Qut al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

By establishing the Delhi sultanate, Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak laid the foundation for Muslim hegemony in northern India.

Summary of Event

Muslim hegemony in northern India began with raids by Central Asian Turks, advancing through Afghanistan, which led to the establishment of the Delhi sultanate during the thirteenth century. First, the Ghaznavids (977-1186), former Turkish slave-soldiers (mamlūk), and then the Ghūrids Ghūrids[Ghurids] (c. 1000-1215), Persians from the region of Ghūr in central Afghanistan, led repeated expeditions across the Indus into India. India;Muslim invasions of Although later clerical writers described these expeditions as holy wars (jihad) and glorified the destruction of Hindu temples and idols, the prime purpose of these raids was the acquisition of plunder, of which vast quantities were obtained. [kw]Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1210) [kw]Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate, Quṭ al-Dīn (1206-1210) [kw]Delhi Sultanate, Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the (1206-1210) Delhi sultanate Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak India;1206-1210: Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate[2210] Expansion and land acquisition;1206-1210: Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate[2210] Government and politics;1206-1210: Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak Establishes the Delhi Sultanate[2210] Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak

The culmination of these activities came during the dominions of two brothers, Ghiyā-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ghiyāṣ-ud-Dīn Muḥammad (r. 1163-1203) and Muՙizz-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Muՙizz-ud-Dīn Muḥammad (r. 1203-1206). The latter brother embarked on far-flung conquests in northern India, reaching Benares to the east and Ujjain to the south. His principal lieutenant, Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak, led many of these expeditions, and, after Muՙizz-ud-Dīn’s death, became the first sultan of Delhi.

These conquests were achieved through the agency of a Muslim institution known as the mamlūk Mamlūks , or slave-soldier. Islamic religious law allowed the enslavement of non-Muslims, and at this time, the Turks of Central Asia were still shamanists, that is, unbelievers. From the time of the ՙAbbāsid caliph, al-Muՙtaṣim Muՙtaṣim, al- (r. 833-842), male Turkish slaves had been purchased and trained as professional soldiers, being much admired for their warlike qualities. Slave-armies consisted of slave-soldiers, commanded by slave-officers, and led by slave-commanders. The slave-commanders sometimes became actual rulers. Slavery;Muslim

Quṭ al-Dīn Aybak was the supreme example of this curious system. A Central Asian Turk, born in the second half of the twelfth century, he was captured by slave-raiders and taken to the Persian city of Nishapur. Here, he was purchased by the city governor, who brought him up with his own sons, instructed him in the tenets of Islam, and trained him in horsemanship and archery. When his master died, he was taken to Ghazna in southeastern Afghanistan, to the court of Muՙizz-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ghūri. The latter, impressed by Aybak’s bearing and character, straightaway purchased him and placed him in his own household of mamlūks. When the sultan embarked on the conquest of northern India, he had Aybak by his side, promoting him within the mamlūk command structure.

The pace of the conquests that followed was impressive. Multan and Uch in Punjab were captured in 1175. In 1178, Muՙizz-ud-Dīn invaded Gujarat, but at Nahrwala, he suffered a massive defeat at the hands of the Cālukya ruler, Mularaja II Mularaja II , and was forced to withdraw. Thereafter, he proceeded to campaign in Sind, to capture Peshawar and Sialkot, and to take Lahore in 1186.

East of the Sutlej lay the sprawling realm of the Chauhan Rājput ruler, Pṛithivīrāja Pṛithivīrāja , which consisted of Delhi, Sambhar, and Ajmer and reached south to Mahoba. There could be no further Muslim penetration of India without first eliminating this major figure. In 1191, Muՙizz-ud-Dīn sought to crush him in the first Battle of Tarain Tarain, First Battle of (1191) , near Thanesar on the upper Jumna. Pṛithivīrāja had assembled an immense army of vassals and allies. The contemporary Persian historian Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī has written of Hindu forces consisting of 200,000 cavalry and 3,000 war elephants. The Ghūrid army was decisively routed, and the sultan, wounded in battle, withdrew to Lahore to replenish his depleted manpower.





In 1192, Muՙizz-ud-Dīn returned with an army said to number 120,000 to 130,000 horsemen, including 10,000 mounted archers. Again, the armies met on the plain of Tarain Tarain, Second Battle of (1192) , but in this second battle, Pṛithivīrāja’s forces were decimated, and he was captured and put to death. The sultan then advanced into Rajasthan and captured Ajmer. Further north, he appointed Aybak, who was with him on all these campaigns, sipahsalah (army-commander) for the upper Jumna country. By about 1193, Aybak had captured Delhi and had also taken Mirath, Baran, and Kol across the river. He made his headquarters at Delhi, where he initiated the construction of the city’s first mosque, known as Quwwat al-Islam Quwwat al-Islam (“the might of Islam”), built out of the rubble of demolished Hindu temples, and also the foundations of Quṭb Mīnār Quṭb Mīnār[Qutb Minar] , the immense minaret and “tower of victory” that would be completed by his successors.

In 1194, Aybak accompanied his master on an expedition across the Ganges against the Rathor Rājput ruler of Kanauj, Jayachandra Jayachandra . The Muslim army penetrated as far east as Benares, and Jayachandra was defeated and killed in a bloody engagement in which Aybak is said to have shot the arrow that killed him. Afterward, Aybak sent the sultan four thousand camels laden with the spoils of Kanauj and Benares, where there had been massive destruction of temples and idols. Thereafter, Aybak put down a Rājput uprising in Ajmer in 1195-1196; in 1197, he plundered Nahrwala in Gujarat, where twenty years earlier Muՙizz-ud-Dīn had experienced a crushing defeat; in 1199, he marched as far south as Ujjain. He captured Kalpi in 1202 and, during 1202-1203, raided into Bundelkhand. Muՙizz-ud-Dīn played little or no part in these later campaigns. He may have already reached an advanced age or been preoccupied with affairs in Ghūr, where his elder brother, Ghiyā-ud-Dīn, died in 1203.

Muՙizz-ud-Dīn hurried back to the Ghūrid heartland to claim the succession, but within three years, he was assassinated, leaving no direct descendants. Ghiyā-ud-Dīn’s son, Ghiyā-ud-Dīn Maḥmūd Ghiyāṣ-ud-Dīn Maḥmūd (r. 1206-1215), succeeded in Ghūr itself, but Ghazna was seized by one of the late sultan’s most senior mamlūks, Tāj-ud-Dīn Yildiz Tāj-ud-Dīn Yildiz , Aybak’s father-in-law. Muՙizz-ud-Dīn seems to have assumed that after his death, his mamlūk commanders would take over his conquests, although he must have known that there was bound to be bitter rivalry among them. Jūzjānī relates how, when one of his servants commiserated with him on his lack of sons, he replied that, while other rulers might have a son or two, he had his mamlūks, who would glorify his name by their conquests.

Of these, Aybak stood foremost, a fact recognized by Ghiyā-ud-Dīn Maḥmūd in Ghūr, who sent him a canopy of state (symbol of sovereignty) and addressed him as sultan. However, Aybak did not exercise undisputed sway in India. Much of Punjab and Sind was in the possession of the mamlūk Nāir al-Dīn Qabacha Nāṣir al-Dīn Qabacha , while east of Benares, Bihar and Bengal had been conquered in the 1190’s by a formidable non-mamlūk lieutenant of Muՙizz-ud-Dīn, Ikhtar-ud-Dīn Muḥammad-ibn-Bakhtiar Khaljī Ikhtar-ud-Dīn Muḥammad-ibn-Bakhtiar Khaljī , who was virtually independent there. However, for Aybak in Delhi, the immediate bone of contention was Lahore, which was also claimed by Yildiz in Ghazna. In 1208, Aybak marched on Ghazna, expelled Yildiz, and, as Jūzjānī put it, sat on the throne of Ghazna for forty days. However, Yildiz returned with reinforcements, and Aybak was forced to relinquish the city. However, he retained Lahore, where he died in 1210, falling from his horse while playing polo. During his brief reign, his expedition to Ghazna is the only event the chroniclers mention: All his great conquests had occurred in the lifetime of his master, Muՙizz-ud-Dīn.

Although Aybak is traditionally counted as the first of the Delhi sultans, it is not certain that he used the title in the sense of exercising undisputed sovereignty: As siparsalah, he had minted coins in his master’s name, but after the latter’s death, he seems to have eschewed the exercise of that traditional prerogative of medieval Muslim rulers.

Aybak had three daughters, two of whom were married to Qabacha, and the youngest to Aybak’s favourite mamlūk, Iltutmish Iltutmish . He himself was succeeded by Ārām Shah, assumed to be his son, but who survived only for a few months, struck no coins, and was apparently swept aside by the masterful Iltutmish (r. 1211-1236), the true architect of the Delhi sultanate and one of that city’s greatest rulers.


Aybak’s biography exemplifies the ideal of the mamlūk. In the name of his master, his conquests made enormous inroads into northern India, establishing the first enduring Muslim polity in the subcontinent, and with it, Delhi as the future epicenter of Indo-Islamic culture.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Digby, Simon. War-Horse and Elephant in the Dehli Sultanate. Oxford, England: Orient Monographs, 1971. Excellent for the military dimension.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hasan-i Nizami. Taj al-Maathir. Translated by B. Sarop. Delhi, India: Saud Ahmad Dehlavi, 1998. The earliest account of the period from a Muslim viewpoint.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jackson, Peter. The Delhi Sultanate. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Definitive and magisterial treatment of the sultanate.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Minhāj Sirāj Jūzjānī. Tabakāt-i Nāsirī. Translated by H. G. Raverty. 2 vols. 1881. Reprint. Calcutta, India: The Asiatic Society, 1995. The principal contemporary account.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wink, André. Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill, 1997. A history of the period, to be read in conjunction with the previously listed Jackson work.

Categories: History