The Gupta kings took exalted titles such as maharajadhiraja paramabhat- taraka-Great King of Kings, the Supreme Lord. This was in striking contrast to the Mauryas who, though politically far more powerful, never used such exalted titles. Superficially Gupta administration was similar to that of the Mauryas.
The king was the highest authority and the kingdom was divided into a hierarchy of administrative units-provinces, districts, and groups of villages-each with its own range of officers responsible to the most senior officer in the unit.
Yet there was a significant difference between Gupta and Mauryan administration: during the Gupta period there was far greater stress on local administration and far less direct control from the centre. Even in urban administration, the City Boards consisted of representatives of local opinion and interest (such as the heads of guilds and artisan and merchant bodies) rather than officers of state.
A parallel tendency was developing in the agrarian system, particularly in the sphere of land revenue. The revenue was still collected by the king’s officers, but they retained a certain predetermined percentage in lieu of a regular cash salary. This procedure of payment to officers came to be adopted with increasing frequency. On occasion the king would even grant the revenue from an area of land or a village to non-officials, such as Brahmans renowned for their learning.
Inscriptions recording such grants are known from the early century’s A.D. onwards. Since a major part of the state revenue came from the land, grants of revenue were gradually to cause a radical change in the agrarian system. Although it was the revenue alone which was granted, it became customary to treat the land itself as part of the grant.
Technically the king could resume the grant, but in fact he seldom did so. The lessening of central control in any case weakened the authority of the king and emphasized local independence, an emphasis which increased in times of political trouble.
The recipient of the grant came to be regarded as the lord of the land and the local patron, and he attracted local loyalty towards himself. The more obvious shift in emphasis from central to local power took place later, but its origin can be traced to the Gupta period. However, the more forceful of the Gupta kings still kept authority in their hands and continued to be regarded as the lords of the land par excellence.
Patronage requires the easy availability of money, and the Gupta kings had the financial wherewithal to be patrons on a lavish scale. The steady stream of revenue from the land was augmented by income from commercial activity.