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Administration and Economy Of Mauryan Empire

What were the factors that contributed to the decline of Mauryas?

The commanders of Ashoka were given control of large swaths of lands. There appears to have been a division of land as well, with the eastern portions under Dasharatha's control and the western portions under Kunala's. Scholars have proposed a variety of theories to explain this loss of control.

It is sometimes claimed that Ashoka's pro-Buddhist and pro-Jaina policies alienated the Brahmins, prompting Pushyamitra, the founder of the Shunga dynasty, to revolt.

The empire's decline in military strength is attributed to Ashoka's emphasis on peace, according to the second theory. However, both of these arguments are oversimplified.

  • The Pushyamitra's ascension to the throne cannot be interpreted as a Brahmana revolt. As a result, while reviewing the army, Brahadratha could easily be assassinated.

  • The second proposition is insensitive to the policy's peaceful nature. Nothing in the Ashokan tablets suggests Ashoka's army was recaptured or that he followed a strict non-violence policy.

Ashoka's Message

The message of Ashoka was one of reconciliation rather than vengeance. He does, however, have the potential to be a harsh ruler, as evidenced by his aggressive posture toward border people and forest tribes.

The death penalty was also kept in place.

Species Extinction: In order to prevent species extinction, the focus was on the number of animals slaughtered for food. There is little evidence that animal slaughter eliminated tolls and fines entirely.

Economy: Some historians argue that the Mauryan economy was severely strained during the later kings' reigns, necessitating the imposition of high taxes. Once again, archaeological evidence contradicts this skewed viewpoint. Excavations at sites like Hastinapura and Sisupalgarh have revealed that the material quality has improved.

In the late Mauryan period, there was a noticeable improvement in the craftsmanship of goods such as beads, achieving a specific goal, and so on, and town and house planning became widespread.

As a result, the Mauryan empire's decline cannot be traced to a single cause, such as military inactivity, brahmana hostility, or economic pressure. It must be found within the structure and governance of the state. The Mauryan empire, which was centred in Magadha, was vast and encompassed a wide range of cultural groups. Both cavemen and forest tribes are mentioned in the inscriptions.

The state generated revenue through taxes on a variety of resources, including agriculture, commerce, mineral deposits, and pastoral groups, during the Mauryan period. To maintain the state's administrative structure, these resources would need to be increased and expanded.

The Mauryas, unfortunately, made no attempt to increase revenue or reorganise and restructure their resources. They were also willing to wreak havoc on any surplus that remained. The Mauryan empire fell apart due to this fundamental problem with the Mauryan economy, which was compounded by other factors.


When the Arthashastra is compared to the inscriptions, it reveals information about the administrative structure. The king was the centre of the structure, with the power to make laws.

The primary function of the king as a ruler, according to ancient philosophy, was to maintain social order. A ministerial council, or Mantri-Parishad, was formed to provide advice to the King as needed. This might have been a check on the democratic process.

Minister: However, because the ministers were initially appointed by the king, the council's authority was limited.

The Arthashastra emphasises three characteristics of a minister:

  1. Birth

  2. Honesty,

  3. Intelligence.

Ministers were almost always from one of the two upper castes.

Accountant: The accountant and the chief collector were two crucial positions in the central government. The king's property and state revenue, both monetary and non-monetary, were in the hands of the treasurer.

Chief Collector: On the other hand, the chief collector was in charge of revenue collection throughout the kingdom.

An exhaustive list of revenue streams can be found in the Arthashastra. Towns, land mines, forests, and highways all generate revenue, as do tolls, taxes, and licences, as well as manufactured goods, related merchandise, and precious stones.

Official salaries and public works were the two main categories for which funds were allocated by the Treasury.

The Arthashastra contains a summary of official wages, so we have some idea of relative wages. Road construction and maintenance, as well as large irrigation projects like the Sudarshana Lake dam, would have accounted for the majority of public works spending.

The cost of maintaining a large standing army was also significant.

The empire was divided into four regions, each of which was ruled by a prince or a member of the royal family. Kumara and Aryaputra are their names in the inscription. There were four kingdoms under Ashoka.

  • The northern province's capital is Taxila.

  • Ujjain is the capital of the Western Province.

  • The capital of the Eastern province is Tosali.

  • The southern province is known as Suvarnagiri.

Certain officers, such as mahamattas, who served on a five-year rotation, were appointed by the ruler. Because many officials are referred to as mahamatta, it is unclear what their exact mission is. Ashoka established a new type of mahamatta, known as the Dhamma-mahamatta, in the fourteenth year of his reign.

Provinces were divided into districts for administrative purposes, with each district governed by a group of officials. One of these was the rajuka, who was in charge of land surveying and classification.

In addition, Ashoka's IVth Pillar Inscription is specifically addressed to the rajukas.

They are given advice on personal communication as well as remuneration and punishment rules. The village was a small risk unit, with the gopa and the sthanika as the top officials. These officials, who appear to have had direct responsibility for revenue collection and were chosen from the local community, appear to have had direct responsibility for revenue collection.

The roles of gopa and sthanika are not listed as paid positions, but it has been suggested that they were allowed to keep a portion of the revenue instead of receiving a salary.

Clan leaders acted as intermediaries between the Mauryan state and the clans, according to evidence from the region's records, particularly those from the southern region. Following the collapse of the Maurya Empire, these rulers declared themselves Mahabhojos and Maharathis, respectively.

The Arthashstra's central tenet is that the ruler must always be accessible to his subjects. It also stated that the king must maintain a sophisticated network of spies to keep him informed about his commanders' performance. Although Ashoka's spy system was not as sophisticated as Kautilya had imagined, his rulings show that he did consider this suggestion. He specifies in the Girnar Rock Ruling that his reporters have access to him no matter where he is, whether he is dining, relaxing, or in the park.

The emperor appears to have relied heavily on the reporters for information.

Those in charge of the city's administration and those in charge of the border peoples are also mentioned in Ashokan inscriptions. The nagaraka, or city supervisor, is mentioned in the Arthashastra as being in charge of maintaining law and order in the city. Megasthenes, on the other hand, describes a more complicated structure in which officials are divided into multiple committees.

While such a system may have existed in Pataliputra's capital, it is highly unlikely that it did so elsewhere. The importance Ashoka placed on cultivating loyalty and mutual trust among the people who lived in border areas is demonstrated by the formation of a distinct group of officials to govern the border people. Throughout his edicts, Ashoka mentions establishing medical care centres for men and animals in other countries.

Dhamma mahamattas, or religious officials, were also present. It had the task of keeping track of donations to religious organisations as one of its responsibilities. However, we will go into greater detail about this in the following section. Due to the empire's rapid expansion, the early Maurya kings placed a high value on the army. Both Kautilya and Magasthenes go into great detail about the army's management. According to all accounts, the state had a large standing army that was well paid and cared for.

Finally, the contrast between the upper and lower levels of the Mauryan organisational structure must be discussed. The concentration was concentrated and uniform at the top. The king appointed the king to the highest positions in the kingdom, all of which were well-paid.

The situation was quite different on a more localised level, with significantly more distributed power. Lower-level salary cuts were critical, as many of those affected would have been local officials.

The Social and Economic Situation During the Mauryan Period

Societal divisions

Scholars writing about Mauryan civilization frequently cite Megasthenes and his classification of Indian society into seven categories: philosophers, cultivators, herders, artisans and traders, warriors, overseers, and counsellors. The method by which Megasthenes arrived at the number seven is a point of contention.

If he was talking about varnas, he only mentioned four: brahmin, Kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. When the term "jati" or occupational groups is used instead, the number rises to well over seven.

Megasthenes spent the majority of his time in Kandahar, but he did pay a visit to Chandragupta's court. He was an expert in his field.

As a result, it's understandable that when Megasthenes set out to write the history of another exotic country, India, he quickly accepted the social structure's seven tiers.

The seven-fold division was also recognised by two other authors, Diodorus Siculus and Strabo. As a result, rather than "caste," Megasthenes' term "simple" should be translated as "social division."

The survival of society depended on these divisions. Another myth is that India has never experienced famine, which is based on a Megasthenes remark. Mauryan inscriptions at Sohgaura and Mahasthan, on the other hand, show that this was not the case.

Famines wreaked havoc on communities, and the government-aided relief efforts significantly.

Slaves or Dasas: Megasthenes noted that India had no slaves, which Arian and Strabo both confirmed. Buddhist literature, on the other hand, divides dasar into three categories: those born into a DASA's line, those purchased or given as gifts, and those born into a DASA's home. Similarly, the Arthashastra teaches that an arya may work as a dasa for a limited time in the event of a natural disaster or a financial emergency.

The dasa, on the other hand, was not considered a slave in the Greek system, which explains Megasthenes' opposition to Indian slavery. The dasa was used for domestic purposes rather than manufacturing, according to Buddhist literature. They were paid according to the type of work they did.

According to the Arthashastra, a dasa was to be paid one and a half pana per month and provided with food for himself and his family. Domestic slavery was common during the Mauryan period, but it was clearly not the economic foundation of the Mauryan state.

An Agriculture-Based Economy

Agriculture was the Mauryas' primary source of income, though trading became increasingly important. Cultivators appear to have made up the majority of the population, and agricultural taxes were the primary source of revenue.

The Arthashastra emphasises the acquisition of new agricultural land as a means of increasing profitability. The movement of peasants away from densely populated areas was encouraged.

According to one of the Ashokan edicts, captives were transferred after the Kalinga war. This appears to be the only time these have been used to establish new towns. Other sources show no evidence that the government went to such lengths.

Land Possession

Land ownership is a significant issue. No single form of land ownership could have ruled an empire the size of the Mauryan Empire, it is self-evident. In various parts of the empire, the gana sangha community ownership system persisted. There are also mentions of so-called sita lands, which are state-owned lands.

These were either directly worked by hired labourers or leased to individual farmers under the supervision of the director of agriculture. In the latter case, the government demanded a percentage of output as payment.

Private landowners were also obligated to pay king-imposed taxes. A brief section on land sales can be found in the Arthashastra. The highest bidder won a parcel of land that was auctioned off. The town appears to have owned the majority of the village grounds.


The lush vegetation of the Fertile Plains lists a slew of taxes. This category includes Bali, Shulka, and other similar items. The exact amount of the tax is unknown, as different sources report different figures. Megasthenes claims that a quarter of the output was taxed. This is most likely the figure seen in the fertile area around Pataliputra.

The majority of Sanskrit writings, on the other hand, indicate that the king may claim no more than one-sixth of the product.

Given the regional variation in soil fertility, it's unlikely that a uniform tax was imposed across the country. The Arthashastra also specifies that the tax rate will vary depending on the type of irrigation system, ranging from one-fifth to one-third.

The only Ashokan order that specifies the exact amount of tax imposed is the Rumindei inscription. Lumbini was exempt from taxes, according to legend, and only one-eighth of the output was required to be paid. Lumbini's tax was probably lower because it was further north and less productive than the Ganga plain. All cultivable land was meticulously defined and its boundaries established in order to calculate revenue.


In addition, the Arthashastra directs the state to assist in the establishment of irrigation systems.

The Mauryas, on the other hand, are only known for one large-scale irrigation project: the Girnar dam on the Sudarshan lake. The remaining references are too small-scale irrigation projects, such as wells, that were established with the help of the community.


Commerce, which developed into a primary source of income in the post-Mauryan period, was the other source of money. The director of commerce and the director of tolls and customs taxes are described in detail in the Arthashastra.

The state-imposed strict regulations on product sales, intending to levy a toll equal to one-fifth of the product's value. Merchant profit-sharing was established, and excessive profiteering was outlawed. Only authorised locations could sell products, and only authorised customs buildings at the city's borders could inspect imported goods.

Imported goods were stamped at the toll gates, while locally manufactured goods were stamped at the manufacturing facility. The quality standard was strictly enforced, and traders who broke it were subjected to harsh penalties.

Economic organisation is depicted in Buddhist literature in a very different light. It speaks of far less governmental authority and gives merchants and guilds significant roles. The book covers a wide range of business transactions, from barter to guild-based deals.

As a result, the state appears to have copyright over commodities that are directly related to it, such as diamonds, precious stones, and horses.

Routes of Trade

During the Mauryan period, trade routes followed major highways or navigable waterways. The royal route, which connected Taxila and Pataliputra, was one of them. This road followed the Ganga to Tamralipti, a port in eastern India. Ships left here for Sri Lanka and Suvarnabhumi, which at the time was connected to Burma. Pataliputra was connected to the west coast port of Bharuch via Ujjain.

Buddhist literature recounts Vijaya's journey from Sopara, also on the west coast, to become Sri Lanka's first king. Journeys between Bharuch and Baveru or Babylon are mentioned. Access to the Deccan and the south was still limited and developing slowly in comparison to these northern routes.

An interesting discussion of the relative merits and demerits of various routes can be found in the Arthashatra. The maritime route was less expensive than the land route, but it could not be as well protected. Because the former passed through multiple ports, water routes along coastlines were more profitable than ocean routes.

The most secure route, of course, was one that followed a navigable river. Kautilya preferred the southern route to the others because it passed through mineral-rich areas and allowed him to collect gold and diamonds.


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