In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section War in Mughal India

  • Introduction
  • General Works on the Mughals and Their Contemporaries in South Asia
  • General Military Histories
  • The Mughals in Eurasian Context
  • Babur
  • Humayun and Sher Shah Sur
  • Jahangir
  • Shah Jahan
  • Bahadur Shah and Collapse
  • The Deccan Principalities
  • Vijaynagara
  • The Northwest Frontier
  • The Eastern Frontier

Military History War in Mughal India
Douglas E. Streusand
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0234


This bibliography extends beyond the conventional limits of Mughal history, geographical and historical, in order to encompass events of great global significance and military interest. It covers all South Asian military history, from 1500 to 1750, not the Mughals exclusively. It thus includes the Portuguese maritime empire as well as the Mughal land empire, and events in the Deccan before the Mughals penetrated there. It begins the history of the Mughal dynasty, the Timurids in South Asia, with Babur’s conquest of Kabul in 1507, and includes his activities and those of his successors beyond the Hindu Kush after that date. Mughal, the Persian word for Mongol, is the inaccurate but standard term for the empire established in South Asia by descendants of Timur (Tamerlane) in the sixteenth century, which survived into the eighteenth century in fact and into the nineteenth century in name. In 1500, no single state dominated South Asia. Ruled by the Lodi Afghan dynasty, the Delhi Sultanate, which had controlled most of the subcontinent 150 years earlier, still held the north central Indo-Gangetic plain. Other Muslim rulers governed major regional principalities in Bengal, Gujarat, and Malwa. Several Hindu Rajput principalities existed in modern Rajasthan. The Bahmani sultanate, which had controlled the Deccan, had fragmented into five principalities by the early sixteenth century. Vijaynagara, ruled by a Hindu dynasty but heavily influenced by Perso-Islamic culture, dominated the south. Babur, a Timurid prince driven from Central Asia by the Shaybani Uzbeks, took Kabul, and made it his base for the conquest of Hindustan (the land of Hindus). He subdued the Delhi Sultanate, but none of the other regional kingdoms, before his death in 1530. His son, Humayun, lost it all in ten years and had only begun to regain it when he died in 1556. Humayun’s son Akbar (r. 1556–1605) became the true founder of the Mughal Empire, extending control over the entire Indo-Gangetic plain and beginning expansion into the Deccan. During his reign, a coalition of the Deccan states defeated Vijaynagara at Talikota in 1565. During the rest of Mughal history, through the reign of Aurangzeb (1658–1707), the Mughals expanded south into the Deccan and east in Bengal, and struggled to hold Qandahar and extend power into Central Asia. Even before the Mughal enterprise began, the first of the European powers, Portugal, had established the first European trading station in South Asia. The European powers played an increasingly significant political and economic role from that point onward.

General Works on the Mughals and Their Contemporaries in South Asia

Some comments on the Mughal military and political structure, known as the mansabdari system, are necessary. Mughal officers held a numerical rank (mansab) that indicated their positions in the hierarchy of officers and, in theory, the number of troops they were required to maintain. The officers were called mansabdars (literally officer holders). They received salaries in the form of jagirs (land revenue assignments). Mansabdars were thus also jagirdars (land revenue holders). Mansabdar contingents made up most of the Mughal army. The Mughals thus controlled most of their military manpower and revenue indirectly. This reality frames the fundamental debate in contemporary Mughal historiography. Since the publication of Habib 1999 in 1963, most historians have described the Mughal regime as highly centralized with enormous revenue demands and deep reach into provincial society. Richards 1993 and Raychaudhuri 1982 take this position, as do Athar Ali 1978 and Athar Ali 1993. Other scholars argue that the Mughals could not execute Akbar’s program of centralization and had to rely on intermediaries, as discussed in Pearson 1976 (cited under The Deccan and Devolution), Kolff 1990 (under Leading Contributions), Streusand 1989, Streusand 2010, Hasan 2004, Alam 2013, and Fisher 2016. The power and wealth of the empire thus depended on two sets of relationships, between the emperor and central government and the officers who controlled most of the empire’s income and military capability, and between Mughal officials with the local potentates. Roy 2014 (under Mansabdari System), Roy 2015a, and Roy 2015b (both under General Military Histories) associate this conception with the Western “culturalist” assumption that Asian armies lacked the capability and will to engage in the sanguinary battles that Western armies fought. If there is such a connection, it is erroneous. The Mughals were a decentralized, segmentary state that could nonetheless concentrate enormous military power. Most discourse about the Mughals focuses on religious policy. British imperial and Indian nationalist historians assert that Akbar’s policy of incorporating Hindus and all varieties of Muslims into the Mughal ruling class led to Mughal success and Aurangzeb’s reassertion of the primacy of Islam caused Mughal decline. An opposing school of Muslim, predominantly Pakistani, historians has argued that Akbar’s incorporation of Shiʿi Muslims and Hindus created a fundamentally unsound structure that Aurangzeb was too late to repair. Since the publication of Athar Ali 1997 (originally 1966) the inadequacy of these approaches has been clear, but they remain ubiquitous. Writers from the Indian nationalist perspective identify the non-Muslim opponents of the Mughals with Indian national aspirations and resistance to imperialism. This interpretation is anachronistic.

  • Alam, Muzaffar. The Crisis of Empire in Northern India: Awadh and the Punjab, 1707–1748. New Delhi: Oxford India Perennials, 2013.

    A fundamental interpretive work on its period.

  • Athar Ali, M. “Towards an Interpretation of the Mughal Empire.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1 (1978): 38–49.

    Identifies artillery as one of the two forces that led to the formation of the Mughal polity. An example of the unsophisticated interpretation of military factors by a historian without military expertise. Reprinted in M. Athar Ali, Mughal India: Studies in Polity, Ideas, Society and Culture, preface by Irfan Habib (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 59–71.

  • Athar Ali, M. “The Mughal Polity: A Critique of ‘Revisionist’ Approaches.” Modern Asian Studies 27 (1993): 699–710.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0026749X00001256

    An emphatic defense of the interpretation of the Mughal Empire as a highly centralized, bureaucratic polity. Reprinted in M. Athar Ali, Mughal India: Studies in Polity, Ideas, Society and Culture, Preface by Irfan Habib (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), 82–93.

  • Burn, Sir Richard, ed. The Mughul Period. The Cambridge History of India, Vol. 4. Planned by Sir Wolseley Haig. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1937.

    A scholarly achievement of the British Empire, this volume contains a far more detailed chronology than Richards 1993. The information reflects the sources available at the time and interpretation is badly dated, but the organization of data is still useful.

  • Fisher, Michael H. A Short History of the Mughal Empire. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2016.

    DOI: 10.5040/9780755604913

    A masterful work that contains a surprising amount of detail for its brevity. No detailed military analysis, but an excellent explanation of the strengths and limitations of the Mughal regime. Emphasizes the informational limitations of the regime as a hindrance to the achievement of centralization. Though less detailed than Richards 1993, it is the best introduction to Mughal history.

  • Habib, Irfan. The Agrarian System of Mughal India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Originally published in 1963, this work by the doyen of the Aligarh school of historiography is perhaps the most influential work on the Mughals of the last three-quarters of a century. His argument that the regime’s increasing revenue demand led to widespread agrarian revolts provided the first alternative to the religious framework established by colonial historians. His interpretation transformed the historiography but has not won universal acceptance.

  • Hasan, Farhat. State and Locality in Mughal India: Power Relations in Western India, c. 1573–1730. University of Cambridge Oriental Publications 61. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Hasan argues for the agency of local populations and potentates and the unavoidable dependence of the Mughal government upon them.

  • Qureshi, Ishtiaq Husain. The Muslim Community of the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (610–1947): A Brief Historical Analysis. 2d ed. Karachi: Ma`aref, 1977.

    The best and most scholarly expression of the Sunni, Sharʿi perspective on South Asia generally and the Mughals specifically. There is no political narrative; the discussion of the Mughals focuses on Akbar’s religious innovations and what Qureshi considers the orthodox reaction to it under his successors, inspired by Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi. Not useful for military history, but an important part of the general discourse about the Mughals.

  • Raychaudhuri, Tapan. “The State and the Economy: 1: The Mughal Empire.” In The Cambridge Economic History of India. Vol. 1, c. 1200–c. 1750. Edited by Dharma Kumar and Tapan Raychaudhuri, 172–192. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    Although Raychaudhuri characterizes the Mughal Empire as “an insatiable Leviathan, its impact on the economy was defined above all by its insatiable appetite for resources” (p. 173), he provides a useful and astute analysis of the economic effects of, and constraints upon, the Mughal regime.

  • Richards, John F. The Mughal Empire. The New Cambridge History of India: Part 1, The Mughals and Their Contemporaries, Vol. 5. Edited by Gordon Johnson. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511584060

    The best beginning for any inquiry into Mughal history, this volume remains standard twenty-five years after its publication. Richards characterizes the Mughal regime as “autocratic centralism.” He devotes little attention to strictly military issues, but deals with military organization and the military elite (pp. 58–78, 143–150) as well as providing a rich narrative extending to 1720.

  • Streusand, Douglas E. The Formation of the Mughal Empire. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    This book argues that the distinctive political structure and function of the Mughal Empire developed during the first half of Akbar’s reign. It explains the nature and limitations of Mughal military superiority, the way that early battlefield victories and successful sieges laid the foundation of the empire, and the way in which the military environment shaped the Mughal polity.

  • Streusand, Douglas E. Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

    Building on Streusand 1989, this book covers Mughal history from the beginning through the accession of Muhammad Shah in 1719. It does not provide detailed accounts of battles, sieges, or campaigns but emphasizes the military underpinnings of the establishment, growth, and eventual collapse of the Mughal polity. Addresses expansion and military organization on pp. 254–264 and decline on pp. 283–287.

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