CHAPTER-19 : The Significance of Maurya Rule

Ancient History of India
Short Notes or Revision Notes 

The Maurya Empire: Administration and Economy

State Control & Law

  • Dharma(social order) maintained through the king (“dharmapravartaka”)
  • Ashoka’s Edicts:Promoted moral principles (ahimsa, respect for elders, etc.)
  • Espionage System:Spies gathered information on enemies and officials


  • Officials:Paid salaries based on rank (ministers, priests, commanders highest)
  • Tirthas:Performed important government functions

Economic Regulations

  • 27 Superintendents:Controlled agriculture, trade, crafts, mining
  • Irrigation:Provided by the state for agriculture
  • Slavery:Used in agricultural production (according to Kautilya’s Arthashastra)

Trade & Infrastructure

  • Royal Control:Extensive, especially around Pataliputra
  • Transportation:Network of rivers and roads facilitated movement of goods & people
    • River routes: Ganges, Son, Punpun, Gandak
    • Roads: Pataliputra to Nepal, foothills of Himalayas, Patna to Sasaram, etc.
  • Ashoka’s Pillars:Erected on major highways

Provincial Administration

  • Provincial Capitals:Tosali, Suvarnagiri, Ujjain, Taxila
  • Governors:Royal princes (“kumara”) ruled each province


  • Taxes Collected:From peasants, artisans, and traders
  • Officials:Samaharta (assessment & collection), Sannidhata (treasury)
  • Currency:Punch-marked silver coins (peacock & crescent symbols)

Mauryan Art and Architecture

  • Stone Pillars:Polished sandstone pillars found across India
    • Example: Kumrahar near Patna (fragments, lion/bull capitals)
    • Demonstrates widespread knowledge of polishing techniques
  • Barabar Caves:Early examples of polished caves (30 km from Gaya)
  • Terracotta Art: Flourished in the central Gangetic plains (300 BCE)
  • Didarganj Yakshini:Stone statue of a woman with a characteristic Mauryan polish


Spread of Material Culture under Mauryas

  • Iron Age Advancements:
    • Increased use of iron (axes, hoes, tools)
  • Spoked wheel adoption
  • Burnt bricks used for construction (first in northeast India)
  • Ring Wells:Introduced in Gangetic plains, spread beyond the empire
  • Cultural Exchange:
    • NBP pottery found in Bangladesh & West Bengal
    • Sisupalgarh (Orissa): NBP, iron tools, & punch-marked coins suggest contact with Magadha
    • Ashokan inscriptions found in Andhra & Karnataka indicate cultural influence

Impact on South India:

  • Steelworking:Possibly spread by Mauryas
  • Rise of Kingdoms:Mauryan presence may have influenced the rise of:
    • Cheti (Kalinga)
    • Satavahana (Deccan)
    • Cheras, Cholas, & Pandyas (South India)

Evidence of Mauryan Reach:

  • Ashoka’s inscriptions in Andhra, Karnataka & references to South Indian kingdoms
  • Presence of NBP pottery & punch-marked coins in these regions

Unification Efforts:

  • Spread of material culture reflects attempts to unify distant areas with Gangetic basin culture
  • Aligns with Kautilya’s instructions for state expansion

Causes of the Fall of the Maurya Empire

  1. Brahmanical Reaction:
  • Ashoka’s policies against sacrifices hurt Brahmanical incomes.
  • He appointed officials to enforce uniform law (vyavaharasamata & dandasamata) across varnas, upsetting Brahmanical privileges.
  • Successor dynasties (Shunga, Kanva, Satavahana) revived Vedic sacrifices.
  1. Financial Strain:
  • High military and bureaucratic expenses.
  • Ashoka’s donations to Buddhist monks may have depleted the treasury.
  1. Provincial Discontent:
  • Oppressive rule by Mauryan officials in the provinces.
  • Ashoka’s edicts acknowledge concerns about provincial oppression.
  1. Diffusion of Knowledge:
  • Spread of iron tools & weapons throughout the empire reduced the advantage of the Gangetic heartland.
  1. Neglect of North-West Frontier:
  • Failure to address threats from nomadic groups like the Scythians.
  • No defensive measures like China’s Great Wall left India vulnerable to invasions.
  • Bactrian Greeks (Greek kingdom in Afghanistan) invaded in 206 BC.

The Final Blow (185 BC):

  • Pushyamitra Shunga, a Brahman general, assassinated the last Mauryan ruler and established the Shunga dynasty.

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