Mauryan Empire- Ancient History Notes For Upsc

Mauryan Empire (321-185 BCE): Rulers, Map, & Administration [Complete Notes for UPSC Exams]

Under the Nanda dynasty rule (343BC to 321BC), Magadha was a formidable power during Alexander’s invasion (326BC). But the Magadh reached its peak during the Mauryan empire. First time in the history of India, a large part of the Indian subcontinent, extending up to the far northwest, was under a single paramount power, the Mauryan empire.

Kings under the Mauryan empire

  • Chandragupta Maurya(321BC-298BC) – Chandragupta Maurya founded the empire in 321BC after defeating the last Nanda, Dhanananda. It is believed Kautilya(Chanakya or Vishnugupta), who was his minister, played a significant role in his rise in this event.
    • He then started expanding his empire to the west. He defeated Seleucus Nikator, Alexander’s ambassador in the Indus valley, who had declared himself independent, establishing the Seleucid Empire.
    • Chandragupta extended control as far northwest as Afghanistan and Baluchistan, taking away a big territory from the Seleucid empire.
    • Later in his rule, he turned to Jainism and abdicated his throne. He went to Sravanbelagola in Mysore, Karnataka, with the famous Jaina Monk Bhadrabahu.
  • Bindusara(298BC-273BC)- Greek historian Athenacus calls him Amitrochates(origin Sanskrit word Amitraghata meaning slayer of foes)
    • During his time, the Mauryan empire was marred by strong revolts. To suppress revolts in the west, Ashoka was made the governor of Taxila during his reign. After being successful there, he was made the governor of Ujjain.
    • It is believed that Bindusara had expanded and consolidated the Mauryan Empire in the South.
    • He was a great patron of the Ajivika sect.
    • After his death, a bloody war of succession broke out between his sons, in which Ashoka came out to be victorious.
  • Ashoka(273BC-232BC) proclaimed himself king after four years of civil war(273BC-269BC).
    • He inherited a large part of the subcontinent as an empire.
    • In 260BC, in the 8th year of his rule, he conquered Kalinga (present-day Odisha), which had remained out of Magadha’s control since the fall of Nandas. After a series of bloody battles, Ashoka came out victorious in 361BCE. It is deemed one of the bloodiest wars in Indian history, killing Lakhs of people.
    • The Kalinga war became a watershed moment in the Ashokan reign, after which he gave up the policy of aggression.
  • He had two policies-
    • Berighosa (the drum of war) – means conquest by force or war. With this strategy, he conquered Kalinga.
    • Dhammaghosa (the drum of Dhamma) – It means conquest by the spread of dharma. After the Kalinga war, Asoka renounced Berighosa and followed Dhammaghosa.
    • According to Mahavamsa(a Sri Lankan chronicle), Ashoka was converted to Buddhism by Nigrodha. Whereas, according to the Buddhist text Ashokavadana, he was converted to Buddhism by a Buddhist monk Upagupta, after which he adopted the pacifist policy. However, none of the Ashokan Edicts mentions either Nigrodha or Upagupta.


  • The successors of Ashoka(232BC-184BC) – According to Puranas, the Mauryan empire lasted for 137 years since its establishment.
    • After the death of Ashoka, the empire soon got divided into parts.
    • The Western part – was ruled by Kunal (son of Ashoka) and then by his son Samprati.
    • The Eastern part – was ruled by Dasaratha (grandson of Ashoka).
    • The last ruler Brihadratha was assassinated by Pushyamitra Sunga in 184BC in Patliputra.

Mauryan Administration

An elaborate administration was required to govern such a vast empire. Arthashastra, Greek accounts and Ashokan inscriptions give an idea about its administration.

Arthshastra presents a Saptanga theory of State, where the State is organised into seven elements  

  1. Swami (the king)
  2. Amatya (the ministers)
  3. Janapada (the territory and its people, i.e., subjects)
  4. Durga (a fortified capital)
  5. Kosha (the treasury)
  6. Danda (justice or force)
  7. Mitra (ally)

Central Administration

The central administration can be classified under the following categories:

  1. The King: Arthashastra considers the king as the focal point of the administration. The minister (Amatyas) was appointed and removed by him. He defended the treasury and the people, looked after the welfare of the people, punished criminals, and influenced the people (Praja) through his morality. It is a monistic view on sovereignty where the king’s decision could override even shastric injunctions if a difference arises
  2. Mantri Parisad or the council of ministers: The Arthashastra and Ashokan edicts mention a Parishad. Major Rock Edict III mentions the Parishad, which was expected to ensure the new administrative measures. However, the primary role of the council was advisory. The king’s decision was final in all respects.
  3. Army – All accounts indicate that the Mauryas had a large army. The king was the supreme commander of the army.
    • According to Pliny, it consisted of 6 lakh strong infantry, 30,000 cavalries, 9000 elephants and 8000 chariots.
    • The soldiers were paid in cash.
    • Kautilya refers to a standing army with four main divisions –
Divisions Commanding officer
Infantry Patyadhyaksha
Cavalry Ashvadhyaksha
Chariots Rathadhyaksha
Elephants Hastyadhakshya
  • Megasthenes mentions a unified military with six Subcommittees for coordinating military activities:-
  • The first Committee looked after the navy,
  • the second managed transport and provisions.
  • the third was responsible for foot soldiers,
  • the fourth for horses,
  • the fifth for chariots, and
  • the sixth for elephants.
  • Espionage network: Arthashastra mentions a well-knit espionage system to keep an eye on the ministers, and government officials, collect impressions regarding the citizens’ feelings and know the secrets of foreign kings. Some of the officials of the network were: –
Mahamatya-pasarpa Head of the department.
Gudhapurushas  Secret agents.
Sansthan Stationary secret agents
Sancharas Touring secret agents.

Students, householders, and poisonous girls (Vishkanya) were employed as agents.

  • Law and justice A well-organised legal system was in place. There were two kinds of courts: –
  Court Judge
1. Civil court Dharmasthiyas Vyavaharikas
2. Criminal Kantakasodhanas Pradeshta
  1. The king was the supreme judge and upholder of dharma.
  2. Ashoka’s inscriptions lay the judicial responsibilities in Mahamatas. The edicts urge them to be impartial and ensure that people are not imprisoned or punished without sufficient evidence.
  3. Punishments ranged from small fines to mutilation of limbs and capital punishment.
  4. Public welfare:
    • The State took the Welfare initiatives such as irrigation work, road construction, medicine and medical treatment, looking after orphans and older women, and protection against natural calamities like famines and floods.
    • Sohgaura (Gorakhpur) copper plate and Mahasthana (Bogara, Bangladesh) inscription deal with the relief measures adopted during a famine.
    • Junagadh Rudradaman’s inscription (2nd century CE) tells that Sudarshana Lake was constructed during Chandragupta’s time.

Provincial administration

  • The Mauryan empire was divided into five provinces, which provinces were placed under the direct governance of a prince (Kumara) or a royal family member.
Provinces Capital
Uttarapatha(North) Taxila
Avantipatha (West) Ujjayini
Dakshinapatha (South) Survarnagiri
Magadha (Centre) Patliputra
Kalinga (East) Tosali
  • Provincial capitals, Taxila and Ujjayini, were situated on crucial long-distance trade routes. Suvarnagiri (literally, the golden mountain) was possibly important for tapping the gold mines of Karnataka.

District and Village Level Administration

According to the Arthashastra, the smallest unit of administration was the village. At the district level, officials were: –

Pradeshika They were overall in charge of the District. He measured land, collected taxes and maintained law and order.
Rajukas They were equivalent to a modern-dayDistrict Magistrate. Their work included clerical, and accounting works. They also had judicial as well as revenue functions. The 4th pillar Edict mentions that Ashoka granted ‘independent authority to the Rajukas to carry out specific responsibilities related to public welfare.
Yukatas – He was a junior officer giving secretarial assistance to the other two.
Gopa and Sthanika – Acted as intermediaries between the District and village-level administrative units. Their work included demarcating village boundaries, maintaining land records, recording people’s income and expenditure, and recording taxes, revenues and fines.

Despite the presence of such officials, the villages enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy in administering their affairs.

City administration

  • There are several references to city administration about Pataliputra by Megasthenes.
  • Nagarika – was the head of the urban administration. He was assisted by two subordinate officials – Gopa and Sthanika.
  • Bandhanagaradhyaksha- looked after the jail.
  • Rakshi (the police) – looked after the security of the people.
  • Lohadhyaksha and Sauvarnika – were officials who looked after goods manufactured in the centres.
  • Gramika – were the locals – appointed as officials. They were village heads.
  • A City Council appears to have existed, which was divided into six sub-councils or committees with five members each. These were:
  • Industry and crafts Committee
  • Foreign visitors Committee
  • Registration of births and deaths committee headed by Gopa.
  • Trade and commerce committee to look after weights and measures, markets etc., headed by Panyadhyaksha.
  • A committee inspected manufactured goods and their sale.
  • A committee for Sales Tax collection headed by Sulkahyaksha.

Mauryan Taxation system

  • Kautilya’s Arthshastra mentions various types of taxes:
Tax Source
Bhaga Land Revenue
Shulka Customs duty
Pravesya Import tax
Vartani Road cess
Parsvam Surcharges
Parigha Monopoly tax
Prakriya Royalty
Pranaya A gift of affection
  • The tax(Bhaga) collected from peasants varied from 1/4 to 1/6 of the produce. Samaharta, in Mauryan times,was the official in charge of the revenue collection.
  • The State also provided irrigation facilities (Setubandha) and charged water tax (1/5 to 1/3).
  • A Toll was also levied on commodities brought to town for sale and collected at the gate. We also find mention of a tax on Monopoly businesses in the Mauryan times.
  • The taxes could be paid in many modes – cash, kind or labour.
Tax Mode of Payment
Hiranya or Kara Tax paid in cash
Pratikara Taxes in kind
Vishti Forced labour paid by slaves and Shudras (free labour).
  • The State enjoyed a monopoly in mining, forest, salt, sale of liquor, manufacture of arms etc. Further, the Civil servants sold state goods (Rajapanya) that were either collected in tax or produced by the State.
  • Moreover, the military was allowed to make various taxation demands from the villages. –
Village Type Description
Pariharaka Exempted from taxation
Ayudhiya Villages that supplied soldiers. The soldiers provided to the royal army were known as Senabhakta.
Kupya Villages that paid taxes on grain, cattle, gold or raw metal. The tax paid by them was known as Pindikara.

Explore additional significant articles on Ancient Indian History listed in the table below:

Stone Age Harappan Civilisation
Vedic Period The Mahajanapadas
Understanding Mauryan Society Ashoka Edicts
Post Mauryan Age Megalith and Sangam Age

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