1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mahmud of Ghazni

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MAHMUD[1] OF GHAZNI (971–1030), son of Sabuktagīn, Afghan conqueror, was born on the 2nd of October 971. His fame rests chiefly on his successful wars, in particular his numerous invasions of India. His military capacity, inherited from his father, Nasir-ud-din Sabuktagīn, was strengthened by youthful experience in the field. Sabuktagīn, a Turki slave of Alptagīn, governor of Khorasan under Abdalmalik I. b. Nuḥ of the Samanid dynasty of Bokhara, early brought himself to notice (see Samanids). He was raised to high office in the state by Alptagīn’s successor, Abū Ishāk, and in A.H. 366 (A.D. 977), 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 Mahmud. Before he had reached the age of fourteen he encountered in two expeditions under his father the Indian forces of Jaipal, raja of Lahore, whom Sabuktagīn defeated on the Punjab frontier.

In 994 Mahmud was made governor of Khorasan, with the title of Saif addaula (ud-daula) (“Sword of the State”) by the Sāmānīd Nūh II. Two years later, his father Sabuktagīn 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, Mahmud, who was at Nishapur, 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 by Mahmud and defeated. Retreating to Ghazni, he there yielded, and was imprisoned, and Mahmud obtained undisputed power as sovereign of Khorasan and Ghazni (997).

The Ghaznevid dynasty is sometimes reckoned by native historians to commence with Sabuktagīn’s conquest of Bost and Kosdār (978). But Sabuktagīn, throughout his reign at Ghazni, continued to acknowledge the Sāmānid suzerainty, as did Mahmud also, until the time, soon after succeeding to his father’s dominions, when he received from Qādir, caliph of Bagdad (see Caliphate, C. § 25), a khilat (robe of honour), with a letter recognizing his sovereignty, and conferring on him the titles Yamiīn–addaula (“Right hand of the State”), and Amīn–ul-Millat (“Guardian of the Faith”). From this time it is the name of the caliph that is inscribed on Mahmud’s coins, together with his own new titles. Previously the name of the Sāmānid sovereign, Mansūr II. b. Nūh is given along with his own former title, Saif addaula Mahmūd. The earliest of those of the new form gives his name Mahmūd bin Sabuktagīn. 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 Mahmud’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 he started on the first of these expeditions, but it does not appear that he went farther than the hill country near Peshawar. The hostile attitude of Khalaf ibn Ahmad, governor of Seistan, called Mahmud 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 sultān, a title new at that time, and by which Mahmud continued to be called, though he did not formally adopt it, or stamp it on his coins. Four years later Khalaf, incurring Mahmud’s displeasure again, was imprisoned, and his property confiscated.

Mahmud’s army first crossed the Indus in 1001, opposed by Jaipāl, raja of Lahore. Jaipāl was defeated, and Mahmud, after his return from this expedition, is said to have taken the distinctive appellation of Ghāzi (“Valiant for the Faith”), but he is rarely so-called. On the next occasion (1005) Mahmud advanced, as far as Bhera on the Jhelum, when his adversary Anang-pāl, son and successor of Jaipāl, fled to Kashmir. The following year saw Mahmud at Multan. When he was in the Punjab at this time, he heard of the invasion of Khorāsan by the Ilek Khan Nasr I. ruler of Transoxiana whose daughter Mahmud had married. After a rapid march back from India, Mahmud repelled the invaders. The Ilek 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 Mahmud.

Mahmud again entered the Punjab in 1008, this time for the express purpose of chastising Sēwah Pāl, who, having become a Mussulman, and been left by Mahmud in charge of Multan, had relapsed to Hinduism. The Indian campaign of 1009 was notable. Near the Indus Mahmud was opposed again by Anang-pāl, supported by powerful rajas from other parts of India. After a severe fight, Anang-pāl’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 Mahmud master of the field. Mahmud, after this victory, pushed on through the Punjab to Nagar-kōt (Kangra), and carried off much spoil from the Hindu temples to enrich his treasury at Ghazni. In 1011 Mahmud, after a short campaign against the Afghans under Mahommed ibn Sūr in the hill country of Ghur, marched again into the Punjab. The next time (1014) he advanced to Thanēsar, 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 Lōh–kōt, a strong hill fort in the north-west of the Punjab. Then before undertaking his longer inroad into Hindustan he had to march north into Khwārizm (Khiva) against his brother-in-law Mamūn, who had refused to acknowledge Mahmud’s supremacy. The result was as usual, and Mahmud, having committed Khwārizm to a new ruler, one of Mamūn’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. He reduced the one, received the submission of the other, and carried back great stores of plunder. 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 Mahommedan invader on his last visit, had been attacked by the raja of Kalinjar. But Mahmud found he had not yet sufficiently subdued the idolaters nearer his own border, between Kabul and the Indus, and the campaign of 1022 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 Gujarāt 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 Gujarāt. 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 Mahmud’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. Mahmud, 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 Somnath.

After the successes at Somnath, Mahmud 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 Mahmud 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 Sabuktagīn was defeated by one raja of Ajmere and Mahmud by his successor, the course of events which followed shows how little these and other reverses affected the invader’s progress. Mahmud’s failure at Ajmere, 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 Mahmud’s Indian conquests, striking and important in themselves, were, after all, in great measure barren, except to the Ghazni treasury. Mahmud 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 Masaʽud II. (1098–1114), Lahore was the place of residence of the Ghaznevid sovereign.

Mahmud died at Ghazni in 1030, the year following his expedition to Persia. He is 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, and his acquaintance with Moslem theology was recognized by the learned doctors.

The principal histories of Mahmud’s reign are—Kitāb-i-Yamīnī (Utbi); Tarīkh-us-Subuktigīn (Baihaki); Tabakāt i Nasiri (Minhāj el-Sirāj); Rauzat-us-Safa (Mir Khond); Habīb-us-Sivar (Khondamir). See Elliot, History of India; Elphinstone, History of India; and Roos-Keppel’s translation of the Tarīkh-i-Sultan Mahmūd-i-Ghaznavi (1901).

  1. The name is strictly Maḥmūd.