Mahmud of Ghazni

Annie Lee | Sep 8, 2022

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Mahmud of Ghazna (Ghazni, October 2, 971 - Ghazni, April 30, 1030) was a naturalized Turkish king from Afghanistan.

He was the most important of the sultans in the city of Ghazna. Through his conquests, the kingdom expanded into an empire that included present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India.

Mahmut's father, SabukTigin, was of Turkish descent.Islamic rule at the turn of the first millennium was divided into several potentates, of which the easternmost was the Samanid dynasty, which controlled a vast area between eastern Iran and Transoxiana, with Buchara as its capital. Like the other Islamic dynasties, these had made use of Turkish mercenaries, whose leaders, as a reward, received conquered territories.

Among them was Mahmud's ancestor Alp Tigin, who had settled in Ghazna, Zabulistan. His successor was his son-in-law Sabuktigin of Ghazna, who expanded the small Ghaznavid domain to the detriment of the Samanids themselves, conquering parts of Belucistan and Tukharistan. His son Mahmud was to do much more, establishing an empire that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Ganges.

Maḥmūd was born on October 2, 971 (according to others in 969) in Ghazna, son of the city's lord, Sabuktigin of Ghazna. From his teenage years he accompanied his father on his military expeditions: at 14 he took part in the campaign across the Indus, against Jayapāla, raja of Lahore, and in 994 he was granted the governorship of Khorasan, with the title "Sword of the State." However, in 996, when his father died, the throne went to Maḥmūd's brother and designated heir, Ismāʿīl. Maḥmūd proposed to him to share power, and upon his refusal, he attacked and defeated him in 998, throwing him into prison and assuming power directly. In the same year, he appointed Abu'l-Hasan Isfaraini as his vizier, who was then succeeded in 1013 by Ahmad Maymandi. His first act of great significance was to release Ghazna from its vassalage with the Samanids, whereby in 999 he defeated the Samanid sultan ʿAbd al-Malik in battle.

With this victory he not only made his small state de facto independent, but also received from the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad recognition of his possession of Khorasan, Iran and Afghanistan, and Sistan, as well as the appointment as "right-hand man of the dynasty" and "trustee of the Islamic community." These two titles gave Maḥmūd the role of defender of Islam against the peoples deemed infidels in the Punjab, who were pressing their eastern borders, thus authorizing him to expand his rule in that direction. As early as the year 1000, the Muslim ruler began his first campaign across the Indus, a territory where the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great had gone and where, during the seventh century, two Islamic potentates had been established in the Sind region, those of Mansura and Multan. In the course of this campaign, Maḥmūd reached as far as the mountainous area abutting Peshāwar, striking the raja of Seitan, Khalaf ibn Ahmad, from whom he obtained submission and a substantial tribute.

Shortly thereafter, in 1001, the Ghaznavid ruler invaded with 15,000 horsemen the territory of Lahore, whose rāja, Jayapāla, had raised an army of 12,000 horsemen, 30,000 foot soldiers and 300 elephants. Such a mass of men, however, did not stand against the charge of the Muslim horsemen, who swept through the Hindu ranks with such impetus that the enemies retreated, having left 15,000 men on the field. Jayapāla himself was taken prisoner after his elephant, terrified by the blows received by the Ghaznavid lord's warriors, fled in disorder. The raja was immediately freed, to make him a vassal of Ghazna; but the proud Hindu ruler, rather than accept such a prospect, preferred to commit suicide, setting up a stake and giving himself death, not before abdicating in favor of his son, Ānandapāla.

The latter decided to continue the all-out resistance already pursued by his father, rebelling against Ghaznavid rule: in 1005 then Maḥmūd reached with his armies as far as Bhera, on the Idaspe (present-day Jehlum), forcing the raja to repair to Kashmir. Further south, in 1006, the Islamic leader also intervened against already Islamized kingdoms under the pretext that the sultan of Multan, Dāwūd, was of Shiite orientation, something vigorously opposed by Sunnis. In the north, meanwhile, the Ghaznavid territory of Khorgstan had been invaded by Khan Naṣr I of Transoxiana, brother-in-law of Maḥmūd, who, in a sudden about-face from northern India, drove back across the Syr Darya Iassarte) the invaders, who returned, however, with larger forces, resulting in their defeat again at Balkh. Shortly thereafter, in 1009, after a brief campaign against Multan, the ruler of Ghazna waged yet another war against Ānandapāla, who had succeeded in involving the seven leading rajas of the region in the revolt against Muslim rule. Some of them had personally led their own armies; others sent only contingents. Still, it was a huge army, so much so, it was said, that Indian women had sold their jewelry to constitute it. Hindu forces deployed between Und and Peshāwar to prevent Maḥmūd from entering the region, and they were so numerous that the sultan dared not attack. The two armies therefore faced each other for forty days, after which the Indian foot soldiers went on the offensive, with a vigorous attack that, taking advantage of their more extensive front, focused on the enemy flanks. In dire straits, Maḥmūd was about to order a retreat, when the Indian elephants, frightened by the continuous firing of bullets, spooked and fled, disrupting the ranks of the raja army and leaving it unprotected. The Hindu soldiers then, in complete confusion, fled, ending up prey to the Muslim cavalry, dispatched by the commander behind the enemy array in a circumventing maneuver.

The victory achieved thus enabled Maḥmūd to advance to the fortress of Bhavan, which he conquered with a single assault, and to plunder the rich temple of Kangra, which gave way after a week's siege. The Muslim ruler returned to India in 1011, when, after suppressing a rebellion led by Moḥammed ibn Sūr in the Afghan territory of Ghor, he confronted the raja of Delhi, earning the substantial spoils of the Thanesar temple. Another significant war campaign occurred in 1013, against the Peshāwar ruler Bhim, known as "Fearless," who was defeated and fled to Kashmir, thus giving Maḥmūd a chance to get his hands on the rich and fertile Ganges plain. The new checkerboard of operations engaged him until 1015, a time when he sacked the Hindu stronghold of Thansar, between the Sutlej and the Jumna, while contemplating pushing further into Hindustan. Despite this, in the following years Maḥmūd of Ghazna was forced to look westward, where among other things the Shiite faith of the Buwayhids, protectors of the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, allowed him to flaunt his quality as a champion of Sunnism in that area as well.

The opportunity came with the rebellion of his brother-in-law Mamtin, ruler of Khwārezm, south of the Aral Sea: between 1016 and 1017 the leader operated against the rebel, whose territory he removed from Baghdad's influence, installing a new governor there. By 1018, however, the planned expedition to Hindustan was ready. In the course of that campaign Maḥmūd conquered the cities of Mathura, on the Jumna, and Bindraban, then conquered in a single day the city of Kanauji Kannauj on the Ganges, whose defensive system consisted of seven fortresses. The fruits of the expedition were, in addition to a large booty, 50,000 slaves. The Muslim sultan returned to the region in 1019 and 1022, to protect the raja of Kanauj, who had converted to Islam, becoming his vassal, and had become prey to the expansionist aims of the neighboring Shāhī dynasties, the rajas of Kalinjar and Gwalyor, who were both defeated in the field. A most severe blow to Hinduism in northern India, however, came with the expedition of 1025: Maḥmūd of Ghazna led his army from Multan across the Rajputana desert, availing himself only of horses and camels, reaching the temple in a very short time

Since the various Indian rajas had failed to arrive in time, the stronghold was defended only by the Brahmins, the Hindu priests, who were all slaughtered after the Muslim warriors scaled the walls with ladders and ropes. In addition to raking in immense booty, the Ghaznavid sultan, despite the pleas and prayers of the Hindu rajas, destroyed the Hindu idol representations with his sword and had their remains taken to Ghazna, where he symbolically had them buried under the floor of the Great Mosque so that the faithful could trample on them. His last descent into India took place in 1027, after which Maḥmūd devoted himself to his aims in the West. In the three years he had left to live, the sultan took vast areas of control from the Buwayhids, seizing Raji and Esfahan in Persia, and Hamadan in what was ancient Media (then Jibāl. Everywhere in the Muslim territories, Maḥmūd was seen as the defender of the faith, a fact that caused much discontent with the protectors of the caliphate, already struggling in the face of expansion from the south by the Shiite Fatimids of Egypt. He died, however, in Ghazna in 1030, aged only 59, before he was able to extend his control over all of Mesopotamia. His work was continued by his son Masʿūd, who, however, had to face the advance of the Seljuk Turks, whose actions took much of the Iranian territories from the Ghaznavids, shifting their center of gravity to northern India, where Lahore would replace Ghazna as the hub of the Ghaznavid kingdom until the dynasty was supplanted in 1187 by the Ghurids.


  1. Mahmud of Ghazni
  2. Mahmud di Ghazna
  3. ^ "Maḥmūd | king of Ghazna". ArchNet.
  4. ^ Sharma, Ramesh Chandra (1994). The Splendour of Mathurā Art and Museum. D.K. Printworld. p. 39. ISBN 978-81-246-0015-3.
  5. ^ Homa Katouzian, "Iranian history and politics", Published by Routledge, 2003. p. 128: "Indeed, since the formation of the Ghaznavids state in the tenth century until the fall of Qajars at the beginning of the twentieth century, most parts of the Iranian cultural regions were ruled by Turkic-speaking dynasties most of the time.
  6. ^ (EN) Clifford E. Bosworth, Abu'l-Ḥasan Esfarāʾīnī, su Encyclopædia Iranica,, I, Fasc. 3, 1983, pp. 303-304. URL consultato il 21 giugno 2022.
  7. Brockhaus (német nyelven). (Hozzáférés: 2017. október 9.)
  8. Bosworth, in EI2, 1991, S. 65 ff.
  9. Peter Lamborn Wilson, Karl Schlamminger: Weaver of Tales. Persian Picture Rugs / Persische Bildteppiche. Geknüpfte Mythen. Callwey, München 1980, ISBN 3-7667-0532-6, S. 118 f.

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