Gupta Empire
Gupta Empire
After the decline of the Mauryan Empire, India remained primarily
Buddhist for 500 years.
Under the rule of Candra Gupta I, India became unified and
prosperous again.
• Gupta rulers spread Hinduism in their empire through the
building of temples and the promotion of Hindu writings and
• Widespread religious tolerance was encouraged for Buddhists
and Jainists.
Gupta Empire
Chandra Gupta (no relation), oversaw a great
flowering of Indian civilization and Hindu culture
A. Chandra Gupta Builds an Empire
1. power base along the Ganges
2. “Great King of Kings” in 320ad
3. son, Samudra Gupta took over in 335ad
4. Samudra Gupta was warlike, ruled for 40
Time Line
320 BC Candragupta Maurya becomes the first Mauryan emperor.
301 BC Candragupta Maurya relinquishes the throne to become a
Jainist monk.
270 BC Asoka becomes the second Mauryan emperor.
261 BC Asoka’s empire gains great power, and he leaves to
become a Buddhist.
AD 375 Candra Gupta I invades and conquers northern India and
brings Hinduism, prosperity, and a strict caste system back into
popular culture.
Gupta Rulers
 Chandra Gupta I
r. 320 – 335 CE
“Great King of Kings”
 Chandra Gupta II
r. 375 - 415 CE
Profitable trade with
the Mediterranean
 Hindu revival.
 Huns invade – 450 CE
• Produced no rulers who were as influential as
Chandragupta Maurya or Asoka, but Gupta
rulers had a greater impact on Indian society
• Expanded influence through negotiation and
intermarriage (instead of warfare)
• Leaders claimed that gods wanted them to
• Hinduism was valued over Buddhism
• Created India’s “golden age”
• Spread uniform law codes
• Sponsored government service
• Patrons of art and education
The Gupta Empire is Established
Chandra Gupta Builds an
– Chandra Gupta marries
into kingship in north
India in A.D. 320
– Starts Gupta Empire—
India’s second empire;
flowering of Indian
civilization, especially
Hindu culture (see next
– His son Samudra Gupta
expands empire with
The Gupta Empire
India remained divided into small kingdoms for about 400 years. Then
around AD 320, the Gupta dynasty took over northern India. Under the
Gupta, northern India was reunited, Indian society prospered, and the
religion of Hinduism grew in popularity.
Rise of Gupta Empire
• Like Mauryan, Gupta dynasty
rose to power in region of Magadha
• Founder was Chandra Gupta I
• From base in Magadha, Chandra
conquered neighboring lands,
brought much of northern India
under Gupta control
India under Gupta Rule
• Gupta rule less centralized
• Divided main part of empire into
• Royal officials governed each unit
• Governed through local rulers in
distant conquered areas
• Local rulers had to pay tribute
Gupta power expanded under the heirs of Chandra Gupta I, and the
empire reached its height under Chandra Gupta II.
The Gupta Empire is Established
Daily Life in India
– Majority of Indians are farmers; entire
family raises crops together
– Families are patriarchal—headed by the
eldest male
– Farmers have to contribute work to
government and pay heavy taxes
– Some Tamil families are matriarchal—led
by mother rather than father
Daily Life in India
1. lived in small villages
2. majority of the people were
3. northern India were families
4. droughts, irrigation, taxes on
water, and crops
5. southern India--- matriarchal
Fa-Hsien: Life in Gupta India
Chinese Buddhist monk traveled along the
Silk Road and visited India in the 5c.
 He was following the path
of the Buddha.
 He reported the people to
be happy, relatively free of
government oppression, and
inclined towards courtesy and
charity. Other references in
the journal, however, indicate
that the caste system was
rapidly assuming its basic features, including
"untouchability," the social isolation of a lowest
class that is doomed to menial labor.
Main Idea 2:
Gupta rulers promoted Hinduism in their empire.
A New Hindu Empire
• The Gupta dynasty took over India around AD 320.
• Under the Guptas, India was again united and it prospered.
• Hinduism became India’s dominant religion. However, the Gupta
rulers also supported the religious beliefs of Buddhism and Jainism.
Gupta Society
• Gupta society reached its high point around 375, during the rule of
Candra Gupta II.
• The empire had a strong economy, its people prospered, and fine
works of art and literature were created.
• The Gupta kings believed in the strict social order of the Hindu caste
system and women’s roles were limited.
The Gupta Empire
Chandra Gupta II, ruled from AD 375 to 415
Further expanded empire, strengthened economy
Reign was period of prosperity, cultural achievement
Chinese Buddhist monk, Faxian, traveled to India
Described empire as rich, prosperous, and punishments
Candra Gupta II
Under Candra Gupta II, the Gupta Empire
reached the height of its power. It spread
across northern India and prospered.
Economy and
The economy boomed, allowing citizens the
time and money to create great works of art
and literature.
The Caste
It was believed that keeping citizens under
strict caste rule would stabilize the empire.
Women in the caste system were not seen
as equals and had few basic rights.
Life in Gupta India
Social structure
Legal codes
• Most people in ancient India
belonged to specific caste
• Legal codes also defined
people’s roles
• Castes determined jobs,
interaction with others
• Laws of Manu, compiled
between 200 BC, AD 200
• Number grew, developed rules
• Defined proper behavior
• Also shaped Indian society
• Men had more rights than
• Patriarchal society, similar to
Laws of Manu
• Female child subject to father,
female youth to husband
• Men expected to treat women
with respect
• Abused women could leave
Gupta Empire
Chandragupta relied on Kautilya’s
Arthasastara: teaches how to hold vast
empire together
Bureaucratic government, four provinces
headed by prince, local districts, officials
assess tax and enforce the law
Farmers exempt from military service,
protected by army
Building of roads and conditions on roads
(shade trees, rest houses, wells, watering
Chandragupta maintained order through a well-organized
bureaucracy. Royal officials supervised the building of roads
and harbors to benefit trade. Other officials collected taxes and
managed state-owned factories and shipyards. People sought
justice in royal courts.
Chandragupta’s rule was effective but
harsh. A brutal secret police force
reported on corruption, crime, and
dissent—that is, ideas that opposed
those of the government. Fearful of his
many enemies, Chandragupta had
specially trained women warriors guard
his palace.
The Gupta Empire is Established
Height of the Gupta Empire
– Chandra Gupta II rules from A.D. 375-415
– He defeats the Shakas and adds western
coast to empire
– Gupta Empire sees flourishing of arts,
religion, and science
– After Chandra Gupta II dies, the empire
The Guptas who ruled in northern India
from third century onwards were ardent
followers of Vedic religion and rituals.
Does it mean that only the Vedic gods were
reified in this period?
The best Buddhist and Jaina art was
produced during this time
Main Idea 1:
Indian artists created great works of
religious art.
The Indians of the Mauryan and Gupta periods created
great works of art, many of which were religious in
Many of their artistic endeavors illustrated either Hindu or
Buddhist teachings.
Hindu and Buddhist temples were built throughout India.
Buddhist and Hindu Temples during the
Mauryan and Gupta Periods
Hindu Temples
• During the Mauryan
period, temples were
small, stone structures
with one or two rooms
and flat roofs.
• During the Gupta
period, the temples
were more complex,
with huge towers and
intricate carvings.
Buddhist Temples
• Some Buddhists carved
entire temples out of
• The temples at Ajanta
and Ellora are two of
the most famous of this
type of Buddhist
• Another type of
Buddhist temple was
the stupa.
Painting and Sculpture
 The Gupta period saw the creation of countless works of
 Most Indian paintings of the Gupta period are clear and
 Many of the finest paintings of ancient India are found in
Hindu and Buddhist temples.
 Indian sculptors created intricately carved columns,
statues of kings and the Buddha for Buddhist cave
temples, and impressive statues of the Hindu gods for the
Hindu temples.
Main Idea 2:
Sanskrit literature flourished during the Gupta period.
Religious Epics
• During the Mauryan and Gupta period, many works of
Sanskrit literature were created.
• The greatest of these Sanskrit writings are two religious
epics: the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
Other Works
• Writers in the Gupta period also created plays, poetry, and
other types of literature.
• Kalidasa was a famous writer during this time.
• Indian writers produced a book of stories called the
Panchatantra. This collection of moral stories spread
throughout the world.
A Gupta Golden Age
Like the Han period in China, the Gupta period was a golden age of cultural
and scientific achievements.
Sanskrit Literature
• Many great works created
during Gupta period
• One of greatest writers,
– Poet, playwright
• Another popular work of period
• Five Books, collection of stories
meant to teach lessons
• “The good and bad of given
– Wrote plays for royal court
Wise thought must first reveal
– Sakuntala, most famous
The stupid heron saw his chicks
– Play combines myth, humor,
court life, lyric poetry
Provide a mongoose meal.”
• Warning to think before acting
Achievements of Indian Culture
Literature and the Performing Arts
– Kalidasa—poet and dramatist, one of
India’s greatest writers
– His skillful and emotionally stirring plays
are still popular
– Madurai writing accademies create
literature; 2,000 Tamil poems survive
– Drama and dance troupes gain popularity
and travel widely
Religious Art: Temples
• Both Hindu and Buddhist temples began flourishing under
Gupta rule.
• Once simply constructed meeting places, Hindu temples
became complex towers covered with intricate carvings.
• Buddhist temples were large and impressive, some carved
out of mountainsides.
• Buddhist stupas were built to house sacred objects from
the life of the Buddha. They were covered with detailed
Sanskrit Literature
• One of the world’s longest
literary works
• The story of a god, Vishnu,
who has taken human form
• The story of two Indian
families struggling for
control of a kingdom
• Written long after the
Mahabharata; contains
models for the ideal ruler
(Rama) and the ideal mate
• Many long passages of
Hindu beliefs and practices
Sanskrit Literature
Other Works
Chadra Gupta II hired a famous writer named Kalidasa to write plays
for the royal court.
• The Panchatantra, a book of stories intended to teach moral
lessons and quick thinking, was translated into many
 The greatest of Indian poets.
 His most famous play was Shakuntala.
 During the reign of Chandra Gupta II.
 5c India court poet and philosopher.
Knowledge is man's crowning mark,
A treasure secretly buried,
The source of luxury, fame, and bliss,
A guru most venerable,
A friend on foreign journeys,
The pinnacle of divinity.
Knowledge is valued by kings
beyond wealth--When he lacks it, a man is a brute.
Art and Architecture
• Much of art, architecture of Gupta period religious
• Magnificent Hindu, Buddhist temples built across India
• Hindu temples: huge towers, covered with carvings
Buddhist temples
• Included stupas, temples with domed roofs
• Built to house sacred items from life of Buddha
• Like Hindu temples, covered with detailed carvings
Most spectacular architecture
• Temples, monuments carved out of rock and cliff faces
• Most famous, cave temples at Ajanta and Ellora
• Intricately carved columns; include halls, rooms, windows
Greatly influenced
Southeast Asian art & architecture.
Art and Architecture
Great works of art
• Paintings of the time often portray beautiful, graceful Indians wearing fine
jewelry, stylish clothing
• Many of finest paintings found in Buddhist and Hindu temples
Temple paintings
• Hindu artists decorated walls, entrances with devas, aspects of Brahman
• Buddhists covered plaster walls, ceilings with scenes from life of Buddha
• Some of finest examples of Buddhist art found in Ajanta cave temples
• Made for temples
• Buddhist temples, statues of Buddha, kings
• Hindu temples, statues of Siva, Vishnu, other devas
Religious Art:
Paintings and Sculpture
• Great artists were commissioned by rich and powerful
members of society.
• Paintings offered a perspective on the daily life and
religious belief of the ancient Indians; many of these
paintings could be found on the walls of temples.
• Indian sculptors carved columns, statues, and entire
temples in the likenesses of the Buddha and Hindu gods.
Main Idea 3:
The Indians made scientific advances in metalworking,
medicine, and other sciences.
• Pioneers of
metallurgy, the
science of working
with metals
• Knew processes
for mixing metals
to produce alloys,
mixtures of two or
more metals
• Metalworkers
made their
strongest products
out of iron.
• The most skilled
mathematicians of
their day
• Hindu-Arabic
numerals were
created by Indian
scholars and
brought to Europe
by Arabs.
• The first people to
create the zero
Other Sciences
• Began writing
medical textbooks
as early as the AD
• Doctors knew
about disease
prevention and
used inoculation.
• Doctors could
perform surgery.
• Interested in
astronomy, the
study of stars and
 Indians developed the concept of negative numbers,
calculated square roots and a table of sines, and
computed the value of pi to a greater degree of
accuracy than the Greeks
 Indian steel was better than any produced elsewhere
 The Indians were the first to produce cotton cloth,
calico, and cashmere
Science and Technology
Ancient Indians pioneers of science of working with metals
Indian iron valued for hardness, purity
Gupta metalworkers built famous Iron Pillar, near Delhi
Iron Pillar is resistant to rust
Still being studied by scholars today
• Gupta scholars most advanced
mathematicians of their day
• Developed modern math system
• First to use concept, symbol of zero
• Hindu-Arabic numerals; created
by Indians, brought to Europe by
Medical Science
• Ancient Indians quite advanced
• Made medicines from plants
• Knew how to inject small amounts
of viruses to protect against
• Doctors could perform surgery,
repair broken bones, treat wounds
Science and Technology
Indians identified seven planets in solar system
Could predict eclipses of sun, moon
Aryabhata, one of most famous Indian astronomers
– Correctly argued that Earth rotates on axis,
revolves around sun
– Knew Earth was sphere, calculated
circumference with remarkable accuracy
Achievements of Indian Culture
Astronomy, Mathematics, and Medicine
– Ocean trade leads to advances in
– Indian astronomers in Gupta Empire prove
that the world is round.
– Mathematicians develop the idea of zero
and decimal system
– Doctors write medical guides and make
advances in surgery
Scientific Advances
Pioneers of metallurgy, the Indians created
tools and weapons by mixing iron and other
metals together.
The Indians invented the concept of zero and
developed a sophisticated number system,
the Hindu-Arabic numerals.
Using plants and minerals, Indian doctors
made advances in medicinal science. They
were among the first to practice inoculation
and perform surgery.
Indian astronomers knew of seven about the
nine planets in the solar system and could
predict eclipses of the sun and moon.
Many advances in
science, medicine,
astronomy, and
mathematics came
out of India. This is
a depiction of an
ancient Indian book
that predicts
eclipses of the sun
and moon.
India had many
advances in medicine.
One doctor from
Ancient India wrote a
book on how he rebuilt
noses through plastic
surgery. He no doubt
needed to do this often
since having one’s nose
cut off was one of the
punishments for
committing a crime.
This is a sample of
elaborate mathematical
calculations taken from
an Indian text around
600 BC. An Indian
named Brahmagupta is
credited with inventing
the idea of “0”(zero).
This changed greatly
how mathematics could
be used.
Ancient India is also
credited with inventing
the magnetic compass.
Indians sailed the
Indian Ocean in boats
the were guided by a
metal “fish” floating in
oil. The fish pointed
north, acting as a
compass for the boats.
• Vedas
• Ramayana
• Bhagavad Gita
• Used pillars, stupas, and rock chambers
for religious purposes
•Science and mathematics
• Created the number system that we still use today
• Charted the movements of the stars
• First to use algebra
• Introduced the concept of zero and the decimal
500 healing
plants identified
1000 diseases
medicinal guides
of Zero
PI = 3.1416
The earth
is round
International Trade
Routes during the
Extensive Trade:
gold & ivory
The Spread of Indian Trade
India’s Valuable Resources
– India has spices, diamonds, precious stones, and
good quality wood
Life in Gupta India
Growth of Trade
• Indian civilization flourished
during Gupta empire
• Trade increased, economy
strengthened, cities prospered
• Overland routes like the Silk
Roads linked India to other
• Indian merchants traded ivory,
cashmere, cotton, spices for
Chinese silk, Roman ceramics
Sea Trade
• Gupta, Tamil kingdoms in
southern India traded actively
by sea
• Indian sailors used seasonal
winds to reach foreign markets
across Arabian Sea
• Sea trade also between India
and Southeast Asia
• Played key role in cultural
diffusion of Indian culture
The Spread of Indian Trade
India’s Valuable Resources
– India has spices, diamonds, precious
stones, and good quality wood
Overland Trade, East and West
– Trade routes called Silk Roads connect
Asia and Europe
– Indians build trading posts to take
advantage of the Silk Roads
The Spread of Indian Trade
Sea Trade, East and West
– Indian merchants carry goods to Rome by
– Merchants trade by sea with Africa, Arabia,
China, Southeast Asia
The Spread of Indian Trade
Effects of Indian Trade
– Increased trade leads to rise in banking
– Bankers lend money to merchants, careful
of degree of risk
– Increased trade spreads Indian culture to
other places
– Trade brings Hinduism, Buddhism to other
Indian influence
Ocean was the most active
linkage point among cultures
•India did not attempt political
• Dealt with regional kingdoms
•Indian religion and art traveled widely
• Buddhism spread to SE Asia
• Hinduism converted upper classes,
especially in Indonesia
•India serves as an early example of a
major civilization expanding its influence
well beyond its own regions
Classical period in India lasted longer
than in China or Rome
The Gupta Empire
Support of Hinduism
• Buddhism prospered, spread during period between Mauryan, Gupta
• Hinduism lost popularity during this period
• Under Guptas, Hinduism became main religion
• Rulers supported building Hindu temples, promoted revival of writings
• Buddhism began to lose influence during this period
End of Gupta Rule
Weakened Empire
• Began to weaken, late 400s
• Problems disrupted trade
• Loose Gupta control allowed some
parts of empire to break away
• Gupta military efforts to defend
empire drained treasury
• Central Asian nomads, White Huns,
began invading India
• Gupta rule ended, 550
• Again India divided into small,
regional kingdoms
The Decline of the
 Invasion of the White Huns in the 4c signaled
the end of the Gupta Golden Age, even though
at first, the Guptas defeated them.
 After the decline of the Gupta empire, north
India broke into a number of separate Hindu
kingdoms and was not really unified again until
the coming of the Muslims in the 7c.
Is the best literature and art written as
the civilization is on the rise, at its
height, or in its decline?

Indus Valley Civilization