The Maurya Empire (ca 323-185 B.C.E.) was the first major historical Indian empire, and the largest one created by an Indian dynasty. The empire arose as a result of state consolidation in northern India, which led to one state, Magadha, in today’s Bihar, dominating the Ganges plain. After Alexander the Great’s invasion of northwest India, a man named Chandragupta Maurya took over Magadha and created the Maurya Empire. [Source: Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The National Interest, May 8, 2015]

Under the rule of the Mauryas, the political and cultural life of North India was unified under a central authority. The Maurya empire reached its zenith under Ashoka (273 and 232 B.C.)., who conquered most of the Indian subcontinent and then made Buddhism the state religion. Ashoka and his descendants created the largest ever Indian empire—stretching from present-day Myanmar (Burma) to Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Alexander the Great successors were absorbed by the Maurya dynasty under Chandragupta (r. c.321–c.297 B.C.), from his capital at Pataliputra (now Patna), the Mauryans subdued most of northern India and what is now Bangladesh. According to the writings of the Greek diplomat Megasthenes, Pataliputra, the capital—surrounded by a wooden wall pierced by 64 gates and 570 towers—rivaled the splendors of contemporaneous Persian sites such as Susa and Ecbatana.

According to the University of Washington: Chandragupta “took control away from the Nanda dynasty that had ruled Magadha (modern southern Bihar in northern India) from their capital in Pataliputra (modern Patna). According to Indian literary traditions, Chandragupta Maurya became ruler with the aid of Kautilya (or Canakya), a Brahmin minister traditionally credited with the authorship of the Arthasastra, a Sanskrit manual on statecraft. Eyewitness accounts of political, social, economic, and religious life in northern India during the Mauryan period are preserved in the fragmentary records of Megasthenes, a Seleucid ambassador to the Mauryans. When Chandragupta Maurya relinquished control to Bindusara around 297-8 B.C., his dominion reached from the Ganges-Yamuna valley to the northwestern frontiers of the Indian subcontinent. Bindusara further extended the boundaries of the Mauryan empire to the Deccan peninsula of southern India before dying in 272 B.C.. [Source: University of Washington, Simpson Center for the Humanities,]

“The empire was initially very successful both internally and in terms of foreign policy. Many of its policies were set out by Chanakya, Chandragupta’s minister, who wrote a book advocating a strong, centralized, authoritarian state, The Arthashastra. After a treaty with Alexander’s generals, the empire acquired territory in Afghanistan and Iran. By the time of Chandragupta’s grandson’s reign, the empire included most of South Asia except the southernmost parts of it. This grandson, Ashoka, is famous for having embraced Buddhism due to remorse after his bloody conquest of Kalinga (today’s Orissa) around 260 B.C.E. This elevated the nascent religion.

Important dates in the Mauryan Empire::
Mauryan Empire c. 324–185 B.C.
Chandragupta Maurya rules 324–298 B.C.
Greek ambassador Megasthenes sent to Mauryan Empire: c. 300 B.C.
Bindusara (son of Chandragupta) rules 297-272 B.C..
Ashoka (son of Bindusara) rules 269–233 B.C.
Battle of Kalinga: 261 B.C.:
Suyasas (son of Ashoka) rules 232-224 B.C.
DaSaratha (Bandhupalita,son of Suyasas) rules 224-216 B.C.
Samprati (Indrapalita, son of Suyasas) rules 216-207 B.C.

India After Alexander the Great

Although Indian accounts to a large extent ignored Alexander the Great's Indus campaign in 326 B.C., Greek writers recorded their impressions of the general conditions prevailing in South Asia during this period. Thus, the year 326 B.C. provides the first clear and historically verifiable date in Indian history. A two-way cultural fusion between several Indo-Greek elements — especially in art, architecture, and coinage — occurred in the next several hundred years. [Source: Library of Congress]

Alexander left behind agents in order to control the territories that he had overrun and to maintain the alliance with Poros who quickly abused their authority. With the treaty broken thus, Poros joined the cause of Chandragupta (Sandrakottos) Maurya. Together they overthrew the remaining Macedonians and lay the foundation for what would become one of the largest empires to ever exist in India. By the time Seleucid I Nikator made his own attempt to annex India in 305 B.C., the Mauryan Empire of Chandragupta encompassed most of modern Pakistan and India north of the Vindhya mountain range.

The Mauryan Empire was able to claim parts of Pakistan that even the British were unable to claim. The deciding battle took place in the Indus Valley in 305 B.C., with Chandragupta facing off against Selecucus, one of Alexander’s generals and the founder of the Seleucid dynasty in Iran. After Alexander went back to Babylon in 324 B.C.,Chandragupta was able to overthrow the old Aryan kingdom of Nanda under the powerful Nanda king Magdha in 323 - 322 B.C. He formed a big new empire over all of northern India and into Afghanistan. When people asked him how he had done it, he said (according to Greek historians) that he got the idea from Alexander. Chandragupta conquered the Indus valley back from the Greeks and as part of the peace treaty he married the daughter of Seleucus, who had succeeded Alexander. [Source: Glorious India]

In the centuries that followed Alexander the Great incursions, India was attacked and occupied by waves of invaders from India, Persia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. Sometimes activities far from India often had a bearing it on it. For example when the horseman tribe Yeuhchi were pushed out of Xinjiang in western China it began moving southward and pushed the Scythians from the Aral Sea area,. The Scythians in turn moved into the Indus Valley and pushed as far east as Delhi around 75 B.C. They conquered the Bactria at Gandhara but in turn were defeated by another group of tribesmen, the Parthains form east of the Caspian Sea. The Parthians endured into the 1st century A.D. They were driven out by the Kushans, cousin of the Yeuhchi.

Forging Together of the Maurya Empire

“The expansion of two kingdoms in the northeast laid the groundwork for the emergence of the Mauryan dynasty. According to to PBS “In 320 B.C., the Nanda dynasty was overthrown by an officer in its army, Chandragupta Maurya (c. 320-298 B.C.), and thus began the Mauryan Empire. By around 300 B.C., Chandragupta's empire included India south of the Hindu Kush and most of northern India as far south as the Narmada River. Writings of a Greek ambassador, Megasthenes, provide insights into the wealth and splendor of the Mauryan capital at Pataliputra (Patna), India's caste system, and the king, who Megasthenes wrote was constantly vigilant, fearing attempts on his life. A book about statecraft, Arthasastra, written in part by Chandragupta's head minister (additions were added in later centuries), discusses practical advice for rulers about how to run a kingdom and provides a window into Mauryan bureaucracy. Legends about Chandragupta are many and claim his family was related to the Buddha, that he met Alexander the Great, and that he resigned his kingship to become a Jain monk. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

By 303 B.C., Chandragupta Maurya (known to the Greeks as Sandracotta) had gained control of an immense area ranging from Bengal in the east to Afghanistan in the west and as far south as the Narmada River. Much of his success is attributed to his prime minister and mentor, Kautilya (also known as Chanakya), author of the Arthashastra, a cold-blooded treatise on the acquisition and maintenance of power. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art]

His son, Bindusara, extended the empire into central and parts of southern India. The third Mauryan emperor, Ashoka (r. ca. 273–232 B.C.), is one of the most famous rulers in Indian history. His conversion to and support of Buddhism is often likened to the impact of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great's acceptance of Christianity in 313 A.D. Beginning in 254 B.C., Ashoka had monumental edicts on Buddhism carved into rocks and caves throughout his empire. One records his sending of religious envoys—with no apparent results—to the Greek rulers of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene, and Epirus. Thirteen years later, he issued seven additional edicts carved into strategically placed polished sandstone pillars. One of the best preserved, at Lauriya Nandagarh in Bihar, stands thirty-two feet high and is capped by a seated lion. Ashoka is also credited with building 84,000 stupas to enshrine the relics of the Buddha and commemorate key events in the life of Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.


Chandragupta, who ruled from 324 to 301 B.C., was the architect the Mauryan Empire (326-184 B.C.), whose capital was Pataliputra, near modern-day Patna, in Bihar. Legend states that Chandragupta's success was due in large measure to his adviser Kautilya, the Brahman author of the Arthashastra (Science of Material Gain), a textbook that outlined governmental administration and political strategy. There was a highly centralized and hierarchical government with a large staff, which regulated tax collection, trade and commerce, industrial arts, mining, vital statistics, welfare of foreigners, maintenance of public places including markets and temples, and prostitutes. A large standing army and a well-developed espionage system were maintained. The empire was divided into provinces, districts, and villages governed by a host of centrally appointed local officials, who replicated the functions of the central administration. Chandragupta's grandson was Ashoka. Chandragupta ended his reign by converting to Jainism. According to Jain sources he joined a group of monks and took asceticism to such an extreme that he intentionally starved himself to death.[Source: Library of Congress]

In 320 B.C., the Nanda dynasty was overthrown by Chandragupta Maurya, then an officer in the Nanda army.Traditions differ regarding the antecedents of Chandragupta. One account represents him as the son of the last Nanda monarch from his Sudra concubine, Mura by name, from which was derived the surname Maurya. Another makes Chandragupta a scion of the famous Moriya clan, a branch of the Sakyas of Pall works, and thus the second part of the name (Maurya) appears to have been a tribal appellative. Further, certain mediaeval inscriptions and the Divyavadana affirm that he was a Ksatriya, although it is probable, as the Greek writer Justin deposes, Chandragupta was born in “humble life.” This expression would suggest that he was not a prince but a mere commoner without any direct title to the crown of Magadha. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

According to PBS: By the end of the century, Chandragupta's empire ranged from the Himalayas to the Deccan plateau in Southern India and united the Indus and Gangetic valleys under a central administration that would thrive for 140 years. Megasthenes, the Greek ambassador to Chandragupta's court, marveled at the wealth and splendor of the Mauryan capital at Pataliputra (Patna), and his portrait of the king reveals a masterful and suspicious ruler who was constantly vigilant, fearing attempts on his life. A manual about statecraft, Arthasastra, written in part by Chandragupta's head minister, Kautilya (other authors made subsequent additions in later centuries), is a revealing study of Mauryan bureaucracy. The book, which is often compared to Machiavelli's The Prince, discusses practical advice for rulers about how to run a kingdom, including ways to cultivate spies and become popular in conquered territories. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

“Legends of Chandragupta's life abound; some claim his family was related to the Buddha while others say that he met Alexander the Great and was imprisoned for offending him. Most versions of his death recount that Chandragupta abdicated his throne to become a Jain monk and fasted until he died. After Chandragupta's death, his son Bindasara and grandson Ashoka the Great increased the empire's power and consolidated its lands

Rise of Chandragupta Maurya

Northern India was in a state of ferment about the beginning of the last quarter of the fourth century B.C. In Magadha the Nanda dynasty was tottering because of its base origin and the tyranny, avariciousness, and financial extortions of Dhanananda; and in the Punjab the people, divided as they were, smarted under the blows of Alexander the Great. So the political situation afforded excellent opportunities for bold spirits, and Chandragupta tried his fortune by riding on the crest of the popular wave of discontent. He seems to have served at first in the Nanda army as a general or Sendpati. But somehow he fell out with his master, and raised the standard of revolt with the active support, and under the guidance, of that “Michiavellian Brahman” named Visnugupta or Canakya, who cherished a grudge against the Nanda ruler for some petty breach of social etiquette. The attempt miscarried and both of them had to flee for their life.

According to the Mahavamia-tikap the story runs that while concealed in an old woman’s hut Chandragupta overheard her scolding a child, who in the act of eating had burnt its fingers by beginning with the middle of a cake and not with its corners. Chandragupta took lesson from this conversation, and accordingly transferred the scene of his activities to the North-west. It is alleged that he sought an interview with Alexander, when he was still in the Punjab perhaps with a view to inducing him to advance against the Nanda king. But the boldness of his speech offended “Alexandrum,” and so Chandragupta had to run away for safety. With the invader’s departure, the latter again emerged from his obscurity and addressed himself to the task of organising the tribes of the Punjab, which were not yet quite reconciled to the Greek yoke, as would appear from the assassination of Philip, Satrap of the north-western provinces, soon after Alexander had left India.

The precariousness of Greek authority is further evident from the fact that when he received advices of this incident, he could do no more than ask his Indian friends, Poros and Ambhi, to carry on the administration with Eudamos to exercise general supervision over them. The premature death of Alexander in June, 323 B.C., spurred on the ambitions of Chandragupta, and within a short time he succeeded in subverting the Greek garrisons, although Eudamos somehow managed to hold his charge until 317 B.C., when he quitted India to participate in the struggle between Eumenes and Antigonos.


Chandragupta started the Maurya Empire by defeating the Nandas.The first Magadha dynasty was overthrown by the usurper Mahapadna, founder of the Nanda dynasty, son of a low-caste woman. He established his capital in Pataliputra (eastern Bihar) at the time that Alexander was campaigning in the Indus river valley (327-324). The Nandas ruled Magadha between 364 B.C. and 324 B.C. Dhanananda was the last of the Nanda Kings. Magadha had become a very powerful kingdom by that time. It had expanded upto the Punjab in the West. Chandragupta Maurya, an ambitious young man, attacked and conquered Magadha. That was the end of the Nanda rule.

In the history of India, the Nanda period is considered to be important from many points of view. The Nanda kings had set up a good administrative system necessary to run the huge empire. This system continued even during the Maurya period. The Nanda Kings had a huge four-fold army of two lakh infantry, twenty thousand cavalry, two thousand chariots and three thousand elephants. The Nandas introduced the stem of standard weights and measures. The Nanda Kings were lovers of art and literature. They provided patronage to many scholars. The 'well-known grammarian Panini belongs to this period.

Mahapadma was followed by his eight sons, of whom the last was the contemporary of Alexander. He is called Dhanananda in Buddhist literature, whereas the Greeks mention the name Agrammes or Xandrames (Augrasainya ?). He maintained, according to Curtius, a stupendous army, consisting of 200,000 foot, 20,000 horse, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants, and was reputed to be the possessor of immense riches. But Agrammes or Dhanananda was avaricious, irreligious (adhdrmika), and of tyrannical disposition, and this, along with his base ancestry, made him extremely unpopular among his subjects. Indeed, it was represented to Alexander by a chief named Phegelis

Chandragupta and the Founding of the Mauryan Empire

The Nanda King, Dhanananda, had by his tyrannical ways created many enemies, and one of these, a proud and fiery man of the high Brahmin class whom he had thoughtlessly insulted in Court, was to soon enough cause his ruin. This was Chanakya, who, under the pseudonym Kautilya, later wrote the famous political book 'Arthashastra'. An unforgiving opponent, he had vowed not to tie his hair in the customary Brahminical top-knot until he had avenged his insult. This didn't particularly worry Dhanananda? what could a single Brahmin do anyway? He exiled him from Pataliputra and considered it the end of the matter. [Source: Glorious India]

Travelling in exile through the Vindya mountains afterwards, Chanakya met Chandragupta Maurya, a young man who too had deep personal grudges against the Nandas. Chandragupta Maurya's background is obscure. He was either the son of a Nanda prince and a maid-servant called Mura, or came from the Moriya Tribe of Peacock-tamers; the last might explain why the Peacock later on became his principal emblem. Anyway, whatever his origin, Chandragupta's spirited personality impressed Chanakya and he decided that he would make a far better King than the oppressive and debauched Dhanananda.

Together they set about provoking the people of Magadha against Dhanananda and, as there happened to be many amongst the populace that Dhanananda had offended in some way, it was not long before they had managed to amass a considerable force. The new Mauryan Army was still numerically inferior to that of Dhanananda, but, under its inspired leaders, lacked neither in courage nor persistence. Which was just as well as success came only after many severe setbacks — and also apparently after Chanakya overheard a mother telling her child to eat his hot meal from the sides inwards. Taking hint, the Mauryan Army stopped trying to seize Pataliputra and began attacking first the outlying regions of Magadha instead. The tide turned in their favor now. By 321 B.C. Chandragupta had succeeded the Nandas and the long reign of the Mauryans had begun.

Chandragupta’s Defeat of the Nandas and Early Conquests

Having driven away the Yavanas beyond the Indus,Chandragupta collected a strong force to try conclusions with the Nandas of Magadha. According to the Mudraraksasa, Chandragupta’s chief ally was Parvataka, who has sometimes been identified with Poros. The drama gives us some idea of the complicated intrigues and conflicts of the various parties; but all accounts, Pauranic, Buddhist, or Jain, agree that Chandragupta was able to rout the Nanda army completely. The overthrow of the Yavana power and the defeat of the Nandas may be presumed to have been brought about within two or three years of Alexander’s death, and so we may place the accession of Chandragupta in the year 321 B.C., a date in accord with the Ceylonese evidence also, according to which, as shown above, the Sasunaga dynasty ended in 343 B.C., and the Nandas ruled for 22 years only. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Chandragupta had inherited a vast army from his predecessors, but he further raised its strength to 600,000 infantry, 30,000 horse, 9,000 elephants, besides about 8,000 chariots. This formidable force was efficiently maintained by a war-office, consisting of thirty members, divided into six boards of five each.

Unfortunately, we do not get definite details of Chandragupta’s campaigns. The Greek writers, Plutarch and Justin, represent him as having overrun and obtained possession of the whole of India. It is no doubt an exaggeration, if taken literally, but there is ample evidence to show that besides Magadha and the Punjab Chandragupta’s jurisdiction extended to distant regions of India. The inclusion of Saurastra is proved by the Junagadh rock inscription of Rudradaman, which refers to Chandragupta’s irrigational projects there and the appointment of a Kastriya or governor named Pusyagupta Vaisya. The Tamil writers, Mamulanar and Paranar, even allude to the Mauryan invasion of the Far South up to the Podiyil Hill in the district of Tinnevelly. Jain tradition and certain late inscriptions further testify to Chandragupta’s connection with North Mysore. Thus, it appears that the conquest of a large part of India is to be ascribed to him.

Chandragupta Battles the Greek Seleucids

In the years following the death of Alexander, there was a scramble for power among his generals, and in this clash of arms Seleucus Nicator ultimately triumphed. By 305 B.C., he found his position so secure in western Asia that he thought of emulating the exploits of Alexander and of recovering the Indian territories, which had practically been abandoned in the second partition at Triparadeisos in 321 B.C. The situation in India had, however, vastly changed since Alexander’s invasion. There ruled now a monarch, whose genius had built up a mighty empire, and he was not unfamiliar with the Greek technique of warfare too.

Alexander left behind agents in order to control the territories that he had overrun and to maintain the alliance with Poros who quickly abused their authority. With the treaty broken thus, Poros joined the cause of Chandragupta. Together they overthrew the remaining Macedonians and lay the foundation for what would become one of the largest empires to ever exist in India. By the time the Greek General Seleukos I Nicator made his own attempt to annex India in 305 B.C., the Mauryan Empire of Chandragupta encompassed most of modern Pakistan and India north of the Vindhya mountain range.

Seleucus I Nicator had inherited both Alexander's Asian holdings and his Empire-building dreams. He met Chandragupta in battle somewhere in Gandhara. The extant text unfortunately does not make it clear whether Seleucus Nicator was defeated in a fight with Chandragupta, or the combatants merely made a display of their forces and did not actually engage in battle. A call had already come from the Western Greek empire, and Seleucus was anxious to get back home and reckon with his rival Antigonos in the Middle East. As part of the treaty made between Seleucus Nicator and Chandragupta, Seleucus ceded authority over the eastern satrapies of Aria (Herat), Arachosia (Kandahar), Gedrosia (Baluchistan) and the Paropanisadai (the Kabul Valley). The limits of the Mauryan empire were thus extended right up to the Hindu Kush in present-day Afghanistan — - “the scientific frontier of Lidia.” Chandragupta gave Seleucus a gift of 500 war elephants. These animals were instrumental in the defeat of Antigonos Monophthalmos in 301 B.C. Chandragupta also received the hand of Helen, a daughter of Seleucus. The kings parted on good terms with Seleucus maintaining an ambassador named Megasthanes at the Mauryan court in Pataliputra. Megasthenes’s fascinating account of his tenure, 'Indika', has survived in fragments down the centuries.[Source: Library of Congress *, Glorious India]

The Greeks were eventually driven out by Chandragupta. Although Indian accounts to a large extent ignored Alexander the Great's Indus campaign in 326 B.C., Greek writers recorded their impressions of the general conditions prevailing in South Asia during this period. Thus, the year 326 B.C. provides the first clear and historically verifiable date in Indian history. A two-way cultural fusion between several Indo-Greek elements — - especially in art, architecture, and coinage — occurred in the next several hundred years. *

Kautilya and Megasthenes

Megasthenes and Kautilya are the two most important authors from the Maurya period. Their writings throw a flood of light on the people, government and institutions of India under Chandragupta Maurya. The Indika of Megasthenes is now lost, but happily it is still preserved in the form of quotations by later writers.[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Kautilya, India's earliest known political philosopher, was an adviser to the rulers of the Mauryan Dynasty. Kautilya or Canakya, is reputed to have been the minister of Chandragupta. His famous essay “The Arthasastra” is a comprehensive compendium on polity and statecraft. It presents his ideas concerning the ways in which a ruler should gain power and maintain his authority. The following passage discusses the necessary characteristics of a king which included the specific values of efficiency, diligence, energy, compassion, and concern for the security and welfare of the state. [Internet Archive, from CCNY] “Megasthenes was a Greek ambassador sent, in about 300 B.C., to the court of Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Empire. Megasthenes represented Seleucus Nicator(lived 358-281 B.C.), ruler of the eastern part of the Hellenistic Greek empire after Alexander the Great's death. According to to PBS Megasthenes' account of his visit (which survives only in fragments) has provided scholars with an understanding of the nature of Mauryan rule under Chandragupta. Megasthenes described the Indian caste system, the absolute rule of the Mauryan king and the sophisticated bureaucracy that had been developed to enforce this rule. He also discussed the standing army that he says comprised 60,000 professional soldiers. Megasthenes' accounts of more mundane Indian produce such as sugarcane and cotton plants drew disbelief among his readers back in Greece who could not believe in plants that produced "sugar syrup" and "wool." [Source: PBS, The Story of India,]

Mauryan Government

At the head of the administration was the king, who was the supreme and final authority in all matters, military, judicial, executive, and legislative. He led in war, and deliberated over plans of offence and defence with his Sendpati or Commander-in-chief. He received petitions from his subjects and meted out prompt justice. He made high appointments, looked into the state-finances, granted audience to envoys, and collected secret information from spies. Lastly, he issued “Sasanas” or orders for the guidance of the people. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The king was assisted in the discharge of his duties by a Mantri-Parisad. It was an advisory body of Ministers (Mantris or Sacivas), whose devotion to duty, integrity and wisdom had been fully tested. The various branches of administration were controlled and supervised by other high officials, Amatyas, Mahamatras, and Adhyaksas, mentioned in the Arthadastra. The traditional list of eighteen Tirthas or officers consisted of the following : Mantrin (Minister), Purohita (Priest), Sendpati (Commander-in-chief), Yuvaraja (Crown-prince), Dauvdrika (Door-keeper), Antarveiika (Officer in charge of the harem), Praiatri (Inspector-General of prisons), Sarna- harta (Collector-General), Sannidhata (In charge of Treasury), Pradestri (Divisional Commissioner), Nayaka (City constable), Paura (Governor of the capital), Vyavaharika (Officer in charge of transactions or Chief Judge), Karmantika (Officer in charge of mines or manufactories), Mantriparisadadhyaksa (President of the Council), Dandapala (Police Chief), Durgapdla (Officer in charge of Home Defences), Antapdla (FrontierDefence Officer). Among the various Adhyaksas or Superintendents were those of Kosa (Treasury), Akara (mines) Loha (metal), Laksana (mint). Lava pa (salt), Suvarna (gold), Kostbagdra (store-house), Panya (royal trade), K/tpya (forest-produce), Ayudhagara (Armoury), Pautava (weights and measures of capacity), Mana (measurement of space and time), S ulka (tolls), Sutra (spinning and weaving). Slid (cultivation of Crownlands), Sura (intoxicating liquor). Sum (slaughterhouses), Mudra (passports), Vi vita (pastures), Dyuta (gambling), Bandhandgara (jails), Gait (cattle) Nau (shipping), Pattana (ports), Ganika (courtesans), besides those of the army, trade (Sams/bd), and religious institutions (Dcvatd).

The empire being vast, it was divided info a number of provinces for administrative convenience. The home-provinces were under the immediate control of the king, and, as we know from the inscriptions of Ashoka, the important provinces were governed by Kumaras or princes of the blood royal. Taxila, ToSali (Dhaull), Suvarnagiri (Songir), and Ujjain were such seats of viceroyalties. Besides, there were feudatory chiefs, who acknowledged the suzerainty of the Emperor, and rendered him military assistance in times of necessity. The bureaucracy was responsible for running the machinery of government, and its actions and movements were closely watched by overseers and spies (caras). This system of espionage and counter-checks must have prevented harassment of the people in outlying parts, and kept the king posted with every kind of information. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Megasthenes gives us a detailed account of the municipal administration of Pataliputra only, but it appears reasonable to infer that other great towns of the empire must have been similarly governed. We learn that the local affairs were under a commission of six boards, each consisting of five members. According to Vincent Smith, these boards were “an official development of the ordinary non-official pancayat.” [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

1) The first board was in charge of everything pertaining to industrial arts. Besides enforcing the use of good material and fixing of proper wages, artisans were its special concern. Anybody disabling a craftsman was sentenced to death by the state. 2) The second board looked to the movements and needs of the foreigners. They were provided lodgings and, when necessary, medical aid also. In case of death, their remains were interred, and their belongings were handed over to the claimants. The existence ’ of this board shows that there must have been a fairly large foreign population in the capital. 3) The third board was responsible for the registration of births and deaths. The collection of vital statistics was thus regarded as necessary for purposes of taxation and information of the government. 4) The fourth board was entrusted with trade and commerce. It regulated the sale of commodities, and checked the use of false weights and measures. Anybody dealing in more than one article had to pay proportionately heavier taxes. 5) The fifth board supervised the manufacturers, who were by law, under penalty of fine, prevented from mixing old and new articles together. 6) The sixth board enforced the payment of tithes on goods sold. The evasion of tins tax, specially perhaps if the sum involved was considerable, was visited with capital punishment. But honest default must have been treated leniently. In their corporate capacity the municipal commissioners were expected to manage the affairs of the city, and to maintain temples, harbours, and other works of public utility.

Kautilya does not mention any of these boards. He contemplates a Nagaraka or Nagarddhyaksa as Prefect of the town, and under him were the Sthanikas and Gopas, whose jurisdictions extended to one -fourth and to a few families of the city respectively.

Kautilya: The Arthashastra

Kautilya wrote in “The Arthashastra“: The Duties of a King: Only if a king is himself energetically active, do his officers follow him energetically. If he is sluggish, they too remain sluggish. And, besides, they eat up his works. He is thereby easily overpowered by his enemies. Therefore, he should ever dedicate himself energetically to activity.

“He should divide the day as well as the night into eight parts . . . during the first one-eighth part of the day, he should listen to reports pertaining to the organization of law and order and to income and expenditure. During the second, he should attend to the affairs of the urban and the rural population. During the third, he should take his bath and meal and devote himself to study. During the fourth, he should receive gold and the departmental heads. During the fifth, he should hold consultations with the council of ministers through correspondence and also keep himself informed of the secret reports brought by spies. During the sixth, he should devote himself freely to amusement or listen to the Counsel of the ministers. During the seventh, he should inspect the military formations of elephants, cavalry, chariots, and infantry. During the eighth, he, together with the commander-in-chief of the army, should make plans for campaigns of conquest. When the day has come to an end he should offer the evening prayers.

“During the first one-eighth part of the night, he should meet the officers of the secret service. During the second he should take his bath and meals and also devote himself to study. During the third, at the sounding of the trumpets, he should enter the bed chamber and should sleep through the fourth and fifth. Waking up at the sounding of the trumpets, he should, during the sixth part, ponder over the teachings of the sciences and his urgent duties for the day. During the seventh, he should hold consultations and send out the officers of the secret service for their operations. During the eighth, accompanied by sacrificial priests, preceptors and the chaplain, he should receive benedictions; he should also have interviews with the physician, the kitchen-superintendent, and the astrologer.

“A king should attend to all urgent activity, he should not put it off. For what has been thus put off becomes either difficult or altogether impossible to accomplish.

“The vow of the king is energetic activity, his sacrifice is constituted of the discharge of his own administrative duties; his sacrificial fee [to the officiating priests] is his impartiality of attitude toward all; his sacrificial consecration is his anointment as king.

“In the happiness of the subjects lies the happiness of the king; in their welfare, his own welfare. The welfare of the king does not lie in the fulfillment of what is dear to him; whatever is dear to the subjects constitutes his welfare.

“Therefore, ever energetic, a king should act up to the precepts of the science of material gain. Energetic activity is the source of material gain; its opposite, of downfall.

“In the absence of energetic activity, the loss of what has already been obtained and of what still remains to be obtained is certain. The fruit of one's works is achieved through energetic activity - one obtains abundance of material prosperity. Source: Stephen Hay ed., Sources of Indian Tradition (NY: Columbia UP, 1988). Ashoka (c. 265-238 B.C.; also given as c. 273-232 B.C.)

Mauryan Law and Castes

It may not be out of place here to give a brief description of the Imperial metropolis. Palimbothra, as Megasthenes calls it, situated in the country of the Prasians, was the “largest city in India,” being 9$ miles (80 stadia) long and about i| miles (fifteen stadia) broad. It stood on the tongue of land formed between the two rivers Erannoboas (Sone) and the Ganges. Its defences were further strengthened by a surrounding ditch, ovei six hundred feet (six plethra) wide and thirty cubits deep. Another protection was the external wall, which had 570 towers and 64 gates. There must have been similar fortifications in other big cities of the empire. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The village (grama) was the lowest unit of administration. It was controlled by a Grdmika (headman) with the help of the gramavriddhas or village elders. An officer in charge of five or ten villages was called Gopa; and above him was the Sthdnika who looked after one-fourth of a district (janapada). These officers worked under the general supervision of the Pradestrl and Samaharta.

Both Megasthenes and Kautilya testify to the severity of the penal laws. Offenders were ordinarily punished with fines, varying in amount, but there were also terrible penalties. For instance, injury to an artisan, or evasion of tithes on sales, led to the award of capital sentence, and perjury was punishable with mutilation of the limbs. Kautilya prescribes death even for a petty theft by a government servant. We further learn that judicial torture, like whipping etc., was authorised and openly used for extracting information from criminals and suspects. These rigorous methods must have gone a long way in the prevention of crime.[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

It is interesting to note that Megasthenes divides Indian society into seven classes or ‘castes’. The first class was that of the ‘philosophers’, and, although numerically small, they were the most honoured. This class denoted the Hindus and ascetics in general. The second class was composed of cultivators, who constituted the bulk of the population. The third class comprised hunters and herdsmen. The fourth class included traders, artisans, and boatmen. The fifth was that of the warriors, representing the Ksatriyas. The sixth and seventh classes consisted of secret service men and councillors respectively. Evidently, here we have got a clear instance of mal-observation on the part or the Seleucid ambassador, for the last two could in no case have formed social divisions.[Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Mauryan Economic and Agriculture

Chandragupta paid special attention to the problem of irrigation. Megasthenes speaks of officers, whose duty was to “measure the land and to inspect the sluices by which water is distributed into the branch canals, so that every one may enjoy his fair share of the benefit.” It was perhaps due to his solicitude for the needs of his subjects that Chandragupta ordered Pusyagupta, his governor in distant Saurastra, to dam up a mountain stream, and thus was formed a reservoir of water called SudarSana, which proved of immense irrigational value. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Land-revenue was the main source of income. Normally the share of the crown (bhdga) was onesixth of the gross produce, but the proportion perhaps varied according to place and other circumstances. Heads of income also included dues from mines, forests, customs at the frontiers, tolls and ferry duties, fees from professional experts, taxes and tithes, fines and benevolences exacted in crises. The officer, responsible for the finances and revenue -collection of the state, was the Samdharta. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The money thus derived was largely spent on the maintenance of the king and his court, as well as on the army, defences of the kingdom, salaries of officers, allowances to artisans and some other classes of people, charities, religious provisions, and works of public utility like roads, irrigation, buildings, etc.

Chandragupta’s Palace, Personal Life and Demise

Chandragupta lived in the midst of pomp and splendour. He had built for himself a magnificent palace, which stood in the centre of an extensive park, and was beautified by gilded pillars, artificial fish-ponds, and shady avenues. There was much to excite admiration, and even the palaces of Susa and Ekbatana could not vie with it. Being chiefly constructed of wood, it was not, of course, able to withstand the ravages of time and nature, but the ruins at Kumrahar, near Patna, discovered by Dr. Spooner, are supposed to represent a hundred-pillared hall of Chandragupta’s palace. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Here the Emperor usually remained under the protection of female body-guards. He was in constant dread of assassination, so that, it is said, he could not venture to sleep in the same room for two nights consecutively. This is, no doubt, an exaggeration, but it certainly indicates that special precautions were taken to ward off danger to the king’s person. He left the palace on four occasions, when he had to undertake military expeditions, offer sacrifices, administer justice, and to go ahunting. He was keenly devoted to duty, and he received petitions, even though his body was being massaged by ebony rollers. At the time of his hunting excursions the route was marked by ropes, and it was death for any one to cross it. When the king made a public appearance he was borne in a golden palanquin, and was distinguished by his embroidered and shining apparel. He used horses or elephants also for going on journeys. He was fond of sports. He took pleasure in witnessing gladiatorial contests and fights of rams, bulls, elephants, and rhinoceroses. Another favourite amusement was ox-racing, which provided occasion for lively betting. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942] According to certain Jain traditions, Chandragupta was a Jain, and he retired to Mysore with the Jain patriarch, Bhadrabahu, when there broke out a severe famine in Magadha towards the close of his reign. Further, Chandragupta is said to have starved himself to death in accordance with the Jain rule. How far these traditions are reliable is not known, but some mediaeval.inscriptions also associate him with Mysore. It is likely Chandragupta came under Jain influences about the end of his life, and abdicated in favour of his son to practise penances. He passed away about 297 B.C. after a reign of 24 years.

Bindusara: Chandragupta’s Successor

Chandragupta was succeeded by his son,Bindusara. The Greek writers call him Amitrachates (Athenaios) or Allitrochades (Strabo), which appears to be a corruption of the Sanskrit Amitraghata or Amitrakhada.

Some scholars believe that the southern regions were conquered by Bindusara, as, according to Taranatha, he is said to have “made himself master of all territory between the eastern and western seas.” It is certain that Ashoka ruled as far as the confines of Mysore, and the one country he is known to have annexed to his empire was Kalin ga. Hence the conquest of the South must be ascribed either to his father or to his grand-father. But as Chandragupta’s career was so brilliant, and as traditions aver his connection with Mysore, it would probably be more reasonable to credit him with this achievement also.

Bindusara occupied the throne during a period of stress and storm. There was revolt in Taxila, and when Suslma, his eldest son and viceroy, could not quell the disturbance, Bindusara transferred Ashoka from Ujjain, and the latter was fortunate in restoring order.

Bindusara maintained cordial relations with contemporary Hellenic rulers — a policy initiated by his illustrious father. A curious correspondence between Bindusara and Antiochos I Soter reveals that the former asked his Greek friend to send him sweet wine, figs, and a philosopher. The latter replied that he was happy to forward the first two articles, but that he could not comply with the last, as the law of the land forbade any transaction of that nature. The Syrian monarch is also known to have sent an ambassador, named Deimachos, to the court of Bindusara.


Emperor Asoka (ruled 274-236 B.C.), the greatest ruler in Indian history, was the man who ensured Buddhism success as a world religion. After Asoka conquered the kingdom of Kalinga, in one of most important battles in the history of the world, near the Brubaneswar airport in the state of Orissa, he was so appalled by the number of people that were massacred (perhaps 100,000 or more) he converted himself and his kingdom to Buddhism and sent Buddhist missionaries to the four corners of Asia to spread the religion. The wheel Asoka used to symbolize his conversion to Buddhism is the same one pictured on India's flag today.

Ashoka placed rocks and stone pillars engraved with morally uplifting inscriptions on the sides of public roads to demarcate and define his kingdom. It was long thought they carried Buddhist messages but although some mentioned the idea of dharma they dealt mostly with the secular matters such as building wells, establishing rest houses for travelers, planting trees and founding medical services. Many of the commemorative stones pillars—at least 18 rocks and 30 stone pillars— he erected are still standing.

Ashoka’s inscriptions chiseled on rocks and stone pillars located at strategic locations throughout his empire — such as Lampaka (Laghman in modern Afghanistan), Mahastan (in modern Bangladesh), and Brahmagiri (in Karnataka) — constitute the second set of datable historical records. According to some of the inscriptions, in the aftermath of the carnage resulting from his campaign against the powerful kingdom of Kalinga (modern Orissa), Ashoka renounced bloodshed and pursued a policy of nonviolence or ahimsa, espousing a theory of rule by righteousness. His toleration for different religious beliefs and languages reflected the realities of India's regional pluralism although he personally seems to have followed Buddhism (see Buddhism). Early Buddhist stories assert that he convened a Buddhist council at his capital, regularly undertook tours within his realm, and sent Buddhist missionary ambassadors to Sri Lanka. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Ashoka's Successors

“After Ashoka's death, the Maurya Empire declined and lost territory under a series of weak rulers about whom little is known. According to the University of Washington: “The succession of Mauryan rulers after Ashoka is not certain, since genealogies recorded surviving texts differ. According to the Divyavadana, a Buddhist Sanskrit text, Ashoka's immediate successor Kunala did not rule; rather, it was his son Samprati (who is known in Jain literature as a great patron) who became the Mauryan emperor.

Ashoka died about 232 B.C. after a long reign of forty years. Traditions regarding his successors are discrepant, but one thing seems to be certain, that none of them rose to the stature of Ashoka. Of his sons, Tlvara alone is named in the edicts, and perhaps he predeceased his father as he is not heard of subsequently. Another, Jalauka, who was a Saiva, appears from the Rajatarariginl to have become independent in Kashmir after Anoka’s death. The third, Kunala (SuyaSas ?), ruled for eight years accoreling to the Vayu Parana, but in the Southern works he is passed over as a blind man. Thus our information about the sons of Ashoka is extremely vague. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

The Ahkdvaddna, on the other hand, would have us believe that on account of his lavish benefactions to the Samgha Ashoka was compelled by the ministers to abdicate in favour of his grandson Samprati (son of the blinded Kunala 1). Legends aver that Sampadi or Samprati was a great patron of Jainism who had his seat of government at Ujjain. The Vdyu and the Matsya Purdnas, however, testify that he was preceded by another grandson of Ashoka, named DaSaratha. That the latter was an historical reality is also proved by the Nagarjuni cave inscriptions, which record his dedications to the Ajivikas.

Vincent Smith tries to reconcile this divergent testimony by suggesting that after Ashoka there was a partition of the empire — DaSaratha getting the eastern part and Samprati the western. But this view is not borne out by the evidence available, for in some Jain versions Samprati is described as the sovereign of all India, having his court at Pataliputra and not at Ujjain. What, therefore, appears to us a fact is that both Da£aratha and Samprati had an historical existence, and that the former came before the latter. The successors of Samprati were mere nonentities, and during their time the Maurya power steadily waned until Brihadratha met with a tragic end at the hands of his own commanderin-chief, Pusyamitra Sunga.

According to the University of Washington: The last Mauryan ruler according to Puranic sources was Brihadratha, who was overthrown around 185 B.C. by Pusyamitra, the founder of the Shunga dynasty. Although the Mauryan empire disintegrated within fifty years after Ashoka's death, his legacy is preserved in his many inscriptions (which are indispensable for understanding ancient Indian history), mention in numerous literary traditions (including Sanskrit, western classical sources, and Tibetan and Chinese Buddhist texts), and in Mauryan artistic traditions, which produced the lion capital on the Ashokan pillar at Sarnath, now the official seal of the government of modern India. [Source: University of Washington, Simpson Center for the Humanities,]

Decline and Break up of the Maurya Empire

Ashoka’s empire began to break up as Ashoka began devoting his attention to Buddhism rather than holding his empire together, Within 50 years after his death the empire shrunk back to the Ganges. For 13 centuries after Ashoka, Indian history was characterized by struggles between princes, broken by invasions from outsiders.

According to the Puranas, the Maurya dynasty was subverted about 184 B.C. by Pusyamitra Sunga, who then usurped the throne. The circumstances of Brihadratha’s assassination are mentioned in the Harsacarita, which informs us that, while reviewing the army, he was killed by his commander-in-chief. Probably Brihadratha was a very weak ruler (jorajnd durbalam) and Pusyamitra had the full support of the forces, otherwise he could not have struck down his master on the parade ground itself. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote in The National Interest: “The Maurya Empire collapsed not too long after Ashoka's death in 232 B.C.E. Some historians have argued that the elevation of Buddhism was responsible for this as it is not as compatible with running a state as Hinduism. However, the empire’s fragmentation reveals the problems of actually maintaining an empire in a region as diverse as South Asia. Despite Chanakya’s book, the empire depended less on institutions than on able rulers, the lack of which doomed it and led to increasing local rule. [Source: Akhilesh Pillalamarri, The National Interest, May 8, 2015]

On the cause of the Maurya Empire’s demise, Rama Shankar Tripathi wrote: Mahamahopadhyaya H. P. Sastri thought that it was entirely due to the reaction of the Hindus against the policy of Ashoka, who had alienated them by his prohibition of sacrifices, appointment of Dhamma-mahamatas to supervise morals, and his introduction of uniformity of judicial procedure and punishment, which they regarded with special aversion inasmuch as they considered it a calculated infringement of their privileged position or of the immunities they had hitherto enjoyed. These measures may have to some extent contributed to Brahmanic dissatisfaction, and it is significant that the last Maurya ruler was assassinated by a Brahman general, but there were other causes also at work. The successors of Ashoka were weaklings, and there were perhaps fissiparous tendencies in the provinces, for we know that Jalauka (R ajatarangint) and Virasena (Taranatha) became independent in Kashmir and Gandhara respectively after Ashoka had passed away. The officers, who were placed in charge of outlying territories, also took full advantage of the weakness of the central government and gave loose rein to their rapacity. There was no Ashoka to check their oppression sternly, and thus discontent grew apace among the people. The vitality of the empire was gone and when the storm burst, it was soon overwhelmed. [Source: “History of Ancient India” by Rama Shankar Tripathi, Professor of Ancient Indian History and Culture, Benares Hindu University, 1942]

After the the Maurya Empire

In 185 B.C., Pushyamitra Shunga, a general, assassinated the last king of the Mauryan dynasty, Brihadratha. In the years that followed India divided again into a patchwork of kingdoms, as other invaders arrived from central and western Asia. In the process, Hinduism prevailed over Buddhism, which found wide acceptance elsewhere in Asia but remained widely practiced in India, its birthplace. Hindu kingdoms began to appear in what is present-day southern India after the A.D. 4th century. [Source: PBS, The Story of India,, Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

During the 200 years of disorder and invasions that followed the collapse of the Mauryan state (c.185 B.C.),southern India enjoyed greater prosperity than the north, despite almost incessant warfare; among the Tamil-speaking kingdoms of the south were the Pandya and Chola states, which maintained an overseas trade with the Roman Empire.

After the disintegration of the Mauryan Empire, South Asia became a collage of regional powers with overlapping boundaries. India's unguarded northwestern border again attracted a series of invaders between 200 B.C. and A.D. 300. As the Aryans had done, the invaders became "Indianized" in the process of their conquest and settlement. Also, this period witnessed remarkable intellectual and artistic achievements inspired by cultural diffusion and syncretism. The Indo-Greeks, or the Bactrians, of the northwest contributed to the development of numismatics; they were followed by another group, the Shakas (or Scythians), from the steppes of Central Asia, who settled in western India. Still other nomadic people, the Yuezhi, who were forced out of the Inner Asian steppes of Mongolia, drove the Shakas out of northwestern India and established the Kushana Kingdom (first century B.C.-third century A.D.). [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Kushana Kingdom controlled parts of Afghanistan and Iran, and in India the realm stretched from Purushapura (modern Peshawar, Pakistan) in the northwest, to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) in the east, and to Sanchi (Madhya Pradesh) in the south. For a short period, the kingdom reached still farther east, to Pataliputra. The Kushana Kingdom was the crucible of trade among the Indian, Persian, Chinese, and Roman empires and controlled a critical part of the legendary Silk Road. Kanishka, who reigned for two decades starting around A.D. 78, was the most noteworthy Kushana ruler. He converted to Buddhism and convened a great Buddhist council in Kashmir. The Kushanas were patrons of Gandharan art, a synthesis between Greek and Indian styles, and Sanskrit literature. They initiated a new era called Shaka in A.D. 78, and their calendar, which was formally recognized by India for civil purposes starting on March 22, 1957, is still in use. *

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2020

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.