Centralization in the Maurya Empire

Learning Objective

  • Describe the significance of the political stability offered by the Mauryan Empire

Key Points

  • The Mauryan Empire was divided into four provinces, each governed by the Kumara, who served as the king’s representative.
  • Emperor Ashoka maintained a massive standing army to protect the Mauryan Empire and instill stability and peace across West and South Asia.
  • Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka’s grandfather, had established a single currency across India, a network of regional governors and administrators, and a civil service to provide justice and security for merchants, farmers and traders that continued throughout the Mauryan Dynasty.
  • The Mauryan international network of trade extended to the Greek states and Hellenic kingdoms in West Asia and into Southeast Asia.



An ancient Indian treatise on government, statecraft, military, and economy.

Khyber Pass

A strategically important trade stop on the modern boundary of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

standing army

A permanent army composed of full-time soldiers that is not disbanded during times of peace.


A royal prince who oversaw the Mauryan provinces on behalf of the emperor.

Employing a carefully organized bureaucratic system, the Maurya Empire was able to maintain security and political unity across large parts of western and southern Asia. This included a common economic system supporting stable agriculture in its vast landholdings, as well as successful trade and commerce. Through this centralized authority, which included a powerful military, the rulers of the empire bound together the previously fractured regions of the Indian Subcontinent.

Unification and Military

Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire, ruled from 324-297 BCE, before voluntarily abdicating in favor of his son, Bindusara, who ruled from 297 BCE until his death in 272 BCE. This led to a war of succession in which Bindusara’s son, Ashoka, defeated his brother, Susima, and rose to the throne in 268 BCE, eventually becoming the greatest ruler of the Maurya Dynasty.

Before the Mauryan Empire, the Indian subcontinent was fragmented into hundreds of kingdoms. These were ruled by powerful regional chieftains with small armies that engaged in internecine warfare. The Mauryan Army eliminated regional chieftains, private armies, and even gangs of bandits, who sought to impose their own supremacy in small areas.

The Mauryan Army, the largest standing military force of its time, supported the expansion and defense of the empire. According to scholars, the empire wielded 600,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, and 9,000 war elephants, while a vast espionage system collected intelligence for both internal and external security purposes. Although Emperor Ashoka renounced offensive warfare and expansionism, he maintained this standing army to protect the empire from external threats and maintain stability and peace across Western and Southern Asia.


The Mauryan Empire was divided into four provinces, with the imperial capital at Pataliputra, near the Ganges River in the modern state of Bihar in India. The Edicts of Ashoka, a collection of inscriptions made during Ashoka’s reign from 268-232 BCE, give the names of the Maurya Empire’s four provincial capitals: Tosali in the east, Ujjain in the west, Suvarnagiri in the south, and Taxila in the north.

The organizational structure began at the imperial level with the emperor and his Mantriparishad, or Council of Ministers. The head of the provincial administration was the Kumara, or royal prince, who governed the provinces as the king’s representative, with the assistance of Mahamatyas, who were essentially regional prime ministers. Through this sophisticated system of bureaucracy, the empire governed all aspects of government at every level, from municipal hygiene to international trade.


Maurya Empire at its greatest extent (dark orange), including vassal kingdoms (light orange), 265 BCE. The Maurya Empire provided political stability with a unified central government, which in turn encouraged economic prosperity.

Centralization and Taxation

Chandragupta Maurya, the father of the dynasty, established a single currency across India, a network of regional governors and administrators, and a civil service to provide justice and security for merchants, farmers, and traders.

Through the disciplined central authority of the Mauryan Empire, farmers were freed of tax and crop collection burdens from regional kings. Instead, they paid a nationally administered system of taxation that was strict but fair. The system operated under the principles of the Arthashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on economic policy, statecraft, and military strategy. Written in Sanskrit and adhering to Hindu philosophies, the Arthashastra includes books on the nature of government, law, civil and criminal courts, ethics, and economic topics, including markets and trade, agriculture, mineralogy, mining and metals, forestry, and others.

Although regimental in revenue collection, the Mauryan Empire funded numerous public works projects to enhance productivity. Like his father and grandfather, Ashoka sponsored the construction of thousands of roads, waterways, canals, rest houses, hospitals, and other types of infrastructure.

Under continued Mauryan rule, political unity and military security encouraged a common economic system, increased agricultural productivity, and enhanced widespread trade and commerce for the first time in West and South Asia.


Coins of the Maurya Empire. Chandragupta Maurya established a single currency across India, including these silver punch mark coins with symbols of wheel and elephant, 3rd century BCE

Trade and Commerce

The Maurya Empire’s political unity and internal peace encouraged the expansion of trade in India. Under the Indo-Greek friendship treaty during Ashoka’s reign, the Mauryan international network of trade saw great expansion.

The Khyber Pass, on the modern boundary of Pakistan and Afghanistan, became a strategically important point of trade and interaction with the outside world. Greek states and Hellenic kingdoms in West Asia became trading partners. Trade also extended through the Malay Peninsula into Southeast Asia. India’s exports included silk, textiles, spices, and exotic foods. The outside world gained new scientific knowledge and technology through expanded trade with the Mauryan Empire.