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Coins of the Mughal Empire

From 16th to the 18th century the Mughal Empire commanded impressive wealth and resources on the Indian subcontinent, almost unprecedented in their glory. Growing European presence and its increasing demand for Indian raw and finished products created great wealth in the Mughal courts. Mughal elite provided patronage of painting, literature, and architecture, especially during the reign of Shah Jahan. Mughals created many masterpieces of jewellery, painting and especially architectural wonders such as Agra Fort, Red Fort, Shalamar Gardens, and the Taj Mahal.

Early Empire and currency

The foundation of the Mughal Empire is dated to 1526 AD. The founder was Ẓahir al-Din Muḥammad Babur a warrior chieftain and descendant from famous conquerors Genghis Khan and Timur. He was aided by the neighbouring Safavid and Ottoman Empires to defeat the Sultan of Delhi and establish the Mughal dynasty. First ruler of note was his grandson, Akbar the Great (1556–1605), who established the administrative structure of Empire that will last for centuries to come.

The silver denomination minted under Akbar, the grandson of Babur (the warrior-founder of Mughals).

The Mughal Empire was created by military conquest; however, Akbar did not suppress the peoples he came to rule. He incorporated their elites into the imperial structure and practiced religious tolerance across his vast territories. He also created agricultural tax system which became the foundation of Mughal wealth. The taxes were paid in regulated silver currency – Mughals adopted and standardized the rupee (silver) and dam (copper).

A silver rupee from the reign of Muhammad Shah (1719 – 1748).

The ratio of dam to rupee was initially 48 to one, in the start of Akbar’s reign. The dam’s value continued rising until the 17th century when it became 38 dam to one rupee. This was because more industrial uses of copper and its alloys where being developed, such as the need for bronze in cannons and manufacture of brass utensils. Eventually, by 1660s, the value of dam versus rupee was 16 to one. It is important to note that the Mughals minted coins with high purity of about 96% or more.

Later emperors and trading networks

A gold mohur of emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658-1707).

The 17th century was marked by three greatest Mughal emperors: Jahangir (1605 -1627), Shah Jahan (1628–1658), and Aurangzeb (1658–1707). The reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan are known for political stability, strong economic activity and excellence in arts and architecture. The last major emperor of Mughals was Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658-1707). His mother was Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian empress consort of Shah Jahan. She was his favourite wife – it is for her that the emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as her resting place.

The beauty of the monument is thought to represent Mumtaz Mahal’s beauty and undying love her spouse had for her. During the reign of Aurangzeb, the Empire achieved its maximum geographical reach. He fully implemented Islamic Law (Sharia) across the entire country. During his reign, the demand for Indian agricultural and industrial exports was high. In the 16th and 17th centuries European and non-European trading organizations were established and started expanding rapidly in the subcontinent. The trading networks grew both in-land and coastally, increasing the internal surplus of precious metals.

Decline of the Mughals and British rule

A gold mohur of Shah Alam I (1707-1712)

At Aurangzeb’s death, many parts of the Empire were in open revolt. The decline was imminent as the country descended into conflicts and power grabs. His son, Shah Alam I (1707-1712, also known as Bahadur Shah) attempted reforms of administration and change of religious policies, but the dissolution was already taking hold. In 1719 alone, four emperors ascended the throne. After years of infighting and conflicts between different kingdoms and states, the East India Company (EIC) started overtaking what was left of the Mughal territories and trade connections. First, they established nominally Mughal protectorates in Delhi and Bengal, however, the role of Mughal emperors was downsized to a mere formality.

After the defeat of the last Mughal ruler Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1858, East India Company deposed him and exiled him. With the Government of India Act 1858 the British Crown assumed control of EIC territories. In 1876 the British Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India.

This article was written by Ema Sikic (ema@baldwin.co.uk).


Literature

  • Asher, C. B.; Talbot, C. (2006), India Before Europe, Cambridge University Press
  • Gilbert, M. J. (2017), South Asia in World History, Oxford University Press
  • Richards, J. F. (1995), The Mughal Empire, Cambridge University Press
  • Richards, J. F. (2003), The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World, University of California Press
  • Tracy, J. D. (1997), The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350–1750, Cambridge University Press

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