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Comparing the writings of Arthashastra and The Prince

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Published April 30, 2021

Writings of Arthashastra vs. Machiavelli The Prince

In-depth: comparing the writings of Arthashastra and The Prince. Arthashastra was a treatise on military strategy, economic policy, and statecraft developed in Indian during the 4th century BC.

Machiavelli's The Prince
Machiavelli’s The Prince

The treatise is believed to have been written by a philosopher, teacher, and adviser Chanakya during the later year of his life, approximately around 350 BC.

The names in the treatise are Vishnuguta and Kautilya, which are identified with Chanakya. Chanakya was a distinguished scholar, a guardian, an adviser, and a teacher to Emperor Maurya Chandrugutpa of the Maurya dynastic that ruled a unified India [¹].

On the other hand, ‘The Prince’s a political treatise written by Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a political theorist, an Italian diplomat, and a widely recognized historian.

The prince was written in 1513 AD and distributed under the title De Principatibus in Italian. The Prince version was published five years after the death of Machiavelli [²].

Machiavelli's The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli

Although Arthashastra and the Prince were written in two different periods and regions, they share many similarities in their approach to diplomacy and war.

Diplomacy as argued in both The Prince andArthashastrarefers to the way a state relates and deals with external politics or issues. Machiavelli’s the prince addresses diplomacy ideally according to many historians.

He claims that a state has a limited confine, and cannot remain free in such confines; if the state fails to attack, then it will be attacked. In addition, an attack of the state by an external force will result in the desire to retaliate and conquer[3].

The Arthashastra is an Indian treatise on politics, economics, military strategy, the function of the state, and social organization attributed to the philosopher and Prime Minister Kautilya (also known as Chanakya, Vishnugupta, l. c. 350-275 BCE)

Therefore, Machiavelli was implying that military force is the power of the state, and the best way to ensure diplomacy is to fortify the state from external attack and be ready to use force.

For example, in many ways Publius Renatus Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum’s “If you want peace, prepare for war” and Machiavelli shared the same idea on diplomacy and war.

The Arthashastra is an Indian treatise on politics, economics
The Arthashastra

Chanakya, on the other hand, viewed neighbors of the state as expansive states extending to the whole world. For instance, using concentric cycles.

He divides the world into twelve concentric cycles forming a matrix with 72 elements, including allies, the allies of allies, enemies, and enemies of enemies among others. Chanakya claims that each element of the matrix can be reduced through conquest[4].  Interesting… Well done…. Both writers view ambassadors as honest people trained to lie abroad for the benefit of their state.

Chanakya elaborates further on the duties of ambassadors and explains how they were trained to defend their state in the courts. Ultimately, both writers advocate for the analysis of political situations, and the audience’s personality.

Chanakya’s Arthashastra

Machiavelli claims that the analysis of the sovereign nature of the state in which the envoy is sent is the birth of successful diplomacy.


Comparing the writings of Arthashastra and The Prince

Based on the analysis of the two readings, both writers coincide that there is no limit to total sovereignty. Moreover, they also agree the state must triumph over all other sentiments.

In addition, the two treatises claim -all states are hostile and should be eliminated by available methods. So, if all states are hostile does that mean their state is hostile as well? Chanakya’s interest is not on the type of person ruling the state, but on how he or she is ruling.

Thus, in both treatises, war is depicted as being central to the state. However, both writers were not warmongers, although their writings may often epitomize so in many ways. Nonetheless, Machiavelli states that the Prince or head of state must enter into war when forced by circumstances. Otherwise, he should not depart from peace [5].

So, what are the circumstances a state enters war? Chanakya does not criticize the war directly, but he states that war should be used as the last resort.

Chanakya claims that power cannot be gained from war alone. As a result, he defines three types of power, including the power of energy or valor, power of knowledge, and power of the might, which includes the army.

Writings of Arthashastra vs. Machiavelli The Prince

What is the difference between these powers and do you need them all to be able to rule? He also identifies three types of war, including silent, concealed, and open wars. Chanakya also sees war as a means of propagating politics.

Being the chief advisor to the emperor, he proposes various strategies to use to win wars. Even if a state is weak, Chanakya claims that some other means, such as burning the crops, should be used to beat the enemy [6]. Machiavelli also reckons similar sentiments on the war as Chanakya.


They are similar but not the same so what is different with Machiavelli? Chanakya states that the state may win a conflict by force or by law. Although he states that military force is a method employed by beasts, he admits that force should be employed only when needed, as a last resort.

However, Chanakya claims that a state should be protected by all means, including violent diplomacy [7]. Ultimately, both the prince by Machiavelli and Arthashastra by Chanakyaconcur with force in war, and thus they take time explaining the meaning of force.

They further explain how men of war should be drafted. These works exemplify the need for warfare and the need diplomacy. The works of these two great men stand the test of time.


Boesche, Roger. The First GReat political Realist; Kautilya and His Arthashastra. New York: Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002.
Kautilya (Author), R. Shamasastry (Translator). Kaulyas’s The Arthashastra Translation. New York: Spastic Cat Press, 2010.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Colin J.E. Lupton and W. K. Marriott. The Prince. Toronto: Prohypticon Publishing Inc., 2009.
Garver, Eugene. ” “Machiavelli’s “The Prince”: A Neglected Rhetorical Classic.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 13, no. 2 1980


[1]Boesche, Roger, The First Great Political Realist: Kautilya and His Arthashastra (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002), 8.
[2]Garver, Eugene ” “Machiavelli’s “The Prince”: A Neglected Rhetorical Classic,” Philosophy & Rhetoric 13, no. 2 (1980): 99.
[3]Garver, p. 100.
[4]Boesche, 29.
[5]Garver, p. 103.
[6]Boesche, p. 50.
[7]Garver, p. 106.

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