The Socio-economic conditions of the Gupta period were highly determined by religious and caste systems.
Below we have described in details the Socio-Economic conditions of Gupta Period:
- The Status Of Brahmins During The Gupta Period
- Class System During The Gupta Period
- Women Condition During The Gupta Period
- The Socio-Economic Conditions Of The Gupta Period
- Agriculture During The Gupta Period
- Industry During the Gupta Period
- Trade During the Gupta Period
- Economic Activities During the Gupta Period
The Status Of Brahmins During The Gupta Period
The varna system continues and was practiced during the Gupta period. The Brahmins enjoyed a privileged position in the society especially with the grants of land made to them by the rulers. These charitable lands were given to the priest without any tax assessment. The Brahmins also perform the religious duties of conducting ceremonies and interpreting the religious scripture. The supremacy of the Brahmins increased during the Gupta period. The Guptas rulers became great supporters of the Brahmins as they legitimized the position of the rulers. The Brahmins accumulated a lot of wealth and also enjoyed a high position in society.
Class System During The Gupta Period
There was an increase in the number of Kshatriyas with the influx of the Hunas and the Gurjaras, who joined the rank of warriors. The Kshatriyas received support from the Brahmins, especially the Gupta rulers who received legal recognitions as the rightful rulers. In the same way, the number of Vaishyas also increases as a result of craftsmen who joined the status of Vaishyas. There was an increase in the number of Shudras during the Gupta Period. The Shudras were absorbed into the Varna society. The class of untouchables also exists in Gupta society. It is important to note that a new caste also exists during this period, namely the Kayasthas who were scribes. The chandelas who were untouchables also exist in Gupta society. During this period Varna rulers and distinctions were popular. A person belonging to different Varnas had to follow different Varna rulers.
Besides, Law books were also compiled because every person had to be dealt with differently, according to their Varna. Even in marriage, they discourage inter-caste relations.
According to Fa-Hien, the Chandelas before entering a city on the market had to strike a piece of wood to inform of their arrival. By doing so people could avoid them. The untouchables are considering being impure, useless, dishonest, and greedy.
Women Condition During The Gupta Period
During the Gupta period, the position of women declines as the women were totally dependent on the male members. Women of the higher Varnas did not have the freedom to earn their own livelihood. However, women of the Vaishya and Shudras were free to earn their living. They were active in agricultural activities and domestics services. Usually, they work in the households of the upper caste.
Widow marriage was not popular but they favor the practices of Sati. The practice of Devadasi also existed during the Gupta period. The family system was Patriarchal whereby the eldest male member was the head of the family. The eldest son takes over the property.
The Socio-Economic Conditions Of The Gupta Period
From the inscriptions, coins and travelers’ accounts like that of Fa Hein (A Chinese traveler), we can learn the socio-economic conditions of the Gupta Period. These sources give us important information on the development of agriculture, industry, trade, and business during this period. The economic development of the Guptas was possible due to the efficient administrative system.
Agriculture During The Gupta Period
Agriculture was the main occupation of the people of India during the Gupta Period. Almost the entire land within the Gupta Kingdom was cultivated. The state and private owners looked after the cultivation on the land. The Gupta Kings look after the welfare of the farmers and peasants. The Kings provide people with facilities like irrigation to increase production. For example, King Skandagupta constructed a lake to help the farmers.
According to Jha, the Gupta kings introduced the system of land grants, where the king would make gifts of land to certain officials. These officials were given the duty to develop agriculture within that price of land and to collect revenue from the peasants who were cultivating the land. This led to the emergence of feudalism. In many parts of the country, the peasants have to work for the officials all their lives. Forced labor was also prevalent during the Gupta period.
Industry During the Gupta Period
Also, the industry was developing and a large number of people were active in spinning and weaving of cloth. The main centers of the cloth industry were Gujarat and Bengal. The clothes produced by people include cotton, silk, linen, and wool. Other industries that developed during this period were gold smithy, ivory, and metallurgy. The cutting and polishing of diamonds and other precious stones also made progress. The people during the Gupta period were also active in carpentry, blacksmithy, pottery, and shoemaking.
Trade During the Gupta Period
During the Gupta period, trade flourished both internally and externally. The Gupta period would conduct their business within the kingdom as well as with other countries. Good means of transport and communication enable smooth trade and commerce. Important centers of trade within the Gupta kingdom include Banaras, Ujjain, Mathura, and others. The traders would usually conduct their business by selling and buying items in these important centers.
Important items of exports were sandalwood, mustard, pepper, and other commercial crops. Indian cotton, silk, and linen were famous in many countries. The Gupta traders establish trade contacts with countries like Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Persia, Arabia, China and a few countries in the Mediterranean.
Import items include horses, gold, ivory, and precious stones. It is important to note that foreign trade was very profitable for the Gupta Empire. Many historians also pointed out that the country enjoys economic prosperity as a result of foreign trade.
Economic Activities During the Gupta Period
As trade and industry developed, there were many economic activities within the Gupta empire. The traders and merchants played a huge role in the economy of the country. The sources of Gupta’s period mentioned the existence of guilds. A guild is a community of traders, merchants, workers, and artisans. Each guild has its own laws, its own chief who would look after the activities of the groups of traders, merchants, workers, and artisans.