Gupta (gŏŏp´tə), Indian dynasty, AD c.320–c.550, whose empire at its height encompassed much of N India. Ancient Indian culture reached a high point during this period. Gupta paintings adorned the caves of Ajanta, its sculpture embellished the temples of Ellora, and its metaphysical speculations flowered in philosophy and in the study of mathematics.
The dynasty was founded by Chandragupta I (reigned c.320–c.330), who married a princess of the Licchavi tribe and acquired the kingdom of Magadha. He expanded his domains to include all of Bihar and Jharkhand and some of Bengal. His brilliant son, Samudragupta (reigned c.330–c.380), conquered almost all of N India and much of the Deccan.
The third and greatest of the Guptas, Chandragupta II (reigned c.380–c.414), further expanded the kingdom to include Ujjain. His reign, vividly described in the writings of Fa Hsien, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, was marked by prosperity throughout the land. Embassies were sent to many foreign courts, among them Rome, and a single code of law was promulgated for India. In this period also, the splendid Iron Pillar was erected (c.400) near what is now New Delhi, and Kalidasa wrote his dramas.
Chandragupta II's successors were Kumaragupta (reigned c.414–455) and Skandagupta (reigned 455–c.467). The latter repelled the invasions of the White Huns, but after his death they overran much of N India. The dynasty lingered on in Bengal until c.550.
See J. F. Fleet, Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and Their Successors (2d ed. 1963); S. K. Maity, The Imperial Guptas and their Times.