Delhi Sultanate Expansion

Learning Goals:

In the thirteenth century, the control of regions by the Delhi Sultans rarely went beyond garrison towns. A garrison town is a fortified settlement with soldiers. The Sultans seldom controlled the hinterland of the cities. Due to this, they were dependent on trade, tribute and plunder for supplies.


Expansion of Delhi Sultanate

Rebellion, war and bad weather would snap the fragile communication routes. Consequently, it was very difficult to control garrison towns in Bengal and Sindh from Delhi. The attacks by Mongols of Afghanistan and the governors who rebelled at the slightest sign of weakness of the Sultan were a challenge for the sultans. The Sultanate hardly survived these challenges.

The main expansion of the Sultanate took place during the reigns of Ghiyasuddin Balban, Alauddin Khalji and Muhammad Tughluq. The campaigns of expansion were along the internal frontier and external frontier.

Campaigns along the internal frontier: These aimed at consolidating the garrison towns of hinterlands. These included clearing of forests in the Ganga-Yamuna doab and expulsion of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists from their habitats. These lands were given to peasants to encouraging agriculture. The trade routes were protected and regional trade was promoted by establishing new fortresses and towns.

Campaigns along the external frontier: Military expeditions into southern India that started during the reign of Alauddin Khalji culminated during the reign of Muhammad Tughluq. In their campaigns; elephants, horses and slaves were captured and precious metals were plundered by the Sultanate armies.

The armies of the Delhi Sultanate had conquered a large part of the subcontinent by the end of Muhammad Tughluq’s reign. They succeeded in defeating their rivals and seizing many cities. The sultanate collected taxes from the peasantry and also dispensed justice in its realm.


Administration and consolidation by Khaljis and Tughluqs

Reliable governors and administrators were needed for the vast kingdom of the Delhi Sultanate. The early Delhi Sultans chose to employ special slaves (whom they had purchased for military service) as governors, instead of employing aristocrats and landed chieftains. Especially, Iltutmish employed the slaves as mentioned above. These slaves were called bandagan in Persian. They were trained well to man some of the important political offices of the kingdom and their total dependence on the master ensured their reliability and dependability.

People of humble birth were also raised to high political positions by the Tughluqs and Khaljis. These people were often their clients (i.e. someone who is under another person’s protection or is dependent on another person). These people were appointed as governors and generals. But this also led to some political instability creeping in.

The slaves and clients were very loyal to their masters and patron. But they were not loyal to their heirs.

New Sultans had their own servants and hence often there was conflict between the old and new nobility whenever there was an accession. The authors of the Persian tawarikh criticized the appointment of the ‘low and base-born’ to high offices.


Appointment of governors: Military commanders were appointed as governors of different-sized territories by the Khalji and Tughluq monarchs. These territories were called iqta and their holder was called iqtadar or muqti. The muqtis performed the duty of leading military campaigns and maintaining law and order in their iqta. They collected revenues of their assignments as salary. Soldiers of the muqtis were also paid from this revenue. The following were the ways to keep effective control over muqtis:

The above mentioned harsh service conditions were imposed by Muhammad Tughluq and Alauddin Khalji.

Appointment of accountants: They were appointed by the state to check the amount of revenue collected by the muqtis. There was proper control regarding the muqti collecting only the taxes prescribed by the state and that he kept the required number of soldiers.

Impact of Delhi Sultans

They forced the landed chieftains- the samanta aristocrats and the rich landlords to accept their authority when they brought the hinterlands of the cities under their control. Under Alauddin Khalji’s reign:

The Sultan’s administrators measured the land and kept accounts very carefully. The service of revenue collection and assessment for the Sultanate was done by some of the old chieftains and landlords.

Types of Taxes

There were three types of taxes i.e. taxes on:



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