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Slave Dynasty and the Beginning of the Delhi Sultanate


The conquest of India and the establishment of Turkish rule changed India by destroying Buddhism and introducing the Muslim religion. Sultan Muhammad of Ghur and his slave lieutenant Qutb-ud-din Aybak led their first raid in 1175 and then eventually conquered Delhi in 1193, which became the first capital under Turkish rule. Ghur left his trusted slave Aybak in charge of consolidating North India to Delhi conquests. His introduction of martial slavery, or mamluks, proved to be advantageous for intelligent, ambitious, young men to rise up rapidly out of and above their birth status. Aybak took advantage of this opportunity and earned the right for higher position. In 1206 Ghur was assassinated and so Aybak became his successor. Because Ghur was his master and he was still regarded as a slave, Aybak legitimized his rule by arranging several marriages of influential figures. So began the first Turkish dynasty known as the Slave Dynasty (1206-90).

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Aybak's reign was short lived due to a polo accident so his son-in-law, Iltutmish (1211-36), succeeded him to the throne. Iltutmish is known as the third and greatest sultan of the Slave Dynasty. During his reign he established a monarchical form of government and rule. He maintained an organized army and created a new form of currency, the Tanka coin (silver) and Jital (copper). He is also well known for completing construction of the Qutule Minar, a structure that represents victory, celebrating the rise of Muslim rule. Iltutmish was recognized by the chroniclers and poets of his reign as a very religious and wise leader. Before he died, he was able to nominate his capable and dynamic daughter Raziyya (1236-1239) as his successor over his sons who he felt were incompetent and unable to rule.

It has been said that Raziyya's only weakness was that she was a woman. Raziyya's reign was marked as the beginning of the struggle for power between the monarchy and the Turkish Chief's, sometimes called "The Forty" or Chahalgami. "The Forty" served as the advisors to the monarchy. Raziyya appointed an African to an important position that insulted her advisors and council of "The Forty". Shortly after, internal rebellion broke and Raziyya was murdered. The throne was left in the hands of "The Forty". Raziyya served as Sultan a short three years and remains the first and only woman to ascend the throne of Delhi.

Balban (1266-1287), the most ambitious and demanding of "The Forty" ascended to the throne as the next Sultan. Balban is most noted for strong, centralized government and for his arduous labor in elevating the Sultan to divine status. Balban awed the people with his royal pomp and ruthless, impartial dealings with relatives and strangers alike. With Balban's death in 1287 was the end of the Slave Dynasty although the Dynasty actually lasted for three years after by his inept and competing grandsons. It was given a decisive final blow by a coup led by Jalaluddin Firuz Khilji, Balban's army general who used his position to ascend to the throne of the Sultan and institute the second Delhi Dynasty.

Although the Turkish rule annihilated Buddhism in India, the majority of Hindus were unaffected; some even welcomed their new conquerors. The middle classes were especially receptive to the new rule since they were assigned positions to run the new administration. In general, the Hindus were grateful to Aybak and the succeeding kings of the Turkish Dynasty for at least one major reason: their ability to militarily defend against Mongol invaders, such as Ghengiz Khan, who terrorized neighboring kingdoms with their barbaric conquests. This protection, which lasted for more than a century, was most valuable to India.


Spear, Percival, India: A Modern History, (The University of Michigan Press, 1972)

Wolpert, Stanley, A New History of India, (Oxford University Press, New York, 1977)

"Qutb-ud-Din Aybak" Britannica Online, Harappan Civilization [Accessed 23 September 1998]

Edited by: Nicki Rivera
Researched by: Junaid Ahmed
Written by: Elizabeth De Jesus
29 October 1998

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