Essay on the Trade and Commerce of Gupta Age

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With increasing contact through commerce between the various parts of the known world, the communication of ideas between these regions improved. For instance, Indian astronomers discovered the existence of Graeco-Roman astronomy.

Graeco-Roman art, particularly of the Alexandrian variety, not only found admirers in north-western India and Afghanistan but became the model for a hybrid local school which art-historians have subsequently called Gandhara art. Yet another result was the arrival of Christian teaching in India, which according to the legends came in the mid-first century A.D., brought by St. Thomas.

The political fragmentation of the subcontinent did not put an end to the dream of an empire as vast as that of the Mauryas. An attempt was made by kings of the Gupta family to establish such an empire in the early part of the fourth century A.D.

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The Guptas were in origin probably a family of wealthy landowners who gradually attained both economic power and political status. Unlike the founder of the Mauryan Dynasty, who is described as an adventurous young man with no significant antecedents, the founder of the Gupta Dynasty, also called Chandra Gupta, belonged to a family which had established its power at a local level in Magadha.

A judicious marriage with a Lichchhavis princess gave him additional prestige, the Lichchhavis claiming a long-established re­spectability. Following his coronation as king of Magadha in A.D. 319-20 Chandra Gupta took the title of maharajddhirdja – Great King of Kings.

In about A.D. 335 his son, Samudra Gupta, inherited the kingdom of Magadha. He issued a series of beautifully executed gold coins in which he is depicted both as a conqueror and as a musician, a strange combination of interests. Fortunately for later historians a lengthy panegyric on him was composed by one of his high officials and engraved on an Asokan pillar which has since been brought to Allahabad.

The inscription refers among other things to the martial exploits of Samudra Gupta; to the kings uprooted and the territory annexed in the northern part of the subcontinent. It mentions also the long march which Samudra Gupta undertook in the south, reaching as far as Kanchlpuram.

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Nor are the tributes from foreign kingdoms omit­ted. Mention is made of the Sakas, Ceylon, various Iranian rulers of the north-west and the inhabitants of all the islands. The latter may refer to Indian trading stations on the islands of South-East Asia and in the Indian Ocean.

The nucleus of the Gupta kingdom, as of the Mauryan Empire, was the Ganga heartland. This and the adjoining territory to the west were the only regions over which Samudra Gupta had absolute and unchallenged control.

Gupta control of the Deccan was uncertain and had to be propped up with a matrimonial alliance, a Gupta princess marrying a prince of the Vakataka Dynasty of the Deccan, the successors to the Satavahana power. This secured a friendly southern frontier for the Guptas, which was necessary to Samudra Gupta’s successor, Chandra Gupta II, when he led a campaign against the Sakas in western India.

It was during the reign of Chandra Gupta II that Gupta ascendancy was at its peak. His successful campaign against the Sakas, resulting in the annexa­tion of western India, was, however, not his only achievement. Like his pre­decessor, he was a patron of poets, philosophers, scientists, musicians, and sculptors. This period saw the crystallization of what came to be the classical norm in ancient India on both the political and the cultural levels.

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