Medieval Indian History

Early Medieval Period and Sultanate of Delhi

An often tested topic in General Awareness for banking and other competitive exams is the Delhi Sultanate and the history of India during the medieval period. Let us take a brief look at the history of the Sultanate and then look at a few solved questions.

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Centre of Attraction – Delhi

Delhi became an important city only in the 12th century. It first became the capital of a kingdom under the Tomara Rajputs. They were defeated in the middle of the twelfth century by the Chauhans.

Delhi Sultans

By the 13th century, the Sultanates were successful in transforming Delhi into a capital. It controlled vast areas of the subcontinent. “Histories”, Tarikh (singular) / tawarikh (plural), were written in Persian, the language of administration under the Delhi Sultans by learned men: secretaries, administrators, poets and courtiers.

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Objectives of the Writings

  • They wrote their histories for the Sultans. The interest behind these was an expectation of rich rewards
  • They gave their precious advice to the rulers. These were based on the requirement to preserve an “ideal” social order. This order was to be based on birthright and gender distinctions
  • Not everyone shared their ideas.

In 1236, Sultan Iltutmish’s daughter, Raziyya, was crowned as the Sultan. Nobles did not appreciate her attempts to rule independently. She was thrown off the throne in 1240.

Expansion of the Delhi Sultanate

In the early 13th century, the control of the Delhi Sultans rarely went beyond heavily fortified towns occupied by garrisons. The Sultans were not in the control of the hinterland or the lands that were adjacent to a city or port. These ports were responsible for the supply of goods and services. They were, therefore, dependent upon trade, tribute or plunder for supplies.

It was extremely difficult to control the garrison towns in distant Bengal and Sind from Delhi. The state also faced challenges from the Mongol invasions from Afghanistan. The reigns of Ghiyasuddin Balban, Alauddin Khalji and Muhammad Tughluq witnessed huge expansions.

Administration & Consolidation

The early Delhi Sultans, especially Iltutmish did not approve of appointing aristocrats as governors. instead, they favoured their special slaves purchased for military service, called bandagan. The Khaljis and Tughluqs continued to use bandagan. They also gave special preferences to the people of humble birth to high political positions. They were usually their clients.

Slaves and clients were loyal to their masters and patrons. However, these slaves were not loyal to their heirs. Authors of the Persian tawarikh opposed the Delhi Sultans for appointing the “low and base-born” to high offices. Military commanders were appointed as governors of territories.

This land was iqta and their holder was the iqtadar or muqti. The muqti was responsible for the military campaigns. They also looked after the maintenance of law and order in their iqtas. But still, large parts of the subcontinent remained outside the control of the Delhi Sultans.

The Mongols, under the leadership of Genghis Khan, invaded Transoxiana in north-east Iran in 1219. They also captured the Delhi Sultanate during the reign of Alauddin Khalji and Muhammad Tughluq.

Alauddin Khalji’s defensive policy against Genghis

As a defensive measure, Alauddin Khalji raised a large standing army. He constructed a new garrison town named Siri for his soldiers. In order to feed soldiers, produce collected as tax from lands was done and paddy has got fixed tax as 50% of the yield. Alauddin chose to pay his soldiers salaries in cash rather than iqtas. He made sure merchants sell

So here, A.Khalji’s administrative measure was highly praised due to effective intervention in markets to have prices under control. He successfully withstood the threat of Mongol invasions.

Muhammad Tughluq offensive policy against Genghis

The Mongol army was defeated earlier. Muhammad Tughluq still raised a large standing army. Rather than constructing a new garrison town, he emptied the residents of a Delhi city named Delhi-i Kuhna and the soldiers garrisoned there. He collected the produce from the same area as a tax.

He also collected additional taxes to feed the large army. This coincided with famine in the area. Muhammad Tughluq also paid his soldiers cash salaries. But instead of controlling prices, he used a “token” currency. Since it was made of bronze, people could easily counterfeit it.

His campaign into Kashmir was a disaster. He then gave up his plans to invade Transoxiana and disbanded his large army. His administrative measures led to the birth of many complications. People resented the shifting to Daulatabad. The raising of taxes and famine in the Ganga-Yamuna belt led to widespread rebellion. And finally, he had to recall the “token” currency.

Delhi Sultanate

During the medieval period in Indian history, Delhi became a place of significance and importance. It was in the twelfth century when the Rajput Tomaras made it their capital Delhi emerged on the political map. Its subsequent development and expansion laid the foundation for the Delhi Sultanate.


In the thirteenth century, Delhi became the capital of the Sultans of Delhi. It started with the Slave Dynasty taking ver after the Turkish invasions. The five dynasties that make up the Delhi Sultanate are as follows.

Slave/Ilbari Dynasty (1206-1290)

Qutb al-Din Aibak was the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate and the Slave dynasty. The name comes from the fact that he was a former slave of the Muhammad of Ghor. During this reign, many noblemen from Afghanistan and neighbouring regions migrated to Indian subcontinent to escape the Mongol expansion.

Khilji Dynasty (1291- 1320)

The Khilji dynasty was of Turkic origin. They were settlers of Afghanistan before they came to India, and all their customs and rituals were Afghani. This dynasty was troubled by the Mongol’s invasions but ultimately they were unsuccessful in their attempts.

Tughlaq Dynasty (1320-1412)

Their most prominent sultan was  Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Under his reign, the Delhi Sultanate expanded its geographical boundaries to cover most of India. He was succeeded by Firoz Shah Tughlaq. The dynasty ended with the invasion by Timur.

Sayyid Dynasty (1412-1451)

Very little is known of this Sayyid dynasty. Most of their resources were spent in recovering from the invasion of Timur and his plundering.

Lodi Dynasty (1451-1526)

This was the last dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. They belonged to the Pashtun tribe from the Afghan region. Bahil Khan Lodi was the first Sultan of this dynasty. The last Sultan was Ibrahim Lodi, who lost the battle of Panipat to Babur. And so began the Mughal Empire.

During these three centuries (nearly 320 years) of the rule of Sultans on Delhi, Islamic and Indian civilization saw a synthesis. The period was highlighted with Islamic architecture and the blooming of the Urdu language. The population also saw a steady growth.

Solved Questions for You

Q: Alauddin Khilji demanded how much tax from the public?

  1. 30%
  2. 60%
  3. 50%
  4. There were no taxes.

Ans: The correct answer is C. Khilji raised a huge army to protect himself from invasions. This army was provided with a new garrison by the name of Siri. But the soldiers also need food. So Khilji raised the taxes to 50% of the year’s agricultural yield.

Q: Which emperor ordered the shift of capital from Delhi to Daulatabad?

  1. Alauddin Khilji
  2. Muhammad bin Tughlaq
  3. Firaz Shah
  4. None of the above

Ans: The correct answer is B. Muhammad bin Tughlaq wanted to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in Maharashtra. He forced the population of Delhi to migrate to their new capital. Anyone who refused was punished by death.

Q: Who built the Quwwat-ul-Islam?

  1. Qutb al-Din Aibak
  2. Alauddin Khilji
  3. Jalal ud-Din Firuz
  4. Ghazi Malik

Ans; The correct option is A.  Quwwat-ul-Islam is a collection of monuments in Delhi. It was built from the discarded remains of desecrated  27 Hindu and Jain temples that stood in the region previously. In fact, the entire period of the Delhi Sultanate was marked with the plundering and demolishment of Hindu Temples.

Practice Questions

Q: Which of these was the last ruler of the famous Tughlaq dynasty?

  1. Firuz Shah Tughlaq
  2. Muhammad bin Tughlaq
  3. Ghiyath al-Din Tughlaq
  4.  Nasir ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughlaq

Ans: The correct option is D.

Q: Which ruler is considered as the real founder of the Delhi Sultanate?

  1. Qutubuddin
  2. Aram Shah
  3. Qutb al-Din Aibak
  4. Ilthumish

Ans: The correct answer is D.

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