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Chapter 2 – Government

The King

The government of the society thus constituted was vested in an absolute monarch. The opening of the chapter on government employs the boldest poetical figures to display the irresistible power, the glory, and almost the divinity of a king94. He was subject, indeed, to no legal control by human authority; and, although he is threatened with punishment in one place95, and spoken of as subject to fine in another96, yet no means are provided for enforcing those penalties, and neither the councils nor the military chiefs appear to have possessed any constitutional power but what they derived from his will. He must, however, have been subject to the laws promulgated in the name of the Divinity; and the influence of the Bramins, both with him and with his people, would afford a strong support to the injunctions of the Code.

Like other despots, also, he must have been kept within some bounds by the fear of mutiny and revolt97.

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The object of the institution of a King is declared to be, to restrain violence and to punish evildoers.

“Punishment wakes when guards are asleep.”

“If a King were not to punish the guilty, the stronger would roast the weaker like fish on a spit.”

“Ownership would remain with none; the lowest would overset the highest98.”

The duties of a King are said generally to be, to act in his own domains with justice, chastise foreign foes with rigour, behave without duplicity to his friends, and with lenity to Bramins99.

He is respectfully to attend to the Bramins, and from them to learn lessons of modesty and composure; from them, also, he is to learn justice, policy, metaphysics, and theology. From the people he is to learn the theory of agriculture, commerce, and other practical arts100.

He is to withstand pleasure, restrain his angry passions, and resist sloth.

Administration of the government

He is to appoint seven ministers, or rather counsellors, (who seem to be of the military class,) and to have one learned Bramin distinguished above them all, in whom he is to repose his full confidence. He is to appoint other officers also, among whom

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the most conspicuous is the one called “the Ambassador,” though he seems rather to be a minister for foreign affairs. This person, like all the others, must be of noble birth; and must be endued with great abilities, sagacity, and penetration. He should be honest, popular, dexterous in business, acquainted with countries and with the times, handsome, intrepid, and eloquent.

. The army is to be immediately regulated by a commander in chief; the actual infliction of punishment by the officers of justice; the treasury and the country by the King himself; peace and war by the Ambassador101. The King was doubtless to superintend all those departments; but when tired of overlooking the affairs of men, he might allow that duty to devolve on a well qualified prime minister102.

His internal administration is to be conducted by a chain of civil officers, consisting of lords of single townships or villages, lords of ten towns, lords of 100, and lords of 1000 towns.

These are all to be appointed by the King, and each is to report all offences and disturbances to his immediate superior.

The compensation of a lord of one town is to be the provisions and other articles to which the King is entitled from the town; that of a lord of ten villages two ploughs of land; the lord of 100 is to

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have the land of a small village; and of 1000, that of a large town103.

These officers are all to be under the inspection of superintendents of high rank and great authority. There is to be one in every large town or city; and on them it depends to check the abuses to which the officers of districts (it is said) are naturally prone104.

The country is also to be partitioned into military divisions, in each of which is to be a body of troops, commanded by an approved officer105, whose territorial limits do not necessarily correspond with those of any of the civil magistrates.


The revenue consists of a share of all grain and of all other agricultural produce; taxes on commerce; a very small annual imposition on petty traders and shopkeepers; and a forced service of a day in each month by handicraftsmen106.

The merchants are to be taxed on a consideration of the prime cost of their commodities, the expenses of travelling, and their net profits.

The following are the rates of taxation: –

On cattle, gems, gold, and silver, added each year to the capital stock, one fiftieth; which in time of war or invasion may be increased to one twentieth.

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On grain, one twelfth, one eighth, or one sixth, according to the soil and the labour necessary to cultivate it. This also may be raised, in cases of emergency, even as far as one fourth; and must always have been the most important item of the public revenue.

On the clear annual increase of trees, flesh meat, honey, perfumes, and several other natural productions and manufactures, one sixth107.

The King is also entitled to 20 per cent. on the profit of all sales108. Escheats for want of heirs have been mentioned as being his, and so also is all property to which no owner appears within three years after proclamation109. Besides possessing mines of his own, he is entitled to half of all precious minerals in the earth110. He appears, likewise, to have a right of pre-emption on some description of goods111.

It has been argued that, in addition to the rights which have just been specified, the King was regarded in the Code as possessing the absolute property of the land. This opinion is supported by a passage (VIII. 39.) where he is said to belord paramount of the soil;” and by another, where it is supposed to be directed that an occupier of land shall be responsible to the King if he fails to sow it. (VIII. 243.)

In reply to this it is urged, that the first quotation

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is deprived of its force by a similar passage (VII. 7.), where the King is said to be “the regent of the waters and the lord of the firmament.”

The second is answered by denying its correctness; but even if undisputed, it might only be a provision against the King’s losing his share of the produce in consequence of the neglect of the proprietor. A text is also produced in opposition to the King’s claim, in which it is stated thatland is the property of him who cut away the wood;” or, in the words of the commentator, “who tilled and cleared it.” (IX. 44.) But the conclusive argument is, that the King’s share being limited, as above, to one sixth, or at most one fourth, there must have been another proprietor for the remaining five sixths or three fourths, who must obviously have had the greatest interest of the two in the whole property shared112.

It is remarkable, however, that so little allusion is made in the code to the property of individuals in land, although so many occasions seem to require it. It is directly mentioned in a passage about boundaries (VIII. 262–265.), and in another place (IX. 49. 52–54.) an argument is illustrated by supposing seed belonging to one man to be sown in land belonging to another; and in IV. 230. 233., gifts of land are spoken of as if in

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the power of individuals to confer them; but the last two passages may be construed to refer to villages, or to the King.

In the division of inheritances, and the rules about mortgages, in describing the wealth of individuals, and in disposing of the property of banished men, other possessions are mentioned, but land never alluded to.

Were it not for the passage first quoted (VIII. 262–265.), we might conclude that all land was held in common by the village communities, as is still the case in many parts of India; and this may, perhaps, have been the general rule, although individuals may have possessed property by grants from the villages or from the King.

The Court

The King is recommended to fix his capital in a fertile part of his dominions, but in an immediate neighbourhood difficult of access, and incapable of supporting invading armies.

He should keep his fortress always well garrisoned and provisioned. In the centre should be his own palace, also defensible, “well finished, and brilliant, surrounded with water and trees.”

He is then to choose a queen distinguished for birth and beauty, and to appoint a domestic priest113.

He is to rise in the last watch of the night, and, after sacrifices, to hold a court in a hall decently splendid, and to dismiss his subjects with kind

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looks and words. This done, he is to assemble his council on a mountain or a terrace, in a bower or a forest, or other lonely place without listeners; from which women and talking birds are to be carefully removed. He is then, after manly exercises and bathing, to dine in his private apartments, and this time and midnight are to be allotted to the regulation of his family, to considering appointments, and such other public business as is most of a personal nature114.

He is now, also, to give some time to relaxation; and then to review his troops, perform his religious duties at sunset, and afterwards to receive the reports of his emissaries. At length he withdraws to his most private apartments to supper; and after indulging for some time in music, is to retire to rest.115

This rational and pleasing picture is broken by the mention of many of those precautions which must take from all the enjoyments of an Asiatic monarch. His food is only to be served by trustworthy persons, and is to be accompanied by antidotes against poison. He is to be armed when he receives his emissaries; even his female attendants are to be searched, for fear of hidden weapons; and whether at home or abroad, he is to be constantly on his guard against the plots of his enemies.


Foreign policy and war are the subjects of many

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of the rules for government. These are interesting, from the clear proofs which they afford of the division of India, even at that early period, into many unequal and independent states; and also, from the signs which they disclose of a civilised and gentle people. The King is to provide for his safety by vigilance, and a state of preparation; but he is to act on all occasions without guile, and never with insincerity116. The arts which may be employed against enemies are four; presents, sowing divisions, negotiations, and force of arms: the wise, it is said, prefer the two last117.

The King is to regard his nearest neighbours and their allies as hostile, the powers next beyond these natural foes as amicable, and all more remote powers as neutral118. It is remarkable that, among the ordinary expedients to be resorted to in difficulties, the protection of a more powerful prince is more than once adverted to119.

Yet this protection appears to involve unqualified submission; and, on the last occasion on which it is mentioned, the King is advised, if he thinks it an evil, even when in extremities, to persevere alone, although weak, in waging vigorous war without fear120.

Vast importance is attached to spies, both in foreign politics and in war. Minute instructions are given regarding the sort of persons to be employed,

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some of whom are of the same description that are now used in India, – active artful youths, degraded anchorets, distressed husbandmen, decayed merchants, and fictitious penitents121.


The rules of war are simple; and, being drawn up by Bramins, they show nothing of the practical ability for which the Indians are often distinguished at present.

The plan of a campaign resembles those of the Greek republics, or the early days of Rome; and seems suited to countries of much less extent than those which now exist in India.

The King is to march when the vernal or autumnal crop is on the ground, and is to advance straight to the capital. In another place, 100 bowmen in a fort are said to be a match for 10,000 enemies; so far was the art of attack behind that of defence: a siege, therefore, is out of the question; but, if not opposed, the King is to ravage the country, and intrigue with the enemy’s chiefs, until he can bring his foe to an action on favourable terms122, or, what is still more desirable, bring him to terms by negotiation.

Armies were composed of cavalry and infantry. The great weapon of both was probably the bow, together with the sword and target. Elephants were much employed in war; and chariots seem still to have formed an important branch of the army.

Several different orders of march and battle are

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briefly given. The King is advised to recruit his forces from the upper parts of Hindostan, where the best men are still found. He is in person to set an example of valour to his troops, and is recommended to encourage them, when drawn up for battle, with short and animated speeches.

Prize property belongs to the individual who took it; but when not captured separately, it is to be distributed among the troops123.

The laws of war are honourable and humane. Poisoned and mischievously barbed arrows, and fire arrows, are all prohibited. There are many situations in which it is by no means allowable to destroy the enemy. Among those who must always be spared are unarmed or wounded men, and those who have broken their weapon, and one who asks his life, and one who says, “I am thy captive.” Other prohibitions are still more generous: a man on horseback or in a chariot is not to kill one on foot; nor is it allowed to kill one who sits down fatigued, or who sleeps, or who flees, or who is fighting with another man124.

The settlement of a conquered country is conducted on equally liberal principles. Immediate security is to be assured to all by proclamation. The religion and laws of the country are to be maintained and respected; and as soon as time has been allowed for ascertaining that the conquered people are to be trusted, a prince of the old royal

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family is to be placed on the throne, and to hold his kingdom as a dependence on the conqueror125.

It is remarkable that, although the pay of the King’s household servants is settled with some minuteness126, not a syllable is said regarding that of the army, or the source from which its support is derived. The practice of modern Hindu nations would lead us to suppose that it was maintained by assignments of land to the chiefs; but, if that practice had existed at the time of the Code, it is impossible that so important a body as those chiefs would have formed should not have been alluded to in discussing the internal administration; even if no rules were suggested for regulating their attendance and for securing some portion of the King’s authority over the lands thus alienated. It is possible that the army may have been paid by separate assignments of land to each individual soldier, in the same manner as the local troops of the small states in the south of India (which have been little visited by the Mahometans) are still; and this opinion derives some support from the payment of the civil officers having been provided for by such assignments127.

From one passage it would appear that the monarchy descended, undivided, to one son, probably (according to Hindu rule) to him whom his father regarded as most worthy.


94. Chap. VII. 1–13.

95. Chap. VII. 27–29.

96. Chap. VIII. 336.

97. In the “Toy Cart,” a drama written about the commencement of our era, the King is dethroned, for tyranny, by a cowherd; and in another drama, theUttara Rama Charitra,” the great monarch Rama is compelled by the clamours of his people to banish his beloved queen. – See Wilson’s Hindu Theatre.

98. Chap. VII. 13–26.

99. Chap. VII. 32.

100. Chap. VII. 43.

101. Chap. VII. 54–69.

102. Chap. VII. 141.

103. In the first case the compensation is derived from the small fees in kind, which still form the remuneration of the village officers; in the other three cases, it consists of the King’s share of the produce of the land specified.

104. Chap. VII. 119–123.

105. Chap. VII. 114.

106. Chap. VII. 137, 138.

107. Chap. VII. 127–132.

108. Chap. VIII. 398.

109. Chap. VIII. 30.

110. Chap. VIII. 39.

111. Chap. VIII. 399.

112. The arguments on both sides are stated in Wilks’s History of Mysore, vol. i. chap. v., and Appendix, p. 483.; and in Mill’s History of British India, vol. i. p. 180.

113. Chap. VII. 69–78.

114. Chap. VII. 145–151.

115. Chap. 216–225.

116. Chap. VII. 103, 104.

117. Chap. VII. 109.

118. Chap. VII. 158.

119. Chap. VII. 160.

120. Chap. VIII. 175, 176.

121. Chap. VII. 154.

122. Chap. VII. 181–197.

123. Chap. VII. 96, 97.

124. Chap. VII. 90–93.

125. Chap. VII. 201–203.

126. Chap. VII. 126.

127. See Chap. VII. 119., already referred to.

This collection transcribed by Chris Gage
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