John Florens | Apr 25, 2024

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Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun (Kabul, March 6, 1508 - Delhi, Jan. 27, 1556) was emperor ("padishah") of the Mogul Empire in the northern Pre-India between 1530 and 1540 and again in 1555 and 1556. He was the son and successor of Babur, the founder of the Mogul Empire and the Mogul dynasty. Under his father, he played a role as an army commander in the conquest of his empire. When his father died unexpectedly of an illness in 1530, many of the Afghan nobles rebelled, recognizing the authority of the Moguls after a long struggle. Chief among them was Sher Shah Suri, the governor of Bihar. This one managed to defeat Humayun, who meanwhile was also facing rebellions from his brothers, several times and finally expelled him from India. After wandering through Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and finally Afghanistan, Humayun arrived in Persia, where he lived as an exile at the court of Shah Tahmasp I. Thanks to the shah's support, he managed to defeat his rebellious brothers and finally, remarkably, after 15 years of exile, recapture the north of the Pre-India from the Suri dynasty (successors of Sher Shah). After his death, Humayun left a greater empire to his son Akbar than he had ever inherited from his own father. Humayun's stay at the Persian court provided great Persian influence on literature, art and architecture at the Mogul court, creating the typical Mogul style that flourished under his successors.

Conquest of Hindustan

Humayun's father Babur was a Central Asian warlord who claimed to be descended from the great conquerors Dzhengis Khan and Timur Lenk. However, he had been driven out of the Fergana Valley, where his father had been a local ruler. Babur proved a capable commander, however, and in 1504 he conquered the city of Kabul and used it as his headquarters. Humayun was born here on March 17, 1508. His mother was Babur's favorite wife Maham.

Babur brought the east of Afghanistan firmly under his control in the 1510s - 1520s and now began to look further, to the east. There lay legendarily rich India, a wonderful target for plunder. The area was ruled by the unpopular sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi. Because the sultans of Delhi had been vassals of Timur Lenk a century earlier, Babur called on the sultan to recognize him as his rightful overlord. Needless to say, the sultan refused to do so. However, he was betrayed by some of his nobles, who invited Babur to attack Delhi.

A brilliant strategist, Babur had also equipped his army with revolutionary weapons. Through the Persian Safawids, Babur had heard of the use of muskets and cannons in the Ottoman Empire. He hired Ottoman advisers and blacksmiths who could provide him with these weapons. In the battle of Panipat (1526), Babur, despite facing enormous superiority, managed to crush the army of Ibrahim Lodi. He now controlled the entire western Indus Ganges plain.

Babur's victory, however, was not complete. The Afghan elite, unwilling to recognize the new Central Asian rulers, allied with the Hindu Rajput prince of Mewar, Rana Sanga. figurehead of the resistance was the brother of the fallen sultan, Mahmud Lodi. During the battle of Khanwa (1527), however, Babur managed to win another major victory over his opponents. Humayun, then 19 years old, commanded the right flank of his father's army in this battle. Now that the empire seemed consolidated, Babur had his harem, including his three younger sons, transferred from Kabul to Delhi in 1528.

Mahmud Lodi had escaped again. He had found a new ally in the Sultan of Bengal, Nusrat Shah. At the battle of the Ghaghara (1529), the Moguls once again managed to inflict a crushing defeat on their opponents. Once again, Humayun played an important role. Afterwards, Babur was able to add Bihar to his empire; the main Afghan insurgents submitted to his authority and a peace treaty with Bengal was drawn up.

In 1530, Humayun became seriously ill. His distraught father prayed that he would give his life if his son recovered. Strangely, the prayer was answered: Humayun healed but Babur himself fell ill, dying on Dec. 21.

After Babur's death, it was not a foregone conclusion that his eldest and favorite son would succeed him. Among the Mongols and Timurids, of whom Babur had claimed to be the heir, the principle of primogeniture - the right of the firstborn - did not apply. Instead, the custom was to divide the empire of a deceased ruler among his heirs.

Although Humayun was recognized as overlord, his three brothers were allotted a portion of territory. Kamran, Babur's second son, was assigned Kabul and Kandahar, Mirza Sulaiman, a cousin, was given Badakhshan, and the remaining two brothers, Hindal and Askari, were each given a governorship in India. Babur, according to the Akbarnama, had urged Humayun on his deathbed not to do anything against his brothers even when they deserved it.


The main source of information about Humayun's character is the biography written by his sister Gulbadan Begum, the Humayunnama. Humayun had an extraordinarily forgiving character. Even when people deliberately tried to provoke him, he remained calm and composed. Although Humayun is described as a gentle and humane man for his time, his forgiveness of his brothers would get him into serious trouble.

Although not as gifted a writer and poet as his father, poems by Humayun's hand have also survived, usually in Persian. He was also a great collector of books. He studied mathematics and astrology and had an awe-inspiring knowledge in those fields. He took astrology especially seriously, for he was a very superstitious man even by the standards of his time. When someone walked into a room with the wrong foot first, Humayun would order the person to turn around and re-enter the room. He had arrows with his name and that of Shah Tahmasp shot into the air, to deduce from the flight which of the two would become the more powerful.

Humayun's superstition went so far that he constantly consulted astrologers in his decisions. The court and administration were organized according to the positions of the planets and based on the elements of water, fire, earth and wind.

Humayun was addicted to opium, a craving that his grandson Jehangir would inherit from him. At times, instead of taking necessary action, the addiction caused him to do nothing. Although he was a highly intelligent and literate ruler, as well as a brilliant strategist like his father, he was more inclined to be guided by personal convenience or pleasure.

First reign (1530 - 1540)

Humayun's rule, immediately after his ascension to the throne, was threatened from all sides. In the northwest, his brothers plotted against him. With the help of Askari, Kamran managed to oust Humayun's governor in the Punjab. He now demanded that Humayun recognize his rule over this area. Typically, Humayun immediately complied with this demand.

More dangerous, however, was the revolt of the Afghan nobility to the east, in Bihar. Sher Shah Suri, who only a year earlier had recognized Babur as overlord, was now openly rebelling against the Moguls. In 1531 Humayun won a victory over Mahmud Lodi, whose role was then over. He did not get the chance after that to subdue Sher Shah as well, for in the south the Sultan of Gujarat, Bahadur Shah, had become powerful enough to pose a serious threat thanks to conquests in Rajputana and Malwa. The sultan had a considerable treasury and employed Portuguese advisers who had provided him with cannons and muskets. As he sheltered some fleeing Lodis and sought contact with Afghan insurgents, Humayun decided to take action.

In 1535, Humayun invaded Gujarat. Bahadur Shah, who at that time had laid siege to Chitogarh, was forced to turn around and driven back. Within a short time, the Moguls had taken Gujarat's main cities, Champaner and Ahmedabad. Humayun subsequently also took Mandu, the capital of Malwa. Opium addiction meant that after this successful beginning, Humayun then remained indecisive and did not pursue his enemy. Bahadur Shah managed to escape and took refuge in the Portuguese colony of Diu. When Humayun and his brother Askari, who had remained as governor in Ahmedabad, returned to Delhi, Bahadur Shah returned to Ahmedabad. However, he was assassinated by the Portuguese in 1537.

Sher Shah Suri, meanwhile, had not been idle. He invaded the sultanate of Bengal in 1537 and besieged the sultan, Mahmud Shah, at Gaur. Humayun rushed to the aid of the Bengalis but arrived too late to relieve Gaur. In addition to Humayun's tardiness, the onset of the monsoon caused morale in his troops to drop further. Then Sher Shah managed to take the fortress of Chunar, forcing Humayun to retreat from Bihar to the vicinity of Varanasi. At that point, Humayun's brother Hindal, who was charged with commanding the rear guard, abandoned his captured positions and returned to Agra. The abandoned positions were quickly taken by Sher Shah, leaving Humayun's army virtually surrounded. Hindal, meanwhile, was clearly intent on seizing power. Humayun sent the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Buhlul, to Agra to negotiate. However, the mufti was assassinated by Hindal. It was only when Kamran, the other brother who ruled the Punjab, threatened to intervene that Hindal was forced to cave in.

On June 26, 1539, in the Battle of Chausa, the armies of Humayun and Shah Suri clashed. Because both armies had dug in, Humayun could not make good use of his cannons, which had always been decisive in his father's battles. Prior to the battle, both sides came to an agreement. Shah Suri would recognize Humayun as overlord and could retain Bengal and Bihar. However, he decided not to honor the agreement and unexpectedly attacked the Mogul Army camp at night. It became a veritable massacre. Humayun escaped by swimming across the Ganges and fled back to Agra.

In Agra, in addition to Hindal, his other brothers, Kamran and Askari, turned out to be present. Humayun forgave Hindal his rebellion. As Sher Shah advanced toward Agra, danger threatened the entire family, but Humayun and Kamran could not agree on what tactics to follow. Kamran then left with his troops toward Lahore, to gather a larger army. Humayun and his remaining two brothers faced Sher Shah only to be defeated in the battle of Kannauj (May 17, 1540). They then fled to Lahore, leaving Agra and Delhi in Sher Shah's hands. The latter proclaimed himself sultan in Delhi.

Flight from Hindustan

In Lahore, Humayun and the two younger brothers rejoined Kamran to await Sher Shah's arrival. When Sher Shah arrived at Sirhind's house, Humayun sent him a message: I have left you all of Hindustan. Leave Lahore alone and let Sirhind be the border between your territory and mine. Sher Shah, however, replied with: I leave you Kabul. That is where you have to go. Kamran then approached Sher Shah with a proposal to hand Humayun over to him in exchange for rule over the Punjab. Sher Shah did not accept this and the proposal was leaked, whereupon Humayun was advised to have his brother executed. However, he refused to punish his brother.

Lahore was untenable and Humayun fled with his court to Alwar in Rajputana. Here he met Hamida Banu Begum, the 13-year-old daughter of a Persian Shiite nobleman, with whom he fell in love. After initially refusing to see him, the girl agreed to marry under pressure from her parents. They married in September 1541. Hamida would faithfully accompany Humayun on his further wanderings.

Humayun fled with his entourage during the hot season further southwest, through the Thar Desert toward Sindh. He now had only a handful of followers around him. It became a journey full of hardship, suffering hunger and thirst and being plagued by the heat. The Rajputs filled the wells in the area with sand to prevent the ousted Mogul prince and his entourage from drinking. When the horse of the heavily pregnant Hamida succumbed, Humayun lent his wife his own horse. He himself had to ride 6 km on a camel, which he would later call the low point of his life.

Arriving in Umarkot in October 1542, Hamida gave birth to a son, Akbar, who would later become one of India's greatest rulers.

The amir of Sindh, Hussein Umrani, had remained loyal to Humayun and granted him shelter. On Hindal's advice, Humayun now began making plans to reoccupy Gujarat. Hussein Umrani, however, appeared to have no intention of lending his lordship soldiers for this purpose. Thereupon, Humayun received word from Maldeo Rathore, the ruler of Marwar and an enemy of Sher Shah, inviting him to return to Rajputana. Humayun turned back en route, however, when a warning reached him that treachery might be involved.

Humayun remained in Sindh for a total of 9 months. Sometimes he managed to gather soldiers, but after a prolonged and fruitless siege of the city of Sehwar, these also left him again. Humayun's former general Bairam Khan, who had escaped from captivity by Sher Shah, reached Sindh in June 1543. On his advice, Humayun decided to march north toward Kandahar in July 1543 to meet his brothers. He hoped to recapture the lost empire with a combined force. Kamran and Askari, however, had no intention of serving Humayun. Faced with the animosity of his brothers, Humayun had no choice but to flee further west. However, his first wife and infant son Akbar were taken hostage by Askari. Akbar would spend the first years of his life under the supervision of his uncles in Kandahar, and later in Kabul. Humayun, now completely distraught, fled further west toward Persia. The Persian Safawids had been his father's old allies against the Uzbeks, and Humayun saw them as his last hope. In his entourage was the Persian commander Bairam Khan, who advised Humayun on how to approach the Persians.

Exile in Persia

Humayun reached the city of Herat in the Persian Safawid Empire in January 1544. He was accompanied by a group of about 40 followers, including his wife Hamida. Along the way, they had suffered various hardships. Because of hunger, they had had to eat their horses, roasting the meat in helmets. However, the shah had Humayun received royally and offered the party an armed escort, new clothes and a large banquet upon their arrival in Herat. For a year, Humayun and his retinue were feted by the shah, who insisted that his royal guest be able to maintain a court of his own.

In Herat, Humayun spent much time viewing and studying Persian architecture and art. He looked at the structures that his ancestors Husain Baiqarah and Gauhar Shad had built and met well-known artists such as Kameleddin Behzad. Later, when he returned to Hindustan, he brought with him in his wake a bevy of craftsmen and artists.

In July, Humayun traveled on to the Safawid capital Qazvin, where he met Shah Tahmasp in person. In honor of his arrival, the shah organized a large feast. Tradition has it that during his flight from Agra, Humayun had taken with him a large diamond, which he gave to the shah as a gift. Nevertheless, Persian hospitality was not alone. Shah Tahmasp was going through an emotionally unstable period during which he devoted himself to religious fanaticism. He urged Humayun to convert to Shiism. Humayun felt he had no choice and reluctantly agreed, leaving him and his few hundred followers in the shah's favor. By the way, his father Babur had also converted to Shiism - temporarily - under pressure from Shah Ismail I, when he needed the shah's support against the Uzbeks.

Humayun and the shah then toured Persia together, including visits to the cities of Esfahan and Tabriz and pilgrimages to the tombs of Sufi saints, including Ahmad-i Jam, an ancestor of Humayun's wife Hamida. Then the shah provided his guest with an army of 12,000 men on the condition that if Humayun succeeded in defeating his brothers, the city of Kandahar would belong to the Safawids. The tide now began to turn in Humayun's favor.

Coincidentally, in the Pre-Indies around the same time, Sher Shah died in an accident. He was succeeded by his much less capable son, Islam Shah Suri. Sher Shah had proved to be an excellent ruler during his five years in power. He had thoroughly reformed the empire's administration and had its infrastructure improved, measures from which the Moguls would later reap the financial benefits.

Reconquest of the empire

In September 1545, Humayun marched at the head of his army against Askari in Kandahar. The city fell into his hands without much difficulty. In his memoirs, Humayun wrote how as soon as he seemed to be on the winning side, the Moguls defected to him "like sheep." His army grew steadily on the march eastward. In December 1545, Kabul was also taken without opposition. Kamran's troops simply defected to Humayun. Kandahar was handed over to the Safawids as promised. The shah sent his one-year-old son as viceroy, but this boy soon died, upon which Humayun himself resumed administration.

Upon taking Kabul, Humayun and Hamida were also reunited with their infant son Akbar. They had a huge celebration thrown to mark the little boy's circumcision. Humayun, however, pardoned his brother Kamran again. A serious error in judgment, because that same year the latter took up arms again to recapture Kabul. Two more times Humayun had to drive his brother out of Kabul. In the clashes between Humayun and Kamran, the younger brother Hindal died fighting at Humayun's side. Surely Humayun's patience with Kamran was now coming to an end. In 1553, his advisers convinced him to blind the captured Kamran. Humayun, however, did not want his brother killed. Kamran nevertheless perished during a pilgrimage to Mecca in the following year.

In Hindustan, after the death of Islam Shah Suri, the successor of Sher Shah, a struggle for power had broken out between the various descendants and relatives of the Suri clan. In 1555, Sikandar Suri, the governor of Punjab, had rebelled against Sultan Ibrahim Shah Suri of Delhi. He had moved eastward with his troops, where he would defeat the sultan. Sikandar Suri, however, had not reckoned with Humayun's Moguls, who now finally saw their chance to recapture the lost territory. The Punjab was taken almost without opposition, and in February 1555 Humayun took Lahore. Sikandar Suri returned in haste to reverse the new danger but was defeated in the battle of Sirhind (June 22, 1555) by a Mogul army under Bairam Khan.

On July 23, 1555, Humayun rode into the gates of Delhi, where he was received by the people as a victor. Also riding in the victory parade was 12-year-old Akbar, the hyperactive and still very young heir to the throne. To the disappointment of the well-read Humayun, no teacher had succeeded in teaching the prince to read or write. Today it is assumed that Akbar was dyslexic.

Death and inheritance

Since his rivals were all dead or fled, Humayun could now finally devote himself to governing the empire. He left the pursuit of the remaining pretenders from the Suri clan to his generals.

However, Humayun could not enjoy the remarkable reconquest of his empire for long. On Jan. 27, 1556, he died after falling down a flight of stairs in the Sher Mandal, ironically a building that his enemy Sher Shah Suri had built in the Purana Qila, Delhi's fortress. Humayun was walking down the top stairs with a stack of books in his arms when the muezzin (prayer call) from the nearby mosque sounded. Humayun had made a personal habit of sitting or kneeling as soon as he heard the muezzin, but his foot became entangled in his cloak and he fell down. He sustained serious injuries to his head and arm. He died three days later, presumably without having regained consciousness.

After Humayun's death, Akbar was crowned emperor. However, the succession was not without problems. The former vizier of the Suris, Hemu, also proclaimed himself emperor. Thanks to Bairam Khan, who assumed the regency of the 13-year-old Akbar, Hemu was defeated and killed in the second battle of Panipat (Nov. 5, 1556). Bairam Khan managed to put the young emperor firmly in the saddle. Akbar would thereafter grow into one of the most important rulers who ever ruled the West Indies. He thoroughly reformed administration and taxation and developed a religious philosophy that allowed an Islamic emperor to remain in power in the multi-ethnic empire. So strong was the foundation Akbar laid under the Mogul Empire that the first cracks would not appear until a century and a half after Humayun's death.

The artists and performers Humayun brought with him from Persia brought about the creation of the philosophy, art, literature and architecture of the Mogul Empire, which fused Central Asian, Persian and Indian ideas and styles. One of the first structures to bear the hallmarks of the new style was the huge tomb Hamida built for her husband in Delhi, in 1562.


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