Categories Selfstudyhistory.com

Mauryan Empire: Foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta, Kautilya and Arthashastra; Polity, Administration; Economy : Part I

Mauryan Empire: Foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta, Kautilya and Arthashastra

  • The Maurya Empire was a geographically extensive Iron Age historical power in ancient India, ruled by the Maurya dynasty from 322–185 BCE.
  • Originating from the kingdom of Magadha in the Indo-Gangetic Plain in the eastern side of the Indian subcontinent, the empire had its capital city at Pataliputra (Modern Patna). The Maurya empire was built on the foundations laid by the Nandas.
  • Origin of Mauryas:
    • In Buddhist texts (Digha Nikaya, Mahavamsa, and Divyavadana):
      • The Mauryas are described as belonging to Kshatriya clan called the Moriyas.
      • The Mahavamshatika connects him with the Shakya clan of the Buddha.
    • Parishishtaparvan:
      • describes Chandragupta as the son of the daughter of a chief of a village of peacock tamers (mayura-poshakas).
    • Mudrarakshasa:
      • refers Chandragupta as being of low social origin.
    • Early medieval historian Kshemendra and Somadeva: called him Purva-Nanda-suta (son of the genuine Nanda).
    • Vishnu Purana’s commentator Dhundiraja states that the Chandragupta son of the Nanda king Sarvarthasiddhi, by Mura (daughter of a hunter).
    • A medieval inscription represents the Maurya clan as belonging to the solar race of Kshatriya.
  • The Empire was founded in 322 BCE by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western India, taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great’s Hellenic armies.
    • By 316 BCE the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander.
    • Chandragupta then defeated the invasion led by Seleucus I, a Macedonian general from Alexander’s army, gaining additional territory west of the Indus River.
  • The Maurya Empire was one of the world’s largest empires in its time.
    • At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, to the east into Assam, to the west into Balochistan and the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.
    • The Empire was expanded into India’s central and southern regions by the emperors Chandragupta and Bindusara, but it excluded a small portion of unexplored tribal and forested regions near Kalinga (modern Odisha), until it was conquered by Ashoka.
  • It declined for about 50 years after Ashoka’s rule ended, and it dissolved in 185 BCE with the foundation of the Sunga Dynasty in Magadha.
  • The population of the empire has been estimated to be about 50 – 60 million making the Mauryan Empire one of the most populous empires of Antiquity.
  • Archaeologically, the period of Mauryan rule in South Asia falls into the era of Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW).

Sources of Maurya period :

  • Puranas:
    • The king-lists in the Puranas refer to the Mauryas. But there are inconsistencies in detail:
      • One set of texts speaks of 13 Maurya kings who ruled for a total of 137 years, while another set speaks of only 9 kings.
  • Hemachandra’s Parishishtaparvan (Jaina works):
    • mention to Chandragupta’s connections with Jainism.
  • Vishakhadatta’s mudrarakshasa (a 5th century historical drama):
    • Revolves around the clever machinations of Chanakya, a minister of Chandragupta, against Rakshasa, a minister of the former Nanda king.
    • It is, however, uncertain whether this story has any historical basis.
  • Buddhist versions of the Chanakya-Chandragupta legend are preserved in the Mahavamsa and its 10th century commentary, the Vamsatthapakasini.
    • Dipavamsa, Mahavamsa, Ashokavadana, Divyavadana, vamsatthapaksini cantains information,much of it legendary about Ashoka.
  • Milindapanha and Mahabhashya:
    • Also has Some information on Chandragupta.
  • Tamil poet Mamulanar:
    • There is a possible reference to the southward expansion of the Mauryas in one of his poem.
  • Taranatha (The Tibetan monk, 1575–1634) written “History of Buddhism in India”in 17th century. It has account of Mauryas which is mostly legendary.
  • Among the textual sources Kautilya’s Arthashastra and Megasthenes’ Indica have special importance.
  • Ashokan inscriptions

Archaeological and numismatic sources: 

  • Archaeological investigations are rather inadequate and reliable dates are few and far between.
  • Archaeological remains from Kumrahar and Bulandibagh are associated with Pataliputra, the Maurya capital.
    • Other important sites include Taxila, Mathura, and Bhita.
  • Compared to earlier levels, Maurya levels display a greater diversity of artefacts and a heightening of urban features.
  • The material evidence of the Maurya period also exists in the form of Ashoka’s pillars and other sculptural and architectural elements.
  • There are a number of stone sculptures and terracotta images that appear to be part of a popular, urban milieu.
  • The coins as a source became significant during the Mauryan period. The coins of this period not bear the names of the kings. They are called Punch-marked coins (mosty made of silver) as different symbols are punched on them separately.
    • Certain symbols such as the crescent-on-arches, tree-in-railing, and pea-cock-on-arches have been associated with the Maurya kings.
    • These symbols may have been symbol of cultural significance, symbols of royalty (e.g symbol of the sun) and of religious significance. For examples: the tree-in-railing symbol represents the Buddha’s enlightenment, and the symbols consisting of a number of arches represent a stupa.
    • Arthashastra refer to different denominations of silver coins (with some amount of alloying)  called panas and copper coins mashakas.
    • MauryanCoin
      Silver punch mark coin of the Maurya empire, with symbols of wheel and elephant. 3rd century BCE.

Expansion of Mauryan State:

Magadha1
Magadha state in the 5th century BCE
Nanda_Empire
The Nanda Empire at its greatest extent under Dhana Nanda 323 BCE
Chandragupta_mauryan_empire_305_BC
The Maurya Empire when it was first founded by Chandragupta Maurya 320 BCE, after conquering the Nanda
Chandragupta_Empire_320_BC
Chandragupta extended the borders of the Maurya Empire towards Seleucid Persia after defeating Seleucus 305 BCE
Chandragupta_Maurya_Empire
Bindusara extended the borders of the empire southward into the Deccan Plateau 300 BCE
Mauryan_Empire_Map
Ashoka extended into Kalinga during the Kalinga War 265 BCE, and established superiority over the southern kingdoms.

Chandragupta Maurya: (320 BCE – 298BCE)

His Background:

  • Very little is known about Chandragupta’s ancestry. What is known is gathered from later classical Sanskrit literature, Buddhist Sources as well as classical Greek and Latin sources.
  • Classical Greek and Latin Sources:
    • Classical Greek and Latin sources which refer to Chandragupta by the names “Sandracottos” or “Andracottus.”
    • Plutarch in his book Parallel Lives reports that Androcottus (Chandraupta) met with Alexander around Takshasila in the northwest, and that he viewed the ruling Nanda Empire in a negative light.
      • Chandragupta is also said to have met the Nanda king, angered him, and made a narrow escape.
      • According to this text, the encounter would have happened around 326 BCE, suggesting a birth date for Chandragupta around 340 BCE.
    • Justin (a 2nd century AD Latin historian who lived under the Roman Empire) describes the humble origins of Chandragupta, and explains how he later led a popular uprising against the Nanda king.
  • Classical Sanskrit Sources:
    • Puranas, Milindapanha, Mudrarakshasa, Mahavamshatika and Parishishtaparvan refer his conflict with the Nanda.
    • Tradition is that he overthrew the Nandas with the help of Kautilya.
    • Mudrarakshasa (“The Signet of the Minister”) by Visakhadatta,
      • dated at the late 4th century.
      • It is a Sanskrit drama which narrates the ascent of the king Chandragupta Maurya (322BC – 298BC) to power in India.
      • It describes his royal ancestry and even link him with the Nanda family.
        • It calls him a “Nandanvaya” i.e. the descendant of Nanda.
      • Mudrarakshasa uses terms like kula-hina and Vrishala for Chandragupta’s lineage. This means that Chandragupta had a low  origin.
    • The Mudrarakshasa as well as the Jaina work Parisishtaparvan talk of Chandragupta’s alliance with the Himalayan king Parvatka, sometimes identified with Porus.
  • Buddhist Sources:
    • The Buddhist text the Mahavamsa calls Chandragupta a member of a division of the (Kshatriya) clan called the Moriya.
    • The Mahaparinibbana Sutta states that the Moriyas (Mauryas) belonged to the Kshatriya community.
    • The Mahavamshatika connects him with the Shakya clan of the Buddha.
  • The Only definite inscriptional refrence to Chandragupta is in the 2nd century CE Junagarh inscription of Rudradamman, which attributes the beginning of the construction of a water reservoir known as the sudarshana lake to Chandragupta’s reign.
  • Sangam text for Chandragupta Maurya :
    • A  poem in the Akananuru composed by the Sangam poet Mamulanar seems to bereferring to conquest of Chandragupta in south.
    • References in sangam text suggests that the Mauryas interfered in the politics of the south, that they had an alliance with a southern power called the Koshar, and that Deccani troops formed part of the Maurya army.

Rise of Chandragupta Maurya and Foundation of Maurya Dynasty:

  • Many historian attribute great importance to the role Chandragupta Maurya played in ruthlessly stemming the tide of foreign interference in the north-west and suppressing indigenous rulers in west and south India.
    • Both Indian and Classical sources agree that Chandragupta overthrew the last of the Nanda kings (Dhana Nanda) probably with the help of Chanakya and occupied his capital Pataliputra and ascended to the throne in around 321 B.C.
  • The political rise of Chandragupta was also linked 4th the invasion of Alexander in the north-west
    • The years 325 B.C. – 323 B.C. were crucial in the sense that many of the governors who were stationed in the north-west after Alexander’s invasion were assassinated or had to retreat.
    • After Alexander’s retreat it resulted in the creation of a vacuum, and, therefore, it was not difficult for Chandragupta to subdue the Greek garrisons left there.
    • The Roman historian Justin described how Sandrocottus (Greek version of Chandragupta’s name) conquered the northwest and overran the whole of India with an army of 600,000.
    • Chandragupta may have first established himself in the Punjab and then moved eastwards until he gained control over the Magadha region.
    • These tasks were complete by 321 B.C. and the state was set for further consolidation.
      File:EasternSatrapsAfterAlexander.jpg
      Chandragupta had defeated Macedonian satrapies in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent by 317 BCE.

Expansion by Chandragupta Maurya:

  • Megasthenes recorded the size of Chandragupta’s army as 400,000 soldiers.
  • According to Strabo:  Megasthenes was in the camp of Sandrocottus (Chandragupta), which consisted of 400,000 men.
  • On the other hand, Pliny, who also drew from Megasthenes’ work, gives even larger numbers of 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 war elephants.
  • The Mauryas’ military strength was almost three times that of the Nandas, and this was apparently because of a much larger empire and thus far greater resources.
  • Conquest of Seleucus’ eastern territories:
    • Seleucus I Nicator, a Macedonian satrap of Alexander, reconquered most of Alexander’s former empire and put under his own authority the eastern territories as far as Bactria and the Indus until in 305 BCE he entered into conflict with Chandragupta.
    • One of the first major achievements of Chandragupta Maurya on the military front was his contact with Seleucus Nikator who ruled over the area west of the Indus around 305 B.C.
    • In the war that ensued Chandragupta is said to have turned out victorious and eventually, peace was established.
      • In return for 500 elephants Seleucus gave him eastern Afghanistan, Baluchistan and the area west of the Indus.
      • A marriage alliance was also concluded.
        • Chandragupta married Seleucus’s daughter to formalize an alliance.
      • Seleucus dispatched an ambassador, Megasthenes, to Chandragupa at the Maurya court at Pataliputra.
        • Later Deimachus was sent as ambassador to Bindusara at the Maurya court by Antichus (king of Syria).
        • Later Ptolemy II Philadelphus, the ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt and contemporary of Ashoka, is also recorded by Pliny as having sent an ambassador named Dionysius to the Maurya court.
    • This achievement meant that the territorial foundation of the Mauryan empire had been firmly laid with the Indus and Gangetic plains well under Chandragupta’s control.
  • Note:
    • Presents continued to be exchanged between the Mauryan rulers and Greek rulers.
    • Intensity of these contacts is testified by the existence of a dedicated Mauryan state department for Greek (Yavana) and Persian foreigners, or the remains of Hellenistic pottery that can be found throughout northern India.
    • On these occasions, Greek populations apparently remained in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent under Mauryan rule.
    • Ashoka, installed many Edicts, written in Greek.
      • In his edicts, Ashoka mentions that he had sent Buddhist emissaries to Greek rulers as far as the Mediterranean (Edict No. 13), and that he developed herbal medicine in their territories, for the welfare of humans and animals (Edict No. 2).
    • The Greeks in India even seem to have played an active role in the propagation of Buddhism, as some of the emissaries of Ashoka such as Dharmaraksita, or the teacher Mahadharmaraksita, are described in Pali sources as leading Greek (“Yona”, i.e., Ionian) Buddhist monks, active in Buddhist proselytism (mentioned in Mahavamsa).
    • It is also thought that Greeks contributed to the sculptural work of the Pillars of Ashoka, and more generally to the blossoming of Mauryan art.
  • Chandragupta and trans-Vindhyan region:
    • Chandragupta’s conquests are suggested by Graeco-Roman sources.
      • Plutarch states that Sandrocottus over-ran and subdued the whole of ‘India’ with an army of 600,000.
      • Justin too describes Chandragupta as in possession of ‘India’. It is not certain what exactly these writers meant by ‘India‘.
    • It is suggested by a majority of scholars that Chandragupta ultimately established his control not only in the north-west and the Ganges plains, but also in western India and the Deccan.
    • The only parts left out of his empire were thus present day Kerala, Tamil Nadu and parts of North-eastern India.
    • The conquest and subjugation of Surashtra or Kathiawar in the extreme west is attested in the Junagadh Rock Inscription of Rudradaman of the middle of the second century A.D
      • This record refers to Chandragupta’s viceroy or governor, Pushyagupta by name, who is said to have constructed the famous Sudarshana Lake.
      • This further implies that Chandragupta had under the control the Malwa region as well.
    • With regard to his control over the Deccan too we have late sources. These are some medieval epigraphs informing us that Chandragupta had protected parts of Karnataka.
  • The Tamil writers of the Sangam texts of the early centuries A.D. make allusion to the “Moriyar” which is said to refer to the Mauryas and their contact with the south, but this probably refers to the reign of Chandragupta’s successor.
  • In view of such indirect references, it seems that Chandragupta was the chief architect of the huge Mauryan empire
Chandragupta_Empire_320_BC
Chandragupta extended the borders of the Maurya Empire towards Seleucid Persia after defeating Seleucus 305 BCE

Relation between Chandragupta, Jainism and Karnataka:

  • Some Later inscriptions and Jaina texts suggest a connection between Chandragupta, Jainism, and Karnataka.
  • A number of places in the Shravana Belgola hills have the word ‘Chandra‘ as their suffix.
  • Jaina Tradition speaks of the relationship between Chandragupta and the Jaina saint Bhadrabahu.
    • The Maurya king is said to have accompanied Bhadrabahu to Karnataka in the wake of the saint’s prophecy of the impending outbreak of a 12-year famine in Magadha.
  • The king is also described as having committed sallekhana (ritual death by starvation).
    • Brihatkathakosha of Harishena (10th cen. text) narrate this story.
    • The 19th century Rajavali-kathe Inscriptions in the Shravana Belgola hills, dating between the 5th and 15th centuries CE, mention a person named Chandragupta and Bhadrabahu.
  • It is possible, but not certain, that there is a historical basis to the strong Jaina tradition that connects Chandragupta with Karnataka.
  • Chandragupta was first to take title of Devampriya and Priyadarshi.

Bindusara (297 BCE- 272 BCE)

  • He is said to have succeeded Chandragupta Maurya in 297 B.C.
  • Buddhist sources are relatively silent on Bindusara. There is a story of an Ajivika fortune-teller prophesying his son Ashoka’s future greatness, which may suggest that the king favoured the Ajivikas.
    • In a very late source of the sixteenth century, in the work of the Buddhist monk Taranath of Tibet, we are told of Bindusara’s warlike activities.
      • He is said to have destroyed kings and nobles of about sixteen cities and reduced to submission all the territory between the eastern and western seas.
    • The descriptions of early Tamil poets of the Mauryan chariots thundering across the land probably refer to his reign.
      • The famous Tamil poet Mamulanar of the Sangam literature also described how the Deccan Plateau was invaded by the Maurya army.
    • According to the Rajavalikatha a Jain work, the original name of this emperor was Simhasena.
    • Though Bindusara is called “slayer of foes“, his reign is not very well documented.
  • Greek sources refer to his diplomatic relations with western kings.
    • according to Strabo: Antichus (king of Syria), sent an ambassador named Deimachus to his court.
    • Pliny mentions that Ptolemy II Philadelphos (king of Egypt) sent an ambassador named Dionysius.
    • There is a story that Bindusara requested Antiochus to buy and send him some sweet wine, dried figs, and a sophist (a philosopher who specialized in philosophical debate and argumentation).
      • Antiochus is supposed to have replied that while he would certainly send the wine and figs, Greek laws did not permit a sophist to be bought.
    • A fragmentary inscription at Sanchi, which perhaps refers to Bindusara, suggests a possible connection between the king and this Buddhist establishment.
  • Kalinga (modern Odisha) didn’t form the part of Bindusara’s empire. It was later conquered by his son Ashoka, who served as the viceroy of Ujjaini during his father’s reign.
  • During his rule, the citizens of Taxila revolted twice. The reason for the first revolt was the maladministration of Suseema, his eldest son. The reason for the second revolt is unknown, but Bindusara could not suppress it in his lifetime. It was crushed by Ashoka after Bindusara’s death.
Chandragupta_Maurya_Empire
Bindusara extended the borders of the empire southward into the Deccan Plateau 300 BCE
  • After his death (in 272 B.C.) there was a struggle for succession among his sons for about four years. Ultimately, around 269-268 B.C. Ashoka was crowned Bindusara’s successor.

Megasthenes’ Indika

  • The Maurya period say a steady expansion of trade with the western world and the exchange of emissaries between Maurya and Hellenistic kings.
  • Graeco-Roman accounts mention kings Sandrocottus (Chandragupta) and Amitrochates (Amitraghata, i.e Bindusara), and their capital Palimbothra (Pataliputra).
  • Indica is the accounts on India prepared by Megasthenes, who was sent to the court of Chandragupta Maurya as ambassador by his contemporary Greek ruler of the neighboring area, Seleucus Niketor.
  • As a royal ambassador, his exposure to Indian society must have been socially and geographically restricted.
  • Megasthene wrote his Indica based on his experience in India. The book has not survived, But Fragments are preserved in later Greek and Latin works, e.g : works of  Diodorus, Strabo, Arrian, and Pliny.
    • Diodorus:
      • a historian
      • His surviving books describe Alexander’s Indian campaign and contain a general description of India based on sources such as Megasthene’s Indica.
    • Strabo:
      • a geographer and historian
      • His geography deals with India.
    • Arrian:
      • a statesman, soldier, philosopher and historian
      • wrote Anabis (an account for Asian campaign of Alexander) and his Indica was a continuation of this work.
      • He used Megasthenes account in his work.
    • Pliny:
      • wrote book, “Natural history”.
    • Claudius Aelianus:
      • A Roman scholar also cited Megasthene’s observations.
  • All the references to Megasthenes occurs in texts that have a wider canvas than India.
  • For these writers, ‘India’ was the land beyond the Indus.
    • We do not know whether they had direct access to Megasthenes’ work or whether they relied on some secondary account of what he wrote.
    • Nor were all their statements necessarily based on Megasthenes’ Indica alone.
  • Feature of all these writing:
    • They wrote for an educated Greek audience and their aim was not only to inform but also to entertain.
    • They selected from Megasthene’s book the bits they though would interest their audience the most and left out what they considered were the boring parts (which might have been of great use to historians).
    • They highlighted things about India that were similar to Greece, as well as those that were curious and different.
    • The references to the contents of the Indica are separated from each other by time and by the interest, interpretation and style of the later writers. e.g: Pliny’s work, which is later than the other three is more factual and dry.
  • Megasthenes’ Indica described the country; its size and shape, rivers, soil, climate, plants, animals, produce, administration, society, and legends.
  • The Greeks were especially captivated by India’s animals and their accounts contain lengthy descriptions of elephants, monkeys, horse training, and elephant hunting.
  • About religion:
    • The Greeks referred to the Indians’ worship of Dionysus and Herakles (the names they gave to Vasudeva Krishna).
    • Indika mentions the devotees of Heracles and Dionysus but he does not mention Buddhists, something that gives support to the theory that the latter religion was not widely known before the reign of Ashoka.
    • They cited similarities between the views of “Brachmanes” (i.e Brahmanas) and Greek ideas relating to the nature of the world and soul.
  • About Pataliputra:
    • Megasthenes describes such features as the Himalayas and the island of Sri Lanka.
    • He states that numerous cities existed in India, but he considered Pataliputra to be the most important. He calls it Palibothra. This Greek term means a city with gates.
    • According to him, Pataliputra was bounded by a deep ditch and a wooden wall crowned with 570 towers, and had 64 gates which rivaled the splendors of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa.
      • The ditch, timber palisades, and also wooden houses have been found in excavations.
    • According to Megasthenes, Pataliputra was 9.33 miles long and 1.75 miles broad.
      • This size tallies with that of Patna even today, because Patna is all length with little breadth.
  • About King:
    • Megasthenes gives a detailed description of the personal life of Chandragupta Maurya.
      • He led a very splendid life and his palace was unique in its beauty.
      • The king did not sleep in one room for two continuous days.
    • He writes that the king was the master of un­limited powers. He kept himself fully aware of the main events of his empire through his spies.
    • Megasthenes observes that the king was always available for consultation which is also supported by Arthasastra and Ashoka’s Rock Edict VI.
  • About administration:
    • Megasthenes has written a lot about the civil administration of Chandragupta Maurya.
    • Megasthenes’s account of city administration mentions six committees of five members each, in charge of the following aspects:
        • Industrial art,
        • Entertainment and surveillance of foreigners,
        • Maintaining records of births and deaths,
        • Trade and commerce,
        • Supervising the public sell of goods,
        • The collection of taxes on merchandise sold in the market.
      • However Megasthenes’ account probably applied especially to Pataliputra’s administration.
    • Megasthenes’ account regarding army administration mentions six committees of five members each. These were in charge of the
        • navy,
        • supervision of equipment and transport,
        • the infantry,
        • cavalry,
        • chariots and
        • elephants.
      • However navy is neither mentioned in Arthasastra nor in Ashokan inscription.
  • About Indian Society:
    • Megasthenes describes a disciplined multitude of people under Chandragupta, who live simply, honestly, and do not know writing:
      • The Indians all live frugally, especially when in camp. They dislike a great undisciplined multitude, and consequently they observe good order. Theft is of very rare occurrence. People have no written laws, and are ignorant of writing, and must therefore in all the business of life trust to memory. They live, nevertheless, happily enough, being simple in their manners and frugal. They never drink wine except at sacrifices. Their beverage is a liquor composed from rice instead of barley, and their food is principally a rice-pottage.
    • According to Megasthenes, no one in India could marry outside their genos nor could they follow other’s occupation.
      • So he identified two important aspects of caste system: hereditary occupation and endogamy.
      • However in general there is little that Megasthenes tells us about Indian society that we do not already know from other sources.
    • He found that slavery system was unknown to the Ancient Indian society.
      • Megasthenes did not travel whole of India and so his observations may not apply to the whole country. Perhaps, since slavery did not exist in North-Western India, had an impact on Megasthenes and he declared that whole of India was free from the custom of slavery.
      • Megasthenes’ observations about the non-existence of slavery in Ancient India are not supported by available evidences. From the Smritis or Hindu Law Books it is clear that slavery was a recognized institution in India in the Vedic Age.
      • Some scholars have tried to interpret and explain Megasthenes as such.
        • Slavery system in India was very mild and most of the slaves were domestic slaves who were treated as members of the family. Slave trade was prohibited in the Shastras.
        • Different injunctions were laid down in the Shastras for the liberation of the slaves.
        • Megasthenes was impressed by the prevailing intellectual mood of the time. The liberal rules of the Arthasastra for slaves testify the liberal attitude of the society towards slavery.
    • He describes that Indians are divided into seven classes. It might be that, being a foreigner, he was not adequately informed about the caste system. Seven clases are:,
      • Philosophers (sophists),
        • which in number is inferior to the other classes, but in dignity preeminent over all.
      • Farmers,
        • who appear to be far more numerous than the others. They devote the whole of their time to tillage;
        • for men of this class, being regarded as public benefactors, are protected from all injury.
      • Shepherds (herdsmen) and hunters
        • who neither settle in towns nor in villages, but live in tents.
        • They pay taxes from their animals,
      • Artisans and traders
        • they too perform public duties, and pay tax on the receipts from their work, except for those who make weapons of war and actually receive a wage from the community.
      • Soldiers:
        • next to the farmers in number; they enjoy the greatest freedom and most agreeable life. They are devoted solely to military activities.The entire force are maintained at the king’s expense.
      • Overseers:
        • They supervise everything that goes on in the country and cities, and report it to the king, where the Indians are governed by kings, or to the authorities, where they are self-governing.
      • Councillors and Assessors, who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class, looking to number, but the most respected, on account of the high character and wisdom of its members.From their ranks the advisers of the king, the treasurers, of the state, arbiters who settle disputes, generals of the army, chief magistrates, usually belong to this class, supervisors of agricultural works are taken.
    • philosophers,farmers, herdsmen and hunters, artisans and traders, soldiers,overseers and the kings’ counsellors.
    • philosophers,farmers, herdsmen and hunters, artisans and traders, soldiers,overseers and the kings’ counsellors.
  • Criticism:
    • Megasthenes stayed at the Mauryan court and noted down his reflections on the then Indian society but his exposure to Indian society must have been socially and geographically restricted.
    • Megasthenes has stated that the then Indian society was divided into seven classes namely artisans, farmers, philosophers, soldiers, secret inspectors, traders and councilors.
      • This collection of occupational groups and administrative ranks corresponds neither to the varnas nor the jatis. It seems to have been Megasthenes’ own invention.
    • Idealized India:
      • They stated that farmers were never touched in war.
      • There was no slavery.
      • Theft was rare.
      • Claudius Aelianus cites Megasthenes and asserts that Indians did not borrow or lend money on interest.
    • Other errors:
      • Greek writer, Strabo, while taking reference from Indika states that Indians were ignorant of the arts of writing and fusing metals and never drank wine except at sacrifices.
    • There were comparisons with Egypt and Europe. For example, the Ganga and Indus were compared with the Nile and Danube.
    • Fantastic stories and strange things: Diodorus left out many these fantastic accounts.
      • One-horned horses with heads like those’ of deer, of huge snakes.
      • River in which nothing would float.
      • Strange customs were recounted.
      • Men with their feet turned backward and That-they had eight toes on each foot.
      • A breed of men with heads like dogs.
      • Gold-digging ants were said to live in the-harth-western mountains.
    • Thus Greek references to Megasthenes’ Indica represent India seen through a double filter — the first is Megasthenes’ interpretation of what he saw or heard; the second is later Graeco-Roman writer’s interpretations of Megasthenes account.
    • The citation from the Indica seem to tell us more about ancient Greek perspectives on India than about the history of the subcontinent in the 4th century BCE.
  • A comparison of the Arthasastra and Megasthenes Indika reveals several differences for instance in their discussion of fortifications, city administration, army administration and taxation.
  • Though there are several exaggerations and Indika has not survived but fragments are preserved in later Greek and Latin works, it still provides us the valuable information about Mauryan administration and social conditions.
  • Note:
    • Diodorus:
      • refers to nomadic tribes of herdsmen and shepherds.
      • He also states-that The artisans were exempt from taxes and maintained by the state.
    • Strabo:
      • Divides philosophers (Described as being held in high esteem in India) into the brachmanes (Brabmanas) and garmanes (shramanas).
      • No one other than the king could own a horse or elephant.
      • Apart from the independent artisans; armourers and shipbuilders were employed by the state and paid a misthos (wage).
        • This can be connected with the Arthashastra references to state-owned and state-run enterprises.
Kautilya(Chanakya) and Arthashastra
  • The Arthashastra is an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, public administration, economic policy and military strategy, written in Sanskrit.
    • It identifies its author by the names “Kauṭilya” and “Vishnugupta both names that are traditionally identified with Chanakya (350–283 BCE), who was a scholar at Takshashila and the teacher and guardian of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya. (Though many authors seems to have contributed to the Arthasastra over the centuries.)
    • It was rediscovered in 1904 by R. Shamasastry, who published it in 1909. The first English translation was published in 1915.
  • The term Artha is not new, as one of the purusharthas (the legitimate goals of human existence) is stands for material well-being.
    • The Arthashastra states very categorically that artha is superior to dharma (spiritual well-being) and kama (sensual pleasure), because the latter are dependent on it.
    • It explains artha as the sustenance or livelihood of men, of which the source is the earth inhabited by people.
  • Arthashastra is the branch of learning that deals with the means of the acquisition and protection of the earth, which is the source of people’s livelihood. It is in effect the science of statecraft.
    • It is divided into 15 adhikarnas or sections and 180 Prakaranas or subdivisions. It has about 6,000 slokas.
    • It consist of 15 books (adhikaranas).
      • 1st five deals with the internal administration (tantra).
      • next eight with inter state relations (avapa), and
      • The last two with miscellaneous topics.
  • Problem in using it as a source of history: There are differences in opinion  about it’s dates and authorship.
    • Traditional view:
      • The traditional view is that it is a work of the 4th century BCE written by Kautilya, also known as Chanakya or Vishnugupta, who became Chandragupta Maurya’s chief minister after helping him overthrow the Nandas.
      • This view is supported by:
        • Two verses of arthashastra itself: Which says it has been composed by kautilya and also mentions Nanda.
        • Later works:
          • Kamandaka’s Nitisara,
          • Dandin’s Dashakumaracharita,
          • Vishakhadatta’s mudrarakshasa and
          • Bana Bhatta’s kadambari.
        • Kangle has pointed out that there are good reasons to support the traditional view, which places Kautilya and the Arthashastra in the Maurya period.
          • On grounds of style, the book seems to be earlier than Vatsyayana’s Kamasutra, Yajnavalkya Smriti, and Manu Smriti.
          • The mention of the Ajivikas as an important sect, fits in with the Maurya period.
          • The references to sangha polities.
          • The discussion of the large-scale establishment of agricultural settlements.
          • The administrative structure reflected in the text does not match that of any other historical dynasty.
        • According to Kangle, Vishnugupta seems to be the personal name of the author, Kautilya his gotra name, and Chanakya (son of Chanaka) a patronym.
        • He suggests that Kautilya a may have written the book after having been insulted by the Nanda king, before joining Chandragupta.
      • The similarities between the administrative terms used in the Arthashastra and in the Asokan edicts certainly suggests that the Mauryan rulers were acquainted with this work. Arthashastra provides useful and reliable information regarding the social and political conditions as well as the Mauryan administration.
    • Questioning of traditional view:
      • The two verses dismissed  as later interpolations.
      • It is argued that mentioning Kautilya’s name could mean “as taught or held by Kautilya”.
      • There is no reference to kautilya in Patanjali’s Mahabhashya (which mentions the Mauryas and the assembly of Chandragupta)
        • Counter viewMahabhashya is a book of grammar, refers to historical personalities only incidentally.
      • Megasthenes doesn’t mention Kautilya in his Indica.
        • Counter view: Megasthene’s Indica survives only in fragments
      • Several differences between Arthashastra and Megasthene’s Indica in their discussion of fortification, city administration, army administration and taxation.
        • So, two books should not belong to the same period, and since we know for sure that Megasthenes was Chandragupta Maurya’s contemporary, the Arthashastra must belong to some other.
        • Counter view:
          • Megasthenes was not the most acute of observers and got many things wrong’: (e.g., his statements that in India land belongs to the king, that there are no slaves, and that the Indians do not know writing).
          • Indica survives only in secondhand paraphrases in later texts. For such reasons, the Indica cannot be used as a yardstick against which to gauge the date of the Arthashastra.
        • The Arthashastra does not contain any references to the Mauryas, their empire, Chandragupta, or Patirputra.
          • Counter view: This could be because it is a theoretical, not a descriptive work.
        • The Arthashastra’s discussion of inter-state relations seems to refer to a small or moderate-sized state, not a large empire of the Maurya type.
          • Counter view:
            • The text does emphasize imperial ideals and ambitions. The entire discussion of statecraft is from the point of the vijigishuthe would-be conqueror- who desires to conquer the entire subcontinent.
            • Moreover, the outline of an elaborate administrative structure and the generous salaries recommended for officials do suggest that the author had a large well-established polity in mind.
      • Counter-views shows objection against traditional view is not convincing. In fact, almost all the objections to the traditional view of the age and authorship of the text can be countered by this one basic point: The Arthashastra is a treatise on statecraft for a king and discusses a potential, not an actual state.
    • Although the Arthashastra does have a certain element of unity; it is very likely that there were later interpolations and remoulding.
      • But there do not yet seem to be sufficient grounds to abandon the idea that some part of the text was composed in the Maurya period by a person named Kautliya, allowing for later interpolations stretching into the early centuries CE.
    • Since it has some moorings in the Maurya period, the Arthashastra can be used as a source for certain aspect of the period. At the same time, we have to be careful not to read the book as a description of Maurya sate or society.
    • Note:
      • Even if the author was a genius, such a sophisticated understanding of politics and its relationship to the economy and society could not have emerged in a historical vacuum. It must have been grounded in the existence and experience of empire, and the author must have drawn on his understanding of con-temporary politics and institutions.
  • King:
    • Kautilya suggests that the king should be an autocrat and he should concentrate all powers into his own hands. He should enjoy unrestricted authority over his realm.
    • But at the same time, he should give honour to the Brahmanas and seek advice from his ministers. Thus the king though autocrat, should exercise his authority wisely.
    • Arthasastra recommends that the king must be accessible to the officials at all times.
      • Ashoka’s rock edict VI also emphasizes the king’s accessibility to the officials.
    • He should be cultured and wise. He should also be well-read so as to understand all the details of his administration.
    • He says that the chief cause of his fall is that the king is inclined towards evil. He lists six evils that led to a king’s decline.
      • They are haughtiness, lust, anger, greed, vanity and love of pleasures.
    • Kautilya says that the king should live in comfort but he should not indulge in pleasures.
    • He advises the king to follow the purohita. Given the eclectic religious beliefs and practices of the Mauryan kings, it is quite possible that the purohita was not the major presence in their courts.
  • Ideals of Kingship:
    • The major ideal of kingship according to Kautilya is that his own well-being lies in the well-being of his people of only the happy subjects ensure the happiness of their sovereign. He also says that the king should be Chakravarti or the conqueror of different realms and should win glory by conquering other lands.
    • He should protect his people from external dan­ger and ensure internal peace.
    • The ideal of paternalistic rule is reflected in Arthasastra which states that the king should be like a father towards his needy subjects.
      • Ashoka’s ideals of kingship partially match those of the Arthasastra but bear the impress of his own ideas. They include ensuring the welfare of all beings and of his subjects in this world and the next.
    • Kautilya maintained that the soldiers should be imbued with the spirit of a ‘holy war’ before they march to the battlefield. According to him, all is fair in a war waged in the interest of the country.
  • Internal strife:
    • Quarrels among people can be resolved by winning over the leaders or by removing the cause of the quarrel. People fighting among themselves help the king by their mutual rivalry.
    • Conflicts (for power) within the royal family, on the other hand, bring about harassment and destruction to the people and double the exertion that is required to end such conflicts.
    • Hence internal strife in the royal family for power is more damaging than quarrels among their subjects.
  • Training of a future king:
    • Importance of self-discipline:
      • Discipline is of two kinds – inborn and acquired.
      • Learning imparts discipline only to those who have the following mental facilities – obedience to a teacher, desire and ability to learn, capacity to retain what is learnt, understanding what is learnt, reflecting on it and ability to make inferences by deliberating on the knowledge acquired.
      • One who will be a king should acquire discipline and follow it strictly in life by learning the sciences from authoritative teachers.
    • The training of a prince:
      • With improving his self-discipline, he should always associate with learned elders, for in them alone has discipline its firm roots.
      • Only a king, who is wise, disciplined, devoted to a just governing of the subjects and conscious of the welfare of all beings, will enjoy the earth unopposed.
  • About the Ministers:
    • Kautilya maintains that the king should appoint ministers. King without ministers is like a one-wheeled chariot. According to Kautilya, king’s ministers should be wise and intelligent. But the king should not become a puppet in their hands.
    • He should discard their improper advise. The ministers should work together as; a team. They should hold meetings in privacy. He says that the king who cannot keep his secrets cannot last long.
  • Arthasastra presents a state that controls the people, produce and resources of its domain with all encompassing and robotic precision.
    • However, in reality, the empire had only some elements of centralized control along with a significant amount of delegation of authority to functionaries at provincial district and village level.
  • The Arthasastra mentions officials like samahartari (chief collector of revenue), samnidhatri (treasurer), dauvarika (chief of palace attendant), antaravamshika (chief of the palace guards) and a large number of Addhyakshas (departmental heads).  There must have existed many of these officials but not all of them.
  • Provincial Administration:
    • Kautilya tells us that the kingdom was divided into several provinces governed by the members of the royal family. There were some smaller provinces as Saurashtra and Kambhoj etc. administered by other officers called ‘Rashtriyas’.
    • The provinces were divided into districts which were again sub-divided into villages. The chief administrator of the district was called the ‘SthaniK while the village headman was called the ‘Gopa’.
  • Civic Administration:
    • The administration of big cities as well as the capital city of Pataliputra was carried on very efficiently. Pataliputra was divided into four sectors. The officer incharge of each sector was called the ‘Sthanik.
    • He was assisted by junior officers called the ‘Gopas’ who looked after the welfare of 10 to 40 families.
    • The whole city was in the charge of another officer called the ‘Nagrika’. There was a system of regular census.
  • Spy Organisation:
    • Kautilya says that the king should maintain a network of spies who should keep him well informed about the minute details and happenings in the country, the provinces, the districts and the towns.
      • The spies should keep watch on other officials. There should be spies to ensure peace in the land.
    • According to Kautilya, women spies are more efficient than men, so they should, in particular, be recruited as spies.
      • Above all the kings should send his agents in neighboring countries to gather information of political significance.
  • Maintenance of law and order:
    • A conducive atmosphere is necessary for the state’s economy to thrive. This requires that a state’s law and order be maintained.
    • Arthashastra specifies fines and punishments to support strict enforcement of laws. The science of law enforcement is also called Dandaniti.
  • Seven ways to deal with neighboring countries:
    • Sama – Appeasement, non-aggression pact
    • Dana – Gift, bribery
    • Bheda – Divide, split, separating opposition
    • Daṇḍa – Strength, punishment
    • Maya– Illusion, deceit
    • Upekṣa – Ignoring the enemy
    • Indrajala – Faking military strength
  • Shipping:
    • Another significant information that we gather from Kautilya is about shipping under the Mauryas.
    • Each port was supervised by an officer who kept vigil on ships and ferries. Tolls were levied on traders, passengers and fishermen.
    • Almost all ships and boats were owned by the kings.
  • Economic Condition:
    • According to Kautilya, the central government maintained about two dozen departments of state, which controlled social and economic activities at least in the areas that were in proximity to the capital.
      • Kautilya talks of extensive state participation, regulation and control over the economy. It talks of strict control over market, trade, and artisan guilds etc. This indicates heights of power and control a state could aspire rather than the actual situation in the state.
    • Kautilya says that poverty is a major cause of rebellions.
      • Hence there should be no shortage of food and money to buy it, as it creates discontent and destroys the king.
      • Kautilya therefore advises the king to take steps to improve the economic condition of his people.
    • Kautilya says that the chief source of income was the land revenue in villages while the tax on the sale of goods was the chief source in the cities.
    • How did Chandragupta Maurya manage to meet the expenses of a huge army?
      • If we rely on the Arthashastra of Kautilya, it would appear that the state controlled almost all the economic activities in the realm.
      • The state brought new land under cultivation with the aid of cultivators and shudra labourers.
      • The virgin land that was opened to cultivation yielded handsome income to the state in the form of revenue collected from the newly settled peasants.
      • It appears that taxes collected from the peasants varied from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce.
      • Those who were provided with irrigation facilities by the state had to pay for it.
      • In addition, in times of emergency, peasants were compelled to raise more crops.
      • Tolls were also levied on commodities brought to town for sale, and they were collected at the gate.
      • Moreover, the state enjoyed a monopoly in mining, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms, etc.
      • This naturally brought vast resources to the royal exchequer.
    • The Arthashastra mentions village labour, bonded labour and slave labour.
      •  The term karmakara refers to a person who works in return for wages.
      • Kautilya lays down a schedule of wages for workers, but it is highly unlikely that the Maurya could have actually implemented wage control.
      • He also specifies the duties of employers and employees and punishments in case these were not complied with.
      • Arthashastra refers to some kind of corporate organization (sangha) of worker which interfaced with employers.
  • Slavery:
    • Megasthenes lauds indian society for not having any slaves. The Arthashastra, on the other hand, has a very detailed discussion of dasas (slaves) and ahitakas (those pledged to creditors when contracting a debt).
    • Various types of slaves and situations of enslavement temporary and permanent, are mentioned.
    • There is reference to slaves in the service of private individuals as well as the state.
    • Kautilya lists various rules for the treatment of male and female slaves and lays down penalties for their transgression.
      • e.g: punishments are prescribed for those who sell or mortgage a pregnant woman slave without any arrangement for her maternity, and for those who cause such a slave to have a miscarriage.
    • There is reference to the manumission (freeing) of slaves on payment of a sum of money.
    • Kautilya also states that if a dasi bore her master a son, she was released from enslavement, and the child was considered the father’s legitimate son.
    • Ashoka’s rock edict 9 mentions courteous behaviour towards dasas and bhatakas (bhritakas, i.e., servants) as part of dhamma.
  • Untouchability:
    • Arthashastra reflects a significant, hardening of the Brahmanical position on untouchability.
    • It states that the well of Chandalas could only be used by them and none else.
    • A heavy fine is prescribed for a Chandala touching an arya woman, although Kangle suggests that this refers not to touch but sexual relations.
    • Chandalas and shvapakas (dog breeders) were included in the general category of the antavasayin (literally, ‘living at the end’), people who were supposed to live on the margins of settlements.
  • Comments on vices:
    • Vices are corruptions due to ignorance and indiscipline; an unlearned man does not perceive the injurious consequences of his vices.
    • He summarizes: subject to the qualification that gambling is most dangerous in cases where power is shared, the vice with the most serious consequence is addiction to drink, followed by, lusting after women, gambling, and lastly hunting.
  • The Arthashastra is the first Indian text to define a state. Its concept of the saptanga rajya considers the state as consisting of seven inter-related and interlocking constituent limbs or elements (angas or prahritis):
      • Svami (the lord, i.e., the king),
      • Amatya (ministers)
      • Janapada (the territory and the people),
      • Durga (the fortified capital),
      • Kosha (the treasury),
      • Danda (justice or force), and
      • Mitra (ally).
    • Note: The idea of the saptanga rajya was accepted, with minor modifications, in many Dharmashastra texts, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata.

Inter-state relations:

  • Mitra (ally) (seventh prakriti)
  • Kautilya‘s discussion of inter-state policy is from the point of the vijigishu (the would be conqueror) and takes into account all possible circumstances.
    • He talks about the circle of kings (raja-mandala), the four principal players: the vijigishu, ari (enemy), madhyama (the middle king), and udasina (the indifferent, neutral king).
    • He also lists six policies (shad-gunya) that the king should follow in different circumstances.
      • samshraya (seeking shelter with another king or in a fort):
        • If one is very weak, then it is best to follow the policy of samshraya.
      • Sandhi (making a peace treaty):
        • If one is weaker than the enemy, the policy of sandhi should be adopted.
      • Asana (keeping quiet):
        • If one power is equal to that of the enemy, then it is a good idea to follow the policy of asana.
      • Vigraha (hostility):
        • If one is stronger than the enemy, then the policy of vigraha should be followed.
      • Yana (marching on a military expedition):
        • If one is much stronger than the enemy, then yana is the right policy.
      • dvaidhibhava (sandhi with one king and vigraha with another):
        • If one can fight the enemy with the help of an ally, then the double policy of dvaidhibhava is the best course of action.
  • Kautilya refers to three kinds of conquerors.
    • The asuravijayin is demonic, he seizes the land, riches, sons, and wives of the enemy and kills him.
    • The lobhavijayin is motivated by greed for land and riches.
    • The dharmavijayin is the righteous conqueror, who makes conquest out of a desire for glory and is satisfied with mere submission.
  • Kautilya’s is a theoretical discussion based on the pragmatic realities of interstate relations and power play. We cannot interpret it as a blueprint followed diligently by the Mauryas.
  • Chandragupta Maurya seems to have been the king responsible for most of the Maurya military successes, but we do not know the details of his campaigns, nor what exactly happened to the defeated people.
  • Ashoka policy and Arthashastra:
    • Ashoka is notable for having given up warfare. Such a stand goes completely against the ethos of the Arthashastra.
    • Although both the Arthashastra and Ashokan edicts speak of dharma/dhamma-vijaya, they understand this term very differently.
      • Arthashastra: military conquest was an important activity of the state and righteous conquest was its most noble form.
      • For Ashoka: on the other hand, dhamma-vijaya was based on a renunciation of military conquest.
  • Maurya entertained diplomats from various Hellenistic kingdoms.
    • Deimachus was the ambassador of Antiochus, king of Syria.
    • Megasthenes was the ambassador of Seleucus Nikator.
  • The dhamma missions and Budddhist missions dispatched by Ashoka to other kingdoms reflect other kinds of interaction with neighbouring kingdoms.

The Arthasastra can be used as a source for certain aspects of the period. At the same time, we have to be careful not to read the book as a description of Mauryan State and society.

6 thoughts on “Mauryan Empire: Foundation of the Mauryan Empire, Chandragupta, Kautilya and Arthashastra; Polity, Administration; Economy : Part I”

  1. Baba i looked into your content and i must tell you that its really impressive… Good luck with your way team…

Leave a Reply