Economic Condition Of Mauryan India

Economic Condition Of Mauryan India:

The archaeological and literary evidence indicates that the Mauryan period was one of expanding economy in all sectors. From the time of Chandragupta Maurya and his successors, the strong army ensured internal security and immunity from foreign aggression. In fact, the Mauryan economy was a classic model of a state-controlled economy which followed on the emergence of a universal state. The period saw a substantial increase in purchasing power of the people. This was the result of the interaction of various factors like development in a rural economy, agricultural productivity, the emergence of iron-based production by specialized labour and artisans and the industry and trade. The state not only controlled and supervised the economic activities but also provided the needed infrastructure and participated in agriculture, industries and trade. This necessitated the employment of a large bureaucracy and a well-stocked treasury for large outlays. Consequently, all segments of society were heavily taxed and oppressive fines were imposed even for very minor offences.


  • Agriculture formed the main source of occupation of a large section of the people.
  • The rural economy had its centre in the grama or village.
  • The village tended to develop into a self-sufficient unit and the economic integration of the village into the district was supervised by the administrative officials of the state.
  • Though the land belonged to the king, the latter was only a partial owner of the land.
  • In fact, individual ownership was the rule in ancient India.
  • The land revenue on agricultural land varied from one-fourth to one-sixth of the produce.
  • Those using irrigation had to pay additional for it. Bhaga was the land revenue, Bhoga was the ceremonial gifts received from peasants. Bali was levied on land measured in the assessment. There was additional tax Pindkara collected lump sum at the village level. Taxes were paid both in cash and kind.
  • Villages that are exempted from taxation (pariharaka).
  • Among the crops grown in the villages are mentioned rice of different varieties, coarse grain (Kodrava), sesamum, pepper and saffron, pulses, wheat, linseed, mustard, vegetables and fruits of various kinds, and sugarcane. 
  • The govern­ment set up model farms which were of great use for the improvement of agriculture in the country.
  • State maintained crown lands headed by sitadhyaksha. These lands were cultivated by slaves and hired labour. The army was instructed not to destroy crops on marches. Arthasastra bans renunciation of worldly life without providing for dependents.
  • The state also maintained pasture lands and vivitadhyaksha looked after them.
  • The village land was made of different categories- Krishta (cultivated), Sthala (high and dry ground), Kedara (fields sown with crops), Akrishta (fallow land) etc.

Crafts and Industries:

  • Textile manufacture was perhaps the most important major industry.
  • The Pali books speak very highly of Benares cloth, as well as cloth from the Sibi country.
  • The Arthasastra refers to the regions producing specialised textiles – Kasi (Benares), Vanga (Bengal), Kamarupa (Assam), Madurai and many others.
  • Silk was known and was generally referred to as Chinese silk, which also indicates that extensive trade was carried on in the Mauryan Empire.
  • In Buddhist text, we have reference to metals like brass and bronze and also to the manufacture of ornaments from precious metals and of domestic and agricultural implements from baser ones.
  • Mining and metallurgy was an important activity that sustained royal power, agriculture, trade and industry.
  • The state also exercised monopolies on the manufacture of arms, ships, certain implements and the production of salt.
  • Stonework–stone carving and polishing–had evolved as a highly skilled craft. This expertise is seen in the stone sculptures in the stupa at Sanchi and the highly polished Chunar stone used for Ashoka’s pillars.
  • The bell or lotus-shaped capital of the Asokan pillar of Ramapurva is joined onto the shaft by a bolt of pure copper in the form of a barrel, which is an excellent specimen of the coppersmith’s art.
  • Among other industries may be mentioned the manufacture of dyes, gums, drugs, perfumes and pottery. The manufacture of armaments including several sorts of machines, both movable and immovable is also mentioned.


  • Trade and industry were highly organized. Guilds known as Srenis or Sanghas played a large part in the conduct of crafts and trades.
  • The system of guilds begun in the early Buddhist period had developed into fairly large-scale organisations.
  • Localisation of occupation, the hereditary character of professions and economic competition strengthened the guilds.
  • The eighteen chief handicrafts of the time such as woodwork, metal-work and jewellery etc. were organized in guilds each under its president called pramukha and the alderman called jetthaka.
  • Trade was organized in merchant guilds whose chief was called alderman over the aldermen of the guilds i.e. Mahasetthi, empowered to hear disputes among the guilds.
  • The guilds worked as banks and received permanent deposits.
  • They were registered by a local official and had a recognized status.
  • The fact of belonging to a guild acted as a check on fraudulent practices due on the part of artisans and the common people wages.
  • According to Kautilya, they flourished on Vartta, a term which included agriculture, cattle-raising and trade.

Trade Commerce:

  • Trade and Industry were controlled by the state. The working of mines and forest, the construction and security of trade routes and the establishment of market towns were considered among the primary duties of the government.
  • The sale of the merchandise was strictly supervised by the state and the price of the articles was fixed by the Superintendent of Commerce.
  • Merchants importing foreign goods could claim a remission of trade tax which consisted of one-fifth of the toll dues; the toll tax was one-fifth of the value of the commodity.
  • Merchants were forbidden to make excessive profits. The state protected the public against unauthorised prices and fraudulent practices by fixing the percentage of the profit which consisted of 5% on local commodities and 10% on foreign products.
  • Both Internal and Foreign trade flourished due to political unity and well facilitated centralized administration which provided efficient transport, security and communication by its public work of building roads and waterways, market town etc.
  • The Royal highway from Taxila to Pataliputra was considered an important one. It has continued to be so through the centuries, being popularly known as the Grand Trunk Road.
  • Tamluk (Tamralipti) on the east coast and Broach and Sopara on the west coast were the most important seaports of India in those times.
  • The rivers in the Gangetic plains were major means for transporting goods throughout northern India. Goods were transported further west overland by road.
  • Roads connected the north of the country to cities and markets in the southeast, and in the southwest, passing through towns like Vidisha and Ujjain. The northwest route linked the empire to central and western Asia.
  • The foreign trade by land and sea was regulated by means of ordinances and passports. India supplied the western countries, Syria and Egypt in particular, with indigo and various medicinal substances, and cotton and silk. Import mainly consisted of horses and skin etc.
  • In the Mauryan Empire, the silver coin is known as pana and its sub-divisions were the most commonly used currency. Hordes of punch-marked coins have been found in many parts of north India. The bent-bar and punch-marked coins having symbols possibly had some connection with local commerce or local administration.
  • There was no banking system but usury was customary. Interest rates recorded were around 15% per annum but it was also based on varna. Interest rates for loans involving long sea voyages could be as high as 60%.

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