Samudragupta was the second emperor of the Gupta Empire in Ancient India, and one of India’s most powerful rulers. He greatly expanded his dynasty’s political and military power as the son of Gupta emperor Chandragupta I and Licchavi princess Kumaradevi. His conquests laid the groundwork for the Gupta Empire’s expansion, dubbed the “Golden Age of India” by oriental historians.
His courtier Harishena composed the Allahabad Pillar inscription, which credits him with numerous military conquests. It appears that he defeated and annexed the territories of several northern Indian kings to his empire. He also marched along India’s south-eastern coast, reaching the Pallava kingdom in the process.
He also conquered a number of frontier kingdoms and tribal oligarchies. His empire stretched from the Ravi River in the west to the Brahmaputra River in the east, and from the Himalayan foothills in the north to central India in the south-west; his tributaries included several rulers along the south-eastern coast.
To prove his imperial sovereignty, Samudragupta performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice, and according to his coins, he was undefeated. His gold coins and inscriptions indicate that he was a talented poet and musician. Chandragupta II continued his father’s expansionist policies.
Samudragupta’s reign began between c. 319 and c. 350 CE, according to modern scholars.
The Gupta kings’ inscriptions are dated to the Gupta calendar era, which is generally dated to around 319 CE. The identity of the era’s founder, however, is a point of contention, with scholars putting Chandragupta I or Samudragupta in charge. The Prayag Pillar inscription suggests that Chandragupta I reigned for a long time, as he appointed his son as his successor, presumably after reaching old age. However, the precise duration of his reign is unknown. As a result of these factors, the start of Samudragupta’s reign is also uncertain.
Samudragupta’s ascension can be dated to around 319-320 CE if he is considered the founder of the Gupta dynasty. On the other hand, if his father Chandragupta I is considered the Gupta era’s founder, Samudragupta’s ascension must be postponed. King Meghavarna of the Anuradhapura Kingdom was a contemporary of Samudragupta, but his reign is also unknown.
The traditional reckoning for Buddha’s death in Sri Lanka is 304-332 CE; however, modern scholars such as Wilhelm Geiger use a modified chronology that places his reign between 352 and 379 CE. Accepting the former date, Samudragupta’s ascension would be around c. 320 CE; accepting the latter date, it would be around c. 350 CE.
Samudragupta’s reign may come to an end at any time. During the reign of his son Chandragupta II, in c. 380 CE, Samudragupta’s granddaughter Prabhavatigupta is known to have married (assuming c. 319 CE as the epoch of the Gupta era). As a result, Samudragupta’s reign is expected to end this year.
When Chandragupta appointed him as the next ruler, the faces of other people of “equal birth” bore a “melancholy look,” according to the Allahabad Pillar inscription. According to one interpretation, these other people were neighboring kings, and Samudagupta’s ascension to the throne was uncontested. Another theory is that these other people were Gupta princes vying for the throne. If Chandragputa I did have multiple sons, Samudragupta’s background as the son of a Lichchhavi princess most likely helped him.
According to the Gupta inscriptions, Samudragupta had a distinguished military career. According to the Eran stone inscription of Samudragupta, he had brought “the whole tribe of kings” under his suzerainty, and his enemies were terrified when they dreamed of him. The inscription does not name any of the defeated kings (presumably because its primary goal was to record the installation of a Vishnu idol in a temple), but it suggests that by this time, Samudragupta had subdued several kings.
Personality of Samudragupta
Samudragupta is depicted on his coins as a tall man with a muscular physique. According to the Allahabad Pillar inscription, he was a compassionate ruler whose “mind was engaged in providing relief to the low, the poor, the helpless, and the afflicted.” It also says that he restored many royal families that had lost their kingdoms, including the kings he defeated. Simultaneously, it is stated that he maintained strict administration (“Prachanda shasana”).
Religion of Samudragupta
The Eran inscription of Samudragputa records the installation of a Vishnu idol in a temple.
The Nalanda and Gaya inscriptions attributed to Samudragupta explicitly mention him as a devotee of Vishnu (parama-Bhagavata). He was also tolerant of Buddhism, allowing the Anuradhapura king Meghavarna to build a Buddhist monastery in his territory at Bodh Gaya.
Coinage of the Empire
Following Samudragupta’s conquests in the northwest of the subcontinent, the Gupta Empire adopted the Kushan Empire’s coinage, adopting its weight standard, techniques, and designs. The Guptas even borrowed the name Dinara from the Kushans for their coinage, which ultimately came from the Roman name Denarius aureus.
According to Gupta dynasty records, Samudragupta was succeeded by Chandragupta II, his son from queen Dattadevi. A section of modern historians believes that Samudragupta was succeeded by Ramagupta, who was later dethroned by Chandragupta II, based on a reconstruction of the partially-lost Sanskrit play Devichandraguptam.