Why did the Guptas not conquer the whole of the Indian Peninsula

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,852
I mean they had the resources to do that during the time of Chandragupta II, Samudragupta and also the time of the Vakataka-Gupta matrimonial alliance. They could have easily gone down.

I feel a little disappointed by this as the Guptas were the best bet in Indian history of forming a long standing all conquering empire close to Roman levels of invincibility and yet they did not achieve this. Maybe from there on they could have built a strong navy and go on towards SE Asia or maybe they could have gone through land(ofcourse this is just fantasy hypothesis). But atleast conquering the Indian subcontinent till Burmese Border right down to Tamil Nadu should have been achieved by them.

Further they did not establish a very strong centralizing bureaucracy either during all this time. Why is this the case? Instead they allowed local rulers farther away to collect tributes. Why did they prefer just an allegiance to outright conquest. Why did they not go the Roman-Greek way by giving generals larger control and control whole peninsula? What stopped them? They certainly had the resources to achieve this?

Besides I think the Deccans, Karanataka, Tamil Nadu (below Kanchi), Kerala and Andhra remain out of their reach. Which kingdoms ruled these areas and did they ever try facing off with them or was it just pure co-incidence?

I wanna more about these aspects of the Guptas.
 

Isoroku295

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
8,488
In the Past
That is a large amount of land to conquer. Including the Lands Chandragupta II already conquered, that would almost double their lands. All the while keeping an eye out on the borders.

That would require a remarkable logistics system to maintain control of regions so far from the Capital. Even the regions to the South-East that they already controlled were coastal. To control Southern lands away from the water would be no simple matter. You yourself mentions their lack of central bureaucracy. That would likely have hindered their progress past a certain point. Paying for an Empire so large, yet not collecting as much central revenue relative to size. That is likely a testament to the strain of trying to incorporate such large conquests in so little a time (It took only about 95 years to conquer all that). It's likely that giving locals so much power the further out they got was the only way to keep the Empire intact. Likely necessity rather then personal preference.

To try to conquer so much land that you nearly double your dominion, while trying to integrate and secure the new conquests into your land is no walk in the park. The Kings in the South would likely come together to resist much further conquest. They wouldn't have been weak. Remember that the Gupta Empire was distinctly threatened by the Pushyamitras tribe of Central India during the reign of Chandragupta II's Son. That would have hindered growth for awhile. It was Chandragupta II's grandson who bested the Pushyamitras finally. By then, the Hepthalites (White Huns) became a threat. The Gupta Empire simply couldn't expand during this period. And afterwords the Empire was simply drained from the two enemies. Even though he beat the Huns, they would attack again later, breaking through.

In short, it would have been too much to conquer and maintain, especially with the Capital being so Northerly. That Chandragupta II's conquests were the smallest of the Three first Kings may show that the strain of controlling a larger Empire was already halting their conquests. By the time the Empire reached it's current height, it faced threats that halted it's advance. From there, the rise of other rivals in the region made any new conquests impossible. By the time the threats ended, the Empire was on it's death Bed.
 
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Isoroku295

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
8,488
In the Past
My knowledge on the Gupta Empire is somewhat limited, so if I'm wrong on anything, feel free to let me know.
 

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,852
That is a large amount of land to conquer. Including the Lands Chandragupta II already conquered, that would almost double their lands. All the while keeping an eye out on the borders.

That would require a remarkable logistics system to maintain control of regions so far from the Capital. Even the regions to the South-East that they already controlled were coastal. To control Southern lands away from the water would be no simple matter. You yourself mentions their lack of central bureaucracy. That would likely have hindered their progress past a certain point. Paying for an Empire so large, yet not collecting as much central revenue relative to size. That is likely a testament to the strain of trying to incorporate such large conquests in so little a time (It took only about 95 years to conquer all that). It's likely that giving locals so much power the further out they got was the only way to keep the Empire intact. Likely necessity rather then personal preference.

To try to conquer so much land that you nearly double your dominion, while trying to integrate and secure the new conquests into your land is no walk in the park. The Kings in the South would likely come together to resist much further conquest. They wouldn't have been weak. Remember that the Gupta Empire was distinctly threatened by the Pushyamitras tribe of Central India during the reign of Chandragupta II's Son. That would have hindered growth for awhile. It was Chandragupta II's grandson who bested the Pushyamitras finally. By then, the Hepthalites (White Huns) became a threat. The Gupta Empire simply couldn't expand during this period. And afterwords the Empire was simply drained from the two enemies. Even though he beat the Huns, they would attack again later, breaking through.

In short, it would have been too much to conquer and maintain, especially with the Capital being so Northerly. That Chandragupta II's conquests were the smallest of the Three first Kings may show that the strain of controlling a larger Empire was already halting their conquests. By the time the Empire reached it's current height, it faced threats that halted it's advance. From there, the rise of other rivals in the region made any new conquests impossible. By the time the threats ended, the Empire was on it's death Bed.
thanks for this brilliant piece of dissection and analysis.

I do have some questions though. Why could they not just move their capital to central India that way they have a more accessible centre of gravity to their peripheries (somewhere in MP) plus they could take on the Pushyamitras through a much closer supply base. They could have even used Vakataka like marital alliances to play one southern kingdom against another and take on all. Why did they not use Vakataka alliance more fruitfully even use them as their supply base for southern-deccan expeditions?

Didnt Romans, Chinese and even Sassanids achieve these logistical nightmare feats. Romans even crossed the sea into Britain plus their subjudication of Iberian peninsula. Same for Sassanids in Central Asia (here too the Huns, maybe a Sassano-Gupta pincer move alliance against the Huns) and the Chinese dynasties who had things like the Gobi desert and Mongol nomads to deal with. All of these managed such feats. Why not the Guptas (to me the closest Indian equivalent).

Samudragupta won at Kanchi why not give governorship to Pallavas in return of their logistical, military and food supplies support against their traditional rivals the Chola, Pandya and Cheras. They would have gladly done it for overlordship of the entire Tamil country even if under Gupta banner. Plus Pallavas and Guptas had a common Sanskritic bond. Similarly they could have used Vakataka support against Kadambas and gone into central India by moving capital in their areas in MP.

Magadha could be their cultural civilizational centre but they could still move on. Like how the Caliphate did from Mecca-Medina to Baghdad and Damascus. or the Romans did with Constantinople or even the Persians did by keeping their capital in Mesepotamian-Selucian heartland at Ctesaphion rather than a city in the Iran proper?

I just dont understand why Guptas would not do something simple as centralizing a bureaucracy. This seems like a no brainer for a large empire. Its my hindsight wish that they could have been the Indic Romans or Greeks and yet they squandered it. Anyways thanks for your great answer. It answered a lot of stuff I was looking for.

To me it feels sad that no pre Islamic Hindu kingdom could standardize whole of India in a way that Romans, Chinese and Persians did with much larger territories than the subcontinental peninsula.
 
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Isoroku295

Ad Honorem
Jan 2009
8,488
In the Past
thanks for this brilliant piece of dissection and analysis.

I do have some questions though. Why could they not just move their capital to central India that way they have a more accessible centre of gravity to their peripheries (somewhere in MP) plus they could take on the Pushyamitras through a much closer supply base. They could have even used Vakataka like marital alliances to play one southern kingdom against another and take on all. Why did they not use Vakataka alliance more fruitfully even use them as their supply base for southern-deccan expeditions?
The Capital was in the region where the Emperor would have had the most support. The Heartland of the Empire, so to say. Moving it out of that region may very well leave the new Capital surrounded by less loyal groups who have had greater autonomy then in the Heartland region. Moving a Capital is no simple matter, anyhow. It would disrupt the entire Government to do so. It may have ultimately harmed the Empire in the End. As for the Vakataka Dynasty, it was actually in between Gupta and much of Southern India. It may have hindered them, given that the only way to maintained those Southern conquests would have been through annexing their ally. Unless of course they want a contorted dominion.

Didnt Romans, Chinese and even Sassanids achieve these logistical nightmare feats. Romans even crossed the sea into Britain plus their subjudication of Iberian peninsula. Same for Sassanids in Central Asia (here too the Huns, maybe a Sassano-Gupta pincer move alliance against the Huns) and the Chinese dynasties who had things like the Gobi desert and Mongol nomads to deal with. All of these managed such feats. Why not the Guptas (to me the closest Indian equivalent).
That they did, however they're situations were different. The Romans pulled it off through remarkable effort, over centuries, often times through the complete crushing of their enemies. Remember, a third of Gaul died in the effort. Even then, much of Rome was given a high level of Autonomy until later on, by which point the Romans had held the lnd for a great deal of time. The Mediterranean helped, as most land was within a few days from the Ocean.

The Sassanids had the benefit of controlling a rather uninterrupted piece of land, with a horse heavy army. It suffered alot of civil strife though, as did Rome. To be honest, the Sassanids felt more like a loose confederacy then an empire. As for China, it's large number of Rivers must have helped greatly in controlling the land. India had it's advantages, but the rainforest heavy tropical environment makes centralized empires difficult. There is a reason that India rarely had a Kingdom claim even half the land. But simply put, I just don't think they had the amount of time the others had to build up their control.

Samudragupta won at Kanchi why not give governorship to Pallavas in return of their logistical, military and food supplies support against their traditional rivals the Chola, Pandya and Cheras. They would have gladly done it for overlordship of the entire Tamil country even if under Gupta banner. Plus Pallavas and Guptas had a common Sanskritic bond. Similarly they could have used Vakataka support against Kadambas and gone into central India by moving capital in their areas in MP.
Vakataka was much of Central India. They would have had to Annex it to maintain effective control of the Southern regions, unless they were forced to rely entirely on Vakataka support. The Pallavas were a rather strong group. I think he may have been hesitant to give such reliance on a group that may one day threaten him.

Magadha could be their cultural civilizational centre but they could still move on. Like how the Caliphate did from Mecca-Medina to Baghdad and Damascus. or the Romans did with Constantinople or even the Persians did by keeping their capital in Mesepotamian-Selucian heartland at Ctesaphion rather than a city in the Iran proper?
After only 100 years? Rome held control for centuries, and even then, they never truly left Rome. The Caliphate was moving out of a sparely populated region to a highly populated one, it was nothing short of a requirement to maintain their control.
I just dont understand why Guptas would not do something simple as centralizing a bureaucracy. This seems like a no brainer for a large empire. Its my hindsight wish that they could have been the Indic Romans or Greeks and yet they squandered it. Anyways thanks for your great answer. It answered a lot of stuff I was looking for.
They didn't have time. In the beginning, it was a matter of necessity for such a rapid expansion. By the time Huns were beat back, the Empire was too drained to likely exert such energy needed to centralize regions that had gotten used to the low level of centralized control.

To me it feels sad that no pre Islamic Hindu kingdom could standardize whole of India in a way that Romans, Chinese and Persians did with much larger territories than the subcontinental peninsula.
I understand. I feel the geography of India was the major hindrance.
 

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,852
The Capital was in the region where the Emperor would have had the most support. The Heartland of the Empire, so to say. Moving it out of that region may very well leave the new Capital surrounded by less loyal groups who have had greater autonomy then in the Heartland region. Moving a Capital is no simple matter, anyhow. It would disrupt the entire Government to do so. It may have ultimately harmed the Empire in the End. As for the Vakataka Dynasty, it was actually in between Gupta and much of Southern India. It may have hindered them, given that the only way to maintained those Southern conquests would have been through annexing their ally. Unless of course they want a contorted dominion.
I understand but there were cities like Kannauj which fell into Gupta core and were more centrally located. Guptas did exterminate local dynasties in Gangetic plain and North India so there were indeed no local rivals or claimants to them unlike their South of Vindhyas policies of friendly allegiance.
Vakatakas literally subsumed into the larger Gupta identity to the extent that many historians called them Vakataka Gupta era or dynasty. It was much more in sync than just a matrimonial alliance. Besides some control within the extended family is better than no control at all. Isnt it?

That they did, however they're situations were different. The Romans pulled it off through remarkable effort, over centuries, often times through the complete crushing of their enemies. Remember, a third of Gaul died in the effort. Even then, much of Rome was given a high level of Autonomy until later on, by which point the Romans had held the lnd for a great deal of time. The Mediterranean helped, as most land was within a few days from the Ocean.

The Sassanids had the benefit of controlling a rather uninterrupted piece of land, with a horse heavy army. It suffered alot of civil strife though, as did Rome. To be honest, the Sassanids felt more like a loose confederacy then an empire. As for China, it's large number of Rivers must have helped greatly in controlling the land. India had it's advantages, but the rainforest heavy tropical environment makes centralized empires difficult. There is a reason that India rarely had a Kingdom claim even half the land. But simply put, I just don't think they had the amount of time the others had to build up their control.
Again Rome, Macedon etc. took a more ardous route to get supplies in the Middle Eastern desert and Iran plateau. Chinese did so in the Gobi. Sassanids were facing much harder task in central asia where there kings were literally being challenged by Huns sometimes they needed Hun acceptance to solidify their legitimacy. Huns were a much bigger threat to Sassanids who were pressured from the west as well. Guptas only had a single directional attack. No South or Eastern power could touch them in their lands. Time could be another issue though Arabs, Alexander, Genghis and the Han dynasties did spread far wider than India in decades of their own lifetime let alone a dynastic time. Samudragupta could have done this for sure.

Vakataka was much of Central India. They would have had to Annex it to maintain effective control of the Southern regions, unless they were forced to rely entirely on Vakataka support. The Pallavas were a rather strong group. I think he may have been hesitant to give such reliance on a group that may one day threaten him.

After only 100 years? Rome held control for centuries, and even then, they never truly left Rome. The Caliphate was moving out of a sparely populated region to a highly populated one, it was nothing short of a requirement to maintain their control.
They didn't have time. In the beginning, it was a matter of necessity for such a rapid expansion. By the time Huns were beat back, the Empire was too drained to likely exert such energy needed to centralize regions that had gotten used to the low level of centralized control.


I understand. I feel the geography of India was the major hindrance.
Vakataka was a very close alliance as I said before. Guptas had to only use their lands for supplies not Magadha. The distance in this scenario shortens and the Deccan advantage goes for adversaries. I dont see how they couldnt have taken out Kadambas in this scenario. Pallavas were strong but you forget Samudragupta defeated them in Kanchi and made them pay tribute and swear allegiance to him. Why could he not promise governorship of entire Tamil lands to the Pallavan prince (the formation of a united Greater Tamil Ilagam or homeland was a perennial dream for all the 4 dynasties) and then dismantle them after use. Just how Khiljis did with Yadavas of Deogiri centuries later. The big difference between Guptas and others before or after them is that they had a reliable ally south of Vindhyas which no other dynasty including the Mauryas or Marathas had. Its almost like one of the Germanic or Iberian tribes joining Rome or the Ghassanids joining the Caliphate against Rome.


Anyways apart from a centralizing bureaucracy do you think Guptas could have done anything else to run a 1000 year dynasty like the Japanese, Yemen, Rome etc. Or atleast a 400-500 year period of larger territorial rule (whole subcontinent or peninsula).

Its an irony that the Brits and the Sultanate (for a very short time of a few years) alone could do this both being foreign and both without an major local ally and both having bases in cities much farther than Patliputa (Delhi and Kolkota). Brits sadly are the only long lasting ones although there were some Maratha clans controlling southern most areas separating them from Maharashtra were the Nizam and Mysore.
 

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,852
thanks a lot isoroku for your patience and great analysis. Learnt a lot. Your very well read I must say (not sure if your Indian but assuming your not you know a lot)
 

SSDD

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
3,900
India
Guptas did not conquer Vakataka kingdom. Also we have to note Central Indian tribal kingdoms had to pay tax and acknowledge Gupta sovereignty. So may be Guptas wanted to use the kingdoms as allies instead of directly conquering them? So since the kingdoms were not directly annexed so South's kingdoms too could not be annexed.
 
Sep 2019
13
'Merica
The Guptas like other huge Indian kingdoms and empires always faced tough opposition from other Indian states. That and India is a huge country. And it is near Central Asia which liked to throw huge hordes of invaders every few centuries at India and Persia. So they had their hands full more often than not.

I dont see the need to compare what Guptas did with Rome. Romans lost wars to a bunch of naked savages many times. The Guptas faced far tougher opposition both inside India and outside. The Hunas would have utterly destroyed any Germanic tribe on the field of battle.