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The Mughal Empire for AP World History

Cate O'Donnell

12 min read

Oct 27, 2023




The Red Fort in India
The Red Fort in India 2292959049/Shutterstock

The Mughal Empire was an Islamic empire in India from 1526 to 1707. During its best times, the empire was a model for peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Hindus. Click to read all about the Mughal Empire in the Google Slides.

The Founding of the Mughal Empire by Babur

Babur was born in 1483 into the Timurid dynasty, founded by his great-great grandfather, Timur. The kingdom was both Turkish and Mongol. When he was young, he inherited the throne of Fergana, one of the regions of the Timurid dynasty.

In 1526, Babur set his sights on India. At that time, India was divided into various kingdoms, and the ruling Sultan, Ibrahim Lodhi, from the Dehli Sultanate, was unpopular. Babur saw an opportunity to expand his empire and set out on an audacious expedition. His army, which included skilled warriors and war elephants, faced off against Sultan Ibrahim Lodhi’s forces at the First Battle of Panipat.

The battle was fierce, but Babur’s tactics and artillery gave him the upper hand. He emerged victorious, and this battle is considered the starting point of the Mughal Empire. Babur went on to capture Delhi, establishing himself as the ruler.

Timur and India

Timur (also known as Tamerlane) was Babur’s great-great grandfather. He invaded India over one hundred years before Babur. In 1398, he launched a military campaign into the Indian subcontinent. His campaign culminated in the famous sack of Delhi in 1398, during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate.

Tamerlane’s invasion was brutal, resulting in widespread destruction and significant loss of life. He captured and looted Delhi, leaving the city in ruins. This invasion marked a tragic episode in the history of the Indian subcontinent.

It’s important to note that while Tamerlane did invade India, his campaign was relatively short-lived, and he did not establish a long-lasting empire in the subcontinent. The Indian subcontinent would see later incursions and the establishment of the Mughal Empire by his descendant Babur in 1526.

Akbar and Religion in the Mughal Empire

Akbar the Great, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire, reigned from 1556 to 1605 and is remembered as one of the most remarkable and visionary emperors in Indian history. Under his rule, the Mughal Kingdom reached its zenith.

Akbar was known for his policy of religious tolerance, which was groundbreaking in an era marked by religious divisions. Unlike other Muslim rulers, he allowed non-Muslims to worship freely. He also ended the jizya. The jizya was a tax on non-Muslims.

To guide the nation, Akbar conferred with both Hindu and Muslim scholars. He also married Muslim, Hindu, and Christian women.

Many scholars believe Akbar’s greatest achievement was his success blending India’s Hindu and Muslim cultures.

Akbar and Art in the Mughal Empire

Akbar the Great played a pivotal role in shaping the art and cultural landscape of the empire. Akbar had a deep appreciation for the arts and was a patron of artists, scholars, and craftsmen. Under his rule, the Mughal Empire experienced a flourishing of art and culture, often referred to as the “Akbari Age.” He actively promoted a fusion of Persian, Indian, and Central Asian artistic traditions, leading to the development of the distinctive Mughal style. Akbar’s court became a hub for poets, painters, musicians, and scholars, fostering an environment of creativity and innovation. The Mughal miniatures of this period, marked by intricate detailing and vibrant colors, thrived, depicting various facets of Mughal life, nature, and religious themes. Akbar’s legacy in the world of art is a testament to his vision of cultural pluralism and his contribution to the enduring artistic heritage of the Mughal Empire.


Mughal miniatures, also known as Mughal paintings, were a distinctive form of art created in the Mughal Empire of South Asia. These paintings are characterized by their intricate details, vibrant colors, and a focus on depicting scenes from the Mughal court, nature, mythology, and daily life.

Intricate Detail: Mughal miniatures are known for their meticulous attention to detail. Artists used fine brushes and pigments to create intricate patterns, textures, and designs in their paintings.

Vibrant Colors: These paintings are often filled with vibrant colors, including rich reds, blues, and greens, which were made from natural pigments and dyes.

Persian Influence: Mughal miniatures were influenced by Persian art, which is evident in their use of Persian artistic techniques, themes, and motifs.

Mughal Court: Many miniatures depicted scenes from the Mughal court, including portraits of emperors, their families, and nobility, as well as courtly events and ceremonies.

Nature and Landscape: Artists often painted natural landscapes, animals, and plants. The depiction of gardens, rivers, and lush scenery was common in Mughal miniatures.

Religious and Mythological Themes: These paintings also portrayed religious and mythological themes, with subjects like Hindu epics and Islamic stories.

Calligraphy: Mughal miniatures often included calligraphy in the form of poetry, inscriptions, or captions that provided context for the scenes depicted.

Akbar and Architecture in the Mughal Empire

Akbar left an indelible mark on the architecture of the Mughal Empire. Akbar was known for his patronage of art and his keen interest in architectural innovation. He encouraged a synthesis of Persian, Indian, and Central Asian architectural styles, resulting in the distinctive Mughal architectural tradition.

One of his most notable architectural achievements is the construction of Fatehpur Sikri, a magnificent palace city that blended elements of Mughal, Persian, and Indian architecture. Akbar also promoted the use of red sandstone in his buildings, which gave them a unique and enduring character. His architectural legacy extended to the construction of impressive forts, ornate palaces, and beautiful gardens. Akbar’s profound influence on Mughal architecture not only reflected his grandeur but also contributed to the creation of architectural masterpieces that continue to enchant and inspire generations to this day.

Akbar and Literature in the Mughal Empire

Akbar the Great was not only a visionary leader in the realm of politics and administration but also made significant contributions to literature and culture. Akbar was a patron of poets, scholars, and intellectuals, and he actively encouraged the production of literary works in various languages, including Persian and the emerging language of Urdu. His court, known as the “Akbari Age,” became a vibrant center of literature and learning. He established a rich tradition of storytelling, which included the translation of Sanskrit texts into Persian, giving rise to a fusion of cultural and intellectual influences. Akbar’s efforts to promote religious tolerance and syncretism were reflected in the literary works of his time. His own biography, the “Akbarnama,” written by his court historian Abul Fazl, is a testament to his support for intellectual endeavors. Akbar’s reign left an indelible mark on the cultural and literary landscape of the Mughal Empire, fostering a legacy of pluralism and creativity that endures to this day.


Urdu is a language that created during Akbar’s reign in the Mughal Empire. It is a fusion of Persian, Arabic, and local Indian languages. Akbar the Great, one of the prominent Mughal emperors, played a significant role in the development and promotion of the Urdu language. He was instrumental in the creation of the “Din-e Ilahi,” a syncretic religious and philosophical system, where Persian and Sanskrit words were blended to create the Urdu vocabulary.

Akbar as a Ruler

Akbar the Great, who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605, is celebrated for his visionary and inclusive approach to governance. His reign was marked by a commitment to religious tolerance and a diverse administration. Akbar appointed officers from various religious and ethnic backgrounds to his bureaucracy, ensuring that different perspectives were represented. He initiated religious debates and discussions, creating an atmosphere of intellectual exchange where scholars from different faiths could share their beliefs and ideas freely. In a groundbreaking move, Akbar abolished the jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims, demonstrating his commitment to religious equality. He also introduced a graduated income tax system, which taxed individuals based on their income, thereby promoting economic equity. Akbar’s rule is a shining example of an inclusive and progressive approach to governance, where diversity, intellectual exchange, and social justice were central principles of his reign. His legacy as a just and forward-thinking ruler endures in the annals of history.

Rajput Officers

Akbar the Great recognized the value of incorporating Rajput officers into his administration and military. His reign from 1556 to 1605 was marked by a policy of religious tolerance and a commitment to cultural integration. To promote harmonious relations with the Rajput rulers of North India, Akbar married several Rajput princesses, thereby creating marital alliances and trust.

One of the most famous Rajput officers in Akbar’s court was Raja Man Singh, a trusted commander who led successful military campaigns on behalf of the Mughals. Akbar’s inclusion of Rajput officers was not only a strategic move to maintain stability and unity but also a reflection of his ability to recognize talent regardless of religious or ethnic backgrounds.

Akbar’s inclusive approach toward his Rajput officers went beyond mere political alliances. He encouraged their active participation in the administration, honoring their traditions and customs. Akbar’s reign exemplified his progressive and diplomatic leadership, where the harmonious coexistence of various cultures and the integration of Rajput officers into the Mughal administration played a crucial role in the stability and success of the empire.

Akbar’s Government

Akbar the Great introduced a revolutionary government organization during his reign. He divided his vast empire into 15 provinces, each governed by an appointed provincial governor. What set Akbar’s administration apart was his keen emphasis on religious tolerance and social inclusivity. The emperor personally chose heads for key departments, including military, taxation, the imperial household, and the judiciary, ensuring that they were competent and impartial. He encouraged open discourse and debates, even involving common citizens in discussions about governance.

Another remarkable aspect of Akbar’s rule was his commitment to justice. He introduced a policy that allowed anyone, regardless of their social status, to appeal directly to the emperor if they felt wronged by the local authorities. This ensured a fair system of justice, where Akbar could review and overturn convictions if they were deemed unjust.

Akbar’s innovative government organization not only fostered efficient administration but also promoted a climate of cultural and religious diversity, ensuring a harmonious and just society within the Mughal Empire. His legacy as a progressive and inclusive ruler remains a source of inspiration and admiration.

Zamindar Tax Collection

Tax collection in the Mughal Empire, particularly during the reign of Akbar the Great, was a complex and well-organized system. One of the significant methods employed was the collection of revenue from the land, which was facilitated through the Zamindar system. Under this system, local landowners or Zamindars were entrusted with the responsibility of collecting taxes from the peasants who cultivated the land. Peasants gave one-third of their crops to the government in taxes. Cotton was the main crop taxed. The Zamindars acted as intermediaries between the imperial administration and the farming communities.

The Zamindars were expected to ensure the collection of a fixed revenue amount from their respective territories and pass it on to the Mughal authorities. In return for their services, they were allowed to keep a portion of the collected revenue as their share. This system aimed to streamline tax collection and maintain social order by engaging local elites in the process. However, the system was not without issues, as it sometimes led to the exploitation of the peasants by the Zamindars.

Despite its challenges, the Zamindar tax collection system was fairer than the tax farming system the Ottoman Empire used, and it played a pivotal role in the fiscal administration of the Mughal Empire.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal, a magnificent masterpiece of architecture and a world-renowned symbol of love, was constructed during the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal in the 17th century as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who had passed away during childbirth. The monument, located in Agra, India, is a testament to the immense love and grief of the emperor. Built over two decades, it is a stunning blend of Persian, Islamic, and Indian architectural styles, featuring intricate white marble inlay work and a remarkable symmetry that captures the eye. The Taj Mahal’s central dome and minarets, made of white marble, stand as a testament to the exquisite craftsmanship and artistry of the Mughal period.

Shah Jahan

Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, ruled over the Indian subcontinent from 1628 to 1658. He is often remembered as a patron of art and architecture, known primarily for commissioning the construction of the stunning Taj Mahal in memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Under Shah Jahan’s rule, the Mughal Empire reached the zenith of its architectural and cultural splendor. He was an advocate for religious tolerance and sought to create a sense of unity among the diverse communities in his empire. However, his reign was also marked by excessive spending, including the construction of several grand monuments and forts. Shah Jahan’s rule was significant not only for its cultural contributions but also for the administrative and economic reforms he initiated. Despite his achievements, he is also remembered for the tragic circumstances of his later years, as he was imprisoned by his own son Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan’s legacy endures in the monumental architectural wonders he left behind, such as the Taj Mahal, which remains a symbol of love and beauty.


Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor, is known for one of the longest and most contentious reigns in Mughal history, ruling from 1658 to 1707. His reign was marked by significant territorial expansions, but it was also characterized by a strict and conservative interpretation of Islam. Unlike some of his predecessors, Aurangzeb’s policies did not promote religious tolerance. He sought to enforce Islamic law more rigorously, leading to confrontations with other religious and regional groups. He also reinstated the jizya and destroyed Hindu temples. His long and often brutal military campaigns against various states, including the Marathas in the Deccan, put tremendous strain on the empire. Despite his military successes, his policies are often criticized for contributing to the eventual decline of the Mughal Empire.

The Portuguese in India

The Portuguese played a pivotal role in the maritime spice trade and exploration during the Age of Discovery. Led by explorers such as Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sought to establish direct sea routes to the lucrative spice markets of Asia. In 1498, Da Gama successfully reached the shores of Calicut (in present-day Kerala, India), opening a sea route that bypassed the overland Silk Road.

Subsequently, the Portuguese established trading posts and forts along the Indian coastline, including Goa, which became a significant hub for spice trade. Under the command of Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese expanded their influence, securing strategic locations such as Malacca and Hormuz.

While the Portuguese presence brought economic prosperity and cultural exchange, it also led to conflicts with local powers and other European rivals. The Portuguese influence in India endured for centuries, leaving a lasting impact on trade, diplomacy, and cultural exchange in the Indian Ocean region.

Trade and Cultural Exchange: Initially, the Portuguese engaged in trade with Indian merchants, exchanging goods and cultural practices. They introduced new crops, technologies, and cultural elements to the Indian subcontinent.

Military Conquests: As the Portuguese sought to establish dominance in the spice trade, they often resorted to military conquests. Afonso de Albuquerque, in particular, was known for capturing key ports and establishing forts along the Indian coast.

Religious Imposition: The Portuguese were strongly influenced by their Catholic faith, and missionaries played a significant role in their interactions with the Indians. There were attempts to convert the local population to Christianity, sometimes through force. This led to tensions and resistance from the predominantly Hindu and Muslim communities.

Economic Exploitation: The Portuguese sought to control and monopolize trade routes, leading to economic exploitation. They imposed taxes on local traders and established trade monopolies that affected the indigenous economic systems.

Cultural Clashes: Cultural clashes occurred as Portuguese customs and traditions clashed with those of the local population. This contributed to social and cultural tensions in the regions where the Portuguese established their presence.

The British East India Company

The interactions among the British East India Company, the Portuguese, and the indigenous Indian population during the colonial period were marked by a complex web of economic, political, and cultural dynamics. The Portuguese, having arrived in India in the 16th century, initially dominated maritime trade routes and established a significant presence along the western coast. However, by the 17th and 18th centuries, the British East India Company emerged as a formidable competitor.

The Portuguese and the British East India Company engaged in both cooperative ventures and rivalry. They competed for control of key ports, trade routes, and valuable resources. The Portuguese, with their early foothold in regions like Goa, often found themselves contending with the expanding territorial influence of the British. This competition extended to interactions with the Indian rulers and local populations, each European power seeking alliances that would enhance their trade advantages.

For the indigenous Indian population, the presence of both the Portuguese and the British East India Company had profound consequences. While trade with the Europeans brought new goods and cultural exchange, it also led to conflicts, religious tensions, and economic exploitation. The Portuguese, influenced by their Catholic mission, attempted religious conversions, while the British pursued economic dominance through territorial conquests.

The Decline of the Mughal Empire

The decline of the once-mighty Mughal Empire in India can be attributed to a confluence of complex factors. Costly wars, particularly Aurangzeb’s protracted military campaigns, drained the imperial treasury and sapped resources. Famine and other environmental challenges further weakened the populace and the state’s ability to provide relief. Loyalty to the central leadership waned over time, as regional and provincial nobles increasingly sought greater autonomy and consolidated power. This decentralization led to the rise of powerful local lords who chipped away at the empire’s unity.

The influence of European powers, particularly the British, grew through trade and economic manipulation. The Mughal Empire struggled to control its trade and economic policies, resulting in unfavorable trade imbalances and exploitation by European powers. These external pressures, coupled with internal strife, further eroded the empire’s stability.

The combination of these factors, along with social and cultural changes, ultimately contributed to the decline of the Mughal Empire. Its once-vibrant and powerful central authority gradually weakened, leading to the fragmentation and division of its vast territories and, eventually, to the end of Mughal rule in India.

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The Mughal Empire

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Cate O'Donnell

12 min read

Oct 27, 2023




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