Mauryan Empire, Mauryan Administration and Mauryan Economy

• The foundation of the Mauryan Empire opens a new era in the history of India and for the first time, the political unity was achieved in India.

• The history writing has also become clear from this period due to accuracy in chronology and sources. Besides plenty of indigenous and foreign literary sources, a number of epigraphical records are also available to write the history of this period.

Literary Sources

A. Kautilya’s Arthasastra

• Arthasastra in Sanskrit was written by Kautilya, a contemporary of Chandragupta Maurya. Kautilya was also called ‘Indian Machiavelli’.
• The manuscript of Arthasastra was first discovered by R. ShamaSastri in 1904.

– The Arthasastra contains 15 books and 180 chapters but it can be divided into three parts: the first deals with the king and his council and the departments of government;
– The second with civil and criminal law; and
– The third with diplomacy and war. It is the most important literary source for the history of the Mauryas.

B. Visakadatta’sMudrarakshasa

• The Mudrarakshasa written by Visakadatta is a drama in Sanskrit.
• Although written during the Gupta period, it describes how Chandragupta with the assistance of Kautilya overthrew the Nandas.
• It also gives a picture of the socio-economic condition under the Mauryas.

C. Megasthenes’ Indica

• Megasthenes was the Greek ambassador in the court of Chandragupta Maurya.
• Megasthenesbook Indica has survived only in fragments. Yet, Indica gives details about the Mauryan administration, particularly the administration of the capital city of Pataliputra and also the military organization.
• His picture on contemporary social life is notable.

D. Other Literature

• Apart from these three important works, the Puranas and the Buddhist literature such as Jatakas provide information on the Mauryas.
• The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa throw light on the role Asoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
E. Archaeological Sources
• Among the archaeological sources of the Mauryan period, a considerable amount of numismatic (the study of coins) evidence, some artifacts from archaeological excavations and art objects are avilable.
• A large number of silver and copper coins which are punch-marked are also available. These appear to have been in circulation throughout the Mauryan period. These coins provide some knowledge of socio-economic life of the Mauryan period. For example, Chandragupta was depicted standing with a Greek queen in one of his coins which reveals friendly relations between Magadha and Greece.
• Remarkable inscriptions of Asoka engraved on rocks and pillars which notwithstanding the ravages of time have supplied us with authoritative details of inestimable value. Asokan edicts were found not only in the Indian sub-continent but also in Kandhar in Afghanistan.
• These inscriptions are in the form of 44 royal orders and each royal order has several copies. The inscriptions were composed in the 2 Prakritlanguage and written in the Brahmi script (written from left to right) throughout thereafter part of the empire.
• In the northwestern part, they appear in the Kharoshti script written from right to left and in Kandhar in the Greek and Aramaic script.
• These inscriptions were generally placed on highways.
• They throw light on the career of Asoka, his external and domestic policies and the extent of his empire.
• Cunningham published Corpus . Inscriptions Indicarum in 1879, which is a series of collection of inscriptions bearing on the history of Maurya, post-Maurya and Gupta times.
• Gimar inscription of Rudradaman (150 AD) also offers some useful inputs into the provincial administration of Gujarat under the Mauryas.


Chandragupta Maurya (322 – 298 B.C.)

• Chandragupta Maurya was the founder of the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta is called Sandrocottus by the Greek scholars.
• He captured Pataliputra from the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty, Dhanananda.

• In this task he was assisted by Kautilya, who was also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta.
• After firmly establishing his power in the Gangetic valley, he marched to the northwest and subdued the territories up to the Indus. Then he moved to central India and occupied the region north of Narmada river.
• In 305 B.C., he marched against SelukasNiketar, who was Alexander’s General controlling the northwestern India. Chandragupta Maurya defeated him and a treaty was signed. By this treaty, SelukasNiketar ceded the trans-Indus territories – namely Aria, Arakosia and Gedrosia – to the Mauryan Empire. He also gave his daughter in marriage to the Mauryan prince. Chandragupta made a gift of 500 elephants to Selukas. Megasthenes was sent to the Mauryan court as Greek ambassador.
• Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and stepped down from the throne in favour of his son Bindusara. Then he went to SravanaBelgola, near Mysore along with Jain monks led by Bhadrabhagu and starved himself to death.}

Bindusara (298 – 273 B.C.)

• Bindusara was called by the Greeks as “Amitragatha” meaning slayer of enemies.
• He is said to have conquered the Deccan up to Mysore. Taranatha, the Tibetan monk states that Bindusara conquered 16 states comprising ‘the land between the two seas.
• The Sangam Tamil literature also confirms the Mauryan invasion of the far south. The MauryanEmpire underBindusara extended up to Mysore.
• Bindusara received Deimachus as ambassador from the Syrian king Antiochus I. Bindusara wrote to Antiochus I asking for sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist. The latter sent all but a sophist because the Greek law prohibited sending a sophist.
• Bindusara supported the Ajivikas, a religious sect. Bindusara appointed his son Asoka as the governor of Ujjain.

Asoka the Great (273 – 232 B.C.)

• Asoka acted as Governor of Ujjain and also suppressed a revolt in Taxila during his father Bindusara’s reign.
• There was an interval of four years between Asoka’s accession to the throne (273 B.C.) and his actual coronation (269 B.C.). Therefore, it appears from the available evidence that there was a struggle for the throne after Bindusara’s death.
• The Ceylonese Chronicles, Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa state that Asoka captured power after killing his ninety-nine brothers including the his elder brother Susima. The youngest brotherTissa was spared.
• According to Taranatha of Tibet, Asoka killed only six of his brothers.
• Asoka’s Edict also refers to his brothers acting as officers in his administration.
• The most important event of Asoka’s reign was his victorious war with Kalinga in 261 B.C.
• Although there is no detail about the cause and course of the war, the effects of the war were described by Asoka himself in the Rock edict XIII: “A hundred and fifty thousand were killed and many times that number perished…” After the war he annexed Kalinga to the Mauryan Empire.
• Another most important effect of the Kalinga war was that Asoka embraced Buddhism under the influence of Buddhist monk, Upagupta.

Extent of Asoka’s EmpireExtent of Asoka’s Empire

• Asoka’s inscriptions mention the southernmost kingdoms – Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputras and Keralaputras as border states. Therefore, these states remained outside the Mauryan Empire.

• According to Rajatarangini, Kashmir was a part of the Mauryan Empire. Nepal was also within the Mauryanempire. The northwestern frontier was already demarcated by Chandragupta Maurya.

Asoka and Buddhism Asoka and Buddhism

• Asoka appointed special officers called Dharma Mahamatras to speed up the progress of Dhamma.
• In 241 B.C., he visited the birth place of Buddha, the Lumbini Garden, near Kapilavastu.
• He also visited other holy places of Buddhism like Sarnath, Sravasti and Kusinagara.
• He sent a mission to Sri Lanka under his son Mahendra and daughter Sangamitra who planted there the branch of the original Bodhi tree.
• Asoka convened the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra in 240 B.C. in order to strengthen the Sangha. It was presided over by MoggaliputtaTissa.

Asoka’s Dhamma Asoka’s Dhamma

• Although Asoka embraced Buddhism and took efforts to spread Buddhism, his policy of Dhamma was a still broad concept. It was a way of life, a code of conduct and a set of principles to be adopted and practiced by the people at large.
• His principles of Dhamma were clearly stated in his Edicts.
• The main features of Asoka’s Dhamma as mentioned in his various Edicts may be summed as follows:

a) Service to father and mother, practice of ahimsa, love of truth, reverence to teachers and good treatment of relatives.
b) Prohibition of animal sacrifices and festive gatherings and avoiding expensive and meaningless ceremonies and rituals.
c) Efficient organization of administration in the direction of social welfare and maintenance of constant contact with people through the system of Dhammayatras.
d) Humane treatment of servants by masters and prisoners by government officials.
e) Consideration and non-violence to animals and courtesy to relations and liberality to Brahmins.
f) Tolerance among all the religious sects.
g) Conquest through Dhamma instead of through war.

• The concept of non-violence and other similar ideas of Asoka’s Dhamma are identical with the teachings of Buddha.

• Asoka did not equate Dhamma with Buddhist teachings.

• Asoka’sDhamma signifies a general code of conduct. Asoka wished that his Dhamma should spread through all social levels.

• Asoka was “the greatest of kings” surpassing Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and other renowned Emperors of the world.
• According to H.G. Wells “Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, the name of Asoka shines and shines almost alone, a star”.
• Asoka Dhamma is so universal that it appeals to humanity even today.
• He was an example in history for his benevolent administration and also for following the policy of non-aggression even after his victory in the war. His central ideal was to promote the welfare of humanity.
• Later Mauryas Asoka’s death in 232 B.C. was followed by the division of the Mauryan Empire into two parts – western and eastern. The western part was ruled by Kunala, son of Asoka and the eastern part by Dasaratha, one of the grand sons of Asoka.
• Due to the Bactrian invasions, the western part of the empire collapsed. The eastern part was intact under Samprati successor of Dasaratha.
• The last Mauryan king was Brihatratha, who was assassinated by PushyamitraSunga.

Foreign Relations Foreign Relations

• The Asokan inscriptions are one of the main sources in this regard which mention contemporary rulers in other parts of the world.
• The foreign relations of the Mauryas can be divided into distinct phases- the initial phase of the expansion and the latter phase or the phase of consolidation.
• The initial phase was marked by an aggressive foreign policy and a policy of securing trade routes and subjugating the Greek settlements in the north and north-west regions.The incorporation of central India gave them control over Dakshinapatha and brought them into the peninsula. The initial phase of expansion came to an end after the Kalinga war.
• During the second phase, the emphasis shifted to consolidation and having friendly relations with immediate neighbours and also with far off countries. Asoka was the main proponent of such a policy and he was probably influenced by diplomatic requirements. geographical proximity and trade needs.
• In Rock Edict XIII Asoka has referred to five contemporary rulers.

1. Antiyoka (Antiochus II of Syria);
2. Turmaya (Ptolemy II philadelphus of Egypt);
3. Antikini (Antigonas of Macedonia);
4. Maka (Magas of Cyrene), and
5. Aliksudaro (Alexander of Epirus).

• The reference to these rulers is in the context of dhammavijata (victory by dhamma) indicating that missions were sent to these rulers with the message of dhamma.
• These missions successfully established friendly contact for the Edict mentions that the greatest victory, i.e., dhamma had been achieved in these regions.
• The relations of the Mauryas with the powers in the south have been cordial.
• No Asokan inscriptions have been discovered so far in the regions ruled by the Cholas, Pandyas, Keralaputras and Satyaputras- the major independent powers in the south.
• Rock Edict XIII mentions about dhammaiVuya in these regions as well.
• Sri Lanka remained another friendly neighbour again due to the policy of dhamma.

Central Government

• Indian ‘history entered a new era with the beginning of the Mauryanempire as, for the first time India attained political unity and administrative uniformity.
• After establishing the empire, the Mauryasorganised a very elaborate system of administration. Megasthenes has left detailed accounts of the system of government under Chandragupta. His account can be supplemented by that of Kautilya.
• With the increase in the size and administrative needs of the state from a small tribal state to a territorial empire, there was a corresponding increase in the powers of the king.
• The king emerged as the supreme head of the state military, judicial, executive and legislative functions.
• The concept of law as the legal expression of socio-economic and political rules, customs was made subordinate to the concept of royal decree, having an independent validity of its own.
• The existing theories on statecraft and kingship were implemented by Chandragupta into a pattern of highly centralised administration for the vast empire.
• The other six elements of state, as mentioned in the Arthashastra of Kautilya are, amatya or bureaucracy, anapada or territory, durga or the fortified capital, kasha or the treasury, danda or the coercive machinery and mitra or the allied powers.
• The necessity to share the king’s authority was some kind of check on him. Kautilya says that “the king shall employ minister (mantrin) and also a council of ministers (mantriparishad).” He says “all kinds of administrative measures are presided by deliberations in a well formed council.”
• Megasthenes also says that the king was assisted by a council whose members were noted for wisdom.

Revenue Department

• Samharta, the chief of the Revenue Department, was in charge of the collection of all revenues of the empire.
• The revenues came from land, irrigation, customs, shop tax, ferry tax, forests, mines and pastures, license fee from craftsmen, and fines collected in the law courts.
• The land revenue was normally fixed as one sixth of the produce.
• The main items of expenditure of the state were related to king and his household, army, government servants, public works, poor relief, religion, etc.


• The Mauryan army was well organized and it was under the control of Senapati.
• According to Greek author Pliny, the Mauryan army consisted of six lakh infantry, thirty thousand cavalry, nine thousand elephants and eight thousand chariots.
• The salaries were paid in cash. It seems that the six wings of the armed forces the army, the cavalry, the elephants, the chariots, the navy and the transport, were each assigned to the care of a separate committee.
• Each wing was under the control of Adyakshas or Superintendents. Megasthenes mentions six boards of five members each to control the six wings of the military.

Department of Commerce and Industry

• This department had controlled the retail and wholesale prices of goods and tried to ensure their steady supply through its officers called Adyakshas.
• It also controlled weights and measures, levied custom duties and regulated foreign trade.

Judicial and Police Departments

• The king was at the head of the judicial administration and constituted the highest appellate court in the realm.
• In villages and towns, cases were settled by the gramavradha and nagaravyavaharikamahamatra respectively.
• Rajukas were equal to modern district magistrates.
• Kautilya mentions the existence of both civil and criminal courts- – dharmasthiya and kantakashadhana.
• The chief justice of the Supreme Court at the capital was called Dharmathikarin.
• There were also subordinate courts at the provincial capitals and districts under Amatyas.
• Different kinds of punishment such as fines, imprisonment, mutilation and death were given to the offenders.
• Torture was employed to extract truth. Police stations were found in all principal centres.
• Both Kautilya and Asokan Edicts mention about jails and jail officials.
• The DhammaMahamatras were asked by Asoka to take steps against unjust imprisonment.
• Remission of sentences is also mentioned in Asoka’s inscriptions.


• The taking of Census was regular during the Mauryan period.
• The village officials were to number the people along with other details like their caste and occupation. They were also to count the animals in each house.
• The census in the towns was taken by municipal officials to track the movement of population both foreign and indigenous.
• The data collected were cross checked by the spies.
• The Census appears to be a permanent institution in the Mauryan administration.

Provincial and Local Administration

• The Mauryan Empire was divided into four provinces with their capitals at Taxila, Ujjain, Suvarnagiri and Kalinga.
• The provincial governors were mostly appointed from the members of royal family and were responsible for the maintenance of law and order and collection of taxes for the empire.
• The district administration was under the charge of Rajukas, whose position and functions are similar to modern collectors. He was assisted by Yuktas or subordinate officials.
• Village administration was in the hands of Gramani and his official superior was called Gopa who was in charge of ten or fifteen villages.

• Both Kautilya and Megasthanes provided the system of Municipal administration.
• Arthasastra contains a full chapter on the role of Nagarika or city superintendent. His chief duty was to maintain law and order.
• Megasthenes refers to the six committees of five members each to look after the administration of Pataliputra.
• These committees looked after:

1. Industries
2. Foreigners
3. Registration of birth and deaths
4. Trade
5. Manufacture and sale of goods
6. Collection of sales tax.

Mauryan Economy

• The Mauryan economy was an expanding economy and the state took a keen interest in consolidating and promoting its economic gains.
• State not only controlled and coordinated the activities of the peasant manufacturers and traders, but also directly participated in the production and exchange of different commodities.
• The state, in fact, very strictly regulated the economic activities of the state.
• The economy of northern India during the Mauryan times was predominantly agrarian.
• There were two distinct categories of land:

– Rastra land, practically belonging to the cultivator and
– Sita land, settled as well as formed directly under crown supervision.

• Taxes on the former type of land were one Sixth of the harvest.
• In addition water tax was levied.
• The peasants also paid pindakara, which was collected from villages as group.
• The village folk were required to supply provisions to the royal army, called senabhakta, passing through their areas.
• Some of the villages were marked for performing drudgery for the state in lieu of taxes.
• Some villages, with pastoral bases, paid taxes in the form of cattle and dairy products.
• The Mauryan government also provided irrigation facilities to the peasantry.
• The Arthashatra refers to a water tax which was regularly collected wherever the state assisted in providing irrigation.
• One of Chandragupta’s governers, Pushyagupta was responsible for building a dam across a river near Girnar in western India, resulting in a famous Sudarshan lake to supply water for irrigation.
• Cattle breeding in the peasant society had become an adjunct of agriculture, but there were still certain pockets which pursued pastoral economy. Herds were maintained not only by the state but also by wealthy individuals.
• Fishing and hunting were practiced as a means to livelihood especially by the tribes and the practitioners of these occupations had to pay one-tenth of their catch to the royal storehouse.
• Asoka stopped the indiscriminate killing of animals and introduced many measures for the welfare of people who practiced it.
• Under the Mauryas, the most important industry was that of mining and metallurgy and the state had a monopoly over it and state controlled everything from processing to refining.
• The major metals mentioned as being under state control included gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, bitumen and lead.
• The state sold out most of these metals to the traders, the artisans, the gold smiths and the individual manufacturers.
• But the state had the monopoly to manufacture arms, certain type of implements and ships. The craftsmen who were employed for this purpose were given wages.
• The state also had a monopoly in the production of salt.
• Some of the other important industries of the period were textile manufacturing, carpentry, pottery, stone-cutting, lapidary, work in ivory and bone.
• Textile industry had reached a high level of specialisation and we get reference to fine cotton clothes, woolen blankets and linen dukala fabrics. Mathura, Kalinga, Vanga, Vatsa and Mahisa were important centres of textile manufacturing.

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