Mauryan Empire

The Mauryan Empire from Ancient India

The Magadha Kingdom lost power to the Mauryan Empire, which ruled from 322 BCE to 185 BCE over large parts of eastern and northern India. At its peak, the empire covered parts of what is now Iran and almost all of India. However, they did not cover the southern tip of the peninsula. Chandragupta Maurya started the empire after Alexander of Macedon left the western borders of India. Chandragupta took over the border states, put together an army, marched on the Magadha kingdom, killed the cruel, hated king, and took the throne. He set up the Mauryan dynasty in this way. Kautilya, also called Chanakya, was his chief minister. He helped him get to power and gave him advice. Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra, a book about being a king and running a country.

How the Mauryan Empire Began

Before the Maurya came to power, northern India consisted of many big and small states. This period was the classical age in the history of ancient India. It was a time when Buddhism and Jainism, two new religions, came into being.

Magadha was one of the biggest of these states. It was on the edge of the Aryan cultural area, in the eastern part of the Ganges plain. Other states seemed to think that Magadha was half-savage in India’s history. Since it was on the edge of the Aryan world, its people might not have been as strict about following the old Vedic religion of northern India. The two non-orthodox religions, Jainism and Buddhism, flourished and were sponsored by the Magadha monarchs here in their early days.

Magadha’s borders grew over a century or more. The Nanda Empire covered a large area of northern India during the reign of the Nanda dynasty rulers (424-322 BCE).

Chandragupta Maurya

Chandragupta Maurya
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In ancient Indian history, the Mauryan period began when Alexander the Great took over the northwest of India in 326 BCE. This conquest seems to have made the Aryan states in the area less stable politically. Thus, it made it possible for Chandragupta Maurya (who ruled from 322-298 BCE) to become the first great conqueror in Indian history.

Chandragupta took the throne of Maghada from the last Nanda king. He then went on to take over the rest of northern India that was still outside Maghada’s borders. He beat Seleucus, one of Alexander’s successors who had taken control of most of his conquests in Asia. In exchange for 500 war elephants, a treaty from 305 BCE gave him Seleucus’ easternmost provinces, which stretched into Afghanistan and eastern Iran.

During his time in power, he built on what the Nanda kings had done and set up a strong central government. Chanakya, his brilliant and skilled prime minister, did this work.

Bindusara, Chandragupta’s son, took over after him (reigned 298-272 BCE). Although we don’t know much about him, we may assume that he was a good leader. He spread Mauryan power deep into the middle of India and left his son Ashoka a large, unified state.


Credit: Khyentse Foundation

Ashoka (also spelled Asoka; ruled from 272-232 BCE) was one of the most exciting and well-liked rulers in India’s and the world’s history. After a bloody war in eastern India against Kalinga, Ashoka gave up fighting and became a Buddhist. He decided that from that point on, he would rule in peace.

He worked hard to spread Buddhism and sent missions to Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, led by his son Mahinda. Here, they laid the groundwork for Buddhism to become the main religion in the future. He also sent messages to the Greek-speaking kingdoms in the west, which had divided up Alexander the Great’s territories. Here, they don’t seem to have changed much.

We can still see the pillars that Ashoka put up around his empire. He wrote royal orders and urged his people to get along with them. These orders and suggestions show how Ashoka thought. What comes across is a kind, tolerant, but a firm leader who wants justice and happiness for everyone under his rule.

Chanakya’s Importance in the Establishment of the Mauryan Empire

Chanakya Mauryan Empire
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Chanakya, also known as Kautilya, is said to have traveled to the kingdom of Magadha, which at the time was significant, militarily strong, and feared by its neighbors. However, the monarch of Magadha, Dhana Nanda, of the Nanda dynasty, is said to have humiliated Chanakya while he was there. As a result, Chanakya swore vengeance and pledged to bring down the Nanda Empire as part of his promise.

Chanakya inspired Chandragupta Maurya and his troops to seize the kingdom of Magadha and was instrumental in their success. Chandragupta amassed many young men and the resources necessary for his army to fight a long series of battles by utilizing his intelligence network. However, King Dhana Nanda’s corrupt and repressive rule had angered these young men from all around Magadha and neighboring regions. As a result, Chandragupta’s army had to fight a long series of battles.

Government of the Mauryans

Chanakya, Chandragupta’s chief minister, appears to have been one of the critical builders of Maurya power. He is primarily the author of the Arthashastra, a practical guide to governing. Even though most academics agree that this book’s creation was long after the Maurya had passed away, many believe it does depict the realities of the period. In any event, Chanakya appears to have put in place a well-organized military and civil administration on which the Mauryan kings could establish a stronghold.

A council of advisors counseled Maurya rulers, and an intricate administrative organization serviced them. The establishment of provinces happened across the empire, each led by a royal family member. Local rulers appear to have been retained in position under them if they remained loyal to the Maurya and swiftly transmitted revenues from their provinces to the imperial treasury in the capital. On the other hand, the monitoring of their operations happened by top royal officials through regular inspections and surreptitiously by Mauryan spies. The Mauryan administration possessed a sophisticated spy network, which Chandragupta mainly exploited.

A hierarchy of royal officials was in charge of administering the empire’s cities, including preserving public infrastructures like roads and wells and administering justice. The basis of Mauryan authority was ultimately its powerful army, which was considered (perhaps incorrectly) the world’s most extensive by Greek and Roman historians. One estimate put the number of elephants, horses, and troops at 700,000, clearly exaggerated.

Economy of the Mauryan Empire

Economy of the Mauryan Empire
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Trade and entrepreneurship were public-private: the state could own and operate a business like citizens. Taxes financed royal spending and war booty, and the king held surplus timberland, forestland, hunting groves, and manufacturing facilities. State monopolized currency, mining, salt production, armaments manufacturing, and boat construction.

Most people were farmers, and agriculture was taxed. Guilds possessed executive and judicial power and functioned as banks. The sale of goods could not happen at the site where manufacturing occurred, so they had to be carried to the market. The imposition of highway and river crossing fees and import/export taxes also happened. State inspectors checked weights and measurements and set wholesale prices. Gold, bronze, and copper coins were standard. Promissory notes secured interest-bearing loans.

The primary route across the kingdom and western Greece was well-kept and monitored, with pillars and signposts designating distances and byroads. In addition, the state sent ships down the Ganges and its tributaries and to Sri Lanka, China, and African and Arabian ports to exterminate pirates.


The king ruled the army, government, courts, and legislature. He consulted the prime minister, treasury, general, and other ministers. There was a division of the kingdom into provinces with prince governors with town and village administrations. King hired an enormous bureaucracy. Then, like now, the top of the civil service was far from the bottom. The expectation from higher officials was to control their divisions with such large salaries.

There were departments for industrial art, manufacturing facilities, general trade and commerce, foreigners, births and deaths, commercial taxes, land and irrigation, agriculture, forests, metal foundries, mines, highways, and public structures. In addition, high-ranking personnel needed to conduct inspection trips to verify bureaucratic efficiency.

Empire possessed a vast espionage network and standing army. The third Mauryan ruler, Ashoka, did not disband the king’s army, and the soldiers were the next largest group after farmers. Soldiers were supposed to battle, and there was no force to do anything else for the monarch; when there was no war, they may do as they pleased. Infantry, cavalry, navy, chariots, elephants, and logistics had different departments. Soldiers received their pay, guns, and equipment from the state, whereas foot warriors carried man-length bows, ox-hide bucklers, spears, and broadswords, and bareback cavalry utilized lances and bucklers.


Buddhism thrived under the reign of Maurya. During this time of ancient India, particularly under Ashoka, Buddhism is believed by some researchers to have become the predominant religion on the Indian subcontinent. However, Jainism also grew, particularly among city merchants, who, as we have seen, were experiencing a period of affluence. The merchants occupied a marginal position in the early Hindu social order. They were likely less tolerant than other socioeconomic classes of the old Brahmin supremacy in religious affairs and hence drawn more to the emerging heterodox religions of Buddhism and Jainism.

The empire’s towns were managed directly by a hierarchy of royal officials responsible for preserving public infrastructures like roads and wells and the administration of justice.

The Legacy of the Mauryan Empire

Legacy of the Mauryan Empire
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In later Indian records, the Mauryan empire was just one of the many kingdoms that made up India’s long and complicated history. Consequently, it did not get any particular attention. However, the towns where the Maurya did most of their building work are still inhabited today, so their remains got a burial under streets and buildings used by later generations.

This great empire was almost completely forgotten, except for some stories’ brief mentions. This fact is surprising since people in other parts of the world give their ancient empires a lot of importance. In the 1800s, however, some British officials started to wonder who built the strange pillars all over India. Why are they hundreds or even thousands of miles from each other? What do the inscriptions on them mean?

Then, slowly, the truth about the Maurya began to come out. When the finding was that these pillars’ construction was by Ashoka, a king whose kingdom covered a large part of India and even parts of other countries, it became clear that this was a crucial construction in the history of ancient India.

The Effect of the Mauryan Empire on the History of the World

The Mauryan empire was ancient India’s first great empire, making it a significant part of world history. It was one among the most powerful empires in the ancient period. It was as big as the Persian, Roman, and Han empires, but it didn’t last as long.

Connections with Other Parts of the Globe

The administration of Maurya maintained frequent diplomatic ties with the Greek-speaking kingdoms to the west. This fact was particularly true for the Seleucid empire, which was the closest, although documentation of relations with Macedonia, Egypt, and other Hellenistic countries exists. Megethsenes was one of the Seleucid diplomats to the Mauryan court, and his report, the Indica, provides a wealth of information about India during the Mauryan era. In addition, there were likely marital relationships between the royal families of the Seleucid and Mauryan empires.

Under Ashoka, these diplomatic contacts also encompassed commerce missions and missionary excursions. For example, in 251 BCE, Ashoka’s son Mahinda launched a missionary voyage to Sri Lanka that brought Buddhism.

The Growth of Indian Culture

The Aryan culture was spread across most of India by the Mauryan empire. It helped the economies of areas that had been on the outside before combine into Aryan society. Before the Mauryans took over, most of the Deccan, a large plateau in the middle of India, was not part of an Aryan civilization. Under the Maurya, it became part of the Aryan world and would be a crucial part of India’s history in the years to come. By doing this, the Mauryan empire greatly expanded the boundaries of ancient Indian civilization, making it a more potent force in the history of the world.

In time, the Deccan and later southern India, which didn’t become part of what we think of as Indian culture until the Maurya Empire, would be critical to the growth of trade networks in the Indian Ocean and serve as a link between the Middle East and Southeast Asia for goods and ideas.

How Buddhism Spread


The Mauryan empire was an essential part of how Buddhism spread. Buddhism became a major religion in ancient India during the Mauryan period, which was a time when Ashoka was in charge of government policy. This rule will have helped make the subcontinent a place where Buddhism could spread to other parts of Asia in the future.

Also, the Maurya helped send Buddhist missionaries to other parts of the world. Most people in these countries didn’t become Buddhist until much later, but the ruling class of at least one country, Sri Lanka, seems to have been converted directly because of these Maurya missions. The great Maurya king Ashoka is partly responsible for how many Buddhists now live in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.

A Good Leader

Ashoka is a rare example of an excellent and intelligent leader. There was no visibility of his great personality in history books until the 19th century, but it has made everyone who studies world history think. As more people start to study world history, his example can only become better known.

The Decline of the Mauryan Empire

After Ashoka’s death, or sooner, the empire began to fall. Satavahana, a mighty empire in central India, arose, while Bactria, in present-day Afghanistan, spread into India. By the mid-2nd century BCE, the ancient empire had dwindled to its core territory. The Maurya dynasty was gone. Then, in 180 BCE, the final Maurya monarch was assassinated by the chief minister. This happened while he was inspecting his troops, and the Shunga dynasty took control.

Magadha survived. The Kanva dynasty followed the Shunga dynasty in 73 BCE, which collapsed in 30 BCE. After then, the control of the kingdom happened to go to the neighboring powers and obscure rulers. Finally, at the close of the 3rd century CE, a new dynasty of monarchs in Magadha formed the Gupta empire. They were India’s greatest and most prosperous kingdom since the Maurya.

The decline’s likely reasons are as follows:

  • First, the succession after Ashoka was by weak monarchs who couldn’t control such a big kingdom.
  • The second factor relates to the Mauryas’ weak imperial institutions. Mauryan governance depended on the king’s skill and vigor.
  • Later experience from throughout the world, such as in China and the Roman empire, indicates that a bureaucracy may quickly become split among the followers. This happens due to overpowering ministers and provincial governors. In the late Maurya periods, something similar may have led to the breakup of huge provinces.


In part, the Mauryan empire’s success led to its dispersion. Aryan culture flourished over most subcontinents during the Mauryan era of peace and harmony. Towns and towns grew far from the historical centers of civilization as Mauryan administrative hubs. With the early Mauryan rulers’ firm grasp gone, other autonomous nations quickly formed.

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