The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians

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The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians is a book comprising translations of medieval Persian chronicles based on the work of Henry Miers Elliot. It was originally published as a set of eight volumes between 1867-1877 in London. The translations were in part overseen by Elliot, whose efforts were then extended and edited posthumously by John Dowson.

The book has been reprinted several times, and is also available online.


Henry Miers Elliot was born in 1808. He was an administrator who worked for the British East India Company (EIC) and rose to the position of foreign secretary under the Governor-Generalships of Henry Hardinge and James Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie. His academic capability in oriental languages, classics and mathematics enabled him to pass the open entrance examination for the EIC in 1826, foregoing the place at New College, Oxford that he had been expected to attend.[1]

Elliot's interest in studies of India was indulged as a leisure pursuit throughout his time in the country and arose out of researches made by him in attempts to develop policies relating to land and revenue. British historians of India, such as Mountstuart Elphinstone, had largely ignored the rural aristocracy and fiscal matters, which Elliot believed could usefully be investigated by resort to hitherto neglected medieval chronicles. He saw his Bibliographical Index to the Historians of Mohammedan India , published in 1849, as a prelude to a study of 231 Arabic and Persian historians of India and also a resource that would prove to be of benefit to future historians.[1][2] He said that he wanted his researches to be

... useful depositories of knowledge from which the labour and diligence of succeeding scholars may extract materials for the creation of a better and more solid structure.[2]

Ill-health prevented Elliot from completing his more detailed study: he left India in search of a more amenable climate and died in 1853 at Simonstown, South Africa.[1]

John Dowson was asked by Elliot's widow, Rebecca, to complete the work of her husband. Dowson had been born in 1820 and had held various teaching posts relating to oriental languages, of which he seems likely to have mastered Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Telugu and Hindustani. Those posts included a period as tutor at the EIC's Haileybury college, a professorship at University College, London and, from around 1859 until 1877, a professorship at the Staff College, Camberley. His efforts based on the work of Elliot resulted in the eight volumes titled The History of India, as Told by its Own Historians: the Muhammadan Period, published in London by Trübner & Co between 1867 and 1877. Around half of the material extracted from Elliot's bibliographic index were translated by Dowson himself[a] and, according to Katherine Prior, he also left his mark by giving "... more of a historical emphasis than Elliot had planned." Some years later, Dowson began work on a volume concerning medieval Gujarat that was also based on Elliot's papers. This was incomplete at the time of his death in 1881 and was later published in a completely different form — as The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians: The Local Muhammadan Dynasties: Gujarat — under the editorship of Edward Clive Bayley.[4]


The literary work of Elliot was criticised around the time of his death. Francis H. Robinson wrote in 1853 that Elliot's evangelical trait tended to "criminate" those about whom he wrote.[1] Dowson's academic reputation was established through his involvement in the project, although he did receive some criticism both of his competence and methods. Prior notes that, "Ironically, in the longer term, the apparent comprehensiveness of his work seriously retarded scholarly re-examination of the manuscripts on which it was based".[4]

In 1903, Stanley Lane-Poole praised the efforts of Elliot and Dowson, saying:

To realise Medieval India there is no better way than to dive into the eight volumes of the priceless History of India as Told by its Own Historians which Sir H. M. Elliot conceived and began and which Professor Dowson edited and completed with infinite labour and learning. It is a revelation of Indian life as seen through the eyes of the Persian court annalists. It is, however, a mine to be worked, not a consecutive history, and its wide leaps in chronology, its repetitions, recurrences, and omissions, render it no easy guide for general readers.[5]

Another Francis Robinson, writing in 2010, notes that the Elliott and Dowson work "... should always be read with Peter Hardy's Historians of Medieval India (Delhi, 1997) to hand."[6]

Ramya Sreenivasan explains that the early and medieval historiography of India has often been approached in the form of dichotomic Hindu and Muslim categories, two strands of mutually exclusive political outlooks and cultures that have their origins in the two literary epic forms that generally, but not always, are typical of those periods. She notes that the effects of this can been seen in the works of later historians such as James Tod, another EIC administrator and gentleman-scholar, who strenuously favoured the notion of Hindu chivalry and Muslim deceitfulness while working in Rajputana.[7] Richard Eaton believes that present-day Hindu nationalists have "selectively used" Elliot and Dowson's "selective translations" in their efforts to denigrate pre-modern Muslim rulers. He says that

... Elliot, keen to contrast what he understood as the justice and efficiency of British rule with the cruelty and despotism of the Muslim rulers who had preceded that rule, was anything but sympathetic to the "Muhammadan" period of Indian history ... [He noted] the far greater benefits that Englishmen had brought to Indians in a mere half-century than Muslims had brought in five centuries ... Elliot's motives for delegitimising the Indo-Muslim rulers who had preceded English rule are thus quite clear.[3]


The contents are not complete translations of works. A. J. Arberry notes the Tabakát-i Násirí, Táríkh-i Fíroz Sháhí and Zafar-náma as being among those of which only parts were published. Arberry also points out that the quality of sources selected was variable and that the documents from which the translations were made were sometimes but one version of several that were available.[8][b]

Volume I: Introduction[edit]

  • Early Arab Geographers
  • Historians of Sind

Volume II: To the Year A.D. 1260[edit]

  • Táríkhu-l Hind of Biruni
  • Táríkh Yamíní of 'Utbí
  • Táríkhu-s Subuktigín of Baihakí
  • Jawami ul-Hikayat of Muhammad 'Úfí
  • Táju-l Ma-ásir of Hasan Nizámí
  • Kámilu-t Tawáríkh of Ibn Asír
  • Nizámu-t Tawáríkh of Baizáwí
  • Tabakát-i Násirí of Minháju-s Siráj
  • Jahán Kushá of Juwainí

Volume III: To the Year A.D. 1398[edit]

Volume IV: To the Year A.D. 1450[edit]

  • Táríkh-i Háfiz Abrú
  • Táríkh-i Mubárak Sháhí, of Yahyá bin Ahmad
  • Matla'u-s Sa'dain, of Abdur Razzaq
  • Rawżat aṣ-ṣafāʾ,of Mirkhond
  • Khulásatu-l Akhbár, of Khondamir
  • Dastúru-l Wuzrá, of Khondamír
  • Habib al-Siyar, of Khondamir
  • Táríkh-i Ibráhímí; or, Táríkh-i Humáyúní, of Ibráhím bin Harírí
  • Tuzk-e-Babri; or, Wáki'át-i Bábarí: The Autobiography of Babur
  • Tabakát-i Bábarí, of Shaikh Zain
  • Lubbu-t Tawáríkh, of Yahya bin 'Abdu-l Latíf
  • Nusakh-i Jahán-árá, of Kází Ahmad
  • Táríkh-i Sher Sháhí; or, Tuhfat-i Akbar Sháhí, of 'Abbás Khán Sarwání
  • Táríkh-i Dáúdí, of 'Abdu-lla

Volume V: End of the Afghan Dynasty and the First Thirty-Eight Years of the Reign of Akbar[edit]

  • Táríkh-i Salátín-i Afághana, of Ahmad Yádgár
  • Makhzan-i Afghání and Táríkh-i Khán-Jahán Lodí, of Ni'amatu-lla
  • Humáyún-náma, of Khondamir
  • Táríkh-i Rashídí, of Haidar Mirzá Doghlat
  • Tazkiratu-l Wáki'át, of Jauhar
  • Táríkh-i Alfí, of Mauláná Ahmad and others
  • Tabakát-i Akbarí, of Nizamuddin Ahmad, Bakhshí
  • Muntakhab al-Tawarikh; or, Táríkh-i Badáúní, of Mullá `Abd al-Qadir Bada'uni

Volume VI: Akbar and Jahangir[edit]

Volume VII: From Shah-Jahan to the Early Years of the Reign of Muhammad Shah[edit]

  • Padshahnama, of Muhammad Amín Kazwíní
  • Bádsháh-náma, of Abdul Hamid Lahori
  • Sháh Jahán-náma, of 'Ináyat Khán
  • Bádsháh-náma, of Muhammad Wáris
  • 'Amal-i Sálih, of Muhammad Sálih Kambú
  • Sháh Jahán-náma, of Muhammad Sádik Khán
  • Majálisu-s Salátín, of Muhammad Sharíf Hanafí
  • Táríkh-i Mufazzalí, of Mufazzal Khán
  • Mir-át-i 'Álam, Mir-át-i Jahán-numá, of Bakhtáwar Khán
  • Zínatu-t Tawáríkh, of 'Azízu-llah
  • Lubbu-t Tawáríkh-i Hind, of Ráí Bhárá Mal
  • 'Álamgír-náma, of Muhammad Kázim
  • Ma-ásir-i 'Álamgírí, of Muhammad Sákí Musta'idd Khán
  • Futuhát-i 'Álamgírí, of Muhammad Ma'súm
  • Táríkh-i Mulk-i Áshám, of Shahábu-d dín Tálásh
  • Wakái', of Ni'amat Khán
  • Jang-náma, of Ni'amat Khán
  • Ruka'át-i 'Álamgírí, of the Emperor Aurangzeb
  • Muntakhabu-l Lubáb, of Kháfí Khán
  • Táríkh, of Irádat Khán
  • Táríkh-i Bahádur Sháhí
  • Táríkh-i Sháh 'Álam Bahádur Sháhí
  • 'Ibrat-náma, of Muhammad Kásim

Volume VIII: To End of the Muhammadan Empire in India[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ In contradiction to Katherine Prior's assessment that Dowson translated around half of the material, Richard Eaton has said that "the bulk" was translated by Elliot.[3]
  2. ^ Arberry believes, for example, that the Tabakát-i Násirí lacks sufficient depth, that the Zafar-náma material was derived mainly from an abridgement and that the Táríkh-i 'Aláí includes "some remarkable bombast".[9]


  1. ^ a b c d Penner (2006)
  2. ^ a b Wahi (1990)
  3. ^ a b Eaton (2000), p. 246
  4. ^ a b Prior (2004)
  5. ^ Lane-Poole (1903), p. v-vi
  6. ^ Robinson (2010), p. 11
  7. ^ Sreenivasan (2007), pp. 12-14
  8. ^ Arberry (1995), pp. 153, 273, 366
  9. ^ Arberry (1995), pp. 153, 281, 366
  10. ^ Hameed ud-Din (2011). "Abū Ṭāleb Ḥosaynī". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Hodivala, Shahpurshah Hormasji Dinshahji (1979) [1939]. Studies in Indo-Muslim History: A Critical Commentary on Elliot and Dowson’s History of India as told by its own Historians (2 vols.). Bombay: Islamic Book Service. 

External links[edit]

  • Elliot, Henry Miers (1849). Bibliographical Index to the Historians of Muhammedan India 1. Calcutta: J. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press. 
  • Elliot, H. M. (Henry Miers), Sir; Ed. John Dowson (1871). The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians. The Muhammadan Period. London : Trübner & Co. 
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