The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought

By Gerhard Bowering | Go to book overview

B

Babur, Zahir al-Din (1483–1530)

Zahir al- Din Muhammad Babur is known for three achievements. First, he survived the internecine conflict in his Central Asian homeland of modern Uzbekistan (warā’ al- nahr) in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Second, he founded a Timurid state in India in 1526 generally known as the Mughal Empire. Third, he wrote a memoir that has endured as one of the richest examples of that genre.

Babur, which is a Perso- Turkish name that means lion or tiger, was a patrilineal descendant of the Turkic conqueror Timur (d. 1405), or Tamerlane in European parlance, and a matrilineal descendant of the Mongol Chingiz Khan (d. 1227). Babur was born as a Muslim in the Ferghana Valley, east- southeast of Tashkent, at a time when the region was contested by three groups, who by the late 15th century were also Muslims: his own relatives, the Timurids; the Chaghatay branch of the Mongols; and the Uzbeks, a Mongol- led Turkic tribal confederation. After inheriting his father’s small Ferghana appanage in 1494 at the age of 12, he spent the next decade struggling with members of all three groups to capture Samarqand, Timur’s capital, and establish himself as the recognized heir of his ancestor. After twice occupying but failing to hold the city, Babur abandoned Transoxiana in 1504 and, with fewer than 300 supporters, seized Kabul, a former Timurid outpost.

During the next decade, he fought to survive in this desolate outpost while simultaneously struggling to recapture Samarqand and his homeland. After occupying Samarqand for a third time in 1511 with help from Shah Isma’il, the Uzbeks forced him to flee the city, and by 1514 he had abandoned his attempt to return to the Timurid homeland. Babur subsequently focused his self- described mulkgirliq, or “kingdom- seizing,” ambitions on India. Timur had invaded India in 1398 and sacked Delhi and established a Timurid claim to rule Hindustan. Babur invoked his Timurid descent to legitimize the campaigns that he began in northwestern India in 1519. After conducting a series of probing actions in territories then ruled by members of the unstable Afghan Lodi dynasty, Babur marched from Kabul in December 1525 with no more than 12,000 men and camp followers. In April 1526, he defeated the Lodhis at Panipat, a small town about 50 miles north of Delhi. Following a subsequent victory over a formidable Hindu Rajput army the following year, he spent the next three years trying to consolidate his hold over the agriculturally rich regions of the Punjab, the Ganges- Jumna Duab, and the Gangetic Valley.

Babur modeled his fragile new regime on the city- state of Herat, the city where the last great Timurid ruler, Husayn Bayqara (d. 1506), had presided over a florescence of Perso- Islamic art and literature that Ottomans, Safavids, and Indian Muslims alike idealized as a cultural golden age. As Babur demonstrates in his remarkable autobiography, his political ideal was a sedentary state dominated by Timurid and Chingizid Hanafi Sunni Muslims, who patronized Perso- Islamic literary and artistic culture, and before his death in 1530, he welcomed to his capital at Agra political, religious, and cultural refugees from the former Timurid lands in Transoxiana and Afghanistan. These included Turco- Mongol warriors; Naqshbandi Sufis, who practiced a restrained form of Sunni piety; and artistic and literary representatives of late- Timurid high culture. While Babur’s Indian state is usually called the Mughal Empire, Mughal (the Persian term for Mongol) is a misleading name for a state that represented a Timurid renaissance.

See also Delhi; India; Mughals (1526– 1857)


Further Reading

Jean- Louis Bacqué- Grammont, trans., Le Livre de Babur, 1980; Annette Susanah Beveridge, The Bâbur- nâma in English, 1969; Stephen F. Dale, The Garden of the Eight Paradises: Babur and the Culture of Empire in Central Asia, Afghanistan and India 1483– 1530, 2004; W. M. Thackston Jr., The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, 2002.

STEPHEN F. DALE


Baghdad

Baghdad has been the principal city of Iraq since the eighth century. The origin and meaning of the city’s name are unknown. At least one settlement by this name existed in ancient times. In 762, it was chosen by Abu Ja’far al- Mansur, second Abbasid caliph, as the site of the dynasty’s new capital, evidently because of its arable land and its proximity to trade routes and because— unlike the other places where the Abbasids had tried to establish a capital— its inhabitants were not hostile or otherwise dangerous to the dynasty. Mansur’s city- complex consisted of concentric circles formed by fortified walls. The space between the first and second walls was divided into lots distributed among his allies and clients. The inner circle contained Mansur’s palace, the great mosque, and government

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