Short notes on Towns, Industry and Trade of Mauryan Economy


As the Mauryan Empire was a large one with a strong and centralised government, it apparently created a sense of security which contributed to an increase in economic activity. Well-maintained roads and waterways promoted the movement of goods and helped in the growth of internal as well as foreign trade.

In the Arthashastra, Kautilya has mentioned different types of roads and pathways, such as the king’s highway, the merchants’ roads, rural roads, paths to fields, forests, and so on, and has given the details for their proper maintenance as also the creation of market towns and state colonisation schemes in rural areas.

The most important road was the Royal High­way extending from the region around Taxila to Pataliputra. These extended eastwards along the Ganga to the port of Tamralipti. From Tamralipti ships sailed for Sri Lanka and for Suvarnabhumi or Burma.


Another route connected Pataliputra through Ujjain with the west coast port of Bharuch. As compared to these northern routes, movement to the Deccan was limited. The main reason for going to the South was probably the mining of gold and access to semi­precious stones like agate, carnelian and quartz.

The Ganga was the most important inland waterway; boats sailed from Champa up to Varanasi, or Banares, the great industrial and trading centre of the time. India maintained connections with Egypt by the Red Sea route and with the Seleucid Empire through the Persian Gulf.

These routes were con­trolled by powerful Arab tribes, engaged in lucrative trade. Beside the sea routes, India was connected with the West on land by three roads.

The northern­most was along the Kabul River across the narrow section of the mountains of Afghanisthan, the second was about five hundred miles to the south-west where the Afghan mountains end, and the third route led across the deserts of Makran or along the coast of Baluchistan.


Production was tailored to the de­mands of the local market, and precious articles of small bulk and rare commodities were used for long­distance trade.

Towns had labourers, craftsmen, traders, inspec­tors and officials. There were varied crafts, especially those related to textiles, precious metals and gems. The professions mentioned include those of the actor, singer, dancer, soothsayer and doctor.

Trade was partly in the hands of officials and partly carried out by shopkeepers or travelling merchants. The sheathing or rich merchant was re­spected in society. The Arthashastra deals at length with the duties of the superintendent of trade and the director of tolls and. customs duties.

The sale of merchandise was strictly regulated by the state, and a toll tax of one-fifth of the value of the commodity was levied. Excessive profit-making was curtailed by fixing the percentage of profit to the merchants.


There were custom houses at the gates of the city which checked the goods being brought in. Goods could be sold only at authorised places.

Commodi­ties manufactured in the country were stamped at the place of manufacture, and those brought in from outside the country were stamped at the toll-gates. Strict quality checks were maintained, and guilty traders were heavily fined.

The Mauryan Empire controlled not only all the internal trade routes, but also most of the land and sea routes leading outside the country to the West and the East. The treaty with Seleucus gave Chandragupta Maurya control over the north-west­ern and western land routes which linked India and the Mediterranean lands.

The conquest of the Deccan added important ports to the Mauryan Empire. With Asoka’s conquest of Kalinga, the Mauryans became masters of the eastern trade. The policy of friendship with Greek states favoured the expansion of India’s trade with western Asia and Egypt.

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