Maurya Empire (321 – 184 BC)


There are mainly two literally sources of the Mauryan period i.e.. Literary Sources & Archaeological Sources.

1.Literary Sources


  • Written by Kautilya or Chanakya, the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya.

  • Earliest book on Polity.

  • The manuscript of Arthasastra was first discovered by R. Shama Sastri in 1904.

  • Contains 15 books and 180 chapters but it can be divided into 3 parts

1.about the king and his council

2.about civil and criminal law and

3.about diplomacy and war.


  • Written by Visakadatta is a drama in Sanskrit.

  • Although written during the Gupta period, it describes how Chandragupta with the help of Kautilya ended the Nandas.

  • Also gives a picture on the socio-economic condition under the Mauryas.


  • Written in Greek by Magasthenes → ambassador of Seleucus Nicator.

  • Gives details about the Mauryan administration, administration of the capital city of Pataliputra and also the military organization.

  • Gives the account on contemporary social life is notable.

Other Literature

  • Even the Puranas and the Buddhist literature such as Jatakas provide information on the Mauryas.

  • The Ceylonese Chronicles Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa throw light on the role Ashoka in spreading Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

2.Archaeological Sources

Edicts of Ashoka

  • First deciphered by James Princep in 1837.

  • Written in Pali language & in some places Prakrit was used.

  • The Brahmi script was engaged for writing.

  • In the northwestern India Ashokan inscriptions were found in Karoshti script.

  • These Edicts of Ashoka deal with Ashoka’s Dhamma and also instructions given to his officials.

  • The XIII Rock Edict gives details about his war with Kalinga.

  • The Pillar Edict VII gives a summary of his efforts to promote the Dhamma within his kingdom.

Different views on origin of the Mauryas:

  • Brahmanical sources → describes Chandragupta Maurya as Shudra.

  • Buddhist sources → describes Chandragupta Maurya as Kshatriya & his region was full of peacocks (moriyas).

  • Greek sources → mentions that Sandrokottas (Greek name of Chandragupta Maurya) was born of humble origin.

  • Brahmanical sources → describes Chandragupta Maurya as Shudra.


Chandragupta Maurya (322 – 298 B.C.)

  • Founder of the Mauryan Empire.

  • Took advantage of the growing weakness and unpopularity of the Nandas in the last days of their rule.

  • At the young age of 25, captured Pataliputra from the last ruler of the Nanda dynasty, Dhana nanda.

  • Helped by Kautilya (Chanakya or Vishnugupta) prime minister of Maurya dynasty.

  • In 305 B.C., he marched against Seleucus Nicator, who was Alexander’s General controlling the northwestern India.

  • He defeated him and a treaty was signed. By this treaty, Seleucus Nicator given the trans-Indus territories → namely Aria, Arakosia and Gedrosia to the Mauryan Empire.

  • Seleucus gave his daughter Helen in marriage to the Chandragupta.

  • Chandragupta made a gift of 500 elephants to Seleucus.

  • Megasthenes (Indica’s author) was sent to the Mauryan court as Greek ambassador.

  • Chandragupta embraced Jainism towards the end of his life and then he went to Sravana Belgola, near Mysore along with Jain monks led by Bhadrabhagu.

Bindusara (298 – 273 B.C.)

  • Son of Chandragupta and known as Amitraghta (slayer of foes) by the Greek writers.

  • Conquered the Deccan up to Mysore.

  • Taranatha, the Tibetan monk states that Bindusara conquered 16 states comprising ‘the land between the two seas’.

  • The Sangam Tamil literature also confirms the Mauryan invasion of the far south.

  • Received Deimachus as ambassador from the Syrian king Antiochus I.

  • Wrote to Antiochus I asking for sweet wine, dried figs and a sophist.

  • Supported the Ajivikas, a religious sect.

  • Appointed his son Ashoka as the governor of Ujjain.

Ashoka the Great (273 – 232 B.C.)

  • Third and greatest of the Mauryan rulers.

  • Coronated four years after the death of his father, Bindusara (273 BC).

  • Buddhist traditions → ‘Chand Ashoka‘ or the fierce Ashoka owing to his many evil deeds.

  • Ceylonese Chronicles, Dipavamsa & Mahavamsa state that Ashoka captured power after killing his ninety nine brothers including the his elder brother Susima.

  • But according to Taranatha of Tibet, Ashoka killed only six of his brothers.

  • Most important event of Ashoka’s reign was his victorious war with Kalinga in 261 B.C.

  • From Rock Edict No. XIII, we learn that after Kalinga War (261 BC) Ashoka was thoroughly changed man.

  • Another important effect of the Kalinga war was that Ashoka embraced Buddhism under the Buddhist monk, Upagupta.

  • He also assumed the title of Priyadarshi (pleasing to look at) & Devanampriya (beloved of God).

  • In the Sarnath inscription, he adopted the third title → DharmAshoka.

Ashoka’s hand in spread of Buddhism:

  • Conversion to Buddhism was gradual and not immediate.

  • About 261 B.C. Ashoka became a Sakya Upasaka (lay disciple) and two and a half years later, a Bikshu (monk).

  • Appointed special officers called Dharma Mahamatras to speed up the progress of Dhamma.

  • In 241 B.C., he visited the birth place of Buddha, the Lumbini Garden, near Kapilavastu.

  • Also visited other holy places of Buddhism like Sarnath, Sravasti and Kusinagara.

  • He sent a mission to Sri Lanka under his son Mahendra and daughter Sangamitra to spread Buddhism.

  • Assembled the Third Buddhist Council at Pataliputra in 240 B.C.

mauryaAshoka’s teachings:

Although Ashoka embraced Buddhism and took efforts to spread Buddhism, his policy of Dhamma was a still broad concept. His principles of Dhamma were clearly stated in his Edicts.

Main features of Ashoka’s Dhamma as mentioned in his various Edicts:

  • Service to father and mother, practice of ahimsa, love of truth, reverence to teachers and good treatment of relatives.

  • Prohibition of animal sacrifices.

  • Efficient organization of administration in the direction of social welfare.

  • Humane treatment of servants by masters and prisoners by government officials.

  • Consideration and non-violence to animals and courtesy to relations and liberality to Brahmins.

  • Tolerance among all the religious sects.

  • Conquest through Dhamma instead of through war.

Estimate of Ashoka

  • Ashoka was “the greatest of kings” surpassing Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and other renowned Emperors of the world.

  • According to H.G. Wells “Amidst the tens and thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, the name of Ashoka shines and shines almost alone, a star”.

Later Mauryas

  • Ashoka’s death in 232 B.C. was followed by the division of the Mauryan Empire into two parts → western and eastern.

  • The western part was ruled by Kunala, son of Ashoka and the eastern part by Dasaratha, one of the grand sons of Ashoka.

  • Last Mauryan king was Brihatratha, who was assassinated by Pushyamitra Sunga.

Mauryan Administration

Central Government
  • Council of ministers called Mantriparishad assisted the king in administrative matters.

  • Consisted of Purohita, Mahamantri, Senapati and Yuvaraja.

  • Civil servants called Amatyas to look after the day-to-day administration. These officers were similar to the IAS officers of independent India.

  • Ashoka appointed Dhamma Mahamatras to supervise the spread of Dhamma.

  • Mauryan state had a well organized civil service.

Department of Revenue
  • Samharta, the chief of the Revenue Department, was in charge of the collection of all revenues of the empire.

  • Revenues came from land, irrigation, customs, shop tax, ferry tax, forests, mines and pastures, license fee from craftsmen, and fines collected in the law courts.

  • Land revenue was normally fixed as one sixth of the produce.

  • Main items of expenditure of the state related to king and his household, army, government servants, public works, poor relief, religion, etc.

Mauryan Army

  • Army was well organized & it was under the control of Senapati and alaries were paid in cash.

  • Kautilya refers to the salaries of different ranks of military officers.

  • According to Pliny, the Mauryan army consisted of 6,00,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 elephants & 8,000 chariots.

  • Addition to these 4 wings → Navy and Transport and Supply wings.

  • Each wing was under the control of Adyakshas.

Department of Commerce and Industry:
  • Officers called Adyakshas controlled the retail and wholesale prices of goods and tried to ensure their steady supply.

  • It also controlled weights and measures, levied custom duties and regulated foreign trade.

Mauryan Judicial departments
  • Kautilya mentions the existence of both civil and criminal courts.

  • Chief justice of the Supreme Court at the capital was called Dharmathikarin.

  • Subordinate courts were at the provincial capitals and districts under Amatyas.

Mauryan Census

  • Village officials were to number the people along with other details like their caste and occupation. They were also to count the animals in each house.

  • Census in the towns was taken by municipal officials to track the movement of population both foreign and native.

  • Data collected were cross checked by the spies.

  • Census appears to be a permanent institution in the Mauryan administration.

Administration of Mauryan Empire
  • Mauryan Empire was divided into four provinces with their capitals at Taxila, Ujjain, Suvarnagiri and Kalinga.

  • Provincial governors → Law and order and collection of taxes.

  • District administration was under the charge of Rajukas, whose position and functions are similar to modern collectors.

  • Rajukas assisted by Yuktas (subordinate officials).

  • Village administration was in the hands of Gramani and his official superior was called Gopa who was in charge of 10 to 15 villages.

Mauryan Art and Architecture
  • Before Ashoka monuments were mostly made of wood.

  • Use of stone started from the time of Ashoka.

  • His palace and monasteries and most of his stupas have vanished.

  • Only remaining stupa is at Sanchi.

Mauryan Pillars:

  • Their tops were capped with figures of animals like lion, elephant and bull.

  • Saranath pillar with four lions standing back to back is the most impressive.

  • Indian government adopted this capital with some changes as its state emblem.

Mauryan  Stupas

  • Best example is the famous Sanchi stupa with massive dimensions.

  • It was originally built with bricks but later expanded after the time of Ashoka.

  • According to Buddhist tradition, Ashoka built as good as 84,000 stupas.

  • Art of rock cutting also reached its zenith during Ashoka’s time. Seven rock cut sanctuaries lying about 25 miles north of Gaya.maurya

Causes for the Decline of the Mauryas:

  • Week successors of Ashoka
  • Hari Prasad Sastri claims that the revolt of Pushyamitra was the result of Brahamical reaction against the pro-Buddhist policies of Ashoka and pro-Jaina policies of his successors.
  • Militant Brahmanical reactions to Ashoka’s religious policy which was closer to Buddhism.
  • Ashoka’s peaceful policy purposing at Dharamvijay instead of Digvijay.
  • Financial situation outstanding to an enormous expenditure on the Army and large bureaucracy.
  • Highly centralized character of Mauryan government

2 thoughts on “Maurya Empire (321 – 184 BC)

  • September 29, 2016 at 8:35 pm

    Well explained ..!!

  • November 6, 2016 at 5:20 pm

    Thank you !!

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