Saylor.org's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Emergence of the Gupta Empire
Beginning of the Guptas
Following the fall of the Mauryan Empire in the Second Century BCE, India remained a patchwork of independent kingdoms for five hundred years. In the late third century, the Gupta family took over reigning Maghadha, a region in modern day eastern India and Bengal. The Gupta Empire is considered to have begun in 320 CE when Chandragupta I (not Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Mauryan Empire) ascended the throne and began to conquer surrounding kingdoms. His son, Samudragupta, founded a new capital city, Pataliputra, and set his sites on conquering the entire Indian subcontinent. Samudragupta was successful in his subjugation of the subcontinent, through direct rule or the creation of loyal client states in far-away regions.
Additionally, Samudragupta was a patron of the arts, himself a poet and musician. Under his rule, writers, philosophers and artists flourished. Unlike the Buddhist Mauryan kings after Ashoka, Samudragupta was a devout Hindu. However, he did not banish Buddhism, and instead welcomed Buddhists to spread their beliefs.
Samudragupta was briefly followed by his first son, Ramagupta. In 380 CE, a younger son of Samudragupta came to power. His name was Chandragupta II, or Chandragupta the Great, and it would be during his reign that the Gupta Empire would reach its zenith. In what would be considered the "golden age" of India's classical history, religious tolerance and great cultural achievements abounded. Poetry and drama flourished as patronage was poured into the arts from the court. India saw the emergence of great poets the likes of Kalidasa,the greatest sanskrit writer whose influence is still felt in literature today. Whether of Buddhist or Hindu subjects, there was an explosion of visual art in Gupta India. Gupta art reached ever greater heights, as exemplified in the carved Hindu reliefs of the Dashavata Temple or the Ajanta Caves, decorated with images of the life of Buddha.
While not busy funding the arts, Chandragupta sponsored the sciences of medicine, mathematics and astronomy. Take for example the Gupta mathematician Aryabhatta, who developed the concept of zero and accurately described the earth as a sphere and figured out that it rotates on its axis. He may have even realized that it rotates around the sun, a thousand years before the era of Copernicus and Galileo Galilei.
Besides presiding over a cultural golden age, Chandragupta II expanded the empire through military feats. He conquered many new lands for his empire, and even expanded the empire outside the Indian subcontinent. When he died in 415 CE, the Gupta Empire was at its height.
Decline of the Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire declined precipitously under Chandragupta II’s successors. By the middle of the fifth century a new and dangerous enemy to the empire appeared:nomadic-pastoralist warriors from the Eurasian steppe. These invaders were called Huna or Huns by the Indians, and today are commonly called Hephalites or White Huns(to distinguish them from the other Huns, who were attacking the Roman Empire around the same time). In the year 480 CE, the Huns launched a full-scale invasion of India. By the year 500 CE, the Huns had overrun the Gupta Empire. Though the Huns were eventually driven out of India, the Gupta Empire would never recover. The Gupta Dynasty retained only its home territory of Magadha in the chaos, and it had permanently lost control of the rest of India. The subcontinent once again became a patchwork of independent states. However, the legacy of the Gupta Empire, and the cultural renaissance it presided over, has continued to be a source of inspiration for India up to the present day.
"The Gupta Empire: An Indian Golden Age" (Saylor) http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/HIST101-7.2.1-GuptaDynasty-FINAL.pdf