Mughal EmpireJoel Lavoie


Economic Backdrop

The Mughal empire in India used their power to expand the economy. Mughal merchants traded overland with Iranians in the Middle East and with Russia. They exported cotton, tobacco, saffron, betel leaf, sugar, and indigo. From Iran they imported melons, dried fruit, nuts, silks, carpets, and precious metals. From Russia they traded for pelts, leathers, walrus tusks, saddles, and chain mail armor. In the 1500s, Rulers began to allow European traders to trade at Indian ports. First Portuguese merchants were allowed to trade at a few coastal sea ports but by 1590 the Dutch and the English also posessed ports in India. The wealth brought in by trade caused everyone from nobility to servants to be dressed elaborately.

Political Backdrop

Babur founded the Mughal Empire in India by uniting the existing cultures. He was a decedent of Genghis Khan and was built his empire with a powerful military.He centralized the power to himself and made all positions of government directly loyal to him. His successor Akbar implemented religious and cultural tolerance into the empire. These practices tolerated non-Muslims and removed heavy taxes on other religions. Hindus and were permitted to serve in the government and Akbar even took a Hindu wife. Zamindars, or tax collectors, were key the administration of the empire as they held local power over the different regions. Despite evidence that tolerance was successful, Aurangzeb reimplemented taxes on non-Muslims and ended tolerance. This led to the eventual decline of the empire.

Social Backdrop
Unlike in other Musilm societies, all religions were treated equally. Muslims were not superior to other religions even though the official religion of the empire was Muslim. The rulers were the highest social figure and were always Muslim. The nobility was next and was made of Muslims and Hindus. The Merchant class was important to the economy and was fairly large. The poor farmers and labors made up the majority of the population and were at the bottom of the social hierarchy.


Although illiterate because of dyslexia, Akbar promoted learning and education. He kept a court full of writers, poets, and historians. He had historians record the aspects of his rein. Akbar also enlisted calligraphers to copy books and added to the court's royal library. Because he himself could not read he would have books read aloud to him. He admired Hindu's education and integrated this learning into his government officials. Akbar financially supported scholars within the empire and government. Although some government leaders were illiterate learning was highly promoted.

Artistic Innovation

Book cover reverse. The Metropolitan Museum of Art . 19th century. ARTstor.

This artistic book cover shows the importance of books and learning.

Shamsa. The Metropolitan Museum of Art . 17th century. ARTstor.

This illuminated manuscript contains calligraphy. It is of how religious texts were produced in this period.

Mohur (Gold Coin), Reverse. American Council for Southern Asian Art. 17th century. ARTstor.

This coin of Mohar shows the importance of art but also the importance of the trading economy.

Primer. The Walters Art Museum . Late 18th century. ARTstor

This powder flask would have been carved from an animal's husk imported from Russia. This shows the importance of trade and also of military because powder flasks would be carried by all soldiers.

Shrine. Dallas Museum of Art. Late 18th century. ARTstor

This Muslim shrine is an example of how Islam, the dominant religion, affected the culture and the art.

Flask. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mid 17th century. ARTstor

This glass vase represents typical Mughal art with elaborate designs and many precious jewels.

Classic literary text

This book gives examples as well as a preface and a description to Mughal poetry that introduce the reader to this poetry.


The main religion of the Mughal Empire was Islam. All previous Islamic rulers applied heavy taxes to non-Muslims and attempted to create an all Muslim population. Although all of the rulers were Muslims, Islam was not the only tolerated religion. Akbar started religious tolerance within the Mughal empire. Hindus were involved in the government and in education. Rulers such as Akbar took many wives from many different religions. Akbar was ahead of many of his contemporaries as he was one of the few rulers that permitted religious freedom unlike in Europe where people were forced to practice a certain religion, leading to wars. This religious tolerance helped keep peace in the empire and lead to the prosperity of the Mughals in this time period.


Taj Mahal. Samuel Bourne. 1860. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. ARTstor.

The Taj Mahal was built by Jahan Shah for his dead wife Mumtaz Mahal who died shortly after childbirth. The monument to his wife is a symbol of the strength and wealth of the Mughal empire. It is a architectural feat and is considered one of the wonders of the world.

Tomb and Garden: general view from main gate. 1631. Alka Patel. ARTstor.

This image shows the garden around the Taj Mahal. It resembles a Persian Garden which Babur introduced to India.

Daulat Khana (Palace) Exterior. 1571. American Council for Southern Asian Art. ARTstor.

This is an example of the architecture in Fatehpur Sikri, a city built by Akbar. He used architectural techniques that later spread through the empire to build this "city of victory." It was the capital of the empire until 1585.


I learned how important religion and religious freedom can be to the culture and the survival of an empire. When Akbar ruled, the empire was very successful because the people were happy with religious freedom. When his successors ruled and removed religious freedom, an unhappy population caused the empire to decline and eventually fall. This proves that is unsuccessful to attempt to force a religion upon the people. In the end, whatever makes the people happy will make a successful empire. I also learned that finding images on ARTstor can be very hard to use as the pictures do not download easily and this is very time consuming.


Hasan, Hadi. Mug̲h̲al poetry: its cultural and historical value. Aakar Books, 2001.

Tignor, Robert. Worlds Together Worlds Apart. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.

World History: The Modern Era, s.v. "Taj Mahal," accessed November 14, 2011.

World History: The Modern Era, s.v. "The Mughal Empire of India (Overview)," accessed November 14, 2011.

World History: The Modern Era, s.v. "Mughal Emperors of India, 1526-1858," accessed November 14, 2011.

World History: The Modern Era, s.v. "Mughal Empire," accessed November 14, 2011.