The Gupta Period
The Gupta dynasty, were rulers of the Magadha (now Bihar) state in northeastern India. They maintained an empire over northern and parts of central and western India from the early 4th to the late 6th century.
The first ruler of the empire was Chandra Gupta I, who was succeeded by his son, the celebrated Samudra Gupta.
The Gupta era produced the decimal system of notation and great Sanskrit epics and Hindu art and contributed to the sciences of astronomy, mathematics, and metallurgy.
Historians once regarded the Gupta period (c. 320–540) as the classical age of India, the period during which the norms of Indian literature, art, architecture, and philosophy were established. It was also thought to have been an age of material prosperity, particularly among the urban elite, and of renascent Hinduism.
Some of these assumptions have been questioned by more-extensive studies of the post-Mauryan, pre-Gupta period. Archaeological evidence from the earlier Kushan levels suggests greater material prosperity, to such a degree that some historians argue for an urban decline in the Gupta period.
Much of Gupta literature and art derived from that of earlier periods, and Hinduism is probably more correctly dated to the post-Gupta era. The Gupta realm did encompass the northern half and central parts of the subcontinent. It also has been called an imperial age, but the administrative centralization is less apparent than during the Mauryan period.
Chandra Gupta I, was the king of India (reigned 320 to c. 330 ce) and founder of the Gupta empire. He was the grandson of Sri Gupta, the first known ruler of the Gupta line.
He became a local chief in the kingdom of Magadha (parts of modern Bihar state).
He increased his power and territory by marrying, Princess Kumaradevi of the Licchavi tribe, which then controlled north Bihar and perhaps Nepal.
Toward the close of the 3rd century CE, India consisted of a number of independent states, both monarchical and nonmonarchical; it is highly probable that the Guptas and Licchavis ruled over adjoining principalities. Their union by marriage enhanced the power and prestige of the new kingdom. Special gold coins depicted the king and queen on one side and the Licchavis on the other. The chronology of the Gupta era, dating from 320 and used in India for several centuries, is believed to be based on the date of either his coronation or his marriage.
By the conclusion of his reign, his kingdom probably extended west to the present-day city of Allahabad and included Ayodhya and southern Bihar. These regions were assigned to him by the Puranas (ancient chronicles of early Sanskrit literature).
His dominions must have been sufficiently large to justify his assumption of the imperial title, Maharajadhiraja (“king of kings”), and to enable his son Samudra Gupta to begin the conquest that led to the founding of the Gupta empire.
Samudragupta, the second emperor of the Gupta dynasty, is known to one of India’s best rulers. His brilliant leadership and valiant victories earned him the title of ‘Napoleon of India’. Samudragupta was more versatile than King Ashoka, proficient in all facets of art and culture.
Samudragupta was the ‘King of Kings’ because he politically unified India and brought it under his power. His territories extended from the Himalayas in the north to the river Narmada in the south and from the Brahmaputra River in the east to the Yamuna River in the west. He defeated the Naga kings in the north and humbled as many as twelve princes in the south.
He had the renowned poet Harisena in his court who inscribed the king’s bravery on the famous Allahabad Pillar. It is also mentioned that Samudragupta liked playing the lute and loved listening to poems. He was titled ‘Kaviraj’ for his love for poems.
He started minting seven different types of coins – Standard Type, the Archer Type, the Battle Axe Type, the Aashvamedha Type, the Tiger Slayer Type, the King and Queen Type and the Lyrist Type. The Gupta king had the monetary system fairly sorted in his kingdom.
Even though he conquered many provinces, Samudragupta saw to it that he maintained peace and amity among his people. He was on friendly terms with neighbouring kings. He permitted the king of Ceylon to build a Buddhist monastery at Bodh-Gaya for the convenience of the Buddhist monks.
Samudragupta fought every battle with smart strategy and great valour. It is said that his fit body was covered with the marks of a hundred wounds caused by the blows of battle axes, arrows, spears, pikes, barbed darts, swords, lances, javelins, iron arrows and many other weapons!
The army that Samudragupta built was capable of matching the prowess of the Mauryan Empire’s military that had diminished centuries ago. He is also known for constructing walled towns and restoring border outposts that had been inactive for a long time.The only flaw in the Vaishnav king was that his economic, religious and social thoughts gave rise to the caste system in Hinduism in the long run.
Samudragupta sacrificed horses to strengthen the position of the Brahmanas and their powerful impact over the society. By performing the Yajna, he intimidated other kings to subjugate and to accept his supremacy and his superior position.
Chandragupta II was probably a younger son of Samudragupta, who succeeded his father over his older brother Ramagupta, either because of his father’s choice, or through force of arms. There is some evidence of trouble between the two brothers and of Chandragupta having put his brother to death.
Inheriting a large empire he extended his control to Gujarat (north of Bombay) and Malwa (central India). To strengthen his southern flank he made marriage arrangements for his daughters with southern dynasties.
Chandragupta further expanded the empire he inherited from his father. Notably, he defeated the Western Kshatrapa king, Rudrasimha III and annexed the Western Kshatrapa lands to the Gupta empire. Numismatic evidence of this conquest is seen in Chandragupta’s issuance of the first Gupta silver coins based on Western Kshatrapa designs. He also issued copper and lead coins. He reigned c. 375-414.
His patronage of literature, arts, and architecture initiated a Sanskrit revival in Northern India, and the cultural development of ancient India reached its climax.
The famous poet Kalidasa resided at his court in the splendid capital Pataliputra (Patna) and the great physician Susruta advanced medical knowledge by writing text books on surgery.
When he ascended the throne he was free from all bindings and difficulties of building up an empire since the task was most ably done by his grandfather Chandragupta I and his father Samudragupta. Samudragupta annexed many territories of ” Aryavata “, brought down the frontier kings and turbulent tribes in to submission and made all independent powers of northern India to beg for his friendship. Yet the western Satraps were still independent and very powerful. When Samudragupta died there was the problem of internal consolidation and further settlement with the powerful neighbours. These were bestowed on Chandragupta II as legacies. As Chandragupta II was also a military genius like his father he completed the task left by his father by expanding his empire.
Chandragupta II wanted to befriend Vakataka dynasty. His daughter Prabhavatigupta was married to Vakataka dynasty ruler named Rudrasena II ( 380-385 A.D.), ruler of Maharashtra. At that time Chandragupta II was planning to attack the Sakas of Kathiawar and Vakataka had a geographical benefit and he wanted bring Vakataka on his side through matrimonial alliance and he did that with perfection. Rudrasena II died around 385 A.D. and Prabhavatigupta became herself the regent of her minor son and Chandragupta held indirect control over Vakataka empire.
The Sakas, a foreign tribe ruling over Saurashtra, Malwa and Kathiawar were feudatories of the Khushanas and enjoyed the title of Kshatrap which means Subedar. After some time they declared themselves independent and called themselves Mahakshatrapas. As the Saka dynasty lay next to Vakataka which was being ruled by daughter of Chandragupta II, he took advantage of it and defeated the ruler of Sakas, Rudrasimha III and annexed the territory of Saka in to his empire.
The most important event of Chandragupta II’s reign was the conquest of the Sakas who were ruling for more than 300 years in western India. To commemorate his victory, Chandragupta II issued silver coins with the image of Garuda (the symbol of the Gupta empire) and titles like Paramabhagavat and Maharajadhiraja on other side. This conquest destroyed the last vestige of foreign rule in India and extended the Gupta empire up to the Arabian sea, its natural frontier in the west. Chandragupta II made Ujjain, the second and political capital as he could rule Gujarat effectively from this place.
Now Chandragupta II had the full access of eastern and western ports of Indian sub continent. Through the western ports, his contact with the western world was facilitated and trade and commerce with European and African countries received an impetus. Cotton clothes of east Bengal, scents and unguents of the hill states of Himalayas, camphor, spices and sandal from south were brought to the ports of Kathiawar for export to western countries. In return western traders paid in gold. There was a tremendous economic growth of Gupta empire through trade. The people were rich and prosperous.
Chandragupta II was succeeded by his son Kumaragupta, whose earliest known date is 416 CE. His reign was peaceful, except at the very end when he faced rebellion in his western provinces, which his son Skandagupta was dispatched to suppress. Kumaragupta reigned c. 415-455. His gold coins are considered some of the finest examples of Indian numismatic art. He also issued a large silver coinage, some very rare coins in copper and also coins in lead.
He ruled efficiently for nearly forty years. However, the last days of his reign were not good. The Gupta Empire was threatened by the rebellion of Pushyamitras of central India and invasion of the White Huns. But, Kumaragupta was successful in defeating both threats and performed the Ashvamedha (horse sacrifice) to celebrate his victory. He issued new coins with images of his namesake, Lord Kumara.
Skandagupta was the successor of Kumargupta I as ruler of the Gupta Empire. Skandagupta is generally considered to be the last of the great Gupta Emperors. He crushed the Pushyamitras who had threatened the imperial authority. But shortly thereafter he was faced with the problem of invading Hephthalites or “White Huns”, known in India as Indo-Hephthalites or Hunas, from the northwest. He repulsed the first Huna attack c. 455. But it proved a very expensive affair as the war drained the empire’s financial and military resources and that led to its decline.