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Mughal Empire

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By ruling a vast territory as the Indian subcontinent involving such a diverse group of people and cultures, was a very difficult task in medieval times. From the latter half of the 16th century, the Mughals expanded their empire from Agra and Delhi, going on to control all of the subcontinents in the 17th century. The Mughal empire was in one of its best states during the 17th century. Prosperity in commercial and economic activities was evident during this period. 

Mughal Empire


Who were the Mughals?

Mughals were the descendants of two great lineages of rulers: Genghis Khan a Mongol ruler from their mother’s side, and Successors of Timur from their father’s side. Mughals proudly claimed Timurid ancestry because Timur captured Delhi in 1398.

Mughal Military Campaigns

Babur was the first Mughal emperor who succeeded the throne of Ferghana in the year 1494 when was only 12 years old, forced to leave his ancestral throne due to a Mongol invasion. He seized Kabul in 1504 and in 1526 he defeated the Sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, at Panipat-captured Delhi and Agra.

Following Babur, most of his successors including Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurangzeb importantly were able to expand and conquer many territories subsequently. For more than two centuries, the empire stretched from the outer reaches of the Indus basin in the West, Afghanistan in the northwest, and Kashmir in the North, to the highlands of present-day Assam-Bangladesh in the east till the uplands of Deccan in South India.

Mughal Tradition of Succession

Mughals didn’t believed in the rule of primogeniture, in which the eldest son inherited his son’s estate. They followed the Mughal and Timurid custom of coparcenary inheritance, which is the division of the inheritance amongst all sons.

Mughal Relations with Other Rulers

The rulers who refused to accept the authority of the Mughals were constantly campaigned against. As the Mughals became powerful, many rulers like Rajputs joined in voluntarily. Many Rajputs married their daughters to Mughals and received high positions. Some Rajputs resisted as well.

However, even after defeat Mughals treated them honorably, giving them lands called Watan back as assignments, called Watan Jagirs. However, keeping a balance was not always an easy task for the Mughals.

Mansabdars and Jagirdars

The empire expanded to include many regions and a diverse group of people was recruited from Turkish, Iranian, Indian Muslims, Afghans, Rajputs, Marathas, and others. Some joined as mansabdars. Mansabdars refers to an individual who holds a mansab, meaning a position or rank-grading system used by Mughals to rate – Rank, Salary, and Military responsibilities.

The rank and salary were determined by numerical value, the higher the Zat, the more prestigious the noble position was in court and the larger his salary more military responsibilities require him to maintain a specific number of sawar or cavalrymen.

Mansabdar’s salaries were revenue assignments called jagirs and the ones assigned were called the jagirdars. He only had the rights to revenue of their assignments collected by their servants, while they themselves served in another part of country.

Zabt and Zamindars

The main source of income for Mughal Rulers was a tax on the produce of the peasantry. Some of these taxes were paid by peasants via rural elites, termed as zamindars. Each province was divided into revenue circles with its own schedule of revenue rates for the individual crops. This revenue system was called Zabt.

Akbar’s Policies

Abul Fazl discussed the administration laid down by Akbar in Akbar Nama. In its volume the Ain-i-Akbari, the empire was divided into provinces called subas, governed by a subadar who carried out both political and military functions.

Every province had a financial officer or diwan. Subadar was supported by other officers such as Bakshi, sadr, faujdar, and kotwal. Akbar also led the idea of “Sulh-i Kul” or “universal peace”, which was the idea of tolerance and not discrimination based on different religions of the reign. This principle of governance was followed by Jahangir and Shah Jahan.

Mughal Empire in the Seventeenth Century and After

The Mughal imperial structure is frequently dated to 1600, to Akbar’s reign, which lasted until 1720, shortly after the death of the empire’s last significant monarch, Aurangzeb, during whose reign the empire also reached its greatest geographical extent. The empire lost a significant area as a result of the Maratha Empire’s conquests, which were absorbed as a puppet state, and this continued throughout the East India Company’s tenure in India. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the British Raj legally dissolved the empire.

The Mughal Empire’s administrative and military efficiency resulted in immense economic and commercial prosperity. Foreign visitors were astounded by the poverty that coexisted with the most extravagant splendor. In the twentieth year of Jahangir’s reign, the highest-ranking mansabdars were only 445 out of a total of 8,000, and they got 61.5 percent of the empire’s total expected revenue as salary.

Mughal emperors and mansabdars spent a large portion of their revenue on wages and goods. This money went to the artisans and peasants who supplied them with goods and produce. The amount of income left relatively little for investment in the hands of primary producers. The poorest of them lived hand to mouth and could hardly afford to invest in additional resources – tools and supplies – to boost output.

The Mughal aristocracy commanded vast wealth and resources, making them an extremely powerful group of individuals in the late seventeenth century. As the Mughal emperor’s status weakened, his entourage rose to power as provincial power brokers. They founded new kingdoms and ruled over areas like Awadh and Hyderabad. The empire’s provinces had acquired their own political identities by the eighteenth century but continued to recognize the Mughal emperor in Delhi as their sovereign.

Decline of the Mughal Dynasty

During Aurangzeb’s reign, there was a crisis of the Mughal empire. The farmers were poor as a result of the high levies he imposed. At the same time, the quality of the Mughal rule was steadily deteriorating. Later emperors demonstrated little inclination to governor invest in agriculture, technology, or the military. Some emperors even prohibited economic development, believing that the wealthy would mobilize armies of their own. Local leaders eventually rebelled and declared themselves independent of the central government, hastening the empire’s demise.

The religious and Deccan policies of Aurangzeb contributed to the empire’s decline. The attempt at the extension of Mughal rule over Golconda, Bijapur, and Karnataka stretched the empire to a point of breaking. The successors of Aurangzeb were weak and not able to administer properly. Most were in fact puppets in the hands of powerful nobles. Nobility assumed lots of power; state and politics were motivated by personal gains. The Turanis, Iranis, Afghans, and Indian-born Muslims were important noble groups.

With the emergence of many autonomous states, revenue resources got depleted and continuous Indian-born wars furthered the emptying of the treasures. The neglect of naval power by the Mughals also cost them dearly. The foreign invasions and the coming of the British further aggravated the situation.

The Mughal Empire ruled over most of Afghanistan and the Indian subcontinent at its peak. When Muhammad Shah ascended to the throne in 1719, the kingdom had already begun to crumble. The process was exacerbated by dynastic turmoil, factional strife, and the Iranian king Nadir Shah’s brief but destructive invasion of northern India in 1739. The Marathas acquired control of nearly all of northern India after Muhammad Shah’s death in 1748. Mughal rule was limited to a narrow territory surrounding Delhi. In 1803, the British acquired control of this region. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Mughal Empire had lost all of its territories to competitors and the British.

When the British East India Company was created in 1600, it was exclusively interested in trading with the Mughal Empire. However, as the empire collapsed, the British gained more sway over the Mughal kings. At the Battle of Plassey in 1757, British forces defeated the nawab (ruler) of Bengal and French forces (Palashi). Following that, the East India Company assumed governmental control of much of the Indian subcontinent. Mughal emperors kept their thrones, although they had little real power. The British exiled the last Mughal emperor during the Indian Mutiny of 1857–59.

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FAQs on Mughal Empire

Question 1: What were the main reasons for the decline of the Mughal Empire?


The main reasons for decline of Mughal Empire are weak successors, degeneration of Mughal nobility, Aurangzeb’s religious persecution of Hindus, demoralization of Mughal army, invasions and the foreign invasions.

Question 2: Name the Mughal descendants.


The Mughals were the children of two famous lineages of rulers: Genghis Khan on the mother’s side and Timur on the father’s side.

Question 3: What are suba and subedar?


Akbar’s empire was divided into provinces known as subas, which were controlled by subadar. Subedar served in both political and military capacities.

Question 4: What were the historical happenings during the 17th century in the Indian subcontinent?


The Mughals expanded their kingdom from Agra and Delhi in the latter half of the 16th century, until they dominated practically the whole subcontinent by the 17th century.

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Last Updated : 10 Feb, 2023
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