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
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
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
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
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. 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
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
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!"