Turkish Slaves in Delhi Sultanate

Essay, 2017

7 Pages, Grade: 1.2


After the Mu’izz al-Din Ghuris Indian campaign and the consolidation of the conquered territory under his subordinates in the last decade of the twelfth century, the Turkish bandagan occupied many positions of influence and power in North India. Thus, when there emerged a politically paramount sultanate of Delhi under IItutmish, all the strategically important positions were given to the monarch’s senior slaves or the elite bandagan-I khass. By the end of IItutmish rule, the influence of the Turkish slave soldiers on the political structure of the sultanate administration was disproportionate to their social status (Al-Sahli, 2013). Although the Turkish slave soldiers had undergone traumatic alienation and been introduced to the Islamic faith as well as the decorum of the court as part of their training, their Turkish heritage remained unchanged. To a large extent, the early Delhi sultans, who were of Turkish origins created in their slaves the Turkish identity in order to create new bonds and identities through the process of divesting the slaves from their old relations. Scholars have noted that the sultans deliberately gave their slaves Turkish names rather than Arabic ones which would have been in tandem with the Islamic faith which they professed (Kumar, 2009). A shared Turkish ethnicity was used to reinforce the bonds between the slave soldiers and the sultan; however, it did not imply that they alienate the non-Turkish slaves. Thus, the slave soldiers were an integral part of the reproduction and sustenance of the authority of the Delhi sultanate.

However, earlier scholars and chroniclers were wary of discussing how the reproduction of the authority of the sultanate also affected the reproduction of the slave soldiers. The soldiers working in the service of the sultanate incorporated themselves in the network power; they also established households, and even bequeathed power to a second generation consequently contradicting the logic of their initial deployment and the hierarchical structure in society that was beloved by the Persians Literati (Al-Sahli, 2013). It is important to note that the sultans, military commanders, and the educated were all slaves of children of former slaves. The alienated slaves went beyond their brief and took over power and vital dimension of the political life of the sultanate by taking over from the sultans especially through the regency position bestowed on the highest ranking slave soldiers.

The Muslim society, during the Delhi sultanate, was dominated by the Turkish rulers who deliberately sought to maintain their dominant positions against non-Muslims as well as indigenous Muslims and non-Turkish immigrants (Kumar, 2009). However, it can be noted that most of the sultans during the Delhi sultanate were Turkish in origin even where they bear different designation (Al-Sahli, 2013). It is evident that the first one hundred years of the sultanate were ruled by Turkish sultans and heirs of a definite historical and cultural tradition. Over the first hundred years of the Delhi sultanate, the Turks produced three great sultans; the first was IItutmish, followed by Ala-ud-din Khalji and Balban.

One of the significant and interesting features of the Islamic society during the Delhi sultanate is the attempts of the Indian Muslims, who were mainly Hindu or Buddhist converts, to assert themselves. They repeatedly tried to gain power, especially in mid-thirteenth century, but the Turks were stronger than the Indian Muslims (Kumar, 2009). However, the situation began to change gradually especially under the Khaljis as well as under the Tughluqs. Ghiyas-ud-dinTughluq’s mother was of Indian descent. Sultan Mohammed Tughluq had a Hindu governor; Firuz Tughluq had a dominant Hindu convert who had hailed from Telingana. The lives of the upper-class Muslims in Delhi were modeled on the Turkish as well as the Persian counterparts especially in the sports for instance, the Turkish were fond of playing polo (Al-Sahli, 2013).

The Turkish racial superiority, which was predominant during the reign of the early slave sultans, did not encourage the employment of Hindus or Muslims of Indian descent in the senior military appointments. However, the Hindu aristocracies were allowed to occupy positions of power and prestige in the rural areas. The land system was not changed, and the rural Indians were allowed to continue enjoying their life much as they did before the coming of the Muslim Turks. Commerce and Trade also remained the domain of the Hindu because the complex banking system was unfamiliar to the Muslims. Although the merchants were heavily taxed, they were too integrated in the commerce system to be replaced (Al-Sahli, 2013).

In the Delhi sultanate, there were no fixed law on succession; occupation of the sultanate was dependent on the law of nature. It was the single most factors that led to the rapid growth of the Muslim rule in most part of the world. The system afforded opportunities to the ambitious military leaders to acquire vast empires for themselves (Kumar, 2009). For instance, the approach facilitated the rapid spread of the Turks in northern India especially during the leadership of Muhammad Ghori supported by his brilliant Turkish slave commandants (Ahmed, 2009). Qutubuddin Aibek, a slave commander, laid claim to the throne on this account. The concept of a powerful hereditary ruler within the Turkish nobility of India only took shape much later in the Delhi Sultanate. Thus, during Muhammad Ghori reign, the political power was concentrated on the Turkish commanders who were called the Ghurid (Al-Sahli, 2013). The members of the Ghurid were relatives to Mohammad Ghori or members of his ancestral clan. The other class of nobility with political clout was the Turkish slave commanders in the Mohammad Ghori’s military machine. Ghori had immense faith on the slave officers and preferred them over the others. His successor, Qutubuddin Aibek was a slave commander.

Thus, in the political struggle for dominance, Qutubuddin Aibek Turkish slave commanders, the Qutbi nobles, acquired prime positions among the Indian nobility during the reign of Qutubuddin. Their chief representative was Shamsuddin IItutmish. Although IItutmish was not a great administrator, he was a shrewd commander. He established his class of Turkish nobles made of his slaves who had been promoted to the rank of officers. The Turkish slave soldiers were called the Shamsi nobles. During the reign of IItutmish, the forty slave commanders occupied the top leadership positions of the Shamsi nobles group and also had important portfolios in the Sultanate as regional military governors and state ministers (Al-Sahli, 2013). These slave commanders helped IItutmish consolidate the Delhi Sultanate. IItutmish had attracted total royalty and support from his slave commanders that he felt secure on the throne therefore, he could contemplate being succeeded by his children and, hence, starting the hereditary monarchy (Ahmed, 2009). However, it proved difficult to maintain because the slave commanders loyalty was to the person of IItutmish and not to his children. The slave commanders also considered themselves as partners with IItutmish in the state enterprise. Thus, they could not countenance a hereditary monarchy, consequently, after IItutmish died, there ensued a power struggle pitting the commanders and the hereditary sultans.

The Turks, through the slave military officers and commanders, governed the Indian subcontinent for over eight hundred years. It is worth noting that the Turks dynasty was ruled by people who had personal attributes for good leadership (Ahmed, 2009). Most were efficient administrators others were good military commanders, qualities that helped maintain the reign in the sultanate for many years (Kumar, 2009). They had established efficient administrative structures which did not change much over the Turkish rule. The only difference between the early sultan’s administration and the latter ones was the degree of centralization which was decreased over time. The sultanate was divided into administrative units headed by a governor and helped by a council of ministers (Al-Sahli, 2013). The local officials had the mandate to make decisions on important matters that related to their administration. However, the most outstanding feature which helped the Turkish leaders develop a strong system of government was the establishment of the judicial systems. The Turkish Sultans also realized that they needed the support of the Turkish nobility so as to avoid dissension; consequently, they strove to establish good relations with the nobility (Ahmed, 2009). For instance, Sultan Balban developed a new theory of kingship which was meant to reform the relationship between the Sultan and the Turkish nobility. Most Turkish noblemen were allowed to keep their offices and often they occupied senior positions in the sultanate government and the military forces.


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Turkish Slaves in Delhi Sultanate
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turkish, slaves, delhi, sultanate
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Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2017, Turkish Slaves in Delhi Sultanate, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/427071


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