1902 Encyclopedia > Mahmud of Ghazna (Mahmud of Ghazni)

Mahmud of Ghazna
(Mahmud of Ghazni)
Founder of the Ghaznavid Empire
(971 - 1030)




MAHMUD OF GHAZNI (971-1030), known also as Mahmúd, son of Subuktigin, was born October 2, 971. His fame rests chiefly on his successful wars, in particular his numerous invasions of India. His military capacity, inherited from his father, Nasfr-ud-din Subuktigin, was strengthened by youthful experience in the field. Subuk-tigin, a Turki slave of Alptigin, governor of Khorasan under Abd' ul Malik Nuh, king of the Samani dynasty of Bokhara, early brought himself to notice. He was raised to high office in the state by Alptigin's successor, Abu Ishak, and in 366 A.H. (977 A.D.), by the choice of the nobles of Ghazni, he became their ruler. He soon began to make conquests in the neighbouring countries, and in these wars he was accompanied by his young son Mahmúd. On one occasion, when Mahmúd was fourteen years of age, his advice with respect to a military operation in the hills was approved and adopted by the generals. Before he had reached even this age he encountered in two expeditions under his father the Indian forces of Jaipal, raja of Lahore, whom Subuktigin defeated on the Punjab frontier.

In 994 Mahmúd was made governor of Khorasan, with the title of Saif-ed-daulah (" Sword of the State"), by the Samani emir, Abd' ul Malik Nuh. Two years later, his father Subuktigin died in the neighbourhood of Balkh, having declared his second son, Ismail, who was then with him, to be his successor. As soon as Ismail had assumed the sovereignty at Balkh, Mahmúd, who was at Nishapiir, addressed him in friendly terms, proposing a division of the territories held by their father at his death. Ismail rejected the proposal, and was immediately attacked byMahmúd and defeated. Retreating to Ghazni, he there yielded, and was imprisoned, andMahmúd obtained undisputed power as sovereign of Khorasan and Ghazni (997).

The Ghaznavi dynasty is sometimes reckoned by native historians to commence with Subuktigfn's conquest of Bust and Kusdar (978). But Subuktigin, throughout his reign at Ghazni, continued to acknowledge the Samani suzerainty, as did Mahmúd also, until the time, soon after succeeding to his father's dominions, when he received from the caliph of Baghdad, Al Kadir Billah, a Ichilat or robe of honour, with a letter recognizing his sovereignty, and conferring on him the titles Yamin-ed-dcmlah (" Right Hand of the State"), and Amin-id-Millat (" Guardian of the Faith"). From this time it is the name of the caliph that is inscribed on Mahmúd's coins, together with his own new titles. Previously the name of the
Samani sovereign, Mansiir bin Nuh (successor of Abd' ul Malik) is given along with his own former title, Saif-ed-daulah Mahmúd. The earliest of those of the new form gives his nameMahmúd bin Subuktigin. Thereafter his father's name does not appear on his coins, but it is inscribed again on his tomb.

The new honours received from the caliph gave fresh impulse to Mahmúd's zeal on behalf of Islam, and he resolved on an annual expedition against the idolaters of India. He could not quite carry out this intention, but a great part of his reign was occupied with his Indian campaigns. In 1000 A.D. he started on the first of these expeditions, but it does not appear that on this occasion he went farther than the hill country near Peshawar. The hostile attitude of Khalaf ibn Ahmad, governor of Slstan, called Mahmúd to that province for a short time. He was appeased by Khalaf's speedy submission, together with the gift of a large sum of money, and further, it is said, by his subdued opponent addressing him as sidtdn, a title new at that time, and by which Mahmúd continued to be called, though he did not formally adopt it, or stamp it on his coins. Four years later Khalaf, incurring Mahmúd's dis-pleasure again, was imprisoned, and his property confiscated.

Mahmüd's army first crossed the Indus in 1001, opposed by Jaipal, raja of Lahore. Jaipal was defeated, andMahmúd, after his return from this expedition, is said to have taken the distinctive appellation of Ghdzi ("Valiant for the Faith"), but he is rarely so called. On the next occasion (1005) Mahmúd advanced as far as Bhera on the Jhelum, when his adversary Anang-pal, son and successor of Jaipal, fled to Kashmir. The following year saw Mahmúd at Multan. When he was in the Punjab at this time, he heard of the invasion of Khorasan by Ilak Khan, ruler of Transoxiana (whose daughter Mahmúd had married). After a rapid march back from India, Mahmúd repelled the invaders. Ilak Khan, having retreated across the Oxus, returned with reinforcements, and took up a position a few miles from Balkh, where he was signally defeated by Mahmúd.

2 The emperor Babar gives him this title (1526). He himself was the second Mohammedan king who had conquered India, the first being Sultan Mahmúd Ghazi.

Two years had elapsed since his last visit to India when Mahmúd again entered the Punjab (1008), this time for the express purpose of chastising Sewah Pal, who, having become a Mussulman, and been left by Mahmúd in charge of Multan, had relapsed to Hinduism. The Indian campaign of the following year (1009) was a notable one. Near the Indus Mahmúd was opposed again by Anang-pal, supported by powerful rajas from other parts of India. After a severe fight, Anang-pal's elephants were so terror-struck by the fire-missiles flung amongst them by the invaders that they turned and fled, the whole army retreating in confusion and leaving Mahmúd master of the field. Mahmúd, after this victory, pushed on through the Punjab to Nagar-k6t (Kangra), and carried off much spoil from the Hindu temples^ to enrich his treasury at Ghazni. In 1011 Mahmúd, after a short campaign against the Afghans under Mohammed ibn Siir in the hill country of Ghor, marched again into the Punjab. The next time (1014) he advanced to Thanesar, another noted stronghold of Hinduism, between the Sutlej and the Jumna. Having now found his way across all the Punjab rivers, he was induced on two subsequent occasions to go still farther. But first he designed an invasion of Kashmir (1015), which was not carried out, as his progress was checked at L6h-k6t, a strong hill-fort in the north-west of the Punjab. And then before undertaking his longer inroad into Hindustan he had to march north into Khwarizm (Khiva) against his brother-in-law Mamiin, who had refused to acknowledge Mahmúd's supremacy. The result was as usual, and Mahmúd, having committed Khwarizm to a new ruler, one of Hamuli's chief officers, returned to his capital. Then in 1018, with a very large force, he proceeded to India again, extending his inroad this time to the great Hindu cities of Mathra on the Jumna and Kanauj on the Ganges. To the glory of reducing the one and receiving the submission of the other he added, as was his custom, the further satisfaction of carrying. back great stores of plunder from both to his own country. Three years later he went into India again, marching over nearly the same ground, to the support, this time, of the raja of Kanauj, who,having made friendship with the Mohammedan invader on his last visit, had been attacked by the raja of Kalinjar. But Mahmúd found he had not yet sufficiently subdued the idolaters nearer his own border, between Cabul and the Indus, and the campaign of the year 413 (1022 A.D.) was directed against them, and reached no farther than Peshawar. Another march into India the following year was made direct to Gwalior.





The next expedition (1025) is the most famous of all. The point to which it was directed was the temple of Somnath on the coast of the Gujerat peninsula. After an arduous journey by Multan, and through part of Rajputana, he reached Somnath, and met with a very vigorous but fruitless resistance on the part of the Hindus of Gujerat. Moslem feet soon trod the courts of the great temple. The chief object of worship it contained was broken up, and the fragments kept to be carried off to Ghazni. The story is often told of the hollow figure, cleft by Mahmúd's battle-axe, pouring out great store of costly jewels and gold. But the idol in this Sivite temple was only a tall block or pillar of hewn stone, of a familiar kind. The popular legend is a very natural one. Mahmúd, it was well known, made Hindu temples yield up their most precious things. He was a determined idol-breaker. And the stone block in this temple was enriched with a crown of jewels, the gifts of wealthy worshippers. These data readily give the Somnath exploit its more dramatic form. For the more recent story of the Somnath gates see GHAZNI, vol. x. p. 560.

After the successes at Somnath, Mahmúd remained some months in India before returning to Ghazni. Then in 1026 he crossed the Indus once more into the Punjab. His brilliant military career closed with an expedition to Persia, in the third year after this, his last visit to India. The Indian campaigns of Mahmúd and his father were almost, but not altogether, unvarying successes. The Moslem historians touch lightly on reverses. And, although the annals of Rajputana tell how Subuktigin was defeated by one raja of Ajmfr and Mahmúd by his successor, the course of events which followed shows how little these and other reverses affected the invader's progress. Mahmúd's failure at Ajmir, when the brave raja Bisal-deo obliged him to raise the siege but was himself slain, was when the Moslem army was on its way to Somnath. Yet Mahmúd's Indian conquests, striking and important in themselves, were, after all, in great measure barren, except to the Ghazni treasury. Mahmúd retained no possessions in India under his own direct rule. But after the repeated defeats, by his father and himself, of two successive rajas of Lahore, the conqueror assumed the right of nominating the governors of the Punjab as a dependency of Ghazni, a right which continued to be exercised by seven of his successors. And for a time, in the reign of Masáúd II. (1098-1114), Lahore was the place of residence of the Ghaznavi sovereign. Certain silver coins of Mahmúd's reign bear inscriptions in Sanskrit characters as well as Arabic, betokening sovereignty in India. They are dated 418 aud 419 A.H., the two years immediately following his last visit to the Punjab, and are struck at a place called by his name, Mahmiidpiir, supposed to be Lahore. There are also copper coins struck at Lahore (now retaining legible dates) bearing Mahmúd's name and the caliph's, in Arabic characters only. Mahmúd's coins are numerous and histori-cally important. They were issued from mints at Nisábúr, Hirát, Ghaznah (a common alternative form of the name), Farwán, and Balkh, besides Mahmiidpiir and Lahore, just mentioned. Mahmúd died at Ghazni in 1030, the year following his expedition to Persia, in the sixty-first year of his age and thirty-third of his reign.

Mahmúd stands conspicuous for his military ardour, his ambition, strong will, perseverance, watchfulness, and energy, combined with great courage and unbounded self-reliance. But his tastes were not exclusively military. His love of literature brought men of learning to Ghazni. His acquaintance with Moslem theology was recognized by the learned doctors. Mahmúd is accused of avarice. It has been said that the prospect of booty was as strong a motive power in these repeated invasions of India as his love of military glory and desire to shine as a champion of the faith. An illustration commonly given of his want of liberality is his treat-ment of the poet Firdousi. Delighted with a portion which was read to him of the poet's metrical romance narrating the deeds of the early kings of Persia, Mahmúd presented him with a thousand dinars, one for each couplet, with an implied promise, or at least expectation on the part of the author, of payment on the same scale for the rest. The completed Sliáh Námah, presented in due course, contained no less than sixty thousand couplets, and the reward this time was given in dirhems instead of dinars. Firdousi retired in disgust to his native place, Tus, and satirized the sultan. At a later time, it is said, Mahmúd sent him the larger sum; but the poet died just before it arrived. Mahmúd had the general repu-tation of giving liberal and discerning encouragement to learned and literary men. Among those who took up their abode at Ghazni in his time, the most noted, after Firdousi, were the poet Unsuri of Balkh, whose compositions were largely devoted to the praise of the sultan Mahmúd ; another poet, Asjudi of Mery, who wrote a grand ode on the Somnath expedition; Él Utbi of Khorásán, author of the Kitáb-i- Yamíni, a history of Subuktigin and of Mahmúd (to about the middle of his reign); and the accomplished historian, Abú Eihán, called Al Birúni, author of the Tartkh ul Hind, as well as of a number of scientific works. The sultan established large educational institutions at Ghazni.
Mahmúd also found time to bestow attention on other arts of peace, and did not neglect his capital and the country around. Large sums were devoted to important public works. The building of the great Jama Masjid of Ghazni is described by El Utbi in admiring terms. A splendid palace which Mahmúd built induced wealthy nobles at Ghazni to erect great mansions for themselves. Two fine towers or minarets at Ghazni, 140 feet in height, bearing Mahmúd's name (though one is said to have been built by his successor) have attracted the attention of travellers. They are of a remarkable construction, the lower part with a zigzag or star-shaped outline, the upper part round, like the third and fourth stories of the Kutb Minar at Delhi, built two centuries later. Like the Kutb pillar too, they are isolated, and may, like it, hay,e served as the minarets for a separate mosque or mosques. The dam called the Band-i-Sultdn, which Mahmúd constructed to form an artificial lake for irrigation, appears to have been a really great and substantial work.

Mahmúd, besides being marked by small-pox, had an ill-favoured countenance, and knew it. Courtiers met his allusions to his personal appearance by the familiar complimentary remarks about inward graces more than counterbalancing outward defects. He himself is said to have observed, after looking in the glass, that he saw so many faults in himself he was ready to excuse those of others.

Mahmúd's tomb stands in a garden a short distance from Ghazni, called Bauzat-i-Sultán ("the sultan's tomb," or "garden"—the word means both). On one of the minarets is an inscription which gives all his titles. On the massive tombstone within the building lie is named more briefly Nizám-ed-din AbuT Kásim Mahmúd, son of Subuktigin. He was succeeded by his son Muhammad, who was soon displaced by his more vigorous brother Musáúd.

The principal histories of Mahnvdd's reign are—Kitdb-i- Yamini (TJthi); Tarikh-us-Subuktigin (Baihaki); Tabakdt i Nasiri (Minhaj el-Siraj); Rauzat-us-Safa (Mir Khond) ; Habib-us-Siyar (Khon-tlamir). See Elliot, History of India ; Elphinstone, History of India ; Jour. Roy. As. Soc, vols, ix., xvii.; Jour. As. Soc. Bengal, Vol. xii. ; As. Res., vols, xvi., xvii. (R. M'L*.)






The above article was written by General R. Maclagan, R.E.



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