The Arthasastra on Local Administration and Espionage

Introduction: The Arthasastra, India’s most famous treatise on statecraft, is usually ascribed to Kautilya (Kautalya, also known as Chanakya and Visnugopa) who was allegedly the Prime Minister of Chandragupta, the founder of the Mauryan Empire (c. 320 B.C.). However, research has shown that the text has several authors and was finally compiled not earlier than the second century A.D.  Due to its depiction of an all-pervading espionage system, its techniques and operational methods it is often compared to Machiavelli’s “Il Principe”. The text shows the importance of clandestine operations for local administration.
(see also AHOI, Ch. 2, section: The Political System of the Arthasastra)

(R.P. Kangle, The Kautiliya Arthasastra, Part II, An English Translation, (Book II, ch.35) Bombay 1963, pp. 210-213)

Chapter thirty-Five, section 54 and 55  

The activity of the administrator;  secret agents in the disguise of householders, traders and ascetics

1 Dividing the countryside into four divisions, the Administrator should cause to be entered in a register the number of villages, classifying them as best, middling and lowest, (recording) this is exempt from taxes, this provides soldiers, this much is (the revenue in) grains, cattle, cash, forest produce, labour and produce in place of tax. 2 Under his direction, the revenue officer should look after a group of five villages or ten villages.
3 He should record the number of villages by fixing their boundaries, the number of fields by an enumeration of ploughed and unploughed (fields), dry and wet fields, parks, vegetable gardens, (flower and fruit) enclosures, forests, structures, sanctuaries, temples, water-works, cremation grounds, rest-houses, sheds for drinking water, holy places, pasture lands and roads, (and) in conformity with that he should keep records of the size of boundaries, forests and roads, and of grants, sales, favours and exemptions, concerning village-boundaries and fields, and (keep records) of houses by an enumeration of tax-payers and non-tax-payers. 4 And in them, (he should record) so many are persons belonging to the four varṇas, so many are farmers, cowherds, traders, artisans, labourers and slaves, so many are two-footed and four-footed creatures, and so much money, labour, duty and fines arise from them. 5 And of males and females in the families, he should know the number of children and old persons, their work, customs and the amount of their income and expenditure.
6 And in the same manner, the divisional officer should look after a fourth part of the countryside.
7 In the head-quarters of the revenue and divisional officers, magistrates should carry out their duties and secure the recovery of dues.
8 And agents in the guise of householders, directed by the Administrator, should find out the number of fields, houses and families in those villages in which they are stationed,—fields with respect to their size and total produce, houses with respect to taxes and exemptions and families with respect to their varma and occupation. 9 And they should find out the number of individuals in them and their income and expenditure. 10 And they should find out the reason for departure and stay of those who have gone on a journey and those who have arrived (respectively), as also of men and women who are harmful, and (find out) the activity of spies.
11 In the same manner, spies in the guise of traders should find out the quantity and price of the king’s goods produced in his own country, obtained from mines, water-works, forests, factories and fields. 12 And in activities concerning goods of high and low value produced in foreign lands (and) imported along a water-route or a land-route, they should find out the amount of duty, road cess, escort charges, dues at the police station and the ferry, share, food and gifts.
13 In the same manner, agents in the guise of ascetics, directed by the Administrator, should ascertain the honesty or dishonesty of farmers, cowherds and traders and of the departmental heads.
14 And assistants disguised as old thieves should find out the reasons for entry, stay and departure of thieves and brave men of the enemy, in sanctuaries, cross-roads, deserted places, wells, rivers, pools, river crossings, temple compounds, hermitages, jungles, mountains, forests and thickets.
15 Thus the Administrator, being ever diligent, should look after the countryside; and those establishments (of spies) should also look after (it), also other establishments having their own (different) origin (should look after it).


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