Kautilya was the key adviser to the Indian king Chandragupta
Maurya (c. 317-293 B.C.E.), who first united the Indian
subcontinent in empire. Written about 300 B.C.E., Kautilya's Arthasastra
was a science of politics intended to
teach a wise king how to govern. In this work, Kautilya offers
wide-ranging and truly fascinating discussions on war and diplomacy,
including his wish to have his king become a world conqueror, his
of which kingdoms are natural allies and which are inevitable enemies,
his willingness to make treaties he knew he would break, his doctrine
of silent war or a war of assassination against an unsuspecting king,
his approval of secret agents who killed enemy leaders and sowed
among them, his view of women as weapons of war, his use of religion
and superstition to bolster his troops and demoralize enemy soldiers,
the spread of disinformation, and his humane treatment of conquered
soldiers and subjects.
Arthasastra was one of the greatest
political books of the ancient world. Max Weber recognized this. "Truly
radical 'Machiavellianism,' in the popular sense of that word," Weber
said in his famous lecture "Politics as a Vocation," "is classically
expressed in Indian literature in the Arthasastra
of Kautilya (written long before the birth of Christ, ostensibly in the
time of Chandragupta [Maurya]): compared to it, Machiavelli's The
Prince is harmless." 1
[End Page 9]
proposed an elaborate welfare state in domestic
politics, something that has been called a socialized monarchy, 2
he proved willing to defend the general good of this monarchy with
harsh measures. A number of authors have explored these domestic
policies, but very few scholars have focused on Kautilya's discussions
of war and diplomacy. And yet, his analyses are fascinating and
far-reaching, such as his wish to have his king become a world
conqueror, his evaluation of which kingdoms are natural allies and
which are inevitable enemies, his willingness to make treaties that he
knew he would break, his doctrine of silent war or a war of
assassination and contrived revolt against an unsuspecting king, his
approval of secret agents who killed enemy leaders and sowed discord
among them, his view of women as weapons of war, his use of religion
and superstition to bolster his troops and demoralize enemy soldiers,
his employment of the spread of disinformation, and his humane
treatment of conquered soldiers and subjects.
was the key
adviser to—and the genius of the strategy
undertaken by—the Indian king Chandragupta Maurya (c. 317-293
B.C.E.), who defeated the Nanda kings (several related kings trying
unsuccessfully to rule India together), stopped the advance of
the Great's successors, and first united most of the Indian
in empire. Kautilya—sometimes called chancellor or prime minister
to Chandragupta, something like a Bismarck 3
—composed his Arthasastra, or "science of
politics," to show a wise king how to defeat his enemies and rule on
behalf of the general good. He was not modest in his claims as to how
much he helped Chandragupta, noting "This science has been composed by
him [Kautilya], who . . . quickly regenerated the science and the
and [conquered] the earth that was under control of the Nanda kings." 4
Alexander's death in 323 B.C.E., Chandragupta and Kautilya
began their conquest of India by stopping the Greek invaders. In this
effort they assassinated two Greek governors, Nicanor and Philip,
a strategy to keep in mind when I later examine Kautilya's approval of [End
assassination. "The assassinations of the Greek governors," wrote Radha
Kumud Mookerji, "are not to be looked upon as mere accidents." 5
By taking much of western India (the Punjab and the Sindh) from the
Greeks and concluding a treaty with Seleucus (Alexander the Great's
Greek heir to western India), Chandragupta and Kautilya succeeded in
bringing together almost all of the Indian subcontinent. As a result,
Chandragupta [End Page 11]
was, and is now, considered the first unifier of India and the first
genuine emperor or king of India. 6
The Mauryan Empire
established by Chandragupta and continued by
his son Bindusara (c. 293-268 B.C.E.)—whom Kautilya also
advised—and by his grandson Ashoka (c. 268-232 B.C.E.) was, and
still is, astonishing. With a population of about fifty million people,
the Mauryan Empire was larger than the Mughal Empire two thousand years
later and even larger than the British Empire in India, extending in
fact all the way to the border of Persia and from Afghanistan to
(The map on the previous page shows the extent of the Mauryan Empire
under Ashoka.) Pliny—borrowing from Megasthenes, the ambassador of
Seleucus to Chandragupta—wrote that Chandragupta's army totaled about
six hundred thousand infantry, thirty thousand calvary, eight thousand
chariots, and nine thousand elephants. 8
Chandragupta's capital was Pataliputra (near modern Patna in northeast
India, just below Nepal), which he apparently seized from the Nandas
sometime between 324 and 322 B.C.E. Pataliputra was probably the
largest city in the world at that time, a city eight miles long and a
mile and one-half wide, with 570 towers and sixty-four gates, all
surrounded by a moat six hundred feet wide and forty-five feet deep.
Also protecting the city were wooden walls—stone was very scarce—with
slits to be used by archers. 9
Pataliputra "was about twice as large as Rome under Emperor Marcus
consolidated an empire and passed it down intact to
his son Bindusara, about whom we know little, and to his grandson
Ashoka. Some argue that the extreme measures that we will
see Kautilya advocate, and some of which Chandragupta surely must have
employed, were necessary to bring order and the rule of law out of
making possible the emergence of Ashoka, who was widely regarded as one
of the finest kings in world history. M. V. Krishna Rao contends, "As a
result of the progressive secularisation of society due to the
innovations contemplated by [the Arthasastra] and the
administration [End Page 12]
of Chandragupta, the country was prepared for the reception of the
moral transformation ushered in by A's-oka and his administration." 12
K. A. Nilakanta Sastri has written, in a fairly typical statement, "The
reign of A's-oka forms the brightest page in the history of India." 13
the suffering that occurred during his invasion of the
kingdom of Kalinga, Ashoka turned toward Buddhism and nonviolence. He
declared that in the future he would conquer only by morality or by dhamma—which
is a Prakrit word, often replaced by
familiar Sanskrit word dharma—a word meaning right conduct,
duty, religion, law, social justice, and responsibility. 14 Dhamma, or dharma,
principle. In his First Pillar Edict, he announced, "For this is my
principle: to protect through Dhamma, to administer affairs
according to Dhamma, to please the people with Dhamma,
to guard the empire with Dhamma." 15
reforms did Ashoka make in his wish to conquer the world
by morality or dharma? These included tolerance and respect for
others, even those with different religions and backgrounds, or, as the
Twelfth Rock Edict states, "other sects ought to be duly honoured in
every case"; 16
love of the family; compassion, which includes respect for others,
kindness even toward slaves and prisoners, "reverence toward elders,
and gentleness to animals"; 17
honesty; liberality toward relatives, friends, and neighbors;
moderation and self-control, or as the Seventh Rock Edict says, "but
even one who practises great liberality but does not possess
self-control, purity of mind, gratitude, and firm devotion, is very
a system of social welfare, including medical centers for human beings
and animals, the construction of roads for good communication, along
with the digging of wells and the planting of trees for shade, and so
on, all policies that he thought best carried out by the centralized
administration of government; 19
an unusual concern for the poor in rural areas, a concern that led him
to tour the countryside frequently; 20
[End Page 13]
and ahimsa or nonviolence, which prohibited both the slaughter
and sacrifice of animals. 21
According to V. R. R. Dikshitar, in the Sixth Rock Edict Ashoka said he
was promoting dharma for "the common good of the world," and in
the Tenth Rock Edict, Ashoka stated plainly that he put forth the
doctrine of dharma for "happiness in the next world." 22
historians are proud to embrace Kautilya's Arthasastra as a
practical book of rugged political
realism—instead of the impotent idealism of, say, Plato—that
actually shaped history. D. D. Kosambi notes, "The Greeks make
reading; the Indian treatise [Arthasastra] worked
infinitely better in practice for its own time and place." 23
Ram Sharan Sharma maintains, "Kautilya furnishes us as full and
complete [a] definition of the state as was possible in ancient times.
The Greek thinkers hardly discuss the constituent elements of the
is thus a book of political
realism, a book analyzing how the political world does work and not
often stating how it ought to work, a book that frequently discloses to
a king what calculating and sometimes brutal measures he must carry out
to preserve the state and the common good. One important question lurks
in discussions of Kautilya. Were the harsh actions he often recommended
necessary for the common good of India? Did Chandragupta and Bindusara
have to act in a violent and sometimes brutal fashion to defend India,
bring order, and establish unity? 25
With the old order crumbling, with the Nanda kings having proved cruel
and inept, with enemies on India's borders, and with the threat of
anarchy within, were not Kautilya's harsh measures necessary and have
not his critics failed "to note the nature of the times in which he
In defense of Chandragupta and Kautilya, Bhargava says, "all kinds of
means might have been considered necessary to restore peace with
Put more bluntly, did India need the harsh measures of Kautilya the
realist in order to enjoy the luxury of Ashoka the idealist? [End
Kautilya and His
"Science of Politics"
translates the word arthasastra as
"science of politics," 28
a treatise to help a king in "the acquisition and protection of the
Others translate arthasastra in slightly different ways: A. L.
Basham says it is a "treatise on polity," 30
Kosambi emphasizes the economic importance of the word in calling it a
"science of material gain," 31
and G. P. Singh labels it a "science of polity." 32
I happen to prefer to translate arthasastra as a "science of
political economy," but however one translates the word, Kautilya
claimed to be putting forth what Heinrich Zimmer rightly calls
"timeless laws of politics, economy, diplomacy, and war." 33
Because he was
offering his readers a science with which they could
master the world, Kautilya believed that having a passive stance
toward the world—for example, trusting in fate or relying on
superstition—was outlandish. "One trusting in fate," noted Kautilya,
"being devoid of human endeavor, perishes." 34
His philosophy called for action, not resignation: "The object slips
away from the foolish person, who continuously consults the stars; . .
. what will the stars do?" 35
In urging the king to rely on science and not the precepts of religion,
Kautilya separated political thought from religious speculation. 36
Like Thomas Hobbes,
Kautilya believed the goal of science was power. His
statements "Power is (possession of) strength" and "strength changes
the mind" 37
show that Kautilya sought the power to control not only outward
behavior, but also the thoughts of one's subjects and enemies. Probably
his science could not promise all of that, but the power offered by
this science was extensive: "An arrow, discharged by an archer, may
kill one person or may not kill (even one); but intellect operated by a
wise man would kill even children in the womb." 38
Having as his first and primary goal to "destroy the enemies and
protect his own [End Page 15]
the king could certainly accomplish this with Kautilya's science; in
fact, "he, who is well-versed in the science of politics,. . . plays,
as he pleases, with kings tied by the chain of his
Beyond protecting the kingdom, the king who uses Kautilya's science can
bring to himself and his subjects the three goods of life—"material
gain, spiritual good and pleasures." 41
Wealth is the key to raising successful armies and having a peaceful
and just kingdom, and Kautilya's political science brings wealth: "The
source of the livelihood of men is wealth, in other words, the earth
inhabited by men. The science which is the means of the attainment and
protection of that earth is the Science of Politics." 42
Put another way, Kautilya's book is the greatest weapon a king can
have, and political science is more important than—or at least brings
about—wealth, armies, and conquests.
In the world of
international politics, it is only "natural" that nations
interact with each other through "dissension and force." 43
A political realist typically argues that there will always be conflict
in international relations and, in effect, rule by the strongest.
Kautilya was writing about 300 B.C.E., a century after Thucydides
composed his History ofthe Peloponnesian War and several
decades after the Sophists Callicles and Thrasymachus said to Plato
that rule by the stronger was "natural." Kautilya, in the boldest of
his promises, claimed that one who knows his science of politics can
conquer the world, that "one possessed of personal qualities, though
ruling over a small territory . . . conversant with (the science of)
politics, does conquer the entire earth, never loses." 44
There is no modesty here. Kautilya's science brings an abundance of
wealth and details correct strategies in politics and war. With this
science anyone can succeed: "And winning over and purchasing men of
energy, those possessed of might, even women, children, lame and blind
persons, have conquered the world." 45
Kautilya did not see this conquest as something unjust. A king who
carries out his duties, rules according to law, metes out only just
punishment, applies the law equally "to his son and his enemy," and
protects his subjects not only goes "to heaven" but "would conquer the
earth up to its four ends." 46
Whereas Kautilya did not talk of glory, I do believe he was thinking of
something we might call "greatness," but this would come only with
social justice and the morally correct ordering of the world. The king,
"after conquering the world, . . . [End Page 16]
should enjoy it divided into varnas [classes, sometimes castes]
and asramas [Hindu stages of life] in accordance with
his own duty." 47
meant by the phrase "conquering the world" something
like conquering up to what Indians regarded as the natural borders
of India, from the Himalayas all the way south to the Indian Ocean,
and from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal, although Kautilya said,
"the region of the sovereign ruler extends northwards between the
and the sea, one thousand yojanas [about nine thousand miles!]
extent across." 48
As Kangle puts it, in the Indian tradition, the world conqueror, or cakrava-rtin,
was not one who conquered "regions beyond the borders of India." 49
In short, India did not include the land of "barbarians" or mlecchas,
those outside of Indian culture. 50
Chakra means wheel; it is possible that the Indian
the world conqueror involved someone who ruled as far as his chariots
could roll, without obstacles or opposition. 51
At any rate, surely Dikshitar is correct in saying that this ideal of a
world conqueror in ancient India led to an "imperialism" that was "one
of the causes of chronic warfare," 52
although the Mauryan dynasty did bring comparative peace for more than
a century. As Narasingha Prosad Sil notes, "For Kautilya a world
conquest is the true foundation for world peace." 53
Diplomacy and Foreign
Policy as Extensions of Warfare
realist, Kautilya assumed that every nation acts to
maximize power and self-interest, and therefore moral principles or
obligations have little or no force in actions among nations. While
it is good to have an ally, the alliance will last only as long as it
is in that ally's as well as one's own self-interest, because "an ally
looks to the securing of his own interests in the event of simultaneity
of calamities and in the event of the growth of the enemy's power." 54
Whether one goes to war or [End Page 17]
remains at peace depends entirely upon the self-interest of, or
to, one's kingdom: "War and peace are considered solely from the point
of view of profit." 55
One keeps an ally not because of good will or moral obligation, but
because one is strong and can advance one's own self-interest as well
as the self-interest of the ally, for "when one has an army, one's ally
remains friendly, or (even) the enemy becomes friendly." 56
Because nations always act in their political, economic, and military
self-interest, even times of peace have the potential to turn abruptly
into times of war, allies into enemies, and even enemies into allies.
Burton Stein notes correctly that Kautilya was describing a foreign
policy not of a great empire like that of the Mauryas, but of small
warring states in incessant conflict, such as India experienced before
the Mauryan empire. 57
Kautilya probably assumed that peaceful empires cannot last forever,
and that conflict among smaller states is more common in history.
For Kautilya, this
principle of foreign policy—that nations act in
their political, economic, and military self-interest—was a timeless
truth of his science of politics, or arthasastra.
He did not believe that nations never act in an altruistic
manner—indeed, Kautilya advocated humanitarian acts that also
coincided with one's self-interest—but he did believe that one
must assume, if entrusted with political or military power, that one's
neighbors will eventually act in their own interests. Put another way,
one would be betraying one's own people if one did not assume a
scenario. A nation forced to rely on the kindness of neighboring states
is weak and, unless it can change rapidly, doomed to destruction. This
same assumption can be seen in the work of Thucydides, who discussed
foreign policy a century before Kautilya, and in the thoughts of the
Chinese Legalist Han Fei Tzu, who wrote about fifty years after
Kautilya is most
famous for outlining the so-called Mandala theory of
foreign policy, in which immediate neighbors are considered as enemies,
but any state on the other side of a neighboring state is regarded as
an ally, or, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Imagine a series of
states to one's west, and then number them starting with oneself.
numbered 1, 3, 5, 7, and so on will likely be friends, whereas states
2, 4, 6, 8, and so on will probably be enemies. (The same thing can
be done with concentric circles, which would look more like a mandala,
but it is difficult to envision these circles as states.) Kautilya put
this basic principle in a number of different ways, but most simply as,
"One with immediately [End Page 18]
proximate territory is the natural enemy." 58
Elsewhere he stated this Mandala theory of foreign policy in more
detail: "With respect to the middle king [he himself], the third and
the fifth constituents are friendly elements. The second, the fourth,
and the sixth are unfriendly elements." 59
that he lived in a world of foreign relations in which
one either conquered or suffered conquest. He did not say to himself,
"Prepare for war, but hope for peace," but instead, "Prepare for war,
and plan to conquer." Diplomacy was just another weapon used in the
prolonged warfare that was always either occurring or being planned
for. After analyzing a king's unique configuration of potential enemies
and allies, Kautilya then coldly calculated how that king must think
and act. "The king, endowed with personal excellences and those of
his material constituents, the seat of good policy, is the would-be
conqueror. Encircling him on all sides, with territory immediately next
to his is the constituent called the enemy. In the same manner, one
territory separated by one (other territory) is the constituent called
the ally." 60
This much just repeats the principles of foreign policy discussed
above, but then notice how Kautilya regarded neighboring states: "A
neighboring prince possessed of the excellences of an enemy is the foe;
one in calamity is vulnerable; one without support or with weak support
isfit to be exterminated; in the reverse case, fit to be
harassed or weakened. These are the different types of enemies." 61
When Kautilya wrote of "exterminating" an enemy, he meant killing only
the leaders. As we will see in more detail later, he thought the best
policy toward ordinary soldiers and subjects was to treat them well and
In his excellent
discussion of Kautilya's Mandala theory of foreign
policy, Singh continues by correctly stating that this is ancient
most notable contribution to political theory. 62
Although Singh analyzes Kautilya's theory well, he makes a mistake in
labeling the Mandala theory an argument based on the doctrine of the
balance of power. Kautilya, in fact, was not offering a modern balance
of power argument. In the twentieth century, international relations
theorists have defended the doctrine of the balance of power, because
equally armed nations will supposedly deter each other, and therefore
no war will result. One does find this argument occasionally in
Kautilya: "In case the gains [of two allies [End Page 19]
of equal strength] are equal, there should be peace; if unequal,
or, "the conqueror should march if superior in strength, otherwise stay
Whereas these balance of power theorists suggest that a nation arm
itself so that it can ensure peace, Kautilya wanted his king to arm the
nation in order to find or create a weakness in the enemy and conquer,
even to conquer the world, or at least the subcontinent of India.
In reading his Arthasastra,
we find no moral
considerations other than a king doing what is right for his own
people. Rather, we discover merely what Kautilya regarded as the nature
of power. The king, he wrote, "should march when by marching he would
be able to weaken or exterminate the enemy." 65
And Kautilya assumed that every other state would act in a like manner
because "even the equal who has achieved his object tends to be
stronger, and when augmented in power, untrustworthy; prosperity tends
to change the mind." 66
Just as did Thucydides, Kautilya regarded a request for negotiations as
a sign of weakness, indeed a desperate act of a weak nation trying to
survive: "A weaker king may bargain with a stronger king with the offer
of a gain equal to his troops, when he is in a calamity or is addicted
to what is harmful [that is, women, wine, or gambling] or is in
trouble. He with whom the bargain is made should fight if capable of
doing harm to him; else he should make the pact." 67
Whereas Carl von
Clausewitz said that war is just an extension of
domestic politics, 68
Kautilya argued that diplomacy is really a subtle act of war, a series
of actions taken to weaken an enemy and gain advantages for oneself,
all with an eye toward eventual conquest. A nation's foreign policy
should always consist of preliminary movements toward war: "In this
way, the conqueror should establish in the rear and in front, a circle
(of kings) in his own interest. . . . And in the entire circle, he
should ever station envoys and secret agents, becoming a friend of the
rivals, maintaining secrecy when striking again and again. The affairs
of one, who cannot maintain secrecy, . . . undoubtedly perish, like a
broken boat in the ocean." 69
In Kautilya's foreign policy, even during a time of diplomacy and
negotiated peace, a king should still be "striking again and again" in
Consider some of
the measures Kautilya supported during times of
peace. If opposed by an alliance of nations, a king should secretly
dissensions" within the alliance until one or more of the parties in
the [End Page 20]
alliance becomes weak. 70
When he has weakened a neighbor, the king "should violate the treaty." 71
Or, in another example, "The wise (conqueror), making one neighboring
king fight with another neighboring king, should seize the territory of
another, cutting off his party on all sides." 72
In Kautilya's view, two kinds of kingdoms confront any king—those weak
kingdoms fit to be exterminated and those strong kingdoms that, over a
long period of time, one can only secretly harass and hope to weaken.
He advised, "As between an enemy fit to be harassed and an enemy fit to
be exterminated, acquisition of land from an enemy fit to be
exterminated is preferable. For, the king fit to be exterminated, being
without support or with a weak support, is deserted by his subjects
when, on being attacked, he wishes to flee taking with him the treasury
and the army." 73
It is best to attack an enemy that is "disunited," rather than an enemy
in which the subjects have organized themselves into "bands." 74
During times of peace and negotiations, Kautilya wanted spies and
secret agents to exploit the divisions within a country. Most
countries, he maintained, have four kinds of unhappy subjects—the
enraged, the frightened, the greedy, and the proud. Secret agents can
widen and deepen these divisions by inciting these four types of people
to act against their king. The opposing king "should win over the
seducible in the enemy's territories by means of conciliation and gifts
and those not seducible by means of dissension and force." 75
Because a king
abides by a treaty only for so long as it is advantageous,
Kautilya regarded all allies as future conquests when the time is
ripe. He wrote, for example, "That ally who remains common to the enemy
(and himself), he should divide that rogue from the enemy (and) when
divided, exterminate him, thereafter (exterminate) the enemy." 76
Kautilya also sought to take a nation trying to remain neutral or
"indifferent" and secretly provoke war between that nation and a
neighboring kingdom, until the neutral nation sought his help. Then
Kautilya's king could "place him under (his) obligations." 77
Kautilya himself had no moral qualms about breaking obligations or
trust: "That ally who might do harm or who, though capable, would not
help in times of trouble, he should exterminate him, when trustingly,
he comes within his reach." 78
[End Page 21]
policy is just an extension of a nation's wars, the goal
of foreign policy is not to end wars, but rather to ward off defeats
and to make sure one is successful in subsequent warfare. For Kautilya,
all ambassadors were potential spies with diplomatic immunity. 79
Indeed, he wrote an entire section about how to "fight with the weapon
of diplomacy." 80
was a "science" of warfare, presumably part of
a larger science of politics. The Commandant of the Army, he suggested,
should be "trained in the science of all (kinds of) fights and weapons,
(and) renowned for riding on elephants, horses or in chariots." 81
Just as Machiavelli advised his prince to attend to matters of warfare
constantly, so did Kautilya advise the king not to leave military
matters entirely to others: "Infantry, cavalry, chariots and elephants
should carry out practice in the arts outside (the city) at sun-rise. .
. . The king should constantly attend to that, and should frequently
inspect their arts." 82
Just as the king's agents spied on officials in the state bureaucracy,
so too must the king have spies to assess the loyalty of soldiers. What
greater threat is there to a king than having a military coup remove
him from power? Kautilya recommended that "secret agents, prostitutes,
artisans and actors as well as elders of the army should ascertain with
diligence, the loyalty or disloyalty of soldiers." 83
In his section on
foreign policy, Kautilya wrote a startling sentence:
"Of war, there is open war, concealed war and silent war." 84
Open war is obvious, and concealed war is what we call guerrilla
warfare, but silent war is a kind of fighting that no other thinker I
know of has discussed. Silent war is a kind of warfare with another
kingdom in which the king and his ministers—and unknowingly, the
people—all act publicly as if they were at peace with the opposing
kingdom, but all the while secret agents and spies are assassinating
important leaders in the other kingdom, creating divisions among key
ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation.
According to Kautilya, "Open war is fighting at the place and time
indicated; creating fright, sudden assault, [End Page 22]
striking when there is error or a calamity, giving way and striking in
one place, are types of concealed warfare; that which concerns secret
practices and instigations through secret agents is the mark of silent
In silent warfare, secrecy is paramount, and, from a passage quoted
earlier, the king can prevail only by "maintaining secrecy when
striking again and again." 86
This entire concept of secret war was apparently original with
Kautilya declared, is "most righteous," 88
but he was willing to use any and all kinds of warfare to achieve
consolidation and expansion of the kingdom. There is no question of
morality here—other than the general good of one's kingdom—but only of
strategy. Kautilya advised the king that "When he is superior in
troops, when secret instigations are made (in the enemy's camp), when
precautions are taken about the season, (and) when he is on land
suitable to himself, he should engage in an open fight. In the reverse
case, (he should resort to) concealed fighting." 89
How different all this is from the image of war, certainly exaggerated,
found in the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata, or the Ramayana,
of the central figure being the great hero in the chariot who
frightened all before him. 90
In Book 12,
Kautilya faced the situation in which one rules a weak
kingdom and is about to be attacked by a stronger king. He maintained
that "there are three kings who attack: the righteous conqueror, the
greedy conqueror and the demoniacal conqueror." 91
Whereas one can satisfy a righteous conqueror simply by submitting to
his rule, one must surrender "land and goods" as well as money in order
to satisfy a greedy conqueror. The demoniacal conqueror, however, will
stop only when he has seized "land, goods, sons, wives and life." 92
(Kautilya apparently saw himself as advising a righteous conqueror,
although he did seek some tribute from defeated peoples.) A weak king
must give up everything if it is inevitable, but he must find a way to
survive to fight another day, preserving "his body, not wealth; for,
what regret can there be for wealth that is impermanent?" 93
However, Kautilya did not advocate giving in to a conqueror without
countermeasures and recommended that the king use "diplomatic or
concealed warfare"; attempt to conciliate his enemy [End Page 23]
with gifts; direct secret agents to wield "weapons, poison or fire"
to destroy the enemy's fort or camp; instruct secret agents to promote
a coup by a "pretender from his family or a prince in disfavour";
send the demoniacal king listless elephants, which had been poisoned;
give to the enemy king treasonable or alien troops; surrender to an
entirely different king and give him all but the capital city; have
secret agents instigate a revolt among the subjects of the enemy king;
"employ assassins and poison-givers"; use an astrologer to persuade a
"high officer" of the enemy king to try a coup; command secret agents
to declare that the Regent of the king is about to take power, while
agents kill leaders at night and blame the murders on the Regent of the
enemy king; use secret agents in the countryside to protest oppression
of the enemy king's bureaucracy and kill agents of the king hoping to
start a revolt; or finally, set fire to palaces and stores of grain and
blame this on the Regent of the enemy king. 94
advocated using women as weapons of war. He certainly
regarded women as a source of satisfaction for troops at war, writing
that when setting up camp for the army, "courtesans (should be
along the highways." 95
And Kautilya certainly saw women as an addictive source of pleasure,
worse than wine or gambling, that a good king must enjoy only in
moderation: "Deliverance is possible in gambling, without deliverance
is addiction to women. Failure to show himself, aversion from work,
absence of material good and loss of spiritual good by allowing the
right time to pass, weakness in administration and addiction to drink
(result from addiction to women)." 96
Precisely because women are such a powerful addiction, a king can use
them against an enemy; for example, if a king is trying to undermine a
ruling oligarchy, he "should make chiefs of the ruling council
infatuated with women possessed of great beauty and youth. When passion
is roused in them, they should start quarrels by creating belief (about
their love) in one and by going to another." 97
A woman supposedly in love with one leader should go to another,
profess her love for him, urge him to murder the first leader, and
"then she should proclaim, 'My lover has been killed by so and so.'" 98
Obviously such tactics create mistrust among leaders of an oligarchy
and also bring about the death of key enemies. In the chapters about
how a weak king can stave off disastrous conquest by a stronger king,
Kautilya again turned, as just one possible tactic among [End Page
many, to women as weapons of war, stating that "keepers of prostitutes
should make the (enemy's) army chiefs infatuated with women possessed
of great beauty and youth. When many or two of the chiefs feel passion
for one woman, assassins should create quarrels among them." 99
Secret agents can destroy high officers in the enemy army either with
poison or with "love-winning medicines." 100
Speaking of justice
to an enemy about to conquer is the last tactic
of the weak, just as Thucydides showed in his recreation of the debate
about Melos. In Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War,
the Melians try to talk about justice and fair play when facing the
prospect of conquest by the Athenians, who contend that such arguments
are the last, desperate tactic of those facing defeat, which the
"know as well as we do." The Athenians tell the Melians "that, when
matters are discussed by practical people, the standard of justice
on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the strong do what
they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to
After that both the Melians and the Athenians debate only what is in
the self-interest of Athens. Similarly, willing to try all tactics,
even desperate ones, Kautilya made up a powerful speech to be given by
a weak king to the king about to conquer, a speech offering a mixture
of moral exhortation and arguments based on the self-interest of the
conqueror. In this speech, Kautilya depicted an envoy saying to the
conquering king that he should accept a treaty and "pay regard to [his]
spiritual and material well-being"; that conquering a kingdom willing
to surrender on reasonable terms is an "impious act"; that battle is
not in the conquering king's self-interest, since "to fight with brave
men who have given up all hope of life is a rash deed" and the
conqueror will lose troops and "material good"; that such a conquest
will only unite his enemies all the more; that the conquering king's
enemies are only waiting for him to be weakened in order to attack;
that he himself is risking death; that war itself in which men on each
side die is "an impious act"; and that he should not listen to "enemies
masquerading as friends" who are giving him false advice as to his real
In much the same way as Thucydides, only more dramatically, Kautilya
demonstrated the realities of diplomacy and war as well as the
ineffectiveness of moral pleas when confronted by a superior power.
for the legions of ancient Rome; Kautilya wanted
legions, but he wanted them preceded by elephants, which acted in the [End
ancient world a bit like modern tanks. So valuable were they that
wrote, "destruction of an enemy's forces is principally dependent on
As shown earlier, Kautilya considered the treasury most valuable in
raising an army, procuring equipment (including elephants), and
preparing for war. After the treasury and the army, Kautilya focused on
the importance of the fort, on which depends "the treasury, the army,
silent war, restraint of one's own party, use of armed forces,
receiving allied troops, and warding off enemy troops and forest
tribes. And in the absence of a fort, the treasury will fall into the
hands of enemies. . . . those with forts are not exterminated." 104
(A mountain fort is more valuable than a river fort, because it "is
easy to protect, difficult to lay siege to, difficult to climb." 105
inconsistent in ranking the importance of the treasury,
the army, and forts, but it seems that the people, or a popular army,
are the most important of all. As he put it, "one should seek a
with men." 106
Well before Machiavelli defended a republican army, well before Mao
Zedong defended a people's war as invincible, Kautilya urged the king
to be popular with the people and rely on the countryside. "If weak in
might, [a king] should endeavor to secure the welfare of his subjects.
The countryside is the source of all undertakings; from them comes
The "undertakings" of forts, the treasury, and the army all depend
ultimately on the people of the countryside, where are found "bravery,
firmness, cleverness and large numbers." 108
Kautilya here was cautiously making a revolution in warfare, relying
not quite as much on the warrior class of kshatriyas. India was
divided into four classes or castes (varnas): brahmins
or priests; kshatriyas or warriors and rulers; vaishyas
or farmers and traders; and sh-udras or laborers. The Dharmas-utras,
or law codes, writtenbefore Kautilya, urged an army of kshatriyas
and, in an emergency, also brahmins (priests) and vaishyas
(farmers or merchants). Kautilya had no use for brahmin
troops—"by prostration, an enemy may win over Brahmana troops"—but he
liked the energy, numbers, and strength of sh-udras,
agricultural laborers treated much like serfs. 109
Kautilya's praise of ordinary men from the lower two varnas was
unusual in the ancient world. He wrote, "As [End Page 26]
between land with the support of a fort and one with the support of
the one with the support of men is preferable. For, a kingdom is that
which has men. Without men, like a barren cow, what could it yield?" 110
Says Sharma, "Kautilya alone holds that the army made up of vaishyas
and sudras is important." 111
Kautilya apparently believed that an army of kshatriyas was
best; warriors were supposed to find their "highest duty and pleasure"
by dying in battle. 112
Megasthenes, a Greek ambassador to Chandragupta Maurya's court,
suggested that as much as one-fifth of the population under
Chandragupta's empire were warriors or kshatriyas. 113
In addition, Kautilya clearly argued that sections of the army should
consist "mostly of persons from the same region, caste or profession." 114
Using a little common sense, we can see that he is suggesting that men
of an army should know one another, that an army of friends fighting
side by side is the most difficult to defeat. On the subject of the
king's location during battle, for example, he wrote: "A bare army,
without standards, consisting of warriors related as fathers, sons and
brothers, should be the place for the king. An elephant or a chariot
should be the vehicle for the king, guarded by cavalry." 115
(Kautilya wanted a man who looked like the king to lead the army into
And thus, a king's
power, for Kautilya, is in the end tied to the
power and popular energy of the people, without which a king can be
conquered, for "not being rooted among his subjects, [a king] becomes
easy to uproot." 117
Although Kautilya wrote of using money to raise an army and even of
"purchasing heroic men," 118
he was not advocating mercenaries who fought only for pay, but he was
merely outlining the cost of paying, supplying, and feeding soldiers.
He believed that "hereditary troops are better than hired troops" 119
; in other words, troops made of men born in the kingdom and thus loyal
to the king since birth are better than strangers fighting for money,
as Machiavelli noted so often later. It is not at all clear, remarked
Kautilya, that "inviting alien troops with money" 120
is an advantage or a disadvantage. [End Page 27]
Which States to Attack
Kautilya's view of
the world, expansion by a prosperous kingdom was
inevitable, natural, and good, and as a consequence, moral
did not enter into his deliberations, only what was for the good of the
kingdom. If a king can win, then he should go to war. As Kangle says,
the Arthasastra "preaches an ideal of conquest." 121
But who should be attacked? This is not an ethical question. The
decision takes only careful calculation and observes the principle that
a king should attack weakness. Certain states are vulnerable. If a
state is unjust, then its people will welcome a deliverer from a
tyrannical king; if a kingdom is weakened from a poor economy, or if a
state has experienced some kind of calamity ranging from fires to flood
or famine, then a king "should make war and march." 122
As Rajendra Prasad says, Kautilya believed that "whenever an enemy king
is in trouble, and his subjects are exploited, oppressed, impoverished
and disunited, he should be immediately attacked after one proclamation
of war." 123
kingdom should be looked upon as an enemy and
classified. If a kingdom is strong, Kautilya called it a "foe"; if a
kingdom is suffering calamity, then it is "vulnerable"; if a kingdom
weak or no popular support, then "it is fit to be exterminated." Even
one cannot attack a strong neighbor or "foe," one can harass it
and weaken it over time. 124
What Kautilya called an enemy "fit to be exterminated" was an enemy
with little or no popular support, an enemy whose subjects quite likely
would desert to Kautilya's attacking army. 125
And Kautilya argued, or perhaps assumed, that imperial expansion was
the correct goal: "After conquering the enemy's territory, the
conqueror should seek to seize the middle king, after succeeding over
him, the neutral king. This is the first method of conquering the
world. . . . And after conquering the world he should enjoy it divided
into varnas . . . in accordance with his own duty." 126
In Kautilya's mind,
treaties were agreements between kingdoms of roughly
equal power, agreements a king should break if they are no longer
advantageous, and thus, believing that a treaty will provide a wall of
protection against a strong enemy would be a foolish act. If an ally
with whom a king has a treaty becomes weakened, that is, if the treaty [End
is no longer to a king's advantage, then the king "should violate the
or, "when after making a pact he intends to violate it, . . . he should
demand a gain not received or more." 128
Because Kautilya thought that promises or agreements were strategies
and not moral obligations, he had no moral qualms about violating a
promise and recommended that "The commander of a frontier fort, by
offering the surrender of the fort, should get part of the (enemy's)
troops inside and destroy [them] when full of trust." 129
To protect his own people, a king has an obligation to weaken or
destroy any potential enemy: "That ally who might do harm or who,
though capable, would not help in times of trouble, he should certainly
exterminate him, when trustingly, he comes within his reach." 130
Charles Drekmeier is certainly correct in saying that, "In outlining
military campaigns Kautilya disregards the traditional humanitarian
principles laid down to regulate the conduct of war." 131
In Book 9, Kautilya listed various "hindrances to gain"; among them
were pity, piousness, and "regard for the other world." 132
In short, in waging war, compassion and morality and religious
principles have no place, unless they are useful for bringing victory.
In another way,
moral considerations did enter into Kautilya's
calculations. Whereas it is best to wage war against an unjust king who
has no public support, it is wise to avoid war with a righteous king
whose subjects will fight energetically on his behalf. Kautilya noted
that if one has a choice about where to attack, it is always best to
attack an unjust kingdom, because "The subjects help the king who is
justly behaved.. . . Therefore, [a king] should march only against
[an enemy] with disaffected subjects." 133
Once more, morality is sometimes advantageous and in one's
self-interest, for "The unjustly behaved [king] would cause even
settled land to be laid waste." 134
By being unjust, a king loses all popular support, thereby weakening
the kingdom and making it easily conquered: "The king fit to be
exterminated, being without support or with weak support, is deserted
by his subjects when, on being attacked, he wishes to flee taking with
him the treasury and the army." 135
If a king has a choice of attacking a strong king who is unjust or a
weak king who is just, he should actually attack the stronger king,
because the stronger [End Page 29]
king's subjects, weary of injustice, will not help the strong king and
might even join the war against him. 136
An unjust state is really two states, already at war with one another,
the rulers and the ruled. 137
Kautilya paused to remind a king how practical it was to be just toward
his subjects because "Subjects, when impoverished, become greedy; when
greedy they become disaffected; when disaffected they either go over to
the enemy or themselves kill the master. Therefore, [a king] should not
allow these causes of decline, greed and disaffection among the
subjects to arise, or, if arisen, should immediately counter-act them."
A domestic political policy of social justice is, in the long run, the
best defense against outside enemies, because "one attacking a
righteous king is hated by his own people and by others; one attacking
an unrighteous king is liked (by them)." 139
that a humanitarian policy toward a defeated people
was practical. If a king massacres those whom he has defeated, then he
frightens all those kingdoms that surround him and terrifies even his
own ministers. 140
Rather, one gains more land and new and loyal subjects if one treats
the defeated in a magnanimous manner. Certainly a conquering king must
silently kill those former leaders loyal to the defeated king, but
those who approach him promising loyalty should be treated generously:
"He should not use towards them insults, injuries, contemptuous words
or reproaches. And after promising them safety, he should favour them
like a father." 141
Because a conquering king intends to expand his territory and acquire
new subjects, he must treat a defeated people well. The victor, "after
gaining new territory, . . . should cover the enemy's faults with his
own virtue, his virtues with double virtues. He should carry out what
is agreeable and beneficial to his subjects by doing his own duty as
laid down, granting favours, giving exemptions, making gifts and
showing honour." 142
Indeed, the conquering king should "order the release of all prisoners
and render help to the distressed, the helpless and the diseased." 143
It is sound military policy to "establish a righteous course of
What is moral is once more practical. Just as one can kill a traitor,
but cannot use force "against a [End Page 30]
multitude of people," 145
so one can kill the leaders of a defeated kingdom, but must bring the
great majority of the citizens peacefully into one's own kingdom. In
this instance, Kautilya was following the traditional advice given in
the Dharmas-utras that "Aryans condemn the killing of
those who have thrown down their weapons, who have dishevelled hair,
who fold their hands in supplication, or who are fleeing." 146
And by these actions, Kautilya fit his own definition of a righteous
conqueror who sought victory and the submission of the enemy, but not
greedy pillaging or lawless killing. 147
much of his soldiers, because they had to be brave and
fierce in battle, but gentle and kind toward those whom they had
"When attacking the enemy's fort or camp, they should grant safety to
those fallen down, those turning back, those surrendering, those with
loose hair, those without weapons, those disfigured by terror and to
those not fighting." 148
After a king has subdued the country and taken care of the people, he
should "grant safety to the countryside," settle subjects down to farm
the land, and "induce" even those who had fought against him to settle
down and farm (even by giving tax exemptions), all because the
countryside needs farmers and the new kingdom wants prosperity. "For,"
according to Kautilya, "there is no country without people and no
kingdom without a country," meaning a prosperous—not a
Both Sun Tzu (c.
400-320 B.C.E.) and Machiavelli, in books entitled The
Art of War, pointed out that a general should always give an enemy
the hope of escape and never surround a nearly defeated enemy
Enemy soldiers who have hope of living will eventually run for [End
safety, and they are easily killed, but soldiers surrounded with no
but to fight or die will fight with an unimagined ferocity. Kautilya
arguing something similar, to let the enemy soldiers know that the king
will be generous in victory, will allow defeated soldiers to return to
their land, and will take no reprisals except toward the leaders of the
opposing kingdom, against whom "he should act as in 'the infliction of
(secret) punishment.'" 151
After such humanitarian policies toward the defeated populace have
become widely known, ordinary enemy soldiers will surrender in great
numbers. By contrast, if a king announces that he will massacre every
soldier, then all will fight to the death. Said Kautilya, "The
vehemence of one returning again to the fight and despairing of his
life becomes irresistible; therefore, [a king] should not harass a
broken enemy." 152
Similarly, he advised that "to fight with brave men who have given up
all hope of life is a rash deed." 153
A conquering king
should reassure a defeated people that not much, except
their rulers, will change. The king who has triumphed "should adopt a
similar character, dress, language and behavior (as the subjects). And
he should show the same devotion in festivals in honour of deities of
the country, festive gatherings and sportive amusements." 154
He should keep his promises, especially to those who helped him win, he
should honor the local "deities," and he should make grants of land and
money to men distinguished in wisdom and piety. 155
And the conquering king should show his goodwill toward the defeated by
instituting "a righteous custom, not initiated before." 156
While the victorious king is reassuring the general population with
generous policies, he must continue to kill anyone who is dangerous and
those who are disgruntled: "He should put down by silent punishment
those capable of injuring [him] or those brooding on the master's
In what might be a surprising observation about those whom the king has
killed, Kautilya commented that if one must kill a dangerous person,
the king must leave his [End Page 32]
property untouched and "shall not covet the land, property, sons or
wives of the slain one." 158
Kautilya had the same insight into human emotions that Machiavelli had
nearly eighteen hundred years later. Said Machiavelli, "And when [the
prince] is obliged to take the life of any one, . . . he must abstain
from taking the property of others, for men forget more easily the
death of their father than the loss of their patrimony." 159
A king becomes hated more readily for taking the property that belongs
to a family than for killing the head of the family.
Using Secret Agents,
Assassins, Disinformation, and Propaganda
was ready to
use almost any means of violence in fighting a war,
although he wanted his king to direct his violence toward the leaders
of the opposing kingdom and not toward ordinary people. For example,
Kautilya discussed at length how to employ poison, but almost always
directed its use at key enemy commanders. He advised that when "giving
unadulterated wine to the army chiefs, [the secret agent] should give
(wine) mixed with poison when they are in a state of intoxication." 160
Whereas Kautilya did suggest that an army laying siege to a fort try to
"defile the water," 161
this measure seems designed to make those in the fort surrender from
illness, not to kill everyone in the fort. Mostly, Kautilya addressed
the question of how to assassinate a king—by hiding "inside the image
of a deity or a hollow wall" and emerging at night, by making something
heavy fall on the king, or by using women as secret agents to "drop on
him serpents or poisonous fire and smoke." 162
Kautilya was willing to use any possible means to assassinate an enemy
king—drown him, burn him with fire, suffocate him with smoke, or even
use crocodiles as assassins, not to mention employing women and
children as poison-givers. 163
The wonder of assassination, according to Kautilya, is that it is so
efficient, "for, an assassin, single-handed, may be able to achieve his
end with weapon, poison and fire. He does the work of a whole army or
In an unrealistic passage in the Dharmasutras that Kautilya
most certainly ignored, the authors directed that a king should not
"strike with barbed or poisoned weapons"! 165 [End Page 33]
assassination, another method used to defeat an enemy without
full-scale battle was to arrange for the enemy to quarrel and fight
itself. We have already seen how Kautilya intended to use beautiful
to instigate fights among high officers or officials. If the promise of
pleasure can ignite quarrels, so can the promise of power. One should
arrange for a secret agent, disguised as an astrologer, to tell a high
officer that he has all the marks of a king, and similarly arrange
for a female secret agent, the wife of this officer, to complain that
the king wants to keep her in his harem. A third secret agent who is
a cook or a waiter should lie, saying that the king has ordered him or
her to poison the high officer. "Thus with one or two or three means,"
according to Kautilya, the king "should incite the high officers one by
one to fight or desert" the enemy king. 166
In a discussion about sowing dissensions among oligarchies, Kautilya
suggested that "assassins should start quarrels by injuring objects,
cattle or men at night," "should stir up princelings enjoying low
comforts with (a longing for) superior comforts," and "should start
quarrels among the followers of the chiefs in the oligarchy by praising
the opponents in brothels and taverns." 167
The goals were constantly to "sow discord" and to foment and inflame
"mutual hatred, enmity and strife." 168
Much of this advice
violated the tacit code of war found in the great
Indian epics. The assassination of envoys and the use of poison were
considered to be against the rules of warfare and thus not honorable.
Said The Laws of Manu, "Fighting in battle, [the king]
kill his enemies with weapons that are concealed, barbed, or smeared
with poison or whose points blaze with fire." 169
Spies were common in Indian history, but not spies who assassinated
enemy officials and started quarrels among enemy leaders. 170
An excellent book on warfare in ancient India discusses spies, but does
not mention secret agents as assassins. 171
Once more Kautilya judged the means by the result, and the result he
sought was the general good of his kingdom.
tactic that Kautilya praised was what we now call
disinformation or propaganda designed to demoralize or frighten enemy
soldiers. For example, secret agents should appear as messengers to
saying, "Your fort has been burnt down or captured; a revolt by a
of your family has broken out; or, your enemy or a forest chieftain [End
has risen (against you)." 172
After spreading the rumor that the Regent or a high administrator of
the enemy king has announced that the king is in trouble and may not
come back alive and thus people should take wealth by force and kill
their enemies, secret agents should kill and steal at night, trying to
cause civil upheaval: "When the rumour has spread far and wide,
assassins should rob citizens at night and slay chiefs, (saying at the
time), 'Thus are dealt with [those] who do not obey the Regent.'" 173
Then they should put bloody evidence in the Regent's residence. Again,
secret agents should spread rumors, always in a confidential manner,
that the king is furious with such and such a leader. Then these agents
should assassinate key leaders and say "to those who have not been
slain, . . . 'This is what we had told you; he who wants to remain
alive should go away.'" 174
Kautilya was especially fond of the tactic of utilizing disinformation
to flatter a second or third son and thus persuade him to try a coup
against his own family. 175
Convinced that disinformation could also inspire his own troops,
Kautilya wanted agents to announce fabricated victories and fictitious
defeats of the enemy: "On the occasion of a night-battle, [secret
agents] should strike many drums, fixed beforehand as a signal, and
announce, 'We have entered it; the kingdom is won.'" 176
Much of this
disinformation made use of religion. Placed strategically,
astrologers "should fill [the king's] side with enthusiasm by
his omniscience and association with divine agencies, and should fill
the enemy's side with terror." 177
Once more the needs of the state are primary, and the king commands
religion to serve the state: "He should make (Brahmins) recite
blessings invoking victory and securing heaven." 178
Singers and poets should "describe the attainment of heaven by the
brave and the absence of heaven for cowards." 179
Secret agents who have infiltrated the enemy side should use animal
blood in order to "cause an excessive flow (of blood) from honoured
images of deities," and then interpret that as a sure sign of future
defeat for the enemy. 180
Kautilya wanted anyone associated with religion or
superstition—"soothsayers, interpreters of omens, astrologers, reciters
of Puranas" and so on 181
—to proclaim to his own troops and to the enemy the king's [End
"association with divinities" or "his meeting with divinities," 182
creating confidence on his own side and simultaneously terror and
misgivings among enemy soldiers. Those priests in charge of
interpreting omens must make certain that dreams and other signs are
always favorable to the king's efforts and unfavorable to the enemy. 183
Every kind of superstition can be useful. 184
And for Kautilya, religious authorities must be for hire.
In addition to
brave and well-equipped soldiers, warfare requires
deception, and over and again Kautilya advocated the above measures and
more for deceiving both his own and the enemy troops. If caught behind
enemy lines, Kautilya outlined ways for one to escape "in the disguise
a heretical monk," "decked out as a corpse," or "wearing a woman's
And he was eager to terrify the enemy by such multiple and varied means
as by using "machines, by the employment of occult practices, through
assassins slaying those engaged in something else, by magical arts, by
(a show of) association with divinities, through carts, by frightening
with elephants," and so on. 186
A favorite tactic in battle was to pretend to be defeated, retreat in
apparent disorder, and then attack a disorganized and unsuspecting
enemy. The leader, "feigning a rout with treasonable, alien and forest
troops, . . . should strike at the (pursuing enemy when he has) reached
unsuitable ground." 187
At all times, Kautilya wanted his king to use deception, play roles,
and create appearances. Why risk heavy losses or even defeat in battle
if deception and assassination can weaken or even defeat the enemy?
Even if a king is forced to surrender in order to survive, Kautilya
wanted him to pretend that his surrender was "an excellent thing" until
he was clever or strong enough to fight back. 188
Warfare was violent, but it also called for one who could calmly create
false impressions, like a poker player.
Machiavelli's The Art of War after reading the
military writings of Kautilya is jolting. It becomes readily apparent
Machiavelli is not even trying to tell us something new about warfare,
because he believed the ancient Greeks and Romans knew it all—aside
from such [End Page 36]
things as artillery. What did Machiavelli want to resurrect from
Rome and transport to Renaissance Florence? He wanted Rome's battalions
and legions and cohorts, and maybe Scipio once again arrayed across
the plain from Hannibal. And thus compared to Kautilya and Sun Tzu,
Machiavelli's writings on warfare are tired and tedious, filled with
nostalgia for long-dead legions that once gained glory. He wanted the
public battlefield, the grand spectacle, fame for some and cowardice
for others. Sun Tzu and Kautilya did not care a whit for glory and
fame. They wanted to win at all costs and to keep casualties—on
both sides—to a minimum. Said Sun Tzu, "For to win one hundred
victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue
the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." 189
They were also prepared to win in ways Machiavelli would regard as
dishonorable and disgraceful—assassination, disinformation, causing
quarrels between ministers by bribes or by means of jealousy over a
beautiful woman planted as a secret agent, and so on. Machiavelli—who
offers no systematic discussion of even guerrilla warfare—would have
been easily outmatched by generals reading either Sun Tzu or Kautilya.
is Professor of Politics and Arthur G. Coons Professor
of the History of Ideas at Occidental College in Los Angeles. His most
recent book is The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and
Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," in Weber: Selections in
Translation, ed. W. G. Runciman, trans. Eric Matthews
Cambridge University Press, 1978), 212-25, see 220.
Stanley Wolpert, A New History of India, 2d ed. (New
University Press, 1982), 60.
Romila Thapar, Ancient Indian Social History: Some
(New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1978), 12.
Kautilya, The Arthasastra, 2d ed.,
ed. and trans. R. P. Kangle, Part II of The Kautilya
Arthasastra (Delhi: Motilal Banardisass, 1992), book 15,
chapter 1, line 73, page 516; hereafter, 15.1.73: 516. In quotations
the Kangle translation of The Artha's-astra,
indicate insertions by the translator, and brackets indicate insertions
by the author.
Radha Kumud Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and His Times,
ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988 ), 31, 28-33.
Arun Bhattacharjee, History of Ancient India (New Delhi:
Sterling Publishers, 1979), 143-48, 173; Purushottam Lal Bhargava, Chandragupta
Maurya: A Gem of Indian History, 2d
rev. ed. (New
Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 1996), 114.
Wolpert, A New History of India, 59; Mookerji, Chandragupta
Maurya and His Times, 2; Bhattacharjee, History of
Wolpert, A New History of India, 59; Romila Thapar, A
of India (Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1966), 79.
Wolpert, A New History of India, 58; H. C. Raychaudhuri,
"Chandragupta and Bindusara," in K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, ed., Age
of the Nandas and Mauryas, 2d ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
), 132-70, see 158; A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was
2d rev. ed. (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1963), 350.
Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund, A History of India
Delhi: Rupa and Co., 1991), 60.
Bhargava, Chandragupta Maurya, 102.
M. V. Krishna Rao, Studies in Kautilya, 2d ed. (New
Ram Manohar Lal, 1958), 232.
K. A. Nilakanta Sastri, "Asoka and His Successors," in Sastri, Age
of the Nandas and Mauryas, 202-48, see 202.
V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, The Mauryan Polity (Delhi:
Banarsidass, 1993 ), 240-59; John W. Spellman, Political
Theory of Ancient India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964),
98; Julius Lipner, Hindus: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices
(London: Routledge, 1994), 83-88.
Romila Thapar, Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas
Oxford University Press, 1997), 174.
Sastri, "Asoka and His Successors," 235.
Thapar, Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, 162.
Sastri, "Asoka and His Successors," 235.
Thapar, Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas, 70,
Sastri, "Asoka and His Successors," 237.
Dikshitar, The Mauryan Polity, 258.
D. D. Kosambi, The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India
(Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1994 ), 141.
Ram Sharan Sharma, Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions
Ancient India, 3d rev. ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1991),
Romila Thapar, The Mauryas Revisited (Calcutta: K. P.
Company, 1987), 6; Mookerji, Chandragupta Maurya and His Times,
Bhasker Anand Saletore, Ancient Indian Political Thought and
Institutions (London: Asia Publishing House, 1963), 51.
Bhargava, Chandragupta Maurya, 102.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 1.1.1: 1, and 7.18.43: 384.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 1.1.1: 1.
Basham, The Wonder That Was India, 51.
Kosambi, The Culture and Civilisation of Ancient India,
G. P. Singh, Political Thought in Ancient India (New
D. K. Printworld, 1993), 7.
Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India (Princeton, N.J.:
University Press, 1967), 36.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.11.34: 358.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.4.26: 419.
Sharma, Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.2.31: 319, and 7.14.2: 366.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.6.51: 453.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 14.3.88: 509.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.43-44: 384.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.7.60: 431.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 15.1.1-2: 512.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.7.68-69: 431.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.1.18: 317.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.1.9: 406.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 3.1.41-43: 195.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.4.62: 491.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.1.18: 407.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 407, footnote by Kangle;
see also V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, War in Ancient India,
2d ed. (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987 ), 38-39; Raychaudhuri,
"Chandragupta and Bindusara," 156; L. K. Mahapatra, "Kingship in India
Southeast Asia: A Field of Transcultural Interaction," Journal
Indian Anthropological Society 30 (November 1995): 201-15, see
Indra, Ideologies of War and Peace in Ancient India
India: Vishveshvaranand Institute Publications, 1957), 54-55.
Spellman, Political Theory of Ancient India, 173.
Dikshitar, War in Ancient India, 38.
Narasingha Prosad Sil, "Political Morality vs. Political Necessity:
Kautilya and Machiavelli Revisited," Journal of Asian History
19, no. 2, 101-42, see 123.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.1.59: 389.
Kalidas Nag and V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar, "The Diplomatic Theories
of Ancient India and the Arthashastra," Journal of Indian History
6, no. 1 (1927): 15-35, see 15.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.1.56: 389.
Burton Stein, A History of India (Oxford: Blackwell
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.2.19: 318.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.1: 380.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.2.13: 318.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.2.13: 318, my emphasis.
Singh, Political Thought in Ancient India, 115-30,
127; see also N. N. Law, "Studies in Kautilya," Indian
Quarterly 7 (1931): 464-74 and 709-15; and N. N. Law, "Studies
Kautilya," Indian Historical Quarterly 8 (1932): 54-63.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.6.3: 338.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.1.1: 406.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.1.44: 408.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.5.47: 337.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.7.7: 343.
John Keegan, A History of Warfare (New York: Alfred A.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.13.42-44: 366.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.14.2: 366.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.14.7: 367.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.6.15: 339.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.10.26-27: 354.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.11.18: 356.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 1.13.12, 1-11: 32.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.36: 383.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.37: 383.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.40: 383.
Bimal Kanti Majumdar, The Military System in Ancient India
(Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhyay, 1960), 64.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2: 462; see Indra, Ideologies
of War and Peace in Ancient India, 80-81.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 2.33.9: 180.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 5.3.35-36: 304.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 5.3.47: 305.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.6.17: 339.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.6.40-41: 342.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.13.43: 366.
Majumdar, The Military System in Ancient India, 63.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.26: 440.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.1-2: 438.
Majumdar, The Military System in Ancient India, 29.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.1.10: 460; see Nag
and Dikshitar, "The Diplomatic Theories of Ancient India and the Arthashastra,"
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.1.11-16: 460.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.1.32: 462.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.17-32: 461-62; 12.2.8-33:
462-64; see also N. N. Law, "Dvaidhibhava in the Kautilya," Indian
Historical Quarterly 7 (1931): 253-58, see 258.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.1.10: 434.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.3.53-54: 395.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 11.1.34-35: 457.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 11.1.37, 39: 457.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2.11-12: 463.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2.14: 463.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rex
(Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1972), 402.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2.1-7: 462.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.11.16: 356; see Arvind
Kumar Srivastava, The Ancient Indian Army: Its Administration
Organization (Delhi: Ajanta Publications, 1985), 80-81.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.1.38-40: 388.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.10.33: 355.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.15.11: 370.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.14.18-19: 368.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.1.29-30: 387.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.2.21-24: 412; Ram Sharan
Sharma, Sudras in Ancient India, 3d rev. ed. (Delhi:
Banarsidass, 1990), 173-74.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.11.23-25: 357.
Sharma, Sudras in Ancient India, 237.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.2.24: 412.
Swaswati Das, Social Life in Ancient India: 800 B.C.-183 B.C.
(Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corporation, 1994), 143-44.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.2.9: 411.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.39-40: 441.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.42: 441.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 8.2.18: 392.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.1.7: 406.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.2.14: 412.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.7.10: 428.
R. P. Kangle, The Kautilya Arthasastra,
vol. 3, A Study (Delhi: Motilal Banardisass, 1992 ), 263.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.4.15: 332-33.
Rajendra Prasad, Politico-Geographical Analysis of the Arthashastra
(New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1989), 58-60.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 6.2.16: 318.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.10.26-27: 354.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.4.54-55, 62: 490-91.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.14.7: 367.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.8.8: 347.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.5.25: 472, my emphasis.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.18.40: 383, my emphasis.
Charles Drekmeier, Kingship and Community in Early India
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1962), 212.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.4.25: 419.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.5.10-11: 334; Nag
and Dikshitar, "The Diplomatic Theories of Ancient India and the Arthashastra,"
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.11.31: 358.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.10.27: 354.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.5.16-18: 335.
Harit Krishna Deb, "The Kautilya Arthasastra
on Forms of Government," Indian Historical Quarterly 14 (June
1938): 366-79, see 370.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.5.27-28: 335.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.13.12: 362; V. Nagarajan, Evolution
of the Social Polity of Ancient India from
Kautilya, vol. 2 (Nagpur: Dattsons, 1992), 165.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.16.30-31: 375.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.16.22-23: 374.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.3-4: 491.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.11: 492.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.14: 492.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.6.2-5: 422.
The Law Codes of Ancient India,
trans. Patrick Olivelle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 53;
see also The Laws of Manu, ed. and trans. Wendy Doniger and
K. Smith (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 137-38.
Daya Krishna, The Problematic and Conceptual Structure of Classical
Indian Thought About Man, Society, and Polity (Delhi: Oxford
University Press, 1996), 96.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.4.52: 490.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.4.2-5: 485-86.
"To a surrounded enemy you must leave a way of escape. . . . Show him
there is a road to safety, and so create in his mind the idea that
there is an alternative to death. . . . Wild beasts, when at bay, fight
desperately. How much more is this true of men! If they know there is
no alternative they will fight to the death." (Sun Tzu, The Art of
War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith [London: Oxford University Press,
"It is necessary,
above everything that has been mentioned, to be careful
not to bring the enemy into utter despair. About this Caesar was
when fighting the Germans; he opened a road for them, seeing that since
they could not run away necessity was making them bold."
Machiavelli, The Art of War, in The Chief Works and Others,
vol. 2, ed. and trans. Allan Gilbert [Durham, N.C.: Duke University
1965], 561-726, see 700.)
John of Plano
Carpino, a contemporary of Genghis Khan, described one
of his tactics this way: "If it happens that the enemy fight well, the
Tartars make a way of escape for them; then as soon as they begin to
flight and are separated from each other they fall upon them and more
are slaughtered in flight than could be killed in battle."
Chaliand, ed., The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to
Nuclear Age [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994], 469.)
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.6.5: 422.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.57: 442.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.2.4: 462.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.7-8: 491.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.11, 6: 491-92.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.24: 493.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.5.17: 492.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.16.26: 374.
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince and The Discourses,
trans. Luigi Ricci, E. R. P. Vincent, and Christian E. Detmold (New
York: Modern Library,
1950), The Prince, ch. 17.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.4.6: 467.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.4.9: 486.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.5.43-48: 473.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.4.22-28, 9-10: 468-69.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 9.6.54-55: 425.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2.24, 19-23: 463-64.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 11.1.14, 9, 8: 455.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 11.1.6: 455.
169. The Laws of
170. The Laws of
Manu, 141, 143-44, 151, 225-30;
Military System in Ancient India, 40-41, 65, 36.
Srivastava, The Ancient Indian Army, 101.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.6.48-50: 453.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.2.26, 25-28: 464.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.3.4: 465.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.3.15: 466.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.4.21: 469; Srivastava, The
Ancient Indian Army, 89.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.33: 440.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.36: 440.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.43: 441.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.2.27: 479.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.1.7: 475.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.1.1, 8: 474-75.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 13.1.9: 475.
Ram Sharan Sharma, "Superstition and Politics in the Arthashastra of
Kautilya," Journal of the Bihar Research Society 40, no. 3
223-31, see 225-28.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 12.5.38-40: 472.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.6.48-50: 453.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 10.3.1: 438.
Kautilya, Arthasastra, 7.15.29: 372.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 77.