Mahmud of Ghazni

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Mahmud of Ghazni (971April 30 1030), also know as Yamin ul-Dawlah Mahmud (in full: Yamin ul-Dawlah Abd ul-Qasim Mahmud Ibn SebŁk Tigin) was the ruler of Ghazni from 997 until his death. Mahmud turned the former provincial city of Ghazni (in present-day Afghanistan) into the wealthy capital of an extensive empire which included today's Afghanistan, most of modern Iran, and parts of Pakistan and northern India.

Mahmud's grandfather was Alptigin, a Turkic general from Balkh in Turkestan who crossed the Hindu Kush mountains to seize Ghazni, located strategically on the road between Kabul and Kandahar. Alptigin was succeeded in 977 by his son Sabuktigin, who enlarged upon his Alptigin's conquests, extending his domain north to Balkh, west to Kandahar and Khorasan, and east to the Indus River. Sabuktigin was recognized by the Caliph in Baghdad as governor of his dominions. He died in 997, and was succeeded by his son Mahmud.

Isuing forth year after year from his capital of Ghazni, Mahmud carried sixteen or seventeen campaigns into northern India and Gujarat, as well as others to the north and west. His first campaigns were against the Hindu Shahi kingdom, which occupied the Punjab from the Indus east to the Ganges. He had participated in his father's campaigns against the Shahi king Jayapala in the late 980's that captured the Khyber Pass region as far east as the Indus. Mahmud campaigned the Shahis in 1001, and in 1004 raided deep into the Punjab, defeating a Shahi army and capturing Bhatia and Multan. In 1008, he conquered most of the Punjab and capturing their treasury at Kangra in Himachal Pradesh and reducing the Shahi kingdom to a sliver of the eastern Punjab.

Mahmud's campaigns seem to be motivated by both religious zeal and an interest in wealth and gold. Mahmud followed the injunction to convert non-Muslims, whom he had vowed to chastise every year of his life. Hindu temples were depositories of vast quantities of wealth, in cash, golden images, and jewellery - and these made them targets for a non-Hindu searching for wealth in northern India. The later invasions of Mahmud were directed to temple towns, including Thanesar (1012), Mathura and Kanauj (1018), and finally Somnath (1026). Mahmud's armies routinely stripped the temples of their wealth and then destroyed them; after Mahmud's raids on the cities of Varanasi, Ujjain, Maheshwar, Jwalamukhi, and Dwarka, not one temple survived intact.

The concentration of wealth at Somnath was renowned, and consequently it became an attractive target for Mahmud. The raid in 1026 was his last major campaign, and took him across the Thar Desert, which had previously deterred most invaders. The temple and citadel were sacked, and most of its Brahmin defenders massacred; Mahmud personally hammered the temple's gilded lingam into pieces, and the stone fragments were carted back to Ghazni, where they were incorporated into the steps of the city's new Jami Masjid (Friday mosque).

By the end of his reign, his empire extended from Kurdistan in the west to Samarkand in the northeast, and from the Caspian Sea to the Yamuna. Although his raids carried his forces across northern and western India, only the Punjab came under his permanent rule; Kashmir, the Doab, Rajasthan and Gujarat remained under the control of the local Hindu Rajput dynasties. The wealth brought back to Ghazni was enormous, and contemporary historians (e.g. Abolfazl Beyhaghi, Ferdowsi) give glowing descriptions of the magnificence of the capital, as well as of the conqueror's munificent support of literature.

The Ghaznavid Empire was ruled by his successors for 157 years, but after Mahmud it never reached anything like the same splendour and power. The expanding Seljuk Turkish empire absorbed most of the Ghaznavid west. The Persian Ghorids captured Ghazni c. 1150, and Muhammad Ghori captured the last Ghaznavid stronghold at Lahore in 1187.

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fr:MahmŻd de GhaznÓ


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