Who were the Mughals? The Mughal Empire – History of India

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Painting of an Indian man in a turban - Babur, first Mughal ruler - Mughal Empire

Mughal Empire – Babur, first Mughal ruler

Timur’s descendants: the Mughal Empire

Timur’s empire collapsed when he died in 1405 AD. Then the Mongols lost control of India for a while. Local Muslim leaders formed small states in northern India. But a generation later, Mongol leaders invaded India again and forced the Indians into a new empire, the Mughal Empire. Mughal is actually just an Indian spelling of Mongol.

The Mughal emperor Babur

The first Mughal emperor was Babur (the original of the elephant Babar in the stories!), who was one of Timur’s great-great-great-grandsons. Like Timur, Babur was a Muslim.

Hamida Banu and Akbar: a painting of a kneeling woman whose little son runs to her. Mughal Empire

Mughal Empire: Hamida Banu and Akbar

Babur ruled Kabul (in modern Afghanistan), and in 1504 he decided to reconquer Tamerlane’s old land in northern India. By 1526 AD, Babur used his advanced gunpowder weapons to capture Delhi, and ruled a large empire, just as to his east the Ming Emperors ruled China, and to his west the Safavids ruled Iran.

Humayun and the Safavids

When Babur died in 1530, his son Humayun took over. But the Indian people rebelled against him, and Humayun had to hide out with his friend Shah Tahmasp at the Safavid court. Just as Humayun was beginning to win back his empire in 1545, he died, leaving his general Bairam Khan and his widow, Hamida Banu, to rule for his 13 year old son Akbar.

Akbar - an Indian man wearing ropes of pearls - Mughal Empire

Mughal Empire – Akbar

Hamida Banu and Akbar

In 1560 Akbar grew up and he and Hamida Banu pushed Bairam Khan out and took power, just as Elizabeth I was ruling Britain at this time, Catherine de’ Medici was ruling France, and Chand Bibi was ruling in the Deccan Sultanates of central India. Hamida died in 1604, and Akbar died the next year, leaving a powerful Mughal empire covering all of what is now northern India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

Nur Jahan: a painting of an Indian woman wearing a hat like a fez

Mughal Empire: Nur Jahan

Nur Jahan and Jahangir

Akbar’s son Jahangir took power in 1605, though Jahangir’s wife, Nur Jahan, may have held most of the power. They lost the city of Kandahar (in southern Afghanistan) to Abbas, the Shah of the Safavids in Iran. This loss ended Mughal control of the Silk Road in Central Asia. But Nur Jahan also took over more of North India. In 1613, when Spanish sailors captured a Mughal ship carrying a lot of Muslim pilgrims on the hajj to Mecca, Nur Jahan arrested all the Spanish traders in the Mughal empire, and confiscated Jesuit churches. At the same time, Abbas was pushing the Spanish out of Iran and Bahrain.

Near the end of Jahangir’s life, when he was sick, Nur Jahan struck coins in her own name. Nur Jahan tried to build an alliance between herself and the Ottoman queen Kosem Sultan and the Uzbeks against her enemies the Safavids, but Jahangir died in 1627 before the alliance could attack.

Learn by doing: playing polo
More about the decline of the Mughals

Bibliography and further reading about the history of India:

More about the decline of the Mughals
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By |2018-01-08T22:51:50+00:00July 19th, 2017|History, India, Where|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Who were the Mughals? The Mughal Empire – History of India. Quatr.us Study Guides, July 19, 2017. Web. December 16, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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