Kautilya Arthashastra

by R. Shamasastry | 1956 | 174,809 words | ISBN-13: 9788171106417

The English translation of Arthashastra, which ascribes itself to the famous Brahman Kautilya (also named Vishnugupta and Chanakya) and dates from the period 321-296 B.C. The topics of the text include internal and foreign affairs, civil, military, commercial, fiscal, judicial, tables of weights, measures of length and divisions of time. Original ...

Chapter 13 - Rules regarding Slaves and Labourers

[Sanskrit text for this chapter is available]

The selling or mortgaging by kinsmen of the life of a Śūdra who is not a born slave, and has not attained majority, but is an Ārya in birth shall be punished with a fine of 12 paṇas; of a Vaiśya, 24 paṇas; of a Kṣatriya, 36 paṇas; and of a Brāhman, 48 paṇas. If persons other than kinsmen do the same, they shall be liable to the three amercements and capital punishment respectively: purchasers and abettors shall likewise be punished. It is no crime for Mlecchas to sell or mortgage the life of their own offspring. But never shall an Ārya be subjected to slavery.[1]

But if in order to tide over family troubles, to find money for fines or court decrees, or to recover the (confiscated) household implements, the life of an Ārya is mortgaged, they (his kinsmen) shall as soon as possible redeem him (from bondage); and more so if he is a youth or an adult capable of giving help.

Any person who has once voluntarily enslaved himself shall, if he runs away (niṣpatita), be a slave for life.[2] Similarly any person whose life has been mortgaged by others shall, if he runs away twice, be a slave for life. Both of these two sorts of men shall, if they are once found desirous to run away to foreign countries, be slaves for life.

Deceiving a slave of his money or depriving him of the privileges he can exercise as an Ārya (Āryabhāva), shall be punished with half the fine (levied for enslaving the life of an Ārya).[3]

A man who takes in mortgage a person who runs away, or who dies or who is incapacitated by disease, shall be entitled to receive back (from the mortgager) the value he paid for the slave.

Employing a slave to carry the dead or to sweep ordure, urine, or the leavings of food; or a female slave to attend on her master while he is bathing naked; or hurting or abusing him or her, or violating (the chastity of) a female slave shall cause the forfeiture of the value paid for him or her.[4] Violation (of the chastity) of nurses, female cooks, or female servants of the class of joint cultivators[5] or of any other description shall at once earn their liberty for them. Violence towards an attendant of high birth shall entitle him to run away. When a master has connection with a nurse or pledged female slave under his power against her will, he shall be punished with the first amercement; for doing the same when she is under the power of another, he shall be punished with the middlemost amercement.[6] When a man commits or helps another to commit rape with a girl or a female slave pledged to him, he shall not only forfeit the purchase-value, hut also pay a certain amount of money (śulka) to her and a fine of twice the amount (of śulka to the government).

The offspring of a man who has sold himself off as a slave shall be an Ārya. A slave shall be entitled to enjoy not only whatever he has earned without prejudice to his master’s work, but also the inheritance he has received from his father.

On paying the value (for which one is enslaved), a slave shall regain his Āryahood. The same rule shall apply either to born or pledged slaves.

The ransom necessary for a slave to regain his freedom is equal to what he has been sold for. Any person who has been enslaved for fines or court decrees (daṇḍapraṇīta) shall earn the amount by work.[7] An Ārya made captive in war shall for his freedom pay a certain amount proportional to the dangerous work done at the time of his capture, or half the amount.[8]

If a slave who is less than eight years old and has no relatives, no matter whether he is born a slave in his master’s house, or fallen to his master’s share of inheritance, or has been purchased or obtained by his master in any other way, is employed in mean avocations against his will or is sold or mortgaged in a foreign land;[9] or if a pregnant female slave is sold or pledged without any provision for her confinement, her master shall be punished with the first amercement. The purchaser and abettors shall likewise be punished.

Failure to set a slave at liberty on the receipt of a required amount of ransom shall be punished with a fine of 12 paṇas; putting a slave under confinement for no reason (samrodhaścākaraṇāt) shall likewise be punished.

The property of a slave shall pass into the hands of his kinsmen; in the absence of any kinsmen, his master shall take it.

When a child is begotten on a female slave by her master, both the child and its mother shall at once be recognised as free.[10] If, for the sake of subsistence, the mother has to remain in her bondage, her brother and sister shall be liberated.

Selling or mortgaging the life of a male or a female slave once liberated shall be punished with a fine of 12 paṇas, with the exception of those who enslave themselves. Thus the rules regarding slaves.

(Power of Masters Over Their Hired Servants)

Neighbours shall know the nature of agreement between a master and his servant. The servant shall get the promised wages. As to wages not previously settled, the amount shall be fixed in proportion to the work done and the time spent in doing it (karmakālānurūpa = at the rate prevailing at the time). Wages being previously unsettled, a cultivator shall obtain ⅒th of the crops grown, a herdsman ⅒th of the butter clarified, a trader ⅒th of the sale proceeds. Wages previously settled shall be paid and received as agreed upon.[11]

Artisans, musicians, physicians, buffoons, cooks, and other workmen, serving of their own accord, shall obtain as much wages as similar persons employed elsewhere usually get or as much as experts (kuśala) shall fix.[12]

Disputes regarding wages shall be decided on the strength of evidences furnished by witnesses. In the absence of witnesses, the master who has provided his servant with work shall be examined. Failure to pay wages shall be punished with a fine of ten times the amount of wages (daśabandha),[13] or 6 paṇas; misappropriation of wages shall be punished with a fine of 12 paṇas or of five times the amount of the wages (pañcabandho vā).[13]

Any person who, while he is being carried away by floods, or is caught in a fire, or is in danger from elephants or tigers, is rescued on his promise to offer to his rescuer not only the whole of his property, but also his sons, wife, and himself as slaves, shall pay only as much as will be fixed by experts. This rule shall apply to all cases where help of any kind is rendered to the afflicted.

* A public woman shall surrender her person as agreed upon; but insistence on the observance of any agreement which is ill-considered and improper shall not succeed.[14]

[Thus ends Chapter XIII, “Rules regarding Slaves,” in the section of “Rules regarding Slaves”; and the “Right of Masters,” in the section of “Rules regarding Labourers,” in Book III,“Concerning Law” of the Arthaśāstra of Kauṭilya. End of the seventieth chapter from the beginning,]

Footnotes and references:


Vi. 5, 151; N. 5, 39; M. 8, 412.


N. 5, 37.


A slave who robs his master’s money shall be punished with half the fine.—T.M. Com.




See the note on “Ardhasitika,” Chapter XI, Book III.


Kātyāyana; Y. 2, 291.


N. 5, 32-34.


M. 8, 415.


N. 5, 26-28.




N. 6, 2, 3; Y. 2, 94.




The words “daśa” and “pañca” seem to have been erroneously interchanged. See footnotes, Book III, Chaps. I, XI, XV.


N. 6, 18-19.

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