Mahmud of Ghazni

Mahmud Ghaznavi
محمود غزنوی

Ferdowsi reads the Shahnameh to Mahmud of Ghazni (by Vardges Sureniants, 1913)[1]
Emir of Ghazna
Reign 998 – 1002
Predecessor Ismail
Successor Himself as sultan
Sultan of Ghazna
Reign 1002 – 30 April 1030
Predecessor Himself as emir
Successor Muhammad
Born 2 November, 971
Ghazna (what is now modern-day Afghanistan)
Died 30 April 1030 (aged 59)
Spouse Kausari Jahan
Issue Jalal al-Dawla Muhammad
Shihab al-Dawla Masud
Izz al-Dawla Abd al-Rashid
Full name
Laqab: Yamin al-Dawla wa Amin al-Milla
Kunya: Abul-Qasim
Given name: Mahmud
Nisba: Ghaznawi
House House of Sabuktegin
Father Sabuktigin
Religion Sunni Islam

Yamīn-ud-Dawla Abul-Qāṣim Maḥmūd ibn Sebüktegīn (Persian: یمین‌الدوله ابوالقاسم محمود بن سبکتگین), more commonly known as Mahmud of Ghazni (محمود غزنوی; November 971 – 30 April 1030), also known as Mahmūd-i Zābulī (محمود زابلی), was the most prominent ruler of the Ghaznavid Empire. He conquered the eastern Iranian lands and the northwestern Indian subcontinent (modern Afghanistan and Pakistan) from 997 to his death in 1030. Mahmud turned the former provincial city of Ghazna into the wealthy capital of an extensive empire which covered most of today's Afghanistan, eastern Iran, and Pakistan, by looting the riches and wealth from the then Indian subcontinent.[2][3]

He was the first ruler to carry the title Sultan ("authority"), signifying the extent of his power, though preserving the ideological link to the suzerainty of the Abbasid Caliphate. During his rule, he invaded and plundered parts of Hindustan (east of the Indus River) 17 times.[3][4]

Early life and origin

Mahmud was born on Thursday, 10 Muharram, 361 AH/ November 2, 971 CE in the town of Ghazna in Medieval Khorasan (modern southeastern Afghanistan). His father Sabuktigin was a Turkic Mamluk who founded the Ghaznavid dynasty. His mother was the daughter of a Persian aristocrat from Zabulistan.[5]


Sultan Mahmud was born on 2 November 971 CE in Ghazni to first Ghaznavid Sultan Sebüktigin, Yusuf Sebüktigin being his younger brother. He was married to a woman named Kausari Jahan and had twin sons Mohammad and Ma'sud, who succeeded him one after the other, while his grandson by Mas'ud, Maw'dud Ghaznavi was also ruler of the empire. His sister Sitr-i-Mu'alla was married to Dawood bin Ataullah Alavi also known as Ghazi Salar Sahu, whose son was Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud

Mahmud's companion was a Georgian slave Malik Ayaz and his love for him inspired poems and stories.[6]

Early career

Sultan Mahmud and his forces attacking the fortress of Zaranj

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.


Mahmud took over his father's kingdom in 998 after defeating and capturing Ismail at the Battle of Ghazni. He 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 invasion of North India. On November 28, 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.[7] 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 carry political favor and recognition with the Abbasid Caliphate; he also engaged with the Fatimids elsewhere. 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 which faced defeat as his elephant turned back from the battle in a crucial moment, turning the tide into Mahmud's favor once more at Lahore in 1008 bringing Mahmud into control of the Shahi dominions of Udbandpura.[8]

Ghaznavid campaigns in Indian Subcontinent

Mahmud of Ghazni last success in India against Jats

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 annexing only the Punjab region.[8] He also vowed to raid and loot the wealthy region of northwestern India every year.[2]

In 1001 Mahmud of Ghazni had first invaded modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mahmud defeated, captured and later released the Shahi ruler Jayapala, who had moved his capital to Peshawar (modern Pakistan). Jaya Pala killed himself and was succeeded by his son Ananda Pala. In 1005 Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Bhatia (probably Bhera) and in 1006 he invaded Multan at which time Ananda Pala's army attacked him.The following year Mahmud of Ghazni attacked and crushed Sukha Pala, ruler of Bathinda (who had become ruler by rebelling against the Shahi kingdom). In 1013, during Mahmud's 8th expedition into eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Shahi kingdom (which was then under Trilochana Pala, son of Ananda Pala) was overthrown.[9]

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 Chandra Pala. In 1021 Mahmud supported the Kannauj king against Chandela Ganda, who was defeated. That same year Shahi Trilochana Pala was killed at Rahib and his son Bhima Pala succeeded him. Lahore (modern Pakistan) was annexed by Mahmud. Mahmud besieged Gwalior, in 1023, where he given tribute. Mahmud attacked Somnath, in 1025, and its ruler Bhima Deva I fled. The next year, he captured Somnath and marched to Kachch against Bhima Deva. That same year Mahmud also attacked the Jat people of Jud.[9]

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 shirk making alliances and enlisting local peoples into his armies at all ranks. Destroying the temples and monuments, would destroy the will power of the Hindus attacking the Empire since Mahmud never kept a permanent presence in the northwestern subcontinent; Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura, Kannauj, Kalinjar(1023)[10] and Somnath all submitted or were raided.

Political challenges

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 the Seljuks were repulsed by Mahmud and 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.

Campaign timeline

As emir

As sultan

Ghor and Muhammad ibn Suri then captured by Mahmud, made prisoner along with his son and taken to Ghazni, where Muhammad ibn Suri died. Appoints Sewakpal to administer the region. Anandapala flees to Kashmir, fort in the hills on the western border of Kashmir.

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.

Attitude on religion and jihad

Following Mahmud's recognition by the Abbasid caliphate in 999, he pledged a jihad and to raid India every year.[17] In 1005 CE, Mahmud conducted a series of campaigns during which the Ismailis of Multan were massacred.[18]

However, modern historians, such as Thapar, Richard M. Eaton etc. have portrayed a different view of Mahmaud as far as his religious policy is concerned.[19]

Thapar wrote:

"Of the mercenaries, not an insubstantial number were Indians and, presumably, Hindus. Indian soldiers under their commander, referred to as Suvendhary, remained loyal to Mahmud. They had their own commander, the sipasalar-i-Hinduwan, lived in their own quarter in Ghazni and continued with their religion. When the Turkish commander of the troops rebelled, the command was given to a Hindu, Tilak, and he is commended for his loyalty. Complaints are made about the severity with which Muslims and Christians were killed by Indian troops fighting for Mahmud in Seistan."[20]

Mohammad Habib states that there was no imposition of Jizya on "non-Muslims" during the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni nor any mention of "forced conversions":

"[H]is (Mahmud's) expeditions against India were not motivated by religion but by love of plunder."[21]

Attack on the Somnath Temple

A Painting of the tomb of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1839–40, with Sandalwood Doors long believed to be plundered from Somnath, which he destroyed in ca 1024, later found to be replicas of the original.

In 1024, Mahmud raided Gujarat, plundering the Somnath temple and breaking its jyotirlinga. He took away a booty of 2 crore dinars.[22][23] Historians expect the damage to the temple to have been minimal because there are records of pilgrimages to the temple in 1038, which make no mention of any damage to the temple.[24] However, powerful legends with intricate detail had developed regarding Mahmud's raid in the Turko-Persian literature,[25] which "electrified" the Muslim world according to scholar Meenakshi Jain.[26]

Historiography concerning Somnath

Historians including Romila Thapar, A.K. Majumdar and Richard M. Eaton 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."[27]

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."[28]
Silver jitals of Mahmud of Ghazna with bilingual Arabic and Sanskrit minted in Lahore 1028. avyaktam-eka (La ilaha illAllah) Muhammada avtāra (Muhammad Rasulullah) Nrpati Mahamuda ..
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Coins of Mahmud with the Islamic declaration of faith. Obverse legend with the name of the caliph al-Qadir bi-llah (in the fifth line). Reverse legend: Muhammad Rasul/Allah Yamin al-Daw/la wa-Amin al-Milla/Mahmud.

Mahmud of Ghazni, under his reign 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 as recognition of his independence.

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 South Asia, only a portion of Punjab and 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,[29] 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 Rayy and Isfahan to Ghazni. He even demanded that the Khwarizmshah court send its men of learning to Ghazni.[30]

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 in Ferdowsi and his life's work. According to historians, Mahmud had promised Ferdowsi a dinar for every distich written in the Shahnameh (60,000 dinars), but later retracted and presented him with dirhams (20,000 dirhams), the equivalent at that time 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 59. 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 A.D., and Mu'izz al-Din (also known as Muhammad of Ghori) captured the last Ghaznavid stronghold at Lahore in 1187.

Modern view of Mahmud

The military of Pakistan has named its short-range ballistic missile in the honour of Mahmud of Ghazni, the Ghaznavi Missile.[31] In addition to this, the Pakistan Military Academy, where cadets are trained for becoming Officers of the Pakistan Army also gives tribute the Mahmud of Ghazni by naming one of its twelve companies; Ghaznavi Company.

See also


  2. 1 2 Saunders 1947, p. 162.
  3. 1 2 Heathcote 1995, p. 6.
  4. Anjum 2007, p. 234.
  5. Bosworth 1991, p. 65.
  6. Neill 2008, p. 308.
  7. Bosworth 1963, p. 89.
  8. 1 2 Holt, Lambton & Lewis 1977, p. 3-4.
  9. 1 2 Barnett 1999, p. 74-78.
  10. Khan 2007, p. 66.
  11. Blank 2001, p. 37.
  12. Hanifi 1964, p. 21.
  13. Daftary 2005, p. 68.
  14. 1 2 3 Barua 2005, p. 27.
  15. Chandra 2006, p. 18.
  16. Kumar 2008, p. 127.
  17. Qassem 2009, p. 19.
  18. Virani 2007, p. 100.
  19. Eaton 2000, p. 63.
  20. Thapar 2005, p. 40.
  21. Habib 1965, p. 77.
  22. Yagnik & Sheth 2005, pp. 39-40.
  23. Thapar 2005, pp. 36-37.
  24. Thapar 2005, p. 75.
  25. Thapar 2005, Chapter 3.
  26. Meenakshi Jain (21 March 2004). "Review of Romila Thapar's "Somanatha, The Many Voices of a History"". The Pioneer. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
  27. A. K. Majumdar, Chalukyas of Gujarat (Bombay, 1956), quoted in Thapar 2005, p. 16
  28. Thapar 2005, p. 14.
  29. "Arts, Islamic". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 October 2006.
  30. Bosworth 1963, p. 132.
  31. Ramachandran 2005.


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Preceded by:
Ismail of Ghazni
Ghaznavid Sultan
Followed by:
Mohammad Ghaznavi
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