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Kautilya: Foreign Policy and International System in the Ancient Hindu World

  • George Modelski (a1)


Kautilya is believed to have been Chanakya, a Brahmin who served as Chief Minister to Chandragupta (321–296 B.C.), the founder of the Mauryan Empire. Chandragupta gained his first successes, soon after the death of Alexander the Great, in campaigns against some of the satraps the Macedonian conqueror had established west of the Indus. He then turned against the Nanda Empire and succeeded in destroying it. The victory over the Nandas and his subsequent conquests gave him control over a large part of the Indian subcontinent, including the Ganges and Indus valleys and parts of the Deccan.



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1 Kane, P. V., History of Dharmasastra (Poona: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 19301946), Vol. I, pp. 85104; Macdonell, A. A., India's Past (Oxford: Clarendon 1927), pp. 168–70.

2 The fourth edition of that translation, Kautilya's Arthasastra, tr. Shamasastry, R. (Mysore, 1951), is the source of quotations in this paper and page citations refer to it too. However, the translation of a number of Sanskrit terms has on occasion been altered in the light of other commentaries, or else the Sanskrit term itself has been used. Two other English translations of Kautilya's work, Jolly-Schmidt's (Lahore, 1923–4) and Ganapati Sastri's (Trivandrum, 1924–5) were unfortunately not available at the time of writing this paper.

3 In addition to works cited elsewhere in this paper the following have been found useful, and are relevant to the international relations aspects of Kautilya's, treatise: Weber, Max, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism (Glencoe, Ill., 1958); Nag, Kalidas, Les Theories Diplomatiques de L'Inde Ancienne et L'Arthasastra (Paris: Maisonneuve Freres, 1923); Law, N. N., Inter-State Relations in Ancient India (London, 1920); Rao, M. V. Krishna, Studies in Kautilya (Delhi: Munshi Ram Manohar Lai, 1958); Wilhelm, Friedrich, Politische Polemiken ira Staatslehrbuch des Kautalya (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1960); Chakravarti, P. C., The Art of War in Ancient India (Dacca, 1941); Majumdar, R. C., ed., The Age of Imperial Unity (Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1951).

4 Shamasastry, op. cit., p. 287.

5 For an extensive discussion and review of literature on the angas see Kane, op. cit., Vol. III, chs. 1–10.

6 Ibid., p. 291.

7 Ibid., p. 293.

8 Ibid., Shamasastry's term for sandhi is ‘peace’; this seems not precise enough.

9 Ibid., pp. 299–300; this is only an example; other writers use different lists and classifications; see also Kane, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 224.

10 For a graphic account of the mandala see i.a. Bozeman, AddaPolitics and Culture in International History (Princeton University Press 1960) pp. 122–3.

11 Shamasastry, op. cit., pp. 307, 295, 297, 358.

12 See in particular, ibid., pp. 298, 340, 385, 344–5.

13 For the concept of an agrarian International system see Modelski, George, “Agraria and Industrial Two Models of the International System,” World Politics, Vol. 14 (October, 1961), pp. 118–43.

14 Shamasastry, op. cit., pp. 289, 367, 437, 10.

15 Ibid., p. 368.

16 Ibid., p. 302.

17 See also Rocher, Ludo, “The Ambassador in Ancient India,” Indian Yearbook of International Affairs (Madras), Vol. 7 (1958), pp. 344–60.

18 Shamasastry, op. cit., p. 283; see also p. 10.

19 Ibid., pp. 283–5.

20 See e.g., Kane, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 72 ff; Law, N. N., Aspects of Ancient Indian Polity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1921), p. 161 ff. However, Goshal, V. N. (in Studies in Indian History and Culture, Calcutta: Orient Longmans, 1957, p. 318), suggests that the king's ally (janyamitra—friend from a foreign country) may have had a part in the central portion of the Rajasuya ceremony.

21 Shamasastry, op. cit., p. 7.

22 Ibid., pp. 30, 15–19; see also Shamasastry, R., Evolution of Indian Polity (Calcutta, 1920), pp. 126–8. For the diplomatic functions of the Purohita (the royal priest) see Law, op. cit., p. 48.

23 Shamasastry tr., op. cit., p. 341.

24 Ibid., pp. 344–5 in particular.

25 For a discussion of royal ranks see, however, Law, op. cit., p. 12 ff; Kane, op. cit., Vol. III, p. 63 ff. A late work, the Sukranitisara has an ingenious system whereby rulers are graded into eight classes according to their income.

26 Kane, op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 65–72; Ruben, W., “Inter-state Relations in Ancient India and Kautalya's Arthasastra,” Indian Yearbook of International Affairs, Vol. IV (1955), pp. 137–59; Sinha, H. N., Sovereignty in Ancient Indian Polity: A Study in the Evolution of Early Indian State (London: Luzac, 1938), pp. 258–63; for a different view see Derrett, Duncan, “The Maintenance of Peace in the Hindu World: Practice and Theory,” Indian Yearbook of International Affairs, Vol. VII (1958), pp. 361–87.

27 Shamasastry, op. cit., p. 411.

28 Law, op. cit., pp. 18–19, 181–91; there is no mention of it in Kautilya.

29 Shamasastry, op. cit., p. 339.

30 Caste and Territory in Malabar,” American Anthropologist, Vol. 56 (June, 1954), p. 410.

Kautilya: Foreign Policy and International System in the Ancient Hindu World

  • George Modelski (a1)


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