interest rate and hence Megasthenes’ failure to notice it.
Urbanisation It is a natural adjunct to the growth of trade and crafts. There
were several important cities and trade centres like Sravasti, Kapilavastu,
Rajagriha, Pataliputra, Ujjain, etc. Important ports were Bharukachchha,
Tamralipti, Supara etc.
Changes in the Varna System
The economic changes of the period did not allow the Vedic four-fold system
to function smoothly. There was a reduction of the gap between the Vaishyas
(most of whom were now concentrating on trade though others continued
cultivation) and the Sudras (quite a few of whom were now agriculturists
others being artisans). There was improvement in their economic position,
but no simultaneous improvement in their social status, which caused social
tensions finally leading to the growth in the popularity of heterodox sects.
The initial reaction of the Brahmins was to make the varna system more
rigid. It is because of these social tensions that Asoka placed so much of
emphasis on social harmony, and his dhamma was intended to infuse social
responsibility and stability.
Position of Women
Brahmanical literature was particularly severe in the treatment of women and
assigned to them a very low status in the society. Buddhist texts, on the other
hand, were much more considerate in treating them. Megasthenes testifies to
the growing practice of polygamy; employment of women as palace guards,
bodyguards to the king, spies, etc; permission of widow remarriage and
divorce. Thus, the position of women, though inferior to that of men and
witnessing a downtrend, was not as bad as it came to be in the later periods
such as the Gupta period.
Owing to the suppressed condition of women in the society of his time, it
is possible that Asoka may have felt the need to appoint a special group of