Mauryan Empire

Mauryan Empire

This article deals with the Mauryan Empire. This is part of our series on ‘Ancient History’ which is an important pillar of the GS-1 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.


  • The Mauryan Empire is the first largest empires that were ever established on Indian soil.
Mauryan Empire

Sources of Mauryan Empire

The sources include literary sources, epigraphical sources, foreign accounts and other materials obtained from archaeological excavations.

1 . Literary Sources

1.1 Arthashastra

  • Arthashastra means ‘science of statecraft‘.
  • It was written by Kautilya / Chanakya in the 4th century BCE during the reigns of Chandragupta Maurya (although there is debate about the authorship).
  • It consists of 15 books dealing with Internal Administration, Inter-state relations and miscellaneous topics.
  • It gives us information like the administrative system, officers, the role of King etc.
  • However, it must be remembered that the Arthashastra was a prescriptive text, which laid down the guidelines for good administration.

1.2 Megasthenes Indica

  • Megasthenes was the Ambassador of Seleucus Nikator (Indo-Greek king) in the court of Chandragupta Maurya.
  • Megasthenes wrote the book INDICA. Although the original book has not survived & fragments are preserved in later Greek works (of Diodorus, Strabo, Arrian, Plutarch & Pliny ).
  • But we have to keep in mind that India is seen through a double filter – first through Megasthenes interpretation of what he saw or heard & second Graeco-Roman writers interpretations of Megasthenes accounts.

1.3 Puranas

  • Puranas include a list of Mauryan Kings.
  • Eg: “Vishnu Purana’ throws light on the origin of Nandas and their overthrow by Chandragupta with the assistance of Kautilya.

1.4 Buddhist Texts

  • Ashoka was a celebrated figure in Buddhist texts because he was a patron of Buddhism.
  • He figures in later Buddhist texts like Divyavadana, Ashokavadhana, Mahavamsa and Deepavamsa.
  • But all the information from Buddhist texts can’t be accepted at face value because these books tend to exaggerate the accomplishments of Ashoka as he was their patron.

1.5 Jaina Texts

  • Jaina text named ‘Parisisthaparvan‘ by Hemachandra throws light on the early life of Chandragupta, the conquest of Magadha, his conversion to Jainism and famine during the later part of his reign.

1.6 Patanjali’s Mahabhashya

  • It was written in the last phase of the Maurya Period.
  • Mahabhashya is a major commentary on Panini’s Grammar by Patanjali.

1.7 Mudrarakshasa

  • Mudrarakshasa is a 5th-century historical drama written by  Vishakhadatta.
  • It revolves around a clever plot of Chanakya against Rakshasa, minister of Nanda.
  • In the drama, Vishakhadatta referred to Chandragupta as ‘Vrishala’ and ‘Kulahina’ which means he was a person of humble origin.
  • But the historicity of this drama remains uncertain.

2 . Ashoka’s Inscriptions

There are 14 Major Rock Edicts, 7 Pillar Edicts and some Minor Rock Inscriptions. 

Ashokan Edicts
Major Rock Edicts Shahbazgarhi
Kalsi (Dehradun)
Sopara ( Thana District)
Pillar Edicts Delhi (originally located at Topara near Ambala)
Lauriya Araraj
Lauriya Nandangarh
Lumbini / Rummindei
Minor Rock and Minor Pillar They were many but had an unusually large concentration in Deccan.  

The geographical spread of the edicts essentially defines the extent of the vast empire over which Ashoka ruled.

What do these inscriptions contain

  • Explanation of Dhamma.
  • King’s efforts to propagate it.
  • Own assessment of his success in doing so.
  • His allegiance to Buddha’s teachings & a close relationship with Sangha.
  • They also offer insights into Ashoka’s idea about his role as king, his administration and various social & economic aspects.

Content of Rock Edicts

1st Major Rock Edict Prohibition of animal sacrifice.
2nd Major Rock Edict Related to measures of social welfare.
3rd Major Rock Edict Respecting one’s parents.
4th Major Rock Edict Impact of Dhamma, Non-violence towards animals.
5th Major Rock Edict Appointment of Dhamma-Mahamattas to spread Dhamma.
6th Major Rock Edict Welfare measures of efficient administration.
7th Major Rock Edict Peace, the balance of mind, faith and tolerance.
8th Major Rock Edict Details of Bodhi tree.
9th Major Rock Edict Ceremony of Dhamma.
10th Major Rock Edict Ashoka’s desire to popularize Dhamma.
11th Major Rock Edict Appraisal of Dhamma and Religious tolerance.
12th Major Rock Edict Promoting religion of different faith.
13th Major Rock Edict Kalinga’s destruction and mention of Greek rulers.
14th Major Rock Edict Nature of all other rock edicts.

Language and script used in Inscriptions

These inscriptions were written in

Prakrit Language and Brahmi Script Most of the scripts found in India.
Prakrit Language and Kharosthi Script North-western regions (like Manshera and Shahbazgarhi).
Aramaic Language and Greek Language (bilingual) Lampaka and Kandahar.
Aramaic Language and Aramaic Script Laghman and Taxila.

Mystery of name Devampiya & Priyadarsi

  • James Princep decoded Brahmi script but the mystery remained regarding the king to which these inscriptions were referring. Name Ashoka doesn’t appear in the inscriptions. Ashoka was mentioned as Devampiya (beloved of Gods) & Priyadarsi (pleasant to behold).
  • This mystery was solved when a minor edict at Masaki (Karnataka) was found containing the personal name of Ashoka along with the prefix Devampiya and Priyadarsi.

3 . Archaeological evidences

  • The remains of the palaces of Chandragupta have been excavated at  Kumrahar and Bulandibagh.
  • Number of caves of Mauryan period have been found in the ranges of Barabar Hills and Nagarjuna.
  • Stupas have been found at Banaras, Prayag, Kannauj etc. which were built during Mauryan period and give  us detailed information on the religious condition during the Mauryan period.
  • Middle & late Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) pottery belong to Mauryan period .
  • Statues like that of a woman at Besnagar and the elephant statue at Dhauli reveal an indigenous technique in sculpture during the Mauryan times.

4. Numismatic Evidence

  • ‘Punch marked coins’ were in circulation during the Mauryan period. They do not bear the name of any ruler nor carry any date. But they were issued by a central authority indicated by the uniformity of symbols used.
  • These punched marked coins have been found at Atranjikhera, Sanchi, Patna, Hastinapur, Taxila, Tripuri and Sarnath.
Mauryan Coins

Controversy about the origin of Mauryas

According to various sources, the origin of Mauryas was as follows

Buddhist books like Digha Nikaya, Mahavamsa and Divyavadana Belonged to the Kshatriya clan called Mauryas who ruled Pippalivana.
Parishishtaparvan Chandragupta was the son of the daughter of the chief of a village of peacock tamers.
Mudrarakshasa Refers Chandragupta to be belonging to a low caste.
Dundiraja (Commentator of Vishnu Purana) Chandragupta was the eldest son of Nanda king Sarvarthasiddhi by Mura, daughter of a hunter.
Vaishya Origin theory Following facts point towards the fact that Mauryas were Vaishyas
1. Name ending ‘Gupta’ in Chandragupta’s name.
2. Asoka’s marriage to the daughter of a merchant of Vidisha.

Kings of Mauryan Empire

1 . Chandragupta Maurya (324 -297 BCE)

  • Chandragupta Maurya had ruled during the period of 324-297 BCE.
  • Chandragupta, with the help of Chanakya, defeated the last Nanda King and captured his empire. In this, Chandragupta took the advantage of the disturbances caused by the invasion of Alexander and his sudden death in 323 BCE in Babylon. With the help of Kautilya, Chandragupta raised a large army
    1. First of all, Chandragupta launched campaigns against the Nandas.
    2. Later, he shifted his concentration against Indo-Greek Governors / Kshatrapas ruling over north-western India.
    3. In 305 BCE, he defeated the army of Seleucus Nikator who was ruling the eastern part of Alexander’s empire after his death. After the defeat of Seleucus, a treaty was signed between Chandragupta Maurya and Seleucus Nikator under which territories of Kandahar, Kabul, Herat and Baluchistan was given to Chandragupta. Chandragupta presented 500 elephants to Seleucus. Apart from this, a matrimonial alliance was also signed and Seleucus married his daughter to Chandragupta Maurya. An ambassador named Megasthenes was also sent to the court of Chandragupta Maurya.
    4. Chandragupta expanded his empire westward as far as Gujarat corroborated by the Junahgarh / Girnar inscription.
  • Detailed information about the rule of Chandragupta Maurya is obtained from Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya and is considered the real architect of the Mauryan Empire.
  • Megasthenes came in the court of Chandragupta Maurya as an ambassador of the Seleucus Nikator (an Indo-Greek King).
  • The “Sandrakottus” or “Sandrakoptus”, mentioned in the Greek literature has been identified as Chandragupta Maurya.
  • According to Plutarch, he had an army of 600,000.
  • According to Jaina tradition, Chandragupta Maurya abdicated his throne and retired to Shravanabelagola in Karnataka with his teacher Bhadrabahu (Jain ascetic) where he committed Sallekhana.

More about Chanakya

  • Chanakya = renowned teacher at Taxila University. 
  • He saw Chandragupta when he was passing by his village. He was attracted by his personality and trained him for 8 years for war against Greeks & overthrowing Dhanananda. Earlier, Dhanananda insulted Chanakya when he approached him for help against the Greeks.
  • Contemporary Jain and Buddhist texts hardly have mention Chanakya. But popular oral tradition ascribes the greatness of Chandragupta and his reign to the wisdom and genius of Chanakya.
  • Chanakya, also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta, was a Brahmin and a sworn adversary of the Nandas. He is credited with having devised the strategy for overthrowing the Nandas and helping Chandragupta to become the emperor of Magadha.
  • He is celebrated as the author of the Arthashastra, a treatise on political strategy and governance.
  • His intrigues and brilliant strategy to subvert the intended invasion of Magadha is the theme of the play, Mudrarakshasa.

2 . Bindusara (297 – 273 BCE)

  • He was the son of Chandragupta Maurya and ascended the throne after his father.
  • He is also known as ‘Amitraghata’ in Indian texts or ‘Amitrochates’ in Greek texts.
  • According to Tibetan historian named Taranath and Jain scholar named Hemachandra,  Chanakya continued as the minister of Bindusara after the death of Chandragupta Maurya as well.
  • During his reign, a revolt broke out in Taxila. Ashoka was sent to suppress the revolt and restore peace.
  • Greek Texts refer to his diplomatic relations with western kings.
    • Antiochus (king of Syria) sent an ambassador named Deimachus to his court.
    • Ptolemy II (ruler of Egypt) sent an ambassador named Dionysius.
    • Famous Story: Bindusara requested Antiochus (king of Syria) to buy & send some sweet wine, dried figs & sophist (philosopher specialised in debate & argumentation). He sends wine & dried figs & replied that Greek laws didn’t permit sophist to be bought.
  • He died in 273 BCE.

3. Ashoka (273 / 269 – 232 BCE)

  • There is a general agreement that  Ashoka was not the crown prince (Yuvaraja). He sat on the throne after winning 4 years-long war of succession following Bindusara’s death.
  • According to various texts,  Susima was the crown prince but Ashoka was supported by Ministers especially Radhagupta. Ashoka killed 99 brothers sparing only one named Tissa.
  • During Bindusara’s reign
    • He served as a Viceroy at Ujjain and also at Taxila.
    • He was sent to Taxila to quell a revolt.
    • In Ujjain, he married the daughter of the merchant of  Vidisha. Two children i.e. Mahinda and Sanghamita were born out of this union. His stay at Ujjain is described in the Sri Lankan chronicles as his son Mahinda introduced Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
  • Until hundred years ago in India, Ashoka was merely one of the many kings mentioned in the Mauryan dynastic list. In 1837, James Princep deciphered an inscription written in Brahmi but King was referred to as Devampiya Piyadassi (the beloved of the gods, pleasant to behold). We came to know about Ashoka in 1915, from Masaki Edict where King calls himself Devampiya Ashoka.

Kalinga War and its impact

  • Rock Edict XIII describes the horrors and miseries of the Kalinga war.
  • Although Ashoka’s predecessors brought Deccan and South under control Kalinga was still outside Mauryan control.
  • Kalinga had strategic importance as it controlled the routes to South India both by land and sea.
  • Kalinga war took place eight years after Ashoka’s consecration.
  • According to the inscription, one lakh people were slain in the war. These figures are likely to be exaggerated, nevertheless, war was very devastating. Although on the battlefield Asoka, was victorious, the inscription goes on to describe his remorse. The violence of the war completely changed the personality of Ashoka and he left the policy of aggression. The policy of conquest through the war was given up and replaced by a policy of conquest through Dharma/Dhamma i.e. Dhammavijaya.

Ashoka and Buddhism

  • Ashoka had close connection with Buddhism . Buddhist tradition considers him exemplary king & devout Upasaka .
  • His generosity as patron of Sangha is reflected in following things
    • He is credited with redistributing relics of Buddha & enshrining them in stupas in important towns .
    • 84,000 Stupas were built by him .
    • He undertook pilgrimage to all major places connected with Buddha’s life . 
  • Ashoka was ardent follower of Buddha’s teachings
    • He had position of influence vis-a-vis Sangha  .
    • In Bairat Edict , Ashoka greets Sangha & profess his deep faith in Buddha , Dhamma & Sangha  .
    • Schism Edict  warns members of the order against causing any division in the ranks .
    • Rummindei & Nigali Sagar inscriptions point towards fact that  Ashoka visited Lumbini & announced tax concessions .
  • Ashoka in Buddhist texts
    • Buddhist texts present Ashoka as vile & evil man until he came under influence of Buddha’s dhamma & represent Ashoka’s following of Buddhism as sudden transformative event .

Ashoka & 3rd Buddhist Council

  • According to Theravada Chronicles,  Ashoka convened great (3rd) Buddhist council in 250 BCE at Pataliputra presided by Moggaliputta Tissa in order to purge Sangha of certain unacceptable practices .
  • An important outcome of this Council was the decision to expand the reach of Buddhism to other parts of the region and to send missions to convert people to the religion. Buddhism thus became a proselytizing religion.
  • Buddhist Missions by Ashoka were sent to following places
Sri Lanka Mahinda and Sangamitta (son and daughter of Ashoka).It is believed that they took a branch of the original bodhi tree to Sri Lanka.
Suvarnabhumi (South Easy Asia) Under Sona
North West  
Central India  

Ashoka’s Dhamma

  • Contents of Dhamma were selected in a way that it should be acceptable to majority of people of different communities .
  • It stressed on 
    • Showing consideration towards slaves and servants .
    • Obedience to elders .
    • Generosity towards needy Brahmanas and Sramanas.
    • Tolerance of different religious sects to create harmony.
    • Non-violence was to be practised by giving up war and conquests and restraint on  killing of animals.
    • Welfare measures, like planting of trees, digging of wells, etc.
    • Attack on ceremonies and sacrifices practised regularly on various occasions like birth, marriage etc .
  • Officers known as Dhamma Mahamattah were instituted to implement & publicise various aspects of Dhamma.

Interpretations of Dhamma

  • Ashokan policy of Dhamma has been issue of  debate & controversy .
  • Buddhist records credit him with the propagation of Buddhism in India and abroad. But one cannot, however, lay the charge of being partisan against Ashoka. There are two strong arguments to prove that Ashoka, as an Emperor, did not favoured Buddhism at  expense of other  faiths.
    1. Creation of institution of  Dhammamahamattas – Had it been to promote Buddhism ,  organisation of Sangha could be used to propagate Dhamma.
    2. Careful study of Rock Edicts depicts that Ashoka wanted to promote tolerance & duty of  Dhammamahamattas included working for the Brahmanas and the Sramans.
  • Some historians believe that
    • Ashoka’s banning of sacrifices and the favour that he showed to the Buddhists led to a Brahmanical reaction. This in turn led to the decline of the Mauryan Empire (HC RAYCHAUDARY) .
    • Others believe that the stopping of wars and emphasis on non-violence crippled the military might of the Empire. This led to the collapse of the empire, after the death of Ashoka.
  • It has been shown by Romila Thapar that Ashoka’s Dhamma, apart from being a superb document of his essential humaneness was also an answer to the socio-political needs of the contemporary situation.
    • That it was not anti-Brahmanical is proved by the fact that respect for the Brahmanas and Sramans was an integral part of his Dhamma.
    • His emphasis on non-violence did not blind him to the needs of the state. Thus, addressing the forest tribes he warns them that although he hates to use coercion he may be required to resort to force if they continue to create trouble.

By the time Ashoka stopped war, the entire Indian sub-continent was under his control. In deep south he was on friendly terms with the Cholas and Pandyas. Sri Lanka was an admiring ally. Thus, Ashoka’s no to war came at a time when his empire had reached its natural boundaries.

4. Post Ashoka rulers

  • The subsequent history of the Mauryas under his successors is very inadequately known. This is because a state of disintegration seemed to have set in immediately after Ashoka’s death.
  • The tenth and the last of the Mauryas was Brihadratha who  was murdered by his general Pushyamitra and who ascended the throne in 187 BCE. The empire founded by him is known as Sunga Dynasty.
  • With Brihadratha’s death (187 BCE) this historic rule of the Mauryas came to an end within less than half a century of Ashoka’s death and 137 years since its foundation by Chandragupta Maurya.

Polity and Administration of Mauryan State

  • Mauryan state was an Empire. Empire is a political system which has  vast expanse of territories under it’s control, not all of which is culturally homogeneous . They are different from the Kingdoms in following ways  :-
    • Kingdoms  draw maximum profit from existing resources and do not make  attempt at restructuring access to resources.
    • Pressures on the Empire are many as administrating a large empire with vast administrative machinery requires huge financial resources . According to the Arthasastra, the salary of chief minister, the purohita and the army commander was 48,000 panas, and the soldiers received 500 panas. If we multiply this by the number of infantry and cavalry, we get an idea of the enormous resources needed to maintain the army and the administrative staff. Hence, Empires try to restructure economy in order to increase the revenue base of the state .
  • Mauryan Empire tried to increase their revenue base by 
    • Extension of agriculture 
    • Setting new cities
    • Promoting trade
  • Although they rarely succeed, Imperial Systems attempt to erase variation in favour of homogeneity . Ashoka’s dhamma was an attempt to bring homogeneity .

1 . Central Administration


  • Maurya Empire was a Monarchy with king as Supreme authority  .
  • He took all important decisions concerning the empire.
  • He was assisted by a council of ministers who acted as the king’s advisors.
  • King started to have  paternal attitude towards his subjects. In the Dhauli inscription Asoka states , “All men are my children and just as I desire for my children that they should obtain welfare and happiness both in this world and the next, the same do I desire for all men.”
  • By adoption of the title Devanampiya (beloved of the Gods) by Asoka; according to Romila Thapar,  “an attempt was made to emphasize the connection between kingship and divine power.”

Council of Ministers

  • Arthashastra & Ashokan inscriptions mention Council of Minister. Megasthenes also mentioned  SUMBOULAI .
  • Arthashastra quotes that it was impossible for King to rule single handedly (like Single Spoke cant turn  wheel) .
  • Primary role of Council of Minister was that of an advisory body. Final authority was vested with the King.
  • We do get references about 18 departments  of the central government in the Arthasastra. 

2. Regional Administration

  • After its territorial expansion , state established administrative control at the Provincial and Local Levels.

Provincial Administration

  • Each province was headed by – Kumara (Royal Prince) , who was King’s representative in Province .  Eg Ashoka was Kumara of Ujjain & Taxila  .
  • Kumara was assisted by Mahamatyas & a Council of Ministers.
  • From Asokan edicts –  names of four provincial capitals were
    • Tosali (in the east)
    • Ujjain (in the west)
    • Suvarnagiri (in the south)
    • Taxila (in the north)

District  Administration

  • Province was further divided to Districts .
  • Officials listed at the level of district during this period were
    • Pradeshta (overall incharge of district), 
    • Rajuka : Survey of lands (rajuka derived from rajju, meaning rope)
    • Yukta
  • King was in direct touch with these officers. In the 4th Pillar Edict -Ashoka grants to the Rajuka  “independent authority” to carry out some of his instructions in relation to public welfare.

Village Administration

  • Local people were involved in the Village Administration.
  • Village head was known as Gramani. He was assisted by Gram Sabha .
  • Apart from that, there were intermediaries between district and village administration . These were Gopa (administer 5-10 villages) and Sthanika (administers 800 villages)  .

3. City Administration

City Administration according to Megasthenes

  • Megasthenes has described administration in Palibothra (Patliputra)
  • According to Megasthenes, there was 30 membered city council  divided into six committees of 5 members each  to administer city. These were
    1. 1st committee looked after industry  and crafts
    2. 2nd Committee looked after  foreigners ( arranging food,stay & comfort,security, etc.)
    1. 3rd Committee looked after registration of births and deaths.
    1. 4th Committee looked after inspection of weights and measures .
    2. 5th Committee looked after inspection of  manufactured goods .
    3. 6th Committee collected taxes on goods sold at rate of 1/10th.

City Administration according to Arthashastra

  • No mention of such committees is found  in the Arthashastra . But reference of equivalent Officers in Arthashastra were present . Eg :
    • Work of 4th  committee  was performed by Pautavadhyaksa .
    • Collection of taxes (Sixth Committee) was performed by Sulkadhyaksha  .
  • According to Arthashastra
    • Head of the urban administration was Nagariaka.
    • He was assisted by two subordinate officials called Gopa and Sthanika.
  • Law enforcers in the city were called Rakshina .

4. Army

  • Retreat of Seleucus, descriptive account of army administration in Arthashastra and the violent Kalinga war   point towards a large and well organized military of Mauryas.
  • According to Pliny’s account  , Chandragupta’s army consisted of 9,000 elephants, 30,000 cavalry and 6,00,000 infantry.
  • According to Megasthenes 
    • There were 6 Branches of army – infantry, cavalry, elephants, chariots, transport & admiral of  fleet .
    • Each branch was looked after by a committee of 5 members.
  • Kautilya has referred to Chaturangabala (i.e. infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants) as the main components of the army –each under a commander . Eg
    • Rathadhyaksha headed chariots .
    • Hastyadhyaksha headed elephant force.

5. Espionage System

  • Espionage was important part of Mauryan Administration.
  • Main tasks of the spies recruited involved:
    • Keeping an eye over  ministers
    • Reporting on government officials
    • Collecting impressions regarding the feelings of citizens
    • Know the secrets of foreign rulers, etc.
  • Arthashastra  divided Spies (Gudhapurusha) into three type
Samsthan Positioned at one place
Sanchara Roamed about
Ubhayavetana Doubly Paid

6. Law & Justice

  • Arthasastra is full of codes listing punishments for various offences.
  • There were various kinds of courts to settle disputes at various levels.
Gramani Had judicial powers at village level .
Dharmasthiya Courts to decide civil cases .
Kantakasodhana Courts to decide criminal cases.
Kanhkmaba Courts which decided upon matters related to individuals and the state.
  • Punishment for crimes range from fines to mutilation of limbs to death.
  • Ashokan edicts mention that each 5th year king would despatch a gentle officer , neither fierce nor harsh on a tour to ensure that justice was being done  .

7. Revenue Administration

  • According to Arthashastra ,  different resources from where revenue flowed into the state treasury (Kosa) were rural areas, cities, roads , pastures , plantations, forests and mines.
  • Tax on agricultural produce constituted the most important source of revenue. Usually, the king was entitled to one-sixth of the produce.
  • Kosa/ Treasury was looked after by an official Sannidhata (Chief Accountant) .
  • The state was also empowered to impose taxes in case of emergency for increasing its earnings.
  • King had the right of granting remission of land revenue as Ashoka reduced the Bhaga of the village Lumbini to 1/8 and scrapped Bali altogether.

8. Public Works

State took keen interest in public works. Account  of Megasthenes and  Arthasastra corroborate this

  • Irrigation  : Tanks like Sudarshan Tadaga in Junahgarh .
  • Medical facilities were available to both men and animals.
  • State also helped its citizens during natural calamities like floods, famines, etc.
  • Laying down and repair of roads and opening of inns.

Society in Maurayan Empire

  • Arthashastra recommended 4 fold varna system in society but how far that was followed is debatable. Eg : Pushymitra Shunga , a Brahmin who overthrew Mauryan Empire was Commander in Chief of Mauryas .
  • Megasthenes divided Indian people into 7 strata  i.e. Philosophers, Farmers, Herdsmen & Hunter, Artisans & Traders, Soldiers, Overseers & King’s Counsellors . It seems Megasthenes’s own creation although it is possible to be modelled on Herodotus’s classification of Egyptian  society into similar 7 strata.
  • Untouchability
    • There was significant hardening of Brahmanical position on untouchability .
    • Well of Chandalas could only be used by them & none else .Chandalas  were known as Antavasayin (living at end) suggesting that they lived on margins of settlement .
  • Women
    • There reference of king’s women bodyguard in Arthashastra .
    • Women were also  employed by the state as spies and performers.
    • Women of the upper castes who had become widowed, deserted wives  or ageing prostitutes could get work from the state, such as spinning yarn .
    • Female ascetics were known, but were few and far between .
    • Kautilya in his Arthashastra argued that prostitutes should also be taxed  .
  • Surprisingly, there is no mention of either varna or jati in the Ashokan edicts, which may suggest that they were not yet so prominent as social categories. 
  • Tensions in Society
    • Ashoka’s emphatic plea for social harmony and repeated calls for equal respect towards brahmans and shramanas suggest that there were social tensions.

Economy during Mauryan Times

1. Agriculture

  • Mauryan State was producing substantial agriculture surplus because of use of iron  in agriculture started  and start of paddy cultivation in North India   .
  • The Greeks noted with wonder that two crops could be raised annually in India because of the fertility of the soil.
  • Due to growth in agriculture, cultivator  assumed  important role. Megasthenes in his seven classes mentions the farmers as the second class suggesting it was numerically large class .
  • Essential resources needed for Mauryan State could only be got from land revenue. Hence, Arthasastra is careful in designing efficient revenue system of the State.
Bhaga – King’s share of produce  .
Levied at the rate of 1/6th of the produce.
Bali – Tax on the area of land cultivated .
Udaka Bhaga – Water tax if irrigation facility of state is used
1/6 to 1/3 of produce
  • Lumbini(Rummindei)  Edict states that when Ashoka visited Lumbini i.e. birthplace of the Buddha, he exempted payment of Bali and reduced the payment of Bhaga to 1/8. Even Asoka’s great respect for the Buddha did not prompt the emperor to exempt the village totally from the payment of taxes.
  • State took steps to provide Irrigation . Eg:  Pushyagupta, governor of Chandragupta Maurya, built a dam in  Girnar (Saurashtra) known as Sudarshana tadaga (water tank).

2. Trade & Urban Economy

  • Mauryan state wanted to expand trade and commerce . For this, they established  new state founded walled  towns and markets .

Improved Transport

  • River transport was improved because forests around the Valleys were cleared .
  • There was an officer called Agronomoi whose function was to maintain Royal Road and put distance markers after every 10 Stadia (10 Stadia = 0.5 Mile)  . 

State Control on Trade

  • The sale of merchandise , in theory, was strictly supervised. Goods were required to be stamped (to distinguish between the old and the new) .
  • According to Megasthenes , tax was one-tenth of the sale proceeds and failure to pay this tax was punishable with death.
  • Arthashastra recommends  appointment of following officers related to Trade
    1. Panyadhyaksha : Superintendent of Trade to fix price of goods
    2. Pautavadyaksha : Superintendent of weights and measures
    3. Navadhyaksha : Superintendent of State boats
    4. Sulkadhyaksha : Superintendent of taxes , tolls and custom dues


  • According to Arthashastra, State enjoyed a monopoly in mines and trade in mineral products.
  • Arthasastra provides for a superintendent of mines called  Akara-dhyaksha   – to look for new mines & reopen old ones.

Causes of Decline of Mauryan Empire

Ashoka ruled for thirty-seven years and died in about 232 BCE . Subsequently, a political decline set in and the empire began to break up. The last of the Mauryas, Brihadratha, was assassinated during an inspection of the troops by the brahman Pushyamitra, the commander of the army. Pushyamitra founded the successor Shunga dynasty .

1 . Role of Ashoka

Debate 1Revolt of the brahmans because of his pro-Buddhist policy ( by HP Shastri)

  • But this can be challenged because
    • His general policy was not an active proselytizing in favour of Buddhism at expense of Brahmanism. 
    • Respect to both brahmans and shramanas was part of Ashoka’s Dhamma.
  • Buddhism’s more extensive spread happened in post Mauryan Period due to patrons in form  of Mercantile Community and not due to Ashoka.

Debate 2 : Pacific policy of Asoka (by HC Raychaudhary)

  • It is argued that his obsession with non-violence led to the emasculation of army,  laying the country open to invasion.
  • But Edicts prove that this was not the case. His open threat to Tribals to mend their ways otherwise they would be crushed & his advice to his sons and grandsons on the use of violence prove that army was still powerful .

However, a long reign marked by only one military campaign in the early years may have adversely affected the preparedness of the army, and this may have been a factor responsible for the success of the Greek invasions.

More probable reasons are to be found elsewhere.

2. Pressure on Mauryan Economy (By DD KAUSAMBI)

  • There was need for vast revenues to
    1. Maintain large army
    2. To finance the salaries of  upper levels of  bureaucracy
    3. Cost of establishing settlements on newly cleared land
  • This  strained the treasury. Debasement of silver coins in  later Mauryan period shows severe pressure on  economy and lack of resource to maintain the structure .

3. Structure of Mauryan Administration (By Romila Thapar)

  • Mauryan bureaucracy was centralized, with the ruler – or king – as the key figure towards whom loyalty was directed. A change of king meant a re-alignment of loyalty .
  • Recruitment was arbitrary, with local governors choosing their officers  hence, there was  possibility of particular social groups monopolizing administrative control in certain areas  .
  • Lack of representative institutions to stabilize public opinion . They used espionage to stabilise public opinion which must have created manifold tensions in the administration.

4. Invasions in North-West

  • After the demise of Ashoka, North-West saw invasion by Bactrian Greeks (because they were pushed by Parthians & Scythians) which destabilized the Empire  .

Absence of nationalism, the idea of loyalty to the state rather than to a particular king, and the lack of popular representative institutions and absence of Chinese-type examination system  in Maurya India  are not very helpful in explaining the decline of the Maurya empire.

All empires rely on mechanisms of integration and control over territory, resources, and people. These mechanisms include military force, administrative infrastructure, and ideology. In the case of the Mauryas, given the vast contours of the empire, all three must have been strained to their utmost. It was just a matter of time before the distant provinces broke away from the centre.

3 thoughts on “Mauryan Empire”

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