Samudragupta, ruler of the Gupta Empire (c.AD 335 - 380), and successor to Chandragupta I, is considered to be one of the greatest military geniuses that India ever produced. His name is taken to be a title acquired by his conquests (Samudra means `oceans'). Samudragupta is believed to have been his father's chosen successor even though he has several older brothers. It is therefore believed that after the death of Chandragupta I, there was a struggle for succession in which Samudragupta prevailed.
The main source of Samudragupta's history is an inscription engraved on one of the stone pillars set up by Ashoka in Kausambi (present day Allahabad). In this inscription Samudragupta details his conquests. This inscription is also important because of the political geography of India that it indicates by naming the different kings and peoples who populated India in the first half of the fourth century AD The inscription states that its author is Harishena, who was an important officer of Samudragupta's court.
The beginning of Samudragupta's reign was marked by the defeat of his immediate neighbours, Achyuta, ruler of Ahichchhatra and Nagasena. Following this Samudragupta began a campaign against the kingdoms to the south. This southern campaign took him south along the Bay of Bengal. He passed through the forest tracts of Madhya Pradesh, crossed the Orissa coast, marched through Ganjam, Vishakapatnam, Godavari, Krishna and Nellore districts and may have reached as far as Kancheepuram. Here however he did not attempt to maintain direct control. After capturing his enemies he reinstated them as tributary kings. This act prevented the Gupta Empire from attaining the almost immediate demise of the Maurya empire of Ashoka and is a testament to his abilities as a statesman. The details of Samudragupta's campaigns are too numerous to recount here. These can be found in the first reference below. However it is clear that he possessed a powerful navy in addition to his army. In addition to tributary kingdoms, many other rulers of foreign states like the Saka and Kushana kings accepted the suzerainty of Samudragupta and offered him their services.
Much is known about Samudragupta through coins issued by him. These were of eight different types and all made of pure gold. His conquests brought him the gold and also the coin-making expertise from his acquaintance with the Kushanas. Samudragupta is also known to have been a man of culture. He was a patron of learning, a celebrated poet and a musician. Several coins depict him playing on the lyre. He also restored the practice of the Ashwamedha sacrifice. Though he favoured the Brahmanical religion like the other Gupta kings, he was reputed to possess a tolerant spirit. A clear illustration of this is the permission granted by him to the king of Ceylon to build a monastery for Buddhist pilgrims in Bodh Gaya.
Samudragupta probably died in 380 AD, and was succeeded by his sons Ramagupta and Chandragupta.