Mauryan Empire

Chandragupta Maurya established the Mauryan Empire in 321 B.C

They are considered to be the first historical dynasty in India.

The Maurya dynasty witnessed political unity for the first time in India

The most important literary sources are Arthasastra of Kautilya and Indica of Megasthenes.

Arthasastra is a text on statecraft, which gives advice to kings as to how to rule his land and discharge his duties.

Indica is an account left by a Greek ambassador Megasthenes sent by Seleucus to the court of Chandragupta Maurya.

Two Ceylonese Buddhist texts called Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa and a play called Mudrarakshas, written by Visakhadatta, are other valuable sourcebooks.


Chandragupta Maurya (321–297 BC)

He was the founder of the Mauryan Empire.

Chandragupta Maurya inherited a large army of the Nandas.

He was born in Pataliputra.

Chanakya took him to Taxila and enrolled him in the university to educate him.

Chanakya also known as Kautilya, was his teacher and later became his Prime
Minister and advisor.

By 317 BC, Chandragupta conquered Macedonian territories (satrapies) in the Northwest of the Indian subcontinent (modern-day Pakistan) and defeated generals of Alexander The Great, who were settled in Gandhara (Kamboja Kingdom), today’s Afghanistan.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, the Eastern territories controlled by the Macedonians fell into the hands of General Seleucus, including the region of Punjab, which today is part of Northern India and Eastern Pakistan.

Next, Chandragupta extended the borders of his empire towards Persia after his conflict with Seleucus, circa 305 BC.

Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life.

Chandragupta gave up his throne and became an ascetic under the influence of Jain saint Bhadrabahu.

Chandragupta Maurya’s son Bindusara succeeded him to the throne.


Chandragupta’s’ son Bindusara succeded him.

Bindusara conquered Deccan up to Mysore.

He was supported by Ashoka, who was then in charge of  Ujjain.

He promoted trade and cultural interaction with the Greeks.


Ashoka (269–232BC)

Ashoka (269–232BC) succeeded his father Bindusara.

Ashoka fought a major war with Kalinga around 261 BC in which a large number of people were killed or imprisoned.

After this, he spent the rest of his life in promoting and spreading the policy of Dhamma.

However, his successors could not keep the empire integrated and it completely disappeared after the last king Brihadaratha was assassinated by his military chief Pushyamitra Sunga around 187 BC.

He is praised not so much for his militaristic activity as for his policy of Dhamma.

Basic attributes of Dhamma included compassion (daya), charity (dana), truthfulness, purity, and gentleness.

He also appointed a special type of officials called dhamma mahamatras. Their main function was to oversee and supervise the peaceful function of the principles of Dhamma.

Decline of the Mauryan Empire 

Mauryas ruled over a large part of the Indian subcontinent.

After the death of Ashoka, the empire got divided into two parts.

While king Dasaratha controlled the eastern part of the empire, the western part was under Samprati.

The successors of Ashoka could not maintain the balance between the center and the various provincial governors of the empire, and at the first possible opportunity, they made an effort to separate themselves from the center.

Mauryan Empire had a positive effect on spreading agriculture and iron technology in the different parts of the subcontinent.

It facilitated the rise of several regional kingdoms in the post-Mauryan period.

Administration of the Mauryan Empire 

King played the chief role.

He was assisted by a council of ministers but the king himself took all final decisions regarding revenue, law and order, war or any other matter related to administration.

He was expected to be agile and accessible to his officials at all times.

In one of his rock edicts, Ashoka declared that even common people could meet him any time.

He also declared that all his subjects were like his children and he desired their happiness in this and the other world.

The king appointed a council of ministers called mantriparishad.

There were various other officials, who helped him perform his duties. These officials were known as amatyas, mahamatras and adhayakshas.

Among all the executive officials samaharta was the most important. His responsibility was to supervise the collection of taxes from all types of sources.

The Mauryas also employed a large number of spies.

An officer called antahpala was responsible for the security of frontier forts.

Various civil, as well as criminal courts, functioned at the local level right from village to province.

Apart from Magadh with its capital at Patliputra, the Mauryan Empire was divided into four other provinces with capitals at

[1] Taxila (northwestern India)

[2] Suvarnagiri (southern India)

[3] Tosali (eastern India)

[4] Ujjain (western India)

These were put under the control of royal princes called kumara.


The Mauryas developed a well-organized system of municipal administration.

It was divided into several wards, and each ward into several groups of households like the corresponding divisions of the country into districts
and villages.

The village was the smallest unit of administration.

Nagaraka (Head of the town)

Sthanika (Head of the ward)

Gopa (Head of some villages)

Gramika (Head of a village)


The Mauryas developed a system of courts from the local level to the Central level.

The central court was held in the capital. It was presided over by the king or the chief justice and included four or five judges who were chosen for their character and expertise in law.

Economy, Society, and Art in the Mauryan Empire 


The Mauryas maintained a huge standing army and employed a large number of state officials.

These soldiers and officials were paid in cash.

The mainstay of the economy in this period was agriculture.

The Mauryan state founded new agricultural settlements to bring virgin land under cultivation.

People from overpopulated areas and prisoners of war were brought to these new settlements to work on the fields.

These villages belonged to the king and were looked after by government officials called sitadhyaksha or superintendent of agriculture.

The importance of irrigation was fully realized and peasants had to pay more tax on irrigated land.

The bali or land tax was the main item of revenue, levied at the rate of one-sixth of the produce.

Peasants also had to pay other taxes like pindakara, hiranya, bhaga, bhoga etc.

Trade and urban economy received great impetus under the Mauryas and influenced almost all parts of the empire.

The main centers of textile manufacturing were Varanasi, Mathura, Bengal, Gandhara, and Ujjain.

Mining and metallurgy were another important economic activity.

Trade was conducted through land and river routes.

Patliputra was also connected through various trade routes with all parts of the subcontinent.

The main center of trade in the northwest was Taxila, which was further connected with central Asian markets.

Tamralipti (Tamluk in West Bengal) in the east and Broach in the west were important seaports.

Craft activities were also a major source of revenue for the state.

Artisans living in towns had to pay taxes either in cash or kind or work free for the king.

Traders and artisans were organized in associations called srenis or guilds.

The Mauryas were responsible for the introduction of iron on a large scale in different parts of the subcontinent.

They maintained a monopoly overproduction of iron, which was in great demand by the army, industry, and agriculture. It was done through the official called loha-adyaksha.



The varna system continued to exist.

Brahmanas and kshatriyas dominated the social hierarchy.

There was an improvement in the social status of vaisyas or trading communities and Shudras.

Now Shudras could be involved in agricultural and artisanal activities.

This period also saw an increase in the number of untouchables.



Ashokan pillars at Rampurva, Lauriya Nandangarh, and Sarnath present excellent examples of stone sculptures which developed in this period.

All these pillars are circular and monolithic and are made of sandstone found at Chunar, near Mirzapur in U.P.

Lomasa Risi cave in the Barabara hills near Gaya belongs to the Mauryan period.

Among several stone and terracotta sculptures of this period, a polished stone sculpture of a chauri-bearing female known as Didarganj Yakshini is most famous.

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