Tag Archives: Indian history

Good and bad polytheists (part 7): Chanakya and Ashoka

CHANAKYA

arthshastra-350-x-225_041515115802[1]This Indian sage was a Brahmin (priestly teacher) who flourished in the latter part of the 4th century BCE. Several traditions attribute different events to his life, but it is universally agreed that he was, first, the counsellor of Chandragupta Maurya, the man who became the first emperor of India, and secondly, the author of the Arthashastra, a book on government, law, and kingship that the emperor followed. It is said that Chandragupta was born only a peasant, or according to another source, in the middle class of warriors, but Chanakya inspired him to raise an army and conquer his neighbors. Considering the bad effects of imperialism, condemned here in previous writings, this action might seem unjust and impious, hardly qualifying Chanakya as an example of a good polytheist. In reality, however, imperialism was (unfortunately, we must say) the best direction to take during that time, and Chanakya, as a priest, would have understood the case. Alexander III (commonly called Alexander the Great) had died a few years before in 323 BCE, and his failed attempt to conquer India was now repeated by his generals and governors. Seleucus Nicator was already emperor over a vast territory in the west by 312 BCE, and was threatening to add India, already partly controlled by governors left by Alexander, to his dominions. There is no positive evidence that Chanakya hated the invading Macedonians, but he must have been concerned about the fate of the Indian peoples if they were to become subjects to foreign powers and cultures, and therefore advocated an Indian empire as a response. And indeed, it was not too long before Chandragupta, after he had conquered some eastern territories and assassinated two governors of Alexander in India, clashed with Seleucus in 305 BCE. The subsequent war lasted for a short time, and because Chandragupta had a powerful and well-trained army, it ended on good terms, where Seleucus agreed to marry his daughter to him, in return for several hundred elephants, useful for Seleucus’ ambitions in the west.

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