Take a close look at history and you will notice that it swings through two phases – epic bloodbath and peace. India’s ancient history is no different. The Gupta Empire represents a period of peace and prosperity that forged the very base of Hindu culture. It was a period when every aspect of Hindu society flourished and prominent scholars evolved whose work changed and reformed the very course and texture of human development. So, let us learn 30 interesting Gupta Empire facts and find out the contributions made by the scholars of that era.
Interesting Gupta Empire Facts: 1-10
1. Gupta Empire started somewhere in 320 CE (Common Era which is the same AD) and collapsed in 550 CE.
2. The empire was founded by Maharaja Sri Gupta but little did he know that he started an era that would be considered as ‘Golden Age of India’. Actually Sri Gupta and his son Ghatotkacha ruled between 240 and 319 CE. During their rule, the Guptas did not really create an empire but did lay the foundation stone. It was only in 320 CE that Chandragupta I (grandson of Sir Gupta) properly established the Gupta Empire. Much of his success came because he married Kumaradevi, the princess of the powerful Magadha. Chandragupta I received Magadha’s capital Pataliputra as dowry and then went on expanding his kingdom by conquering Saketa, Prayaga and much of Magadha and eventually assumed the title of Maharajadhiraja (King of kings).
3. Gupta Empire was large and at its peak, covered 21 kingdoms both inside and outside Indian subcontinent.
4. It was a period of peace and prosperity and ancient India under the Gupta Dynasty went through a phase of development and growth that spanned over philosophy, religion, logic, literature, art dialect, mathematics, astronomy, engineering, technology and science.
5. It was an era of prominent scholars. Some of the most prominent names include Vatsyayana, Vishnu Sharma, Varahamihira, Kalidasa and Aryabhata.
6. All these aforementioned scholars were special but most important scholar among them was Aryabhata whose contributions to mathematics and astronomy still continues to baffle modern scientists. Aryabhata was the first mathematician to give an accurate approximation of π and was also the first person to mention that π was irrational.
7. Aryabhata’s contribution to ZERO made him immortal through ages. He literally did not use the symbol for zero but his place value system implicitly used zero. The place value system was a counting system he developed which would have literally been impossible without the use of zero. He also calculated square roots and cubic roots which are literally impossible without place value system and zero.
8. Aryabhata wrote ‘Aryabhatiya’ when he was only 23 years old. Aryabhatiya is an astronomical treatise of 118 verses. It contains a mathematical section covering algebra, arithmetic, plane and spherical trigonometry, quadratic equations, continued fractions, table of sines and sums of power series.
9. While the West takes most of the credits of discovering how Solar System works, little do they mention that this ancient Indian scholar named Aryabhata was the first person on entire planet Earth to give a systematic treatment to planetary position in Solar System! He almost accurately calculated the circumference of Earth. According to his calculations, the circumference of Earth is 4,967 yojanas. 1 yojana was equivalent to 5 miles in those days and hence, the circumference as per Aryabhata’s calculations was 24,835 miles. As per modern calculations, the circumference is 24,902 miles.
10. Aryabhata also mentioned in Aryabhatiya that the rotation of heavens is nothing but the rotation of Earth on its axis. He also said that planets and Moon reflects the sunlight and hence they shine. It was he who figured out that the planets revolve around the sun in elliptical orbits. It was Aryabhata who found out the true reasons of solar and lunar eclipses.
Interesting Gupta Empire Facts: 11-20
11. It was Aryabhata who almost precisely calculated that the length of a year is 365 days, 6 hours, 12 minutes and 30 seconds. The actual length of one year is slightly less than 365 days and 6 hours. Considering the time when Aryabhata made these calculations, the extent of accuracy is incredible.
Read the entire article by: J J O’Connor and E F Robertson
12. Gupta Empire strongly emphasized on education. Ayodhya, Nasik and Pataliputra became famous for their educational centers.
13. Takshila and Nalanda were the two universities that were established during the Gupta Empire, specifically during the rule of Kumaragupta I. Both universities were known for very high standards of education.
14. Nalanda University in particular was also known for offering hostel facilities to students and even accepted foreign students.
15. The world famous Ajanta Paintings were creations of the Gupta Empire.
16. The Gupta Empire had a very well-defined administrative system. The format was however borrowed from the ancient Maurya Empire that was established 322 years before the beginning of the Common Era.
17. For efficient administration, the Gupta Empire was broken down into divisions like Rajya, Rashtra, Mandala, Desha etc. with each division having an appointed head known as Vishayapati. In short, the Gupta Empire used the decentralized administrative system that was used by the Maurya rulers.
18. Different rural bodies were given the task of taking care of the welfare needs of villages. Each rural body was made up of a headman and seniors/elders of a village.
19. The judicial system was completely separate. The King always presided over the highest court of appeal. Trade guild or village assembly formed the lowest level of judicial system. The then existing social customs and legal texts were used to deliver court judgment. The king’s decision was usually aided by priests, ministers and judges.
20. The Gupta Empire also gave importance to women’s education however, women were given secondary position.
Interesting Gupta Empire Facts: 21-30
21. The caste of a person or his social ranking was not determined by birth but was rather determined by his profession or trade. The four primary social rankings were Vaishayas, Kshtriya’s, Brahmans and Sudras.
22. The Gupta people were vegetarian by food habits. Wine, garlic, onions were also excluded. Animal fights, gambling, musical concerts, dancing etc. were the primary forms of entertainment.
23. The prosperity of the Gupta Empire was primarily because of immense trade success backed by strong agricultural and industrial development. There were several operational industries during the Gupta rule. Metal work was predominant and lead, bronze, iron, copper, silver and gold were the primary metals that were used during the Gupta period.
24. Alongside the metal industry existed the stone cutting and carving industries and ivory industry. The textile industry was a flourishing aspect of the economy with cotton, wool, linen, calico, muslin and silk being the primary export material. And then there was pearl industry which was extremely popular as well. Gupta Empire had well-established trade relations with European nations, Ceylon and China.
25. Gold coins were most common in Gupta Empire. Silver coins were also issued in large numbers. Some lead and bronze coins were also issued but they were rare.
26. Hinduism and Buddhism were the two primary religions practiced during the Gupta rule.
27. The military division of Gupta Empire relied heavily on bows and arrows. They typically used longbows as opposed to composite bows of Central Asian and Western enemies. The long bows were far more practical and effective because of long range and precise penetration. Arrows were usually composed of bamboo cane fixed with metal heads.
28. The infantry divisions were equipped with long swords, javelins and shields. The infantry was responsible for protecting the archers who often used fire arrows as counter offensive measures. Catapults and siegecraft as well as other advanced war machines were also used by the Guptas.
29. One of the most effective weapons usually used by noblemen and not the usual archers was the steel bow. Guptas managed to identify the high tensility of steel and made good use of the same. Steel bows were extremely effective and were capable of striking at extremely long ranges and the arrows could easily penetrate very thick armors. Gupta rulers used armored cavalry, foot archers and elephants in tandem to ward off enemies invading from Northwest which included both foreign armies and Hindu kingdoms that opposed the Gupta Empire.
30. Guptas maintained a huge army consisting of 10,000 war elephants, 20,000 charioteers, 50,000 cavalry and 500,000 infantry. They also maintained a powerful naval force of 1200 war ships. Chandragupta II was a very capable emperor and a very able military commander. At the time when Roman Empire in the West was gradually declining, the Gupta Empire actually became THE MOST powerful empire in entire world under the rule of Chandragupta II.
Decline of Gupta Empire
Here is the list of prominent Gupta rulers:
Maharaja Sri Gupta: c. 240 CE – 280 CE.
Ghatotkacha: c. 280 CE – 319 CE.
Chandragupta I: c. 320 CE – 335 CE.
Samudragupta: c. 335 CE – 380 CE.
Chadragupta II: c. 380 CE – 413 CE.
Kumaragupta I: c. 415 CE – 455 CE.
Skandagupta: c. 455 CE – 467 CE.
Please note that every successive ruler was the son of the previous ruler. It was during the reign of Kumaragupta I that Pushyamitras, a tribe in Narmada Valley gained power and started threatening the Gupta Empire. Skandagupta who succeeded Kumaragupta I managed to kill the Pushyamitra threat only to face the threat of invading ‘White Huns’ or Hephthalites from the northwest. The ‘Sweta Huna’ as the White Huns were known as in India, were repulsed by Skandagupta but the series of wars he fought against the Hephthalites eventually drained out resources of the empire to such an extent that it became the primary cause of the fall of Gupta Empire.
After Skandagupta, a series of weak rulers followed who continued to fight the Huns. Bhanuguta in c. 510 CE defeated the Huns who were eventually driven out of India in 528 CE by a coalition force of Narsimhagupta and Malwa’s king Yashodharman. Eventually the Gupta Empire completely collapsed after the death of last recognized ruler Vishnugupta who ruled for 10 years from c. 540 CE to 550 CE.