The mainstay of the economy under the Mauryas wasï¿½agriculture, though trade was becoming increasingly moreï¿½important. It would seem that cultivators formed a majority ofï¿½the population and taxes on agriculture were the main sourceï¿½of revenue. The Arthashastra lays great stress on increasingï¿½revenue potential by seeking new lands for cultivation. Peasantï¿½migrations from over-populated areas were to be encouraged.ï¿½One of the Ashokan edicts speaks of the deportation of prisonersï¿½after the Kalinga war. These may have been used for establishingï¿½new settlements, but this seems to be the only instance of thisï¿½kind. There is no confirmation from other sources of any suchï¿½effort made by the state.
An important issue is the question of the ownership of land.ï¿½It is quite clear that no single type of land-ownership couldï¿½prevail in an area as vast as the Mauryan empire. In some partsï¿½of the empire the gana sangha system with communal ownershipï¿½continued. There are also references to state-owned lands calledï¿½sita lands. These were worked on under the supervision of theï¿½superintendent of agriculture by either directly employing hiredï¿½labourers or by leading out to individual cultivators. In the latterï¿½case a part of the produce had to be paid to the state. In additionï¿½to these were private owners of land who were required to payï¿½taxes to the king. A small section of the Arthashastra refers to theï¿½sale of land. A category of land was auctioned and sold to thoseï¿½who bid for it. It would seem that village pastures were largelyï¿½held by the entire community.
In the fertile Gangetic plain, a variety of taxes are mentioned.ï¿½These include bali, shulka, etc. It is not clear how much the taxï¿½was as different sources give dissimilar figures. Megasthenesï¿½states that one-quarter of the produce had to be paid as tax. It isï¿½likely that this the figure in the fertile region around Pataliputra.ï¿½Most Sanskrit texts, on the other hand lay down that not moreï¿½than one-sixth of the produce could be claimed by the king. It isï¿½very unlikely that a uniform tax was levied over the entire areaï¿½as the fertility of soil varied from region to region. In additionï¿½the Arthashastra states, that the amount of tax would also dependï¿½on the nature of irrigation facilities and would range from onefifth to one third.
The Rumindei inscription is the only Ashokan edict whereï¿½a precise reference is made to the amount of tax levied. It is saidï¿½that because the village of Lumbini was the birth place of theï¿½Buddha the king exempted it from taxes and only one-eighthï¿½of the produce was required to be paid. It is likely that as theï¿½region of Lumbini was further north from the Ganga plain andï¿½not as fertile, the tax may have been lower. For the assessmentï¿½of revenue all cultivable land was carefully demarcated and theï¿½boundaries fixed.
The Arthashastra also instructs that the state should assist in theï¿½setting up of irrigation facilities. But so far there is only oneï¿½example of a large-scale irrigation project attributed to theï¿½Mauryas and that is the dam on the Sudarshan lake at Girnar.ï¿½Other references are mainly to small-scale irrigation works likeï¿½wells, etc., set up with the help of the local populace.
The other source of revenue was trade and this was to become aï¿½major earner in the post-Mauryan period. The Arthashastra dealsï¿½at length with the duties of the superintendent of trade and theï¿½director of tolls and customs duties. The sale of merchandiseï¿½was strictly regulated by the state and a toll tax of one-fifthï¿½of the value of the commodity was levied. The percentage ofï¿½profit to the merchants was fixed and excess profit-makingï¿½was curtailed. Goods could be sold only at authorised placesï¿½and customs houses at the gates of the city were empowered toï¿½check the goods being brought in. Commodities manufacturedï¿½in the country were stamped at the place of manufactureï¿½while those that were brought in from foreign countries wereï¿½stamped as the toll-gates. Quality was strictly maintained andï¿½if found guilty of any contravention, traders had to pay heavyï¿½fines. Buddhist literature provides a very different picture ofï¿½the organisation of trade. It talks of much less state controlï¿½and attributes a major role to merchants and guilds. A range ofï¿½commercial transactions from barter to those conducted by theï¿½guilds are described. It would then seem that the state exercisedï¿½monopoly over items that were of direct relevance to it such asï¿½gems, precious stones, horses, etc.
Trade routes in the Mauryan period followed either the mainï¿½highways or the navigable rivers. Important among these wasï¿½the royal highway extending from the region around Taxila toï¿½Pataliputra. This route extended eastwards along the Gangaï¿½to the port of Tamralipti. It was from here that sailed for Sriï¿½Lanka and for Suvarnabhumi, identified with Burma at thisï¿½time. Another route connected Pataliputra through Ujjainï¿½with the west coast port of Bharuch. Buddhist literature refersï¿½to the jouney of Vijaya, the first king of Sri Lanka from Sopara,ï¿½also on the west coast. There are references to voyages betweenï¿½Bharuch and Baveru or Babylon. As compared to these northernï¿½routes, traffic to the Deccan and the South was still limited andï¿½just opening up. The Arthashatra has an interesting discussionï¿½on the merits and demerits of the different types of routes. Theï¿½water route was cheaper than the land route but could not beï¿½defended in the same way. Of the water routes, the route alongï¿½the coasts was more profitable than the ocean-route because theï¿½former touched many ports. The safest, of course, was the routeï¿½along a navigable river. Of the land routes, Kautilya preferredï¿½the route to the South as it passed through mineral rich areas,ï¿½and gold and gems could be obtained along it.
Arts and Crafts
The Arthashastra also lays Down rules for artisans and craftsmen.ï¿½They could either work independently on their own or wereï¿½organised in guilds. Of the two, the latter system was preferred.ï¿½Wages were determined according to the quality of the workï¿½and the quantity produced. In addition, the state also employedï¿½some artisans such as armourers, ship-builders, etc. These wereï¿½then exempt from tax but had to work in the state’s workshops.ï¿½Guilds of textile workers must have been prominent at this timeï¿½and the Arthashastra mentions several places in the country whichï¿½specialised in textiles. Cotton fabrics were made at Madhura,ï¿½Aparanta, Kalinga, Kashi, Vanga, Vatsa and Mahisa. It is likelyï¿½that cotton fabrics were exported from the port of Bharuch onï¿½the west coast.
The mining of gold and access to semi-precious stones likeï¿½agate, carnelian and quartz seems to have been the mainï¿½reason for Mauryan expansion to the south. Indeed, the nameï¿½of the southern province itself has a marked association withï¿½gold and Ashokan inscriptions near Maski and Brahmagiri areï¿½located in gold-rich areas. The Arthashastra has a section on theï¿½technology of gold mining and the supervision of its production.ï¿½But when we compare this with the archaeological evidenceï¿½from Karnataka, we find that the Iron Age Megalithic settlersï¿½were content to exploit the gold reserves but made no attemptï¿½to change the Megalithic economy, so that it could generateï¿½a greater surplus. This, as mentioned earlier, was the greatestï¿½weakness of the Mauryan economy.
A similar situation prevailed with regard to pastoral groups.ï¿½Megasthenes lists shepherds and herdsmen as the third divisionï¿½and adds that they paid tribute to the state. This is confirmed byï¿½the Arthashastra which also mentions payment in dairy produce.ï¿½Ashokan edicts refer to various forest tribes who lived both inï¿½the interior regions as well as along borders. But these wereï¿½again left alone by the state. In the final analysis, though the stateï¿½obtained revenue from a variety of sources it did very little toï¿½either increase the revenue potential or to generate new sourcesï¿½of revenue. This lack of regenerative resources may perhapsï¿½explain why the Mauryas did not leave behind magnificent andï¿½grandiose monuments generally associated with major empires.ï¿½In general Mauryan remains are more modest in nature andï¿½include primarily pillars, caves and a few sculptures.
The ‘Indica’ of Megasthenes
Our understanding of the early Mauryan world in the reign of Chandragupta is enhanced by fragments of the contemporaryï¿½account left behind by the Greek ambassador Megasthenes at the court. He was a native of Ionia (modern Turkey) whoï¿½represented Seleukos Nicator in the Mauryan court. During his period in India, from 302 BCE to 298 BCE, he observedï¿½and recorded the various features of life in India. His diary, Indica, is now lost, its contents were known to later Europeanï¿½writers such as Strabo, Arrian and Diodorus Siculus, and it is from their writings that we learn what Megasthenes had earlierï¿½described. However considerable doubt was cast on both the veracity and the credibility of Megasthenes’ writing even by theï¿½ancient historians themselves, particularly Strabo. Megasthenes denied the existence of slavery in the India of the Mauryas,ï¿½although it undoubtedly existed then as it did in later times. he might have been misled by the fact that the working andï¿½living conditions of slaves did not differ much from that of the shudras. His erroneous calculations of the area of India and theï¿½length of the rivers can be excused by the fact that no one could have done better with the sort of instruments they possessedï¿½at that time. Megasthenes also claimed that there were gold-digging ants in India, that India never suffered famines, that thereï¿½was a river there on which nothing could float, that winged snakes dropped their urine from above, and that there were menï¿½who had no mouths. He was one in a long line of European observers who, through no particular malice, wrote inaccurateï¿½accounts about oriental nations making them appear as fabulous or exotic places.
Notwithstanding such errors, historians are satisfied that on at least some of the matters, Megasthenes was correct in hisï¿½observations. The first is his social picture of India. He observed that its people formed seven estates. At the pinnacle were theï¿½philosophers, who, according to him, performed public sacrifices, learned the ancient texts, gave blessings to kings and led aï¿½life of abstinence and frugality. Many of them went about naked. In the context of the ritual caste system of India, this classï¿½would include the brahmans and various groups of sages and mendicants belonging to both Vedic and dissident traditions.ï¿½The second estate consisted of the majority of the Indian people, the cultivators. Their task was to produce food and remit aï¿½quarter of it to the king, who owned all the land. Unlike in medieval Europe, they did not have to fight for him, although thisï¿½was not strictly true. In the third estate were the herdsmen and the hunters, who had to bring in a certain proportion of theirï¿½cattle into the cities as tribute, for which, in return, they received free corn. Traders, artisans and the boatmen constituted theï¿½fourth estate. The fifth estate was that of the soldiers, who did nothing else but fight and were always paid and maintained,ï¿½thereby constituting a standing professional army. The sixth estate was made up of spies and intelligence officers, whoseï¿½work is also described at length in the Arthashastra. The seventh and the smallest estate was that of those who constituted theï¿½political and imperial establishment. This sevenfold division seems to be a more elaborate classification of Indian societyï¿½than the ritual hierarchy of the traditional caste system.ï¿½Another item of interest in Megasthenes’ diary was his description of the Magadhan capital, Pataliputra, which he calledï¿½Palimbothra. This is especially valuable, as we have relatively limited evidence for what the cities and towns of India in the thirdï¿½and fourth centuries BCE looked like. While the splendid bricks and the isolation of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa preservedï¿½the original layout of those cities for posterity, the cities of the Ganges have suffered from both poor quality materials andï¿½periods of great turbulence. That is why Megasthenes’ Pataliputra is so evocative. Built at the confluence of the rivers Gangesï¿½and Son, the palisade defences of Pataliputra formed a great oblong, 9 miles long andï¿½1.8ï¿½miles in width. All along theï¿½palisade were 570 towers and sixty-four gates. Outside the palisade ran a ditch, 60 feet deep and 200 yards wide, serving asï¿½both defence and public sewer.3 Megasthenes describes both the hustle and bustle of the streets of the capital and the peaceï¿½and beauty of the royal park, and he gives a colourful account of the royal palace, which he considered more sumptuousï¿½than those of Susa and Ecbatana in Iran (Raychaudhuri 1996: 242-6). It is also in his accurate understanding of the way inï¿½which the municipality of Pataliputra was organised by Chandragupta that historians have found Megasthenes most useful.ï¿½The work of six major committees is described at length. Their duties covered such varied issues as the promotion of artsï¿½and crafts in the city, the reception and care of foreigners, the registration of births and deaths, the supervision of weightsï¿½and measures, the quality control over manufactures and the collection of duties over goods sold. An examination of theï¿½departmental details indicates to us not only a high level of bureaucracy but also a certain concern for the quality of life of theï¿½ordinary people (Raychaudhuri 1996: 246-60). The greatest of all the Mogul emperors, Akbar, ‘had nothing like it, and it mayï¿½be doubted if any of the ancient Greek cities were better organised’ (Smith 1958: 110). When the accounts of Megasthenes areï¿½corroborated by the vast number of details in Kautilya’s Arthashastra, our knowledge of the world of Chandragupta Mauryaï¿½becomes more complete. It was indeed a highly ordered and well-regulated world.
Written by princy