UPSC History The Gupta Empire NCERT Extracts - The Gupta Empire

NCERT Extracts - The Gupta Empire

Category : UPSC


  • On the ruins of the Kushan empire arose a new empire. This was the empire of the Guptas, who may have been of vaishya origin.
  • Although the Gupta empire was not as large as the Maurya empire, it kept north India politically united for more than a century from A.D. 335 to 455.
  • The original kingdom of the Guptas comprised Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  • The Guptas were possibly the feudatories of the Kushans in Uttar Pradesh.
  • The centre of their operations lay in the fertile land ofMadhyadesha covering Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.


Chandragupta I (A.D. 319-334)


  • The first important king of the Gupta dynasty was Chandragupta I.
  • He married a Lichchhavi princess which strengthened his position.
  • The Guptas were possibly vaishyas, and hence marriage in a kshatriya family gave them prestige. He started the Gupta era in A.D. 319-20, which marked the date of his accession. Later many inscriptions came to be dated in the Gupta era.


Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380)


  • The Gupta kingdom was enlarged enormously by Chandragupta-Fs son and successor Samudragupta (A.D. 335-380).
  • He was the opposite of Ashoka. Ashoka believed in a policy of peace and non-aggression, but Samudragupta delighted in violence and conquest.
  • His court poet Harishena wrote a glowing account of the military exploits of his patron.
  • In a long inscription the poet enumerates the peoples and countries that were conquered of Samudragupta. The inscription is engraved at Allahabad on the same pillar which carries the inscriptions of the peace-loving Ashoka.
  • The places and the countries conquered by Samudragupta can be divided into five groups.
  • Group one includes princes of the Ganga-Yamuna doab who were defeated and whose kingdoms were incorporated into the Gupta Empire.
  • Group two includes the rulers of the eastern Himalayan states and some frontier states such as princes of Nepal, Assam, Bengal etc., who were made to feel the weight of Samudragupta's arms. It also covers some republics of Punjab.
  • The republics, which flickered on the ruins of the Maurya empire, were finally destroyed by Samudragupta.                                
  • Group three includes the forest kingdoms situated in the Vindhya region and known as Atavika rajyas; they were brought under the control of Samudragupta.
  • Group four includes twelve rulers of the eastern Deccan and south India, who were conquered and iberated.
  • Samudragupta's arms reached as far as Kanchi in Tamil were compelled to recognize his suzerainty.
  • Group five includes the names of the Shakes and Kushans, some of them ruling in Afghanistan. It is said that Samudragupta swept them out of power and received the submission of the rulers of distant lands.
  • The prestige and influence of Samudragupta spread even outside India.



  • According to Chinese source, Meghavarman, the ruler of Sri Lanka, sent a missionary to Samudragupta for permission to build a Buddhist temple at Gaya.
  • This was granted, and the temple was developed into a huge monastic establishment.
  • If we believe the eulogistic inscription from Allahabad, it would appear that Samudragupta never knew any defeat, and because of his bravery and generalship he is called the Napoleon of India.


Chandragupta II (A.D. 380-412)


  • He extended the limits of the empire by marriage alliance and conquests. Chandragupta married his daughter Prabhavati with a Vakataka prince who belonged in central India.
  • Chandragupta II conquered western Malwa and Gujarat, which had been under the rule of the Shaka Kshatrapas for about four centuries by that time.
  • The conquest gave Chandragupta the western sea coast, famous for trade and commerce.
  • This contributed to the prosperity of Malwa, and its chief city Ujjain.
  • Ujjain seems to have been made the second capital by Chandragupta II.
  • The exploits of a king called Chandra are glorified in an iron pillar inscription fixed near Qutb Minar in Delhi.
  • Chandragupta II adopted the title of Vikramaditya, which had been first used by an Ujjain ruler in 57 B.C. as a mark of victory over the Shaka Kshatrapas of western India.
  • The court of Chandragupta II at Ujjain was adorned by numerous scholars including Kalidasa and Amarasimha.
  • It was in Chandragupta's time that the Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien (399-414) visited India and wrote an laborate account of the life of its people.


Fall of the Empire


  • The successors of Chandragupta II had to face an invasion by the Hunas from Centra Asia in the second half of the fifth century A.D.
  • Although in the beginning the Gupta king Skandagupta tried effectively to stem the march of the Hunas into India, his successors proved to be weak and could not cope with the Huna invaders, who excelled in horsemanship and possibly used stirrups made of metal,
  • By 485 A.D. the Hunas occupied eastern Malwa and a good portion of central India where their inscriptions have been found.
  • Although the Huna power was soon overthrow by Yashodharman of Malwa who belonged to the Aulikara feudatory family.                              
  • Yashodharman successfully challenged the authority of the Guptas and set up, in 532, pillars of victory commemorating his conquest of almost the whole of northern India.
  • Yashodharman "s rule was shortlived, but it meant a severe blow to the Gupta Empire.
  • The Gupta Empire was further undermined by the rise of the feudatories.
  • The governors appointed by the Gupta kings in north Bengal and their feudatories in Samatata or south-east Bengal tended to become independent.
  • The Maukharis rose to power in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
  • After the reign of Skandagupta, i.e. A.D. 467, hardly any Gupta coin or inscription has been found in western Malwa and Saurashtra.                               
  • The loss of western India, which seems to have been complete by the end of the fifth century, must have deprived the Guptas of the rich revenues from trade and commerce and crippled them economically.
  • The Gupta state may have found it difficult to maintain a large professional army on account of the growing practice of land grants for religious and other purposes, which was bound to reduce their revenues.                                
  • Their income may have further been affected by the decline of foreign trade,
  • The migration of a guild of silk-weavers from Gujarat to Malwa in A.D. 473 and their adoption of non-productive professions show that there was not much demand for cloth produced by them. The advantages from Gujarat trade gradually disappeared.
  • Although the rule of the Imperial Guptas lingered till the middle of the sixth century A.D., the imperial glory had vanished a century earlier.

NCERT Extracts - The Gupta Empire
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