Iltutmish (1211-1236) – Early Career and Accession

Sansar LochanHistory of IndiaLeave a Comment


Shamsuddin Iltutmish was a slave of Qutubuddin Aibek, the Sultan of Delhi. Iltutmish’s father was a high-ranking noble of the Ilbari tribe of Turks. After passing through many hands, he was, finally, purchased by Qutubuddin Aibek in Delhi at a phenomenal price. Iltutmish is said to have acquired good education and wide knowledge of the Islamic world during the early days of his hardship. That is why he soon rose to be the amir-e-shikar and son-in-law of his master within a decade. He became governor of the iqtas of Gwalior and Baran (Bulandshahar) in succession. In 1206, he held the charge of Badaun as one of the most reliable lieutenants of Aibek.

The Turkish nobility of Delhi did not endorse the hereditary succession of Aram Shah, an inept and unpopular ruler. They invited Iltutmish from Badaun to take up their leadership as Sultan. Aram Shah refused to abdicate but was vanquished and dethroned by Iltutmish in 1211.

Real Founder of Delhi Sultanate

Iltutmish was the real founder of the Delhi Sultanate. He made Delhi his seat of governance in preference to Lahore. He proved to be a very strong and competent ruler who enjoyed a fairly long reign of twenty-six years. Iltutmish fortified the foundations of the infant Turkish state in northern India by warding it from internal forces.  With effect from 1211, the centre of political gravity shifted to Delhi.

Iltutmish did not permit Delhi to be drawn into the central Asian politics. By his diplomatic stroke, he saved himself from the fury of Chengez Khan and the country from the wrath of Khan’s Mongol hordes. Iltutmish was so much afraid of the Mongol terror that, until after the death of Chengez Khan in 1227, he did not initiate any military expedition for the occupation of the western Punjab or Sind. Later on, Iltutmish conquered Multan and Sind and placed these provinces under the charge of two separate governors.

Art and Culture

Iltutmish was a patron of art and learning. Due to the Mongol upheavals in central Asia, hundreds of Muslim theologians, scholars and artists fled their homelands and took refuge in Delhi; Amir Khusrau’s father was one of them. Iltutmish extended liberal patronage to them and helped them enrich the cultural life of the ruling elite. He is said to have completed the construction of Qutub Minar and rejoiced his association with the sufi saints of the day.

Achievements and Failures of Iltutmish

During the first fifteen years of his reign, Iltutmish failed to take any action against Rajputs because of his conflict with the rival Turkish nobles and involvement with the north-west frontier problems. He started a full-fledged campaign against Rajputs in 1226. Ranthambhor was recovered from the Chahuans first, Mandsor, the headquarters of the Parmars, was acquired next. Thereafter, the territories of Bayana, Ajmer and Sambhar were reconquered .  A big portion of Jodhpur state, including the town of Nagpur, was annexed by 1230. The Parihar ruler of Gwalior was defeated in 1230-31 after a year-long siege of the fort.

Iltutmish led an attack on Nagada, the capital of Guhilots but he was defeated by Rana Kshetra Singh. Iltutmish’s army was also forced to repulse with hefty losses by the Chalukyas of Gujarat.


Although Iltutmish was successful in creating an empire over which he ruled for quite some time, he was not a great administrator. He created no civil institutions. His was a military dictatorship like that of Aibek but with the difference that all the reins of government were concentrated in his own hands. Iltutmish laid the foundation of an absolute kingship of the Turks in northern India. He made all the key appointments of central ministers and regional military governors himself. The wazir (prime minister), sadr-e-jahan (head of the religious affairs) and the chief qazi held office at his pleasure and were responsible to him directly. He did not permit the Turkish nobility to meddle in the state affairs beyond certain limits.

The Sultan strengthened the forces of law and order in the state. He allowed the local administrative bodies to function according to the prevalent Islamic standards. He launched a purely Arabic currency of gold and silver. His standard silver tanka weighed 175 grains.

In sum, it may be said that Iltutmish was an empire-builder who strove to complete the unfinished task of Qutubuddin Aibek in laying the foundations of the Delhi Sultanate.

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