Mahmud of Ghazni
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Medieval illustration of Mahmud and his court
|Sultan of the Ghaznavid Empire|
|Predecessor||Ismail of Ghazni|
|Successor||Muhammad of Ghazni|
|Born||2 November 971|
Ghazni, Zabulistan, Samanid Empire (present-day Afghanistan)
|Died||30 April 1030 (aged 58)|
Ghazni, Zabulistan, Ghaznavid Empire (present-day Afghanistan)
|Persian||یمینالدوله ابوالقاسم محمود بن سبکتگین|
Mahmud of Ghazni (Persian: محمود غزنوی; 2 November 971 – 30 April 1030) was the first independent ruler of the Turkic dynasty of Ghaznavids, ruling from 999 to 1030. At the time of his death, his kingdom had been transformed into an extensive military empire, which extended from northwestern Iran proper to the Punjab in the Indian subcontinent, Khwarazm in Transoxiana, and Makran.
Highly Persianized, Sultan Mahmud continued the bureaucratic, political, and cultural customs of his predecessors, the Samanids, which established the ground for a Persianate state in northwestern India. His capital of Ghazni evolved into a significant cultural, commercial, and intellectual centre in the Islamic world, almost rivalling the important city of Baghdad. The capital appealed to many prominent figures, such as al-Biruni and Ferdowsi.
Mahmud ascended the throne at the age of 27 upon his father's death, albeit after a brief war of succession with his brother Ismail. He was the first ruler to hold the title Sultan ("authority"), signifying the extent of his power while at the same time preserving an ideological link to the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate. During his rule, he invaded and plundered the richest cities and temple towns in the regions of present day India seventeen times, and used the booty to build his capital in Ghazni.
Mahmud was born in the town of Ghazni in the region of Zabulistan (now present-day Afghanistan) on 2 November 971. His father, Sabuktigin, was a Turkic slave commander who laid foundations to the Ghaznavid dynasty in Ghazni in 977, which he ruled as a subordinate of the Samanids, who ruled Khorasan and Transoxiana. Mahmud's mother was the daughter of an Iranian aristocrat from Zabulistan, and is therefore known in some sources as Mahmud-i Zavuli ("Mahmud from Zabulistan"). Not much about Mahmud's early life is known, he was a school-fellow of Ahmad Maymandi, a Persian native of Zabulistan and foster brother of his.
Mahmud married a woman named Kausari Jahan, and they had twin sons Mohammad and Ma'sud, who succeeded him one after the other; his grandson by Mas'ud, Maw'dud Ghaznavi, also later became ruler of the empire. His sister, Sitr-e-Mu'alla, was married to Dawood bin Ataullah Alavi, also known as Ghazi Salar Sahu, whose son was Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud.
In 994 Mahmud joined his father Sabuktigin in the capture of Khorasan from the rebel Fa'iq in aid of the Samanid Emir, Nuh II. During this period, the Samanid Empire became highly unstable, with shifting internal political tides as various factions vied for control, the chief among them being Abu'l-Qasim Simjuri, Fa'iq, Abu Ali, the General Bekhtuzin as well as the neighbouring Buyid dynasty and Kara-Khanid Khanate.
Sabuktigin died in 997, and was succeeded by his son Ismail as the ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty. The reason behind Sabuktigin's choice to appoint Ismail as heir over the more experienced and older Mahmud is uncertain. It may due to Ismail's mother being the daughter of Sabuktigin's old master, Alptigin. Mahmud shortly revolted, and with the help of his other brother, Abu'l-Muzaffar, the governor of Bust, he defeated Ismail the following year at the battle of Ghazni and gained control over the Ghaznavid kingdom. That year, in 998, Mahmud then traveled to Balkh and paid homage to Amir Abu'l-Harith Mansur b. Nur II. He then appointed Abu'l-Hasan Isfaraini as his vizier, and then set out west from Ghazni to take the Kandahar region followed by Bost (Lashkar Gah), where he turned it into a militarised city.
Mahmud initiated the first of numerous invasions of North India. On 28 November 1001, his army fought and defeated the army of Raja Jayapala of the Kabul Shahis at the Battle of Peshawar. In 1002 Mahmud invaded Sistan and dethroned Khalaf ibn Ahmad, ending the Saffarid dynasty. From there he decided to focus on Hindustan to the southeast, particularly the highly fertile lands of the Punjab region.
Mahmud's first campaign to the south was against an Ismaili state first established at Multan in 965 by a da'i from the Fatimid Caliphate in a bid to curry political favor and recognition with the Abbasid Caliphate; he also engaged elsewhere with the Fatimids. At this point, Jayapala attempted to gain revenge for an earlier military defeat at the hands of Mahmud's father, who had controlled Ghazni in the late 980s and had cost Jayapala extensive territory. His son Anandapala succeeded him and continued the struggle to avenge his father's suicide. He assembled a powerful confederacy that suffered defeat as his elephant turned back from the battle at a crucial moment, turning the tide into Mahmud's favor once more at Lahore in 1008 and bringing Mahmud into control of the Shahi dominions of Udbandpura.
Following the defeat of the Indian Confederacy, after deciding to retaliate for their combined resistance, Mahmud then set out on regular expeditions against them, leaving the conquered kingdoms in the hands of Hindu vassals and annexing only the Punjab region. He also vowed to raid and loot the wealthy region of northwestern India every year.
In 1001 Mahmud of Ghazni first invaded modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan and then parts of India. Mahmud defeated, captured, and later released the Shahi ruler Jayapala, who had moved his capital to Peshawar (modern Pakistan). Jayapala killed himself and was succeeded by his son Anandapala. In 1005 Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Bhatia (probably Bhera), and in 1006 he invaded Multan, at which time Anandapala's army attacked him. The following year Mahmud of Ghazni attacked and crushed Sukhapala, ruler of Bathinda (who had become ruler by rebelling against the Shahi kingdom). In 1013, during Mahmud's eighth expedition into eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Shahi kingdom (which was then under Trilochanapala, son of Anandapala) was overthrown.
In 1014 Mahmud led an expedition to Thanesar. The next year he unsuccessfully attacked Kashmir. In 1018 he attacked Mathura and defeated a coalition of rulers there while also killing a ruler called Chandrapala. In 1021 Mahmud supported the Kannauj king against Chandela Ganda, who was defeated. That same year Shahi Trilochanapala was killed at Rahib and his son Bhimapala succeeded him. Lahore (modern Pakistan) was annexed by Mahmud. Mahmud besieged Gwalior, in 1023, where he was given tribute. Mahmud attacked Somnath in 1025, and its ruler Bhima I fled. The next year, he captured Somnath and marched to Kachch against Bhima I. That same year Mahmud also attacked the Jats of Jud.
Christoph Baumer notes that in 1026 CE, Jats "inflicted heavy losses" on the army of Mahmud while it was on its way from Somnath to Multan. Later in 1027 CE, he avenged the attack by Jats, who had also been impervious to "forced Islamisation" for the last three centuries, by ravaging the fleet of Jats in the Indus river. Even though Jats had a bigger fleet than Mahmud, he is said to have around 20 archers on each of his 1400 boats, who were stocked with "special projectiles" carrying naphtha, and Jats' fleet was blazed by them.
The Indian kingdoms of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Kannauj, and Gwalior were all conquered and left in the hands of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist kings as vassal states and he was pragmatic enough not to neglect making alliances and enlisting local peoples into his armies at all ranks. Since Mahmud never kept a permanent presence in the northwestern subcontinent, he engaged in a policy of destroying Hindu temples and monuments to crush any move by the Hindus to attack the Empire; Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura, Kannauj, Kalinjar (1023) and Somnath all submitted or were raided.
Attack on the Somnath Temple
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The most famous of Mahmud's raids was that of Somnath. The temple was maintained by 10,000 villages, a thousand Brahmins and 500 girls sung and danced at its door. The Hindus believed that the Moon-god (Somnath) would destroy the Turks. In 1025 Mahmud raided Gujarat, plundering the Somnath temple and breaking its jyotirlinga. At first, the Rajput princes who had gathered there repulsed Mahmud, but the Hindus were defeated in the end and Mahmud entered the temple, which was a lofty structure supported by 56 pillars. Immense booty was acquired in the form of diamonds, rubies and pearls and 2 million dinars. The conquest of Somnath was followed by a punitive invasion of Anhilwara. Historians estimate the damage to the temple to have been minimal because there are records of pilgrimages to the temple in 1038 that make no mention of any damage. However, powerful legends with intricate detail had developed regarding Mahmud's raid in the Turko-Persian literature, which "electrified" the Muslim world according to scholar Meenakshi Jain.
Historiography concerning Somnath
Historians including Thapar, Eaton, and A. K. Majumdar have questioned the iconoclastic historiography of this incident. Thapar quoted Majmudar (1956):
But, as is well known, Hindu sources do not give any information regarding the raids of Sultan Mahmud, so that what follows is based solely on the testimony of Muslim authors.
Thapar also argued against the prevalent narrative:
Yet in a curiously contradictory manner, the Turko-Persian narratives were accepted as historically valid and even their internal contradictions were not given much attention, largely because they approximated more closely to the current European sense of history than did the other sources.
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The last four years of Mahmud's life were spent contending with the influx of Oghuz and Seljuk Turks from Central Asia and the Buyid dynasty. Initially, after being repulsed by Mahmud, the Seljuks retired to Khwarezm, but Togrül and Çagrı led them to capture Merv and Nishapur (1028–1029). Later, they repeatedly raided and traded territory with his successors across Khorasan and Balkh and even sacked Ghazni in 1037. In 1040, at the Battle of Dandanaqan, they decisively defeated Mahmud's son, Mas'ud I, resulting in Mas'ud abandoning most of his western territories to the Seljuks.
Sultan Mahmud died on 30 April 1030. His mausoleum is located in Ghazni, Afghanistan.
- 994: Gains the title of Saif ad-Dawla and becomes Governor of Khorasan under service to Nuh II of the Samanid Empire in civil strife
- 995: The Samanid rebels Fa'iq (leader of a court faction that had defeated Alptigin's nomination for Emir) and Abu Ali expel Mahmud from Nishapur. Mahmud and Sabuktigin defeat Samanid rebels at Tus
- 997: Kara-Khanid Khanate
- 999: Khorasan, Balkh, Herat, Merv from the Samanids. A concurrent invasion from the north by the Qarakhanids under Elik Khan (Nasr Khan) ends Samanid rule.
- 1000: Sistan from Saffarid dynasty
- 1001: Gandhara: Sultan Mahmud defeats Raja Jayapala at Peshawar; Jayapala subsequently abdicates and commits suicide.
- 1002: Seistan: Is imprisoned in Khuluf
- 1004: Bhatia (Bhera) is annexed after it fails to pay its yearly tribute.
- 1005-6: Multan: Fateh Daud, the Ismaili ruler of Multan revolts and enlists the aid of Anandapala. Mahmud massacres the Ismailis of Multan in the course of his conquest. Anandapala is defeated at Peshawar and pursued to Sodra (Wazirabad).
Ghor and Muhammad ibn Suri are then captured by Mahmud, made prisoner along with Muhammad ibn Suri's son, and taken to Ghazni, where Muhammad ibn Suri dies. Appoints Sewakpal to administer the region. Anandapala flees to Kashmir, fort in the hills on the western border of Kashmir.
- 1005: Defends Balkh and Khorasan against Nasr I of the Kara-Khanid Khanate and recaptures Nishapur from Isma'il Muntasir of the Samanids.
- 1005: Sewakpal rebels and is defeated.
- 1008: Mahmud defeats the Indian Confederacy (Ujjain, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Kannauj, Delhi, and Ajmer) in battle between Und and Peshawar, and captures the Shahi treasury at Kangra, Himachal Pradesh.
- Note: A historical narrative states in this battle, under the onslaught of the Gakhars, Mahmud's army was about to retreat when King Anandapala's elephant took flight and turned the tide of the battle.
- 1010: Ghor; against Amir Suri
- 1010: Multan revolts. Abul Fatah Dawood is imprisoned for life at Ghazni.
- 1012-1013: Sacks Thanesar
- 1012: Invades Gharchistan and deposes its ruler Abu Nasr Muhammad.
- 1012: Demands and receives remainder of the province of Khorasan from the Abassid Caliph. Then demands Samarkand as well but is rebuffed.
- 1013: Bulnat: Defeats Trilochanpala.
- 1014: Kafiristan is attacked
- 1015: Mahmud's army sacks Lahore, but his expedition to Kashmir fails, due to inclement weather.
- 1015: Khwarezm: Marries his sister to Abul Abbas Mamun of Khwarezm, who dies in the same year in a rebellion. Moves to quell the rebellion and installs a new ruler and annexes a portion.
- 1017: Kannauj, Meerut, and Muhavun on the Yamuna, Mathura and various other regions along the route. While moving through Kashmir he levies troops from vassal Prince for his onward march; Kannauj and Meerut submit without battle.
- 1018-1020: Sacks the town of Mathura.
- 1021: Raises Ayaz to kingship, awarding him the throne of Lahore
- 1021: Kalinjar attacks Kannauj: he marches to their aid and finds the last Shahi King, Trilochanpaala, encamped as well. No battle, the opponents leave their baggage trains and withdraw from the field. Also fails to take the fort of Lokote again. Takes Lahore on his return. Trilochanpala flees to Ajmer. First Muslim governors appointed east of the Indus River.
- 1023: Lahore. He forces Kalinjar and Gwalior to submit and pay tribute: Trilochanpala, the grandson of Jayapala, is assassinated by his own troops. Official annexation of Punjab by Ghazni. Also fails to take the Lohara fort on the western border of Kashmir for the second time.
- 1024: Ajmer, Nehrwala, Kathiawar: This raid is his last major campaign. The concentration of wealth at Somnath was renowned, and consequently it became an attractive target for Mahmud, as it had previously deterred most invaders. The temple and citadel are sacked, and most of its defenders massacred.
- 1025: Somnath: Mahmud sacks the temple and is reported to have personally hammered the temple's gilded Lingam to pieces, and the stone fragments are carted back to Ghazni, where they are incorporated into the steps of the city's new Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) in 1026. He places a new king on the throne in Gujarat as a tributary. His return detours across the Thar Desert to avoid the armies of Ajmer and other allies on his return.
- 1025: Marches against the Jats of the Jood mountains who harry his army on its return from the sack of Somnath.
- 1027: Rey, Isfahan, Hamadan from the Buyids Dynasty.
- 1027: Devastates the fleet of Jats in Indus river to avenge the "heavy losses" suffered by his army in an onslaught by Jats in 1026 CE.
- 1028, 1029: Merv, Nishapur are lost to Seljuq dynasty
Attitude on religion and jihad
Under the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni, the region broke away from the Samanid sphere of influence. While he acknowledged the Abbasids as caliph as a matter of form, he was also granted the title Sultan in recognition of his independence.
Following Mahmud's recognition by the Abbasid caliphate in 999, he pledged a jihad and a raid on India every year. In 1005 Mahmud conducted a series of campaigns during which the Ismailis of Multan were massacred.
In the context of his religious policies toward Hindus, modern historians such as Romila Thapar and Richard M. Eaton have commented that his policies were in contrast to his general image in the modern era.
Mahmud used his plundered wealth to finance his armies which included mercenaries. The Indian soldiers, which Romila Thapar presumed to be Hindus, were one of the components of the army with their commander called sipahsalar-i-Hinduwan lived in their quarter of Ghazna practicing their own religion. Indian soldiers under their commander Suvendhray remained loyal to Mahmud. They were also used against a Turkic rebel, with the command given to a Hindu named Tilak according to Baihaki.
[H]is (Mahmud's) expeditions against India were not motivated by religion but by love of plunder.
A. V. Williams Jackson, Professor of Indo-Iranian Languages in Columbia University has written in his book History of India, "Mahmud vowed that every year he would wage a Holy War against the infidels of Hindustan"
By the end of his reign, the Ghaznavid Empire extended from Ray in the west to Samarkand in the north-east, and from the Caspian Sea to the Yamuna. Although his raids carried his forces across the Indian subcontinent, only a portion of the Punjab and of Sindh in modern-day Pakistan came under his semi-permanent rule; Kashmir, the Doab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat remained under the control of the local Hindu dynasties.
The booty brought back to Ghazni was enormous, and contemporary historians (e.g. Abolfazl Beyhaghi, Ferdowsi) give descriptions of the magnificence of the capital, as well as of the conqueror's munificent support of literature. He transformed Ghazni, the first centre of Persian literature, into one of the leading cities of Central Asia, patronizing scholars, establishing colleges, laying out gardens, and building mosques, palaces, and caravansaries. Mahmud brought whole libraries from Ray and Isfahan to Ghazni. He even demanded that the Khwarizmshah court send its men of learning to Ghazni.
Mahmud patronized the notable poet Ferdowsi, who after laboring 27 years, went to Ghazni and presented the Shahnameh to him. There are various stories in medieval texts describing the lack of interest shown by Mahmud to Ferdowsi and his life's work. According to historians, Mahmud had promised Ferdowsi a dinar for every distich written in the Shahnameh (which would have been 60,000 dinars), but later retracted his promise and presented him with dirhams (20,000 dirhams), at that time the equivalent of only 200 dinars. His expedition across the Gangetic plains in 1017 inspired Al-Biruni to compose his Tarikh Al-Hind in order to understand the Indians and their beliefs. During Mahmud's rule, universities were founded to study various subjects such as mathematics, religion, the humanities, and medicine.
On 30 April 1030 Sultan Mahmud died in Ghazni at the age of 58. Sultan Mahmud had contracted malaria during his last invasion. The medical complication from malaria had caused lethal tuberculosis.
The Ghaznavid Empire was ruled by his successors for 157 years. The expanding Seljuk empire absorbed most of the Ghaznavid west. The Ghorids captured Ghazni in 1150, and Mu'izz al-Din (also known as Muhammad of Ghori) captured the last Ghaznavid stronghold at Lahore in 1187.
The military of Pakistan has named its short-range ballistic missile the Ghaznavi Missile in honour of Mahmud of Ghazni. In addition, the Pakistan Military Academy, where cadets are trained to become officers of the Pakistan Army, also gives tribute to Mahmud of Ghazni by naming one of its twelve companies Ghaznavi Company.
Sultan Mahmud thought of himself as "the Shadow of the God on Earth", an absolute power whose will is law. He paid great attention to details in almost everything, personally overseeing the work of every department of his diwan (administration). He watched closely over the activities of the highest statesmen of his empire, especially his military commanders as he would not tolerate any mistreatment with regard to ordinary people.
Mahmud appointed all his ministers himself without advising his wazir (chief advisor) or diwan, though occasionally he had to, as his religion dictated that Muslims should consult each other on all issues. Most of the time he was suspicious of his ministers, particularly of the wazir, and the following words are widely believed to be his: "wazirs are the enemies of kings..." Sultan Mahmud had numerous spies (called mushrifs) across his empire, supervised by the special department within his diwan.
Mahmud was a patron of literature, especially poetry, and he was occasionally found in the company of talented poets either in his palace or in the royal garden. He was often generous to them, paying unstingtingly for their works according to their talent and worth.
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In 1026, warriors of the Jats, the indigenous population of Sindh, inflicted heavy losses on Mahmud's army when he retreated from Somnath to Multan. Mahmud returned a year later to take revenge on the Jats, who had been stubbornly resisting forced Islamisation since the eighth century. As the contemporary writer Gardizi reports, Mahmud had 1,400 boats built; each boat was to carry 20 archers and be equipped with special projectiles that could be filled with naphtha. Mahmud's fleet sailed down the Jhelum and then the Indus, until it met the Jat fleet. Although the Jats had far more boats than Mahmud, their fleet was set ablaze and destroyed.
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- Mahmud Encyclopædia Britannica (Online Edition)
- Ghaznavid Dynasty Encyclopædia Britannica (Online Edition)
- Ghaznavids and Ghurids Encyclopædia Britannica (Online Edition)
- Mahmud Ghazni
- History of Iran: Ghaznevid Dynasty
- Rewriting history and Mahmud of Ghazni
-  Online Copy:Last Accessed 11 October 2007 Elliot, Sir H. M., Edited by Dowson, John. The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period
- Tarikh Yamini, or Kitabu-l Yami of Abu Nasr Muhammad ibn Muhammad al Jabbaru-l 'Utbi.
Ismail of Ghazni