Gupta Empire: History of the Gupta Period, Gupta Dynasty Rulers and Administration

By Balaji

Updated on: March 17th, 2023

The Gupta Empire ruled over ancient India from the beginning of the fourth century CE to the end of the sixth century CE. At its height, the Gupta Dynasty spanned a large portion of the Indian subcontinent between 319 and 467 CE. Historians refer to this time as India’s Golden Age. King Sri Gupta established the Gupta empire’s reigning dynasty, whose most important members were Chandragupta I, Chandragupta II, Samudragupta, and Skandagupta.

In the Gupta period, several achievements and advancements in art and literature were seen. The Gupta Empire also bought a political unification of the area, which was missing earlier. Know more about the Gupta administration and its rulers.

Table of content

  • 1. Gupta Dynasty (more)
  • 2. Origin of the Gupta Empire (more)
  • 3. Highlights of the Gupta Period (more)
  • 4. Founder of Gupta Dynasty – Sri Gupta (more)
  • 5. Gupta Dynasty Rulers (more)
  • 6. Gupta Period – The Golden Age (more)
  • 7. Gupta Empire Ruler: Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE) (more)
  • 8. Gupta Empire Ruler: Samudragupta (c. 335/336 – 375 CE) (more)
  • 9. Chandragupta II (c. 376 – 413/415 CE) (more)
  • 10. Kumaragupta Ⅰ of Gupta Empire (c. 415 – 455 CE) (more)
  • 11. Gupta Dynasty Ruler: Skandagupta (c. 455 – 467 CE) (more)
  • 12. Gupta Administration (more)
  • 13. Decline of the Gupta Empire (more)
  • 14. Gupta Dynasty UPSC (more)
  • 15. Gupta Empire UPSC Questions (more)

Gupta Dynasty

Due to the collapse of the Mauryan empire, the Satavahanas and the Kushanas in the south and north gained power. These kingdoms fostered political stability and economic growth in their respective domains.

After the collapse of Kushan dominance in northern India around 230 CE, the Murundas took over the entirety of central India (probable kinsmen of the Kushanas).

The last 10 years of the 3rd century CE saw the Gupta Dynasty achieve dominance (about 275 CE). The Gupta empire presided over most of the former Satavahana and Kushana-ruled territories. The Guptas rulers (perhaps the Vaishyas) kept northern India essentially undivided for over a century (335 CE- 455 CE).

Gupta Dynasty Notes

Origin of the Gupta Empire

Uncertainty surrounds the Gupta Empire’s origins. One idea holds that the Gupta dynasty came from the lower-Doab region of modern-day Uttar Pradesh, where most inscriptions and currency hoards from the early Gupta Dynasty Rulers were found.

  • The Purana, which mentions the Saketa, Prayaga, and Magadha provinces in the Ganges basin as the realm of the early Gupta Rulers, is said to support this hypothesis, according to its proponents.
  • According to the testimony of the Chinese Buddhist monk Yijing who lived in the 7th century, another well-known hypothesis places the origin of the Gupta Dynasty in the modern Bengal region of the Ganges basin.
  • The rich plains of Madhyadesha, also referred to as Anuganga (the mid-Gangetic basin), Prayag (U.P.), Saketa (U.P. Ayodhya), and Magadha, were where the Guptas exceeded their power.

Highlights of the Gupta Period

The Gupta empire made the best of their closeness to areas in north India by engaging in silk trade with the Byzantine empire and the iron ore riches in south Bihar and central India (eastern Roman empire).

  • The tremendous accomplishments made in literature, arts, science, and technology during the Gupta period in ancient India are known as the “Golden Age.”
  • It also contributed to the subcontinent’s political union.

Founder of Gupta Dynasty – Sri Gupta

Sri Gupta founded the Gupta dynasty in northern India. He is recognized as Che-li-ki-to, the king. It is thought to be the Chinese translation of “Shri-Gupta,” who, as stated by the seventh-century Chinese Buddhist monk Yijing, constructed a temple for Chinese pilgrims close to Mi-li-kia-si-kia-po-no (Mgaikhvana).

  • Although numerous coins and seals have been incorrectly assigned to Gupta, he is not substantiated through his own coins or inscriptions.
  • The Allahabad Pillar inscription by his great-grandson Samudragupta has the oldest description of him, and it is reproduced verbatim in several other subsequent documents of the dynasty.
  • Samudragupta’s forebears are identified in the Allahabad Pillar inscription as Shri Gupta, Shri Ghatotkacha, and Shri Chandragupta.
  • Apart from these findings, very little is known about the founder of the Gupta Empire.

Gupta Dynasty Rulers

The table below gives brief details about the Gupta dynasty rulers:

Gupta Dynasty Kings Facts about Gupta Empire Kings
Sri Gupta He is the founding ruler of the Gupta Dynasty

He reigned between 240 CE-280 CE

He used the title of ‘Maharaja’

Ghatotkacha He was the son of Sri Gupta

He, too, like Sri Gupta, adopted the title of ‘Maharaja’

Chandragupta I He reigned between 319 CE and 335/336 CE

He is attributed with the start of the Gupta Era

He took the title of ‘Maharajadhiraja’

He married the Lichchavi princess Kumaradevi

Samudragupta His reign lasted between 335/336 CE-375 CE

He was called ‘Napolean of India’ by V.A. Smith, an Irish Art Historian, and Indologist

His campaigns were talked about in the Eran inscription (Madhya Pradesh)

Chandragupta II His reign lasted from 376 to 413/415 CE

He had Navratnas, or 9 Gems, in his Court

He popularly took up the title ‘Vikramaditya’

Kumaragupta I His reign lasted between 415 CE-455 CE

He is said to have founded Nalanda University

He was also known as Shakraditya

Skandagupta His reign lasted between 455 AD and 467 AD

He was a follower of Vaishnavism

He successfully defeated the Hunas, but this battle dented his empire’s coffers

Vishnugupta He is the last known ruler of the Gupta Dynasty, who ruled from 540 AD to 550 AD)

Gupta Period – The Golden Age

The Gupta Period is famously called the ‘Golden Age of India for these major reasons:

  • The major cultural advancements that predominantly occurred during the lifetimes of Samudragupta, Kumaragupta I, and Chandragupta II are the pinnacles of the Gupta period.
  • During the time of the Gupta Empire, several Hindu epics and works of literature, including the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, were canonized.
  • Scholars from the Gupta era, like Kalidasa, Varahamihira, Aryabhata, and Vatsyayana, made significant strides in various academic subjects.
  • Governmental administration and science advanced to unprecedented heights during the Gupta era.
  • Architecture, painting, and sculpture innovations during this time established norms of form and style that controlled the following art journey, not just in India but far beyond its boundaries.
  • Strong commercial relations established the area as a foundation that would inspire neighboring kingdoms and territories in Southeast Asia and India, making it a significant cultural center.
  • It is also believed that the older Puranas, which are lengthy poetry on a wide range of subjects, were transcribed into written books during the Gupta empire.
  • Despite being primarily a Hindu dynasty, the Guptas accepted followers of various religions. They were devout Hindus who permitted Buddhists and Jainists to practice their faiths. Sanchi is still a significant Buddhist hub. Nalanda is supposed to have been built in 455 CE by Kumaragupta I.

Gupta Empire Ruler: Chandragupta I (320 – 335 CE)

Ghatotkacha was the father of Chandragupta I. He is considered the inventor of the Gupta Era, which was initiated with his acquisition in 319 – 320 CE.

  • He performed a matrimonial union with the Lichchhavis (Nepal) to reinforce his authority.
  • Chandragupta I spread his kingdom by 321 AD via dominations extending from the Ganges River to Prayag.
  • He became successful in constructing a compact principality into a grand kingdom.
  • He was the first remarkable king of the Gupta dynasty.
  • His kingdom comprised Bengal, regions of present Bihar, with Pataliputra as its capital, and Uttar Pradesh.
  • He published coins in the collective names of himself and his queen.

Gupta Empire Ruler: Samudragupta (c. 335/336 – 375 CE)

Samudragupta played an important role in enlarging the Gupta empire. He pursued the guideline of battle and domination. He was the successor and son of Chandragupta Ⅰ.

  • A detailed report about his achievements has been mentioned in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription (Prayaga – Prashasti), composed by his court poet, Harisena, in pristine Sanskrit.
  • The inscription is carved on the same pillar that bears the notation of peace-loving Ashoka.
  • The majority of the subcontinent of India was directly or indirectly under his role – from empires in Punjab and Nepal (North) to the Pallava kingdom at Kanchipuram (Southeast).
  • The last traces of the Kushana control, including the Murundas, the Shakas, and the autonomous colony of Simhala (Sri Lanka), conceded his dominion.

The zones and the colonies overpowered by Samudragupta can be split into five groups:

Number of Groups Samudragupta History
Group Ⅰ Includes rulers of Ganga-Yamuna doab, who were conquered. He took out nine Naga rulers and expanded their territories.
Group Ⅱ Comprised rulers of the eastern Himalayan states and the kings of Assam, Nepal, Bengal, etc., succumbed to his power. It also retained portions of Punjab.
Group Ⅲ Includes the forest kingdom in the Vindhya area (central India) known as Atavika Rajyas, which pushed their monarchs into servitude.

The conquest of this province allowed him to move towards the south.

Group Ⅳ Includes 12 rulers of eastern Deccan and south India who were overthrown, and his control reached Kanchi (Tamil Nadu), where his suzerainty was forced to acknowledge by the Pallavas. Virasena was the leader of Samudragupta during his southern campaign.
Group Ⅴ Comprised The Shakas (western India) and Kushana rulers (Afghanistan and northwest India). Samudragupta vacuumed them out of authority.

Samudragupta exerted direct administrative power mainly over the Indo-Gangetic basin even after receiving tributes from many monarchs of Southeast Asia and spreading the impact over a huge region.

  • He commemorated by sacrificing a horse, also known as the Asvamedha post acquiring the colonies.
  • He printed coins with the mythology – restorer of the Asvamedha.
  • The Allahabad Pillar Inscription expresses his generosity to his rivals, polished intelligence, poetic mastery, and musical expertise.
  • He earned the title Kaviraja (king among poets) as he had command in framing poetry.
  • He promoted Sanskrit literature and wisdom, one of the features of the Samudragupta dynasty.

Chandragupta II (c. 376 – 413/415 CE)

Chandragupta II was the son of Samudragupta. But, it is known that the immediate successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, Chandragupta Ⅱ’s elder brother.

  • He married the Naga princess, Kuberananga, and had a daughter named Prabhavati.
  • He indirectly ruled over the Vakataka kingdom after he married his daughter to a Vakataka prince, Rudrasena Ⅱ, in the Deccan.
  • Rudrasena Ⅱ demise let Prabhavati govern the territory as a ruler to her minor sons with the support of her father, Chandragupta II.
  • Chandragupta II was able to conquer western Malwa and Gujarat, which was already under the reign of Shakas for nearly four centuries by that period.
  • The Gupta empire arrived at the western seashore, which was well-known for trade business.
  • An iron pillar inscription at Mehrauli (Delhi) revealed that his kingdom included north-western Indian regions along with Bengal.
  • He embraced the title Simhavikrama and Vikramaditya (strong as the sun).
  • He printed silver, copper, and gold coins (Dinara), wherein his coins were cited as Chandra.
  • The Udaigiri cave captions refer to his Digvijaya, i.e., his domination of the entire world.

Nine renowned intellectuals embellished his court at Ujjain called the Navratnas (nine gems).

  • Vetala Bhatta
  • Vararuchi
  • Kahapanaka
  • Shanku
  • Ghatakarapara
  • Dhanvantri
  • Varahamihira
  • Amarasimha
  • Kalidasa.

Kumaragupta Ⅰ of Gupta Empire (c. 415 – 455 CE)

The successor and son of Chandragupta II was Kumaragupta Ⅰ. He achieved famous titles like the Mahendraditya and Shakraditya and served Asvamedha sacrifices.

  • He applied the basis of Nalanda University, which arose as an organization with an international reputation.
  • The inscriptions of Kumaragupta Ⅰ’s sovereignty are – Bilsad inscription (the oldest record of his reign), Mandsor, Damodar Copper Plate inscription, and Karandanda.
  • Prince Skandagupta made the first invasion of Huns futile during the reign of Kumaragupta Ⅰ.

Gupta Dynasty Ruler: Skandagupta (c. 455 – 467 CE)

Skandagupta adopted the title of ‘Vikramaditya’. Girnar or Junagarh’s notation of his rule demonstrates that his Governor Parnadatta rectified the Sudarshan lake.

The Gupta empire could not be saved from the Huns after the demise of Skandagupta. The below successors tried to save the dynasty but failed:

  • Kumaragupta Ⅱ
  • Kumaragupta Ⅲ
  • Purugupta
  • Vishnugupta
  • Narasimhagupta
  • Buddhagupta.

Gupta Administration

The Gupta empire had a system of administrative units that ran from top to bottom, according to an analysis of its epigraphical records.

  • The empire had many names, including Rajya, Desha, Rashtra, Mandala, Avani, and Prithvi.
  • There were 26 provinces with the names Bhukti, Bhoga, and Pradesh.
  • Additionally, in the Gupta period, provinces were split into Vishayas and given to the Vishayapatis.
  • The Adhikarana, the council of representatives, was composed of 4 representatives Sarthavaha, Nagarasreshesthi, Prathamakulika, and Prathama Kayastha.
  • They assisted a Vishayapati in administering the Vishaya. The Vishaya had a section known as Vithi.
  • The Byzantine Empires, the Sassanids, and the Gupta also had commercial ties.

Decline of the Gupta Empire

The various reasons that led to the fall of the Gupta empire are discussed below:

  1. Hun Invasion: The Gupta prince Skandagupta fought bravely and successfully against the early Huns’ invasion. However, his successors proved weak and could not check the Huns’ invasion.
  2. Rise of Feudatories: Another aspect that contributed to the collapse of the Gupta empire was the development of feudatories. After conquering Mihirkula, Yashodharman of Malwa effectively contested the Guptas’ rule. The other feudatories, such as those in Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Valabhi, Malwa, and other places, also raised people to rebel against the Gupta dynasty and eventually achieve independence.
  3. Economic decline: The Guptas had lost control of western India by the end of the 5th century, which must have left them without access to the lucrative commerce and trade profits that would have otherwise crippled their economy. The gold coins of the later Gupta monarchs, which contain a lower percentage of the gold medal, serve as a sign of the Guptas’ economic collapse. Economic instability was caused by the habit of giving off the land for religious and other uses, which decreased tax collections.

Gupta Dynasty UPSC

The Gupta Dynasty is relevant for the upcoming IAS Exam as it is an important part of Indian History. Aspirants can download the Gupta Empire Notes to prepare for their upcoming exams, and practice the History Previous Year’s Questions to score better.

Gupta Empire UPSC Questions

Question: Who was the founder of the Gupta Dynasty?
Answer: Option 1
Question: Parnadatta was appointed the Provincial Governor of Saurashtra by?
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