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Gupta Period (319 AD-540 AD)


  • In 4th Century AD a new dynasty, the Gupta, arose in Magadha and established a large kingdom over the greater part Northern India (thought their empire was not as large as that of the Mauryas).Their rule lasted for more than 200 years.
  • This period is referred as the ‘Classical Age’ or ‘Golden Age’ of ancient India was perhaps the most prosperous era in the Indian history.
  • According to epigraphic evidence, the founder of the dynasty was a person named Gupta. He used the simple title of Maharaja.
  • Gupta was succeeded by his son Ghatotkach, who also inherited the title of Maharaja.

Extent of Gupta Empire

  • Extent of the Gupta Empire from the Brahmaputra to the Yamuna and Chambal, from the Himalayas to the Narmada. After Kushanas, the Guptas were the most important dynasty.
  • The original kingdom of the Guptas comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar with their centre of power at Prayag (U.P).
  • The Guptas set up their rule over the fertile plains of the Madhyadesha, also known as Anuganga (the middle Gangetic basin), Saketa (U.P Ayodhya), Prayag (U.P) and Magadha (mostly Bihar).

Important Rulers of Gupta Dynasty

The Gupta Dynasty
Chandragupta I319-334 AD
Samudragupta35-380 AD
Ramgupta380 AD
Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya)380-414 AD
Kumargupta (Mahendraditya)415-455 AD
Skandagupta I455-467 AD
Kumargupta II 
Kumargupta III467-540 AD

Chandragupta I: 319-334 AD

  • He was the first Gupta ruler to assume the title of Maharajadhiraja.
  • He strengthened his kingdom by matrimonial alliance with the powerful family of Lichchhavis who were the ruler of Mithila.His marriage to Lichchhavis princess Kumaradevi, brought to him enormous power, resources and prestige. He took advantage of the situation and occupied the whole of fertile Gangetic Valley.
  • He started the Gupta Era in 319-20 AD.
  • Chandragupta I was able to establish his authority over Magadha, Prayag and Saketa.
  • Original type of Gold Coins (Dinaras): Chandragupta I – Kumaradevi type.

Samudragupta: 335-380 AD

  • Samudragupta was the greatest king of Gupta Dynasty.
  • The most detailed and authentic record of his reign is preserved in the Prayaga Prasati/Allahabad pillar inscription, composed by his court poet Harisena.
  • According to Prayaga Prasati, he was a great conqueror.
  • In the Gangetic Valley and Central India, Samudragupta annexed the territories of the defeated monarchs, but in south India he remained content with victories alone and did not annex the territories of the vanquished ruler.
  • Samudragupta military campaigns justify description of him as the ‘Indian Napolean’ by V.A.Smith.
  • The reference to his dominion over Java, Sumatra and Malaya islands in the Sea shows that he had a navy.
  • When he died his mighty empire bordered that of the Kushan of western province (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) and Vakatakas in Deccan (Modern Southern Maharashtra).
  • His greatest achievement was the political unification of most of India or Aryavarta into a formidable power.
  • Samudragupta was a Vaishnavite.

Chandragupta II ‘Vikramaditya’:380-414 AD

  • According to ‘Devi Chandragupta’ (Vishakhadatta), Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramgupta. It seems Ramgupta ruled for a very short period. He was ‘the only Gupta ruler to issue copper coins’.
  • Ramgupta, a coward and impotent king, agreed to surrender his queen Dhruvadevi to Saka invader. But the prince Chandragupta II, the younger brother of guise of the queen with a view to kill the hated enemy. Chandragupta II succeeded in killing the Saka ruler.
  • Chandragupta II also succeeded in killing Ramgupta, and not only seized his kingdom but also married his widow Dhruvadevi.
  • Chandragupta II control over the Vakataka kingdom in central India proved quite advantageous for him. It helped him to conquer Gujarat and western Malwa, which was under the rule of Shakas for about four centuries by that time. The Guptas reached the western sea coast which was famous for trade and commerce. This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa and its main city Ujjain, which was also Chandragupta II second capital.
  • An Iron Pillar inscription at Mehrauli in Delhi indicates that his empire included even north-western India and Bengal. He adopted the title ‘Vikramaditya’ (powerful as the sun) and Simhavikrama.
  • He issued gold coins (Dinara), silver coins and copper coins. On his coins, he is mentioned as Chandra.
  • During his reign, a Chinese traveller, Fa-Hien visited India and wrote a detailed account about the life of its people.
  • The Udaigiri cave inscriptions refer to his digvijaya, that is, his conquest of the whole world.

Navaratna(i.e. Nine gems) of Chandragupta II

  1. Kalidasa: He wrote Abhijnashakuntalam, one of the best hundred literary works in the world and also the earliest Indian work to be translated to European languages.

2. Amarsinh: His work Amarakosha is a vocabulary of Sanskrit roots, homonyms and synonyms. It has three parts containing around ten thousand words and is also known as Trikanda.

3. Dhanavantri: He is considered to be the father of Ayurveda.

4. Varahmihira: He wrote three important books-

  • Panch Sidhantaka
  • Vrihatsamhita
  • Vrihat jataka
  • Laghu jataka

5. Araruchi: Vartika- A comment on Ashtadhyayi

6. Ghatakarna

7. Velabhatt

8. Kshapranak

9. Shanku

Kumargupta I: 415-455 AD

  • Kumargupta I was the son and successor of Chandragupta II.
  • Adopted the titles of ‘Shakraditya’ and ‘Mahendraditya’.
  • Performed ‘Asvamedha’ sacrifices.
  • Most importantly, he laid the foundation of Nalanda University which emerged as an institution of international reputation.
  • At the end of his reign, peace did not prevail on the north-west frontier due to the invasion of the Huns of Central Asia. After occupying Bactria, the Huns crossed the Hindukush Mountains, occupied Gandhara and entered India. Their first attack, during Kumargupta I period, was made unsuccessful by prince Skandagupta.
  • The inscriptions of Kumargupta I period are – Karandanda, Mandsor, Bilsad inscription (oldest record of his reign) and Damodar Copper Plate inscription.

Skandagupta: 455-467 AD

  • Adopted the title ‘Vikramaditya’.
  • Junagadh/Girnar inscription of his reign reveals that his governor Parnadatta repaired the Sudarshana Lake.
  • After Skandagupta’s death, many of his successors like Purugupta, Kumargupta II, Buddhgupta, Narsimhagupta, Kumargupta III and Vishnugupta could not save the Gupta Empire from the Huns. Ultimately, the Gupta power totally disappeared due to a variety of reasons.

Decline of Gupta Empire

Huns Invasion

  • The Gupta prince Skandagupta fought bravely and successfully against the early Huns’ invasion. However, his successors proved to be weak and could not check the Huns’ invasion.
  • The Huns showed excellent horsemanship and were expert archers who helped them to attain success, not only in Iran but also in India. In the latter half of the 5th century, the Hun chief Toramana conquered large parts of western India, up to Eran near Bhopal in central India.
  •  By 485 CE, Huns had occupied Punjab, Rajasthan, Kashmir, eastern Malwa and a large part of central India. 
  • Toramana (in 515 CE) was succeeded by his son Mihirakula, who was a tyrant ruler as is mentioned in the Rajatarangini by Kalhana and Hieun-Tsang refers to him as a persecutor of Buddhists. Mihirakula was defeated and the Huna power was overthrown by Yashodharman of Malwa, Narasimha Gupta Baladitya of the Gupta Empire and the Maukharis. However, this win over Huns could not revive the Gupta Empire.

Rise of Feudatories

  • The rise of feudatories was another factor that led to the fall of the Gupta Empire. Yashodharman of Malwa (belonged to the Aulikara feudatory family) after defeating Mihirakula successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up, in 532 CE, pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of northern India.
  • Although Yashodharman’s rule was short-lived, it certainly gave a huge blow to the Gupta Empire. The other feudatories too rose in rebellion against the Guptas and ultimately became independent in Bihar, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Valabhi, Gujarat, and Malwa and so on.
  •  It is important to mention that after the reign of Skandagupta (467 CE) hardly any coin or inscription has been found in western Malwa and Saurashtra.

Economic decline

  • By the end of the 5th century, the Guptas had lost western India and this must have deprived the Guptas of the rich revenues from trade and commerce and hence crippled them economically.
  • The economic decline of the Guptas is indicated by the gold coins of later Gupta rulers, which have less percentage of gold metal.
  • The practice of land grants for religious and other purposes also reduced the revenues which resulted in economic instability.