Samudragupta was succeeded by his son Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. But according to some scholars, the immediate successor of Samudragupta was Ramagupta, the elder brother of Chandragupta II. But there is little historical proof for this. Chandragupta II inherited the military genius of his father and extended the Gupta Empire by his own conquests. He achieved this by a judicious combination of the policy of diplomacy and warfare. Through matrimonial alliances he strengthened his political power. He married Kuberanaga, a Naga princess of central India. He gave his daughter Prabhavati in marriage to the Vakataka prince Rudrasena II. The political importance of this marriage lies in the fact that the Vakatakas occupied a geographically strategic position in the Deccan. This alliance served a useful purpose when Chandragupta-II undertook his campaign in western India against the Sakas.
Conquest of Western India
The greatest of the military achievements of Chandragupta II was his war against the Saka satraps of western India. Rudrasimha III, the last ruler of the Saka satrap was defeated, dethroned and killed. His territories in western Malwa and the Kathiawar Peninsula were annexed into the Gupta Empire. After this victory he performed the horse sacrifice and assumed the title Sakari, meaning, ‘destroyer of Sakas’. He also called himself Vikramaditya As a result of the conquest of western India, the western boundary of the Empire reached to the Arabian Sea gaining access to Broach, Sopara, Cambay and other sea ports. This enabled the Gupta empire to control trade with the western countries. Ujjain became an important commercial city and soon became the alternative capital of the Guptas. The fine cotton clothes of Bengal, Indigo from Bihar, silk from Banares, the scents of the Himalayas and the sandal and species from the south were brought to these ports without any interference. The western traders poured Roman gold into India in return for Indian products. The great wealth of the Gupta Empire was manifest in the variety of gold coins issued by Chandragupta II.
Chandragupta II defeated a confederacy of enemy chiefs in Vanga. He also crossed the river Sindh and conquered Bactria. The Kushanas ruling in this region were subdued by him. With these conquests, the Gupta empire extended in the west as far as western Malwa, Gujarat and Kathiawar. In the northwest it extended beyond the Hindukush up to Bactria. In the east, it included even eastern Bengal and in the south the Narmada river formed the boundary.
The famous Chinese pilgrim, Fahien visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II. Out of his nine years stay in India, he spent six years in the Gupta empire. He came to India by the land route through Khotan, Kashgar, Gandhara and Punjab. He visited Peshawar, Mathura, Kanauj, Sravasti, Kapilavastu, Kusinagara, Pataliputra, Kasi and Bodh Gaya among other places. He returned by the sea route, visiting on the way Ceylon and Java. The main purpose of his visit was to see the land of the Buddha and to collect Buddhist manuscripts from India. He stayed in Pataliputra for three years studying Sanskrit and copying Buddhist texts. Fahien provides valuable information on the religious, social and economic condition of the Gupta empire. According to him, Buddhism was in a flourishing condition in the northwestern India but in the Gangetic valley it was in a state of neglect. He refers to the Gangetic valley as the ‘land of Brahmanism’. Fahien mentions the unsatisfactory state of some of the Buddhist holy places like Kapilavastu and Kusinagara. According to him the economic condition of the empire was prosperous.
Although his account is valuable in many respects, he did not mention the name of Chandragupta II. He was not interested in political affairs. His interest was primarily religion. He assessed everything from the Buddhist angle. His observations on social conditions are found to be exaggerated. Yet, his accounts are useful to know the general condition of the country.
Estimate of Chandragupta II
The power and glory of Gupta empire reached its peak under the rule Chandragupta II Vikramaditya. He also contributed to the general cultural progress of the age and patronized great literary figures like Kalidasa. He promoted artistic activity. Because of the high level of cultural progress that was achieved during this period, the Gupta period is generally referred to as a golden age.
Successors of Chandragupta II
Kumaragupta was the son and successor of Chandragupta II. His reign was marked by general peace and prosperity. He issued a number of coins and his inscriptions are found all over the Gupta empire. He also performed an asvamedha sacrifice. Most importantly, he laid the foundation of the Nalanda University which emerged an institution of international reputation. At the end of his reign, a powerful wealthy tribe called the ‘Pushyamitras’ defeated the Gupta army. A branch of the Huns from Central Asia made attempts to cross the Hindukush mountains and invade India. But it was his successor Skandagupta who really faced the Hun invasion. He fought successfully against the Huns and saved the empire. This war must have been a great strain on the government’s resources. After Skandagupta’s death, many of his successors like Purugupta, Narasimhagupta, Buddhagupta and Baladitya could not save the Gupta empire from the Huns. Ultimately, the Gupta power totally disappeared due to the Hun invasions and later by the rise of Yasodharman in Malwa.