The Slave Kings

A.D. 1206 TO A.D. 1288

"The Empire of Delhi was founded by a slave."

So runs the well-known jibe. And it is true; for although India,

despite the combined resistance of the Rajputs, was overcome during

the reign of Mahomed Shahab-ud-din Ghori, the real glory of conquest

belongs by rights to Eibuk, the slave; Eibuk of the "broken little

finger," who took the name of Kutb-ud-din,
or Pole-star of the Faith.

To those who know India the name conjures up one of the most

marvellous sights in the world. A dark December morning in the Punjab,

when the Christmas rain-clouds gather black on the horizon, and on

them, above the rolling, brick-strewn ridges of Old Delhi, rises a

thin shaft of light--the Kutb Minar, the finest pillar in the world.

It was built by the Turki slave Eibuk, and one can forgive him much in

that he left the world such a thing of beauty to be a joy for ever.

And yet as one stands beneath it, marking here and there the

half-obliterated traces of previous cutting on the stones of the

wonderful tapering pillar, all corbeilled with encircling balconies,

and banded in dexterous art with interlaced lettering; as one looks

round on the dismantled ruins of still more ancient temples, the mind

suddenly ceases to give the glory to Kutb-ud-din, and turns almost

with amaze to the thought of the Hindu architects who built it to

order out of their dishonoured shrines.

Think of it! Art, true Art rising superior to Self! Surely as they

chiselled at those interlaced attributes of the One Unknowable,

Unthinkable, they must have been conscious that though all things in

this life were--as their religion told them--but Illusion, behind that

Illusion lay Reality.

And so their work comforted them.

How much of India is built into this watch tower of her gods? The best

of her, anyhow, and English civilisation can scarcely add an

additional story to this record of her past.

To Kutb-ud-din Eibuk, however, belongs the glory of inception;

therefore also some forgiveness, which, in truth, he sorely needs. For

from the beginning his attitude towards strict morality is, to say the

least of it, doubtful. He was a beautiful Turki slave, the avowed pet

and plaything of his master Shahab-ud-din, who gave him "his

particular notice, and daily advanced him in confidence and favours."

He appears to have been diplomatic, for on one occasion, being

questioned by the king as to why he had divided his share of a general

distribution of presents amongst the other retainers, he kissed the

ground of Majesty's feet, and replied, that being amply supplied

already by that Majesty's favours, he desired no superfluities.

This brought him the Master of the Horse-ship, from which he went on

to honour after honour, until in the year A.D. 1193 he was left as

viceroy in India. Thenceforward he was practically king. It was he who

took Delhi after a conflict in which the river Jumna ran red with

blood. It was he who commanded the forces at Etawah, and it was his

hand which shot the arrow that, piercing the eye of the Benares Rajah,

cost him his life and the loss of everything he possessed.

A quaint picture that, by the way, of the search for Jai-Chund's body

amidst the huge heaps of the slain, and its final recognition after

weary days by "the artificial teeth fixed by golden wires." Had

dentistry got as far in the West, I wonder?

Then it was Kutb-ud-din who presented to his master the three hundred

elephants taken at Benares; amongst them the famous white one which

refused to kneel like the others before the M'lechcha, king though

he might be. The beast's independence serving him better than a man's

would have done, since it brought no punishment, but the honour of

being pad elephant to the viceroy thenceforth.

And it was he who marched his forces hither and thither, "engaged the

enemy, put them to flight, and having ravaged the country at leisure,

obtained much booty."

The eye wearies over the repetitions of this formula, as the hand

turns the pages of Ferishta's history, while the heart grows sick at

the thought of what such a war of conversion or extermination meant in

those days.

The victorious procession of the Mahomedan troopers was only broken

once in Guzerat. Here Kutb-ud-din, despite six wounds, fought

stubbornly and with his wonted courage, until forced by his attendants

from the field, and carried in a litter to the fort at Ajmir, where he

managed to hold out until reinforcements came to his aid from the King

of Ghuzni.

Defeat seems ever to have been the mother of victory with these

passionate, revengeful Afghans, for on the very next occasion on which

Kutb-ud-din "engaged the enemy," he is said to have killed fifty

thousand of them, and to have gathered into his treasury vast spoils.

Nothing seemed to stop him. Even the swift assassination by his own

prime minister of a cowardly rajah who was coming to terms with the

M'lechcha instead of resisting the Unclean to the death, did not

avail to preserve almost impregnable Kalunjur; for a spring

incontinently dried up in the fort, and there once more was one last

sally, and then death for the garrison.

It was in A.D. 1205, after Kutb-din had had twelve years of battles,

murders, and sudden deaths, twelve years of absolute if not nominal

kingship, that Mahomed Shahab-ud-din's successor, feeling himself not

strong enough to assume the reins of government in India, made a bid

for peace for himself in Ghuzni by sending Eibuk the slave, the drums,

the standards, the insignia of royalty, and the title of King of


Eibuk received them all with "becoming respect," and was duly crowned.

This fact did not prevent his being crowned again in Ghuzni the

following year!

He then, having attained to the height of his ambition, seeing no more

worlds to conquer, having for the time being crushed even Rajput

resistance, gave himself up "unaccountably to wine and pleasure."

This seems to have irritated the good citizens of Ghuzni. They invited

another claimant to the throne to try his luck. He came, found Eibuk

unprepared, possibly drunk. Anyhow, there was no time to attempt a

defence. He fled to Lahore, thus finally severing the Kingship of

Ghuzni from that of India.

There, we are told, he became "sensible of his folly," repented, and

thereinafter "continued to exercise justice, temperance, morality."

He was killed while playing chaugan (the modern polo) in A.D. 1210.

At that time he was supposed to be the richest man in the world; but,

unlike Mahmud, he was generous. "As liberal as Eibuk" is still a

phrase in the mouth of India.

His son Aram (Leisure) appears to have deserved his name. He never

gripped the kingdom, and lost it fatuously after less than a year.

Apparently he was not deemed worth the killing, and Altamish, a

favourite slave of the slave Eibuk, took his place by virtue of being

son-in-law to the dead king.

Altamish was also of Turki extraction. As a youth, the fame of his

beauty and talents was noised abroad, and Shahab-ud-din was in the

bidding for him, but hung back at the price; whereupon Eibuk the

Lavish put down the fifty thousand pieces of silver, and carried off

the prize.

Years after, he was married to the Princess-Royal, and so, adding

Shums-ud-din (Sword of the Faith) to his name, ascended the throne,

and reigned for no less than twenty-six years.

So Delhi, indeed, was founded by slaves!

Atlamish appears to have been of the regulation type. He was, so to

speak, Kutb-ud-din and water. The largest number of Hindus he is

recorded to have killed at one time is three hundred; a sad

falling-off in Ghazi-dom.[3] On the other hand, he was the barbarian

who, taking Ujjain, destroyed the magnificent temple of Maha-Kali

which it had taken three hundred years to build. The idols thereof,

and also a "statue of Vikramaditya, who had been formerly prince of

this country, and so renowned that the Hindus have taken an era from

his death," were conveyed solemnly to Delhi, and there broken at the

door of the great mosque of which the magnificent ruins--spoils of

many a Jain and Hindu temple--still lie about the foot of the Kutb

Minar, a monument to the slave Eibuk who commenced it, the slave

Altamish who finished it.


[Footnote 3: A Ghazi is the title of honour given to one who has

killed the infidel.]


This solemn smashing was doubtless a fine ceremony, yet as we of the

present day contemplate it, regret goes forth, especially for the

statue of Vikramadjit. How many a riddle might it not have solved

concerning the Unknown King!

We are told that Altamish was an "enterprising, able, and good

prince"; he has, however, another, and in the history of the world,

quite unique claim to regard. The father of seven children, six of

them in turn mounted the throne with more or less success.

Considerably less as regards the first occupant, Ruku-ud-din (Prop of

the Faith), who spent his six months and twenty-eight days tenancy in

lavishing his inherited treasures on dancing girls, pimps and


This might have been borne for longer, but the hideous cruelties of

his mother, a Turki slave to whom he entrusted the reins of

government, were such as to rouse even the dull humanity of a

thirteenth-century Mahomedan. She had murdered horribly every one of

the dead king's women, and had begun on his son's, when the patience

of the various viceroys gave way. They entered into a conspiracy,

deposed the king, and threw his mother into prison--a lenient

punishment for such a monster of cruelty.

And then? Then they did a thing unheard of in Indian history--they

raised a woman to the throne.

But Sultana Razia Begum was no ordinary mortal! Indeed, there is

something so quaint about the recapitulation of her virtues, as given

in the pages of Ferishta, that, perforce, one cannot but quote it.

"Razia Begum (my Lady Content) was possessed of every good quality

which usually adorns the ablest princes; and those who scrutinise her

actions most severely, will find in her no fault but that she was a


Alas! Poor Lady Content! Of what avail that you changed (as it is

solemnly set down) your apparel; that you abandoned the petticoat in

favour of the trews; that your father, when he appointed you regent

during one of his long absences, defended his action by saying that

though a woman, you had a man's head and heart, and were worth more

than twenty such sons as he had? All this was of no avail against

womanhood. Let this be thy comfort, poor shade of a dead queen, that

the argument still holds good against thy sisters in this year of

grace 1907!

Setting this aside, the career of Queen-Content matches in tragedy

that of Mary Queen of Scots. A clever girl, evidently, her father made

her his companion, and while her brothers were dicing and wenching,

drinking and twanging the sutara, she was frowning with him over

endless pacifications, endless violences, becoming, apparently, an

adept at both. For it would have needed great qualifications to ensure

the almost unanimous vote of the nobles which placed a woman on the


At first even these contemptuous Mahomedans were satisfied. Then came

discontent. Did Razia Begum really favour the Abyssinian slave whom

she allowed--horribile dictum!--to "lift her on her horse by raising

her up under the arms"? Or had she really forgotten the petticoat in

the trews? Who can say? All we know is that Malik-Altunia, the Turki

governor of Bhattinda--curious how that name crops up in all the

really exciting tales of Indian history!--revolted on the plea of the

queen's partiality to the Abyssinian; that she marched against the

rebel, leading her troops; that a tumultuous conflict occurred in the

old place of battles, in which the Abyssinian favourite was killed,

the queen taken prisoner, and sent to Altunia's care in the fort.

So far good. But here affairs take a turn which is fairly breathless,

and which gives pause for doubting Altunia's disinterested care for

morality and les convenances.

He promptly married the empress, and with scarce a comma, we find him

raising an army to espouse her cause, and fighting her battles, the

Bothwell of his time. He failed, and he and his wife were put to death

together on the 14th of November A.D. 1239.

A tragic tale indeed! Best finished by another excerpt from the


"The reign of Sultana Razia Begum lasted three years, six months, and

six days. Those who reflect on the fate of this unfortunate princess

will readily discover from whence arose the foul blast that blighted

all her prospects.--What connection exists between the high office of

Amir-ul Omra and an Abyssinian slave? Or how are we to reconcile the

inconsistency of the queen of so vast a territory fixing her

affections on so unworthy an object?"

And no one, apparently, remembered that she herself was the daughter

of a Turki slave who achieved empire.

Byram was the next brother to ascend the throne. The two years, one

month, and fifteen days before he also "sipped the cup of fate" is a

welter of crimes. Enemies were trodden under foot of elephants, slaves

suborned to feign drunkenness and assassinate friends; in short,

"these proceedings, without trial or public accusation, justly alarmed

every one," so Masud, the next brother, had his innings. A poor one,

though it lasted twice as long as Byram's. He found time in it,

however, to repel the first Moghul invasion by way of Tibet into

Bengal. This was in A.D. 1244, and it was followed by a similar

incursion the next year, by way of Kandahar and Sinde. Masud seems to

have become imbecile over wine and women, and when deposed, was

contemptuously allowed to live by his brother, Nasir-ud-din, the only

one of Altamish's sons who appears to have been worth anything;

possibly because he had passed the whole of the last four reigns in


Adversity may be a hard, but she is a good taskmistress, and in

Nasir-ud-din she had evidently good mettle on which to work. He was a

man, distinctly, of original parts, for while in prison he had always

preferred supporting himself by his writings to accepting any public

allowance; a "whimsical habit" which he continued after he came to the

throne. He was also almost scandalously moral according to the

orthodoxy of the day in refusing to have more than one wife, and in

cutting down all outward show and magnificence on the ground that,

being only God's trustee for the State, he was bound not to burden it

with useless extravagance.

As he reigned for no less than twenty years, he had time to gather

together the disjecta membra, of the Indian empire which Eibuk had

built up, and which was fast coming to be a series of semi-independent

provinces, and even once more to annex Ghuzni to the kingdom of Delhi.

He followed his predecessors' example also in rousing yet again the

Rajput resistance. During the previous reigns the clans had recovered

themselves, and, from the Mahomedan point of view, needed a lesson. So

some few thousands were killed in battle, some few hundred chiefs put

to death, and innumerable smaller fry condemned to perpetual slavery.

And yet a story is told of Nasir-ud-din which shows him not devoid of


A worthy old scholar, criticising the king's penmanship, pointed out a

fault. He, smiling, erased the word, but when the critic was gone,

began to restore it, remarking that it was right, but it was better to

spoil paper than the self-confidence of an old man.

He died, after a long illness, in A.D. 1266, and thereinafter

Ghiass-ud-din the wazir, who had married a sister of Sultana

Razia's, ascended the throne, possibly in the absence of more direct

heirs. He must have been nearly sixty at the time, for he died

twenty-one years after in his eightieth year.

He also was a Turki slave, first employed as falcon-master by

Altamish, who promoted him again and again; wherefore, Heaven knows,

for history gives us but a poor character of him. He appears to have

been a pious, narrow-minded, intolerant, selfish tyrant, with a

hypocritical dash of virtue about him which took in his world

completely. Circumstances also aided him in posing as perfection; for

about this time the Moghul invasion had reached the western

borderlands, and hundreds of illustrious and literary fugitives

crowded thence, to find in Delhi the only stable Mahomedan government.

These, flattering and fawning, helped to noise his fame abroad as a

paragon. Then the son of his old age, Prince Mahomed, was a potent

factor in his popularity. The apple of his father's eye, he seems to

have been an Admirable Crichton, and his death, in the moment of

victory, not only "drew tears from the meanest soldier to the

General," but came as a final blow to the old king, "who was so much

distressed that life became irksome to him."

This great affection between father and son--for "Prince Mahomed

always behaved to him with the utmost filial affection and duty"--is,

indeed, the one human interest of a life devoted to pious pretences,

to pomp and pose.

His grandson Keik-obad came to the throne at his death, and promptly

gave the reins to pleasure and the guidance of public affairs to his

wazir. He succeeded in painting Old Delhi very red indeed during his

short reign of three years. "Every shady grove was filled with women

and parties of pleasure, every street rang with riot and tumult; even

the magistrates were seen drunk in public, and music was heard in

every house."

His minister kept him at this task also; for, perceiving a faint check

in the pursuit of pleasure, he "collected graceful dancers, beautiful

women, and good singers from all parts of the kingdom, whom he

occasionally introduced as if by accident."

So, finally, the three-year-old Prince Kei-omurs--the only child of a

miserable father who was now paralytic--was smuggled out of the harem

to be King-designate, while the wretched, debauched, half-dying man

had his brains beaten out with bludgeons while he was lying on his bed

helpless; and so, battered out of all recognition, his body was

hastily rolled up in the bed-clothes, and flung through the window

into the sliding river.

A horrid tale, with which the history of the Slave Kings fitly comes

to an end.

They were not a good breed. Even Ferishta the historian, who has a

weakness for kings, feels this, for he ends his account of them with

the sphinx-like remark: "Eternity belongs only to God, the great

Sovereign of the Earth!"