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7.24: Decline of the Gupta Empire

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    72226
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    Learning Objective

    • Understand the decline of the Gupta Empire

    Key Points

    • The Gupta Empire flourished under Chandragupta II, but began to falter under his son, Kumaragupta, and grandson, Skandagupta.
    • The Huna People, also known as Huns, invaded Gupta territory and caused significant damage to the empire.
    • The Gupta Empire ended in 550 CE, when it disintegrated into regional kingdoms after a series of weak rulers and invasions from the east, west, and north.

    Terms

    Huna

    A Central Asian Xionite tribe that consisted of four hordes that repeatedly invaded Gupta territory, and helped cause the downfall of the Gupta Empire.

    Skandagupta

    Son of Kumaragupta I; the emperor of the Gupta Dynasty from c. 455-467 CE.

    Kumaragupta I

    Son of Chandragupta II; the emperor of the Gupta Dynasty from c. 415-455 CE.

    Chandragupta II

    The emperor of the Gupta Dynasty of ancient India from c. 380-415 CE.

    The Gupta Empire flourished, in military and territorial conquests as well as cultural and scholastic advancements, during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta II. Yet the succeeding rulers, beginning with Kumaragupta I and then Skandagupta, oversaw the eventual end of the Gupta Empire through military defeats, devalued money and withering leadership.

    Kumaragupta

    In 415 CE, Chandragupta II was succeeded by his second son, Kumaragupta I, who ruled successfully until 455 CE. The late years of his reign, however, faced difficulties. The Pushyamitras, a tribe of central India, rose up in rebellion against Kumaragupta, while Gupta territories were invaded by the Western Huna people, also known as White Huns.

    Kumaragupta defeated both groups and celebrated his victory by performing the royal Vedic ritual of Ashwamedha, or horse sacrifice, which had previously been performed by his grandfather, Emperor Samudragupta, to celebrate his own great military victories.

    image
    Coin of Kumaragupta I. A silver coin from the reign of Gupta Emperor Kumaragupta I, c. 415-455 CE.

    As his grandfather and father did before him, Kumaragupta also issued news coins to mark his reign. They were stamped with images of his namesake god, Lord Kumara, regarded by Hindus as Regent of Earth.

    Skandagupta

    Upon Kumaragupta’s death in 455 CE, his son, Skandagupta, assumed the throne and ruled until c. 467 CE. He is considered the last of the great Gupta rulers prior to the collapse of the empire.

    Skandagupta, who was celebrated as a great warrior for his victorious clashes with the Huns during his father’s reign, defeated several rebellions and external threats from the Huna people, notably an invasion in 455 CE. Although victorious, the expenses of the wars against the Hunas drained the empire’s resources. The value of the coinage issued under Skandagupta becoming severely reduced.

    image
    Coin of Skandagupta. A coin emblazoned with the image of Gupta Dynasty Emperor Skandagupta, who ruled c. 455-467 CE.

    The Huna and Gupta’s Demise

    The Huna were a Central Asian Xionite tribe that consisted of four hordes: Northern Huna, also known as the Black Huns; Southern Huna, the Red Huns; Eastern Huna, the Celestial Huns; and the White Huns, the Western Huna. The White Huns, those who invaded the Gupta Empire during the reign of Kumaragupta, were also known as the Hephthalites, and caused great damage to the failing Gupta Empire. Skandagupta died in 467 CE, and was followed onto the throne by his half-brother, Purugupta, who ruled from 467-473 CE.

    Thereafter came a succession of weak kings, beginning with Kumaragupta II from 473-476 CE, followed by Budhagupta, the son of Purugupta. The Hephthalites broke through the Gupta military defenses in the northwest in the 480s, during the reign of Budhagupta, and by 500 CE much of the empire in northwest was overrun by the Huna.

    The empire thereafter disintegrated into numerous regional kingdoms, ruled by chieftains. A minor line of the Gupta Clan continued to rule Magadha, one of the 16 Indian Mahajanapadas, or “Great Countries,” but the Gupta Empire fell by 550 CE.

    Sources

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