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Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas$

Romila Thapar

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780198077244

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198077244.001.0001

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Internal Administration and Foreign Relations

Internal Administration and Foreign Relations

(p.119) Chapter IV Internal Administration and Foreign Relations
Aśoka and the Decline of the Mauryas

Romila Thapar

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the internal administration and foreign relations of the Mauryan empire under the reign of Aśoka. It explains that the establishment of the Mauryan state ushered in a new form of government, that of a centralised empire. Under this regime, the king had the central authority, and he not only defended social usage according to the traditional concept of kingship, but could also make his own laws. It was because of this increased power of the king that the Mauryan centralised monarchy became a paternal despotism under Aśoka. This chapter describes the Mauryan state's relationship with Kalinga and Ceylon. It suggests that Aśoka's relationship with Ceylon was not purely political, because though there may have been a considerable exchange of missions, Ceylon remained an independent kingdom.

Keywords:   internal administration, foreign relations, Mauryan empire, centralised empire, paternal despotism, Kalinga, Ceylon, central authority

THE ESTABLISHMENT of the Mauryan state ushered in a new form of government, that of a centralized empire. The usual pattern of kingdoms familiar to Indians until that period, was a confederation of smaller kingdoms and republics. The pattern changed under the Nandas, when an attempt was made at a centralized monarchy. This form developed into the centralized control of the Mauryan government over areas which gradually lost their independence and were included within an extensive political and economic system planned by this government. Kingdoms and autonomous states situated on the borders of the empire naturally maintained a looser relationship with the Mauryas. Areas lying within the empire were not confederated, but were regarded as subordinate to Mauryan rule. The Mauryan state was not composed of federal states, as has been suggested.1 The relationship between the Mauryas and the state of Kaliṅga for instance speaks against this view. If the idea of federation was a current one during the Mauryan period, it might have provided the solution to the conflict with Kaliṅga. But Aśoka desired complete control over the state and hence had to go to war against it.

(p.120) Since, however, this was the first occasion that a centralized empire had been established on such a vast scale in India, it is possible that some tribes, though within the empire, or on its border, still maintained their political organization. The Arthaśāstra mentions certain tribal republics such as the Kāmbojas who were governed by a corporation of warriors, and others such as the Licchavis, Vṛjjis, and the Paṅcālas, which, though tribal republics, were governed by a titular rājā.2 But these tribes were in no way federated to the Mauryan state, as there was no question of their being equal or near equal units. The fact that they were permitted to continue with their political organization was based largely on the practical consideration of this system facilitating administration. As long as these tribes did not disrupt the organization of the Mauryan empire they were permitted their political privileges. The free accessibility of these tribes to Mauryan agents, as is obvious from the Arthaśāstra, suggests that they were regarded as adjuncts to the empire. They were not given the importance that might be expected had they been confederate areas.

The Mauryan empire indicates the triumph of monarchy as a political system over tribal republics.3 This is demonstrated not only in the attitude adopted by Kauṭalya towards the tribal republics or saṃghas, but in fact in the entire conception of the Arthaśāstra itself. The treatise emphasizes the control of the central authority. Every detail of the organization of the kingdom is fitted into the administrative plan and is aimed at giving final control to the king. The king is expected to protect and maintain society, and such maintenance of the status quo facilitated administration. This in turn leads to a consistent inflow of revenue. The supremacy of the king’s authority is asserted by the fact that he not only defends social usage according to the traditional concept of kingship, but can also make his own laws.4 It is stated that where there is a conflict between traditional law śāstra, and the king’s law dharmanyāya, the latter shall prevail. This was indeed a tremendous increase in the power of the king. Certain checks were imposed on (p.121) this power, but nevertheless the king’s authority was enhanced by such statements.

It was because of this increased power of the king that the Mauryan centralized monarchy became a paternal despotism under Aśoka. The previously held idea of the king being a protector, remote from the affairs of his subjects, gave way to the belief that he had complete control over all spheres of social and political life. This paternal attitude is expressed in the remark, ‘All men are my children’,5 which almost becomes the motto of Aśoka in defining his attitude towards his subjects. He is concerned with the welfare of his people and rightly regards it as an important responsibility. The Arthaśāstra lays great stress on this welfare.6 Aśoka’s concern is such that he dictates to his subjects the course which is morally approved and that which is not, albeit in a fatherly way. He expresses a wish to be in personal contact with his subjects.7 This in part accounts for his undertaking extensive tours throughout his empire. These tours were made possible largely through the existence of an efficient administrative system. Improved roads and communications also played an important part in assisting this new development in administration. New communications meant the opening up of new areas, and a greater freedom of movement and travel.

According to Indian thought on the subject, the chief function of the king was to maintain social order. The four castes and the four orders of religious life had to be made to adhere, as far as was possible, to their respective duties and occupations.8 The authority of the king was linked with divine approval. At the level of daily functioning this connection was expressed by the important position of the brahmans, and more particularly of the purohita, the high priest of the palace. This importance can be seen, for instance, from the fact that the purohita, together with the prime minister, are present when the king is examining any of his other ministers.9 Thus the role of the purohita is not restricted to (p.122) religious functions in his relationship with the king but extends to the political sphere as well. The dependence of the king on the brahmans is more clearly indicated elsewhere in the work, where it is stated that the three factors which bring unqualified success to the king are, the support of the brahmans, the good advice of the ministerial council, and action in accordance with the śāstras.10 Nowhere in his edicts does Aśoka make any mention of the purohita. It is possible that during his reign the purohita was excluded from interfering in political matters.

It has been stated that the use of the title Devānampiya by Aśoka was another indication that the king sought the support of the sacerdotal power.11 But it would appear that it was more than an indication of his wish for priestly support. It was an attempt to emphasize the connection between kingship and divine power, perhaps even to the degree of excluding the intermediaries, the priests. It further assisted Aśoka in his propaganda. Such remarks, as his claim that Jambudvīpa was fit for the gods after the propagation of the policy of Dhamma,12 would in the minds of the unsophisticated, be linked with his own title, thereby convincing them that he was indeed the beloved of the gods. Judging by his self-satisfaction with regard to the good which he had brought to his kingdom, as expressed in pillar edicts and elsewhere,13 we may suggest that, in his later years at least, he believed in the literal application of this title.

The Arthaśāstra stresses the idea that the king must be accessible to his officials and his subjects at all times, and warns the king that his inaccessibility would cause confusion and disaffection and would make him a prey to his enemies.14 This advice it would seem, was followed implicitly by the Mauryas. No doubt the pressure of work in governing the empire made it imperative, Megasthenes writes that the king is available for consultation even when he is being massaged.15 Aśoka (p.123) states in one of his edicts that his reporters are to have access to him no matter where he is; whether he is eating, relaxing in the harem or in the park. If any matter arising in the meeting of the ministerial council needs attention, it should be reported to him immediately.16 Kauṭalya insists that the king can be successful only if he adopts three general practices. He must give equal attention to all matters, he must always remain active and ready to take action, and lastly he must never slacken in the discharge of his duties.17 Obviously such an ideal could only be realized in a kingdom ably administered by an extensive network of officials.

Legislation in that period consisted largely of a confirmation of social usage. Decisions on individual issues were taken by reference to social customs. The king had the freedom to make these decisions. The king is advised to take into consideration the opinion of his councillors, but the final decision rests with him alone. The council of ministers or mantrīpariṣad may have acted as a political check on the king. But it could only be effective where public opinion was against any policy made by the king. The council had no consistent political position within the framework of the government, as have modern bodies of a similar nature. No doubt its powers varied from time to time according to the strength of the king, and the calibre of its members. We have an example of ministerial power during Aśoka’s accession. His coming to the throne was facilitated by the support he had from the minister Rādhagupta. Aśoka refers to the council in two of his edicts. On the first occasion, the council acts in a subordinate way, it being merely expected to order the yuktas to register certain new administrative measures adopted by Aśoka.18 From this instance it would appear that the council was responsible for the enactment of the policy decided by the king. On the second occasion the council appears to have far more authority.19 It can in the absence of the king discuss his policy and suggest amendments to it, or it may consider any (p.124) emergent matter, the discussion of which the king may have left to the council. However, even in this case the opinion of the council has to be reported to the king immediately, wherever he may be. The final decision rests with the king and the council is regarded as an advisory body. It was probably in the interests of the king to consult the council on most matters, particularly during an emergency.20

The king’s control over the council was increased by the fact that the members of the council were personally selected by the king. The tendency would be for the king to select only those people who were in favour of his own policy. The Arthaśāstra gives a list of the qualities that a minister should possess, and stresses those of birth, integrity, and intelligence.21 It further suggests that these qualities should be ascertained from a variety of sources. This is a most idealistic view on the selection of ministers and it is hardly likely that it was ever fully put into practice. Ways in which a king can test the loyalty of these ministers are also explained. Here he is assisted by the Chief Minister and the purohita.22 Megasthenes states that the advisers to the king are selected from a particular caste, which he lists as the seventh caste.23 This statement is correct only in so far as the councillors no doubt belonged to the brahman caste or were high caste kṣatriyas. It is unlikely that members of any other caste would be chosen as ministers.

There was no fixed number for the members of the council. It varied according to need. The Mauryans probably had a fairly large council. The Arthaśāstra lists the Chief Minister or the mahāmantrī, (p.125) and also distinguishes between the ministers and the assembly of ministers (mantrinomantripariṣadāṃca).24 It would seem that of the ministerial council or mantripariṣad a small group of perhaps three or four councillors, together with the Chief Minister, was selected to act as an inner council or a close advisory body. This may have been a permanent group or it may have been selected for consultation on particular issues similar to a modern committee. It is suggested that if the king wishes to be advised on any matter, he can consult privately with three or four ministers, or even collectively with a similarly small group.25 Such consultations facilitate frankness of opinion, since ministers would be more liable to state their views openly when consulted privately by the king than in the midst of a large assembly. Furthermore such consultations permit of greater secrecy with regard to the matter discussed, and Kauṭalya urges the importance of secrecy in these matters.

The central administration was conducted through a number of offices largely relating to the control of revenue, and each under a particular officer. The treasurer (sannidhātā) was responsible for the storage of the royal treasure, and of the state income both in cash and kind, the latter chiefly in the form of grains, gems, etc. The storage of these was his particular charge.26 This office worked in conjunction with that of the chief collector (samāhartā) who was responsible for the collection of revenue from various parts of the kingdom.27 Sources of revenue as listed in the Arthaśāstra include that of cities, land, mines, forests, roads, tolls, fines, licences, manufactured products, merchandise of various kinds, and precious stones. The chief collector was also concerned with matters of income and expenditure and supervised the accounts submitted by the accountant general. The latter kept the accounts both of the kingdom and the royal household.28 He was assisted by a body of clerks (kārmikas). The Arthaśāstra states that all the ministers (p.126) shall together report the accounts of each department. This suggests a system of joint responsibility, though no doubt in the case of fraud the individual minister or department was punished. Embezzlement of finances by government servants was apparently known.29 Heavy fines are suggested as a punishment for such an offence. The fiscal year was from Āṣāḍha (July), and 354 working days were reckoned in each year. Work during the intercalary month was separately accounted for.

Expenditure was largely on salaries and public works. The maintenance of the royal court and the royal family required the use of part of the national revenue in addition to the revenue from the crown lands. Salaries of the officials were also paid with the money that came into the royal treasury.30 One-fourth of the total revenue was kept for this purpose. Some of these salaries are listed. The minister, the purohita and the army commander received 48,000 paṇas. The chief collector and the treasurer were paid 24,000 paṇas. Members of the ministerial council received 12,000 paṇas. The staff of accountants and writers were paid 500 paṇas. Unfortunately we are not told the value of the paṇa, nor whether these salaries were yearly or monthly. The proportion of the wages paid to various officials is clear.

Expenditure on public works included the cost of building and maintaining roads, wells, and rest-houses, of building irrigation works such as the dam on the Sudarśan lake and the planting of medicinal herbs and trees. The cost of maintaining a large army must also have been a serious draw on the revenue. The outlay on state mines and manufactures and the wages of state-employed artisans would come from the treasury. It is not certain whether grants to religious bodies were made from the same source or from revenue obtained from the crown lands. The distinction between the national treasury and the privy purse is not made in the Arthaśāstra. Thus private benefactions made by the king would be paid from the treasury. It is possible that Aśoka’s endowment of the Buddhist Order with funds from the treasury antagonized both the civil administration and other religious bodies. (p.127)

Kauṭalya devotes an entire section to the duties of various superintendents.31 These officials supervised the revenue coming from particular sources and were also responsible for the administration of the departments concerned with these sources. They generally worked at local centres and made their reports to the administration at the capital. They were in turn assisted by committees and under-officers and therefore formed a link between the capital and the local administration. Those mentioned in the text are the superintendents of gold and goldsmiths, the store-house, commerce, forest produce, armoury, weights and measures, tolls, weaving, agriculture, liquor, the slaughter-house, prostitutes, ships, cows, horses, elephants, chariots, infantry, passports, and the city superintendents.

Provincial administration was under the immediate control of a prince or a member of the royal family. The terms used in the edicts are kumāra and āryaputra. The former may have been the title of the sons of the king, and the latter may have referred to other close relatives.32 They were generally viceroys or governors of the provinces of the empire. The empire during the reign of Aśoka was divided into four major provinces, as four provincial capitals are mentioned in the edicts. Taxila was the capital of the northern province, Ujjain of the west, Tosalī of the east, and Suvarṇagiri of the south.33 These provinces were administrative divisions and were placed under viceroys. The appointment of princes as viceroys served the practical purpose of training them as administrators. Where the relationship between the king and the prince was good, there was the added advantage that the prince as viceroy would conform to the king’s policy. There would be less likelihood of an insurrection under a prince loyal to the king. But the disadvantages were also known and warned against by the theorists. A period of viceroyalty could be used to advantage by a prince, in order to establish his own position in opposition to the king. The Arthaśāstra warns that the prince can be a source of danger, and to give him complete control over a province can lead to irresponsible (p.128) action on his part.34 As provincial viceroys there must have been considerable competition between princes who were brothers, leading eventually to wars of succession, where they could use the provincial forces against each other.35 This must certainly have happened among the sons of Bindusāra, when the struggle for the throne began. It is probable that Aśoka’s successful viceroyalty further convinced him of his ability to succeed Bindusāra.

Governors administering smaller areas within the unit of the province were probably selected from among the local people. At Girnār, mention is made of Tuṣāspa, a local personality of foreign extraction who is referred to as the governor.36 In the case of tribal peoples local kings were probably confirmed as heads of administration. This would tend to cause less disruption in organization when an area came under Mauryan control, apart from the fact that a foreign administrator might be resented more than a local ruler. In such cases local autonomy may have been retained at a lower level of administration.

In provincial administration the council of ministers had more power than their counterparts at the centre. They acted even in practice as a check on the prince and were, if occasion demanded, in direct contact with the king. This is apparent from two events before and during the reign of Aśoka. The revolt in Taxila during the reign of Bindusāra was against the local ministers and officers and not against the prince.37 It would seem that the ministers had assumed more power than their situation demanded. The second indication was the story of the blinding of Kunāla at the orders of Aśoka.38 This story suggests that direct orders from the king to the ministers, without the viceroy knowing about them, were a regular occurrence, since the ministers were not surprised at the prince being kept in ignorance of the king’s (p.129) order. The viceroy had the power to appoint some of his officials. For instance those mahāmattas who made tours of inspection every five years would be appointed, some by the king and others by the viceroy.

The precise designation of the mahāmattas in Mauryan administration remains uncertain. A great variety of officials are referred to as mahāmattas in various sources. The term appears to have been used for any senior official irrespective of the duties assigned to him. The Arthaśāstra uses it in the sense of a minister, a narrower interpretation than in Buddhist literature.39 In his edicts Aśoka uses the term to include many types of officials, and there are references to the mahāmattas as a ministerial or advisory council as well.40 Among these categories, some were concerned with general administration such as those to whom the Minor Rock Edict is addressed.41 Judicial officers of the city are referred to in the 1st Separate Edict.42 The same term is used for officers who are to be sent on tours of inspection to inspect the work of magistrates and judicial officers. Obviously these officials would be senior to the latter. They were sent on tour both by the centre and the provincial viceroy. In the Queen’s Edict the mahāmattas are expected to register whatever gift the Queen Kāruvāki should make.43 The ithījhakha-mahāmattas controlled the harem and other departments involving women.44 There are frequent references to a new type of mahāmatta, the Dhamma-mahāmatta, which was a service inaugurated by Aśoka in his fourteenth regnal year.45

(p.130) The mahāmattas were thus a highly responsible cadre of officials and doubtless were greatly respected since they held senior positions and controlled various aspects of administration and justice. Megasthenes, when referring to his seventh caste of councillors and assessors, was probably referring to the mahāmattas. Diodorus quotes Megasthenes as saying that, ‘the seventh class consists of the Councillors and Assessors, of those who deliberate on public affairs. It is the smallest class as regards number, but the most respected on account of the high character and wisdom of its members; for from their ranks the advisers of the king are taken, and the treasurers of the state, and the arbiters who settle disputes. The generals of the army also, and the chief magistrates usually belong to this class.’46 Strabo quotes as follows, ‘The seventh class consists of the Councillors and Assessors of the king. To them belong the highest posts of government, the tribunals of justice, and the general administration of public affairs.’47 Arrian writes, ‘The seventh caste consists of the Councillors of state, who advise the king, or the magistrates of self-governed cities in the management of public affairs. In point of numbers this is a small class, but it is distinguished by superior wisdom and justice, and hence enjoys the prerogative of choosing governors, chiefs of provinces, deputy governors, superintendents of the treasury, generals of the army, admirals of the navy, controllers and commissioners who superintend agriculture.’48

On an examination of these statements it is apparent that they tally closely with the description of the service of mahāmattas available from other sources. It would certainly be most advisable for the king to choose his ministerial council from among the mahāmattas, since their experience of administration would be of great help. The arbiters who settle disputes were probably the judicial mahāmattas referred to in the edicts; Arrian’s remark concerning the seventh caste working as magistrates of self-governed cities may be a somewhat confused account of the posting of mahāmattas as administrators amongst the tribal republics, which was certainly a possible action on the part (p.131) of the Mauryas. Of the mahāmattas the only branch neglected by European sources was that of the dhammamahāmattas, but since this was not started until the reign of Aśoka, it would not be mentioned in the account of Megasthenes. It would seem that the mahāmattas, certainly those in senior posts, were an exclusive group. This naturally led to Megasthenes regarding them as a separate class.

Jurisdiction in the cities was carried out by mahāmattas specially appointed for this purpose, to whom the 1st Separate Edict is addressed.49 The edict is devoted to emphasizing the importance of just behaviour and impartial judgments. Aśoka cautions against weaknesses such as anger, laziness, fatigue, want of patience, etc.; any of which may prejudice a judgment. As a further defence against injustice, the king has decided to send a mahāmatta every five years, to inspect the judiciary in the cities. In addition to the royal inspector, there was to be a provincial inspection every three years, by a locally appointed mahāmatta. These judicial mahāmattas were concerned with problems arising from the administration of the cities, connected with the artisans, merchants and other townspeople, many of which problems are discussed in the Arthaśāstra.50 Civil cases dealing with marriage and inheritance must also have been brought before these officers.

Jurisdiction in the rural areas was conducted by the rājūkas. They acted as assessment officers as well, but here we shall consider only their judicial functions. An entire pillar edict is devoted to this aspect of the work of the rājūkas.51 The edict is dated to the twenty-seventh regnal year which suggests that Aśoka’s delegation of power to these officials took place late in his reign. It is possible that previous to this, jurisdiction in the rural areas was in the hands of the higher officials, who were not accessible to the entire population. The rājūkas had control over problems related to agriculture and land disputes.

In the same edict there occurs a sentence concerning procedure and punishment, which raises the question of whether Aśoka discontinued the usual Hindu practice of grading punishments according (p.132) to caste, which would certainly have been a most daring step. The sentence reads as follows,

icchitaviye hi esā kimti viyohālasamatā ca siya daṃḍa samatā cā52

But it is desirable that there should be uniformity in judicial procedure and punishment.

The crucial word in the text is samatā. One authority translates it as ‘impartiality’, which suggests in the context more than a lack of prejudice on the part of the judge.53 It suggests that punishments should not be given with a partial attitude towards the social position of the offender. Such a rule would contradict legal procedure as laid down in traditional sources, which was no doubt observed. The Arthaśāstra for instance is very clear on this point. It states, ‘Taking into consideration the [social position of] persons, the nature of the offence, the cause whether grave or slight [that led to the perpetration of the offence,] the antecedent and present circumstances, the time and the place; and without failing to notice equitable distinctions among the offenders, whether belonging to the royal family or the common people, shall the commissioner determine the propriety of imposing the first, middlemost or highest amercements.’54 Similarly penalties for leading a brahman astray are far more severe than those for the same offence against a member of a lower caste.55

For Aśoka to have abolished discriminations of caste and position in the ordering of punishments would certainly have been in keeping with the principles of Dhamma, but at the same time Aśoka must have realized that such a radical step would cause untold upheavals in society. Furthermore such a step would antagonize not only the brahmans but also the kṣatriyas, the combined strength of which would have been difficult to keep under control. Although Aśoka attacked the brahmanical position through indirect measures such as the abolition of animal sacrifices, he was shrewd enough not to openly antagonize this powerful factor in Indian society. In his edicts he was careful to placate the brahman element by insisting that the utmost (p.133) respect must be shown to the brahmans. As suggested by a recent translation, the word ‘uniformity’ conveys more accurately the meaning of the word samatā.56 According to this interpretation a uniform legal procedure was to be adopted in all areas under Mauryan administration, and similarly a uniform penal code was to be used. This would assist the rājūkas in their decisions and would make each case more comprehensible to the higher authority not present during proceedings, since such a uniformity would lead to legal cases being treated in a system of regular categories.57

According to Megasthenes the amount of crime committed in Mauryan India was small, and he describes the Indians as an honest people.58 This may well, have been true in comparison with Greece or Asia Minor. Pāṭaliputra being the capital city, must certainly have been well policed, and its authorities merciless in putting down crime. The Arthaśāstra envisages the possibility of a variety of crimes. Three lengthy chapters are devoted to the detection and suppression of criminals.59 Buddhist literature refers to groups of bandits operating in the country-side.60

Punishment was largely in the form of fines.61 Those who could not pay were permitted to sell themselves into bondage in order to do so.62 A punishment of mutilation could sometimes be changed to that of payment of a fine.63 Capital punishment was known and practised. In spite of the fact that Aśoka was a Buddhist he did not abolish the death penalty. He did, however, make a concession whereby those condemned to die were granted a three-day respite.64 During this period it was possible to make a final appeal to the judges. This could be in terms either (p.134) of a retrial or the payment of a ransom. This system is not unknown to the Arthaśāstra.65 If neither of these was possible, then relatives or friends could attend to the last needs of the condemned man.66 It is clear from the passage in the edict that the idea of capital punishment was disliked by Aśoka. This may be regarded as an example of an occasion when prudent statecraft triumphed over his ideals.

Provinces were subdivided into districts for purposes of administration, and groups of officials worked in each district. The group consisted of three major officials, the prādeśika, the rājūka, and the yukta. These were in turn assisted by many others.67 The functions of the prādeśika were similar to those of the pradeṣṭṛ in the Arthaśāstra. These officers were in charge of the overall administration of a district of a particular province, each district being under one pradeṣṭṛ. Much of their work consisted of touring. They had to inspect the work of both the district officials and the village officials and had to make reports to the chief collector or samāhartṛ.68 In their judicial capacity three pradeṣṭṛs could form a judicial bench for trying offenders against the law.69 The text speaks of either three pradeṣṭṛs or three ministers fulfilling this function. This was presumably an administrative measure, since in some areas the former were more easily available than the latter, and vice versa. It is clear from this passage that the pradeṣṭṛs had a high status since they are included in ministerial rank. Apparently only the serious cases were brought before them, the milder ones being dealt with by the rājūkas or the city magistrates as the case might be. The pradeṣṭṛ is also expected to check the work of the superintendents and the subordinate officers.70 This again points to the elevated position of the officer. The duty of the prādeśika may therefore be summed up as (p.135) one of supervising the collection of revenue and of maintaining law and order both in the rural areas and in the towns within his district.

The status of the rājūka was subordinate to that of the prādeśika, although other writers have suggested the reverse.71 The description of the officer as being in charge of many hundreds of thousands of people does not necessarily imply that he was a minister of the central government; it can refer to a responsible position in local administration. Among the duties of the prādeśika is included that of making a tour every five years to inspect the entire administration of areas under his control. He is accompanied by the yukta and the rājūka.72 The officials are mentioned in the following order, yukta, rājūka, prādeśika. Normally the first or the last mentioned would be the seniormost. The yukta we know to have been a subordinate official. It is unlikely that the seniormost official would be mentioned in the middle of the list. If we also take into consideration the work of the prādeśika, it becomes clear that he was the seniormost of the three.

The 4th Pillar Edict states that the rājūkas are occupied with many hundreds of thousands of people. The edict continues with advice to the rājūkas on their relationship with the people over whom they are thus empowered. This is concerned largely with the giving of rewards or punishments. The rājūkas worked in a judicial capacity as well as being revenue administrators. The fact that their administrative work was of equal or greater importance is clear from the statement that they were occupied with many hundred thousand people, since in their judicial work alone they would be dealing with a far smaller number. Since they are referred to collectively in this edict the total number of people over whom they had administrative control would naturally run into many hundred thousands. Further in the edict they are commanded to obey the agents of the king who are acquainted (p.136) with the wishes of the king. If they had been very senior officials, the king would not have stated so categorically, and in public, that they were to obey his agents.73 The work of the rājūkas was restricted to the rural areas, since they were appointed to work for the welfare of country people, janapada hitasukhāye.74 In the course of their work they were also expected to teach people to practise the Dhamma.

The fact that in his twenty-seventh regnal year, Aśoka ordered that judicial decisions were to be made by the rājūkas would suggest that in previous years these decisions were made by more senior officials. This new policy gave the rājūkas greater power. By not having to refer every judicial decision to a senior officer, the effectiveness and pace of administration was improved. With regard to the death sentence an appeal could be made to the rājūkas. Presumably in border-line cases they may have referred the entire matter to their superior officers, the prādeśikas. The judicial nature of the duties of the rājūkas becomes more clear, and their importance in provincial administration becomes more apparent when we consider their administrative work.

There is agreement among various sources that the rājūka belonged to the department of administration responsible for surveying and assessing land. An identification has been made between the Mauryan rājūka and the rajjugāhaka mentioned in the Jātakas.75 The rājūka or rajjugāhaka was the rope-holding officer who measured the lands of the tax-paying cultivators. The land-tax was assessed according to the size and quality of the land. Assessment on the share of produce was made by another official. The rājūka is also known to the Arthaśāstra.76 The cora-rajjuka is described as a rural officer who is concerned with the sources of revenue. The market officers, agoranomoi, mentioned by Megasthenes probably referred to the rājūkas.77 Their work is described (p.137) as follows, ‘Some superintend the rivers, measure the land as is done in Egypt, and inspect the sluices, from which water is let out from the main canals into their branches so that everyone may have an equal supply of it. The same persons have charge also of the huntsmen, and are entrusted with the power of rewarding and punishing them according to their deserts. They collect the taxes and superintend the occupations connected with the land, as those of the wood-cutters, the carpenters, the blacksmiths, and the miners. They construct roads, and, at every ten stadia, set up a pillar to show the by-roads and distances.’

It is evident why Aśoka devotes an entire edict to the work of the rājūkas. Clearly they were the backbone of the rural administration. The fact that they were given increased judicial powers in the settlement of disputes, during the reign of Aśoka was a logical step. The conflicts brought to them would be largely concerned with agricultural problems, assessment, remission of taxes, land disputes, water disputes, grazing disputes between cultivators and herdsmen, and quarrels amongst village artisans. If each of these disputes had to be taken to the prādeśika for judgment, it would have acted as a break on the pace of administration, especially as the rājūka himself would have to present the case since he was the officer directly responsible for the administrative measure concerning the particular issue. Thus a far more satisfactory step was to increase the power of the rājūka, even at the risk of the rājūka becoming high-handed in his dealings with the rural people, a risk which Aśoka appears to have been aware of. Another factor which may have influenced this decision was that in the later part of Aśoka’s reign, when he was incapable of maintaining the same degree of personal control as in his early years, he may have decided on a policy of decentralization in some departments. The office of the rājūka was thus given more power.

The check on the rājūka abusing his power was already in existence in the form of the prādeśikas who were expected to lay great stress on inspection and surveillance. More specifically, in his thirteenth regnal year, Aśoka had ordered that a quinquennial inspection should be undertaken by the group of three officials, the prādeśika, rājūka, and yukta. The purpose of this tour was no doubt that each rājūka would present his work, both administrative and judicial, to the prādeśika, and (p.138) the latter’s report would be recorded by the yukta. The presence of the rājūka at the inspection, raised it to an altogether more valuable level. The purely judicial aspect of the rājūka’s work may also have been inspected by the special mahāmatta sent to inspect the urban judicial administration. The report was made available by the yuktas to the council of ministers.

The yuktas mentioned in the 3rd Rock Edict appear to have been subordinate officials. Early writers have attempted to translate the word in various ways.78 The duties of the yuktas were largely secretarial work and accounting. They accompanied the rājūkas and the prādeśikas in order to register decisions taken by the senior officers and on the basis of these to draw up reports which were then submitted to the ministers and the ministerial council. The yukta as an accountant is referred to in the Arthaśāstra, where it is said that superintendents of all departments are to work with the yuktas and other officers, in order to prevent the embezzlement of funds.79 The fact of their being accountants would be an added reason for them to accompany the rājūkas and the prādeśikas on their quinquennial tours.

There was an intermediate level of administration between the district level and that of the village. The unit here was formed by a group of five or ten villages. The two important officials concerned with the administration of this unit were the gopa and the sthānika.80 The gopa worked as an accountant to the unit. His duties included the setting up of village boundaries, the registration of various kinds of land, of buildings, and of gifts and remission of agricultural taxes. He also kept a census of the population of each village according to their tax-paying capacity, their professions and their age. Income and expenditure of such persons was also recorded. The livestock of each village was noted. The tax was collected by the sthānika who worked directly under the prādeśika. Together with the gopa, he was subject to periodic inspections from senior officers. It would seem that the sthānika was the equivalent of the modern assistant collector, and the (p.139) prādeśika was the district collector, both grades of officials working under the final authority of the samāhartṛ or the chief collector.

Individual villages must have had their own set of officials who were directly responsible to the gopas. The village headman was no doubt chosen from amongst the village elders. He may have supervised the tax collection of the village and other obvious matters such as discipline and defence. In the smaller villages it is likely that the headman was the sole functionary. In larger villages he may have been assisted by others, necessary to administration, such as an accountant and a scribe. These semi-official functionaries may have been paid by a remission in taxes. Some of the full-time officials employed by the king were paid with land grants.81 However, they did not own the land, as they had no right to sell or mortgage it, but were entitled only to its produce.

Other officials functioned at various levels of the organization. We have already mentioned the king’s agents or pulisāni, who probably belonged to a subordinate rank similar to that of the yuktas.82 They functioned in a similar way as modern Public Relations Officers. They were acquainted with public opinion which they reported to the king, and the king in turn used them to ensure that his policy was being made, known even in the more remote parts of the kingdom. Owing to the nature of their work they were not all of the same grade. Aśoka mentions that they were appointed to three grades.83 Those closest to the king who may have contributed to decisions on policy, must have belonged to the highest grade. Associated with the pulisāni were the paṭivedakās or special reporters, also mentioned in the edicts.84 They had direct access to the king at any moment and it would seem that the king placed great reliance on their evaluation of public opinion. Both the pulisāni and the paṭivedakās must also have served as a link between the central administration and the provincial administration. The paṭivedakās may be compared with the institution of spies mentioned (p.140) in the Arthaśāstra (cāra and gūḍha-puruṣa).85 The Aśokan organization does not appear to be as complex as that envisaged by Kauṭalya. In the work of the latter the espionage system is of the utmost importance. Spies are sent all over the country disguised as ordinary citizens in every walk of life. Even ministers are watched by spies. Aśoka, on the other hand admits in the edicts that he employs both agents and reporters. These may have been travelling inspectors (those of a high grade), who were known to the population and the administration, who went from place to place examining the governmental organization and making reports to the king.

Such officials are not unknown to the administration of other empires. The Achaemenids sent an officer every year to make a careful inspection of each province. He was known as the king’s eye or the king’s ear or the king’s messenger.86 His work was an additional control on the part of the king over the administration. Charlemagne had evolved a similar but even more efficient system. Two officials known as the Missi were sent each year to tour the country.87 One was the secular representative and the other was the representative of the church. They usually travelled in pairs thus acting as a check on each other’s work. They had the power to dismiss lower officials if any were found to be inefficient. They insisted on the king’s decrees being read out at public meetings, and wherever necessary these decrees were translated from Latin to the vernacular. It is quite probable that the pulisāni were also expected to read aloud the edicts of Aśoka whenever opportunity demanded. Of the two Missi, the clerical representative investigated the work of monks and nuns, and the secular official examined the judicial and financial records of the administration. In the case of Charlemagne, the Missi acted as a check on the growing feudal power of the local lords. In the case of Aśoka, the king’s agents curbed the ambition of provincial rulers.

The frequency of inspections and the existence of spies must have carried with it the flavour of a totalitarian state. Since there was no (p.141) elected representative body to assist the king in governing, he could have recourse only to such means of eliciting public opinion. When used with caution and in a responsible manner they may have served their purpose well. For Aśoka, these officers were of use as a vast propaganda machine in addition to their other functions. The policy of Dhamma for instance would be explained by them to the population, and the reaction of the latter ascertained. This reaction may well have been the basis for some of the edicts.

The sixth class mentioned by Megasthenes is that of the officers who supervise and inquire into various affairs and present reports to the king, or a superior officer such as the local magistrate. The extract quoted by Diodorus uses the term episcopoi for this class.88 Strabo speaks of the same group and stresses the fact of their inspecting the army and the courtesans as well, and making secret reports to the king.89 He uses the term ephoroi for them. Arrian in his account uses the same term and speaks of them reporting to the king, or to the magistrates in self-governing areas.90 Most earlier writers argue that this was a class of spies.91 In the light of the text, this is an exaggerated interpretation of the terms used by the Greek writers. The literal meaning of the two terms is more that of an overseer or a superintendent rather than a spy.92 The fact that they were asked to make secret reports to the king does not imply that they belonged to the espionage service. The mention of these reports may be better interpreted as indicateing that they had direct access to the king, and that their important reports could reach him without having to go through the many channels of bureaucratic organization. Furthermore, it seems hardly feasible that spies could be distinguished as a class, apart from the rest of the (p.142) population. The purpose of having spies is lost if their numbers and activities are widely known.

The sixth class was that of officials junior in rank to the councillors. They would thus be the same as the adhyakṣas, the superintendents of various departments mentioned in the Arthaśāstra.93 These officials were responsible for the efficient working of a particular department under their charge. It would not be unusual that in the course of their work they would be expected to make reports either to the king or to the higher officials. The institution of spies as described in the Arthaśāstra is not similar to this sixth class. The use of spies in various disguises for gathering information is not only a known practice, but is suggested as a normal part of statecraft.94 But spies are nowhere treated as a separate class. They are a group within the administrative system and are recruited from various strata of society, from orphaned children to brahman widows and śūdra women, including a variety of state employees.

Spies are not described working as inspectors or overseers. Their purpose is to merge themselves within the group that they are sent to spy upon, and identify themselves completely with members of the profession which will give them the closest access to the matter which concerns them. Thus it is suggested that spies should work in the guise of fraudulent disciples, recluses, householders, merchants, ascetics, students, mendicant women, and prostitutes. Such an array of spies could work in many sections of society. Secrecy is naturally emphasized in this work. Not only are the spies unknown to the general public, but they are unknown to each other as well. It is stated that the officers in the institute of espionage should not know the working spies, but should give written directions. The espionage system was used not only in the detection of crime and eliciting of public opinion in the home country, but spies were also sent to foreign countries, just as spies from foreign countries were known to be active in the home country. (p.143)

Urban administration had its own hierarchy of officials. The maintenance of law and order in the city was the chief concern of the city superintendent or nāgaraka.95 Every stranger to the city had therefore to be reported and registered. At night a strict curfew was enforced, forbidding movement to all but those who had special permission. The cleanliness of the city was also the concern of the nāgaraka. Because of the prevalence of wooden buildings in some cities, the danger of fire was a constant fear. The nāgaraka in supervising fire precautions had to see to it that all blacksmiths and others who used fire in their trade, inhabited one particular section of the city. In times of famine the city superintendent was in charge of the distribution of grain from the granaries.96 The nāgaraka was assisted by two subordinate officials, the gopa and the sthānika.97 Their functions were similar to those of their namesakes in rural administration. The gopa kept the accounts of ten, twenty, and forty households. This was a detailed procedure since he was supposed to know the income and expenditure of each household. He also kept a register of each person recording the name, occupation, gotra, and caste. The sthānika kept the accounts of the various sections of the city and presumably collected general taxes when and where they were due. Matters of any importance were reported first to the gopa or sthānika and they in turn informed the nāgaraka.

The Aśokan inscriptions mention the nagalaviyohālaka mahāmattas and refer to them largely in their judicial capacity.98 This is not a reference to the nāgaraka since these mahāmattas appear to conduct judicial proceedings whereas the nāgaraka, in terms of judicial administration, is only concerned with the release of prisoners on certain auspicious occasions, such as the birth of a prince. It would seem that the nagalaviyohālaka mahāmattas were judicial officers who worked under the general administration of the nāgaraka. The latter may have intervened in their work during the proceedings of special cases, and sometimes when determining which prisoners were to be released (p.144) on certain occasions. The nagalaviyohālaka mahāmattas held positions similar to those of modern magistrates.99

In describing city administration, Megasthenes outlines a more elaborate system.100 According to him the officials are divided into six committees each with a membership of five. The first committee was concerned with matters relating to industrial arts. The second occupied itself with the entertainment of foreigners. Its work consisted of providing lodgings, and keeping a watch on foreigners through people who were ostensibly assisting them. They were escorted part of the way when they left the country, or, if they died, their property was forwarded to their relatives. They were given medical attention when sick. The third committee kept a register of births and deaths both by way of a census, and for purposes of taxation. The fourth committee was in charge of matters of trade and commerce such as inspecting weights and measures, organizing public sales, and ensuring that each merchant dealt with a single commodity, since more than one required a double tax. The fifth committee supervised the public sale of manufactured articles. The sixth committee collected the tax on the articles sold, this being one-tenth of the purchase price.

Indian sources do not mention the existence of these committees. Nevertheless each of the committees mentioned by Megasthenes has its equivalent official in the list given in the Arthaśāstra. It is possible that for certain sections of the administration of the city, or more particularly of Pāṭaliputra, committees were found to be more efficient than an individual official. A city as large as Pāṭaliputra must have been divided into a certain number of sectors, each with an identical administrative organization. It is quite likely that officials of one department met in a group and delivered their reports to the central organization and received their orders in the same way. That the Arthaśāstra does not mention such a procedure is possible, since it was not a detailed description of Mauryan administration, but rather (p.145) a text-book on general administration. Without doubt the Mauryas must have modified parts of it in practice, or even deviated from it where necessary. Megasthenes’ description may therefore apply to the administration of Pāṭaliputra alone.101 Timmer has suggested that Megasthenes perhaps saw groups of officers of various ranks working in one department, and mistakenly believed them to be a committee of equals.102 The committees mentioned by him correspond with the offices of various superintendents mentioned in the Arthaśāstra. These officials, the adhyakṣas, were assisted by subordinate officers. Possibly each office consisted of the superintendent and four assisting officers thus leading Megasthenes to believe that it was a committee. This is only one of many possible explanations.

The first committee supervised the industrial arts. This may have been the officers who were in charge of the artisans of the city. The second committee has no exact equivalent in the Arthaśāstra. Considering the close watch that was kept on foreigners, as is clear from the duties of the nāgaraka, it seems obvious that there would be a group of officials specially concerned with aliens. Such a body would naturally have more work in the capital, which was likely to be visited by foreigners. Foreigners did not mean only non-Indians. Visitors from the more distant parts of the empire would also be included in this category. If indeed such a detailed register was kept of all the inhabitants of the city as the Arthaśāstra suggests, then it is likely that any non-resident of the town was classified as a foreigner. Those that were escorted on their way when leaving the country would be the more important foreigners. The fact that they were watched by the assistants specially appointed to look after their welfare, agrees in spirit with the emphasis placed by the Arthaśāstra on the use of spies in various guises for obtaining information. The statement that the committee (p.146) forwarded the property of those that died in Pāṭaliputra, seems somewhat idealistic. Presumably this only applied in cases where the relatives were in areas under Mauryan jurisdiction. The mention of the committee burying the bodies of those that die, points in this instance to non-Hindu foreigners, else cremation would be the accepted form of disposal of the body.

The third committee registering births and deaths and keeping census reports tallies very closely with the work of the gopas, mentioned earlier. The fourth committee appears to have had responsibilities similar to the various superintendents connected with trade and commerce mentioned in the Arthaśāstra. The fifth committee covers almost the same work as that done by the superintendent of commerce. The sixth committee, responsible for the collection of the tax of one-tenth, is probably a reference to the office of the sthānika who was responsible for the collection of various taxes.103

Other officers concerned with the administration of the city appear to have been overlooked or were forgotten by the time Megasthenes came to write his memoirs. Thus the nāgaraka or city superintendent must certainly have been an important official at Pāṭaliputra, but Megasthenes makes no mention of him. It is possible that parts of the original account of Megasthenes on city administration have been lost, and that the full account may have mentioned the nāgaraka and other officials. The Arthaśāstra constantly emphasizes the importance of central control and certainly Mauryan administration was in favour of this centralization. It is unlikely that Megasthenes, an otherwise intelligent observer, would have missed this emphasis. It is not outside the bounds of possibility that this was another instance of the author investing India with institutions based on his own political idealism.

Among the other officials mentioned by Aśoka in the edicts are the aṃta-mahāmattas.104 These were the officers who worked among the frontier peoples and the less civilized tribes. Because they are ranked as mahāmattas they may have been in charge of the administration of these areas. They were directly concerned with carrying out Aśoka’s (p.147) policy towards the frontier people. This policy was largely an effort to gain the confidence of the border tribes, so that with mutual trust, their loyalty might also be depended upon. He expects the aṃta-mahāmattas to work towards creating this confidence and asserts again that they, the border tribes, are like his children, and his relationship towards them is that of a father. This administrative policy is linked closely with the propagation of Dhamma amongst the borderers, which was included as one of the duties of the aṃta-mahāmattas.

Elsewhere in his edicts, Aśoka has mentioned the establishing of centres of medical treatment for men and animals in neighbouring countries, which he claims was done at his instigation; the same applied to the southern borderers as well.105 It is possible that the aṃta-mahāmattas acted as liaison officers in matters of this kind where the bordering peoples were involved. The Greek kingdoms may have received envoys, since their relationship does not appear to have been quite as close to Aśoka as that of the southern borderers. Together with acquainting the borderers with the principles of the Dhamma the aṃta-mahāmattas were also responsible for preventing rebellions against Mauryan authority amongst the frontier peoples. These mahāmattas were aided in their work by special officers whom the king appointed for this purpose, and who were called ayutike.106 The similarity of the designations yukta and ayutika suggests a similar category of officials. The aṃta-mahāmattas of the edicts may have been the equivalent of the anta-pālas of the Arthaśāstra.107 These were the superintendents of tolls. No doubt each province had its own anta-pālas, and possibly in some provinces a toll had to be paid even in exchanging goods in the various districts. But toll-houses must have existed along the borders of the empire. It is quite likely that the duties of the aṃta-mahāmattas included the collection of revenue from the toll dues. They would thus supervise the work of the toll collectors and the superintendent of tolls would be responsible to them. (p.148)

Owing to the suppressed condition of women in the society of his time, it is possible that Aśoka may have felt the need to appoint a special group of mahāmattas who would be concerned mainly with the welfare of women. The term used for these officers wasithījhakha-mahāmattas, literally, the officers who were the superintendents of women.108 A connection has been suggested between these officers and the gaṇikādhyakṣas or superintendents of prostitutes.109 It seems hardly feasible that officers of the rank of mahāmattas would have been appointed merely to supervise the city’s prostitutes. Certainly the work of these mahāmattas would include the supervision of the prostitutes, but it would also concern itself with other duties connected with women. Much of their time must have been given to the royal harems. That these harems were large enough to warrant a special class of officers, is clear from the inscriptions of Aśoka. The king mentions that the dhamma-mahāmattas are busy working in many places, including his own residence and those of his brothers and sisters, and whatever other relatives the king has, both in Pāṭaliputra and elsewhere.110 The organization of the harems for instance, must have required this special body of officers. It has been suggested that Aśoka maintained harems outside Pāṭaliputra, and subsidiary to his main palace.111 Here the women were of a lower caste. This is an exaggerated estimate of Aśoka’s indulgence in harem life. As the edict indicates, the harems were not only those of Aśoka but also of his various relatives.

The 7th Pillar Edict speaks of the dhamma-mahāmattas and many other chief officers, whose duty it is to record charitable gifts made by the members of his family.112 The chief officers were probably the ithījhakhamahāmattas, and kept detailed records of donations, etc.; whereas the dhamma-mahāmattas were responsible for preaching the (p.149) Dhamma and encouraging the members of the royal family to make donations, the ithījhakha-mahāmattas were concerned with the administrative matters in the harem. On other occasions when women were in need of help, it is possible that they may have appealed to the office of these mahāmattas.113 The more subordinate officers were concerned with the type of work envisaged in the Arthaśāstra, the employment of women in the craft of weaving, or the regulation of prostitutes.

Every official of the Mauryan administration had to propagate the Dhamma in the course of his work, whether it was the prādeśika going on tour, or the rājūka in his judicial capacity. In speaking of the Dhamma stress was laid on general observances such as consideration towards slaves, servants, brahmans, śramaṇas, parents, aged people, animals, and even abstinence from the killing of animals, and the welfare of prisoners. But Aśoka did not rest at the general propagation of Dhamma by his officers. In his fourteenth regnal year he started a new service, that of the dhammamāhāmattas, whose particular concern was the spreading of the Dhamma and explaining the policy wherever necessary. As a service this group of officers was new to Indian administration.114 Originally their work was largely that of welfare, but gradually their power increased until they could interfere in the working of various religious sects and secular institutions. The king became increasingly dependent upon them. They appear to have become similar in their attitudes to a religious order.

Most matters of importance in the daily administration of the country were attended to by the general administrative officers. Irrigation for instance was handled by the office of rājūkas, or the agoronomoi of Megasthenes, who inspected the rivers and sluices and supervised the distribution of water among the cultivators. The Rudradāman Inscription states that a dam was built on the Sudarśan lake during the reign of Candragupta Maurya, to facilitate water supply to the neighbouring countryside.115 The importance (p.150) of forests was recognized during this period, and the Arthaśāstra mentions a superintendent of forest produce, who also supervised the care of the forests.116 The ill-effects of the random cutting down of forests must have been felt during the Mauryan period. Forests were also preserved since they were a source of revenue, which was provided by the tax on timber and on hunters who maintained a livelihood from the animals in the forest. Moreover timber from the forests was essential for building purposes. Thus the clearance of forests had to be regulated. The Arthaśāstra suggests the employment of guards to prevent unnecessary damage. This was also to ensure that on each occasion that the land was cleared and brought under cultivation, the local administration would be informed, so that the land could then be registered and the cultivator would have to pay the required taxes. The wanton burning of forests is prohibited in one of the edicts.117

The administration of the armed forces is described in detail both by Kauṭalya and by Megasthenes. The former classifies troops in the main into three categories, hereditary troops, hired troops, and soldiers belonging to corporations.118 The first were of primary importance. These constituted the standing army of the king and were probably the troops referred to by Megasthenes in describing the fifth class, that of the soldiers.119 Since they formed the core of the fighting force they were given special treatment. Megasthenes speaks of them being numerically the second largest group, smaller only than that of the peasants. The troops are described as being very well paid; during periods of peace they are said to be lazy and seem to spend their time enjoying themselves. The statement that they are so well paid that they support others on their salary is not an exaggeration. According to the Arthaśāstra the trained soldier was to be paid 500 paṇas, which (p.151) in the range of salaries was listed as a very comfortable income.120 The maintenance of the army was the concern of the commander-in-chief and the superintendent of the infantry. Other sections of the army, the cavalry, the elephant corps, and the armoury, were each under their respective officer.121

The extension of the empire under the first two Mauryas meant that the army had to be given priority in many matters, in order that it might be constantly ready for major campaigns. Hence it was regarded as constituting a special class. The hereditary troops were no doubt linked with the kṣatriya element in society which gave them added prestige. The armed strength of the Mauryas and of the Nandas before them is always described in colossal numbers in European sources. Plutarch writes that Candragupta conquered with an army of 600,000 foot soldiers, apart from cavalry, chariots and elephants. Pliny speaks of 80,000 infantry, 1000 horses and 700 elephants.122 These figures would represent the regular and reserve forces. Plutarch was describing this force by way of explaining the armed opposition that Alexander would have met if he had continued his campaign beyond the river Beas. It is therefore possible that some of the figures are exaggerated.

When describing the administration of the armed forces Megasthenes speaks of there being six committees with five members on each, similar to those administering Pāṭaliputra.123 This exact parallel in numbers is unusual and may be the result of a mistake in one of the two records. Again, Megasthenes may have had the superintendents of various sections in mind, as described in the Arthaśāstra. The first committee co-operates with the admiral of the fleet, and is therefore concerned with naval warfare. Ships and boats must have been used in battles where there was a possibility of river transport or a river attack, though this form of warfare does not seem to be highly developed. The second committee would be equivalent to the modern (p.152) commissariat. It supervises the bullock-trains used for transporting equipment, food, and other necessities. Although the Arthaśāstra does not speak in detail of the commissariat it is assumed that every army is accompanied by such a section. It is mentioned for instance in the chapter on the encampment of the army.124 The servants of the regular soldiers, grooms, and other attendants are included in this section.

The remaining four committees are concerned with the four branches of the army regularly listed in the Indian sources: infantry, cavalry, the chariots, and the elephants. Each of these is discussed in detail in the Arthaśāstra.125 Megasthenes states that the soldier was expected to return his arms to the magazine. This was probably true, since the armoury as described by Kauṭalya is an extensive establishment periodically inspected, suggesting that all the arms were kept in one place.126 Horses and elephants were the property of the king and private ownership of these was not permitted. Megasthenes, like most Greek writers in India, appears to have been very impressed with elephants, and his accounts of the catching and breeding of elephants are amazingly correct.127 All this information confirms the fact that soldiers were paid their salaries in cash and not with land grants. It is curious that in describing military administration, Megasthenes once again omits mentioning the central authority, in this case the commander-in-chief. The Arthaśāstra stresses the fact that the man who holds this office must be skilled in handling the four branches of the army.

Another aspect of Mauryan administration is mentioned briefly in passing, in the European sources. Diodorus in his account refers to kingless states. He mentions that Dionysius established a kingdom in India and after many generations of his descendants had ruled, the kingdom was dissolved and democratic government was set up in the cities.128 The same is stated regarding a kingdom built by Heracles.129 (p.153) In the latter case some of the cities retained kings, others adopted a democratic form of government. Elsewhere it is stated that the sixth class, that of the overseers, sent in their reports to the magistrates in cities where there was no king.130 Arrian makes similar remarks, and in addition mentions that the peasants bring their taxes to the king and to the cities which are autonomous. The members of the sixth caste likewise bring reports to the magistrates in self-governing cities.131 He mentions the same procedure with regard to the seventh class, that of councillors. Strabo refers to a system of government by councillors in the country beyond the Hypanis. It is an aristocratic form of government consisting of 500 councillors, each of whom furnished the state with an elephant.132

An earlier writer on the subject is of the opinion that Megasthenes was aware of the system in which cities had a semi-independent status within an empire, as was the case in the Seleucid empire.133 This independence was naturally limited to the control of internal affairs. Megasthenes states that these autonomous cities were a part of Candragupta’s empire, yet Aśoka makes no mention of them. A further suggestion is that Megasthenes may have been thinking of the autonomous tribes known to have formed part of the empire, as for instance the Āṭavikas referred to in the Arthaśāstra, and he automatically ascribed to them the organization of other independent cities. Megasthenes’ kingless states are called polis, a city, and not ethnos, people.134 This implies a system of government and not a tribal people living on plunder.

Evidence from another source which may throw some light on the matter can be obtained from a series of inscribed coins. Among the coins found at Taxila, a number of oblong, copper coins contained the legend, negama135 The word has been variously interpreted as either (p.154) referring to traders or a market merchant guild, or ‘mercantile money token issued by traders’, or ‘coin of commerce’.136 Although this suggests that there was some local autonomy in certain matters, these cities cannot be regarded as free cities, since the autonomy applies only to merchant guilds or large-scale business organizations, and that too mainly in the matter of commerce. It does not imply the political autonomy of the entire city. There may have been some arrangement with these guilds, whereby the cultivators of certain products used by the guilds in their manufacture or by the artisans, paid their taxes directly to the guilds.

This reference to independent cities could also have arisen from a misunderstanding of the original text, by Diodorus and Arrian, or from an inability on the part of Megasthenes to state clearly what the actual situation was. In the Buddhist period, tribes with an oligarchical system of government existed in the Ganges valley.137 Some tribes of the Indus valley are described in European sources as being under a republican form of government.138 Some of the tribes led an independent semi-civilized existence. With the conquest of this region by the Mauryas these tribes would be incorporated within the empire. It is possible that during the reign of Candragupta Maurya, since the conquest was recent, Mauryan administration may have dealt leniently with them, allowing them to continue many of their older institutions, although the overall administration would be controlled by the Mauryan authorities. This system may have created the illusion of these tribes or of their cities being semi-independent. As the administration was expanded and began to gain greater control over the outlying provinces, these cities would increasingly lose their remaining independence, until, in the reign of Aśoka, they were completely amalgamated within the empire.

The traditional memories of monarchical rule with intervening periods of republican government, may be explained by the fact that (p.155) recollection of early periods, when kings were elected, was still present. The oligarchical system may have had its origin in the Vedic system of government with the help of the two assemblies, the samiti and the sabhā. The Greek authors were familiar with the idea of the Greek city states and for them the independent city was not an unusual political phenomenon. It is possible that Diodorus may have inserted the reference to the independent cities as a matter of course from his knowledge of Greek political institutions, without being consciously aware that a similar institution may not have existed in India during the Mauryan period.

A misunderstanding of the original text of Megasthenes may have resulted in references to independent cities. This is possible particularly in the passage where it is stated that the overseers sent reports to the magistrates in the cities where there were no kings. Megasthenes may have been referring to those cities where neither the king nor any important representative of the king was in residence. Thus, in Pāṭaliputra, or in any of the provincial capitals under the control of a viceroy, the superintendents would be in a position to send their reports directly to the king or the king’s representative. In other cities where no such representative had been stationed, the reports would naturally be sent to the highest administrative body, that of the magistrates. Megasthenes may have meant that they were self-governing as opposed to the other cities which were governed by the king’s representative. The description of such cities as self-governing may have been added by the later authors, by way of elucidation, although the term was incorrect. In writing his Indica, Arrian may have consulted the earlier work of Diodorus on the subject, particularly as Diodorus was in turn quoting from Megasthenes. Arrian’s introduction of the self-governing cities into his description of the seventh class for example, may well have been his own addition, following, to his mind, quite logically from the statement of Diodorus.

It is clear from the administration of the period that the king had control over even the most remote part of the empire. An efficient bureaucracy was essential to this. The control extended to the very details of daily life. Even if the administrators did not supervise these details in practice, the mention of them as included in their responsibilities, suggests the degree of organization demanded from the officials. (p.156) Efficient as this system may have been, it must also have produced at times too much interference or regulation in the lives of the people by the officials. Together with the latter worked the dhamma-mahāmattas and this must on occasion have been too oppressive a combination for the average citizen to accept without feeling restricted. The administration was partly imperial and partly local in its day-to-day functioning. Policy was dictated by the centre and the tendency of centralization in the administration was very strong, as is apparent from the edicts. For obvious reasons such a system works well where the ruler himself is efficient. But a weak central authority is bound to produce unfortunate results in the provinces. This inherent weakness in the administration of the early Mauryas was partially responsible for the decline of the dynasty under the later Mauryas.

The picture of the administrative machinery as given in the preceding pages, related to conditions within the Mauryan empire. The geographical extent of the empire during the reign of Aśoka can fortunately be indicated fairly precisely. The distribution of his rock and pillar edicts is unchallenged evidence of his authority. Places connected with his name by tradition may be taken into account, as also the peoples and areas mentioned by him in his edicts, as being within the empire. In the north-west his inscriptions extend as far as Mānsehrā, Shahbāzgarhi, and Laghman, with the westernmost extension reaching as far as Kandahar. He mentions the Gandhārās, the Kambojas, and the Yonas as his borderers. The domains of Antiochus II of Syria bordered the empire on the west. The references to the three peoples above as his borderers is rather ambiguous, since it is not certain whether this term meant that they were within the empire or just outside it along the frontier. Judging from the location of the inscriptions it would seem that the peoples mentioned were within the empire. The southern borderers, however, do not seem to have been included within the empire. These were the Colas, Pāṇḍyas, Sātiyaputras, and the Keralaputras. No Aśokan inscriptions have yet been found in these areas, the southernmost inscriptions being in the Raichur district. The relationship between these peoples and the empire appears to have been a closer one. The exact frontier in the south is not defined. It would seem that it ran from the west coast to the east, just south of (p.157)

                   Internal Administration and Foreign Relations

Tribal Peoples mentioned in the Aśokan Edicts

the Chitaldroog district. The valley of the Pennar river may have been used as a natural frontier on the eastern side of the southern boundary. In the east, the empire extended as far as the Ganges delta. Tamluk was within the empire, and was a busy port.

In determining the quality of governments or rulers, an evaluation of their foreign relations is essential. This would include relations based both on diplomacy and on geographical proximity. The century in which Aśoka lived was one of tremendous intercommunication between the eastern Mediterranean and South Asia. Aśoka was aware of the importance of foreign relations and contact with peoples outside his empire. Most of his contacts were to the south and the west. The east was as yet almost outside his sphere of interest. It would (p.158) appear that this interest was not onesided. There must have been a fair number of foreigners in Pātaliputra to necessitate special committees under municipal management appointed to supervise the needs and welfare of the visitors. The term foreigner may have referred as well to people from the outlying parts of the empire, who would be almost as foreign to the citizens of Pāṭaliputra as the Greeks themselves.

The fact of Indians going in large numbers to foreign countries and travelling in distant places appears to have been a new development;139 although Megasthenes states that Indians have never migrated from their own country.140 This new spirit of adventure was no doubt due in part to familiarity with other peoples after the Greek campaign, and in part to the opening up of trade with foreign countries, particularly with the West. Aśoka’s missions to various parts of the Hellenic world must also have assisted.141 These missions were the main contact that Aśoka had with neighbouring countries. They can be described as embassies, though the word mission is more appropriate. Their main purpose was to acquaint the countries they visited with the policies of Aśoka, particularly that of Dhamma. They were not resident in any single country for a long period. They may be compared to modern goodwill missions, moving from area to area, addressing the local people, exchanging gifts and messages, and generally helping to create an interest in the ideas and peoples of the country from which they come.142 (p.159)

Had the missions been resident embassies, and if they had had some degree of permanent success, there would have been a reference to them in European sources. The fact that they are quite unheard of in contemporary literature or any later source would suggest that they made only a short-lived impression. They did, however, succeed in opening up a channel as it were for the inflow of Indian ideas and goods. Indian life was not unknown in the Hellenic world. The missions familiarized it even further to the inhabitants of the neighbouring countries. It is unlikely that Aśoka expected all the kings who had received missions to put the policy of Dhamma into practice, completely and immediately, although he claims that this did happen. As long as these missions provoked some interest among the people they visited, Aśoka was convinced of their success.

It is curious that there should be no reference to these missions in the last important public declaration of Aśoka, the 7th Pillar Edict. In this edict, Aśoka mentions the success he has had with his welfare services and the widespread propagation of Dhamma, but all within the empire. The more obvious explanation is that the missions did not succeed to the extent that the king had hoped. Mention of them in the Major Rock Edicts was due to the fact that they had recently been sent and therefore the king in all enthusiasm was confident of their success. But by the twenty-eighth year of his reign he had had enough time and experience to realize that the missions might have increased the interest in things Indian, but had achieved nothing tangible in the way of establishing the practice of Dhamma in the countries which they had visited. Rather than admit failure, the king refrained from mentioning them. A more plausible reason as to why these missions were ignored in this edict, is that the king had restricted himself entirely to matters of domestic policy in this declaration. The missions appear to have been successful in Ceylon, where Tissa became a firm adherent of the Dhamma idea, and this would have deserved mention in the edict, even at the exclusion of mentioning the other countries to which they were sent. (p.160)

The territory immediately adjoining the empire of Aśoka on the west, the Achaemenid empire in pre-Mauryan times and now held by Antiochus, had been a close neighbour both in thought and action. There is ample evidence of contacts between Iran and India. Some are of a superficial nature, such as the fact that Indian mercenaries from the north-west border fought in the Achaemenid army on various occasions, others of a more lasting kind, as was the inclusion of the Indian province of Sindhu and Gandhāra in the empire of Cyrus, mentioned in the Persepolis Inscription of Darius.143 Some similarities of custom and culture have been described as due to the influence of Iran on India. This is a dangerous attitude in approaching the past, since it results largely from imposing twentieth-century national boundaries on culture systems of two thousand or more years ago. The study of cultures as carried out by modern archaeologists has made it necessary that present-day historians should consider the matter with a new and more correct perspective. On the question, of Achaemenid ‘influence’ neither of the two previously held theories are acceptable. One maintains that everything Aśokan in art is derived from Achaemenid Iran, the other equally vehemently claims that it is all indigenous. Archaeology has shown that Achaemenid Iran and north-western India were very close cultural groups, and similarities were bound to exist. The then known world was a small but active one, with a considerable amount of intercommunication and trade. This enlarged the scope of cultural developments to more than local needs and the influence of religious movements to more than theological dogma.

Some of these customs similar to Iran and India were the result of practical necessity and are common to many cultures. For example the shaving of the head on certain occasions is described as an Iranian form of punishment.144 Both the Arthaśāstra and the Mahāvaṃsa list it as a punishment as well.145 But this punishment has been practised even in modern India, where the eyebrows of a criminal were shaved in order to make him more conspicuous. Doubtless it was for this reason that it was employed as a form of punishment in an older (p.161) period. Many of the other customs were held in common ancestry. The Iranians and the Indo-Aryans, coming from the common stock of early Aryans, would naturally continue many of the earlier customs even when the two had settled in new areas. One such may have been the ceremonial hair-washing on the king’s birthday.146

Further evidence of a common culture is the similarity between the edicts of Darius and those of Aśoka. There is no certainty as to whether Aśoka knew the edicts of the former. He may have known that the Achaemenids engraved inscriptions on rock surfaces and decided to do the same. The similarity of the form of address suggests that Aśoka may have read the text of an Iranian edict. Darius uses the phrase,

thatiy Darayavush kshayathiya147

thus saith the king Darius …

Aśoka uses the following phrase,

devāṅampiya Piyadassi rājāevam ahā148

the king, the beloved of the gods, Piyadassi, speaks thus …

It is also possible that Aśoka knew only the formula for commencing edicts, which appears to have been, ‘thus speaks the king…’, and which was probably used by many of the kings both Iranian and Indian.

The tone of the Aśokan edicts is certainly far more humble than of the inscriptions of Darius.149 This difference is largely due to the difference in the contents of the inscriptions. Darius was concerned mainly with proclaiming his greatness and the value of his achievements. Aśoka, though he did not refrain from boasting about his achievements in some edicts, was nevertheless more concerned with preaching the Dhamma. This difference is markedly apparent in the titles taken by both kings. Darius writes of himself, ‘I am Darius the Great King, King of Kings, King of countries containing all kinds of men, King in this great earth far and wide …’150 Aśoka, an equally (p.162) impressive figure with an equally large empire, refers to himself as, ‘the king, the beloved of the gods, Piyadassi ….’151

That this similarity in culture did not rest only with ideas is clear from the linguistic affinity between the inhabitants of the north-west part of the Mauryan empire and those in Achaemenid Iran. The use of kharoṣṭhī in the Shahbāzgarhi and Mānsehrā edicts in the north is evidence of strong contact with Iran. The fragmentary Aramaic inscription at Taxila and the Aramaic inscription from Kandahar, point to continued intercommunication between the two areas. The use of the Iranian words dipi and nipiṣṭa in the northern versions of the Major Rock Edicts, adds conviction to this idea.152

The Junāgadh inscription of Rudradāman mentions the area of Aparānta governed by the yonarājā Tuṣāspa, a governor of Aśoka.153 The inscription describes him as a Greek, yet the name is clearly Iranian. Greek settlements in the north-west took place after the campaign of Alexander. The nucleus of the settlers were either deserters from the Greek army or were those who had deliberately stayed behind. Tuṣāspa could have been an Iranian or an Indian who had lived for some time in an area that had a predominance of Iranian culture. The Periplus mentions that relics of Alexander’s invasion were to be found as far as Broach.154 While Alexander’s expedition never reached this region, it may be suggested that Greek contact with Gujarat existed in Mauryan times and a small Greek colony at Broach formed the basis for the false statement in the Periplus.155 It is equally feasible that Iranian mercenaries, whom no doubt Alexander must have employed for his Indian campaign may have deserted at this point. Thus Tuṣāspa may have come from an important family of Greeks or Iranians of Indo-Greek or Indo-Iranian descent.

The architectural closeness of certain buildings in Achaemenid Iran and Mauryan India have raised much comment. The royal palace (p.163)

                   Internal Administration and Foreign Relations

Edicts from the Aśokan inscription at Shahbāzgarhi

(p.164) at Pāṭaliputra is the most striking example and has been compared with the palaces at Susa, Ecbatana, and Persepolis.156 The ground plan is much the same as that of Persepolis. The central hall at Persepolis has an alignment of a hundred pillars and the one at Pāṭaliputra has eighty pillars. A mason’s mark on one of the stones at Pāṭaliputra is remarkably similar to those found at Persepolis, suggesting a common source of the craftsmen. The Aśokan pillars with their animal capitals have been discussed in a similar light. If in fact they were made in Taxila as we have suggested, then the similarity is logical and not to be wondered at.

Farther west, the Mauryan period saw the development of trade and commerce with Babylon.157 This was of great assistance to communication between India and the West, since it kept the maritime route open. Contact with the Greeks was again not a new development. The word used for the Greeks, yona or yavana, comes via Iran. The Iranians first came into contact with the Ionian Greeks and therefore employed the term Yauna when referring to the Greeks in general. In Sanskrit the word became yavana using what appears to be a ‘back-formation’, and in Prākrit it occurs as yona.158 There is evidence of Greek settlement in the trans-Indus and Afghanistan areas during a period before the coming of Alexander. Xerxes, it was claimed, settled a colony of Ionian Greeks in the area between Balkh and Samarkand. They are referred to as the Branchidae and were later massacred by Alexander during the course of his campaign in that area.159 The people of Nysa in the Swāt valley claimed Greek descent when questioned by Alexander.160 There is a reference to yavana-lipi in the work of Pānini, and this text is believed to be pre-Mauryan.161 The campaign of Alexander although it appears to have made little immediate impression (p.165) on India at the time, must certainly have familiarized the local people with Greek ways.

Interest in India on the part of the various Greek kings is apparent from the fact that they sent ambassadors to the Indian court, particularly during the Mauryan period. Megasthenes, Deimachus, and Dionysius resided at the court at Pāṭaliputra. There is no certainty as to whether Megasthenes came as an official ambassador or as a private visitor, since the sources are not in agreement on this point. In view of the early contacts it is likely that Indians visited Greek centres, even prior to the sending of Aśoka’s missions, but no accounts of such visits have yet been found. There are references to the yonas in the rock edicts of Aśoka. On certain occasions the word refers to the Greek settlements in the north-west, and on others to the Hellenic kingdoms, depending on the context. Antiochus II Theos of Syria is more frequently mentioned. It is understandable that Antiochus would be better known to Aśoka than the other Greek kings because of earlier family connections and also because Antiochus was the nearest Greek ruler geographically. The other Hellenic kings to whom diplomatic missions were sent, were Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt, Magas of Cyrene, Antigonus Gonatas of Macedonia, and Alexander of Epirus.

There was probably no rigid boundary line on the north-west frontier. The Greek settlements were probably dotted all along this frontier and their friendliness or hostility to the Mauryan state depended largely on their relations with the local viceroy at Taxila. No doubt the Mauryan state must have had a fairly direct control over them. Although mainly Greek in character, the proximity of India may have produced much Indian influence in these settlements. The dhamma-mahāmattas must have worked in the centres both within the empire and just outside. There would be no strong objections to this, even in areas outside, as it meant assistance in matters of welfare, such as the building of roads and the planting of medicinal herbs. Their geographical proximity would bring them into the Mauryan ‘sphere of influence’.

In the north relations with Kashmir have been postulated by various authorities, but there is no actual evidence of the precise extent of Aśoka’s control. Kalhaṇa states in the Rājataraṅgiṇī that Śrīnagara was (p.166) built by Aśoka.162 According to another tradition, Aśoka after quelling the revolt at Taxila, conquered the area of Khaśa, which is located in the south-west of modern Kashmir.163 Hsüan Tsang relates an involved story concerning the officials who were responsible for the blinding of Kunāla and who were exiled to a region to the east of Khotan.164 Here they came into conflict with an exiled Chinese prince who had settled, at almost the same time, in the region to the west of Khotan. It would seem from the literary evidence that there was considerable activity in the area of Kashmir, but unfortunately the region has not produced any remains which can be dated with certainty to the Aśokan period. Owing to its comparative inaccessibility it was obviously not as important as the north-western border. There is no reason to disbelieve that the empire included Khaśa. If Kashmir was not actually within the empire it must all the same have been within the sphere of influence, and the people of the region had the same status as the rest of the borderers.

Tibetan tradition maintains that Aśoka visited Khotan 250 years after the death of the Buddha, in 236 B.C.165 It is also recorded that the kingdom of Khotan was founded by Indians and Chinese during the reign of Aśoka, the events being similar to those related by Hsüan Tsang, who probably first heard it when he visited Khotan. Aśoka’s journey to Khotan does not sound very convincing. In his thirty-third regnal year he must have been at least sixty years old and for him to have made such a hazardous journey over the mountains is hardly probable. It is possible though that he sent Dhamma missions to Khotan.

Aśoka appears to have had close connections with the area of modern Nepal. Part of it at least was within the empire, since Aśoka’s visit to Rummindei cannot be regarded as a visit to a foreign country. Tradition has it that he was accompanied on this visit by his daughter (p.167) Cārumatī and that she was married to a kṣatriya of Nepal, Devapāla.166 If his administration did not extend right into Nepal, despite the fact that he was supposed to have suppressed a rebellion there when he was still a prince, it must certainly have included the Tarai region. Nepalese tradition maintains that Aśoka actually visited Nepal. This may be a reference to the visit to Rummindei, or he may have journeyed farther into Nepal on the same occasion.167 Some Nepalese temples are ascribed to Aśoka, among them the sanctuary built by Buddhist monks on the hill of Svayambunātha in western Nepal.168 But this could well be a later story, invented to give prestige and antiquity to the shrine.

On the east the empire included the province of Vaṅga, since Tāmralipti, the principal port of the area, was one of the more important maritime centres during the Mauryan period. Indian missions to and from Ceylon are said to have travelled via Tāmralipti.169 The conquest of Kaliṅga must have strengthened the Mauryan hold in eastern India. Recent excavations have produced, not surprisingly, evidence of extensive Mauryan settlements in the Ganges delta.170

The extent and influence of Aśoka’s power in south India is better documented than in north India, though here again a fair amount is left to speculation. Evidence is available both in literary and epigraphical sources. A late Pallava charter mentions Aśokavarman as one of the rulers of Kāñci.171 This may refer to the Mauryan emperor or to a south Indian ruler who assumed the same name. To some extent the south Indian sources may be regarded as more authentic than some of the Buddhist texts, since the southern tradition did not seek to obtain prestige by connecting events with the more important north Indian (p.168) rulers. Furthermore, with regard to the reign of Aśoka, there were no Buddhist chroniclers to interfere with the original tradition. The epigraphical evidence consists of the edicts of Aśoka found at the following south Indian sites, Gāvimath, Pālkiguṇḍu, Brahmagiri, Maski, Yeaguḍi, Siddāpur, and Jaṭiṅga-Rameshwar. These sites provide some indication of the southern borders of the empire. There are references to the peoples of these areas in the edicts as well.

There is a tradition that Tamil poetry was first committed to writing in the third or second century B.C. by foreign immigrants who were inveterate makers of stone inscriptions.172 The foreign immigrants were the Aryan tribes pushing south. The reference to stone inscriptions strongly suggests the Aśokan period. If the tradition can be accepted then we may say that there was no script in south India until the coming of Brāhmī from the north. Bindusāra was largely responsible for the conquest of the southern dominions of the empire.173 Mamulanar and other Tamil poets refer to the Nandas and Mauryas in Tamil literature of the first three centuries A.D. The Nandas are described as accumulating treasure in Pāṭaliputra and then hiding it in the waters of the Ganges.174 Tamil anthologies refer to the invasion of the Moriyar, who appear to be the Mauryas.175 They are described as a splendid force coming from the area north of the Tamil region, Vaṭukar, but they have to retreat when they arrive at a narrow pass, which they cannot penetrate. On one occasion they do succeed, but their shining cakra is brought low by those defending the pass. They are said to have come from the broad kingdom which is described as the land of the sun. The commentary explains that the pass was situated in the Ve˘ḷḷimalai or the Silver Mountain and the reference to the Vaṭukar defending it would suggest that it may have referred to the Āndhras or the Kannada-Telegu people.176 The land of the sun is explained as Ādityamaṇḍala in the commentary. It would (p.169) seem that the Mauryan conquest of the southern kingdoms was by no means easy. It was perhaps the memory of this as well as other factors that kept Aśoka from a conquest of the extreme south. In the first century A.D. there is a reference to Varkadu in Tamil literature.177 This was the boundary line of the northern empire. It corresponds very closely to the southern limits of Aśoka’s empire.

Hsüan Tsang mentions two stūpas which he saw in southern India, one in the Cola kingdom and one in the Pāṇḍya kingdom, both said to have been built by Aśoka.178 This would suggest that Buddhist missionaries may have reached those areas. The Chinese pilgrim refers to further stūpas built by Aśoka and by Mahinda in the kingdom south of the river Cauvery. We cannot be sure that his informants were not trying to impress him with the antiquity and importance of the places he visited by associating them with Aśoka. This may also be the result of the confusion of two traditions. Aśoka must have sent Dhamma missions to these south Indian kingdoms. These missions may have been resident missions. Buddhist missionaries may have arrived at much the same time, building monasteries and proclaiming Aśoka as an ardent Buddhist. Mahinda, if he did not go to Ceylon by sea, must have stopped at these places en route to Ceylon.

The degree of civilization of these south Indian kingdoms is an interesting question. That they were able to build up an important trade with the Roman empire three centuries later would suggest that they were already fairly advanced in the Aśokan period. It is possible that these kingdoms were not wholly antagonistic to Mauryan authority under Aśoka, and therefore there was no need for Aśoka to conquer any farther south. His Kaliṅga experience did not make him too eager to indulge in war for its own sake. From the descriptions of the Mauryan forces in Tāmil poetry it would seem that they made a great impression on the people of the south and no doubt the Mauryans were held in considerable awe, since the conquest had taken place hardly a generation earlier. The reports of the Kaliṅga War must have played an important part in their decision to submit to the Mauryan emperor. (p.170) Those outside the boundary of the empire probably accepted Aśoka as the nominal suzerain, allowing as his other borderers had allowed the entry of the dhamma-mahāmattas, but not being in effect a part of the empire.

Throughout the reign of Aśoka, Ceylon remained a friendly neighbour in the south. It is referred to in the edicts under the name of Tambapanni.179 Information is available in the Ceylonese chronicles on contacts between India and Ceylon. Allowing for the interpolation of later centuries we may use this as evidence. The coming of Mahinda to Ceylon was not the first official contact between the two countries. It is clear from the 13th Rock Edict that Dhamma-missions had been sent to Ceylon prior to the journey of Mahinda. It seems fairly certain from the evidence that not only was Ceylon in contact with India before Aśoka, but also that Buddhism had already arrived in Ceylon before the coming of Mahinda. Mahinda’s importance lay largely in the fact that he persuaded the king Devānmapiya Tissa to become a Buddhist, which in Ceylon gave the religion a more or less official status. Mahinda arrived in the north of Ceylon. It would seem that Buddhist temples of an earlier date existed in the south since the southern area has the ruins of very ancient stūpas.180 Numerically too the north has fewer remains of such shrines.

The coming of Buddhism to Ceylon raises the problem of the language used by the preachers. It would appear that the early Buddhist missionaries had already started teaching in Prākrit. The inscribing of edicts in south India in Prākrit would suggest that the language was not completely unknown in the southern territories. The fact that the Ceylonese chronicles relate the story of the coming of Vijaya from (p.171) India as the civilizing force, is of some importance.181 Perhaps the story disguises a large-scale immigration of a maritime force from India, resulting in a cultural and political conquest of the island. The strange legend of the origin of Vijaya seems an obvious attempt at making him an extraordinary person, as also the fact that he landed in Ceylon on the day of the Parinirvāṇa. It is possible that the first Buddhists came with Vijaya as part of his entourage, and no doubt brought the language with them. Prākrit inscriptions in Ceylon, the earliest of which dates back to Uttiya the successor of Tissa, are not very different in language from Aśokan Prākrit and are inscribed in the Brāhmī script.182 This would suggest that the language had a history prior to the coming of Mahinda, which would give it greater justification for being used in an official document.

The Ceylon chronicles describe Vijaya as coming from the kingdom of Vaṅga in eastern India, but there appears to be some confusion as regards his original home. He is described as landing first at Suppāraka during the journey to Ceylon.183 This would suggest that he came from an area on the west coast of India, since Suppāraka is the modern Sopārā. This would confirm the strong tradition among the Sinhalese that their ancestors came from the west coast of India.184 Although early Sinhalese was influenced by eastern Prākrit, the substitution of ha for sa suggests a western source. It is curious that when Ariṭṭha travels to Pāṭalīputra, he goes by sea and then crosses the Viñjha mountains, which would indicate that he travelled along the west coast and across the Vindhya range to Pāṭaliputra.185 It would appear, therefore, that the Indian settlers in Ceylon came from both the east and the west and that the confusion in the texts is due to these two traditions. The Mahāvaṃsa suggests that people of all sects resided in Ceylon before the coming of Mahinda. The princess who became Vijaya’s wife, came from the Paṇḍyan kingdom, so that there was considerable contact (p.172) between Ceylon and south India during that period.186 She is said to have been related to the Buddha and strangely enough she and her women friends arrive disguised as nuns, presumably as a means of protection on the journey. This in itself would suggest that Buddhism was known in Ceylon before Mahinda. This existing contact was no doubt strengthened by the arrival of Aśoka’s dhamma-mahāmattas in the fourteenth regnal year of Aśoka. Mahinda arrived later, to convert the king Tissa, and to organize monastic orders in Ceylon.187

Aśoka’s relationship with Ceylon was not purely political. He and Tissa were on very close terms. As a young man Tissa must have come into contact with the dhamma-mahāmattas sent to Ceylon five years before Tissa’s coronation. Obviously the personality of Aśoka as it emerged from the work of these officers, impressed Tissa. He may perhaps have decided to model himself on the older king. His first coronation took place in Aśoka’s seventeenth year, and some time later he had a second coronation to which he invited a representative of the Indian king. Aśoka returned the courtesy with gifts and a mission. Mahinda probably came with this mission as a personal representative of Aśoka, and, no doubt, was accompanied by other monks.188 Tissa accepted the faith and appears to have made it the state religion. Tissa also adopted the title of Devānampiya, probably through his enthusiasm for Aśoka.189 Tissa’s enthusiasm does not imply that he was a vassal of the latter. It was a relationship based on the admiration of the one for the other, among other things. Though there must have been a considerable interchange of missions, Ceylon remained an independent kingdom. No doubt trading facilities existed between the two countries and strengthened the political ties.


(1) Dikshitar, Mauryan Polity, p. 78.

(2) Book XI.

(3) Age of the Nandas and Mauryas, p. 172.

(4) III, 1.

(5) I S. E., Dhauli. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 137.

(6) II, 1; IV, 3.

(7) VI P. E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p.167.

(8) Arthaśāstra, I, 4.

(9) Arthaśāstra, I, 10.

(10) Ibid., I, 9.

(11) Age of the Nandas and Mauryas, p. 175.

(12) Minor Rock Edict, Brahmagiri. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 146.

(13) V R.E.; II P. E.

(14) I, 19.

(15) Strabo, XV, 1, 53–56.

(16) VI R.E., Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 107.

(17) I, 19.

(18) III R.E., Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 96.

(19) VI R.E., Girnār. Ibid., p. 107.

(20) Jayaswal has attempted to prove that the ministerial council had over-riding powers and could reject the policy of the king (Hindu Polity, pp. 275–80, 294–305). As Barua has pointed out (Aśoka and his Inscriptions, p. 213), Jayaswal’s reading is based on an incorrect interpretation of the word nijhati. This word is not derived from nikṣapti, rejection, as Jayaswal believes, but from nidhvapti, which indicates an agreement resulting from deliberations. There is certainly no hint in the edict of Aśoka waiting anxiously for the acceptance of his policy by the council. If anything the tone is imperious. Besides if the council were so powerful, Aśoka would not make public his own weakness.

(21) I, 9.

(22) I, 10.

(23) Diodorus, II, 41.

(24) I, 15.

(25) Ibid.

(26) II, 5.

(27) II, 6.

(28) II, 7.

(29) II, 9.

(30) V, 3.

(31) II, 13–36.

(32) Hultzsch, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. i, p. xl.

(33) I, II, S.E.; Minor Rock Edict, Brahmagiri.

(34) I, 17.

(35) This happened with great frequency in later Indian history during the Mughal period.

(36) Sircar, Select Inscriptions …, p. 169.

(37) See Ch. II.

(38) Ibid.

(39) In Buddhist literature the particular work of the mahāmatta is often specified in his title. Thus we have the judicial officer vohārikamahāmatta, the military officer senānāyakamahāmatta, the chief minister sabbatthakammahāmatta and the assessment officer donamāpakamahāmatta (Mahāvagga, I, 40; Jātakas, vol. ii, pp. 30, 70). Thomas has analysed the compound as mahatī mātrā yasya, denoting a person of high standing (JRAS, 1914, p. 386).

(40) VI R.E., Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 107.

(41) Ibid., p. 145.

(42) Ibid., p. 136.

(43) Ibid., p. 159.

(44) XII R.E., Girnār. Ibid., p. 121.

(45) V R.E.; XII R. E.; VII P. E.

(46) Diodorus, II, 41.

(47) Strabo, XV, 1, 48.

(48) Indica, XII.

(49) Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 136.

(50) Book IV.

(51) IV P. E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 164.

(52) IV P. E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 164.

(53) Hultzsch, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. I, p. 125.

(54) IV, 10; Shamasastry (trans.), Arthaśāstra, p. 255.

(55) IV, 13.

(56) Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 165.

(57) Bloch has suggested further, that by the addition of an anusvāra to samatā, it would read sammatā (Sanskrit, samyaktā), which would then mean ‘correctness’ instead of ‘uniformity’ (Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 164 n. 10). This interpretation is feasible, though it is indeed surprising that the anusvāra did not occur in any of other version.

(58) Strabo, XV, 1, 53–56.

(59) IV, 4, 5, 6.

(60) Jātakas, vol. iv, p. 430.

(61) Arthaśāstra, III, 11, 17–20; V, 1.

(62) III, 13.

(63) IV, 10.

(64) IV P. E.

(65) II, 36

(66) Kern maintains that the fetters referred to here are spiritual ones and not those of physical imprisonment (Asoka, p.64). This is a false interpretation, since the context of the edict makes it amply clear that it refers to legal and judicial proceedings and whatever punishments might ensue from them.

(67) III R.E., Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p.96.

(68) II, 35

(69) IV, 1.

(70) IV, 9.

(71) Jayaswal has attempted to prove that they were ministers of the central government. In addition to the fact that they are in charge of many hundreds of people, he maintains that the word is derived from rājū meaning king or ruler (Hindu Polity, pp. 195, 287, 301–2). The latter argument is based on false etymology. The first syllable in rājūka is lengthened because double consonants could not be written in Brāhmī at that time.

(72) III R.E. Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 96.

(73) The use of the word pulisāni for agents suggests that they were not high-ranking inspectors or emissaries of the king, but possibly public relations officers who informed the king of public opinion, and received from him orders regarding policy on this subject.

(74) Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 164.

(75) Buhler, ZDMG, 1893, vol. xlvii, pp. 466 ff. Jātakas, vol. iv, p. 169.

(76) II, 6; IV, 13.

(77) Strabo, XV, 1, 50; Age of the Nandas and Mauryas, pp. 120 n. 1 and 224.

(78) IA, 1891, p. 246 n. 50; ZDMG, vol. xxxvii, p. 106; JRAS, 1914, pp. 387 ff.

(79) II, 9.

(80) Ibid., II, 35.

(81) Arthaśāstra, II, 1.

(82) IV P. E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 164.

(83) VII P. E. Ibid., p. 168.

(84) VI R.E. Ibid., p. 107.

(85) I, 12; IV, 9.

(86) Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, p. 59; Ghirshman, Iran, p. 144.

(87) Winston, Charlemagne, p. 210.

(88) Diodorus, II, 41.

(89) Strabo, XV, 1, 48.

(90) Indica, XII.

(91) e. g. Timmer, Megasthenes en de Indische Maatschappij, p. 170.

(92) Episcopoi is translated as ‘the one who watches over: overseer; guardian’. Ephoroi is translated as ‘overseer: guardian; ruler’. The term is used for officials in corporations and was the title of the magistrates at Heraclea (Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, pp. 657, 747).

(93) Book II. The Sanskrit adhyakṣa is etymologically similar to the terms used by Diodorus and Arrian.

(94) II, 35; IV, 4; I, 11; I, 12.

(95) II, 36.

(96) Mahāsthān and Sohgaurā Inscriptions. Sircar, Select Inscriptions …, pp. 82, 85.

(97) Arthaśāstra, II, 36.

(98) I S.E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 136.

(99) The nagalaviyohālaka mahāmattas may have been similar to the paura-vyavahārakas briefly mentioned in the Arthaśāstra as among the more important officials in the city administration.

(100) Strabo, XV, 1, 50.

(101) The use of committees of five is completely foreign to Indian administration. Although in Indian sources there is generally one person at the head, nevertheless such committees based on the idea of the panchāyat are mentioned in the Jātakas (Mahābodhi Jātaka, vol. v, p.228), and the Mahābhārata (II, 5). An even more interesting parallel to the description of Megasthenes can be observed in the administration of the village of Uttaramerur in the Cola period (N. Sastri, The Colas, pp. 283–4).

(102) Megasthenes en de Indische Maatschappij, p. 199.

(103) II, 19; II, 16; II, 36.

(104) II S.E.; I P.E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, pp. 140, 161.

(105) II R.E., Girnār. Ibid., p. 93.

(106) II S.E. Ibid., p. 140.

(107) II, 21.

(108) This is clear from the Shāhbāzgarhi version of the edict where the word used is istridhiyakṣamahāmatta. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 124.

(109) Hultzsch, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. i, p. 22 n. 4. Arthaśāstra, II, 27.

(110) V R.E., Dhauli. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 104.

(111) Bhandarkar, Asoka, p. 12.

(112) VII P. E. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 168.

(113) Bhandarkar, Asoka, pp. 56–57.

(114) We have discussed their role in detail in the following chapter.

(115) Sircar, Select Inscriptions …, p. 169.

(116) II, 17.

(117) V P. E. Bloch, Les inscriptions d’Asoka, p.166.

(118) II, 33.

(119) Diodorus, II, 41.

(120) V, 3. In later centuries, the sepoys in the armies of the East India Company are known to have employed personal servants.

(121) II, 33; II. 18; II, 33–36.

(122) Historia Naturalis, VI, 21, 22; Life of Alexander, lxii.

(123) Strabo, XV, 1, 50.

(124) X, I.

(125) II, 30, 31, 33; X, 1–6.

(126) II, 18.

(127) Strabo, XV, 1, 41–43

(128) Diodorus, II, 35.

(129) Ibid., 39.

(130) Ibid., 41.

(131) Indica, IX.

(132) Strabo, XV, 1, 36.

(133) Timmer, Megasthenes en de Indische Maalschappij, pp. 233 ff.

(134) Ibid.

(135) Allan, Catalogue of the Coins of Ancient India (British Museum), pp. cxxv ff.

(136) Ibid.; Cunningham, ASR, XIV, p. 20; Buhler, Indian Studies, III, p. 49.

(137) Sumaṅgala Vilāsani, II, p. 519; Majjhima Commentary, I, p. 394.

(138) Arrian, Anabasis, VI, 6, 14; McCrindle, Invasion of India by Alexander the Great, pp. 350–1.

(139) Although Indian troops are known to have fought under Xerxes. Herodotus, Histories, VII, 65.

(140) Strabo, XV, 1, 6–8.

(141) XIII R.E., Kālsi. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 130.

(142) Aśoka claims that the rulers to whom he sent these missions had accepted his policy of cultivating medicinal herbs for their subjects and planting trees, etc. It is possible that in order to encourage this idea, Aśoka sent packets of seeds and cuttings of plants with the missions. In the botanical work of Theophrastus there is no direct reference to the knowledge of new plants from India, among Greek botanists of the time (Rostovtzeff, Social and Economic History of the Hellenic World vol. ii, pp. 1164–9, 1182). Pliny states that the Seleucids attempted to naturalize certain Indian plants such as amomum and nardum, which apparently were brought by sea from India. He also says that the Asiae reges and the Ptolemies made attempts to plant frankincense trees (Historia Naturalis, XVI, 135; XII, 56). The introduction of these plants may have been the direct result of Aśoka’s missions or their cultivation may have been encouraged due to commercial reasons since there was already a demand in the West for spices and herbs from farther east.

(143) Sircar, Select Inscriptions …., pp. 6–8.

(144) Kingsmill, Athenaeum, 19 July 1902; Smith, Early History of India, p. 137 n. 2.

(145) Arthaśāstra, IV, 9; Mahāvaṃsa, VI, 42.

(146) Herodotus, Histories, IX, 110; Strabo, XV, 69.

(147) Senart, I A, vol. xx, pp. 255–6.

(148) III R.E., Girnār. Bloch, Les Inscriptions d’Asoka, p. 95.

(149) Cf. Kosambi, Introduction to the Study of Indian History, p. 189.

(150) Ghirshman, Iran, p. 153.

(151) For a further discussion of the titles adopted by Aśoka, see Appendix II.

(152) Hultzsch, Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum, vol. i, p. xliii.

(153) Sircar, Select Inscriptions …, p. 169.

(154) The Erythraen Sea, 41, 47.

(155) For a further discussion on this matter see Narain, The Indo-Greeks, pp. 34, 89, 93–94.

(156) Waddell, Discovery of the Exact Site of Aśoka’s Classic Capital at Pāṭaliputra.

(157) Bevan, House of Seleucus, vol. i, p. 239.

(158) Rapson, Indian Coins, p. 86.

(159) Strabo, XI, 11, 4; XIV, 1, 5; Narain, The Indo-Greeks, p. 3.

(160) Arrian, Indica, I, 4–5.

(161) Pāṇini, 4, I, 49; Kātyāyana, Varttika, 3 on Pāṇini, 4, 1, 49.

(162) I, 101–7; Cunningham has attempted to identify this town with Pandrethān, three miles north of modern Srinagar (Ancient Geography of India, p. 110).

(163) Tāranātha, Geschichte des Buddhismus in Indien, VI, p. 27; Stein, JASB, Extra No. 2, 1899, p. 69.

(164) Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels in India, vol. ii, p. 295.

(165) JASB, 1886, pp. 195–7.

(166) Oldfield, Sketches from Nepal, vol. ii, pp. 246–52; IA, vol. xiii, p. 412; Wright, History of Nepal, p. 110.

(167) Tāranātha, Geschichte des Buddhismus in Indien, p. 27.

(168) Lévi, Le Népal, pp. 10, 11.

(169) Mahāvam.sa, XI, 38.

(170) AI, 1953, vol. ix, p. 154. Excavations carried out by the Asutosh Museum of Calcutta University, in Candra Ketugarh (Lower Ganges delta), revealed considerable Mauryan material.

(171) South Indian Inscriptions, vol. ii, p. 342; Epigraphia Indica, vol. xx, p. 50.

(172) Aiyangar, The History of the Tamils, p. 215.

(173) See Ch. I.

(174) Aham, 265.

(175) Puram, 175, 6–9; Aham, 69, 10–12; Aham, 281, 8–12; Aham, 251, 10–14.

(176) Age of the Nandas and Mauryas, p. 255.

(177) Aiyangar, The Beginnings of South Indian History, p. 83.

(178) Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s Travels Travels in India, vol. ii, pp. 224,.228.

(179) Some writers equate Tambapanni with the river Tāmraparṇi in the Tinnevelly district of south India. This view has now been generally discarded owing to the fact that many other sources use the name Tambapanni for Ceylon, e. g. Dīpavaṃsa, V, 80; IX, 20; XVII, 5; Rāmayana, IV, 41, 17. The context in which it occurs in the 13th Rock Edict, supports the latter view.

(180) It is related in the Mahāvaṃsa (XXII, 2–9), that Tissa’s brother, the vice-regent fled to Rohana in southern Ceylon to a Buddhist monastery. The existence of this monastery so far south would point to its having been established before the coming of Mahinda.

(181) Mahāvaṃsa, VII.

(182) Epigraphia Zeylanica, vol. i, pp. 139 ff. Ritigala Inscriptions.

(183) Mahāvaṃsa, VI, 46; Dīpavaṃsa, IX, 26.

(184) CHQ, 1952. January, No. 2, vol. i, pp. 163 ff.

(185) Dīpavaṃsa, XV, 87.

(186) Mahāvaṃsa, VII, 48.

(187) Adhikaram, Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon, p. 48.

(188) See Ch. II.

(189) It can be argued that this was a royal title, but it is significant that he was the first among the Ceylonese kings to adopt it.