TN History Textbook: Gupta Empire Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

UPSC: TN History Textbook: Gupta Empire Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC

The document TN History Textbook: Gupta Empire Notes | Study Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation - UPSC is a part of the UPSC Course Must Read (Old & New) NCERTs for IAS Preparation.
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 Page 1


97 96
achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is
written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of
33 lines composed by Harisena. It
describes the circumstances of
Samudragupta’s accession, his military
campaigns in north India and the
Deccan, his relationship with other
contemporary rulers, and his
accomplishments as a poet and
scholar.
The coins issued by Gupta kings
contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details
about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.
Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)
The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta. He was
succeeded by Ghatotkacha. These two were called Maharajas.
Much information was not available about their rule. The next ruler
was Chandragupta I and he was the first to be called
Maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). This title indicates his
extensive conquests. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial
alliance with the Licchavis. He married Kumaradevi, a princess of
that family. This added to the power and prestige of the Gupta family.
The Meherauli Iron Pillar inscription mentions his extensive
conquests. Chandragupta I is considered to be the founder of the
Gupta era which starts with his accession in A.D. 320.
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
Samudragupta was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta
dynasty. The Allahabad Pillar inscription provides a detailed account
of his reign. It refers to three stages in his military campaign:
Sources
There are plenty of source materials to reconstruct the history
of the Gupta period. They include literary, epigraphical and
numismatic sources. The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy
of the Gupta kings. Contemporary literary works like the
Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by
Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of
Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic
and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like
the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar
inscription. The first refers to the achievements of Chandragupta I.
The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the
Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and
LESSON 9
GUPTA EMPIRE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The sources for the study of Guptas.
2. Samudragupta’s achievements.
3. The achievements of Chandragupta II.
4. The importance of Fahien’s visit to India.
5. Gupta administration, society and economy.
6. Literature, art, architecture and scientific development
during the Gupta period.
Allahabad  Pillar
Inscription
Page 2


97 96
achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is
written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of
33 lines composed by Harisena. It
describes the circumstances of
Samudragupta’s accession, his military
campaigns in north India and the
Deccan, his relationship with other
contemporary rulers, and his
accomplishments as a poet and
scholar.
The coins issued by Gupta kings
contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details
about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.
Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)
The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta. He was
succeeded by Ghatotkacha. These two were called Maharajas.
Much information was not available about their rule. The next ruler
was Chandragupta I and he was the first to be called
Maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). This title indicates his
extensive conquests. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial
alliance with the Licchavis. He married Kumaradevi, a princess of
that family. This added to the power and prestige of the Gupta family.
The Meherauli Iron Pillar inscription mentions his extensive
conquests. Chandragupta I is considered to be the founder of the
Gupta era which starts with his accession in A.D. 320.
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
Samudragupta was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta
dynasty. The Allahabad Pillar inscription provides a detailed account
of his reign. It refers to three stages in his military campaign:
Sources
There are plenty of source materials to reconstruct the history
of the Gupta period. They include literary, epigraphical and
numismatic sources. The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy
of the Gupta kings. Contemporary literary works like the
Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by
Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of
Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic
and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like
the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar
inscription. The first refers to the achievements of Chandragupta I.
The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the
Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and
LESSON 9
GUPTA EMPIRE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The sources for the study of Guptas.
2. Samudragupta’s achievements.
3. The achievements of Chandragupta II.
4. The importance of Fahien’s visit to India.
5. Gupta administration, society and economy.
6. Literature, art, architecture and scientific development
during the Gupta period.
Allahabad  Pillar
Inscription
99 98
1. Against some rulers of North India
2. His famous Dakshinapatha expedition against South Indian
rulers
3. A second campaign against some other rulers of North India.
In the first campaign Samudragupta defeated Achyuta and
Nagasena. Achyuta was probably a Naga ruler. Nagasena belonged
to the Kota family which was ruling over the upper Gangetic valley.
They were defeated and their states were annexed. As a result of
this short campaign, Samudragupta had gained complete mastery
over the upper Gangetic valley.
Then Samudragupta marched against the South Indian
monarchs. The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that
Samudragupta defeated twelve rulers in his South Indian Expedition.
They were Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakanthara,
Mantaraja of Kaurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura, Swamidatta of
Kottura, Damana of Erandapalla, Vishnugupta of Kanchi, Nilaraja
of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera
of Devarashtra and Dhananjaya of Kushtalapura. Samudragupta’s
policy in South India was different. He did not destroy and annex
those kingdoms. Instead, he defeated the rulers but gave them back
their kingdoms. He only insisted on them to acknowledge his
suzerainty.
The third stage of Samudragupta’s campaign was to eliminate
his remaining north Indian rivals. He fought against nine kings,
uprooted them and annexed their territories. They were Rudradeva,
Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapathinaga, Nagasena,
Achyuta, Nandin and Balavarman. Most of these rulers were
members of the Naga family, then ruling over different parts of north
India.
Page 3


97 96
achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is
written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of
33 lines composed by Harisena. It
describes the circumstances of
Samudragupta’s accession, his military
campaigns in north India and the
Deccan, his relationship with other
contemporary rulers, and his
accomplishments as a poet and
scholar.
The coins issued by Gupta kings
contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details
about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.
Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)
The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta. He was
succeeded by Ghatotkacha. These two were called Maharajas.
Much information was not available about their rule. The next ruler
was Chandragupta I and he was the first to be called
Maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). This title indicates his
extensive conquests. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial
alliance with the Licchavis. He married Kumaradevi, a princess of
that family. This added to the power and prestige of the Gupta family.
The Meherauli Iron Pillar inscription mentions his extensive
conquests. Chandragupta I is considered to be the founder of the
Gupta era which starts with his accession in A.D. 320.
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
Samudragupta was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta
dynasty. The Allahabad Pillar inscription provides a detailed account
of his reign. It refers to three stages in his military campaign:
Sources
There are plenty of source materials to reconstruct the history
of the Gupta period. They include literary, epigraphical and
numismatic sources. The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy
of the Gupta kings. Contemporary literary works like the
Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by
Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of
Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic
and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like
the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar
inscription. The first refers to the achievements of Chandragupta I.
The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the
Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and
LESSON 9
GUPTA EMPIRE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The sources for the study of Guptas.
2. Samudragupta’s achievements.
3. The achievements of Chandragupta II.
4. The importance of Fahien’s visit to India.
5. Gupta administration, society and economy.
6. Literature, art, architecture and scientific development
during the Gupta period.
Allahabad  Pillar
Inscription
99 98
1. Against some rulers of North India
2. His famous Dakshinapatha expedition against South Indian
rulers
3. A second campaign against some other rulers of North India.
In the first campaign Samudragupta defeated Achyuta and
Nagasena. Achyuta was probably a Naga ruler. Nagasena belonged
to the Kota family which was ruling over the upper Gangetic valley.
They were defeated and their states were annexed. As a result of
this short campaign, Samudragupta had gained complete mastery
over the upper Gangetic valley.
Then Samudragupta marched against the South Indian
monarchs. The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that
Samudragupta defeated twelve rulers in his South Indian Expedition.
They were Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakanthara,
Mantaraja of Kaurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura, Swamidatta of
Kottura, Damana of Erandapalla, Vishnugupta of Kanchi, Nilaraja
of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera
of Devarashtra and Dhananjaya of Kushtalapura. Samudragupta’s
policy in South India was different. He did not destroy and annex
those kingdoms. Instead, he defeated the rulers but gave them back
their kingdoms. He only insisted on them to acknowledge his
suzerainty.
The third stage of Samudragupta’s campaign was to eliminate
his remaining north Indian rivals. He fought against nine kings,
uprooted them and annexed their territories. They were Rudradeva,
Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapathinaga, Nagasena,
Achyuta, Nandin and Balavarman. Most of these rulers were
members of the Naga family, then ruling over different parts of north
India.
101 100
Chandragupta II (380-415 A.D.)
Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II
Vikramaditya. But according to some scholars, the immediate
successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of
Chandragupta II. But there is little historical proof for this.
Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and
extended the Gupta Empire by his own conquests.
He achieved this by a judicious combination of the policy of
diplomacy and warfare. Through matrimonial alliances he
strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga
princess of central India. He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage
to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of
this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a
geographically strategic position in the Deccan. This alliance served
a useful purpose when Chandragupta-II undertook his campaign in
western India against the Sakas.
Conquest of Western India
The greatest of the military achievements of Chandragupta II
was his war against the Saka satraps of western India. Rudrasimha
III, the last ruler of the Saka satrap was defeated, dethroned and
killed. His territories in western Malwa and the Kathiawar Peninsula
were annexed into the Gupta Empire. After this victory he performed
the horse sacrifice and assumed the title Sakari, meaning, ‘destroyer
of Sakas’. He also called himself Vikramaditya
As a result of the conquest of western India, the western
boundary of the Empire reached to the Arabian Sea gaining access
to Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports. This enabled the
Gupta empire to control trade with the western countries. Ujjain
became an important commercial city and soon became the
alternative capital of the Guptas. The fine cotton clothes of Bengal,
After these military victories,
Samudragupta performed the
asvamedha sacrifice. He issued gold
and silver coins with the legend
‘restorer of the asvamedha’. It is
because of his military achievements
Samudragupta was hailed as ‘Indian Napoleon’.
Extant of Samudragupta’s Empire
After these conquests, Samudragupta’s rule extended over
the upper Gangetic valley, the greater part of modern U.P., a portion
of central India and the southwestern part of Bengal. These terri-
tories were directly administered by him. In the south there were
tributary states. The Saka and Kushana principalities on the west
and northwest were within the sphere of his influence. The kingdoms
on the east coast of the Deccan, as far as the Pallava Kingdom,
acknowledged his suzerainty.
Estimate of Samudragupta
Samudragupta’s military achievements remain remarkable in
the annals of history. He was equally great in his other personal
accomplishments. The Allahabad Pillar inscription speaks of his
magnanimity to his foes, his polished intellect, his poetic skill and
his proficiency in music. It calls him Kaviraja because of his ability
in composing verses. His image depicting him with Veena is found
in the coins issued by him. It is the proof of his proficiency and
interest in music. He was also a patron of many poets and scholars,
one of whom was Harisena. Thus he must be credited with a share
in the promotion of Sanskrit literature and learning, characteristic of
his dynasty. He was an ardent follower of Vaishnavism but was
tolerant of other creeds. He evinced keen interest in Buddhism and
was the patron of the great Buddhist scholar Vasubandu.
GOLD COINS OF SAMUDRAGUPTA 
Page 4


97 96
achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is
written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of
33 lines composed by Harisena. It
describes the circumstances of
Samudragupta’s accession, his military
campaigns in north India and the
Deccan, his relationship with other
contemporary rulers, and his
accomplishments as a poet and
scholar.
The coins issued by Gupta kings
contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details
about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.
Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)
The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta. He was
succeeded by Ghatotkacha. These two were called Maharajas.
Much information was not available about their rule. The next ruler
was Chandragupta I and he was the first to be called
Maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). This title indicates his
extensive conquests. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial
alliance with the Licchavis. He married Kumaradevi, a princess of
that family. This added to the power and prestige of the Gupta family.
The Meherauli Iron Pillar inscription mentions his extensive
conquests. Chandragupta I is considered to be the founder of the
Gupta era which starts with his accession in A.D. 320.
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
Samudragupta was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta
dynasty. The Allahabad Pillar inscription provides a detailed account
of his reign. It refers to three stages in his military campaign:
Sources
There are plenty of source materials to reconstruct the history
of the Gupta period. They include literary, epigraphical and
numismatic sources. The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy
of the Gupta kings. Contemporary literary works like the
Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by
Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of
Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic
and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like
the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar
inscription. The first refers to the achievements of Chandragupta I.
The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the
Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and
LESSON 9
GUPTA EMPIRE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The sources for the study of Guptas.
2. Samudragupta’s achievements.
3. The achievements of Chandragupta II.
4. The importance of Fahien’s visit to India.
5. Gupta administration, society and economy.
6. Literature, art, architecture and scientific development
during the Gupta period.
Allahabad  Pillar
Inscription
99 98
1. Against some rulers of North India
2. His famous Dakshinapatha expedition against South Indian
rulers
3. A second campaign against some other rulers of North India.
In the first campaign Samudragupta defeated Achyuta and
Nagasena. Achyuta was probably a Naga ruler. Nagasena belonged
to the Kota family which was ruling over the upper Gangetic valley.
They were defeated and their states were annexed. As a result of
this short campaign, Samudragupta had gained complete mastery
over the upper Gangetic valley.
Then Samudragupta marched against the South Indian
monarchs. The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that
Samudragupta defeated twelve rulers in his South Indian Expedition.
They were Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakanthara,
Mantaraja of Kaurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura, Swamidatta of
Kottura, Damana of Erandapalla, Vishnugupta of Kanchi, Nilaraja
of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera
of Devarashtra and Dhananjaya of Kushtalapura. Samudragupta’s
policy in South India was different. He did not destroy and annex
those kingdoms. Instead, he defeated the rulers but gave them back
their kingdoms. He only insisted on them to acknowledge his
suzerainty.
The third stage of Samudragupta’s campaign was to eliminate
his remaining north Indian rivals. He fought against nine kings,
uprooted them and annexed their territories. They were Rudradeva,
Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapathinaga, Nagasena,
Achyuta, Nandin and Balavarman. Most of these rulers were
members of the Naga family, then ruling over different parts of north
India.
101 100
Chandragupta II (380-415 A.D.)
Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II
Vikramaditya. But according to some scholars, the immediate
successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of
Chandragupta II. But there is little historical proof for this.
Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and
extended the Gupta Empire by his own conquests.
He achieved this by a judicious combination of the policy of
diplomacy and warfare. Through matrimonial alliances he
strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga
princess of central India. He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage
to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of
this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a
geographically strategic position in the Deccan. This alliance served
a useful purpose when Chandragupta-II undertook his campaign in
western India against the Sakas.
Conquest of Western India
The greatest of the military achievements of Chandragupta II
was his war against the Saka satraps of western India. Rudrasimha
III, the last ruler of the Saka satrap was defeated, dethroned and
killed. His territories in western Malwa and the Kathiawar Peninsula
were annexed into the Gupta Empire. After this victory he performed
the horse sacrifice and assumed the title Sakari, meaning, ‘destroyer
of Sakas’. He also called himself Vikramaditya
As a result of the conquest of western India, the western
boundary of the Empire reached to the Arabian Sea gaining access
to Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports. This enabled the
Gupta empire to control trade with the western countries. Ujjain
became an important commercial city and soon became the
alternative capital of the Guptas. The fine cotton clothes of Bengal,
After these military victories,
Samudragupta performed the
asvamedha sacrifice. He issued gold
and silver coins with the legend
‘restorer of the asvamedha’. It is
because of his military achievements
Samudragupta was hailed as ‘Indian Napoleon’.
Extant of Samudragupta’s Empire
After these conquests, Samudragupta’s rule extended over
the upper Gangetic valley, the greater part of modern U.P., a portion
of central India and the southwestern part of Bengal. These terri-
tories were directly administered by him. In the south there were
tributary states. The Saka and Kushana principalities on the west
and northwest were within the sphere of his influence. The kingdoms
on the east coast of the Deccan, as far as the Pallava Kingdom,
acknowledged his suzerainty.
Estimate of Samudragupta
Samudragupta’s military achievements remain remarkable in
the annals of history. He was equally great in his other personal
accomplishments. The Allahabad Pillar inscription speaks of his
magnanimity to his foes, his polished intellect, his poetic skill and
his proficiency in music. It calls him Kaviraja because of his ability
in composing verses. His image depicting him with Veena is found
in the coins issued by him. It is the proof of his proficiency and
interest in music. He was also a patron of many poets and scholars,
one of whom was Harisena. Thus he must be credited with a share
in the promotion of Sanskrit literature and learning, characteristic of
his dynasty. He was an ardent follower of Vaishnavism but was
tolerant of other creeds. He evinced keen interest in Buddhism and
was the patron of the great Buddhist scholar Vasubandu.
GOLD COINS OF SAMUDRAGUPTA 
103 102
the unsatisfactory state of some of the Buddhist holy places like
Kapilavastu and Kusinagara. According to him the economic
condition of the empire was prosperous.
Although his account is valuable in many respects, he did not
mention the name of Chandragupta II. He was not interested in
political affairs. His interest was primarily religion. He assessed
everything from the Buddhist angle. His observations on social
conditions are found to be exaggerated. Yet, his accounts are useful
to know the general condition of the country.
Estimate of Chandragupta II
The power and glory of Gupta empire reached its peak under
the rule Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. He also contributed to the
general cultural progress of the age and patronized great literary
figures like Kalidasa. He promoted artistic activity. Because of the
high level of cultural progress that was achieved during this period,
the Gupta period is generally referred to as a golden age. A detailed
account of the cultural progress in the Gupta age is given below.
Successors of Chandragupta II
Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta
II. His reign was marked by general peace and prosperity. He issued
a number of coins and his inscriptions are found all over the Gupta
empire. He also performed an asvamedha sacrifice. Most
importantly, he laid the foundation of the Nalanda University which
emerged an institution of international reputation. At the end of his
reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated
the Gupta army. A branch of the Huns from Central Asia made
attempts to cross the Hindukush mountains and invade India.
But it was his successor Skandagupta who really faced the
Hun invasion. He fought successfully against the Huns and saved
the empire. This war must have been a great strain on the
Indigo from Bihar, silk from Banares, the scents of the Himalayas
and the sandal and species from the south were brought to these
ports without any interference. The western traders poured Roman
gold into India in return for Indian products. The great wealth of the
Gupta Empire was manifest in the variety of gold coins issued by
Chandragupta II.
Other Conquests
Chandragupta II defeated a confederacy of enemy chiefs in
Vanga. He also crossed the river Sindh and conquered Bactria. The
Kushanas ruling in this region were subdued by him. With these
conquests, the Gupta empire extended in the west as far as western
Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. In the northwest it extended beyond
the Hindukush up to Bactria. In the east, it included even eastern
Bengal and in the south the Narmada river formed the boundary.
Fahien’s Visit
The famous Chinese pilgrim, Fahien visited India during the
reign of Chandragupta II. Out of his nine years stay in India, he
spent six years in the Gupta empire. He came to India by the land
route through Khotan, Kashgar, Gandhara and Punjab. He visited
Peshawar, Mathura, Kanauj, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Kusinagara,
Pataliputra, Kasi and Bodh Gaya among other places. He returned
by the sea route, visiting on the way Ceylon and Java. The main
purpose of his visit was to see the land of the Buddha and to collect
Buddhist manuscripts from India. He stayed in Pataliputra for three
years studying Sanskrit and copying Buddhist texts.
Fahien provides valuable information on the religious, social
and economic condition of the Gupta empire. According to him,
Buddhism was in a flourishing condition in the northwestern India
but in the Gangetic valley it was in a state of neglect. He refers to
the Gangetic valley as the ‘land of Brahmanism’. Fahien mentions
Page 5


97 96
achievements. This inscription is engraved on an Asokan pillar. It is
written in classical Sanskrit, using the Nagari script. It consists of
33 lines composed by Harisena. It
describes the circumstances of
Samudragupta’s accession, his military
campaigns in north India and the
Deccan, his relationship with other
contemporary rulers, and his
accomplishments as a poet and
scholar.
The coins issued by Gupta kings
contain legends and figures. These coins provide interesting details
about the titles and sacrifices performed by the Gupta monarchs.
Chandragupta I (320 – 330 A.D.)
The founder of the Gupta dynasty was Sri Gupta. He was
succeeded by Ghatotkacha. These two were called Maharajas.
Much information was not available about their rule. The next ruler
was Chandragupta I and he was the first to be called
Maharajadhiraja (the great king of kings). This title indicates his
extensive conquests. He strengthened his position by a matrimonial
alliance with the Licchavis. He married Kumaradevi, a princess of
that family. This added to the power and prestige of the Gupta family.
The Meherauli Iron Pillar inscription mentions his extensive
conquests. Chandragupta I is considered to be the founder of the
Gupta era which starts with his accession in A.D. 320.
Samudragupta (330-380 A.D.)
Samudragupta was the greatest of the rulers of the Gupta
dynasty. The Allahabad Pillar inscription provides a detailed account
of his reign. It refers to three stages in his military campaign:
Sources
There are plenty of source materials to reconstruct the history
of the Gupta period. They include literary, epigraphical and
numismatic sources. The Puranas throw light on the royal genealogy
of the Gupta kings. Contemporary literary works like the
Devichandraguptam and the Mudhrakshasam written by
Visakadatta provide information regarding the rise of the Guptas.
The Chinese traveler Fahien, who visited India during the reign of
Chandragupta II, has left a valuable account of the social, economic
and religious conditions of the Gupta empire.
Apart from these literary sources, there are inscriptions like
the Meherauli Iron Pillar Inscription and the Allahabad Pillar
inscription. The first refers to the achievements of Chandragupta I.
The most important source for the reign of Samudragupta is the
Allahabad Pillar inscription. It describes his personality and
LESSON 9
GUPTA EMPIRE
Learning Objectives
Students will acquire knowledge about
1. The sources for the study of Guptas.
2. Samudragupta’s achievements.
3. The achievements of Chandragupta II.
4. The importance of Fahien’s visit to India.
5. Gupta administration, society and economy.
6. Literature, art, architecture and scientific development
during the Gupta period.
Allahabad  Pillar
Inscription
99 98
1. Against some rulers of North India
2. His famous Dakshinapatha expedition against South Indian
rulers
3. A second campaign against some other rulers of North India.
In the first campaign Samudragupta defeated Achyuta and
Nagasena. Achyuta was probably a Naga ruler. Nagasena belonged
to the Kota family which was ruling over the upper Gangetic valley.
They were defeated and their states were annexed. As a result of
this short campaign, Samudragupta had gained complete mastery
over the upper Gangetic valley.
Then Samudragupta marched against the South Indian
monarchs. The Allahabad Pillar inscription mentions that
Samudragupta defeated twelve rulers in his South Indian Expedition.
They were Mahendra of Kosala, Vyaghraraja of Mahakanthara,
Mantaraja of Kaurala, Mahendragiri of Pishtapura, Swamidatta of
Kottura, Damana of Erandapalla, Vishnugupta of Kanchi, Nilaraja
of Avamukta, Hastivarman of Vengi, Ugrasena of Palakka, Kubera
of Devarashtra and Dhananjaya of Kushtalapura. Samudragupta’s
policy in South India was different. He did not destroy and annex
those kingdoms. Instead, he defeated the rulers but gave them back
their kingdoms. He only insisted on them to acknowledge his
suzerainty.
The third stage of Samudragupta’s campaign was to eliminate
his remaining north Indian rivals. He fought against nine kings,
uprooted them and annexed their territories. They were Rudradeva,
Matila, Nagadatta, Chandravarman, Ganapathinaga, Nagasena,
Achyuta, Nandin and Balavarman. Most of these rulers were
members of the Naga family, then ruling over different parts of north
India.
101 100
Chandragupta II (380-415 A.D.)
Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II
Vikramaditya. But according to some scholars, the immediate
successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of
Chandragupta II. But there is little historical proof for this.
Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and
extended the Gupta Empire by his own conquests.
He achieved this by a judicious combination of the policy of
diplomacy and warfare. Through matrimonial alliances he
strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga
princess of central India. He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage
to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of
this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a
geographically strategic position in the Deccan. This alliance served
a useful purpose when Chandragupta-II undertook his campaign in
western India against the Sakas.
Conquest of Western India
The greatest of the military achievements of Chandragupta II
was his war against the Saka satraps of western India. Rudrasimha
III, the last ruler of the Saka satrap was defeated, dethroned and
killed. His territories in western Malwa and the Kathiawar Peninsula
were annexed into the Gupta Empire. After this victory he performed
the horse sacrifice and assumed the title Sakari, meaning, ‘destroyer
of Sakas’. He also called himself Vikramaditya
As a result of the conquest of western India, the western
boundary of the Empire reached to the Arabian Sea gaining access
to Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports. This enabled the
Gupta empire to control trade with the western countries. Ujjain
became an important commercial city and soon became the
alternative capital of the Guptas. The fine cotton clothes of Bengal,
After these military victories,
Samudragupta performed the
asvamedha sacrifice. He issued gold
and silver coins with the legend
‘restorer of the asvamedha’. It is
because of his military achievements
Samudragupta was hailed as ‘Indian Napoleon’.
Extant of Samudragupta’s Empire
After these conquests, Samudragupta’s rule extended over
the upper Gangetic valley, the greater part of modern U.P., a portion
of central India and the southwestern part of Bengal. These terri-
tories were directly administered by him. In the south there were
tributary states. The Saka and Kushana principalities on the west
and northwest were within the sphere of his influence. The kingdoms
on the east coast of the Deccan, as far as the Pallava Kingdom,
acknowledged his suzerainty.
Estimate of Samudragupta
Samudragupta’s military achievements remain remarkable in
the annals of history. He was equally great in his other personal
accomplishments. The Allahabad Pillar inscription speaks of his
magnanimity to his foes, his polished intellect, his poetic skill and
his proficiency in music. It calls him Kaviraja because of his ability
in composing verses. His image depicting him with Veena is found
in the coins issued by him. It is the proof of his proficiency and
interest in music. He was also a patron of many poets and scholars,
one of whom was Harisena. Thus he must be credited with a share
in the promotion of Sanskrit literature and learning, characteristic of
his dynasty. He was an ardent follower of Vaishnavism but was
tolerant of other creeds. He evinced keen interest in Buddhism and
was the patron of the great Buddhist scholar Vasubandu.
GOLD COINS OF SAMUDRAGUPTA 
103 102
the unsatisfactory state of some of the Buddhist holy places like
Kapilavastu and Kusinagara. According to him the economic
condition of the empire was prosperous.
Although his account is valuable in many respects, he did not
mention the name of Chandragupta II. He was not interested in
political affairs. His interest was primarily religion. He assessed
everything from the Buddhist angle. His observations on social
conditions are found to be exaggerated. Yet, his accounts are useful
to know the general condition of the country.
Estimate of Chandragupta II
The power and glory of Gupta empire reached its peak under
the rule Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. He also contributed to the
general cultural progress of the age and patronized great literary
figures like Kalidasa. He promoted artistic activity. Because of the
high level of cultural progress that was achieved during this period,
the Gupta period is generally referred to as a golden age. A detailed
account of the cultural progress in the Gupta age is given below.
Successors of Chandragupta II
Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta
II. His reign was marked by general peace and prosperity. He issued
a number of coins and his inscriptions are found all over the Gupta
empire. He also performed an asvamedha sacrifice. Most
importantly, he laid the foundation of the Nalanda University which
emerged an institution of international reputation. At the end of his
reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated
the Gupta army. A branch of the Huns from Central Asia made
attempts to cross the Hindukush mountains and invade India.
But it was his successor Skandagupta who really faced the
Hun invasion. He fought successfully against the Huns and saved
the empire. This war must have been a great strain on the
Indigo from Bihar, silk from Banares, the scents of the Himalayas
and the sandal and species from the south were brought to these
ports without any interference. The western traders poured Roman
gold into India in return for Indian products. The great wealth of the
Gupta Empire was manifest in the variety of gold coins issued by
Chandragupta II.
Other Conquests
Chandragupta II defeated a confederacy of enemy chiefs in
Vanga. He also crossed the river Sindh and conquered Bactria. The
Kushanas ruling in this region were subdued by him. With these
conquests, the Gupta empire extended in the west as far as western
Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. In the northwest it extended beyond
the Hindukush up to Bactria. In the east, it included even eastern
Bengal and in the south the Narmada river formed the boundary.
Fahien’s Visit
The famous Chinese pilgrim, Fahien visited India during the
reign of Chandragupta II. Out of his nine years stay in India, he
spent six years in the Gupta empire. He came to India by the land
route through Khotan, Kashgar, Gandhara and Punjab. He visited
Peshawar, Mathura, Kanauj, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Kusinagara,
Pataliputra, Kasi and Bodh Gaya among other places. He returned
by the sea route, visiting on the way Ceylon and Java. The main
purpose of his visit was to see the land of the Buddha and to collect
Buddhist manuscripts from India. He stayed in Pataliputra for three
years studying Sanskrit and copying Buddhist texts.
Fahien provides valuable information on the religious, social
and economic condition of the Gupta empire. According to him,
Buddhism was in a flourishing condition in the northwestern India
but in the Gangetic valley it was in a state of neglect. He refers to
the Gangetic valley as the ‘land of Brahmanism’. Fahien mentions
105 104
administration as he was able to travel without any fear throughout
the Gangetic valley. On the whole the administration was more liberal
than that of the Mauryas.
Social Life
The pre-Gupta period in India witnessed a series of foreign
invasions. Indian society had given way to those foreigners who
had become permanent residents here. But during the Gupta period,
the caste system became rigid. The Brahmins occupied the top ladder
of the society. They were given enormous gifts by the rulers as well
as other wealthy people. The practice of untouchability had slowly
begun during this period. Fahien mentions that Chandalas were
segregated from the society. Their miserable condition was
elaborated by the Chinese traveler.
The position of women had also become miserable during the
Gupta period. They were prohibited from studying the religious texts
like the Puranas. The subjection of women to men was thoroughly
regularized. But it was insisted that they should be protected and
generously treated by men. The practice of Swyamvara was given
up and the Manusmriti suggested the early marriage for girls.
In the sphere of religion, Brahmanism reigned supreme during
the Gupta period. It had two branches - Vaishnavism and Saivism.
Most of the Gupta kings were Vaishnavaites. They performed
Aswamedha sacrifices. The worship of images and celebration of
religious festivals with elaborate rituals made these two religions
popular. Religious literature like the Puranas was composed during
this period. The progress of Brahmanism led to the neglect of
Buddhism and Jainism. Fahien refers to the decline of Buddhism in
the Gangetic valley. But a few Buddhist scholars like Vasubandhu
were patronized by Gupta kings. In western and southern India
Jainism flourished. The great Jain Council was held at V alabhi during
this period and the Jain Canon of the Swetambras was written.
government’s resources. After Skandagupta’s death, many of his
successors like Purugupta, Narasimhagupta, Buddhagupta and
Baladitya could not save the Gupta empire from the Huns. Ultimately,
the Gupta power totally disappeared due to the Hun invasions and
later by the rise of Yasodharman in Malwa.
Gupta Administration
According inscriptions, the Gupta kings assumed titles like
Paramabhattaraka, Maharajadhiraja, Parameswara, Samrat
and Chakravartin. The king was assisted in his administration by
a council consisting of a chief minister, a Senapati or commander-
in-chief of the army and other important officials. A high official
called Sandivigraha was mentioned in the Gupta inscriptions, most
probably minister for foreign affairs.
The king maintained a close contact with the provincial
administration through a class of officials called Kumaramatyas
and Ayuktas. Provinces in the Gupta Empire were known as Bhuktis
and provincial governors as Uparikas. They were mostly chosen
from among the princes. Bhuktis were subdivided into Vishyas or
districts. They were governed by Vishyapatis. Nagara Sreshtis
were the officers looking after the city administration. The villages
in the district were under the control of Gramikas.
Fahien’s account on the Gupta administration provides useful
information. He characterises the Gupta administration as mild and
benevolent. There were no restrictions on people’s movements and
they enjoyed a large degree of personal freedom. There was no
state interference in the individual’s life. Punishments were not severe.
Imposing a fine was a common punishment. There was no spy system.
The administration was so efficient that the roads were kept safe
for travelers, and there was no fear of thieves. He mentioned that
people were generally prosperous and the crimes were negligible.
Fahien had also appreciated the efficiency of the Gupta
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