June 13

Mamluk Dynasty and the Emergence of the Delhi Sultanate

The Delhi Sultanate in India led its foundation through the establishment of the Mamluk dynasty, often named the Slave dynasty. The dynasty was founded by Qutub-ud-din Aibak after the death of his master Muhammad Ghori in 1206. Before the death of Muhammad Ghori, Aibak acted in charge of this territory of Northern India acquired by the Ghurid dynasty. But as Ghori died with no heir apparent, his empire was split among his generals who declared sovereignty and established their dynasties. These were Yildiz, who became Sultan of Ghazni, Bakhtiyar Khalji got Bengal, Qabacha became Sultan of Multan and Aibak became the Sultan of Delhi marking the beginning of the Slave dynasty and Delhi Sultanate.

The Mamluk dynasty is better known for the considerable development of Northern India that was held during its time and efforts. These developments were in the fields of architecture, revenue management, and the establishment of the proper political system.

Territory of the Delhi Mamluk Dynasty circa 1250

Source: By Maps created from DEMIS Mapserver, CC BY-SA 3.0


Mamluk is the word used to denote the slave soldiers or the ones who have been freed and assigned military positions.

Mamluk is the word used to denote the slave soldiers or the ones who have been freed and assigned military positions. Hence, all the slave generals who became part of the Ghurid Empire were referred to as Mamluk or slave generals including Aibak. And that’s why the dynasty founded by Aibak is referred to as the Mamluk dynasty. Three of the most important rulers of this dynasty used to act as slaves but were eventually manumitted by their masters. Aibak had received the letter of manumission from the successor of Ghori- Ghiyas-ud-din Mahmud, while Iltutmish had received the letter from Muhammad Ghori himself. The third one, Balban too, got freedom from the master along with all Chahalgani nobles. But still,  this dynasty is most of the time referred to as the slave dynasty.

Qutub-ud-din Aibak was among the ablest generals of his Muhammad Ghori. He had been in Northern India for a long time before he acceded the throne as he was made the in-charge of Muslim territories in India after he supported Ghori in the Second Battle of Tarain in 1192. And since 1192, Aibak was not only given the power to administer the entirely new territory but also given the discretion to extend them.

Aibak rendered his services for the cause of Islam in India. He is named for his several campaigns like that of Chandawar and Gwalior where he ran for the expansion of the Muslim-ruled territory in India. But his reign as the Sultan was not too long as he died in 1210 due to serious injuries caused during the game of Polo.

Aibak was succeeded by his unworthy son Aram Shah, who was further de-throned by Iltutmish in 1211. The Delhi Sultanate saw a period of peace and political stability under the reign of Iltutmish. He further got recognition from the Khalifa of Baghdad who further announced him to be the ruler of the entire land and sea conquered by him. He even stopped the attack from the Mongols by using his intelligence.

The rise of the first lady Sultan was also seen in the Mamluk dynasty in the form of Razia Sultan, the daughter of Iltutmish. And after her, a series of weak rulers on the throne was seen that iincludingBahram Shah, Masud Shah, and Nasir-ud-din Mahmud. These were the rulers that were considered completely dominated by the Turkish aristocracy or the Chahalganis and acted as figureheads. Balban was the next powerful person who rose to power and the person who destroyed the Turkish nobility and Chahalgani system.

As the Sultan, Balban was denoted to be among the most successful Sultans. He managed to successfully resist the Mongol invasion with his policies and also managed to maintain internal peace by suppressing Rajput revolts.

Razia Sultan - First Female Muslim Ruler


The first Sultan of the Mamluk Dynasty and its founder was Qutub-ud-Din Aibak. He was initially the slave of Muhammad Ghori, who appointed him as the viceroy of the Second Battle of Tarain and then made him in charge of the Muslim territories of Northern India. He took the title of Sultan in 1206. He suppressed the battles in rebellions by the opposing slave generals of Aibak like Yildiz, Qabacha, and Bakhtiyar Khalji. Aibak made Lahore his capital but still used Delhi to consolidate his entire power over the region. He is known for initiating the construction of ‘Qutub Minar’ in Delhi and ‘Adhai Din ka Jhonpra’ in Ajmer. In 1210, he died from injuries got during a game of Polo in Lahore.

The second ruler of this dynasty was Aram Shah. He was an unpopular and unworthy ruler and was appointed as the only person available at the moment. His reign lasted for eight months but in this period of eight months. During his reign, the Sultanate weakened as many of the generals of powerful regions like that of Multan and Bengal rejected to accept the suzerainty of Aram Shah. The group of nobles then invited the Governor of Badaun- Iltutmish to take over the throne. Iltutmish defeated Aram Shah and ascended to the throne.

Hence, Iltutmish became the third ruler of the Mamluk dynasty (1211-1236). Initially the slave of Aibak, but was later manumitted by Muhammad Ghori. He was also the son-in-law of Aibak. He got his reign recognized by the Khalifa of Baghdad and became the first Muslim ruler of India to issue his coins (unlike Aibak who issued coins in the name of Ghori). Even the Khutba was read in his name. The capital of the empire was shifted to Delhi back. He further marched and defeated Yildoz and Qabacha who had their eyes on the throne of Delhi. He was successful enough with the help of his intelligence to stop the Mongols on the border itself by not giving refuge to the Khwarizm prince. He established peace and political unity in the form of a centralized government. He also introduced the new system of Chahalgani nobles. All 40 members of Chahalgani were the personal slaves to the Sultan and were appointed as the official nobility. Iltutmish is responsible for the adoption of the silver tankas as the standard coin, which is considered the ancestor of the rupee. He appointed his daughter Razia as the heir apparent.

The fourth ruler was Ruknuddin Firuz, who was put on the throne despite the Iltutmish appointing Razia as the successor. Ruknuddin Firuz turned out to be the most unworthy person to be on the throne till now. He was most of the time indulged and devoted to his pleasures of youth and neglected his responsibilities as the king. His reign lasted less than a year before Razia instigated the masses of Delhi against Shah Tukran. Razia, with the support of the nobles loyal to her father, was eventually set on the throne.

Razia Sultan became the fifth ruler of the dynasty and the first Muslim female ruler to rule the subcontinent. She ascended the throne despite the resistance and opposition she faced from the qazis and nobles and even her brothers. She faced an internal rebellion by the governors who declined to accept her suzerainty but was successful in crushing the rebellion by the merger of diplomatic and military skills. This rebellion was led by the wazir Jaunaidi, who was eventually executed. Attempts were made to defame her by putting her name with the slave Yaqut Khan. When she went to crush an internal rebellion from Altunia of Bhatinda, she was defeated and imprisoned. But later she married Altunia and they renewed the attempt on Delhi. They were defeated and killed in the forest by Bahram Shah. She proved to be a great ruler in her reign of about 3 years i.e. 1236-1240.

Bahram Shah, the son of Iltutmish was put to the throne by Chahalgani nobles as the sixth ruler, expecting him to act as the figurehead of the throne. His reign was of 2 years but making the Delhi Sultanate took a week. It was in his time that the 1st plunder of Mongols in Lahore was held and Mongols were successful in invading Punjab. Bahram Shah was put to death by Chahalgani nobles in 1242.

The seventh Sultan was the grandson of Iltutmish Alauddin Masud Shah, who was the puppet ruler completely in the hands of Chahalgani nobles. He didn’t even have enough power to influence the government. He was also an unworthy ruler who was fond of wine and entertainment and was executed by the Chahalgani nobles due to his increasing greed for power. His reign was from 1242 to 1246.

Nasiruddin Mahmud was appointed as the eighth Sultan by the Chahalgani nobles. He took the name of Nasir-ud-din Feroze Shah. The person who had a big hand in the establishment of his authority and who supported him to become the king was Ghiyas-ud-din Balban (a member of Chahalgani). Balban acted as the de-facto ruler during the 20 years reign of Mahmud (1246-1266). Mahmud is said to be a religious person and spent most of their time in prayers while the administration was managed by Balban.

Balban became the Ninth and most powerful ruler of the Mamluk dynasty. He was one of the 40 Chahalganis and among the slaves of Iltutmish. He adopted the policy of blood and iron. He completely declined the interference of Chahalgani and further abolished the Chahalgani nobles from the administration. During his reign, peace, and stability were established in the Delhi Sultanate. He suppressed all the revolts of his time with the policy of aggression and non-mercy. He also suppressed Ulemas and showed that nobles were not equal to kings by introducing the practice of Sijda and Paibos. He was too harsh to the disloyal and unfaithful people. It is said that “he could do anything for power” and described himself as Zil-i-ilahi (Shadow of God). He fought against Mongol invasions efficiently and had a strict policy toward them.

The last sultan of the Mamluk dynasty was Sultan Qaiqabad, who was the ruler from 1287 to 1290. He was paralyzed and later murdered by his dearest noble Jalauddin Khalji. His 3-year-old son was made his successor but the slave dynasty ended, establishing the Khalji dynasty on the throne of the Delhi Sultanate.


There were several reasons behind the fall of the Mamluk dynasty but some of the most prominent ones are as follows:

  • Foreignness: The people of the Indian subcontinent were not ready to accept the foreign Turkish people as their rulers. And further, the rulers did not have homogeneous policies concerning the people of India.
  • Centralized administration: Highly centralized administration and autocratic administration were also among the main reasons for the fall of the Mamluk dynasty. The oppressive nature of the Sultans was also not liked by the common masses.
  • Continuous threat from Mongols: Continuous threats from the Mongols and plunders led by them made the empire weaker economically and politically.
  • Weak successors: After Razia Sultan and before the rise of Sultan Balban, the weakness of the Sultans made the empire weaker and weaker. And after Balban too, there were no powerful rulers in the Mamluk dynasty.
  • Internal Rebellion: The regular rebellions were faced by the Rajputs and the Khaljis in the Eastern part of the sub-continent. And a high financial degradation was seen in raising the march against the rebellions.

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