Abstract

The Asokan edicts are a familiar and common form of archaeological and textual evidence frequently cited in discussions of the Mauryan polity. This paper is an attempt to move toward a more nuanced understanding of these inscriptions by examining earlier interpretations and previously held assumptions. One of the major assumptions questioned here is the way in which the edicts are frequently viewed as boundary markers of a uniformly administered empire. The focus here is on the edicts found in the southern Deccan; a region whose actual relationship with the northern-based Mauryas is little understood but an area that is often assumed to have been incorporated into their empire. This interpretation is primarily supported by the presence of eleven rock edicts in the modern-day states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, a closer look at the context, content, and composition of the edicts suggests that the relationship of this region to the Mauryan polity is not necessarily as clear-cut as previously believed. A structural loosening of the epistemological definition of empire has re-opened questions of what this relationship might have looked like and how it can be studied. A critically refined analysis of the edicts is useful in providing a starting point to this inquiry, particularly by examining the question of meaning. By adopting the use of multidisciplinary perspectives, this paper argues that a simultaneous analysis of archaeological context, historical content, and linguistic composition is a useful strategy for examining issues of intended meaning and audience through the more specific problems of visibility, address, and comprehension.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-8283
Print ISSN
0066-8435
Pages
pp. 224-246
Launched on MUSE
2003-10-28
Open Access
No
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