Visual History of the World
The Early Modern Period
16th - 18th century
The smooth transition from
the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such
events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World,"
which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his
world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential
contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of
Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the
all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the
concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the
nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up
political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas,
Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.
Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca.
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.
Mogul India and the European Trading Companies
The Indian Mogul Empire had existed since 1526, blossoming under
Akbar's rule beginning in 1556. The splendor and luxury for which the
Moguls are famed developed under his successors. After the death of
Aurangzeb, the last important Mogul ruler, the empire declined both
politically and culturally, while the European trading companies that
had established themselves on the coasts of India since 1500
increasingly influenced political affairs. The Portuguese, initially the
most powerful European state in India, were later pushed aside by the
Dutch and British. Eventually, the British politically and economically
dominated the subcontinent.
The First Moguls to Akbar the Great
Babur, founder of the Mogul Empire, established his authority over
wide areas of India, which were, however, lost again under Humayun. It
was not until Akbar the Great that the empire was finally consolidated.
By 1526 3 Babur had
conquered the north and middle of India, founding the
1 Mogul Empire, which in the 16th and
17th centuries would reach almost unbelievable standards of splendor
together with immeasurable wealth.
The name of Babur's dynasty, the Moguls (Mongols), reflects his Central
Asian heritage: He was directly related to Tamerlane on his father's
side and Genghis Khan on his mother's. In 1497 Babur became the ruler of
Samarkand. He went on to conquer Kabul in 1504 and then pushed steadily
southward into India from Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass, taking
Lahore in 1524. After his victory over the last Lodi ruler at Panipat in
1526, Babur controlled the majority of India and made Agra his capital.
Just how unstable his empire was became evident under his son, Humayun,
who was driven out of India and into Persia by the brilliant commander
Shir Shah Khan, who took Agra, Delhi and Lahore, in 1540. Shir Shah
established his own dynasty, consolidating and giving firm institutions
to the Mogul empire, but his kingdom collapsed after his murderin 1545
and had disappeared by 1555. Humayun returned from Persian exile but had
a fatal accident shortly afterward.
1 A Mogul ruler
in the region of Agra,
Indian miniature, ca. 1650
3 Babur, the founder of the Mogul
dynasty in India, miniature, 17th century
A scene from the Baburnama
His son 2 Akbar the Great
ascended the throne at the age of 13 in 1556.
He shaped the Mogul Empire and guided the Indian-Islamic culture to a
new golden age. A capable general as well as politician, he extended the
empire in all directions and controlled the area from Kabul and Kashmir
in the west to Bengal in the east. Northern Deccan to the south,
including the Rajput states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, were also parts of
his empire. Akbar erected the royal city of 4,
5 Fatehpur Sikri as his new capital.
He created a new class of nobility loyal to him from the military
aristocracy of various tribes, implemented a modern government, and
supported the economy. At the same time, he intensified trade with the
European trading companies. Akbar allowed free expression and discussion
of all religions—even Christianity and Judaism—at his court and
organized colloquia and debates.
2 Akbar crosses the Ganges,
Indian miniature, ca. 1600
5 The residence Fatehpur Sikri,
illustration from the Akbar-name, ca. 1590
4 The private audience hall of the emperor in
Akbar hunting with cheetahs, c. 1602
The court of Akbar, illustration from Akbarnama
see also collection:
Emperor Babur From a Mogul Miniature Painting
also spelled Bābar or Bāber, original name Ẓahīr al-Dīn Muḥammad
born Feb. 15, 1483, principality of Fergana [now in Uzbekistan]
died Dec. 26, 1530, Agra [India]
emperor (1526–30) and founder of the Mughal dynasty of India. A
descendant of the Mongol conqueror Chinggis (Genghis) Khan and also of
the Turkic conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), Bābur was a military adventurer,
a soldier of distinction, and a poet and diarist of genius, as well as a
Bābur came from the Barlas tribe of Mongol origin, but isolated members
of the tribe considered themselves Turks in language and customs through
long residence in Turkish regions. Hence, Bābur, though called a Mughal,
drew most of his support from Turks, and the empire he founded was
Turkish in character. His family had become members of the Chagatai
clan, by which name they are known. He was fifth in male succession from
Timur and 13th through the female line from Chinggis Khan. Bābur’s
father, ʿUmar Shaykh Mīrzā, ruled the small principality of Fergana to
the north of the Hindu Kush mountain range. Because there was no fixed
law of succession among the Turks, every prince of the Timurids—the
dynasty founded by Timur—considered it his right to rule the whole of
Timur’s dominions. These territories were vast, and, hence, the princes’
claims led to unending wars. The Timurid princes, moreover, considered
themselves kings by profession, their business being to rule others
without observing too precisely whether any particular region had
actually formed a part of Timur’s empire. Bābur’s father, true to this
tradition, spent his life trying to recover Timur’s old capital of
Samarkand, and Bābur followed in his footsteps. The qualities needed to
succeed in this dynastic warfare were the abilities to inspire loyalty
and devotion, to manage the turbulent factions often caused by family
feuds, and to draw revenue from the trading and agricultural classes.
Bābur eventually mastered them all, but he was also a commander of
For 10 years (1494–1504) Bābur sought to recover Samarkand and twice
occupied it briefly (in 1497 and 1501). But in Muḥammad Shaybānī Khan, a
descendant of Chinggis Khan and ruler of the Uzbeks beyond the Jaxartes
River (ancient name for the Syr Darya), he had an opponent more powerful
than even his closest relatives. In 1501 Bābur was decisively defeated
at Sar-e Pol and within three years had lost both Samarkand and his
principality of Fergana. There was always hope at that time, however,
for a prince with engaging qualities and strong leadership abilities. In
1504 Bābur seized Kabul with his personal followers, maintaining himself
there against all rebellions and intrigues. His last unsuccessful
attempt on Samarkand (1511–12) induced him to give up a futile quest and
to concentrate on expansion elsewhere. In 1522, when he was already
turning his attention to Sindh (Pakistan) and India, he finally secured
Kandahār, a strategic site on the road to Sindh.
When Bābur made his first raid into India in 1519, the Punjab was
part of the dominions of Sultan Ibrāhīm Lodī of Delhi, but the governor,
Dawlat Khan Lodī, resented Ibrāhīm’s attempts to diminish his authority.
By 1524 Bābur had invaded the Punjab three more times but was unable to
master the tangled course of Punjab and Delhi politics sufficiently
enough to achieve a firm foothold. Yet it was clear that the Delhi
sultanate was involved in contentious quarreling and ripe for overthrow.
After mounting a full-scale attack there, Bābur was recalled by an Uzbek
attack on his Kabul kingdom, but a joint request for help from ʿĀlam
Khan, Ibrāhīm’s uncle, and Dawlat Khan encouraged Bābur to attempt his
fifth, and first successful, raid.
Major successes » Victories in India
Setting out in November 1525, Bābur met Ibrāhīm at Panipat, 50 miles (80
km) north of Delhi, on April 21, 1526. Bābur’s army was estimated at no
more than 12,000, but they were seasoned followers, adept at cavalry
tactics, and were aided by new artillery acquired from the Ottoman
Turks. Ibrāhīm’s army was said to number 100,000 with 100 elephants, but
its tactics were antiquated and it was dissentious. Bābur won the battle
by coolness under fire, his use of artillery, and effective Turkish
wheeling tactics on a divided, dispirited enemy. Ibrāhīm was killed in
battle. With his usual speed, Bābur occupied Delhi three days later and
reached Agra on May 4. His first action there was to lay out a garden,
now known as the Ram Bagh, by the Yamuna (Jumna) River.
This brilliant success must have seemed at the time to be of little
difference from one of his former forays on Samarkand. His small force,
burdened by the oppressive weather and located 800 miles (1,300 km) from
their base at Kabul, was surrounded by powerful foes. All down the
Ganges (Ganga) River valley were militant Afghan chiefs, in disarray but
with a formidable military potential. To the south were the kingdoms of
Malwa and Gujarat, both with extensive resources, while in Rajasthan
Rana Sanga of Mewar (Udaipur) was head of a powerful confederacy
threatening the whole Muslim position in northern India. Bābur’s first
problem was that his own followers, suffering from the heat and
disheartened by the hostile surroundings, wished to return home as Timur
had done. By employing threats, reproaches, promises, and appeals,
vividly described in his memoirs, Bābur diverted them. He then dealt
with Rana Sanga, who, when he found that Bābur was not retiring as his
Turkish ancestor had done, advanced with an estimated 100,000 horses and
500 elephants. With most of the neighbouring strongholds still held by
his foes, Bābur was virtually surrounded. He sought divine favour by
abjuring liquor, breaking the wine vessels and pouring the wine down a
well. His followers responded both to this act and his stirring
exhortations and stood their ground at Khanua, 37 miles (60 km) west of
Agra, on March 16, 1527. Bābur used his customary tactics—a barrier of
wagons for his centre, with gaps for the artillery and for cavalry
sallies, and wheeling cavalry charges on the wings. The artillery
stampeded the elephants, and the flank charges bewildered the Rajputs
(ruling warrior caste), who, after 10 hours, broke, never to rally under
a single leader again.
Bābur now had to deal with the defiant Afghans to the east, who had
captured Lucknow while he was facing Rana Sanga. Other Afghans had
rallied to Sultan Ibrāhīm’s brother Maḥmūd Lodī, who had occupied Bihar.
There were also Rajput chiefs still defying him, principally the ruler
of Chanderi. After capturing that fortress in January 1528, Bābur turned
to the east. Crossing the Ganges, he drove the Afghan captor of Lucknow
into Bengal. He then turned on Maḥmūd Lodī, whose army was scattered in
Bābur’s third great victory, that of the Ghaghara, where that river
joins the Ganges, on May 6, 1529. Artillery was again decisive, helped
by the skillful handling of boats.
Major successes » Establishment of the Mughal Empire
Bābur’s dominions were now secure from Kandahār to the borders of
Bengal, with a southern limit marked by the Rajput desert and the forts
of Ranthambhor, Gwalior, and Chanderi. Within this great area, however,
there was no settled administration, only a congeries of quarreling
chiefs. An empire had been gained but still had to be pacified and
organized. It was thus a precarious heritage that Bābur passed on to his
In 1530, when Humāyūn became deathly ill, Bābur is said to have
offered his life to God in exchange for Humāyūn’s, walking seven times
around the bed to complete the vow. Humāyūn recovered and Bābur’s health
declined, and Bābur died the same year.
Bābur is rightly considered the founder of the Mughal Empire, even
though the work of consolidating the empire was performed by his
grandson Akbar. Bābur, moreover, provided the magnetic leadership that
inspired the next two generations.
Bābur was a military adventurer of genius and an empire builder of
good fortune, with an engaging personality. He was also a gifted Turki
poet, which would have won him distinction apart from his political
career, as well as a lover of nature who constructed gardens wherever he
went and complemented beautiful spots by holding convivial parties.
Finally, his prose memoirs, the Bābur-nāmeh, have become a renowned
autobiography. They were translated from Turki into Persian in Akbar’s
reign (1589) and were translated into English, Memoirs of Bābur, in two
volumes in 1921–22. They portray a ruler unusually magnanimous for his
age, cultured, and witty, with an adventurous spirit and an acute eye
for natural beauty.
T.G. Percival Spear
The Empire at the Height of Its Splendor
Akbar's successors Jahangir and Shah Jahan were politically weak
but are notable as great patrons of the arts and architecture. Their
love of extravagance brought the state into difficulties.
A tolerant and far-sighted ruler, Akbar attempted to resolve the
smoldering differences between Muslims and Hindus in his empire by
establishing a new religion with strong characteristics of a ruler cult.
Din-i-Uahi ("Divine Faith") was a mixture of Islam. Hinduism, and other
religions, but it failed due to the massive resistance of the Islamic
Akbar's grand buildings — court studios in which magnificently
illustrated books, 8 carpets, and
jewelry were created—served both political and symbolic functions.
6 Akbar left his successors an
internally stable empire, but before long the first signs of political
8 Indian carpet from Madras
6 The mausoleum
of Akbar in Sikandra
Akbar's son 10 Jahangir,
who succeeded him in 1605, was addicted to opium, neglected affairs of
state, and came under the influence of rival court cliques.
10 Jahangir preferring a
sufi sheikh to kings, ca. 1620; Nur Jahan (Nur Jahan was the twentieth
and favourite wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir)
The grandeur of the arts and 11
immense court administration that developed under his reign fascinated
11 Great Mogul And His Court
Returning From The Great Mosque At Delhi India, a painting by Edwin Lord
Great Britain in particular had been trying to establish diplomatic and
economic relations since 1609 and was granted numerous trade privileges,
jahangir's reign was weakened by rebellions in his own family and in
Deccan beginning in 1620.
During the reign of his son 7,
9 Shah Jahan, the splendor
and luxury of the court reached its zenith.
7 Shah Jahan
9 Shah Jahan's favorite wife Mumtaz-i-Mahal
He collected tens of thousands of jewels, exported the products of the
Indian painting schools to the world, and commissioned the construction
of the Taj Mahal near Agra.
Shah Jahan was not only an enthusiastic builder but also a distrustful
personality who took ruthless measures against his adversaries,
suspected as well Indian carpet from Madras as real. As a strict Muslim,
he attacked the Portuguese colony in India and left Christian captives
who refused conversion to Islam to die in prison. The "grand mogul"
retreated to his harem palaces, isolated from the outside world, and
left the government of his empire increasingly to his ministers and
eunuchs. The maintenance of the court began to cost more than taxes
brought in. In June 1658 Shah Jahan was deposed by his sons.
Between 1632 and 1648, Shah Jahan had the Taj Mahal
constructed out of white marble by 20,000 workers as a mausoleum
for his favorite wife Mumtaz-i-Mahal ("Pearl of the palace"),
who died in childbirth in 3631.
A planned parallel mausoleum for Shah Jahan himself, to be built
out of black marble, was never constructed.
The Taj Mahal, whose interior is equally magnificently
constructed and in which Shah jahan was also laid to rest, is
often called the "Eighth Wonder of the World."
The Taj Mahal in Agra. The central building with its 22
cupolas and minarets (ca. 131 ft high),
made of marble and red sandstone that must be continually
renovated due to its porosity.
Aurangzeb and the Decline of the Moguls in India
During Aurangzeb's reign, the empire gained political strength
once more, but his religious conservatism and intolerance undermined the
stability of society. His successors became mere decadent shadow rulers.
The conflict that had been building among the four sons of Shah Jahan
and Mumtaz-i-Mahal since 1644 flared up immediately after their father
At first it seemed that the eldest, Prince 1
Dara Shukoh, a supporter of the arts and of dialogue between
religions, would prevail.
However, the third son 2
Aurangzeb, allied with Islamic orthodoxy against his brother and
ascended the Mogul throne in June 1658 under the name of Alamgir ("world
1 The great
2 Dara Shukoh
3 The conquest of Kandahar by
In 1659 he defeated Dara Shukoh and had him executed. Aurangzeb was a
strictly orthodox Muslim, popular for his application of Sharia law.
A talented military commander, he doubled the empire's territory, and
the Mogul Empire reached its greatest expanse when he seized Deccan,
3 Kandahar, and Kabul.
In 1687, he conquered the Kingdom of Golkonda, the most significant
state on the Indian subcontinent.
Domestically, Aurangzeb brutally suppressed all "unorthodox" movements
with the help of secret police. His ruthless drive for the conversion of
the Hindus and Sikhs—including the execution of the Sikh guru Tegh
Bahadur in 1675—sowed the seeds for the political decline of the Mogul
Aurangzeb had Hindu temples systematically razed to the ground and
5 mosques in their place.
4 Mosque of Gyanvapi, built by Aurangzeb, in
Benares on the Ganges, watercolor by R. Smith, 1833
5 The mosque of Gyanvapi with neighboring ghats in Benares, steel
engraving, ca. 1850
In 1679 he reintroduced the poll tax for non-Muslims, which had been
abolished under Akbar. When Aurangzeb, the last powerful Mogul, died in
March 1707, many parts of the empire were in open revolt.
Aurangzeb's son, Bahadur Shah I, was able to make favorable contracts
again with the princes of Bengal and the English trading companies,
reform the tax system, and repeal the harsh religious policies of his
father. However, after his death in 1712, the Mogul dynasty sank into
chaos and violent family feuds. In the year 1719 alone, four Moguls
successively ascended the throne. In 1739 Nadir Shah of Persia invaded
India and plundered the treasures of the palaces. The succeeding Moguls
ruled only nominally and never left their palaces, where the British
eventually found them vegetating under indescribable conditions. After a
crushed rebellion which he led in 1857-58, the last "Mogul," Bahadur
Shah II, was deposed by the British, who then took control of the
British Ambassador Sir William
Describing his Encounter with Emperor Aurangzeb
"He was completely white, the clothing, the turban, and
the beard and was carried by a crowd of humans in open
gentleness. But he himself saw no one, as his eyes were directed
towards a book in his hands, which he read during the entire
way, not letting himself be distracted by any other object."
From European Trading Companies to British Domination
The Portuguese controlled European trade with India in the 16th
century, but after 1600 they were pushed aside by the Dutch, British,
and French. The British eventually gained political control throughout
the region as well.
During the rise and fall of the Mogul Empire, the
12 European trading companies were
establishing themselves on the Indian coasts.
Following Vasco da Gama's discovery of a sea route to India in
1497-1498, the Portuguese—having defeated the combined fleets of Egypt
and Gujarat at Diu in 1509—reached 7
Goa in 1510.
From there they proceeded to conquer the west coast of India in
1531-1558 and establish a 10 trade
monopoly of goods from India and Indonesia in Europe.
12 Europeans smoking a water pipe, Indian
miniature, ca. 1760
7 The St. Alex
Church in Calangute,
Goa, built in 1515
10 European merchant ships, presumably
Portuguese, at the Indian coast,
Indian miniature, late 16th century
In the 17th century, the Dutch and English entered into competition with
the Portuguese, after Queen Elizabeth granted the British
8 East India Company a monopoly over
British trade with India in 1600.
The British, who had already established a trading post in Agra in 1608,
defeated the Portuguese in a naval engagement near Surat in 1612 and
went on to set up outposts on both the east and west coasts of India.
In 1658, Chennai (Madras) became the headquarters of the
11 East India Company, which had
been diplomatically represented at the court of the Moguls since 1603.
In 1668, the British also took Mumbai (Bombay) from the Portuguese.
Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company was able to establish itself in
Surat in 1618 and Bengal in 1627 and drove the Portuguese out of Ceylon
8 A frigate of the kind used by the
East India Company off of the Indian Coast,
from two perspectives,
painting by Thomas Whitcombe
11 Two British officers of the East India
are entertained with music and dance
That led to the bitter and bloody 13
struggle between the British and the Dutch, which the British eventually
In 1664, the French under Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert also
entered the competition for Indian trade. The French Compagnie des
Indes Orientales seized bases on the west and east coasts in 1668
and won, in 1739, the southern portion of the Kingdom of Hyderabad.
Joseph Francois Dupleix, governor-general of the company from 1742 to
1754, was able to spread French influence across all of the southern
Indian principalities. There were several clashes between the French and
British in southern India between 1746 and 1763, which the British
eventually won under the leadership of Robert Clive. In 1765 Lord Clive
became governor of East India, and the East India Company was given
Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa (Kalinga), making British dominance of the
subcontinent a fact.
9 Warren Hastings, the first
governor-general of Bengal from 1772 to 1785, put a complete end to
French influence there and paved the way for British political
domination of India.
In 1784, the East India Company was placed under the control of the
British government, which instituted British universities in India and
anglicized Indian society to a farreaching extent. After the last Mogul
had been deposed, India was governed by a British viceroy, or Raj,
from 1858 until Indian independence in 1947.
13 British warships at an island in Dutch
painting by Dominic Serres the Elder
9 Warren Hastings