Megasthenese, who was a Greek historian as well as an ambassador to the Mauryan court, has described the Mauryan society. According to him, the ancient Mauryan society comprised of seven divisions namely philosophers, farmers, soldiers, herdsmen, artisans, magistrates and councilors which were referred to as castes.
The reason for referring to such divisions as castes was because members from a particular caste were not allowed to get married to a member belonging from some other caste. He, however, was unable to properly comprehend the Indian society and failed to distinguish between jati (caste), and occupation.
These so-called seven divisions were distinctly separate from each other in all respects like rules and regulations which were put on the members belonging to the same group etc.
Especially, in case of philosophers, this caste was further subdivided into two more categories namely, the Brahmans and the Shramanas. The Shramanas further included the Buddhists, Jains, Ajivikas and others. As a general rule, the Shramanas were exempted from paying taxes.
The category of farmers included the cultivators and the laborers who worked hard on the fields. However, the land owners were excluded from this category. In the ancient Mauryan society, the famer group was the largest group and was often regarded as the central nerve of agriculture in the society.
Apart from this, they also constituted the military as well as civil infrastructure if the Mauryan dynasty. In order to prevent any kind of an armed rebellion from these people, they were kept unarmed.
The soldiers of this dynasty worked as the armed forces of the kingdom and were maintained at royal costs. When these soldiers were not engaged in waging wars, they spent their time in idleness, merry making and drinking. Hence, during such times, the army was more of a liability than an asset to the kingdom.
The herdsmen or the pastoralists included the tribes who still adhered to clan identities. Such herdsmen generally included the hunter-gatherers, shifting cultivators as well as the horticulturists.
An artistís status generally depended on the kind of art work which he produced or performed like for instance, metal workers who manufactured armors and such other expensive items were on a higher footing as compared to those weavers and potters. In this, nomadic smiths were at the lowest cadre since were mainly engaged catering to the household.
Thus, the caste system in the ancient Mauryan dynasty was a very prevalent one. As a matter of fact, the twice born Brahmans and Kshtriyas enjoyed somewhat of a special privilege due to their status of being twice born. The Vaisyas, in spite, of being twice born did not get such a privilege.
Women were also engaged in a variety of activities like archers, royal bodyguards, spies and performers. At times, impoverished workers as well as ageing prostitutes were given the work of spinning the yarn. In spite of women getting opportunities of getting a decent employment was present, yet as per the ancient sources, women were most of the times dominated by their male counterparts.
A married woman had her own properly in the form of bride gift and jewels which were at her disposal in case of widowhood. The widows had a very honorable place in the society. Offences against women were severely dealt with. As a matter of fact, Kautilya laid down penalties against officials in charge of workshops and prisons who misbehaved with women.
Subsequently, an urban way of life developed. The residential accommodation and its wealth etc came to be entered into the official records and rules and regulation were well defined and strictly implemented. The education became fairly wide spread.
Teaching continued to be the main job of the Brahmans. Apart from this, the Buddhist monasteries also acted as educational institutions. Taxila, Ujjayini and Varanasi emerged as famous educational institutions. The technical education was generally provided through guilds, where pupils learnt the crafts from the early age. In the domestic life the joint family system was the norm.
Slavery in India was beginning to make its appearance, in spite of there being contradictory accounts on whether it was there or not. However, the Indian system of slavery was very different as compared to its contemporaries. The slavery that developed can best be described as a sort of flexible voluntary slavery. A person usually became a slave if he decided to sell himself, was a prisoner of war or was serving a judicial sentence.
The slave was free at anytime to buy back his freedom. Once a slave was free, if he was an Aryan he could go back to the status he earlier had in the society, retaining his caste etc. At that time issues like slavery or the degree of their freedom was not so significant; the deciding factor was the caste of the person.