Short notes on the Army Mauryan Period


The army raised by Chandragupta to overthrow the Nanda king consisted mostly of mercenary soldiers. The Mauryan king, however, formed a large army later, as is shown by the surviving remains of Megasthenes’ account and indicated in the Arthashastra.

Megasthenes refers to a 6, 00,000-men army. The six departments mentioned by him are stated to be admiralty (navy), transport, infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants. They were looked after by six committees of five members each.

In the accounts of Pliny, the Mauryan imperial army consisted of 6, 00,000 infantry men, 30,000 cavalry and 9,000 elephants. The number of chariots ranged from 2,000 to to 8,000 (the higher figure obtained from Plutarch’s account).


It has been suggested that though these numbers could have been exaggerated, a number of references indicate a large and well- organised Mauryan army.

The Arthashastra refers to Chaturangabala (infan­try, cavalry, chariots and elephants) as the main components. Each had a commander. The Arthashastra also mentions different types of chariots, like the war chariots and the chariots to bring down the fortresses.

There were two-horse and four-horse chariots, the latter carrying six men, and were quite common according to Megasthenes. The task of looking after the war departments and providing them with the necessary supplies was assigned to superintendents (adhyakshas).

The adhyakshas mentioned include rathadhyaksha who was responsible for the construc­tion of chariots and the hastyadhyaksha responsible for the army elephants. The ayudha-garadhyaksha headed the department producing and maintaining a number of armaments.


The elephants for use in war seem to have been an important part of the army set-up. Three archers and a driver were mounted on an elephant.

The Arthashastra mentions troops of various categories professional (hereditary) troops, hired troops, guild-maintained troops, and troops provided by forest tribes during wartime.

There are references to army reserves and to columns marching in unison. Ten-man squads, hun­dred-man companies and thousand-man battalions comprised the infantry.

Weapons used in fighting included the broadsword, javelins, bows, and arrows as inferred from references in Megasthenes’ account.


There were also fixed and mobile engines (hundred- slayor or saiaghni). Tunneling was resorted to bring down forts protected by ditches, ramparts, covered passages, etc. The commander-in-chief (senapati) had the overall supervision to the army and he, along with the king, periodically inspected the troops.

The navadhaksha mentioned in the Arthashastra was probably a superintendent of ships.

The violent conquest of Kalinga by Asoka and Chandragupta’s stiff opposition to Seleucus indicate the strength of the Mauryan army.

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