamma, administration, culture and art. The Arthasastra.

7. Post-Mauryan India, BC 200- AD 300. Society: Evolution of jatis. The Satavahanas and state formation in Peninsula. Sangam texts and society. Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushanas; Kanishka. Contacts with the outside world. Religion: Saivism, Bhagavatism, Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism; Jainism; Culture and art.

8. The Guptas and their successors (to c. 750 AD). Changes in the political organisation of empires. Economy and society. Literature and science. Arts.


9. Early Medieval India. Major dynasties; the Chola Empire. Agrarian and political structures. The Rajaputras. Extent of social mobility. Position of women. The Arabs in Sind and the Ghaznavids.

10. Cultural trends, 750-1200, Religious conditions: the importance of temples and monastic institutions; Sankaracharya; Islam; Sufism. Literature and Science. Alberuni’s “India”. Art and architecture.

11. (11-12) Thirteenth and fourteenth Centuries: Ghorian invasions causes and consequences. Delhi Sultanate under the “Slave” Rulers. Alauddin Khalji: Conquests; administrative, agrarian and economic measures. Muhammad Tughlaq’s innovations. Firuz Tughluq and the decline of the Delhi Sultanate. Growth of commerce and urbanization. Mystic movements in Hinduism and Islam. Literature. Architecture, Technological changes.

13. The fifteenth and early 16th Century: major Provincial dynasties; Vijayanagara Empire. The Lodis, First phase of the Mughal Empire: Babur, Humayun. The Sur empire and administration. The Portuguese. Monotheistic movements: Kabir; Guru Nanak and Sikhism; Bhakti. Growth of regional literatures. Art and Culture.

14. (14-15) The Mughal Empire, 1556-1707. Akbar: conquests, administrative measures, jagir and mansab systems; policy of sulh-i-kul. Jahangir, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb: expansion in the Deccan; religious policies. Shivaji. Culture: Persian and regional literatures. Religious thought: Abul Fazl; Maharashtra dharma. Painting. Architecture. Economy: conditions of peasants and artisans, growth in trade; commerce with Europe. Social stratification and status of women.

16. The decline of the Mughal Empire, 1707-61. Causes behind decline. Maratha power  ounder the Peshwas. Regional states. The Afghans. Major elements of composite culture. Sawai Jai Singh, astronomer. Rise of Urdu language.


17. British expansion: The Carnatic Wars, Conquest of Bengal. Mysore and its resistance to British expansion: The three Anglo-Maratha Wars. Early structure of British raj: Regulating and Pitt’s India Acts.

18. Economic Impact of the British Raj: Drain of Wealth (Tribute); land revenue settlements (zamindari, ryotwari, mahalwari); Deindustrialisation; Railways and commercialisation of agriculture; Growth of landless labour.

19. Cultural encounter and social changes: Introduction of western education and modern ideas. Indian Renaissance, social and religious reform movements; growth of Indian middle class; The press and its impact: the rise of modern literature in Indian languages. Social reforms measures before 1857.

20. Resistance to British rule: Early uprisings; The 1857 Revolt- causes, nature, course and consequences.

21. Indian Freedom struggle-the the first phase: Growth of national consciousness; Formation of Associations; Establishment of the Indian National Congress and its Moderate phase;- Economic Nationalism; Swadeshi Movement; The growth of “Extremism” and the 1907 split in Congress; The Act of 1909 – the policy of Divide and Rule; Congress-League Pact of 1916.

22. Gandhi and his thought; Gandhian techniques of mass mobilisation- Khilafat and Non-Cooperation Movement, Civil Disobedience and Quit India Movement; Other strands in the National Movement-Revolutionaries, the Left, Subhas Chandra Bose and the Indian National Army.

23. Separatist Trends in Indian nationalist politics- the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha; The post -1945 developments; Partition and Independence.

24. Indian independence to 1964. A parliamentary, secular, democratic (republic the 1950 Constitution). Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision of a developed, socialist society. Planning and state-controlled industrialization. Agrarian reforms. The foreign policy of Non-alignment. Border conflict with China and Chinese aggression.

UPSC aspirants can get the study material to prepare for the History section through the links given below:

Modern History Notes For UPSC Ancient History Notes For UPSC
Medieval History Notes For UPSC NCERT Notes: History Of Ancient India
NCERT Notes: Modern Indian History Notes  History Of Medieval India [NCERT Notes]
World History for UPSC Civil Services Mains IAS History Questions and Answers for UPSC 2023

UPSC Mains Syllabus for History

In UPSC Mains, history is included in the General Studies-1 of Paper II. Given below is the syllabus in brief for the same:

Category Topics
Indian Heritage & Culture
  • Indian Paintings
  • Classical and Folk Dance Forms
  • Classical Music
  • Puppetry
  • Pottery
  • Drama/Theatre
  • Martial Arts
  • Ancient Indian Literature
  • Classical Sanskrit Literature
  • Literature in Pali and Prakrit
  • Early Dravidian Literature
  • Medieval Literature
  • Women Poets of Bhakti
  • Trends in Medieval Literature
  • Modern Indian Literature
  • Harappan Architecture
  • Temple Architecture
  • Cave Architecture
  • Indo-Islamic Architecture
  • Medieval Architecture
  • Modern Architecture
  • Contribution of Buddhism & Jainism to the Development of Indian Architecture
  • Rock Cut Architecture
  • Colonial Architecture & the Modern Period
Modern Indian History
  • Socio-economic Condition of People
  • European Penetration of India
  • British Conquest of India
  • British Policies & Their Impact – Economic, Administrative & Socio-cultural
  • Socio-cultural Reform Movements
  • Uprisings Against British Pre-1857
Freedom Struggle
  • Growth of Nationalism in India (1858-1905)
  • Revolt of 1857
  • Growth of Militant Nationalism & Revolutionary Activities (1905-1918)
  • Beginning of Mass Nationalism (1919-1939)
  • Towards Freedom & Partition (1939-1947)
Post-independence Consolidation
  • Partition and Its Aftermath
  • Reorganisation of States
  • Issue of Official Language
  • Non-Aligned Movement
  • Foreign Policy
  • Agrarian & Land Reforms
  • Industrial Reforms
  • Popular Movements
  • Communalism
  • Indian Women Since Independence
  • Naxalism
  • Emergency: Crisis of Democratic Order
  • Other Economic and Social Issues post-independence 
World History
  • Industrial Revolution
  • Rise of Capitalism, Colonialism & Imperialism
  • World War I – Causes & Consequences
  • Russian Revolution
  • World Between the Two Wars
  • The emergence of Soviet Union
  • Nationalist Movements in Asia & Africa
  • World War II and After-effects of the War
  • Decolonization & Redrawal of National Boundaries
  • Europe after World War II
  • Cold War
  • Korean War
  • Vietnam War
  • Cuban Crisis
  • Collapse of Soviet Union
Other Related Links
UPSC Mains General Studies Paper 1 Syllabus, Strategy & Structure Topic-Wise GS 1 Questions in UPSC Mains
UPSC Mains General Studies Paper Syllabus (I, II, III, and IV) General Studies Paper-I Topic-wise Preparation Strategy
UPSC Mains Syllabus for IAS Exam UPSC Prelims Syllabus – GS & CSAT

IAS History Optional Syllabus for UPSC Mains

Of the 48 optional subjects to choose from, history is a popular choice among the IAS aspirants for the civil services mains exam. The syllabus for history optional is almost the same as that for the prelims and mains examination. Candidates can visit the UPSC History Syllabus and get a detailed list of topics. 

UPSC Civil Services History Prelims Question Paper – An Overview

An analysis of previous question papers shows that the questions asked in the prelims exam were moderate to tough in their difficulty level. Frequent questions are on Modern Indian History.

  • The candidates also need to understand the respective importance of various topics in Ancient History like the prehistoric period, Indus Valley Civilization, Vedic India, Mauryan and Gupta period.
  • Vijayanagara Kingdom, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire and Advent of Europeans assume importance in Medieval Indian History.
  • Modern Indian History needs extensive and thorough attention with respect to both prelims and mains exams. Topics from the middle of the 18th century to present times and National Movement, significant events and prominent personalities should be given importance in Modern Indian History. For more information check out the History Archives.

Thus, this was a small brief on the History Prelims and for more information on the subject related to history, download the Byju’s app today. For further reading, you may want to check out the UPSC guide to History.

Other Related Links
Previous Years UPSC Prelims Questions – Ancient Indian History  Medieval History Questions in UPSC Prelims
Modern History Questions in UPSC Prelims Art and Culture Previous Year Questions in UPSC Prelims
UPSC Previous Year Question Papers UPSC Mains History Question Paper [2013-2019]

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  1. What are my syllabus or which subjects i have to study after choosing history as optional subject?