Apart from the metropolitan area, which was directly governed, the empire was divided into four provinces each under a prince or member of the royal family whose official status was that of a viceroy. Governors administering smaller units were selected from amongst the local people. The provincial ministers were powerful and could act as a check on the viceroy, and were on various occasions effective rulers. Ashoka sent inspectors on tour every five years for an additional audit and check on provincial administration. There were specially appointed judicial officers both in the cities and in the rural areas. Fines served as punishments in most cases. But certain crimes were considered too serious to be punished by fines alone, and capital punishments were delivered.
Each province was sub-divided into districts, each of these into groups of villages, and the final unit of administration was the village. The group of villages was staffed with an accountant, who maintained boundaries, registered land and deeds, kept a census of the population and a record of the livestock; and the tax collector, who was concerned with the various types of revenue. Each village had its own officials, such as the headman, who was responsible to the accountant and the tax-collector. Officers at this level in rural administration were paid either by a remission of tax or by land grants.
Urban administration had its own hierarchy of officers. The city superintendent maintained law and order and the general cleanliness of the city. Cities were generally built of wood, necessitating the maintaining of fire precautions. The city superintendent was assisted by an accountant and a tax collector. Megasthenes has described the administration of Pataliputra in detail. The city was administered by thirty officials, divided into six committees of five. Each committee supervised one of the following functions: questions relating to industrial arts, the welfare of foreigners, the registering of births and deaths, matters relating to trade & commerce, supervision of the public sale of manufactured goods, and, finally, collection of the tax on articles sold.
Two of the key offices controlled by the central administration were those of the Treasurer and the chief collector. The Treasurer was responsible for keeping an account of the income in cash and for storing the income in kind. The Chief Collector assisted by a body of clerks, kept records of the taxes which came in from various parts of the empire. The accounts of every administrative department were properly kept and were presented jointly by all the ministers to the king, perhaps to avoid fraud and embezzlement. Each department had a large staff of superintendents and subordinate officers. The superintendents worked at local center and were a link between local administration and the central government. Those specifically listed in the Arthashastra are the superintendents of gold and goldsmiths, and of the storehouse, commerce, forest produce, the armoury, weights and measures, tools, weaving, agriculture, liquor , slaughter houses, prostitutes, ships, cows, horses, elephants, chariots, infantry, passports and the city.
Salaries of officials and expenditure on public works constituted a sizeable portion of the national expenses, one quarter of the total revenue being reserved for these. The higher officials were extremely well paid and this must have been a drain on the treasury. The chief minister, the purohita and the army commander received 48,000 panas, the treasurer and the chief collector 24,000 panas; the accountants and clerks received 500 panas, whereas the ministers were paid 12,000 panas; and artisans received 120 panas. The value of the pana is not indicated, nor the intervals at which the salaries were paid.
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