Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Medieval India

Medieval India

The history of Medieval India can be complex, especially when considering the multitude of dynasties, ethnic groups, migrations, warring states, religious transfusion, caste systems, and foreign invasions (both defensive and offensive). Yet the history of Medieval India is also exciting, containing many tales of religious devotion, cultural transformation, political marriages, and betrayal. Despite rapid change and infighting, Medieval India resisted the 13th century Mongol invasions of Genghis Khan and his direct predecessors; one of the few lands to do so. But how?

Medieval India Map

The map below represents the territorial partitions of modern-day India, a useful tool for analyzing the geography and proximity of India to the greater Medieval World. Additionally, modern maps help historians and teachers explain to audiences where ancient and medieval societies developed, expanded, and fell. Some names are enduring, such as Gujarat in Western India (more on the Gujaras later!).

Medieval India Map Study SmarterFig. 1- Map of modern-day India.

The importance of geography in Medieval India's history cannot be underestimated. The Indus and Ganges rivers that flow throughout Northern India sustained the development of some of humanity's earliest civilizations, perhaps as early as 3000 BCE. India itself is sometimes referred to as a subcontinent, a classification that highlights the land's size and importance within greater Eurasia. Many civilizations would soon rise in the south on the Deccan Plateau in central peninsular India.

Ancient India's burgeoning agricultural systems would soon give way to a history of economic flourishment. Considering the surplus of agricultural products and in-migratory groups, India soon became host to one of the largest concentrations of human population on the planet. Indian population numbers fluctuated throughout history, sometimes reaching an estimated quarter of total world population. Today, India's population is set at approximately 1.35 billion.

The Himalayan Mountains to India's north acted as a natural barrier to invading forces throughout Medieval history, forcing prospecting warlords to invade either through modern-day Pakistan, Bangladesh, or parts of Nepal. Giving its name to the vast Indian Ocean, India has always enjoyed maritime sea trade with the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and beyond. On land, Northern India bordered China and the Middle East, connecting the seemingly separated lands of the Medieval world.

Medieval India Timeline

Generally, the history of Medieval India is separated into two periods: the Early Medieval Period (6th century to 13th century) and Late Medieval Period (13th century to 1526). The timeline below offers a brief overview of dates and events important to Medieval Indian history.

  • 6th century CE: The fall of the Gupta Empire, ending India's Classical Era.
  • 712 CE: Muhammed ibn al-Qasim leads Arabic forces in the Umayyad invasion of India, conquering Indian land and beginning the history of Islamic rule in the subcontinent.
  • 6th century to 12th century CE: Period encompassing the rise of Rajput Kingdoms within India.
  • 750-900 CE: The Gurjara-Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, and Palas vie for power in the Kannauj Triangle.
  • 11th century: The Chola Empire invades Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
  • 1206 CE: Mamluk General Qutb al-Din Aibak establishes the Mamluk Sultanate in Northern India, beginning the reign of the Delhi Sultanate.
  • 1221 CE: Genghis Khan probes India for invasion but retreats, never to return.
  • 1336: The Vijayanagara Empire is founded in Southern India.
  • 1398: Timur the Lame leads his armies in sacking the city of Delhi.
  • 1526: The Indian Mughal Empire is established by a descendent of Timur the Lame, marking the end of Medieval India and the beginning of India's history in the Early Modern Period.

Early Medieval Period in India

Early Medieval Indian history began with the fall of the Gupta Empire in the 6th century CE. Almost immediately, prospective Indian rulers rose in attempt to expand their empires and reunify India once more. It would not be until the Mughal Empire of the Early Modern Period (1450-1750) that India realized a lasting unification, with a thousand years of struggle between.

Medieval India Temple Study SmarerFig. 2- 11th century temple in Karnakata, India.

Don't be intimidated by the plethora of complex names and scattered dates that will be mentioned in this article. You won't be expected to memorize all of them for the AP exam. Instead, consider which dynasties played the most significant roles in telling the historical narrative that is Medieval India.

States in Medieval India

The Rajput Kingdoms and various Dynastical Empires dominated Early Medieval India. Rajput Kingdoms were patrilineal clans led by warrior kings. From peasant roots, the Rajputs established their own small states throughout Northern India. The Rajput identity encompassed its very own social class within later Indian society. Meanwhile, the dynastical empires were larger, monarchal institutions ruled by elites.

Early Medieval India Dynastical Empires:

From 750 to 900 CE, three dynasties vied for power in the northern Kennauj region of India. The Gurjara-Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, and Palas fought in what historians now consider the Kennauj Triangle. This was but one struggle amongst contending powers within India. The chart below details some important Indian Dynasties:

Dynasty Name: Reigning Dates: Location: Significance
Chalukya Dynasty6th to 8th centuries CESouth-central India Later overshadowed by Rashtrakutas, initiated effective commerce and imperial rule in post-Gupta India.
Pushyabhuti Dynasty6th to 7th centuries CENorthern India United Northeastern India as the Empire of Harsha under its last ruler Harsha Vardhana.
Maitraka Dynasty5th to 8th centuries CEWestern India near modern-day Gujarat. Founded by former Gupta general, followed Shaivism branch of Hinduism.
Pallava Dynasty 4th to 9th centuries CEDeccan Peninsula At constant war with Chalukya Dynasty and Chola Dynasty. Visited by Chinese traveler Xuanzang.
Chola Dynasty 9th to 13th centuries CESoutheastern India A maritime imperial dynasty that invaded Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, including lands of the Srivijaya Empire.
Kingdom of Mewar7th to 20th centuries CERajputana Region (named after the Rajputs), Northwestern India Established in early Medieval India, later accepted Mughal rule and then British rule to persist into the modern era.

Life in Medieval India

Political turmoil wracked Medieval India; regions seemingly passed from one dynasty to another every few centuries. Life persisted, however, with communities identifying perhaps more with their religious beliefs than the political states that casted a shadow over them. Buddhism declined in India during this time, supplanted by the ever-influential Hinduism.

Sanskrit:

Foundational language of Hinduism; the Indo-Aryan classical language of South Asia.

Written texts increased in volume during Medieval India along with increased use of Sanskrit, as seen in Pallava Dynasty inscriptions. Contrary to popular belief, the Hindu Caste System did not define society during Early Medieval India. Under the Rajput Kingdoms and political distress of warring dynasties, strict social boundaries loosened.

Economy in Medieval India

Medieval Indian economy flourished. Sustained by strong agrarian communities in the Indus Valley and beyond, an extensive land and overseas trade network only further supported a strong and developing economy in Medieval India. Early Medieval India engaged in a "north-south" trade with Central Asia and beyond, providing Indian supplies and goods to the trade network of the Silk Road and nomadic communities beyond. India imported items from all across Eurasia, ranging from various breeds of horses to silk, jade, jewelry, Persian textiles, and porcelain.

Medieval India Relief Study SmarterFig. 3- Medieval Indian relief located in Southeast India.

The Chola Dynasty of Early Medieval India exemplifies strong maritime traditions in South Asia, a legacy lasting from the original Austronesian tribes of the region. Unlike other maritime powers within Medieval India, the Chola Dynasty sought to directly expand its dominion overseas, taking cities in Indonesia such as the port of Srivijaya along the Strait of Malacca, opening brief monopolistic access to trade with China.

Later Medieval Period in India

The history of Later Medieval India begins in the early 13th century with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate by a Mamluk general named Qutb al-Din Aibak. The Delhi Sultanate was definitively Islamic in an otherwise Hindu-dominated region. Islamic rule had begun in India, and it would not leave for many centuries.

Did you know: British historian James Mill broke Indian history into three distinct periods of rule: Hindu, Islamic, and British. Modern historians are hesitant to accept James Mill's model, criticizing it for its oversimplification and generalization of a complex history.

Invasions of Later Medieval India

The Delhi Sultanate would rule from 1206 to 1526, waxing and waning against dozens of Arabic and Turkic invasions. The Delhi Sultanate resisted the likes of Genghis Khan in the early 13th century, less than two decades after its establishment. Genghis Khan's descendants would try their own hand at invading India by the end of he 13th century, also failing. Only Timur the Lame was successful in taking the city of Delhi, but each invasion directed more foreign influence and attention towards the elusive land of India.

Important Woman Ruler of Medieval India

The daughter of a Mamluk general and Delhi sultan, Razia Sultana became the first female Islamic ruler of both the Delhi Sultanate and India itself. After maneuvering her way to the throne, Razia surprised enemies and allies alike in displaying her self-sufficiency and intentions to stay in power. Her reign lasted from 1236 to 1240, ending abruptly after her half-brother deposed her to claim power for himself. She died that same year, but not before establishing the precedent of rare womanly rule within Medieval India.

Medieval India Economy Study SmarterFig. 4- Delhi Sultanate coins that would have been printed during the reign of Razia Sultana.

The End of Medieval India

The fall of the Delhi Sultanate coincides with the end of Medieval India. Babur, descendent of Timur, brought an overwhelming Islamic Turkic army into northern India and ended the resilient sultanate once and for all. But imperial rule in Medieval India did not end here. Babur established the mighty Mughal Empire, a lasting dynasty that would unite Early Modern India into perhaps the most militaristically and economically powerful nation in the world.

Medieval India - Key takeaways

  • Medieval India can be split into two periods: Early Medieval India (600-1200) and Later Medieval India (1200-1526), a combined period enclosed by the fall of the Gupta Empire and rise of the Mughal Empire.
  • Early Medieval India was divided among many different dynastic empires and Rajput Kingdoms, each of which vied for increased power within their respective regions. No Medieval Indian state came close to unifying all of the Indian subcontinent.
  • Moving into the Later Medieval Period, Indian Hindu rule was supplanted by a lasting tradition of Islamic rule, beginning with the establishment of the Mamluk Dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate.
  • Medieval India engaged in active world trade while simultaneously resisted many foreign invasions. Nevertheless, the importation of goods, cultures, and peoples continued to change the sociopolitical shape of Medieval India.

Frequently Asked Questions about Medieval India

The medieval period of India lasted from the 6th century CE to the 16th century CE, roughly coinciding with the fall of the Gupta Empire and the rise of the Mughal Empire. 

The medieval period in India began in the 6th century, roughly coinciding with the fall of the Gupta Empire. 

India imported items from all across Eurasia, ranging from various breeds of horses to silk, jade, jewelry, Persian textiles, and porcelain. 

Many historians break world history down into ancient, medieval, and modern periods. British historian James Mill went further to break India's history into three periods: Hindu, Islamic, and British. 

The history of Medieval India saw a transition from dominantly Hindu to Islamic rule. Medieval India was politically and culturally diverse due to its myriad dynasties and extensive world trade, especially during the early medieval period. 

Final Medieval India Quiz

Question

What was the Ghaznavid Dynasty? 

Show answer

Answer

Sunni Islamic Persian empire that ruled in South Asia from 977 to 1186. 

Show question

Question

Define minaret

Show answer

Answer

Islamic tower design constructed adjacent to mosques to act as a beacon of prayer.

Show question

Question

The Delhi Sultanate was established by ethnic ____ . 

Show answer

Answer

Turks 

Show question

Question

How many different dynasties ruled during the course of the Delhi Sultanate? 

Show answer

Answer

Five different dynasties. 

Show question

Question

The first Delhi Dynasty was called the Mamluk Dynasty, because...

Show answer

Answer

It's founder was a Mamluk general under a Ghurid Dynasty ruler. 

Show question

Question

True or False: The Ghaznavid Empire was successful in establishing a permanent foothold in North India. 

Show answer

Answer

False 

Show question

Question

The Delhi Sultanate reached its greatest territorial extent during the ____ dynasty. 

Show answer

Answer

Tughluq 

Show question

Question

Which of the following events marked the end of Delhi Sultanate? 

Show answer

Answer

Battle of Panipat 

Show question

Question

Was Islam able to gain a strong foothold in Northern India? 

Show answer

Answer

Yes; the principles of equality within Islam drew in many supporters from the lower classes of Hindu society. 

Show question

Question

True or False: Due to famine and infighting, the population of the Indian subcontinent shrunk during the reign of the Delhi Sultanate. 

Show answer

Answer

False 

Show question

Question

When was the medieval period in India?

Show answer

Answer

From the 6th to the 16th century (approximately)

Show question

Question

At the fall of which empire did the medieval period begin?

Show answer

Answer

Gupta

Show question

Question

Which Medieval Indian Dynasty extended maritime imperial rule into Southeast Asia? 

Show answer

Answer

Chola Dynasty 

Show question

Question

The ____ river valley was important to the continued sustenance of India's strong agricultural output and growing population. 

Show answer

Answer

Indus 

Show question

Question

How effective was Medieval India against foreign military invasions? 

Show answer

Answer

Medieval India was largely resilient against foreign military invasions, such as in its defiance of Genghis Khan in the 13th century. 

Show question

Question

What were the two major kinds of statehood within Early Medieval India? 

Show answer

Answer

Rajput Kingdoms 

Show question

Question

Who was Razia Sultana?

Show answer

Answer

The first and only female ruler of Delhi

Show question

Question

What three time periods best divide Indian history? 

Show answer

Answer

Ancient, medieval, and modern

Show question

Question

What is the most popular religion in India?

Show answer

Answer

Hinduism

Show question

Question

Hindu rule was supplanted by ____ rule in Later Medieval India. 

Show answer

Answer

Islamic 

Show question

Question

The Delhi Sultanate was established by a ____ general. (hint: the general of a slave caste of warriors that originally fought for the Abbasid Dynasty)

Show answer

Answer

Mamluk 

Show question

Question

What does Rajput, taken from Sanskrit, mean?

Show answer

Answer

"Son of a monarch"

Show question

Question

What best describes the Rajput?

Show answer

Answer

A military culture

Show question

Question

Who were the Rajput's nomadic predecessors in the region, with whom they clashed?

Show answer

Answer

The White Huns

Show question

Question

What did NOT lead to the downfall of Rajput kingdoms?

Show answer

Answer

Invasion by Huns

Show question

Question

What language did the Rajput speak?

Show answer

Answer

This is a mystery, though many historians think it was Bactrian, an ancient Persian language.

Show question

Question

True or False: the Rajput were a peace-loving folk.

Show answer

Answer

False.

Show question

Question

True or False: Bactria was in what is now Afghanistan.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or False: the Rajput overthrew the Kushan in Kabul.

Show answer

Answer

False: The White Huns overthrew the Kushan in Kabul.

Show question

Question

What city did the Hephthalites found?

Show answer

Answer

Piandkjikent

Show question

Question

Why were the Hephthalites called "White Huns"?

Show answer

Answer

a) their skin tone, which was lighter than Attila's Huns.

b) to differentiate them from Attila's Huns who had invaded the Roman Empire.

Show question

Question

Which Hindu god did the Buddha serve as an avatar?

Show answer

Answer

Vishnu

Show question

Question

Define Sanskrit

Show answer

Answer

Foundational language of Hinduism; the Indo-Aryan classical language of South Asia. 

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Medieval India quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.