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The Succession after Kumāragupta I



Most dynastic lists of the Gupta kings state that Kumāragupta I was succeeded by Skandagupta. However, it is widely accepted that Skandagupta did not accede to the throne peacefully. Nor is it certain that the succession was immediate, since there is a gap between the known dates of Kumāragupta's and Skandagupta's reigns. This paper is concerned with the events following the death of Kumāragupta, using numismatic evidence as the primary source, and inscriptional and other epigraphic evidence as further support. Some of the numismatic evidence is new, and even the evidence that is not new has so far received little attention in the literature on the succession after Kumāragupta. Questions are raised about one particular theory that is presently enjoying some currency, that Skandagupta was challenged primarily by his uncle Ghaṭotkacagupta. Some other possible scenarios for the political events in the period after the death of Kumāragupta I will then be proposed and analyzed.



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2 This is in sharp contrast to the case of other Gupta kings, most of whose mothers are named in the genealogical lists.

3 Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal, The Imperial Guptas, Vārānasī: Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan, 1974, p. 330.

4 Bakker, Hans, “A Theatre of Broken Dreams: Vidiśā in the Days of Gupta Hegemony,” Chapter 9 in Brandtner, Martin and Kumar Panda, Shishir (eds.), Interrogating History: Essays for Hermann Kulke, (New Delhi, 2006), p. 178.

5 Fleet, J. F., Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionium Indicarum, Vol. III, (Calcutta, Government of India, Central Publications Branch, 1888), pp. 5354.

6 Bhandarkar, D.R., Chhabra, B. and Ghai, G.S. (eds), Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionium Indicarum, Vol. III, (New Delhi, 1981), p. 315.

7 Fleet, J. F., Inscriptions of the Early Gupta Kings and their Successors, Corpus Inscriptionium Indicarum, Vol. III, (Calcutta, Government of India, Central Publications Branch, 1888), pp. 5456.

8 Fleet, ibid., pp. 61–65, consulted online on February 15, 2011, at

9 Allan, op.cit., pp. xxxiv-xxxv.

10 Fleet, ibid., pp. 10–17, consulted online on September 21, 2011, at

11 See the discussion in Gupta: The Imperial Guptas, op. cit., pp. 25–26.

12 Bakker, “Theatre,” op. cit., p. 173.

13 Allan, John, A Catalogue of the Indian Coins in the British Museum: Coins of the Gupta Dynasties and of Sasanka, King of Gauda, London: British Museum, 1914, p. 149 (Plate XXIV, 3); also published in Altekar, A.S. The Coinage of the Gupta Empire, (Varanasi: The Numismatic Society of India, Banaras Hindu University, 1957), p. 264 (Plate XIV, 16).

14 Ghosh, Ajit, “Discovery of a second gold coin of Ghatotkachagupta,” Journal of the Numismatic Society of India, Vol. XXII, 1960, pp. 260261.

15 Bakker, Hans T., The Vākāṭakas: An Essay in Hindu Iconology, (Groningen, 1997), pp. 2627.

16 Fleet, op. cit., pp. 54–56, accessed online March 10, 2011 at

17 Willis, Michael, “Later Gupta History: Inscriptions, Coins and Historical Ideology,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 15, No. 2 (July 2005), p. 137.

18 Willis, Michael, The Archaeology of Hindu Ritual, (Cambridge, 2009), p. 38. I am indebted to Dr. Willis for bringing this book to my attention.

19 Altekar, A.S., The Coinage of the Gupta Empire, (Varanasi, The Numismatic Society of India, Banaras Hindu University, 1957), p. 354 and Ghosh, Ajit: “Discovery of a second gold coin of Ghatotkachagupta,” Journal of the Numismatic Society of India, Vol. XXII, 1960, p. 260.

20 See the discussion in Altekar, Coinage, op. cit., Chapter VIII.

21 Altekar, ibid., Chapter X.

22 Allan, op. cit., p. liv. Admittedly, Allan's argument was that the coin was later than Ghaṭotkacagupta “could possibly be”. This is an indication of Allan's view of the fact that the coin was probably issued late in the numismatic sequence. Now that we know that Ghaṭotkacagupta was about the same age as Skandagupta, we need to revise our estimate of the possibility that he might have issued the coins. However, the date of the coin issues must remain late on numismatic grounds.

23 Bakker, “Theatre,” op. cit., p. 179.

24 This point was argued by Allan; see his discussion in Allan, op. cit., pp. xliv-xlvii. In this section, Allan also suggests an explanation for why Skandagupta came to his mother to report on his victories: his father had just died.

25 I am indebted to Sivasankara Menon for raising this point.

26 Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal, “Heavy Weight Coins of Chandragupta”, Numismatic Digest, Vol. V, Part II, December 1981, pp. 3643.

27 Ahmad, Nisar, “Chandragupta III,” Journal of the Numismatic Society of India, Vol. 46–47, 1984, pp. 9195.

28 Raven, Ellen, “Candragupta III: Tracing the Coins of a Gupta King,” South Asian Archaeology, 1989, pp. 441–448. Gupta, P.L. also studied them again in a later paper: “Chandragupta III and his Coins,” Numismatic Digest, Vol. 16, 1992, pp. 66–79.

29 Pankaj Tandon, “Horseman Coins of Candragupta III,” Numismatic Chronicle, forthcoming, 2013. The Archer coins with sun and śrīvatsa were also discussed for the first time in this paper.

30 The coins of each of the Gupta kings vary considerably in their weights, such that, for example, the heaviest Candragupta II dinar is heavier than the lightest Kumāragupta I dinar. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that, generally speaking, the coins of Kumāragupta I were heavier than those of Candragupta II, and, in the same sense, the coins of “Candragupta III” are heavier than those of Kumāragupta I.

31 There are a few coins of the Archer type that are of low enough weight to have been issues of Candragupta II. More careful analysis needs to be done to decide which king issued those coins.

32 Coin (e) in Figure 1 is from the Shivlee Collection and is reproduced here by kind permission. The other five coins are from my own personal collection and were originally published in Tandon, op. cit.

33 Tandon, op. cit.

34 In this exercise, I had considerable help from Ellen Raven, who has been assembling data on these coins in an invaluable database, the DINARA database, that she shared freely with me.

35 Raven, “Candragupta III” op. cit. p. 447.

36 Ahmad, “Chandragupta III” op. cit., p. 95.

37 P.L. Gupta asserted that he was a king who ruled sometime between Budhagupta and Vainyagupta, but we could perhaps discard this idea in light of the clear conclusion that the coins were issued immediately after the reign of Kumāragupta I.

38 The seal has recently been translated anew and extensively studied in Michael Willis, “Later Gupta History” op. cit., pp. 131–150.

39 Gupta, The Imperial Guptas, op. cit., p. 349.

40 Gupta, The Imperial Guptas, op. cit., p. 346.

41 Willis, op. cit., p. 137.

42 Allan, op. cit., pp 134–135.

43 This discussion is reviewed and summarised by Altekar in his corpus Coinage of the Gupta Empire, op. cit., p. 263.

44 Altekar, Coinage, pp. 284–285. Altekar points out that Allan had also considered this identification a possibility.

45 Göbl, Robert, “Das Antlitz des Fremden: Der Hunnenkönig Prakasaditya in der Münzprägung der Gupta-Dynastie,” Anzeiger der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Vol. 126, 1990, pp. 131138. I am indebted to Joe Cribb for bringing this paper to my attention.

46 The coin in Figure 2 is from Gemini auction II, lot 195, reprinted with permission.

47 The coin in Figure 3 is from the Triton auction XIV, lot 551, reprinted by permission from CNG.

48 Kumar, Sanjeev, “New discoveries and varieties in Gupta coinageJournal of the Oriental Numismatic Society, No. 204 (Summer 2010), pp. 2122.

49 Takakusu, J., “The life of Vasu-bandhu by Paramārtha (A.D. 499–569)T'oung Pao, Second Series, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1904), pp. 269296.

50 Takakusu, p. 288.

51 The biruda on the Horseman coins of Candragupta III is śrīrajitavikrama.

52 I am indebted to Sivasankara Menon for pointing this out to me.

53 Allan, op. cit., pp. xliii-xliv, fn 3.

54 See Gupta, Parmeshwari Lal, Coins , New Delhi: National Book Trust, 1969, pp. 7879 and p.253 (coins 168 and 169, plate XVI).

55 Of the 53 coins of Prakāśaditya in the DINARA database, the weights of 42 are recorded. The average weight of these 42 coins is 9.33 g, with a minimum of 8.81 g and a maximum of 9.5 g. There was only one coin that weighed less than 9 g; the second-lightest coin in the database weighs 9.05 g. I would once again like to acknowledge my debt to Ellen Raven for freely sharing this database with me.

56 The DINARA database has 28 coins of Prakāśaditya with recorded diameters. The average diameter of these coins is 19.1 mm, with a minimum of 17.5 mm and a maximum of 21 mm.

1 Boston University. I wish to thank Shailendra Bhandare, Joe Cribb, Naina Dayal, Ashutosh Mathur, Sivasankara Menon, Ellen Raven and Michael Willis for their comments and helpful discussions on Gupta coins and history. Ellen in particular generously shared with me her very valuable and very large database on Gupta coins, the DINARA database, which was of great help in this study, and also read earlier drafts with great care, giving me detailed and very useful comments. Although this paper was originally drafted while I was in Boston, it was revised and completed while I was a Fulbright-Nehru fellow at St Stephen's College in Delhi. The support of both these organisations is gratefully acknowledged.

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