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Fall of the Mauryan Empire

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After the establishment of the Maurya Empire, a new era began in Indian history. This was the first time in history in which India was politically united. In addition, the historiography of this period was neat due to the accuracy of chronology and sources. Additionally, indigenous and foreign literary sources were also available in sufficient form. This empire left a large number of records for the historiography of this period.
Ashoka brought the empire established by Chandragupta Maurya to the pinnacle of progress. The last ruler of this dynasty, Brihadratha, was killed by Pushyamitra Shunga who established the Shunga dynasty by destroying the Maurya Empire. This article will be a guide to get knowledge on the reasons behind the destruction of the vast empire.

Background of Mauryan Empire:

The decline of the Mauryan empire started after the demise of the great Mauryan ruler Ashoka. The vast empire became vulnerable to many threats after the emperor’s death. The situation worsened when the descendants of Ashoka failed to prove their power against such challenging circumstances. Moreover, there were other reasons for the fall of this great dynasty. It includes religious disturbances and financial issues too. But everything happened too fast after Ashoka died. The end of Ashoka’s reigning period was either 238 BCE or 232 BCE, according to different sources. 

1. The Demise of Emperor Ashoka:

Ashoka’s death was the first reason for the fall of the Mauryan empire. His descendants were not capable of managing such a vast kingdom and could not retain the ideology of Dhamma. Ashoka conveyed the message of peace and tolerance through Dhamma, a Buddhist philosophy. He was against the rituals of Hindu Brahmins. Dhamma’s principle was against animal sacrifice in gatherings and ceremonies per Brahmins’ orders. So, the generosity of the Dhamma hampered the growth of Brahminical culture. Ashoka had already killed his brothers and challengers of the throne within his clan, which left a massive gap after his death. After Ashoka’s death, Pushyamitra, the founder of the Shunga Dynasty, killed Brihadratha, the last royal successor of the Mauryan empire, in 180 CE.

2. Weak Military Force and Powerless Mauryan Successors:

Ashoka’s policy of nonviolence and tolerance made the kingdom free from wars. However, the side effect of renouncing war was seen after the weak kings came as successors. The military force declined and was almost powerless while confronting the Greek invasion. Moreover, the kingdom lost integrated administration with time. The local officials took hold of the power. The administrative approach turned into an oppressive one. The kings who were descendants of Ashoka could not control such activities. The authority of the administration was limited to some officials. Such a centralized ruling system was not favorable for common people.
Ashoka discouraged further war for the invasion, which was correct from his point of view. The Mauryan empire was a vast area during his reign. The geographical location of the Mauryan empire during Ashoka was secure, and there were no possible threats from the neighboring kingdoms after he conquered Kalinga. But the situation changed after his death. The northwest territory of the Mauryan empire became easy to invade. The Scythians, the Shakas, and the Greeks turned into threats in the future. Greeks had already established themselves in Bactria (Afghanistan) in 206 BC. And it was an indication of an invasion of the Mauryan empire.

3. Taxes and Financial Pressure:

The citizens of the Mauryan empire were obliged to bear a considerable amount of tax, including land tax. Bhaga was known as a land tax, which overburdened farmers later. There were other taxes like Bali, Pindakara, Kara and Hiranya. Maintaining a large group of administrative officials was a reason for financial pressure. The existing army of the Mauryan empire was huge. The maintenance of such a vast army was challenging for the rulers. Ashoka’s expenditure on donations to the Buddhist monks from the royal fund created a financial deficit in the royal treasury. As a result, the successors of Ashoka succumbed to the crisis. 

4. Problems Regarding Bureaucrats:

The centralized administration of the Mauryan empire created disintegration in the administrative system. After Ashoka, the kingdom witnessed multiple rulers. The officials in bureaucracy changed with the rulers as per the ruling system. Frequent changes in bureaucracy disrupted the administrative system. Apart from it, the successors of Ashoka could not bear a vast number of royal officials financially. Moreover, the oppressive nature of the officials made the position of the citizens unsafe in the kingdom. 

5. Lack of Political Unity:

The successors of Ashoka could not confront the invasion from the northwest. The lack of political unity was the reason behind their failure. The partition of the kingdom led to a vulnerable situation. Ashoka’s son, Jalauka, ruled the then Kashmir according to the Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. He was an independent ruler. Dasharatha and Samprati Ashoka’s grandsons divided the kingdom among themselves to rule independently. The vast empire was divided into western and eastern parts. The enemies found it easy to invade after the partition because they lacked a unified political force. So such partitions ended up in the decline of the whole empire.

6. Imbalanced Socio-Economic Status:

Socio-Economic status was imbalanced at the end of the Mauryan era. The problems regarding multiculturism, economy, and languages created intense problems. Partitioning of land was easy as there was no need for sanctioning. It divided the Mauryan empire into different small localities. The fertility of lands was different in different areas and the economic condition depended on that hugely. Traditional customs were isolated in different localities. The language spoken varied from area to area. Such languages include Prakrit, Aramaic, Tamil, Greek, etc.


Time has proved again and again that no historical era is immortal, and the Mauryan era was no exception to it either. There were multiple problems after Ashoka’s death in the empire though the problems did not defame the glory of the Mauryan empire. The Mauryan empire gave birth to the best kings of history and the decline did not start during their reign. Mainly Ashoka’s absence broke down the administrative structure. Some local officials took advantage of the disturbing situation, and their oppression brought insecurity to the administration. The absence of Dhamma after Ashoka’s demise was the ideal time for the Brahmins to revolt. And then, the establishment of the Shunga dynasty by Pushyamitra Shunga affirmed the decline of the Mauryan dynasty.

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Last Updated : 10 Oct, 2022
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