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Part E6: THE MAURYAN EMPIRE (323-184 BC)

After Alexander’s invasion, the northwestern region in India faced various foreign attacks which caused unrest in these states. The Nandas, who were ruling at that time, were not popular due to their severe taxation regimes imposed on agriculture. These conditions gave opportunities to other authorities to take over the rule.

The Mauryas’ regime lasted from 322 to 185 BC. With the help of Kautilya/Chanakya, Chandragupta Maurya laid the foundation of this vast empire.


• He was the first ruler who unified the entire country into one political unit.

• He captured Pataliputra from Dhana Nanda, who was the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty.

• He was assisted by Kautilya, also known as Vishnugupta or Chanakya.

• In 305 BC, he defeated Seleucus Nicator, who was controlling the northwestern part of India that was under Greek control.

• He established a vast empire, extending from Afghanistan to Assam, and, from Kashmir to Karnataka (except Kalinga).

• Later in life, Chandragupta embraced Jainism and stepped down from the throne for his son Bindusara to take over. Thereafter, he went to Sravanabelagola, Karnataka, along with a few Jain monks who were led by Bhadrabahu, and starved himself to death.

BINDUSARA (298-273 BC)

• Some scholars believe that Bindusara conquered the Deccan areas up to Mysore.

• He supported the Ajivika sect.

• He appointed his elder son Susima as governor of Taxila, and, Ashoka as the governor of Ujjain.

ASHOKA (273-232 BC)

• He served as the governor of Ujjain and also took care of Taxila during his father Bindusara’s reign.

• He was the first ruler in Indian history who left his records engraved on stones.

• His inscriptions are found in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal.

• His name is found on the Minor Rock Edicts at one place in Madhya Pradesh and at three places in Karnataka.

• At every other inscription found on ancient highways, he is referred to as ‘Devanampiya’ or ‘Piyadasi’.

• After the Kalinga War, Ashoka embraced Buddhism.


Kautilya’s Arthashastra talks about the duties of government superintendents (adhyakshas). These adhyakshas formed a secretariat, which was divided into several departments. These departments and their superintendents are mentioned below:

1. Intelligence

• According to the Arthashastra, the espionage system in the Mauryan administration was of two types – sansthana (the stationary) and sanchari (the wandering one).

• These spies acted as eyes and ears for the king and kept him informed about the whereabouts of the bureaucracy of the State.

2. Army

• The commander-in-chief, known as ‘senapati’, was the overall in-charge of the Mauryan army and was appointed by the king.

• Salaries in Mauryan army were paid in cash.

• Their army included six lakh infantry, about 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 war elephants, and 8,000 chariots.

• The Mauryans had a war council divided into six sub-councils – the infantry, the cavalry, the elephant forces, the chariots, the navy, and commiserate.

• The Mauryans made innovations in the field of navy, transport, and supply wings.

3. Transport

• Transport was handled by a separate department of road.

• Facilities for travellers like inns or restrooms, drinking water by means of wells and canals were created along the roads. Trees on both sides of the road were planted.

4. Revenue

• The chief of the revenue department was known as ‘samharta’, he was in-charge of the revenue collections.

• The revenues were collected from land, irrigation, customs, shops, ferries, forests, mines, and pastures.

• License fee from craftsmen, and fines were collected in the law courts.

• Land revenue was fixed at ‘one-sixth’ of the produce.

• Majority of this revenue went to expenditure related to the household of the king, army, government servants, poor relief, public works, etc.

5. Agriculture:

• The chief of the agriculture department was known as ‘sitadhyaksha’.

• There was a separate irrigation department which looked after a network of canals. These canals provided water for irrigation according to land requirements.


• Just 50 years after Ashoka’s death, the Mauryan Empire fell apart. This has been attributed to his weak successors who could not keep the vast empire intact.

• The blame is often put on the pacifist policies of Ashoka which might have caused a decline in the empire’s military powers.

• Some scholars argue that Ashoka’s welfare policies must have been very extravagant, and that might have caused a downfall of treasury, and, hence, led to a weakened economy.


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