Samudragupta (r. c. 335 – c. 375 – CE) was the
fourth ruler of the
Gupta Empire and the son and successor of
Chandragupta I. His rule was one of expansion marked first by the
conquest of his immediate neighbours and then by campaigns to the east
and the south where chiefdoms and kingdoms were subdued and forced to
pay tribute to him. Much of the knowledge of Samudragupta's military
exploits comes from the
Allahabad Pillar of
Ashoka which includes a
prashasti (a eulogy) extolling the deeds and virtues of the Gupta
emperor. Going by the inscription,
Samudragupta exerted direct or
indirect control over much of the Indian subcontinent stretching from
Nepal and the
Punjab in the north all the way to the
Pallava kingdom at
Kanchipuram in the south-east.
Samudragupta was the son of
Chandragupta I and the Lichchhavi
princess, Kumaradevi. He is believed to have been his father's chosen
successor even though he had several elder brothers.
Therefore, some believe that after the death of Chandragupta I, there
was a struggle for succession in which
Samudragupta prevailed. It is
Samudragupta became the ruler after subduing his rival,
Kacha, an obscure prince of the dynasty.
Samudragupta is depicted on his coins both as a muscular warrior
flaunting the "marks of hundreds of wounds received in battle" as well
as a poet and a musician. His reign marked the beginning of what is
popularly referred to as the golden age of Indian history, a period
where the arts and architecture flourished under the patronage of the
Guptas. While his son, Chandragupta II, is generally considered
Samudragupta's successor, according to the Devi-chandra-gupta, a play
wrought a couple of centuries later,
Ramagupta acceded to the throne
first before being overthrown by his brother, Chandragupta II.
1 Early life
2.2 Eran Stone Inscription of Samudragupta
3 Samudragupta's Conquests
4 Policy of Matrimonial Alliance
8 See also
10 External links
Chandragupta I, a Magadha king, was the third ruler of the Gupta
Dynasty and married a Lichhavi princess, Kumaradevi. This enabled him
to gain a hold over the Ganges river-basin, the main source of North
Indian commerce. He ruled from his capital at
Pataliputra for about
ten years in north-central India with his son, Samudragupta, as an
After his death,
Samudragupta assumed the throne and did not rest
until he had conquered almost the whole of India. His reigning period
may be described as a vast military campaign. To begin with, he
attacked the neighbouring kingdoms of
Ahichchhatra (Rohilkhand) and
Padmavati (in Central India). He conquered the whole of Bengal, some
Nepal and forced Assam to pay him tribute. He absorbed
some tribal states like the Malvas, the Yaudheyas, the Arjunayanas,
Abhiras and the Maduras. The rulers of what is now
Kashmir were also added to the empire.
Allahabad Pillar §
Samudragupta inscriptions on
The main source of Samudragupta's history is an inscription engraved
Allahabad pillar. In this inscription is detailed
Samudragupta's conquests. Written on this inscription is, "whose most
charming body was covered over with all the beauty of the marks of a
hundred confuse wounds caused by the blows of battle axes, arrows,
spears, pikes, swords, lances, javelines".
This inscription is also important because of the political geography
of India that it indicates by naming the different kings and peoples
who populated India in the first half of the fourth century AD:
(Lines 22–23) (Samudragupta, whose) formidable rule was propitiated
with the payment of all tributes, execution of orders and visits (to
his court) for obeisance by such frontier rulers as those of
Samataṭa, Ḍavāka, Kāmarūpa, Nēpāla, and Kartṛipura, and, by
the Mālavas, Ārjunāyanas, Yaudhēyas, Mādrakas, Ābhīras,
Prārjunas, Sanakānīkas, Kākas, Kharaparikas and other (tribes)."
The inscription to Samudragupta's martial exploits states that its
author is Harisena, who was an important poet of Samudragupta's
Eran Stone Inscription of Samudragupta
Main article: Eran § Inscription of Samudragupta
The Eran Inscription of
Samudragupta is presently stored in Kolkata
Indian Museum. The inscription, in red sandstone, was found not far to
the west of the ruined temple of the boar. It reads:
Eran inscription of Samudragupta.
(Lines 1 to 6, containing the whole of the first verse and the first
half of the second, are entirely broken away and lost.)
(Line 7.)— ....................................in giving gold
...................................... [by whom] Prithu and Râghava
and other kings [were outshone.]
(L. 9.)— . . . . . . . . . there was Samudragupta, equal to (the
gods) Dhanada and Antaka in (respectively) pleasure and anger; . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . by policy; (and) [by whom] the whole tribe
of kings upon the earth was [overthrown] and reduced to the loss of
the wealth of their sovereignty;—
(L. 13.)— [Who], by . . . . . . . . . satisfied by devotion and
policy and valour,—by the glories, consisting of the consecration by
besprinkling, &c., that belong to the title of 'king,'— (and) by
. . . . . . . . . . . combined with supreme satisfaction, —
.................. (was) a king whose vigour could not be resisted;—
(L. 17.)— [By whom] there was married a virtuous and faithful wife,
whose dower was provided by (his) manliness and prowess; who was
possessed of an abundance of [elephants] and horses and money and
grain; who delighted in the houses of .............; (and) who went
about in the company of many sons and sons' sons;—
(L. 21.)— Whose deeds in battle (are) kindled with prowess; (whose)
. . . . . . very mighty fame is always circling round about; and whose
enemies are terrified, when they think, even in the intervals of
dreaming, of (his). . . . . . . that are vigorous in war; —
(L. 25.) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . in a place in
Airikina (Eran), the city of his own enjoyment. . . . . . . . . . . .
. has been set up, for the sake of augmenting his own fame.
(L. 27.) — . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . when
the king said . . . . . . .
(The rest of the inscription is entirely broken away and lost.)
— Eran inscription of Samudragupta
Gupta Empire near the end of Samudragupta's reign, in 375 CE
The beginning of Samudragupta's reign was marked by the defeat of his
immediate neighbours, Achyuta, ruler of Ahichchhatra, and Nagasena.
Samudragupta began a campaign against the kingdoms to
the south. This southern campaign took him south along the Bay of
Bengal. He passed through the forest tracts of Madhya Pradesh, crossed
Odisha coast, marched through Ganjam, Visakhapatnam, Godavari,
Nellore districts and may have reached as far as
Kancheepuram. Here, however, he did not attempt to maintain direct
control. After capturing his enemies he reinstated them as tributary
kings, an act which is a testament to his abilities as a statesman.
His ambition was inspired by becoming "Raja Chakravarti" or greatest
emperor and "Ekrat", undisputed ruler. In the North, he adopted the
policy of "Digvijaya" which meant the conquest and annexation of all
territories. In the South, his policy was "Dharma Vijaya" which meant
conquest but not annexation.
Samudragupta was chosen as emperor by his father over other contenders
and apparently had to repress revolts in the early years of his rule.
On pacifying the kingdom, which probably then reached from what is now
Allahabad (in present-day Uttar Pradesh state) to the borders of
Bengal, he began a series of wars of expansion from his northern base
near what is now Delhi. In the southern
Pallava kingdom of
Kanchipuram, he defeated King Vishnugopa, then restored him and other
defeated southern kings to their thrones on payment of tribute.
Several northern kings were uprooted, however, and their territories
added to the Gupta empire. At the height of Samudragupta’s power, he
controlled nearly all of the valley of the Ganges (Ganga) River and
received homage from rulers of parts of east Bengal, Assam, Nepal, the
eastern part of the Punjab, and various tribes of Rajasthan. He
exterminated 9 monarchs and subjugated 12 others in his campaigns.
Samudragupta was a brilliant commander and a great conqueror is
proved by Harisena's description of his conquests. He mentions that
Samudragaupta exterminated nine north Indian states, subdued eithteen
Atavika kingdoms near Bajalpur and Chhota Nagpur, and in his
blitz-like campaign humbled the pride of twelve South Indian Kings,
Nine border tribes, and five frontier states of Smatata, Devaka,
Nepal and Krtripur 'paid taxes, obeyed orders and performed
obeisance in person to the great Samudragupta'. The conquests made him
the lord-paramount of India.
Samudragupta is reputed to have never
been defeated in any battle. His Eran inscription also emphasizes on
his being 'invincible' in battle.
The details of Samudragupta's campaigns are too numerous to recount
(these can be found in the first reference below). However it is clear
that he possessed a powerful navy in addition to his army. In addition
to tributary kingdoms, many other rulers of foreign states like the
Kushan kings accepted the suzerainty of
offered him their services. At first he subjugated the rulers of
Western UP and Delhi and brought them under his direct rule. Next,
frontier states of Kamrupa(Assam),Bengal in the East and
Punjab in the
West, were made to accept his suzerainty. He also brought the forest
tribes of the Vindhya region under his rule.
Policy of Matrimonial Alliance
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The most important event of his reign was his matrimonial alliance
Vakataka king Rudra Sena II and the subjuqation of the
peninsula of Saurashtra of
Kathiawar which had been ruled for
centuries by the
Saka dynasty as the Western Satraps. Matrimonial
alliances occupy a prominent place in the foreign policy of the
Guptas. The Lichchhavi alliance had strengthened their position in
Samudragupta had accepted gifts of maidens from neighbouring
courts. With the same purpose,
Chandragupta II married the Naga
Princess Kubernaga and gave his own daughter, Prabhabati, in marriage
Vakataka king, Rudrasena II. The
Vakataka alliance was master
stroke of diplomacy as it secured the subordinate alliance of the
Vakataka king who occupied a strategic geographical position. It is
noteworthy that Rudra Sena died young and his widow reigned until her
sons came of age. Other dynasties of the Deccan also married into
Gupta royal family. The Guptas thus ensured friendly relations to the
south of their domain. This also means that Chadragupta II did not
renew Samudragupta's southern adventures preferring to seek room for
expansion towards the South-West.
Samudragupta circa 335-380 CE.
Samudragupta circa 335-380 CE
Samudragupta Circa 335-380 CE. Lyrist type.
Much is known about
Samudragupta through coins issued by him and
inscriptions. These were of eight different types and all made of pure
gold. His conquests brought him the gold and also the coin-making
expertise from his acquaintance with the Kushana.
Samudragupta is the
father of Gupta monetary system. He started minting different types of
coins, known as the Standard Type, the Archer Type, the Battle Axe
Ashvamedha Type, the Tiger Slayer Type, the King and Queen
Type and the
Lyre Player Type. They exhibit a fine quality of
technical and sculptural finesse. At least three types of coins —
Archer Type, Battle-Axe and Tiger type — represent
martial armour. The coins bearing the epithets like parakramah
(valour), kritanta-parashu (deadly battle-axe), vyaghra parakramah
(valourous tiger), prove his being a skilful warrior. Samudragupta's
Asvamedha type of coins commemorate the
Ashvamedha sacrifices he
performed and signify his many victories and supremacy.
Samudragupta is also known to have been "a man of culture". He was a
patron of learning, a celebrated poet and a musician. Several coins
depict him playing on the Indian lyre or veena. He gathered a galaxy
of poets and scholars and took effective actions to foster and
propagate religious, artistic and literary aspects of Indian culture.
Though he favoured the
Hindu religion like the other Gupta kings, he
was reputed to possess a tolerant spirit for other religions. A clear
illustration of this is the permission granted by him to the king of
Ceylon to build a monastery for Buddhist pilgrims in Bodh Gaya.
Samudragupta was a man of exceptional abilities and unusual varied
gifts - warrior, statesman, general, poet and musician,
philanthropist, he was all in one. As a patron of arts and literature,
he epitomized the spirit of his age. Coins and inscription of Gupta
period bear testimony to his 'versatile talents and indefatigable
Allahabad Prasasti's exaggerated picture, 'Samudragupta
was man of many sided genius, who put to shame the preceptor of the
Lord Gods and Tumburu and
Narada and others by his sharp intellect and
Chorla-skill and musical accomplishment. His title of Kaviraj (King of
poets) is justified by various poetical compositions.' Unfortunately
none of his compositions have survived. The presence of celebrated
literary personalities like
Harisena and Vasubandhu proves that he was
a great patron of men of letters. Harisena's commemoration of
Samudragupta's knowledge and proficiency in song and music is
confirmed and corroborated by the existence of a few rare gold coins
depicting him comfortably seated on a high-backed couch engaged in
playing the Veena.
Samudragupta ruled for 40 years and was succeeded by one of his sons
who was selected as the most worthy of the crown. First he crowned his
elder son but then he was killed by his brother Chandragupta and a new
ruler came into power. This ruler is known as
Chandragupta II who had
the title of Vikramaditya.
^ a b c d Thapar, Romila (2002). "The Guptas and their Successors".
The Penguin history of early India : from the origins to AD 1300.
London: Penguin. pp. 282–285. ISBN 9780143029892.
Retrieved 15 April 2016.
^ a b c d "Samudra Gupta". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 15 April
^ Dikshitar, V.R. Ramachandra (1993). The Gupta polity (Reprint of
1952 ed.). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 199.
ISBN 9788120810242. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
^ "India History - Reign of Samudragupta".
^ Fleet, John F. Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum: Inscriptions of the
Early Guptas. Vol. III. Calcutta: Government of India, Central
Publications Branch, 1888, pp20-21
^ Upinder Singh (1 September 2008). A History of Ancient and Early
Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century. Pearson
Education India. pp. 477–. ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0.
Retrieved 4 August 2012.
Catalogue of Coins of Samudragupta