The Mughal Empire Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Geographical features have played a critical role in the history of warfare in the vast subcontinent now called India.

Political Considerations

Geographical Geography;Indiafeatures have played a critical role in the history of warfare in the vast subcontinent now called India. The snow-covered Himalayas in the north protected India from massive military invasions. The protective Himalayan barrier has allowed Indian civilization to develop in an unbroken historical tradition that goes back well beyond five thousand years. The Himalayas are also the source of India’s great rivers, such as the Ganges, which were vital for food and water supply, transport, and trade and along the banks of which civilization from ancient times developed.Mughal EmpireIndia;Mughal EmpireMughal EmpireIndia;Mughal Empire

Lower in height than the Himalayas, the Vindhya Mountains run from west to east, dividing northern India from southern India, known as the Deccan. Southern India developed a complex and unique civilization rich in art, language, literature, music, and religious traditions. Conquest of the wealthy Deccan (India)Deccan became the goal of many northern rulers intent on reviving the political and administrative unification of India first accomplished by the Maurya Mauryan EmpireDynasty (321-c. 185 b.c.e.).

The Western Ghats (India)Ghats, the Eastern Ghats, and other ranges of hills compartmentalize the Deccan into small, easily defended sectors. Here, the inhabitants built vast self-sufficient forts to ward off intruders, and it was in these regions that an Indian variation of guerrilla Guerrilla warfare;against Mughals[Mughals]warfare proved to be the ultimate challenge to Mughal supremacy, particularly during the reign of the later Mughal rulers. The political fate of the north hinged on great battles fought by conventional forces on fields such as Pānīpat. In the south, however, the numerous isolated states sometimes held their own, and the conquering armies were frequently at a disadvantage because of unfamiliar terrain, hostile populations, and impregnable defenses.

India’s considerable wealth was amassed through the toil of its rural and urban peoples, the fertility of its lands, the emphasis on trade, and the abundance of food from the subcontinent’s land and surrounding seas. Conquest of India or even a lucrative raid into its wealthy northern cities became a significant aspect of the military strategy of rulers in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Persia.

From early times Indians favored a remarkable tolerance of diversity and religious and cultural variety. The country became a haven for foreign refugees from persecution, who brought traditions, ideas, and skills that enhanced the economy and the way of life. The prevailing tendency was for foreigners, whether refugees or invaders, eventually to settle in after some initial upheavals and to adopt the prevailing way of life while retaining features of their own cultural traditions. The assimilation process was not always smooth, and military engagements were a common feature of the initial contact between Indians and alien invaders.

The Mughals, a Muslim people, began their Indian adventure as alien military raiders in 1526 and concluded it in 1858 as the last acknowledged Indian imperial dynasty. Their story aptly illustrates the process of assimilation. Even as they conquered India politically and militarily, they absorbed, adopted, and made Indian culture their own.

From ancient times Indians had experimented with a variety of forms of government, ranging from democratic republics to vast unifying empires. Although Indian rulers fought each other in a bewildering array of military engagements over politics, land acquisition, and personal ambition, Indian society was generally more oriented to the arts of peace than those of war. Although Indian society had a warrior class and professional soldiers, it did not glorify war as a way of life, seeing war as merely a necessity to accomplish a political end. This crucial feature of Indian development meant that alien military forces frequently had enormous tactical advantages over defending Indian armies and frequently prevailed. The defenders, raised in a relatively nonviolent environment, fought with courage and valor but were frequently no match for the raiders. Hence India fell prey to frequent invasions that caused enormous turmoil until the process of civilizing and assimilating the outsiders took over. Occasionally, as with the Mughals, the invaders successfully utilized new military weaponry and innovative battle strategies in their bids to conquer India. In the process, they helped to change the methodology of warfare in the subcontinent.

As with most Indian governments, past and present, success and survival were largely dependent on the energy, determination, and dedication of a particular leader. The early Mughals produced a few outstanding rulers, the most prominent of whom was the emperor AkbarAkbar (Mughal emperor)Akbar (1542-1605).

Pre-Mughal India

Pre-Mughal India consisted of a number of small states governed by a variety of Hindu and Muslim rulers. One of the most prominent of these kings was Ibrāhīm Lodī, IbrāhīmLodī, Ibrāhīm (sultan of Delhi)[Lodi, Ibrahim]Lodī (died 1526), the Afghan sultan of Delhi from 1517. These kings, princes, and tribal chiefs fought incessantly to increase the size of their territories, to protect their kingdoms, to carve out trade routes to the ocean, to ensure the succession of their children, and even to unify the subcontinent. Because the Delhi sultanate had lost most of its political significance, power dissipated into the hands of numerous regional warlords, many of Afghan and Rajput origin. The absence of political unity could easily have been perceived as creating an ideal opportunity for a hardy foreign adventurer.

The Reasons for Mughal Warfare

After establishing a foothold in India in 1526, Mughal emperors continuously sought to unify the country. The conduct of warfare was regarded as the necessary business of rulers through much of the Mughal period. Where they encountered resistance to peaceful takeovers, warfare followed.

The Mughal emperors waged war against religious groups that resisted hated measures such as a tax on non-Muslims. The Religion and warfare;Mughal Empirereligious fervor of some later Mughal rulers such as ՙĀlamgīr incited violent opposition from the Hindus;Mughal persecutionHindu majority throughout India. The Mughals also fought against religious minorities such as the Sikhs. Fratricidal warfare was a marked feature of this dynasty, with princes warring against each other for control of the empire because there was no established tradition of Primogeniture;Mughal lack ofprimogeniture, or inheritance by the oldest son. Mughal imperial governors also fought against recalcitrant tribes and ethnic communities opposed to their rule.

As the power of the Mughal emperors declined, rebellious noblemen and governors sought to carve out their own kingdoms. Warfare was a significant element of Mughal India. The combination of ethnic wars, religious wars, dynastic wars, and civil wars ensured that there were few periods of peace during this period.

The wars of the later Mughal era were elaborate events involving thousands of soldiers, attendants, servants, camp followers, dancing girls, and vendors. The use of elephants, horses, oxen, and camels made for a uniquely Indian display of pomp and pageantry. The spectacle was enhanced with colorful costumes, decorative tents, and an impressive array of jewels and treasure chests.

Mughal Invasion of India

A descendant of both Genghis Khan (between 1155 and 1162-1227) and Tamerlane (1336-1405), BāburBābur (Mughal ruler)[Babur]Bābur (1482-1530) began as ruler of a small principality named Farghana, now located in Chinese Turkestan. By 1505 he had conquered the city of Kabul in Afghanistan, using it as a base for his ambitions on the wealth of India. Bābur’s first raid into Punjab, in northern India, in 1524 was moderately successful. With the experience Bābur gained from this raid, he returned to India with a larger army and defeated Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī at the famous Battle of Pānīpat, First Battle of (1526)[Panipat 01]Pānīpat on April 20, 1526.

Bābur’s military successes were the product of his own expertise in the art of organizing a compact but well-trained, highly disciplined army for warfare in the plains of India. Bābur had additional advantages: His first-rate cavalry of Turkish troops was trained for quick maneuvers and sudden sallies and charges on opposing forces. Most important, Bābur made effective use of Artillery;Mughalartillery, acquired from Turkey, in his Indian battles. The introduction of such weaponry played a decisive role in the Mughal victories. Although Indians had witnessed the use of large guns in sieges, the mobile artillery tactics of Bābur, using field guns and muskets, were a novelty.

Opposition from Indian Forces

Although Pānīpat was a significant battle that provided Bābur with control of Delhi and Agra, Bābur had to face stiff opposition from a variety of rulers. Fortunately for the Mughals, the Indians were unable to unite to defeat the invading army. The Rajputs and Afghans were separately and decisively defeated in the Battles of Kanwa Kanwa, Battle of (1527)(1527) and Ghāghara Ghāghara, Battle of (1529)[Ghaghara](1529). These victories were pivotal in the establishment of the Mughal Empire, which now extended from Afghanistan in the north to Bengal in the east.

The defending Indian forces lost because their armies were unwieldy and undisciplined. These forces ranged from cavalry to infantry, some of whom were peasants armed only with bamboo sticks. A veritable city of servants, camp followers, and attendants hindered the mobility of the defending troops, which were unable to march more than a short distance each day. The cumbersome size of this force and the absence of effective communication between different wings of the army made cohesive fighting difficult.

Indian armies relied on the use of war Elephantselephants, which served a similar purpose to tanks in modern warfare. Elephants could push forward large guns, carry the commander into battle, act as a battering ram against a fort, or crush opposing infantry underfoot by rushing into the ranks. Equipped with an iron chain in its trunk and taught to wield it in all directions, an elephant could wreak havoc against an enemy force. Although these great animals were impressive and could frighten an enemy, they were also unpredictable and could retreat under attack into the ranks of panicked Indian foot soldiers. Frequently commanders rode on the elephants so that they had the best view of the battlefield; this high perch made the commanders prime targets for enemy arrows. If the commander was wounded, or if he felt the need to descend from the howda on top of his elephant, his troops often assumed that he was dead and scattered.

Although the Rajput Rajput IndiansIndians did not initially have firearms, they fought the Mughals with valor and determination. When all hope for victory was lost, they donned their traditional saffron garments and embarked on their final death ride, fighting the enemy with a ferocity that made them legendary in Indian history. Rajput women often committed mass Suicide;Rajputssuicide rather than surrender to the invaders. The Rajput ideals of chivalry and courage in the face of defeat have inspired generations of Indians.

Military Achievement

Bābur’s strategy at the Battle of Pānīpat became a model followed by his descendants in numerous battles throughout Indian history. Bābur’s strategy in this battle was to provide as much protection to his forces as possible while allowing them the opportunity to act swiftly to take advantage of enemy weaknesses as the battle advanced. Bābur utilized ditches and jungle foliage to guard his left flank, protecting his right with control of houses in Pānīpat. The front of his force was shielded by 700 baggage carts tied together with ropes and interspersed with a screen of shields behind which he stationed the squadrons armed with new matchlock rifles to fire at the Indian troops. The use of this new weapon was decisive and successful against the densely packed ranks of defending forces.

One tactical technique Bābur utilized was the Taulqama (Mughal tactic)taulqama, a Turkish word referring to the horns of the crescent, in which the Mughals closed in on and destroyed the rear guard of the opponent. Each soldier in the thoroughly trained Mughal army knew his place, in either the vanguard, left wing, right wing, or the all-important center commanded by Bābur himself. The combination of good defenses and mobility ensured that Bābur’s troops could take advantage of every weakness in the ranks of the defending force. First, a determined hail of arrows was directed at the Indian elephants, which panicked and turned to flee, killing many of the defending forces. The disorder in Indian ranks was as decisive a factor as the new Mughal weaponry. A lethal combination, this led to death for Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī and thousands of his followers, slain on the battlefield and during the invaders’ consequent plunder and devastation.

Pānīpat heralded a new age of Artillery;Mughalwarfare in India and ensured that future Mughal rulers would rely increasingly on firearms in battles. Although Bābur had utilized hand weapons and some light guns stationed on forks, the need for large mortars soon became evident. Large guns were cast for Bābur in Agra and first used during the Battle of Kanwa. These huge guns were transported on baggage carts from one battle to the next. Deceit was a favored tactic: Wooden dummy guns were mingled with the real guns to provide the appearance of a vastly more powerful arsenal than Bābur actually possessed. Bābur’s determination and tactical expertise secured for him most of northern India.

Bābur’s son and successor HumāyūnHumāyūn (Mughal ruler)[Humayun]Humāyūn (1508-1556) utilized a large gun on a swivel that could fire a ball of more than 4 pounds of weight at a distance of up to 3 miles. Humāyūn’s son and the greatest of the Mughal emperors, Akbar, improved on the technology by using more wheeled artillery carriages. He also lengthened the barrel of the hand musket and made various improvements to the firearms used by his vast army.

Bābur barely had the opportunity to consolidate his Indian kingdom before his death in 1530. His son, Humāyūn, inherited the new empire but lacked his father’s dedication and military genius. Humāyūn conquered important regions such as Malwa and Gujerat in 1535 but could not retain control. He had to contend with the determination of Afghani soldier Shīr Shīr ShāhShīr Shāh[Shir Shah]Shāh (c. 1486-1545), who defeated the Mughal emperor at the Battles of Chausa Chausa, Battle of (1539)(1539) and Kanauj Kanauj, Battle of (1540)(1540). Humāyūn became a refugee at the Persian Court.

Shīr Shāh, as much of a military genius as Bābur, consolidated his empire with a series of military victories, dying in 1545 during a siege. Humāyūn eventually reconquered part of his empire in 1555 but died the following year, leaving the country to his son Akbar.

Although AkbarAkbar (Mughal emperor)Akbar was young, was inexperienced, and lacked validity for his imperial title, he nevertheless showed determination and valor. At the age of thirteen, he was victorious at the Second Battle of Pānīpat Pānīpat, Second Battle of (1556)[Panipat 02](1556) against the Sur descendants of Shīr Shāh, who were led by an admirable Hindu general, Himu Bhargav, also known as HemuHemu (Hindu general)Hemu (died 1556). It is significant that at this battle Himu girded his war elephants in plate armor and stationed both musketeers and crossbow archers on their backs. Clearly, the innovative changes of the Mughal invaders were being adopted and adapted to traditional Indian methods of fighting. Himu was mortally wounded on the battlefield, which led to a rout of his troops and victory for the hard-pressed Mughals. This battle gave the Mughals control of the Punjab, Delhi, and Agra. Five years later, Akbar conquered the Ganges and Yamuna river valleys, Gwalior, and parts of Rajasthan.

The Mughal Empire in the Seventeenth Century

The consolidation of his empire and expanding personal ambitions continually drove Akbar to warfare and conquest. His Rajput opponents had not, in those early stages, acquired the use of firearms. With these weapons and with the Turkish tactic of using archers on horseback, the Mughals were largely successful. At the Battle of Gogunda, Battle of (1576)Gogunda, also called the Battle of Haldighat Haldighat, Battle of (1576)(1576), Akbar and his opponent, the heroic Rānā Pratāp Singh, Rānā PratāpSingh, Rānā Pratāp (Mewār ruler)[Singh, Rana Pratap]Singh, ruler of Mewār between 1572 and 1597, both used elephants in battle. Rānā Pratāp lost the battle but retreated strategically to the hills, later returning to regain some of his lost territory. His efforts to survive Mughal rule provided important lessons to later rebels about the validity of fighting wars of attrition against the imperial giant. Rānā Pratāp never surrendered to Akbar, and this conflict was only resolved when Akbar’s successor made peace with the Rānā’s son, Amar Singh, in 1614.

Akbar, the greatest Mughal emperor, was continually driven to expand his empire through warfare and conquest.

(Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Akbar eventually conquered most of northern and eastern India, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan and then turned his attention southward, fighting his final campaigns in Ahmadnagar (1600) and Khandesh (1601). He is now regarded as one of India’s greatest emperors, not so much for his military prowess as for his policies of religious tolerance and deliberate assimilation of ethnic groups and his careful administrative methods. Nationalist Indians have gone so far as to portray Akbar as the founder of Indian national consciousness, and this label reflects the admiration with which he is perceived.

Fratricidal conflict became a marked feature of Mughal political and military history with the rebellion from 1601 to 1604 of Prince Salīm (1569-1627), son and eventual successor of Akbar. Renamed JahāngīrJahāngīr (Mughal ruler)[Jahangir]Jahāngīr, Salīm took the throne upon Akbar’s death in 1605 and ruled until his own death in 1627. Jahāngīr added Ahmadnagar and Kangra to the empire and subdued the Afghans in Bengal. Jahāngīr’s encounters with the English and Portuguese failed to convince him of the need to take aggressive action to modernize his army; build a great fleet; and acquire the superior armaments, tactical knowledge, and training methods possessed by the English adventurers who sought to trade with his empire.

Jahāngīr’s failure to appreciate the importance of modernization had devastating consequences for India, which eventually succumbed to the military might of the British and did not regain its independence until 1947. An absence of imperial concentration on Western military techniques, technology, and strategy resulted in long-term adverse political and economic consequences for India.

The fifth Mughal emperor, Shāh Shāh JahānShāh Jahān[Shah Jahan]Jahān ruled between 1628 and 1658, when he was ousted from the throne by his son ՙĀlamgīrՙĀlamgīr[Alamgir]ՙĀlamgīr, and died a prisoner. Shāh Jahān is famous mainly as the builder of numerous palaces, particularly the Taj Taj MahalMahal (1632-1653), a monument to his love for his wife. Militarily, he succeeded to an extent in the Deccan but failed in his numerous attempts to oust the Persians from Qandahār. His illness in 1657 triggered a fratricidal war between his four sons, who all vied to capture the throne.

ՙĀlamgīr emerged the victor, becoming India’s sixth Mughal emperor and ruling until his own death in 1707. Elephants were used with great effectiveness in this succession struggle. At the Battle of Khajwa Khajwa, Battle of (1659)(1659), ՙĀlamgīr’s brother and opponent Prince Shuja (died c. 1660) utilized elephants swinging large iron chains from their trunks, wreaking havoc among ՙĀlamgīr’s troops. ՙĀlamgīr, however, remained calm and emerged victorious.

ՙĀlamgīr expanded the Mughal Empire to its greatest extent, east to Assam, south to the land of the Marāṭhās, and beyond to Thanjavur and Tiruchchirappalli. The territorial expansion of the empire proved to be the undoing of the dynasty. Government at this time was personality-oriented, relying heavily for stability and prosperity on the energy and initiative of the emperor. India needed a ruler dedicated to the administration and government of its varied peoples. The fervently religious ՙĀlamgīr, however, was determined to convert India to the Muslim Islam;Indiafaith. He discriminated against and persecuted Hindus:Mughal persecutionHindus, provoking their opposition throughout the empire.

The Hindu Marāṭhās Marāṭhās[Marathas]revolted against Mughal intolerance, under the banner of their leader ŚivajīŚivajī (Marāṭhās leader)[Sivaji]Śivajī (1627-1680), who used a combination of surprise attacks, guerrilla warfare, reliance on nearly impregnable hill fortifications, and the plunder of rich cities such as Surat to finance these rebellious operations. Śivajī was a military genius, particularly in the use of cavalry. The Marāṭhā revolt, now legendary for its audacity against Mughal power, was somewhat successful in that Śivajī declared himself king of the Marāṭhās in 1674. The creation of this Hindu kingdom in defiance of the various Muslim rulers, including the Mughals, inspired the country’s Hindu majority to stage other revolts. Śivajī is remembered for his ideals, his daring, and his administrative and military genius as one of India’s greatest heroes.

Religious oppression also roused the Rajputs, the Sikhs, and the Jats against the increasingly unwieldy Mughal Empire. Rebellion flared up in various states such as Assam, Bundelkhand, Malwa, and Patiala. ՙĀlamgīr’s success in ruthlessly suppressing these revolts generated widespread hostility to Mughal rule throughout India. Between 1681 and 1707, ՙĀlamgīr also fought a financially expensive war to subdue the Deccan, which drained the empire’s once-wealthy treasuries.

ՙĀlamgīr’s use of the Mughal army and his country’s wealth to pursue a policy aimed at converting all of India to Islam was in stark contrast to the more pragmatic, self-interested liberal tolerance practiced by Akbar. India resisted the intolerant Mughals with determination, and the consequent warfare created dynastic insecurity, political instability, and a power vacuum that was energetically exploited by British adventurers seeking to expand the British Empire into the subcontinent.

ՙĀlamgīr was so obsessed with his persecution of the Hindu majority that he failed to grasp the significance of the European military threat and did not comprehend the need to build a strong Indian navy to match those of England and France. European nations controlled the oceans and this would be a fatal weakness for India.

This tactical error contributed to the loss of Indian independence, to its political takeover, and to its economic and financial degradation during European colonial rule. Unlike earlier invaders and conquerors, the Great Britain;in India[India]British had no intention of assimilating into Indian civilization and saw India primarily as a source of wealth, raw materials, and markets for their homeland. This perception became more significant as Britain led the world in industrialization and India’s wealth became vital to British economic survival, imperial expansion, and global wars with other European colonial powers. ՙĀlamgīr effectively destroyed loyalty to the Mughal Empire, and, after his death, weaker emperors could not recapture Akbar’s earlier tradition of toleration. The Mughal Empire collapsed under a series of internal revolts, fratricidal conflicts, and determined pressure from the British East India Company, which was founded in 1600 as a trading agency and went on to acquire a vast empire in the subcontinent.

Weapons, Uniforms, and Armor

The Armor;MughalUniforms;MughalBattle of Talikota Talikota, Battle of (1565)(1565), considered one of the most decisive battles in this period of South Indian history, demonstrated the importance of having well-armed, appropriately dressed troops in combat. The forces of the southern state of Vijayanagar Wars (1509-1565)Vijayanagar commanded massive numbers but failed to equip their men with armor or even practical clothing. The Indian infantry, with their bamboo bows, short spears and swords, and foreign mercenaries wielding outdated artillery and muskets, were no match for the Deccan sultans who rode on Arabian horses, their armor-clad Iranian and Turanian soldiers carrying steel bows, metal javelins, and 16-foot lances. Additionally, the Muslims had mobile artillery carried on camels and elephants. Bābur’s tactic of using supplies as a wall of protection for the front line of gunners was utilized once again. Historians estimate that the defeat of Vijayanagar resulted in the deaths of 16,000 troops. The great southern empire of Vijayanagar and its capital were destroyed by the invaders.

Indian warriors did not readily adopt the use of firearms during warfare. The Rajput ruler Maharaja Jaswant Jaswant Singh, MaharajaJaswant Singh, MaharajaSingh (died 1678) would not use firearms in the Mughal War of Succession Mughal War of Succession (1658-1659)(1658-1659) against ՙĀlamgīr, because he felt such weaponry was not worthy of his heroic people.

During the Mughal era, the efficiency and range of Firearms;Indiafirearms improved considerably. The rather crude primitive guns of Bābur’s day were replaced by more accurate, sophisticated weapons, mounted on individual carriages pulled by bullocks. Indian artisans were able to copy the latest guns for their customers with a facility that would later amaze the Europeans. Shīr Shāh, recognizing the importance of the new technology, trained and used over 25,000 matchlock men in his army. Akbar took care to import and copy the latest weaponry from Europe, and eventually infantry were equipped with guns rather than spears. Indian commanders during the eighteenth century also used field glasses to survey the battlefield.

Military Organization

Although Bābur took over India with a brilliant combination of strategy, tactics, discipline, and innovative weaponry, his successors had to fight continuously to consolidate the empire he had founded. Constant warfare became a fixed feature of Mughal history, and there was accordingly a great emphasis on the organization of the military. Bābur’s contribution to military organization lay in his introducing India to a new type of warfare that included significant reliance upon firearms. His emphasis on a highly mobile cavalry ensured victories in every major battle. His determination to protect his forces while enabling them to fight ensured that his archers and matchlock soldiers inflicted enormous casualties from behind the defensive positions erected for them. His army, however, lived largely off the land in those early years of plunder and pillage.

Later emperors required a more constant and less controversial method of funding their military ventures. The six years of interlude in Mughal rule when Shīr Shāh governed India ironically provided the administrative foundations for the Mughal Empire. Now regarded as a genius in administration, Shīr Shāh divided the Indian Empire into districts for revenue purposes, established a sound currency, encouraged trade and commerce, constructed highways and ensured their safety with an elaborate police system, reformed the criminal justice system, and instituted direct recruitment of and regular payment to young men who joined the imperial army, thereby decreasing reliance on the cumbersome system of seeking military assistance from regional lords. Clearly, such reforms facilitated the recruitment, payment, and utilization of imperial armies to their maximum potential, a fact not lost on Akbar, who adopted many of these ideas.

Akbar is also credited with the mansabdari organization of the Mansabdari (organization of the Indian army) army, in which all military and civilian officials were classified on the basis of a salary scale and on their formal requirement to maintain and provide cavalry contingents for the emperor’s wars. The recipients, called mansabdars, lived off the revenue of land grants called jagirs, which were not hereditary and were often transferred. Akbar encouraged Hindus to join both his armies and his government as bureaucrats and ministers. The emperor posted both a civilian governor and a military commander to each of the fifteen provinces of his empire. Military officials also participated in district government. With land grants, titles, and a variety of perquisites, Akbar created a multiethnic, multireligious nobility consisting of Central Asians, Iranians, Afghans, Rajputs, and Indian Muslims who were loyal to their emperor. Akbar was careful to ensure that no ethnic or religious group dominated his government.

During the early phase of this empire, the battle strategies of most Mughal engagements were quite similar. A strong, disciplined, well-equipped force handled the artillery. Archery from horseback created confusion and havoc in enemy ranks. The main army usually consisted of left, center, and right wings. The commander controlled the center. At the rear were commando-style reserve forces utilized to defend any wing that came under excessive pressure. Following initial resort to artillery, most of the engagement was by hand-to-hand combat.

The Second Anglo-Sikh War (1848-1849) ended with British control of the Punjab and India’s northwestern regions. Late Mughal intolerance of religious minorities, including the Hindus and Sikhs, deflected attention from the real threat: British colonialism.

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The organizational methodology of the Mughals was borrowed from the Turks and was adapted to the prevailing situation of terrain, weather, and size of opposing forces in India. However, the sheer wealth of the Indian Empire and the complex diversity of its people eventually necessitated the creation of a vast military bureaucracy with noncombatants outnumbering soldiers ten to one. Although the Mughals had conquered India with compact, highly mobile, well-equipped, and well-armed troops, as they settled in to govern India, each military action involved the transportation to the field of a growing retinue of baggage, suppliers, messengers, servants, dancing girls, clerks, spies, shopkeepers, money-lenders, and camp followers along with the soldiers who did the actual fighting.

A century after Bābur seized India, the Mughal army of combatants had grown sixfold. This enormous increase in size was partly a result of Akbar’s policy. The growth in numbers of combatants required a corresponding increase in the number of servicing staff for the armed forces. However, what the Indian army gained in bureaucratic organization, it lost in maneuverability and the ability to strike suddenly at an unprepared opponent. So vast a crowd could not move more than a few miles per day.

Bābur used Asiatic Muslims and Persians to fire his large guns. Employment of European and Indo-European mercenaries to handle the gunnery work during battle became a significant feature of Mughal military tactics during Akbar’s reign. No longer were Persians and Asiatic Muslims utilized as much. Hence the Mughals relied on outsiders in a critical aspect of their strategy. Although there were many European and Central Asian adventurers eager to work for the Mughal government, these Mercenaries;in Mughal Empire[Mughal]mercenaries were detrimental to the welfare of the Mughal Empire, because they frequently changed sides, plotted constantly against their employers, and even deserted on the battlefield.

British India at the End of the Nineteenth Century

The spate of revolts fired by ethnic, religious, and other forms of oppression adversely affected state revenues by increasing the number of wars that had to be fought at the very moment when Indians were no longer contributing as generously to the Mughal treasury. As the empire declined, soldiers were not paid regularly and often revolted because they were hungry and their families were starving. The Mughals had retained the inherently Feudalism;in India[India]feudal structure of their armed forces, which meant that the soldier’s primary loyalty was to his own lord rather than exclusively to the emperor. This arrangement endangered cohesion in later conflicts and increased disorganization and a lack of discipline among the ranks. A number of scholars have suggested that the failures in the Deccan destroyed the reputation of the once-great Mughal army, the decline of which eventually led to the end of the Mughal Empire.

The Persian invasion of India by Nādir Nādir ShāhNādir Shāh (Iranian shah)[Nadir Shah]Shāh (1688-1747) in 1739 resulted in the Sack of Delhi, Sack of (1739)Delhi, the slaughter of 30,000 Indians, and the transportation to Persia of vast booty. This was the low point of Mughal rule, and the dynasty finally ended in 1858 when the British, following the Indian revolt of 1857, imprisoned the nineteenth Mughal emperor Bahādur Shāh Bahādur Shāh IIBahādur Shāh II (Mughal ruler)[Bahadur Shah 02]II (1775-1862) in Burma and shot and killed his two sons and grandson.

Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Early Mughal leaders were committed to warfare as a means of conquering India and regarded the exercise of war as a normal activity of kings. Later Mughals did not match their doctrinal dedication to war with any great emphasis on ensuring that the army remained a tough, well-disciplined fighting force. The Mughal Mughal EmpireDynasty, which had won a wealthy empire with a few thousand hardy followers, lost its military focus and dedication after succumbing to the luxury and opulence reaped from the resources of India.

Although most Mughal battles were fought on land and consisted of a variety of strategies and tactics suited to the particular terrain of the battlefield, the imperial fleet was occasionally utilized, as in the Battle of Daulambapur Daulambapur, Battle of (1612)(1612). The Mughals won this battle with artillery and well-trained marksmen.

Warfare played a crucial role throughout the long history of Mughal India. It was the method by which the Mughals gained India and ironically it was their incompetence in warfare that cost them their empire. The Mughals were the product of a military tradition and utilized India’s vast wealth to further their imperial ambitions to conquer the whole subcontinent. Their rule brought greatness to India politically and militarily and may have created a latent Indian consciousness among the hordes of Turkish, Afghani, Persian, Rajput, Sikh, Marāṭhā, and numerous other groups that had made India their homeland. In the end, the failure of Mughal rulers such as ՙĀlamgīr to appreciate the value of this cultural and religious pluralism doomed the Mughal Empire. The nascent national outlook fostered by Akbar would have to wait a few hundred years for Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) to create a nation from the descendants of the Mughals and all the other peoples who came to India.

Contemporary Sources

The Bābur-nāmeh (early sixteenth century; Memoirs of Bābur, 1921-1922), the memoirs of the first Mughal emperor Bābur, are available in translation and provide a firsthand account of his perceptions. Additionally, numerous contemporaries of the Mughals wrote detailed accounts of the battles in both the Persian and Indian languages. Some of these records of military engagements have been translated or summarized into English and provide a vivid first-person view of warfare during this era.Mughal EmpireIndia;Mughal Empire

Books and Articles
  • Bidwell, S. Swords for Hire. London: John Murray, 1971.
  • Eraly, Abraham. The Mughal World: India’s Tainted Paradise. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007.
  • Gascoigne, B. The Great Moghuls. London: Jonathan Cape, 1971.
  • Gommans, Jos J. L. Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire, 1500-1700. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Hallissey, R. C. The Rajput Rebellion Against Aurangzeb. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1977.
  • Kulkarni, G. T. The Mughal-Maratha Relations: Twenty-five Fateful Years, 1682-1707. Pune, India: Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute, 1983.
  • Nicolle, David. Mughul India, 1504-1761. Illustrated by Angus McBride. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 1993.
  • Raj Kumar, ed. Military System of the Mughals. New Delhi, India: Ajay Verma for Commonwealth Publishers, 2004.
  • Reid, Stuart. Armies of the East India Company, 1750-1850. Illustrated by Gerry Embleton. Botley, Oxford, England: Osprey, 2009.
  • Sabahuddin, Abdul, and Rajshree Shukla. The Mughal Strategy of War. Delhi: Global Vision, 2003.
  • Sarkar, J. N. The Art of War in Medieval India. New Delhi, India: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1984.
  • _______. Military History of India. Calcutta, India: M. C. Sarkar, 1960.
  • Wolpert, Stanley A. A New History of India. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Films and Other Media
  • Warrior Empire: The Mughals. Documentary. History Channel, 2006.

India and South Asia: Ancient

India and South Asia: Medieval

Colonial Warfare

The Ottoman Empire

African Warfare


Japan: Modern

China: The Qing Empire

Imperial Warfare

Categories: History