Mahmud of Ghazni


Mahmud of Ghazna (Ghazni, October 2, 971 – Ghazni, April 30, 1030) was a Turkish king.

Certainly he was the most important among the sultans of the city of Ghazna. Thanks to his conquests, the kingdom expanded into an empire that included present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and northwestern India.

Mahmut”s father, Sabuk-Tigin, was of Turkish origin.Islamic rule at the turn of the first millennium was divided into various potentates, of which the easternmost was the Samanid dynasty, which controlled a vast area between eastern Iran and Transoxiana, with Buchara as its capital. Like the other Islamic dynasties, they made use of Turkish mercenaries, whose leaders, as a reward, received conquered territories.

Among these was Mahmud”s ancestor, Alp Tigin, who had settled in Ghazna, in Zabulistan . His successor was his son-in-law Sabuktigin of Ghazna, who expanded the small Ghaznavid domain to the detriment of the Samanids themselves, conquering some areas of Belucistan and Tukharistan. His son Mahmud would do much more, establishing an empire that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the Ganges.

Maḥmūd was born on October 2, 971 (according to others in 969) in Ghazna, son of the lord of the city, Sabuktigin of Ghazna. Since his adolescence he accompanied his father in his military expeditions: at the age of 14 he participated in the campaign beyond the Indus, against Jayapāla, raja of Lahore, and in 994 he obtained the governorship of Khorasan, with the title of “Sword of the State”. However, in 996, on the death of his father, the throne went to Maḥmūd”s brother and designated heir, Ismāʿīl. Maḥmūd proposed to him to share power, and upon his refusal, he attacked and defeated him in 998, driving him into prison and assuming power directly. His first act was to release Ghazna from vassalage with the Samanids, so in 999 he defeated the Samanid sultan ʿAbd al-Malik in battle.

With this victory he not only made his small state de facto independent, but received from the Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad recognition of his possession of Khorasan, Iran and Afghanistan, and Sistan, as well as the appointment of “right-hand man of the dynasty” and “trustee of the Islamic community.” These two titles gave Maḥmūd the role of defender of Islam against the peoples considered infidels of the Punjab, who pressed on the eastern borders, thus authorizing him to expand his dominion in that direction. Already in the year 1000, the Muslim ruler began his first campaign beyond the Indus, a territory where the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great had gone and where, during the seventh century, two Islamic potentates had been established in the region of Sind, those of Mansura and Multan. In the course of this campaign, Maḥmūd reached the mountainous area behind Peshāwar, striking the raja of Seitan, Khalaf ibn Ahmad, from whom he obtained submission and a substantial tribute.

Shortly after, in 1001, the Ghaznavid ruler invaded with 15,000 horsemen the territory of Lahore, whose rāja, Jayapāla, had formed an army of 12,000 horsemen, 30,000 infantrymen and 300 elephants. Such a mass of men, however, could not withstand against the charge of the Muslim horsemen, who overwhelmed the Hindu ranks with such impetus that the enemies retreated, having left 15,000 men on the field. Jayapāla himself was taken prisoner after his elephant, terrified by the blows received by the warriors of the Ghaznavid lord, had fled disorderly. The raja was at once freed, to make him a vassal of Ghazna; but the proud Hindu ruler, rather than accept such a prospect, preferred to commit suicide, setting up a stake and giving himself death, not before abdicating in favor of his son, Ānandapāla.

The latter decided to continue the resistance to the bitter end already pursued by his father, rebelling against the Ghaznavid dominion: in 1005 then Maḥmūd arrived with his armies up to Bhera, on the Idaspe (today”s Jehlum), forcing the raja to repair in Kashmir. Further south, in 1006, the Islamic leader also intervened against kingdoms already Islamized, under the pretext that the sultan of Multan, Dāwūd, was of Shiite orientation, something vigorously opposed by Sunnism. To the north, meanwhile, the Ghaznavid territory of Khorgstan had been invaded by Khan Naṣr I of Transoxiana, brother-in-law of Maḥmūd, who, with a sudden about-face from northern India, drove back beyond Sir Darya Iassarte) the invaders, who returned, however, with larger forces, with the result that they were again defeated at Balkh. Shortly thereafter, in 1009, after a brief campaign against Multan, the ruler of Ghazna waged yet another war against Ānandapāla, who had managed to involve the seven leading rajas of the region in the revolt against Muslim rule. Some of them had personally led their own armies; others sent only contingents. It was, however, an enormous army, so much so, it was said, that Indian women had sold their jewelry to build it up. Hindu forces deployed between Und and Peshāwar to prevent Maḥmūd from entering the region, and they were so numerous that the sultan dared not attack. The two armies therefore faced each other for forty days, after which the Indian infantrymen went on the offensive, with a vigorous attack that, taking advantage of their more extensive front, concentrated on the enemy flanks. In serious difficulty, Maḥmūd was about to order a retreat, when the Indian elephants, frightened by the continuous throwing of bullets, became frightened and fled, disrupting the ranks of the raja army and leaving it unprotected. The Hindu soldiers then, in complete confusion, fled, falling prey to the Muslim cavalry, sent by the commander to the back of the enemy with a circumventing maneuver.

The victory obtained therefore allowed Maḥmūd to advance towards the fortress of Bhavan, conquered with a single assault, and to plunder the rich temple of Kangra, which gave way after a week of siege. The Muslim ruler returned to India in 1011, when, after suppressing a rebellion led by Moḥammed ibn Sūr in the Afghan territory of Ghor, he confronted the raja of Delhi, earning the substantial booty of the Thanesar temple. Another significant war campaign took place in 1013, against the lord of Peshāwar, Bhim, called “Fearless,” who was defeated and took refuge in Kashmir, thus giving Maḥmūd the opportunity to get his hands on the rich and fertile plain of the Ganges. The new operational chessboard engaged him until 1015, a period in which he sacked the Hindu stronghold of Thansar, between the Sutlej and the Jumna, meditating, however, to go further, towards Hindustan. In spite of this, in the following years Maḥmūd of Ghazna was forced to look to the West, where among other things the Shiite faith of the Buwayhids, protectors of the Sunni Abbasid caliphate, allowed him to flaunt his quality of champion of Sunnism also in that area.

The opportunity came with the rebellion of his brother-in-law Mamtin, ruler of Khwārezm, south of the Aral Sea: between 1016 and 1017 the leader operated against the rebel, whose territory he took away from the influence of Baghdad, installing a new governor. However, already in 1018 the planned expedition in Hindustan was ready. In the course of this campaign Maḥmūd conquered the cities of Mathura, on the Jumna, and Bindraban, then conquered in a single day the city of Kanauji Kannauj on the Ganges, whose defensive system consisted of seven fortresses. The fruits of the expedition were, in addition to a large booty, 50,000 slaves. The Muslim sultan returned to the region in 1019 and 1022, to protect the raja of Kanauj, who had converted to Islam, becoming his vassal, and had become prey to the expansionist aims of the neighboring Shāhī dynasties, the rajas of Kalinjar and Gwalyor, who were both defeated on the field. A hard blow to Hinduism in northern India, however, came with the expedition of 1025: Maḥmūd of Ghazna led his army from Multan through the desert of Rajputana, using only horses and camels, reaching in a very short time the temple-fortress of Somnāth, along the west coast of the Indian peninsula.

Since the various Indian rajas were not able to arrive in time, the stronghold was defended only by the Brahmins, the Hindu priests, who were all massacred after the Muslim warriors had scaled the walls with ladders and ropes. In addition to collecting an immense booty, the Ghaznavid sultan, despite the pleas and prayers of Hindu rajas, destroyed with his sword the representations of Hindu idols and had the remains brought to Ghazna, where, symbolically, he had them buried under the floor of the Great Mosque, so that the faithful could step on them. The last descent into India took place in 1027, after which Maḥmūd devoted himself to his aims in the west. In the three years that remained to him from living, the sultan took vast areas of control from the Buwayhids, seizing Raji and Esfahan in Persia, and Hamadan in what was then ancient Media (at the time Jibāl. Everywhere in the Muslim territories, Maḥmūd was seen as the defender of the faith, a fact that caused much discontent with the protectors of the caliphate, already in difficulty in the face of the expansion from the south of the Shiite Fatimids of Egypt. However, he died in Ghazna in 1030, at only 59 years old, before being able to extend his control over all of Mesopotamia. His work was continued by his son Masʿūd, but he had to face the advance of the Seljuq Turks, whose actions took away most of the Iranian territories from the Ghaznavids, shifting their center of gravity to northern India, where Lahore would replace Ghazna as the center of the Ghaznavid kingdom until the dynasty was supplanted in 1187 by the Ghurids.


  1. Mahmud di Ghazna
  2. Mahmud of Ghazni