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Indian History

The Delhi Sultanate-I: Slave Dynasty (1206–1290)

  • 09 Jun 2023
  • 19 min read

For Prelims: Iltutmish, Qutbuddin Aibak, Raziya Sultan, Balban.

For Mains: Administrative apparatuses of the Delhi Sultanate, Significance of nobility in the Delhi Sultanate

How Qutbuddin Aibak (1150-1210) Established the First Muslim Dynasty?

  • Muizzuddin (Muhammad of Ghur) was succeeded by Qutbuddin Aibak a Turkish slave in 1206. He had played an important part in the expansion of the Turkish Sultanate in India after the Battle of Tarain (1192 AD).
  • Another slave of Muizzuddin, Yalduz, succeeded at Ghazni. As the ruler of Ghazni, Yalduz claimed to rule over Delhi as well.
  • This, however, was not accepted by Aibak who ruled from Lahore. But from this time, the Sultanate severed its links with Ghazni.
  • The establishment of the Slave Dynasty is credited to Qutbuddin Aibak.
  • The Slave Dynasty, also known as the Mamluk Dynasty, was the first Muslim dynasty to rule over the Delhi Sultanate in India.
  • Qutbuddin Aibak is also known as Lakh Baksh.

How did Iltutmish (1210–36) Expanded its Territory?

  • In 1210, Aibak died of injuries received in a fall from his horse while playing chaugan (polo).
  • He was succeeded by Iltutmish who was the son-in-law of Aibak.
  • Iltutmish must be regarded as the real consolidator of the Turkish conquests in north India.
    • At the time of his accession, Ali Mardan Khan had declared himself the king of Bengal and Bihar.
  • At first, even some of the fellow officers of Iltutmish near Delhi were reluctant to accept his authority. The Rajputs found an opportunity to assert their independence. The regions of Kalinjar, Gwaliyar, and eastern Rajasthan, which encompassed Ajmer and Bayana successfully liberated themselves from Turkish domination.
  • At about the same time, Iltutmish took steps to recover Gwaliyar, Bayana, Ajmer and Nagor.
  • During the early years of his reign, Iltutmish’s attention was concentrated on the northwest. A new danger to his position arose with the conquest of Ghazni by Khwarizm Shah.
    • The Khwarizmi empire was the most powerful state in Central Asia at this time, and its eastern frontier now extended up to the Indus. To avert this danger, the Iltutmish marched to Lahore and occupied it.
  • Qubacha, a fellow slave of Aibak, had declared himself an independent ruler of Multan and seized Lahore and parts of the Punjab.
  • Iltutmish also ousted Qubacha from Multan and Uchch. The frontiers of the Delhi Sultanate, thus, reached up to the Indus once again. Secure in the west, Iltutmish was able to turn his attention elsewhere. He made raids on the territories of his neighbours, the Sena rulers of East Bengal, and the Hindu rulers of Orissa and Kamrup (Assam) continued their sway.
  • In Bengal and Bihar, a person called Iwaz who had taken the title of Sultan Ghiyasuddin assumed independence. In 1226–27, Iwaz was defeated and killed in a battle with Iltutmish’s son near Lakhnauti. Bengal and Bihar passed under the domian of Delhi once again.
  • He sent expeditions against Ranthambhore and Jalor to reassert his suzerainty.
  • He also attacked Nagda, the capital of Mewar (about 22 km from Udaipur) but had to beat a retreat at the arrival of the Gujarat armies. As revenge, the Iltutmish dispatched an expedition against the Chalukyas of Gujarat, but it was repulsed with losses.

How Raziya Sultan (1236–39) Succeeded to Iltutmish?

  • Iltutmish decided to nominate his daughter, Raziya, to the throne.
  • In order to assert her claim, Raziya had to contend against her brothers as well as against powerful Turkish nobles and could rule only for three years.
  • It marked the beginning of a struggle for power between the monarchy and the Turkish chiefs, sometimes called ‘the forty’ or the chahalgani.
    • Corps of Forty/chahalgani was a council of 40 Turkic slave emirs who administered the Delhi Sultanate as per the wishes of the sultan.
  • Iltutmish's wazir, Nizam-ul-Mulk Junaidi, who had opposed her elevation to the throne, and backed and supported a rebellion of nobles against her, was defeated and was forced to flee.
  • Raziya sent an expedition against Ranthambore to control the Rajputs, and successfully established law and order in the length and breadth of her kingdom.
  • Abyssinian noble, Yaqut khan had been appointed Superintendent of the royal stable and was favoured by Raziya Sultan.
    • The Turkish nobles accused her of violating feminine modesty, and of being too friendly to Yaqut Khan.
  • Rebellions broke out in Lahore and Sirhind. Raziya personally led an expedition against Lahore and compelled the governor to submit.
  • On the way to Sirhind, an internal rebellion broke out in which Yaqut Khan was killed, and Raziya imprisoned at Tabarhinda.
  • However, Raziya won over her captor, Malik Altunia, and after marrying him made a renewed attempt on Delhi. Raziya fought valiantly but was defeated and killed in a forest by bandits while she was in flight.

How did Mangols Rise?

  • The Mongol Empire made several attempts to invade the Indian subcontinent from 1221 to 1327.
  • The Rise of Mangols started with the arrival of Changez Khan, the Mongol leader, who prided in calling himself ‘the scourge of God’.
  • The Mongols attacked the Khwarizmi empire in 1218.
    • The Mongol onslaught had serious repercussions on the Sultanate of Delhi.
  • Iltutmish, who was ruling at Delhi tried to appease the Mongols.
  • This resulted in a series of Mongol attacks. The river Indus ceased to be India’s western boundary.
  • Ultimately, Iltutmish was able to conquer both Lahore and Multan, thus forming a fairly strong line of defense against the Mongols.
  • After the death of Changez Khan in 1227, the mighty Mongol empire was divided among his sons.

How did Balban (1246–87) Rise to Power?

  • Background:
    • The struggle between the monarchy and the Turkish chiefs continued, till one of the Turkish chiefs, Ulugh Khan, known in history by his later title of Balban.
    • Gradually he seized control of everything, and in 1265 he succeeded in taking the throne.
    • During the earlier period, Balban held the position of naib or deputy to Nasiruddin Mahmud, a younger son of Iltutmish, whom Balban had helped in securing the throne in 1246.
    • Balban further strengthened his position by marrying one of Nasiruddin Mahmud’s daughters to the young sultan.
    • The growing authority of Balban alienated many of the Turkish chiefs who had hoped to continue their former power and influence in the affairs of government, since Nasiruddin Mahmud was young and inexperienced.
    • They, therefore, hatched a conspiracy in 1253 and ousted Balban from his position.
    • Balban was replaced by Imaduddin Raihan who was an Indian Muslim.
  • A Separate Group Formation:
    • When Balban agreed to step aside but carefully continued to build his own group. He had also established some contacts with the Mongols who had overrun a large part of the Punjab.
    • Sultan Mahmud bowed to the superior strength of Balban’s group and dismissed Raihan. After some time, Raihan was defeated and killed.
    • Balban got rid of many of his other rivals by means of fair or foul.
    • In 1265, Sultan Mahmud died.
  • Strong Centralized Army:
    • Balban organized a strong centralized army, both to deal with internal disturbances, and to repel the Mongols who had entrenched themselves in the Punjab and posed a serious danger to the Delhi Sultanate.
    • Diwan-i-arz:
      • He reorganized the military department (diwan-i-arz) and pensioned off those soldiers and troopers who were no longer fit for service.
    • Balban adopted a policy of ‘blood and iron’ to deal with Mewatis, Rajput zamindars and Dacoits of Ganga-Jamuna Doab and Awadh.
    • In the Doab and in Katihar (modern Rohilkhand) Balban ordered forests to be cleared, rebellious villagers destroyed, and the men, women and children enslaved.
    • By these harsh methods, Balban controlled the situation. In order to impress the people with the strength of his government and to awe them, Balban maintained a magnificent court.
  • Death of Balban:
    • Balban died in 1286.
    • He was undoubtedly one of the main architects of the Sultanate of Delhi, particularly of its form of government and institutions.
    • By asserting the power of the monarchy, Balban strengthened the Delhi Sultanate.
    • He could not fully defend northern India against the inroads of the Mongols.

What are Some of the Examples of Architecture of the Slave Dynasty?

  • Important Buildings created by the Rulers of Slave Dynasty:
    • Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque:
      • It is one of the earliest mosques in India and was erected between 1192 and 1198 by Qutubuddin Aibak.
      • Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque meaning the ‘might of Islam’.
      • It is built northeast of the Qutub Minar.
      • The Iron Pillar in the courtyard bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of fourth century AD, according to which the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja (standard of god Vishnu) on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra.
    • Qutub Minar:
      • Qutub Minar in red and buff sandstone is the highest tower in India.
      • Qutbu'd-Din Aibak laid the foundation of Minar in AD 1199 up to the first Storey.
      • It was added three more Storeys by his successor and son-in-law Shamsu'd-Din Iltutmish (AD 1211-36).
      • Numerous inscriptions in Arabic and Nagari characters in different places of the minar reveal the history of Qutb.
      • The Iron Pillar in the courtyard bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script of fourth century AD, according to which the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja (standard of God Vishnu) on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra.
    • Adhai Din ka Jhonpra:
      • Adhai Din Ka Jhonpra, also known as the "Two-and-a-half-day Mosque," is a historical mosque located in Ajmer, Rajasthan, India.
      • The mosque was built in AD 1199 by Qutub-ud-Din-Aibak.
    • Tomb of Nasir-ud-Din Mohammed (Sultan Ghari):
      • The Sultan Ghari’s tomb lies about 6 km west of the Qutub Minar.
      • It was built in 1231 by Iltutmish over the remains of his eldest son and Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud.
    • Tomb of Shams-ud-Din Iltutmish:
      • The tomb of Shamshuddin Iltutmish is located close to the north-west of Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque.
      • The tomb was built by Iltutmish himself in AD 1235.
    • Balban's Tomb:
      • The tomb of Ghiyasud din Balban is located in Mehrauli, New Delhi, India built in AD 1287.

What are the Administrative Apparatuses of the Delhi Sultanate?

  • The node of the administrative apparatus was the Sultan.
  • He was the ruler of the entire realm, and after accession to the throne he had absolute power in his hands.
  • He was the supreme commander of the army.
  • The sultan was in many ways the head of the administrative system.
  • The capital city and its surrounding areas were often areas where direct control of central administration was prevalent.
  • The ruler, the nobles, the court, royal architecture, trade, urbanization, all were more focused on these regions, and hence the administrative apparatus was also elaborate and prominent.
  • It was necessary to develop centrally administered control and regulation mechanisms because of the historical politics itself.
  • The “parasitic” nature of the governing classes, along with other groups such as artisans, traders, soldiers, etc. meant that resources had to be appropriated sometimes by force from other parts of the empire for the maintenance of this political structure.

What was the Significance of Nobility in the Delhi Sultanate?

  • Qutbuddin ascended the throne without any conflict since the Muizzi (Muizuddin Ghori, The Ghorid ruler) nobles accepted him as their superior and offered their loyalty to him.
  • Iltutmish’s accession to the throne of Delhi constituted an important landmark in the growth of Turkish nobility in India.
  • This reflected the power of the nobles to select their leaders through armed strength.
  • Nobles in Delhi acquired prominence in selecting the ruler and Delhi became the hub of political activity of Turkish rule.
  • Iltutmish is credited with the establishment of a sovereign Turkish state in India and the nobility in his time consisted of efficient administrators.
  • After Iltutmish’s death (1235) till the accession of Balban (1269), the Chihalgani slaves (group of 40 nobles of which Balban was also a part) decided the succession issue.
  • Balban tried to restore the supremacy of the crown by crushing the power of the Turkish nobility.
  • Balban’s accession demonstrated that the hereditary principle was no longer relevant.
  • The accession of Jalaluddin Khilji (1290) to the throne established that heredity was not always the basis of sovereignty and kingship. Ability and force were also important factors in the succession to the throne.

UPSC Civil Services Exam, Previous Year Questions (PYQ)

Q. Consider the following statements: (2019)

  1. In the revenue administration of Delhi Sultanate, the in-charge of revenue collection was known as ‘Amil’.
  2. The lqta system of Sultans of Delhi was an ancient indigenous institution.
  3. The office of ‘Mir Bakshi’ came into existence during the reign of Khalji Sultans of Delhi.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only 
(c) 3 only 
(d) 1, 2 and 3

Ans: (a)


  • In the Delhi Sultanate, the task of collecting revenue directly from peasants and measurement of land rested on Amils. Hence, statement 1 is correct.
  • Iqta system evolved in West Asia, particularly in Persia under the Buyid dynasty, which formalized the system and ruled during the 10th and 11th century. In India, the system was provided an institutional status by Iltutmish (Mamluk dynasty). Under the Iqta system, the land of the empire was divided into various tracts of land called Iqta which were assigned to officers known as ‘Iqtadars’ Hence, statement 2 is not correct.
  • Ghiyas ud-din Balban (1266 -1287) had set up a military department called ‘Diwan-i-arz’, under which ‘Ariz-i-mamalik’ was responsible for the organization and maintenance of the royal army. Alauddin Khalji introduced ‘Dagh’ system (i.e., branding of horses) to improve horse quality as well as eliminate fake numbering to further enhance efficiency of Diwan-i-arz department. In contrast, Mir Bhakshi was the head of the military department during Mughal India. Hence, statement 3 is not correct.
  • Therefore, option (a) is the correct answer.
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