The Turkish Conquest of Northern India

Episode 24: The Sultans of Dehli

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

In this lecture, Harl focuses on the Turkish conquest of northern India in the late 12th and early 13th century.

After clinching numerous victories in Delhi and other Hindu cities in northern India, the Seljuk Turk Muhammad of Ghazni died in 1206. The son of a slave soldier* himself, Muhammad delegated administration of the conquered territory to slave soldiers. Thus Delhi rulers following Mahmud’s death are frequently referred to as the “Slave Sultans of Delhi.”

Mahmud’s son Iltutmish extended the Seljuk conquest as far south as the Ganges. He ruled with the oversight of a governing council consisting of Muqtis (landholders). Iltutmish groomed his daughter Radiza Begum to succeed him.** Despite being an able (but not great) ruler, her efforts to reduce the power of her governing council led to a full scale rebellion to overthrow her rule.

Her successors continued to conduct raids into the Hindu kingdoms of southern India for loot to finance the Turkish occupation.

Although the sultans of India successfully resisted repeated Mongol invasions from 1220 on, they had a relatively weak military and focused mainly on public monument construction (mosques, madrassas, minarets, mausoleums, etc). Many were built from the remains of Hindu temples. Delhi, formerly a minor city became the center of Muslim power in India. Many of the minarets and mosques from this period persist to the present day.

Despite the Turkish military occupation, Islam would remain a minor religion in India. This was in part due to the failure of large numbers of Turk settlers to migrate to India and in part due to the persistence of strong Tantric (Hindu) rituals in the rural villages. By 1350, all the Muslim cities of northern India were still surrounded by Hindu farm communities.

*As growing numbers of steppes Turks converted to Islam, it became common for their Islamic overlords (as well as the Turks themselves) to enslave warriors they captured in battle to serve in their own armies.

**This was consistent with steppes tradition of appointing women of high rank to become rulers.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

The Role of Rumi and other Sufi Mystics in Converting Byzantium to Islam

100+ Rumi Quotes on Love, Life, Nature ...

Episode 23: The Sultans of Rum

Barbarian Empires of the Steppes (2014)

Dr Kenneth Harl

Film Review

This lecture explores how Seljuk Turk victories on the Anatolian peninsula (which Harl refers to as Asia Minor) ultimately led to an independent Turkish Muslim civilization with Kanya as its capital

In the early 13th century, the Anatolian peninsula was ruled by numerous competing Turkish tribes. In 1237, Sultan Kaykhusraw II unified the entire peninsula under a single Seljuk regime. Unlike many Turkish rulers, he refused to submit to Mongol rule until the Mongols invaded Anatolia and crushed the Sejuk army. According to Harl, Genghis Khan allowed him to continue his rule as a Mongol vassal.

Although Anatolia had reverted to rival Turkish states by the early 14th century, Kanya would remain the religious and cultural enter of Turkish civilization. Having thrown off their nomad identity, Kanya sultans employed Persian administrators and used Persian as their official language. Their embrace of Islam linked them closely to the caravan trade, as more an more Muslims flocked to the Anatolian cities, bringing their skills as architects, engineers, mystics, scholars and poets. Muslim migration to Anatolia increase substantially as Mongol warriors pushed westward and drove the Turkish families out of Transoxiana* and Persia.

An independent Turkish architectural style developed during this period with the building of mosques, madrassas,** mausoleums and camel rest stops. The latter were unique complexes providing secure storage for caravans – as well as heavily taxing them. The revenue they produced enabled the Seljuk sultans to issue silver coins replacing Byzantine currency.

The most interesting part of this lecture concerns the wholesale conversion of Byzantine Christians to Islam, largely thanks to the charismatic influence of Sufi mystics who also migrated to Anatolia to escape the Mongols.

The family of the famous Persian poet and Islamic scholar Rumi fled Central Asia for Kanya some time between 1215 and 1220. In 1244, he became an ascetic. He and his followers (known as dervishes) incorporated poetry, dancing, whirling and miracles into their practice.

By 1350 AD, the vast majority of Anatolia had converted to Islam.

*Transoxiana is the Roman name for the central steppes region roughly corresponding to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and southern Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Film can be viewed free on Kanopy with library card.