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Gupta Empire
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Gupta Empire

Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments
COPYRIGHT 2008 Thomson Gale

Gupta Empire

Type of Government

Based in northern India, the Gupta Empire (320–600) was one of the largest political and military empires in world history. While the Gupta rulers named themselves mahārājādhirāja
(king of kings), they did not claim to be of divine origin and ruled with relative benevolence. Distinguished by peace and security at home and abroad, as well as by religious freedom and flourishing trade, the rule of the Guptas led to a remarkable flowering of art and culture that is often referred to as India’s golden age.

Background

The Gupta era is generally thought to date from approximately 320, beginning with the reign of the first notable Gupta king, Candra Gupta I (fourth century). Through aggressive military conquest and a strategic marriage to a Licchavi princess, Candra Gupta created the basis of an empire with Pataliputra as its capital.

Samudra Gupta (d. c. 380), Candra Gupta’s successor, expanded on his father’s conquests to create a ring of tributary states that served as a buffer zone. Historians divide his conquests into four classes: kings who were slain by him and whose kingdoms were incorporated into the empire; kings who were defeated and taken prisoner, but were later reinstated as rulers of tributary states; frontier kings who voluntarily paid tribute to the victor; and rulers of distant monarchies who seem to have felt the force of his military might and shown some recognition of it. Samudra Gupta’s dominion eventually extended from Punjab in the northwest to Assam in northeastern India.

The Gupta period saw a great flourishing of science and the arts. During what has come to be seen as the classical period of Sanskrit literature, the two national epics of Indian literature , the Ramayana
and the Mahabharata
, took their final form. Poets and dramatists celebrated the refinement and splendor of Indian courtly life. Significant advances in mathematics and astronomy also took place. While some of the Gupta emperors are credited with a tolerant interest in other faiths, Hinduism was the predominant religion of the time, and some historians have speculated that the empire’s largely peaceful and tranquil existence allowed its residents to benefit from the extensive ethical teachings of the Hindu faith. The puranas
(tales of ancient times) are one of the chief sources of information available on early Gupta rule. They provide an almost encyclopedic look at historical Indian life and society. One of these collections, the Kāmandakīya
, stresses discipline of body and mind, advising that drink and sex be enjoyed in moderation, but that the vices of gambling and hunting are to be avoided entirely.

Government Structure

For their time in history, the Gupta emperors practiced a remarkably mild and benevolent rule. The Chinese pilgrim Fa-hsien, who visited the empire in the late fourth and early fifth century, wrote that the Gupta imperial government exercised impressive gentleness on those rare occasions when it interfered in the affairs of the people. A stone pillar celebrating Samudra Gupta’s reign remains in Allahabad and its inscriptions indicate that even though the Gupta monarchy was hereditary, the final decision on ascendancy to the throne rested with the emperor’s ministers and the people. The eldest son was not always the one to inherit the throne, because qualification was a more important consideration than birth order. The office of monarch was revered, rather than the emperor himself. The Gupta emperors, unlike many other monarchs of the time, did not claim supernatural authority to rule. Law and tradition were considered supreme authorities in government. The law was a compilation of sacred code, custom, and the opinion of the sages. The emperor was expected to conduct himself impartially and not give in to anger. He had to develop a cultivated mind and exercise righteous behavior. His actions had to be vigorous but controlled. Finally, he had to take every precaution to safeguard his person.

The largely rural Gupta Empire encouraged settlement of legal cases at the village level. Appellate courts offered further review, and cases tried at the village level went to the city council for appeal, whereas those tried at the city court might be appealed to the emperor. Aspiring judges had to meet rigorous requirements, but once in office they were relatively free of official interference or coercion. The justice system was liberal for its time and did not impose the death penalty.

The emperor submitted his proposals to the parishad
(a council of eight or nine ministers), which debated the proposals privately. The council was headed by a mantri mukhya
( prime minister ), who acted on behalf of the emperor when necessary. Members of the council were nearly always Brahmans (Hindu priests), who were the highest order of the four-tiered caste system and were selected for the council on the basis of character, wisdom, and dedication to the state. They were usually men of wide cultural learning. An inscription from the time of Candra Gupta II (fourth to fifth centuries) indicates that his minister of war was also a poet, logician, and rhetorician. If dissatisfied with the council’s decision on a proposal, the emperor might ask for further debate, but ultimately he was expected to abide by the decision of his ministers.

Judicial review and moral guidance at the court was provided by the purahita
, who interpreted the decisions of the emperor’s council in light of the sacred texts. The sabha
, a kind of representative body of the people, did not initiate policy but met to give the people a political voice and a role in selecting the emperor.

The government of the Guptas was a largely decentralized one, where local authorities, social groups, and powerful trade guilds retained significant autonomy. Gupta administration was tolerant of local variations and did not discriminate unfairly among Hindus, Buddhists, or Jains.

Trade routes in the empire were kept generally safe, and travelers enjoyed a freedom of movement that helped lead the empire to a prosperous economy. To meet the expenses of the empire, the Gupta emperors relied primarily on the land tax , a customary sixth of the produce of the land. The state also had a monopoly on salt production and the first claim to other minerals. A village rendered certain payments directly to the state, or if nearby, to the military. Associations of merchants, bankers, and artisans were taxed.

Political Parties and Factions

Brahmans frequently received land grants from the imperial government and were exempt from taxation and labor service. Donors of these land grants, royal and otherwise, saw them as a kind of spiritual investment that brought religious merit, but the grants eventually weakened imperial power by creating privileged and rival centers of authority. The land grants included control over revenue sources on the land, such as mines, and administrative control over villages located there. The concurrent practice of granting land in lieu of salaries for government service eventually led to an economic decline at the end of the Gupta era.

Major Events

Candra Gupta II destroyed rival powers in western India, thereby gaining access to trade with the West. With his allies, the Vakatakas, he consolidated the power of the empire and became a great patron of the arts. The Gupta Empire reached its height during the forty-year reign of Candra Gupta II’s successor, Kumāra Gupta I (d. 455), from 415 to 455.

Aftermath

After four long, successive reigns by Gupta emperors, the empire began to decline in the sixth century. Internal discord, disputed successions, rebelling feudal territories, and destructive incursions by the Hephthalites, or White Huns, from across the mountains of the northwestern border onto the fertile plains took their toll. Gupta rule ended in 550. A number of later Gupta princes in India may or may not have been related to the lineage of the great Gupta emperors.

Agrawal, Ashvini. Rise and Fall of the Imperial Guptas
. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989.

Allan, J., Sir T. Wolseley Haig, and H. H. Dodwell. The Cambridge Shorter History of India
. Delhi, India: S. Chand, 1964.

Derkmeier, Charles. Kingship and Community in Early India
. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1962.

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Gale Encyclopedia of World History: Governments
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Dictionary.com

Gupta

[goo p-tuh, guhp-]
noun
  1. a dynasty of N India (a.d. 320–540) whose court was the center of classical Indian art and literature.
  2. the empire of this dynasty, encompassing all of N India and Gujarat.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for gupta

Contemporary Examples of gupta

  • “One part of the criticism was people saying vaccines caused autism,” Gupta says.

    The Daily Beast logo

    Sanjay Gupta, on the Ebola Front Lines

    Tim Teeman

    August 4, 2014

  • Gupta describes his life as “half-media, half-medicine,” juggling both broadcast and medical responsibilities.

    The Daily Beast logo

    Sanjay Gupta, on the Ebola Front Lines

    Tim Teeman

    August 4, 2014

  • If he speaks to Brantly, Gupta would first ask—naturally—how is he doing, then how he got infected.

    The Daily Beast logo

    Sanjay Gupta, on the Ebola Front Lines

    Tim Teeman

    August 4, 2014

  • “Think of him being inside a glass box within a glass box,” Gupta says.

    The Daily Beast logo

    Sanjay Gupta, on the Ebola Front Lines

    Tim Teeman

    August 4, 2014

  • Gupta seems comfortable with fame if people approach him with “real questions about things I cover.”

    The Daily Beast logo

    Sanjay Gupta, on the Ebola Front Lines

    Tim Teeman

    August 4, 2014

Historical Examples of gupta

  • Gupta wondered what might have unstrung the man, and felt sorry for him.

    Bengal Dacoits and Tigers

    Maharanee Sunity Devee

  • Yet the Gupta dynasty endured only a little longer than had that of the Mauryas.

    India, Old and New

    Sir Valentine Chirol

  • These are on the whole text-books of Smrta Hinduism and two Gupta monarchs celebrated the horse sacrifice.

    Hinduism and Buddhism, Vol I. (of 3)

    Charles Eliot

  • Some of the pillars of the Gupta period commemorate victories; others are merely religious monuments.

    Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official

    William Sleeman

  • A recent cleaning of part of the interior of the fort brought to light bricks belonging to the Gupta period.

    The Panjab, North-West Frontier Province, and Kashmir

    Sir James McCrone Douie


British Dictionary definitions for gupta

Gupta

noun
  1. the dynasty ruling northern India from the early 4th century to the late 6th century ad : the period is famous for achievements in art, science, and mathematics
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for gupta

Gupta

4c.-6c. North Indian dynasty, from Chandragupta, name of the founder.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

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