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Gupta Empire [ 319 CE -543 CE) Important notes UPSC

 Table of Contents: 

  • About Gupta Dynasty
  • Rulers list of Gupta Dynasty
  • Reason for the decline of Gupta
  • Administration of the Gupta Dynasty
  • Society during the Gupta period

History of Gupta Age | Golden Age of Ancient Indian History:

The Gupta period in ancient Indian history which was lasted from about the 4th to the 6th century CE.

Sri Gupta founded the Gupta Empire in the Magadha region of present-day Bihar. Chandragupta I ( (grandson of Sri Gupta and son of Ghatotkacha)) expanded the empire's territory through matrimonial alliances and military conquests, consolidating power over northern and central India.

Chandragupta I's son, Samudragupta, is considered one of the most notable rulers of the Gupta dynasty. He expanded the empire through military campaigns and diplomacy, subjugating various neighboring kingdoms and establishing the Gupta empire over large parts of India. Samudragupta was not only a skilled warrior but also a patron of art and culture. He earned the title "Kaviraja" (King of Poets) due to his own poetic skills.

However, it was during the reign of Chandragupta II, also known as Chandragupta Vikramaditya, that the Gupta Empire reached its peak. Chandragupta II was an able ruler who expanded the empire's boundaries, including the acquisition of territories in western India. He was known for his patronage of scholars, artists, and intellectuals. During his rule, the famous Chinese traveler, Fa Hien ( also known as Faxian), visited India and wrote extensively about the prosperity and glory of the Gupta Empire.

The period is often called the "Golden Age of India" due to its remarkable advancements in various fields such as philosophy, medical science, literature, science, mathematics, and art.

In the field of art, the Gupta dynasty is renowned for the development of the Gupta style of sculpture, characterized by its naturalism and grace. The Ajanta and Ellora Caves, famous for their intricate rock-cut Buddhist sculptures and paintings, were created during this period. 

In the literature field, notable works such as Kalidasa's plays and poetry, including "Shakuntala" and "Meghaduta," were composed. 

The Gupta period also saw advancements in science, mathematics, and astronomy, with notable scholars like Aryabhata making significant contributions.

The Gupta Empire was a highly organized and prosperous state with efficient administration and a strong economy. Trade flourished both within India and with foreign regions, particularly the Roman Empire and Southeast Asia. 

Gupta Empire had a decentralized administrative system with local governance( Feudal system), allowing for cultural diversity and the preservation of regional identities.

List of rulers of the Gupta Dynasty:

The Gupta period in ancient Indian history was ruled by several rulers from the Gupta dynasty who played pivotal roles in shaping the empire. Here is a list of some of the prominent rulers of the Gupta dynasty during the Gupta period:

  • Sri Gupta ( 240-280 CE)
  • Ghatotkacha ( 280-319 CE)
  • Chandragupta I (319-335 CE)
  • Samudragupta ( 335-380 CE)
  • Chandragupta II (Chandragupta Vikramaditya) (380-415 CE)
  • Kumaragupta I (415-455 CE)
  • Skandagupta (455-467 CE)
  • Purugupta (467-473 CE)
  • Kumaragupta II ( 473-476 CE)
  • Kumaragupta II (473-476 CE)
  • Budhagupta (476-495 CE)
  • Narasimhagupta ( 495-530 CE)

Sri Gupta:

Sri Gupta was the founder of the Gupta dynasty and the Gupta Empire. He used the title of "Maharaja".

Ghatotkacha :

Son of Sri Gupta succeeded him as the ruler of the Gupta Empire. He also assumed the title of "Maharaja".

Chandragupta I:

Chandragupta, I was the son of "Ghatotkacha" and the son of Sri Gupta. He expanded the Gupta Empire's territory and established Gupta control over northern India, because of this, some scholars believe that the Gupta period started in 319 CE [ from Chandragupta I) period. 

He assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja ( great king of kings). He was the first great king of the Gupta kingdom. 

He married Lichchhavi princess Kumaradevi. He issued coins in the joint names of his queen and himself.


Samudragupta was the son of Chandragupta I and Kumaradevi.

He is considered one of the greatest Gupta rulers, known for military conquests and patronage of art and culture.

Gupta territories during the Samudragupta reign extended from the Himalayas in the north to Krishna and Godavari rivers in the South, and Brahmaputra rivers in the east to Balkh ( Afghanistan) in the west.

The Allahabad ( Prayagraj) inscription tells us that Samundragupta defeated nine kings of the Ganges valley, twelve kings from the southern region, and eighteen forest tribes.

Harisena was the court poet of Samudragupta.

He was a follower of Vaishnavite Hinduism but was tolerant of other faiths. He permitted the King of Sri Lanka, Meghavarna to build a monastery in Bodh Gaya.

Historian Vincent Smith called Samudragupta an " Indian Napoleon".

He also performed Ashvamegha's Yajna. 

He assumed the title of Kabiraja, Param Bhagvat, Ashvamegha-Parikrama, Vikram, and Sarv-raj-porchetta.

Chandragupta II:

Chandragupta II was the son of Samudragupta and Dattadevi. He was also known as "Vikramaditya".

He extended Gupta territories to Saurashtra, the western coastline of Gujarat after defeating the Saka king, Rudrasimha II,  and assumed the title "Sakari" ( destroyer of the Sakas).

His daughter married the Vakataka ruler of Maharashtra Rudrasena II.

During his rule, the famous Chinese traveler, Fa Hien ( also known as Faxian), visited India and wrote extensively about the prosperity and glory of the Gupta Empire.

Mehrauli Iron Pillar inscription describes a king named "Chandra", which was assumed as Chandragupta II.

His court had nine jewels of Navaratnas from various fields of art literature and science. The following were nine jewels of Vikramaditya-

  • Kalidasa ( Sanskrit poet)
  • Harisena or Shanku ( Architect)
  • Amara Simha ( lexicographer)
  • Dhanvantari ( Physician)
  • Varahmihira ( Astronomer)
  • Vararuchi ( Grammarian)
  • Ghatkarna ( Diplomat)
  • Kshpranak (Astrologer)
  • Velabhatt or Vetala Bhatta ( Magician)

Kumaragupta I:

Kumaragupta was the son of Chandragupta II (Vikramaditya). He is known for his military victories and efforts to revive the declining Gupta Empire.

During his reign, the Gupta empire was threatened from the North by the Huns.

He was a worshipper of Kaatikeya.

He was also known for the foundation of Nalanda University.

He assumed the titles of Mahendraditya, Mahendra Sinh, and Ashvamegha Mahendrah. 


Skandagupta faced invasions from the Hunas. However, he successfully defended the Gupta Empire from attacks by Huns.

Purugupta :

The Gupta empire declined during the reign of Purugupta.

Kumaragupta II:

Kumaragupta II was the last prominent ruler of the Gupta dynasty faced internal conflicts and invasions.

Reason for Decline of Gupta Period:

Despite its remarkable achievements, the Gupta Empire gradually started declining after the reign of Chandragupta II. 

The empire was weakened by invasions from the Hunas (or White Huns) and internal conflicts between royal families.

During the Budhagupta period, The Vakataka ruler Narendrasena of western Deccan attacked Malwa. Later, Vakataka king Harishena conquered Malwa and Gujarat from the Guptas.

Later Gupta rulers became followers of Buddhism, which also weakened the empire, as they did not focus on empire-building and military conquests. 

The Gupta Empire fragmented into smaller regional kingdoms by the end of the 6th century CE.

Nevertheless, the Gupta period left a profound impact on Indian civilization. Its cultural and intellectual achievements became the foundation for subsequent developments in art, literature, and philosophy, influencing the course of Indian history for centuries to come. The Gupta period remains a significant chapter in India's past, often hailed as a golden age of prosperity, artistry, and intellectual pursuits.

Administration in the Gupta period:

The Gupta Empire was characterized by a decentralized ( feudal system) and efficient system. 

The following are some prominent features of the Gupta administration -

Monarchical System: 

The Gupta administration was a hereditary monarchy, with power passed down through the royal lineage. The ruler, known as the Maharaja or Maharajadhiraja, held absolute authority and was responsible for governing the empire. King was assisted by the chief minister and a Senapati.

Decentralized ( feudal system): 

The Mauryan empire was comprised of many feudal kings, which accommodated the diversity of the Indian subcontinent. Yaudhay, Malwa, kaak, Madra, Dakshin-Kosal, etc were some important feudal kingdoms of the Gupta Empire.

Pataliputra was the primary capital during the early Gupta period, later shifting to Ujjain and then to Kannauj. A Sandivigraha was the minister of foreign affairs. 

Administrative Divisions:

The empire was divided into provinces called Bhukti or Bhaga Mandala. The name of the provincial governors was called "Uparikas". 

These provinces were further divided into "Vishayas" ( districts), and the head of it was called "Vishaya Patis".

Vishyas were further divided into Nagaras. It was headed by "Nagara Sreshtis".

Nagaras were further divided into Villages. The group of villages was termed as "Pethaka" or "Santaka". The smaller units of a village were called "Agrahara" and "Patta". Gramikas were heads of villages. 

Justice and Legal System:

Laws were enforced by local officials, and the king served as the ultimate judge. Dandaniti, the code of conduct and legal guidelines, played a crucial role in maintaining law and order.

Patronage of Scholars and Intellectuals:

The Gupta rulers patronized scholars, artists, and intellectuals, contributing to a flourishing cultural and intellectual climate. Kalidasa was one of the prominent scholars. 

Society during the Gupta period:

The following are some social aspects of the Gupta Society.

Role of Women:

Gupta society was basically patriarchal, some women from the higher classes, such as queens and royal women, enjoyed considerable influence and played active roles in politics and administration.

Women from other social classes primarily occupied domestic roles and were responsible for household management and raising children.

Polygamy and child marriage were common. The first Sati was recorded during this period in Eran, Madhya Pradesh.

Varna System:

The Gupta period witnessed the continuation of the Varna system, which divided society into four main varnas or social classes. 

The Brahmins ( priests and scholars ) occupied the highest position, followed by the Kshatriyas ( Warriors and rulers), Vaishyas ( merchants and farmers), and Shudras (laborers and servants). Below these varnas, there were untouchability, Chandalas, and tribes. 

As far as the status of Shudra and untouchability are concerned, the position of Shudra was improved as they were allowed to listen to the epics and worship Lord Krishna. However, the condition of untouchability deteriorates.

Religious Pluralism:

The Gupta period witnessed religious pluralism, with the coexistence and patronage of multiple faiths. While Hinduism was the dominant religion, Buddhism, Jainism, and other religious traditions. Religious tolerance was a prominent feature of Gupta society.

Vaishnavism became popular, and idol worship became common. Vajrayana Buddhism became more popular in this period.

Education and Learning: 

Education and learning were highly valued in Gupta society. Brahmins and upper classes had access to formal education, which focused on religious texts, literature, philosophy, and specialized skills. 

Sanskrit language and literature flourished during this period.

Nalanda University emerged as the center of learning. 

Trade and economy :

Guilds, known as Shrenis, played a significant role in economic activities and provided a platform for merchants, artisans, and craftsmen to organize themselves and regulate trade.

Trade routes expanded, both within India and with foreign regions, contributing to economic growth and cultural exchange. 

The land revenue was the main source of revenue of the empire, it was fixed at about one-sixth of the produce. There were 18 types of taxes.

Guptas issued the largest numbers of gold coins, however, it was not pure as compared to Kushana gold coins.

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