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Excerpt from Kautilya’s Arthashastra

4th century BCE; translated in 1988

Kautliya, Arthashastra, in Sources of the Indian Tradition, edited by Ainslie Embree (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), 247 – 48

Kautilya was a minister under Chandragupta Maurya, who ruled from 321 to 298 BCE. Kautilya wrote this text, the Arthashastra, about how to rule an empire. When Chandragupta Maurya established the Maurya Empire, the Arthashastra would have been one of the major texts that influenced the ways he would rule as king. In this excerpt, Kautliya emphasizes the importance of conquering territory. Why do you think conquest would be so significant for an empire that is just beginning? What kind of connections should the conqueror make with other princes and territories? 



immediately adjacent: right next to

antagonistic: unfriendly, acting like an enemy

factitious: artificial


refuge: a safe place

The Arthashastra is a collection of 15 books on the topic of statecraft written by Kautilya, who served as a minister for Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire. Kautliya would have compiled Arthashastra a few years after the dissolution of Alexander the Great’s kingdom into smaller kingdoms, some of which had contentious relations with the Maurya Empire. Remind students of the historical context of the Maurya Empire’s attempting to assert its position in a region of many other states and empires. A major portion of the text is dedicated to the idea of imperial conquest and statecraft, adapted to the Mauryan context. Historians compare Kautilya’s practical style to that of Machiavelli, who wrote about statecraft 1800 years later in what is now Italy.

The prince ruling over the territory immediately adjacent to that of the conqueror is the conqueror’s “natural” enemy. One who is born in the same family of the conqueror is the “born” enemy. One who is himself antagonistic to the conqueror or creates antagonism towards him among others is his “factitious” enemy. The prince ruling over the territory immediately beyond the one adjacent to that of the conqueror is his “natural” friend. One, who is related to the conqueror through the father or the mother, is his “born” friend. One with whom the conqueror has sought refuge for the sake of wealth or life is his “factitious” friend.