Babur, 14 February 1483-26 December 1530


First Phase: Timurid Squabbles

Second Phase: Afghan Warlord

Persian Ally or Client?

Third Phase: India

The first, second and third expeditions
Indian Politics and the Conquest of India
The Conquest of Hindustan
The Rajput Threat
Expanding the Empire


Babur (1483-1530) was the founder of the Mogul Empire, conquering large parts of northern India after spending most of his life attempting unsuccessfully to capture Samarkand.

Babur's actual name was Zahir al-Din Muhammad. He was descended from both Tamerlane (fifth generation) and Genghis Khan (fourteenth or fifteenth generation), and was the son of 'Umar Shaikh Mirza.

Most of Babur's life is very well documented, not least because we have his own memoirs, written after the conquest of northern India. Although there are some gaps in this work, it is still a remarkable autobiography,

Babur's life fell into three distinct parts. In the first he was one of a number of Timurid princes fighting to control parts of Tamerlane' empire in Transoxiana. While Tamerlane's descendents fought amongst themselves the Uzbeks of Shaibani Khan gathered strength, and eventually ended the contest by taking control themselves.

In the second phase Babur became an Afghan warlord, based in Kabul. From there he took part in one final attempt to seize Samarkand, an expedition to Herat, and the first few raids into northern India.

Finally, in the third phase of his career, Babur invaded northern India, overthrew the Delhi Sultanate and established what would become the Mughal or Mogul Empire. Only in this final stage can Babur be said to have been a great success, holding onto these conquests until his death.

The First Phase: Timurid Squables

In 1494 Babur inherited a kingdom surrounded by enemies. Farghana (or Ferghana or Fergana) was in the north-eastern corner of Tamerlane's old empire, with its capital at Andijan. In theory Babur' father Umar Shaikh had ruled as prince of Farghana under the authority of his brother Sultan Ahmad, the ruler of Timurid Transoxiana, and Babur's uncle. Sultan Ahmad's capital was at Samarkand, to the west of Farghana.

To the north was Mughalistan, ruled by Babur's elder maternal uncle Sultan Mahmud Khan, with his capital at Tashkent, while to the south another relative, Sultan Mahmud Mirza, his younger paternal uncle, ruled from Hisar. Further to the south-west Khorasan (eastern Persian) was ruled by Sultan Husayn Bayqara, the acknowledged head of the House of Timur. To the east Babur's youngest paternal uncle, Sultan Ulugh Beg Mirza, ruled at Kabul.

Further to the north-west were the Uzbeks, eventually to be ruled by Shaibani Khan.

Umar Shaikh had taken advantage of his alliance with the Mughals to repudiate his brother's authority. Immediately after Umar's death in an accident in June 1494 Sultan Ahmad gathered an army and invaded Farghana, intending to depose the young Babur, but he died on the march and the invasion was abandoned. Ahmad was succeeded by his brother Mahmud, who died in the following year. Mahmud was succeeded by his son Baisanghar, who continued to threaten Babur.

Baisanghar's plans badly misfired. He encouraged Ibrahim Saru, a Mongol who had served Babur's father before falling from favour, to rebel. Ibrahim seized the fort of Asfara, and declared for Baisanghar, but the expected help never came. Instead Baisanghar was distracted by an invasion from Tashkent. Although this threat was eliminated at the battle of Kan-bai, this victory came too late for Ibrahim, who after a forty day siege was forced to surrender (June 1495). Baisanghar was next attacked by Sultan Husain Mirza Baiqara of Khorasan, ruler of Herat, but this attack stalled outside Hisor (now in western Tajikistan).

Having seen off two external threats Baisanghar now faced a conspiracy in Samarkand, where he was believed to have been favouring his childhood companions from Hisor. He was seized and briefly replaced by his younger brother Sultan Ali. Baisanghar was sent to the Guk Sarai, a building in the citadel where the descendants of Timur were sent to be crowned, blinded or killed, but managed to escape and took sanctuary in the house of a respected religious figure, where he was able to remain until a popular uprising restored him to power. It was then Sultan Ali's turn to be sent to the Guk Sarai, where it was meant to be blinded. He managed to escape from this fate, and from Samarkand (by pretending to be blind), and fled to Bokhara, beginning a civil war.

There then followed a three-sided siege of Samarkand, involving Sultan Ali, his brother Mas'ad, who was motivated by his love for a woman inside the city, and Babur. This first siege of 1496 ended in failure, but Babur and Ali returned in 1497 and this second siege of Samarkand ended successfully. For the first of three times Babur entered the city of his dreams as its ruler.

All three of Babur's periods of rule in Samarkand would be short. This first one only lasted for 100 days before a conspiracy back in Andijan forced him to leave the city. Two of his chief supporters, Sultan Ahmad Tambal and Auzun Hasan, claimed Fergana for Babur's brother Jahangir, in the accurate expectation that they would be able to dominate him. Babur's mother and grandmother were besieged in Andijan. At this moment Babur fell seriously ill. News of this illness reached Andijan, and on the very day that Babur departed from Samarkand in an attempt to lift the siege, the defenders of Andijan surrendered. All was not yet lost. Babur still had his army, and he was able to convince his uncle, the Elder Khan, to support him. Unfortunately the Khan was soon persuaded to return home. After this setback most of Babur's men left, leaving him with a hard-core of 200-300 men, and a tiny foothold around Khujand, at the western end of Fergana.

Babur's come-back would be dramatic. Early in 1499 Ali-dost Taghai, the man who had surrendered Andijan, sent a messenger to Babur offering him his support and the city of Marghinan, to the west of Andijan. Babur made a dramatic dash to Marghinan to accept Ali-dost's offer. He now had a walled town as a base, and fresh troops rallied to his cause. Tambal and Auzun Hasan made an attempt to besiege Marghinan, but were defeated in the suburbs. This setback convinced their governor of Andijan to switch sides, and in June 1499 Babur was able to return to his capital city. Auzun Hasan was soon captured, but Tambal and Jahangir fled east to Auzkint, where they were safe for the moment.

Babur now made a mistake that triggered another revolt and would eventually cost him Fergana. Some of his Mongol mercenaries had previously fought against him, and Babur now ordered them to hand back any property that they had taken from his supports. Instead of doing this they rebelled, and moved east to offer their services to Tambal. Babur and his advisors underestimated the threat, and sent a small army under Qasim Beg to deal with the Mongols. One day out of Andijan, just after crossing the Ailaish River, Qasim Beg came face to face with Tambal and the Mongols, and suffered a heavy defeat. In the aftermath of this battle Tambal advanced towards Andijan, and for a short period Babur's capital was besieged.

When it became clear that he could not take Andijan Tambal moved south-east to attack Aush (Osh). Babur followed with a newly raised army, but when he reached Aush he discovered that Tambal had moved north, and was threatening Andijan yet against. Babur split his forces, sending some men back towards the city to protect it, and others east towards Tambal's base of Auzkint. This lifted the threat to Andijan, and left Babur free to besiege the fortress of Madu, just to the east of Aush. Once this fort had been captured, he moved north to intercept Tambal. The two armies spent a month facing each other around the village of Ab-i-khan, before Babur received reinforcements that allowed him to move onto the offensive. Faced with this attack Tambal abandoned Ab-i-khan, but he then managed to turn Babur's left flank, and advanced towards Andijan. Babur gave chase, and outside the village of Khuban fought his first open battle. Babur's left wing broke Tambal's right, and the rest of Tambal's army fled the field. Babur's generals advised him not to risk too hasty a pursuit, and most of Tambal's army was able to escape back to Auzkint.

Over the winter of 1499-1500 Tambal entered into negotiations with the Elder Khan at Tashkent, hoping to use his family connections at the court. These efforts succeeded, and an army advanced from Tashkent to besiege the fort of Kasan, close to Akhsi. When Babur advanced towards the besieged fort its defenders quickly abandoned the siege, leaving Tambul, who had just arrived on the scene, in a very vulnerable position. Once again Babur's advisors suggested caution, and Tambul was able to escape into the fort of Arcbian.

By now some of Babur's advisors would appear to have been getting nervous about him becoming too powerful. After a brief stand-off around Arcbian Ali-dost and Qambar-ali entered peace negotiations with Tambal, much to Babur's disgust. Despite disagreeing with what they were doing the young Babur knew that he would be unable to win the war without their support, and early in 1500 he was forced to agree to their terms. Babur would keep Fergana south of the Syr Darya (or Khujand) river, and would gain Auzkint. Jahangir (and thus Tambal) would get the northern half of the kingdom, which included the second city of Akhsi. More significantly it was agreed that the two brothers would then cooperate to capture Samarkand. Once this had been achieved Jahangir would be given Andijan and the rest of Ferghana, leaving Babur with Samarkand.

A new force now appeared on the scene, one that would in the new few years destroy the last vestiges of Timurid power. Muhammad Shaibani Khan was the grandson of the Uzbek leader Abu-l-khair. He had been forced to flee into exile, and had made his name working as a mercenary. In 1497 he had been briefly involved in that year's siege of Samarkand, but had retreated after arguing with Baisanghar. This first visit to the city made him realise both how rich and how vulnerable the city was. In 1500 Shaibani returned, this time at the head of the Uzbeks, and captured the city.

Soon after Shaibani had captured Samarkand Babur took it himself for the second time. This was one of the most daring of his successes, and was achieved through a surprise attack with only 200 men. Shaibani withdrew to gather strength, while Babur attempted to attract allies. In April-May 1501 he decided that the best way to achieve this would be to march out of Samarkand and offer battle. Although this did indeed force some of Babur's potential allies to send troops, few if any of them arrived before Babur suffered a serious defeat at Sar-i-Pul (April-May 1501). Babur managed to escape from this disaster and returned to Samarkand, where he was besieged for several months before arranging peace terms and fleeing to safety. 

This left Babur without a powerbase. Ferghana was now held by his brother Jahangir, and so Babur was forced to seek refuge with his uncle, Sultan Mahmud Khan of Tashkint (referred to by Babur as his Khan dada or father). A frustrating year followed for Babur, before Mahmud's younger brother Ahmad Khan arrived from his home in Northern Mughalistan, where he had spent the last twenty years. The brothers decided to launch an invasion of Fergana, and attempt to overthrown Jahangir and Tambal, now the power behind the throne.

Tambal responded by asked for help from Shaibani, who was happy to send an army against the Khans. After a short campaign they suffered a major defeat at Arciyan (June 1503). Babur commanded a small force in this battle, but was able to escape from the disaster, and spent the next few years wandering amongst the nomads of Sukh and Hushyar.

The Second Phase: Afghan Warlord

It was now clear that if Babur was to continue the fight against Shaibani he would need a new, safer, base. He chose Kabul, which until 1501 had been ruled by his uncle Ulugh Beg Mirza. The power struggle that followed the death of his uncle ended with Muhammad Muqim, a member of the Arghunid dynasty of Kandahar, on the throne in Kabul. Ironically Babur's attack on Kabul was greatly helped by the threat from Shaibani.

Khosru Shah, a former wazir to the rulers of Samarkand, had ended up as a semi-independent ruler in Kunduz, but his Mongol troops were increasingly aware of the threat from Shaibani, and now decided that Babur offered them a great chance of success. They deserted Khosru, and made up a large part of the army that Babur now led towards Kabul. After a brief skirmish outside the city, and a siege that lasted for only ten days (October 1504), Muhammad Muqim surrendered, and was allowed to return to his father in Kandahar. Babur was once again an independent ruler (although his powers may have been rather limited by his reliance of Khosru's former troops). 

His first task was to reward his followers. Both of his brothers were given fiefs - Jahangir got Ghazni and Nasir Mirza got Ningnahar. At this stage Babur had more followers expecting rewards than he had resources, and so he imposed heavy taxes on his new kingdom. Unsurprisingly this provoked revolts during 1505, which provoked Babur's first expedition towards India. This began as an expediton against the Hazaras, before developing into a march into Sind. After crossing the Khyber Pass he turned south, marched to Kohat, and then south on the western side of the Sind River, eventually reaching it at Bilah, somewhere near Multan. Here a plot to depose Babur in favour of his brother Jahangir was revealed by Jahangir himself in a dutiful mood and quickly put down. The army then made a difficult return march to Ghazni and then to Kabul, staying on guard against attack for most of the march.

The summer of 1505 was a difficult time for Babur. First his mother died, then he was struck down by a fever, and finally Kabul was badly damaged by an earthquake. At about the same time his brother Nasir was proving to be unreliable. He never turned up for the expedition into Sind, instead leading a disastrous expedition into the Nur Valley. He then learnt that the leaders of Badakhshan had rebelled against the Uzbeks, joined the rebels and by the end of the summer had made himself prince of Badakhshan.

When Babur was free to move again he wanted to attack Kandahar, but his supports convinced him to besiege Khilat instead. Once the place had been captured none of them were willing to garrison the place, and Babur was forced to abandon it. Next came another expedition against the Hazaras which triggered a forty day illness. At about the same time Jahangir convinced himself that he was in danger and fled from Kabul. He travelled to Ghazni, plundering on his way, and then fled through the Hazara country to seek sanctuary with the Mongol clans around Yai.


At the start of 1506 the senior member of the Timurid house was Sultan Husain Mirza Baiqara, ruler of Khorasan and sultan of Herat. For some time he had ignored the threat from Shaibani, but now he issued a rallying call to the remaining members of the dynasty to unite against the Uzbeks. Babur accepted this call to arms, and prepared to join up with the Sultan's army, but on 5 May 1506 Sultan Husain died. He was succeeded by joint heirs, Badi-uz-Zaman Mirza and Muzaffar-i-Husain Mirza, who ruled together. Babur still decided to join their army, although he didn't reach them until 26 October 1506. By this point it was clear that there was no urgency behind the campaign, and the brothers soon returned to Herat. Babur was forced to accompany them, spending twenty days in Herat before escaping from his hosts and making a dangerous trip across the snow-bound mountains to return to Kabul.


As Babur approached Kabul he discovered that the city was held against him by a group of rebels, although the citadel was still in his hands. Babur was able to get a message into the city, and coordinated a joint attack on the rebels, regaining control of the city. Babur's rule was made more secure by the death of Jahangir and Nasir's defeat at Khamchan in 1507 which forced him to abandon Badakhshan and return to Kabul.

The news from Khorasan was not so good. Shaibani responded to the events of 1506 by invading, catching the ruling brothers by surprise. An army led by the Governor of Kandahar was defeated at Maruchak, and after that resistance came to an end. Herat fell to the Uzbeks, and Babur was left as the only important ruler of the Timurid house. 

This began a period in which Babur was greatly concerned with the affairs of Kandahar. It began when Shah Beg Arghun and Muqim Beg Arghun, the heirs of the defeated governor, offered Kandahar to Babur. He accepted, and marched towards the city at the head of his army. At this point the Arghuns changed their minds, and decided to accept Uzbek rule. Babur defeated the brothers in a battle outside Kandahar, and occupied the city, leaving his brother in command before returning to Kabul. Shaibani arrived soon after this, and laid siege to the city. Babur was so spooked by this that he prepared for a move into India, but the siege came to an end when Shaibani's harem was threatened. The Uzbek army withdrew, and the Arghuns regains command of their city.

Until this point Babur had used the title of Mirza, in common with the rest of the Timurids. With most of the family now out of power he now decided to adopt a new title, and declared himself to be Padshah

Persian Ally or Client?

After the events of 1507 Babur must have believed that he would never see Samarkand again, but an unexpected turn of events gave him one more chance to capture Tamerlane's old capital. In 1509 Shaibani provoked Shah Isma'el Safawi, the leader of a resurgent Persia. Towards the end of 1510 the Persians caught Shaibani outside Merv, defeating and killing him. Rebellions broke out across his former empire, and Babur was invited to intervene.


Early in 1511 Babur reached Kunduz, where he found a large force of Mongol mercenaries who had deserted the Uzbeks after Shaibani's death. At first they wanted to replace Babur with Sultan Sa'id, but he refused to take part in any revolt against Babur, who had provided him with refuge from Shaibani. Babur agreed to let Sa'id attempt to retake Andijan, and the two men separated on good terms. Babur then advanced north towards Hisar, but he found a strong Uzbek army and was forced to retreat. Back at Kunduz Babur was reunited with his elder sister Khanzada. She had been forced to marry Shaibani as the price of Babur's safety after his second occupation of Samarkand (see siege of Samarkand, 1501). Both Shaibani and her second husband Saiyid Hadi had been killed by the Persians, and they now returned her to her brother.

Babur took advantage of this chance to gain an ally and sent an ambassador to Shah Isma'el. An alliance was soon agreed, in which Babur was very much the junior partner. The terms of the alliance included one that would soon be very damaging. The Shah was a dedicated Shiite, and he insisted that Babur adopt the Shi'a faith and impose it on the Sunni inhabitants of Samarkand. This agreement would soon cost Babur the support of the inhabitants of Samarkand, and to make things worse Persian support probably didn't play a major part in his upcoming victory. Before his ambassador had returned from Persian Babur advanced back towards Hisar. A month-long stand-off followed, during which time Babur's ambassador returned, possibly with a small Persian contingent. The Uzbeks realised that Babur was probably weaker than they were, swam across a river and forced him to retreat from Pul-i-Sanghin to Abdara. The resulting battle ended in a major victory for Babur. Only after it was he joined by a strong Persian force, which took part in the triumphal advance to Bokhara. Samarkand was now open to Babur, but before taking the city he dismissed his Persian allies. Finally, in October 1511, Babur entered Samarkand for the third time, this time in triumph.


Babur's time in Samarkand can't have been pleasant. Initially greeted as a liberator, the reaction to him turned hostile when it became clear that he intended to honour his agreement with the Shah, even if he didn't persecute the Sunni population of Samarkand. At the same time his refusal to persecute the Sunni angered the Shah, who dispatched an army towards Samarkand to bring Babur into line. By the time the Persians arrived Babur had already lost control of the city.

The Uzbeks had recovered from the shock of defeat in 1510-11, and launched a two-pronged assault on Babur's new empire. The main army attacked Tashkent, while 3,000 men moved towards Bokhara. Babur led a small army against this second force, and was defeated at the battle of Kul-i-Malik (May 1512). He managed to escape to Bokhara, but was forced to abandon the city and return to Samarkand. It quickly became clear that Samarkand could not be held either, and Babur was forced to abandon the city for the third and final time (although this wasn't at all clear at the time). 

The Persian army, under Najm Sani, arrived at the border of Khorasan to find Babur a refuge at Hisar. Instead of chastising him, the Persians decided to help him. The two armies were combined and advanced towards Bukhara. It soon became clear that Babur had very little influence in the army. After capturing Qarshi Najm massacred the entire population of the city, not just the Uzbek garrison. He then allowed himself to be diverted from the advance towards Bukhara into a siege of Ghaj-davan. This gave the Uzbeks time to concentrate against him, and after a siege that may have lasted four months the Persians were defeated in battle in the suburbs of Ghaj-davan (12 November 1512). Babur was able to escape with the rearguard, but Najm Sani was killed.

This defeat ended any real chance Babur had of retaking Samarkand. He probably spent most of 1513 at Kunduz, hoping to be able to regain Hisar, but early in 1514 abandoned this idea and returned to Kabul. This city had been left in the hands of his brother Nasir, who in a rare example of filial loyalty handing it back to Babur without any arguments and returned to Ghazni. In the next year Nasir died, and an obscure revolt broke out at Ghazni, which ended when Babur defeated the rebels in an open battle.

The Third Phase: India

The first, second and third expeditions

At about this date Babur began to look east, towards Hindustan (referring to the Ganges plain and the Punjab). This area had been briefly and brutally conquered by Tamerlane, and Babur would claim this gave him a legitimate claim to the area as Tamerlane's most important remaining descendant.

India must have been a very tempting target for Babur. Northern Indian had been dominated by the Sultanate of Delhi, but the sultans had been steadily losing power throughout the fourteenth century, and in 1398 Tamerlane's invasion has smashed what remaining power it had. A Sultan continued to occupy the throne in Delhi until Babur finally deposed the last one, but their authority rarely extended far outside the city and its immediate surroundings. Independent Muslim states appeared to the west of Delhi, in Sind, Multan and the Punjab, each ruled by an Afghan family. These Muslim states were bordered to the south by the principalities of Rajputana. Another band of Muslim powers were to be found to the south of Rajputana.

The most significant step towards Babur's conquest of Hindustan came at some point between 1514 and 1519, during a gap in his memoirs. In this period he secured the services of Ustad Ali, an Ottoman Turk, who became his first Master of Ordnance. Ustad Ali's job was to equip Babur's army with gunpowder weapons, and by 1519 we read of matchlocks and artillery pieces being used during the siege of Bajaur.

Babur began to move east in 1518, capturing the fortress of Chaghansarai (north-east of Kabul) late in the year. In January 1519 he besieged Bajaur, further to the east, capturing the fortress with the help of his matchlocks and artillery. In the aftermath of this victory the defenders of the fort were massacred, officially because they were heathens and rebels, but probably to send a message to the Afghans on Babur's invasion route into India.

Babur states that he made five expeditions into Hindustan, starting in 1519 and ending with the victory at Panipat in 1526. The first began in February 1519 as an extension of an expedition against Afghan tribes. Babur crossed the Indus just to the east of modern Mardan, and then moved south, crossing the Salt Range to reach Bhira (modern Bhera) on the Jehlam River (the most westerly of the five rivers of the Punjab). Babur made it clear to his men that they were not to pillage the areas they were passing through, as Babur claimed them as his own. This paid off for the moment, as the people of Bhira submitted to Babur.

At the start of March Babur decided to send an envoy, Mulla Murshid, to Ibrahim Lodi at Delhi to ask him to surrender those countries which had 'once depended on the Turk' - presumably meaning just the Punjab, rather than the entirety of Ibrahim's dwindling kingdom. This emissary reached as far as Lahore, where he was detained by Daulat Khan, officially Ibrahim's governor of the Punjab. Daulat would late play a major part in Babur's invasion of India, but for the moment his only role was to prevent the messenger from reaching Delhi. Several months later Mulla Murshid returned safely to Kabul.

The first part of March appears to have been spent indulging in a series of drinking parties, but in mid March, with the hot weather approaching, Babur appointed governors for Bhira and Khushab (thirty miles to the west, down the Jehlam), and then departed for Kabul, leaving Bhira on 13 March 1519.

Two days later Babur attacked Pharwala, a fort about 25 miles east of Rawalpindi held by the Gakhar tribe. This place was captured after a battle outside the walls and the Gakhars submitted to Babur. By the end of March he had returned to Kabul.

This first conquest of the Punjab was very short lived. On 26 April Hundu Beg, Babur's governor of Bhira, arrived in Kabul. As soon as Babur had left the area the local Indians and Afghans had risen up and forced Babur's men to flee from the area.  Perhaps surprisingly Babur did not immediately return to the Punjab. Most of the summer was spent in Kabul, with one expedition against an Afghan tribe in July, and another in September. This second expedition took Babur across the Khyber Pass, and he was intended ti garrison Pashawar when news reached him that Sultain Sa'id Khan of Kashghar was threatening to invade Badakhshan, on the border between his and Babur's kingdoms. This forced Babur to abandon any plans in India and return to Kabul. The problem was resolved without any fighting, leaving Babur free to make a third expedition into India in 1520, unfortunately during yet another gap in his memoirs.

Babur crossed the Indus at the same point as in 1519, marched south to Bhera and then east to Sialkot, which surrendered without offering any resistance. The same was not true of Sayyidpur (probably Saidpur, fifteen miles to the north of Sialkot). This place was taken by assault, the male population massacred and the women and children taken into captivity. Soon after this success Babur learnt that Shah Beg Arghun of Kandahar, or some of his supporters, had raided his Afghan lands. Babur was forced to return to Kabul to deal with this new threat.

The resulting siege of Kandahar lasted from 1520 until 1522, although it was actually three separate sieges, with breaks for the winters of 1520-21 and 1521-22. The siege was complicated by Babur and Shah Beg's relationships with Shah Isma'il of Persia. Kandahar formed a buffer between Persia and Babur's kingdom. The eastern part of the Shah's domains (Khorasan) had been held by members of Babur's own family until 1507, when it had been seized by Shaibani Khan, the Uzbek conqueror. It had been seized by Persia during the war with Shaibani that ended with his death at Merv in 1510, but there were still Timurid claimants to Khorasan, some of whom were refugees at Babur's court.

Babur's attack on Kandahar began in 1520. This first siege ended in June of that year, when a pestilence broke out in Babur's camp. He returned in 1521, and continued the siege. At the end of this year Shah Beg left for Sind, either after agreeing to hand the city over to Babur in a year's time, or in the belief that the Persian emissaries had convinced Babur to accept his submission. In this version of the siege Shah Beg's governor then betrayed the city to Babur. Whichever version of the end of the siege is true the keys of Kandahar were delivered to Babur on 6 September 1522, a date he celebrated on a victory monument.

Indian Politics and the Conquest of India

In 1519 and 1520 Babur had advanced into India without allies, intending to conquer the Punjab, but not necessarily to clash with Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Delhi. His fourth and fifth expeditions would be launched with allies inside India, and with a clash with Delhi firmly in mind.

Ibrahim Lodi had inherited the throne of Delhi in 1517 from his father Sikander Lodi, and spent the next few years alienating the Afghan nobles whose support was holding the sultanate of Delhi together and putting down a series of rebellions. In 1523 his suspicions fell on Daulat Khan, governor of Lahore, who he summoned to Delhi. Fearing for his life Daulat sent his son Dilawar in his place. This angered Ibrahim, who took Dilawar into a dungeon to show him a number of former nobles who were now suspended from the walls. Fearing that he was about to suffer the same fate Dilawar fled back to Lahore. His father decided that his only chance of survival was to ask for help from Babur, and so Dilawar was dispatched to Kabul, where he was able to win Babur's support.

Babur's fourth expedition into India began late in 1523. His plan was apparently to place Alam Khan, Ibrahim's uncle, on the throne of Delhi. In return Alam Khan would recognise Babur as the ruler of the Punjab. The expedition was to begin with the handover of Lahore to Babur by Daulat Khan.

Things didn't go entirely as planned. By the time Babur reached the vicinity of Lahore Daulat had been forced to flee from the city. Ibrahim Lodi had acted quickly, and sent an army under Bihar Khan Lodi to Lahore to depose Daulat. Bihar Khan and Babur clashed close to Lahore in a battle that ended as a costly defeat for Ibrahim's forces. Lahore fell to Babur, who then moved south to capture Dibalpur (modern Dipalpur).

Soon after the fall of Dibalpur Babur was joined by his ally Daulat Khan, but the alliance soon fell apart. Babur kept Lahore for himself and gave Daulat Jalandhar and Sultanpur in its place. This made Daulat realise that Babur intended a permanent occupation of the Punjab, and he began to plot against Babur, suggesting military expeditions that would have divided his small army and left him vulnerable to attack. This plot was betrayed to Babur by Daulat's son Dilawar. Babur arrested Daulat, then released him and restored Sultanpur to them, but Daulat almost immediately fled into the hills.

Having lost his main ally, Babur decided to return to Kabul to gather strength, leaving a strong garrison in the Punjap. Dilawar was rewarded for his loyalty with Jalandhar and Sultanpur. Alam Khan, the pretender to Delh, was given Dibalpur, with Baba Qashqa Mughul to support and watch him. Mir 'Abdu'l-'aziz, Babur's master of the horse, was placed in command of Lahore and Khusrau Kukuldash was posted at Sialkot.

Babur's new conquests were not as secure as he may have thought. Daulat had clearly managed to build up an impressive power-base in the Punjab during his time in charge, and once Babur was gone he emerged from the hills at the head of an army. First he captured his brother Dilawar then he defeated Alam Khan at Dibalpur. The only setback came at Sialkot, where a force of 5,000 Afghans was defeated by Babur's combined garrisons from Sialkot and Lahore.

Ibrahim Lodi now briefly appeared on the scene, sending an army to reconquer the Punjab. Much to his embarrassment Daulat managed to win over a large part of the army, forcing the rest of it to return to the Sultan without a fight.


After his defeat at Dibalpur Alam Khan fled to Kabul, where he asked for help from Babur. The two men agreed to split the Sultanate of Delhi. Babur would support Alam's bid for the throne, and in return would be given full possession of Lahore and the Punjab. Alam Khan then returned to Lahore, while Babur remained in Afghanistan to deal with an Uzbek attack on Balkh.

On his arrival in Lahore Alam Khan attempted to convince Babur's men to negotiate with Daulat's son Ghazi Khan. When this failed he opened negotiations with Daulat, repudiated his alliance with Babur and entered into a similar one with Daulat. Once again the Sultanate was to be split, with Delhi going to Alam and Lahore and the Punjab going to Daulat. Alam Khan advanced towards Delhi at the head of an army of 30,000-40,000 men, and began a rather ineffective siege of Delhi. Ibrahim Lodi responded by marching towards the city, and the two armies were soon facing each other across a twelve mile gap. The rebels decided to launch a night attack on Ibrahim's camp, and at first met with some success, but at dawn on the following day Ibrahim emerged from his enclosure with a small force reinforced by a single elephant. This tiny force overwhelmed Alam Khan's men who were forced to flee, and the rebel army shattered.

The Conquest of Hindustan

In November 1525 Babur left Kabul at the start of his fifth expedition into Hindustan, crossing the Indus on 16 December. At this point his army was counted, and found to contain 12,000 men, including camp followers. He faced two main enemies - Daulat Khan, who threatened his position in the Punjab with 20-30,000 men, and Ibrahim Lodi, with the main army of Delhi. The first threat was quickly dealt with. Babur surprised Daulat with a rapid advance, and his army dissolved. Daulat was forced to submit to Babur. As was often the case Babur was generous to his defeated enemies, and Daulat was left in possession of his own tribe and villages.

Babur's route onwards took him from the northern Punjab to Sirhind, then on to Ambala, about 100 miles to the north of Delhi. Ibrahim Lodi was aware of his advance, and gathered a large army of around 100,000 men and 1,000 elephants, with which he advanced to Delhi, and then slowly north from the city.

Before reaching Ambala Babur learnt about a detachment of Lodi troops that was moving from Hisar-firuza towards either Ibrahim or Babur's right flank. Humayun was sent to deal with this threat, winning his first battle on 26 February 1526. Babur then moved south to Shahabad, before turning east to reach the River Jumna opposite Sarsawa, where he began the final advance south towards Delhi.

Ibrahim was now in or close to his final camp, from where he sent 5-6,000 men onto the eastern bank of the Jumna (into the Doab, the area between the Jumna and the Ganges). Babur responded by sending part of his army to deal with this new threat, defeating it at an unnamed location in the Doab on 2 April 1526.

The two armies now closed in on each close to the town of Panipat. Although Ibrahim vastly outnumbered Babur's army, he was unwilling to risk a battle, and for about a week the two armies faced each other at a distance of a few miles. Babur attempted to break the deadlock with a night attack on 19-20 April, which almost ended in disaster, but it does seem to have provoked Ibrahim, for on 21 April he finally advanced to the attack.

The resulting battle of Panipat (21 April 1526) was a crushing victory for Babur against apparently overwhelming odds. To overcome these odds Babur built a fortified line using 700 wagons and thousands of mantlets, which he used to protect the centre of his line. One flank was protected by Panipat itself and the other by a mix of brush and ditches. When Ibrahim attacked the centre of this line, Babur sent his cavalry to attack the rear and flanks of the Lodi army. Soon Ibrahim's numbers were telling against him. His men were unable to manoeuvre effectively, and by noon their resistance was broken. Ibrahim and at least 15,000 of his men were killed on the battlefield, and the rest of his army scattered, some coming over to Babur.

In the aftermath of his dramatic victory Babur occupied Delhi and Agra, but most of the rest of Ibrahim's former kingdom was still hostile. Afghan nobles held most of the fortified places in the area, while a major rebellion was still underway to the east of the Ganges. 

A more immediate problem was caused by discontent in Babur's army. It was a long way from home, surrounded by hostile masses and it was the hottest part of the year. Many of his supporters wanted Babur to take his loot and return to Kabul (this does have shades of Alexander the Great's problems in India). Babur responded by calling a council of his leaders, at which he effectively shamed most of them into staying in Hindustan, although one or two still insisted on returning home. Babur's clear determination to stay in Hindustan won over a number of the former Lodi supporters, including Shaikh Baiazid, the brother and successor of the deceased Mustafa Farmuli, Ibrahim's lieutenant in the war against the eastern rebels.

This rebellion predated Babur's invasion. The area east of the Ganges had been held against Ibrahim by Nasir Khan Lohani, a support of Ibrahim's father, and Ma'aruf Farmuli. In the aftermath of Panipat they advanced two or three days march from their base at Kanauj towards Babur at Agra, and raised Bihar Khan Bihari to the dignity of Sultan Muhammad Shah, padshah and a pretender to Babur's new throne. For the moment the rebels proved to be less of a threat than they appeared. When Babur dispatched his some Humayun towards their base at Jajmau the rebel army broke up, allowing Babur's nominee to occupy Kanuaj without a struggle.

Babur's solution to the problem of the unconquered fortified places was to reward them to some of his senior supporters, whose job it then was to capture the places themselves.

In some places Babur's men only had to intervene in an existing dispute. Sambal was held by Qasim Sambali, who in the aftermath of Panipat found himself under attack by Malik Biban Jilwani, another Afghan noble. Babur allocated Sambal to his son Humayun, who sent an army under Hindu Beg to break the siege. Hindu Beg sent an advance guard to Sambal, and this advance guard defeated Biban's army. Qasim Sambali attempted to remain in control for Sambal, but Hindu Beg managed to sneak his men into the fort while Qasim was meeting with him.

Some places fell without a struggle. Rapri, about forty miles to the east of Agra, was held against Babur by Husain Khan Lohani, but he lost his nerve and abandoned the place. Babur gave it to Muhammad Ali Jang-jang.

Bayana (Biana), fifty miles to the west of Agra, was held by Hasan Khan. He refused to surrender to Babur, who began preparations for a siege. In the meantime Babur sent a raiding force towards Bayana. This force gained the support of Hasan Khan's brother, but was then defeated in battle close to the city. Soon after this, with the Rajput army threatening Bayana, Hasan Khan surrendered it to Babur. The Rajput also convinced Tatar Khan Sarang-khani to surrender Gwalior, and although he then changed his mind Babur's men were able to get into the fort without a struggle.

Etawa was held against Babur by Qutb Khan, who kept control of the place until news reached him of Babur's victory over the Rajputs at Khanua. At that point Qutb Khan abandoned the place, allowing Babur's nominee to occupy the town. 

The most successful of these expeditions of conquest was led by Humayun. After dispersing the rebel army close to Agra he was ordered to continue on to the east. Jaunpur (250 miles to the east of Agra) was captured, and he then pushed on another 30 miles east to Ghazipur, hoping to catch Nasir Khan. Nasir crossed the Ganges to escape, followed by Humayun, who then moved to attack Kharid, close to the Gogra River (a northern tributary of the Ganges, here running from west to east). The defenders of Kharid escaped across the Gogra, leaving Humayun free to plunder the place. By this time Babur had learnt that Rana Sangha was on the move, and Humayun was ordered to return to Agra. He moved back south to cross the Ganges, then west back towards Agra, capturing Kalpi on the way. This expedition massively expanded the area under Babur's control, but only temporarily. While the threat from Rana Sanghe convinced some to surrender to Babur, it encouraged others to rebel. Babur himself would eventually be forced to fight on the Gogra to secure the eastern part of his new kingdom.

While Humayun and Babur's nobles had been expanding the empire, Babur himself had been based at Agra, spending part of his time building gardens and baths, and the rest preparing for the series of sieges he believed would be necessary. One massive cannon was produced that had a range of 1,600 paces.

The Rajput Threat

During the summer of 1526 Babur's nobles believed that Rana Sangha of Mewar did not present an immediate threat to their new conquests. During that year he had captured Khandhar, but that place was around 150 miles to the south of Delhi, and there were more urgent problems in the immediate neighbourhood. Towards the end of the year that judgement had to be changed. Rana Sangha raised a powerful Rajput army, and advancing into Babur's territory, seeking out a battle that if won may potentially have ended Muslim rule in Hindustan, although Rana Sangha would still have been faced with the difficult task of defeated the Afghans invited into India by the Lodis.

Rana Sangha's advance convinced the occupants of Bayana and Gwalior to submit to Babur, who threw a garrison into the town, commanded by Madhi Khwaja. He was soon besieged by Rana Sangha, and sent repeated messages to Babur asking for help.

Babur was given time to gather his scattered armies at Agra, and in mid-February began a cautious advance west towards Bayana. The morale of his men was poor during this advance, and was worsened by bad news from Bayana, where the garrison were defeated during a sortie, by the words of an astrologer who predicted defeat for anyone attacking from the east, and by a minor defeat suffered by a scouting party at Khanua in mid-late February.

Babur responded in three ways - first by building a line of linked carts and moveable tripods that the army advanced behind, second by renouncing wine and thirdly by declaring the fight to be a holy war. These moves helped restore the morale of his army, and on 16 March 1527 at Khanua Babur won the second of his three great victories in India. Rana Sangha escaped from the battlefield, but the power of the Rajput confederacy was broken, and the last major threat to Babur's power was gone.

Expanding the Empire

In the aftermath of the battle Babur briefly considered an expedition into Mewar, but was discouraged by the approaching hot season. Instead he decided to secure Miwat, previously held against him by Hasan Khan Miwati until his death at Khanua. When Babur's army approached the capital at Alwar Hasan's son Nahar submitted to him. Alwar was offered to one of Babur's supporters, while Nahar was given lands elsewhere. With this settled Babur returned to Agra.

Before the battle of Khanau Babur had promised that anyone who wanted to return to Kabul after a victory would be free to do so. Many of the men who now chose to take advantage of that offer had been serving under Humayun, and Babur decided to send his older son and heir back to Kabul, where he would spend the next few years acting as Babur's deputy. This move would also trigger a plot that must have darkened Babur's final years (see below).

Babur's next task was to recover control of the areas that had rebelled or been taken during the campaign against the Rana. This was achieved with surprising ease - most of the rebels fled at the approach of Imperial troops, and Husain Khan Lohani, one of the more able of Babur's opponents, drowned while crossing the Jumna. Another of his more persistent opponents, Biban, had besieged Luknur (probably modern Shahabad in Rampur), but retreated when Babur's approached.

Babur's next move was against the fortress of Chanderi, a former Muslim possession that had been taken by Rana Sangha during his wars with Ibrahim Lodi, and given to Medini Rao.  Medini Rao had been present at Khanua, had escaped from the defeat and returned to Chanderi.

Babur was not free to concentrate entirely against Chanderi. Rumours had reached him that Shaikh Baiazid was planning to rebel against him, and so a second army was sent east to Kanauj. If the rumours were false it was to attack the hostile Afghans in the east, if they were true it was to attack Baiazid. The rumours were indeed true. Babur's men advanced against him, but were defeated, and forced to retreat to Kanauj. This news reached Babur just before his successful attack on Chanderi, which fell after its defenders, realising that the citadel was about to fall, performed the suicidal ritual of jauhar, killing their women in a fire and riding out to attack Babur's men in one last charge.

Babur was then free to turn against Baiazid. He reached Kanauj on 27 February, just after the town had been abandoned to the rebels. When they discovered that Babur was approaching them, the rebels, led by Biban, Baiazid and Ma'ruf, crossed to the eastern bank of the Ganges opposite Kanauj and prepared to resist any passage of the river.

This effort failed. Babur was able to build a bridge across the river under the protection of his matchlock men and mortars, and on 12 March the first few men crossed it, fighting some skirmishes with the rebels. The main force followed on 13 March, and another skirmish followed. That night Babur fell back to the west bank of the river, hoping to defeat them on the following day in an attempt to replicate the order of events before the battle of Kanauj (apparently purely as a matter of curiosity rather than because of any superstition!). Babur's planned symmetry was by the rebels who fled rather than offer battle. The rebels were pursued for some distance to the east, although were not caught.

The events of the summer of 1528 are obscure, falling into another gap in Babur's memoirs. They resume in September 1528, just before the start of Babur's final campaign. The first signs of trouble come on 11 November, when Babur sent out a message to all sides warning his troops that the army would soon be needed. At this stage we see Babur the warlord - no particular enemy threatened him, but as he recorded on 2 December 'this year the army must move in some direction'.

The eventual campaign in the east was only one of several possibilities. Babur had still not given up on his ancestral lands in Transoxiana, while the Rajputs tempted to the south and west. For the moment Prince Askari was sent east, with orders to gather an army and take it in 'whatever direction favoured fortune'. If Nasrat Shah, the independent ruler of Bengal, was friendly, and the rebels in the east posed no great threat then Babur would take the main army elsewhere.

Askari left Agra on 20 December, and on 30 December a messenger arrived from him reporting that Babur would not be needed. On the following day Babur's envoy returned from Bengal, and reported that Nasrat Shah would be loyal. Babur prepared for a campaign against the Baluchis, who had attacked several places in the west, while Askari was ordered to deal with the rebels in the east, most notably Shaikh Baiazid and Biban.

The situation was about to change dramatically. On 13 January Babur received news that Mahmud Lodi, a son of Sikander Lodi and thus at least a half brother of Ibrahim Lodi, had seized Bihar, at the eastern end of Babur's territory, close to Bengal. Babur summoned his counsellors, and together they decided to move east on 21 January. The existing rebels Baiazid and Biban supported Mahmud Lodi, making his appearance all the more threatening.

Babur's army advanced quite slowly. On 26 February he reached the banks of the Ganges, and two days later was joined by Askari. The two armies then continued to move east, on opposite banks of the river. More news began to come in about the rebels, who were now said to have 10,000 troops and to be advancing towards Chunar. They had been joined by Sher Khan Sur, soon to be the founder of the Sur dynasty, and the man who would depose Humayun and appear to have destroyed the Mogul Empire within two decades of its creation.

The rebels reached Chunar, and laid siege to the town, but when news reached them that Babur was close Sultan Mahmud's army broke up. Babur reached Chunar on 23 March. On 31 March letters reached him from a number of the rebels submitting to his authority (amongst them was Sher Khan). The remaining rebels abandoned Bihar by 6 April.

The first contact with the rebels came on 9 or 10 April, when a small raiding party sent out by Babur defeated a small group of rebels, and came close to catching Sultan Mahmud.

If the rebel army was proving to be no threat, the same could not be said about the army of Bengal. In mid April Babur learnt that the Bengalis had fortified twenty-four places on the Gandak River (a tributary of the Ganges that flows south-east across the plains of Bihar, joining the Ganges at Patna). As Babur moved east it became clear that the Bengalis were going to obstruct his pursuit of the various rebels. Eventually Babur was forced to fight them, winning a three day battle on the Gogra River (4-6 May 1529).

Soon after this peace was made with Nasrat Shah of Bengal, and Babur turned back west to try and catch Biban and Baiazid. The rebels had moved west to Luknur (probably Shahabad), which they captured after a fire broke out inside the fort. This was a short-lived success, and the rebels abandoned this fort when they discovered that Babur was closing in from the east.

The rebels managed to escape south across the Ganges, and probably reached safety amongst their families. The rains now stopped Babur's pursuit, and indeed he would never catch Biban, Baiazid or Mahmud Lodi.

Events now move rapidly towards Babur's death. In the autumn of 1529 Humayun returned to Agra from Badakhshan, possibly because he had heard rumours of an attempt to have him replaced as Babur's heir. Babur soon forgave Humayun for returning without permission, and allowed him to stay in Hindustan.

In the summer of 1530 Humayun was taken seriously ill. In one of the most famous incidents of his life Babur is said to have carried out a ritual in which he offered his life to save his sons. From this point onwards Humayun recovered, while Babur began to sicken (although his health was probably already suffering before this). On 26 December 1530 Babur died at Agra. At first he was buried in a garden at Agra, but eventually he was moved to Kabul (between 1539 and 1544), where his tomb still survives.


Although Babur had conquered an empire in Hindustan, he died too soon to have made it entirely secure. Humayun, who inherited the empire, was not as capable as his father, and a decade after coming to power was deposed by Sher Khan Sur (although he did defeat Biban, Baiazid and Mahmud Lodi). Fortunately for the future of Babur's dynasty Humayun shared his father's resilience, and was able to depose Sher Khan's successors and restore the empire before his own death.

Resilience must be seen as Babur's main attribute. In a military career that lasted from 1494 until at least the year before his death he suffered as many defeats as he won victories, losing his original kingdom and being forced out of Samarkand on three separate occasions. Despite these setbacks he was never discouraged, and eventually developed a very powerful military machine that combined the best cavalry traditions of his Timurid ancestors with an appreciation of the power of the new gunpowder weapons.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (20 May 2010), Babur, 14 February 1483-26 December 1530,

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