Medivial History

In the 10th century Turks from central Asia conquered Afghanistan. Under their ruler Mahmud 971-1030 they conquered Punjab. He led raids deep into India and plundered temples. The Turks returned in 1191, this time as conquerors not raiders. They were led by Sultan Muhammad. He was defeated in 1191 at the battle of Tarain but he returned the following year. This time he prevailed. The Turks were able to conquer large parts of Northern India and they created a powerful state - the Delhi Sultanate


Under the Sultans Qutubuddin 1206-1211 and Iltumish 1211-1236 the Sultanate flourished. However Iltumish was succeeded by his daughter Raziyyat. She reigned for only 3 years before she was deposed and later murdered. The Sultanate reached a peak under Alauddin 1296-1316. In 1298 he conquered Gurjarat. In 1309 he invaded Southern India. He looted southern cities and forced rulers there to submit to him and become vassals.

Meanwhile a new threat came from the North - the Mongols. In 1296-97 they raided Northwest India. The Mongols returned in 1299. This time they penetrated as far as Delhi then, like a swarm of locusts they disappeared. The Mongols returned in 1306-06 but this time they were repulsed.

Muhammad Tughluq 1324-1351 extended the Sultanate still further. He decided he wanted a new, more central capital and he moved it to Daulatabad. However he was later forced to move his capital back to Delhi. The Sultanate of Delhi declined rapidly in the late 14th century.

The final blow came in 1498 when Timurlane, a descendent of Genghis Khan sacked Delhi and massacred many of the inhabitants. In the early 15th century independent Sultanates appeared and the Delhi Sultanate became one of several. Under Sultans Bhalul 1451-1489 and Sikander Lohdi 1489-1517 Delhi revived to a certain extent but it never regained its former importance. Meanwhile another empire arose in the South - the Vijayangar.


The Vijayangar Empire was founded by 2 brothers, Harihara and Bukka. According to legend they were officers of Muhammad Tughluq. They were sent to crush a rebellion in the South. Instead they broke away and founded their own kingdom. Harihara was crowned king in 1346. His brother Bukka I ruled after him, 1357-1377. The Vijayanagar Empire is named after its capital city (Its name means city of victory). The rulers of Vijayanager gradually conquered more and more territory and the empire reached a peak early in the 16th century. However in 1564 Vijayngar was utterly defeated in battle. By then a new empire had arisen - the Mughals.


This great empire was founded by Babur 1483-1530, a descendant of Genghis Khan. From 1504 he was ruler of part of what is now Afghanistan. From the Turks he had learned to use cannons and muskets. Guns enabled him to win great victories over the Indians who were still using traditional methods of warfare. He had also learned new cavalry tactics from the Turks. Instead of charging straight at the enemy Babur's cavalry rode round their flanks and attacked from the rear.

Babur first raided India in 1517. In 1525 he invaded. In 1526 Babur crushed the army of Ibrahim Lhodi at the battle of Panipat. Babur made a barricade of carts. Behind them he positioned his cannons and musketeers. The enemy attacked but they faced withering cannon and musket fire. Babur's cavalry then rode around the enemy army and attacked from the rear. The Indians were routed.

Other Indian rulers now united against Babur but they were crushed at the battle of Khanau in 1527. Babur placed his cannons and guns behind ramparts. The Indians attacked on horseback again and again but were mowed down. Babur then became ruler of Northern India.

He was succeeded by his son Humayan 1508-1556. However in the 1530s an Afghan ruler named Sher Shah attacked the empire. By 1540 Sher Shah prevailed and made himself ruler of much of Northern India. Humayan went into exile and wandered from place to place. Then in 1542 his son Akbar was born. Humayan then moved to Persia. Sher Shah died in battle in 1545 and his empire split up. Humayan was then able, with Persian help to re-conquer the Mughal empire.He invaded India in 1554 and by 1556 was in control of the North. Unfortunately he died after falling down some stairs.

However his son Akbar 1556-1605 was, perhaps, the greatest Mughal ruler. He took Gujarat in 1574, Bengal in 1576, Kashmir in 1586, Orissa in 1592 and Baluchistan in 1595. Akbar also reorganised the government and he created an efficient civil service. Akbar was a Muslim but he was tolerant in matters of religion. He abolished a tax previous rulers levied on non-Muslims. He also gave Hindus high office.

Akbar admired Persian culture and promoted it in India. Persian language literature flourished in India during his reign (although Hindi literature flowered too). Persian and Hindu styles of painting merged to form a new style of Mughal painting.

Akbar was succeeded by his son Selim, who called himself Jahangir. Under him Mughal influence in the South of India increased and the empire flourished. His wife was named Mehrunissa (later she was called Nur Jahan or light of the world). She was Persian and because of her Persian culture became even more influential in the Mughal realms. During the reign of Jahangir the arts continued to flourish. An elaborate and intricate school of painting existed. It was also a great age for architecture. When Jahangir died in 1627 his wife was forced into retirement but she occupied herself by building a magnificent mausoleum for her father in Agra.


The Mughal Empire reached its zenith in the 17th century its only weakness being powers struggles among the ruling family and occasional rebellions. Shah Jahan became ruler in 1627. Under him the empire prospered. He is famous for building the Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It was erected as a memorial to his queen Mumatz Mahal 1594-1630. Shah Jehan was devastated when she died. After her death he began building the Taj Mahal. It took an 'army' of 20, craftsmen and labourers 22 years to build. It was begun in 1631 and completed in 1653.

Aurngzeb (1658-1707) greatly expanded the empire. He conquered almost all of southern India by 1687. Under him the empire became so vast it was difficult for one man to rule. However he undid the religious toleration of his predecessors. In 1664 he banned the repair of Hindu temples and in 1669 he banned his subjects from building new ones. Also, in 1679 he reintroduced a poll tax on Hindus called the jizira. Aurangzeb also taxed his subjects heavily. The result was a series of rebellions.

Aurangzeb's greatest enemy was Shivaji, leader of the Marathas in southern India. Shivaji led a form of guerrilla warfare. His bases were in mountains but mounted on horses his men could raid caravans then fell back to the mountains.

In 664 his men raided the port of Surat. Aurangzeb sent an army to intimidate Shivaji then invited him to the capital, Delhi and tried to come to terms with him by offering him a post in the empire. However the two men fell out and Shivaji escaped from Delhi by hiding in a basket. He then returned to raiding. Shivaji was succeeded by his son Sambhaji. He was captured by the Mughals and executed in 1689 but the guerrilla war went on.


Aurangzeb was succeeded by his son Bahadur Shah 1707-1712. By his time cracks were appearing in the empire. Oppressive taxation caused more and more rebellions. After 1712 powerful nobles in the empire began to break away and form virtually independent states.

Meanwhile the old enemy, the Marathas attacked the Mughal Empire led by a man named Baji Rao. The Mughals were forced to cede territory to them. Then in 1739 disaster struck when the Persians launched an attack on the Mughal Empire. They sacked Delhi. The empire continued but its power was rapidly fading. Delhi was sacked again in 1761, this time by an Afghan kingdom.


The decline of the Mughal Empire caused a vacuum into which the Europeans moved. The first Europeans to reach India by sea were the Portuguese who arrived in 1498 and began importing spices from India. They formed a base at Goa in 1510. However in the 17th century the Portuguese declined and the English and Dutch took their place.

The English East India Company was formed in 1600 to trade with India. In 1639 the English established a trading base in India. Itgrew into Madras. In 1662 the English king married a Portuguese princess and he was given Bombay. In 1668 it was sold to the East India Company. In 1690 the English established a base in Bengal, which grew into Calcutta. In the late 17th century the Dutch also declined and the French replaced them. In 1673 the French established a base at Pondicherry.

In the 18th century French and English became bitter rivals and they both began to interfere in Indian politics.

The Seven Years war between Britain and France began in 1756. With the outbreak of war the Nawab (ruler) of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula captured the British base at Calcutta. Notoriously he forced captives into a small cell and most of them suffocated overnight. This became known as the Black Hole of Calcutta. The East India Company sent a force led by Robert Clive (1725-1774) to recapture Calcutta. They soon did so.

However Clive was not satisfied and he decided to take the whole of Bengal. Clive won a great victory at Plassey in June 1757. (The battle was won largely because one of the commanders of the Bengali army, Mir Jafar, changed sides and refused to join the battle. Clive then overthrew the ruler of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daula and replaced him with Mir Jafar. However Mir Jafar was only a puppet.

In 1765 the company began to rule Bengal directly. Clive's victory at Plassey ensured that India would eventually become a British colony not a French one. However the Company did not take over India straight away. It was a gradual process, which took several decades. The East India Company eliminated French influence in India and began to subdue other Indian states.

British imperialism was bitterly resisted by the state of Mysore under the two rulers Haidar Ali 1761-1782 and Tipu Sultan 1782-1799. The army of Mysore was formidable fighting force. A series of wars were fought in the years 1767-1769, 1780-1784, 1790-1792 and 1799. The resistance of Mysore finally ended in 1799 and Mysore was forced to hand over half its territory.

The British then took over more territory in India. Indian states were forced to accept British 'protection'. One state, Hyderabad made a treaty with the British in 1798 and retained some independence but other states were forced to accept British rule.

In 1803 war broke out between the British and the Marathas. The British were led by Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). Wellesley was Governor General 1798-1805 and he was an unashamed imperialist. In 1803 the chiefs of the Marathas were disunited and the British were able to make some gains. They took Agra and Delhi. (At that time Delhi was still ruled by the last Mughal. When the British took the city the Mughal Empire was finally extinguished).

However in 1804 the British suffered some defeats and they made peace. Another war broke out in 1817. This time the Maratha chiefs were all defeated and they were forced to accept British rule. By 1819 the East India Company was in control of most of India except the North West.

Assam was annexed in stages between 1826 and 1838. There were revolts in parts of India between 1819 and 1839 but most of it was at peace. The British now began to impose their culture on India. In 1829 the custom of suttee or sati, which involved a widow throwing herself onto her husbands funeral pyre was abolished. In 1835 English was made the official language of Government and education.

Outside British control was a powerful Sikh kingdom. However the leader of the Sikhs, Ranjit Singh, died in 1839 and fighting began over the succession. In 1845-46 the British fought a war against the Sikhs. After bitter fighting they captures Lahore. The Sikhs were forced to surrender Kashmir and parts of the Punjab. However a second war was fought in 1848-49. The fighting was bitter but in March 1849 the East India Company took control of all of Punjab.


The East India Company had long employed Indians as soldiers. There were supposed to be not more than 4 Indian soldiers to every British one. However the British had withdrawn troops to serve in conflicts elsewhere. By 1857 there were only 40,000 British troops in India and 311,000 Indians. The mutiny began on 10 May 1857. The spark that lit the fire was the fact that soldiers were issued with a new rifle - the Enfield. It was said that the cartridge was greased with fat from a cow (sacred to Hindus) or pigs (unclean to Muslims).

The mutiny began at Meerut or Mirat 60 miles from Delhi.The soldiers massacred the British and the uprising spread rapidly. The rebels took Delhi and proclaimed the restoration of the old Mughal Empire. The rebellion spread across Central and Northern India but the south did not rise. Soldiers in Madras and Bombay stayed loyal to the British. Eventually the British were able to re-establish control.

Rebels besieged the British in Cawnpore and Lucknow. The British in Cawnpore surrendered on 27 June 1857. They were then massacred. However the British quickly sent reinforcements to India. Sir Henry Havelock led a force to relieve Lucknow. He defeated the rebel leader Hana Sahib at Cawnpore on 16 July 1857. Havelock reached Lucknow on 25 September 1857. However he then found himself besieged by the rebels. A relief force was sent under Sir Colin Campbell (1792-1863). He reached Lucknow on 16 November and the garrison escaped. Campbell decisively defeated a rebel force outside Cawnpore on 6 December.

Meanwhile the British recaptured Delhi in September. The British recaptured Lucknow in March 1858. Sir Hugh Rose took the rebel stronghold of Jahnsi on 3 April. He decisively defeated a rebel leader, Tantia Topi, on 19 June 1858 at the battle of Gwalior. This blow broke the back of the rebellion. The British then 'mopped up' the remaining rebels. By the end of 1858 the rebellion was over. However the East India Company lost control of India. On 1 September 1858 control was transferred to the British government.