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Intro to The Mauryan State and Polity

The Mauryan State and Polity

  • The major areas of concern for the Mauryan state were the collection of taxes as revenue to the state and the administration of justice, in addition to the maintenance of internal security and defence against external aggression.
  • This required a large and complex administrative machinery and institutions.
  • Greek historians, taking their lead from Megasthenes, described the Mauryan state as a centralised state.
  • What we should infer from this description as a centralised state is that a uniform pattern of administration was established throughout the very large area of the empire.
  • But, given the existing state of technology in communications and transport, a decentralised administrative system had to be in place.
  • This bureaucratic set-up covered a Ashoka’s visit to the Ramagrama Sanchi Stupa Southern Gate hierarchy of settlements from the village, to the towns, provincial capitals and major cities.
  • The bureaucracy enabled and required an efficient system of revenue collection, since it needed to be paid out of taxes collected.
  • Equally, the very large army of the Mauryan Empire could be maintained only with the revenue raised through taxation.
  • The large bureaucracy also commanded huge salaries.
  • According to the Arthasastra, the salary of chief minister, the purohita and the army commander was 48,000 panas, and the soldiers received 500 panas.
  • If we multiply this by the number of infantry and cavalry, we get an idea of the enormous resources needed to maintain the army and the administrative staff.


  • Perhaps the most detailed account of the administration is to be found in the Arthasastra (though the work itself is now dated to a few centuries later).
  • However, it must be remembered that the Arthasastra was a prescriptive text, which laid down the guidelines for good administration.
  • If we add to this the information from Ashoka’s edicts and the work of Megasthenes, we get a more comprehensive picture of the Mauryan state as it was.

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