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Sultan Mahmud Mirza
Ruler of the Timurid Empire


Lord of Transoxiana, 1494-95
Lord of Djurdjan, 1460-95†
Lord of Mazandaran, 1460-95†


Sultan Mahmud Mirza, the third son of Abu Sa'id, and an uncle of the Mughal emperor Babur, became ruler of Badakshan, Khutlan, and other provinces lying between the Hindu Kush and the Asfera mountains. When Sultan Ahmad Mirza suddenly died in 1494, he had no sons; so his begs, after consultation, offered the throne to his younger brother, Sultan Mahmud, who accepted the invitation, made over Hisar to one son, Bokhara to another, and himself came to Samarkand. He seated himself upon the throne, without opposition. Master not only of his own but of his brother's dominions, his resources were very great. A stern ruler, and an administrator of marked ability, he quickly reduced his new provinces to order. The nobles of Samarkand found to their dismay that they had exchanged King Log for King Stork. He executed two of his kinsmen (he had his own son-in-law, Muhammad Mirza, killed); he imprisoned three others. He was well versed in the science of arithmetic, yet his temper had something in it brutal and profligate. Secure from all opposition, he revised the revenue assessment, and insisted on the payment of dues and imports by those who had formerly been excused on the ground of their sanctity. This raised a howl of wrath from the clergy.

What added to these evils was, that, as the Prince himself was tyrannical and debauched, his begs and servants all faithfully imitated his example. The men of Hisar, and particularly the body of troops that followed Khosrou Shah, were constantly engaged in debauchery and drinking. Another circumstance which disgusted the inhabitants was, that none of the townsmen or shopkeepers, and not even the Turks and soldiers, could leave their houses, from a dread lest their children should be carried off for slaves. The people of Samarkand, who, for twenty-five years, during the reign of Sultan Ahmed Mirza, had lived in ease and tranquillity, and had seen affairs in general managed according to justice and law, in consequence of the influence enjoyed by the reverend Khwajeh, were stung to the soul at the prevalence of such unbridled licentiousness and tyranny; and great and small, rich and poor, lifted up their hands to heaven in supplications for redress, and burst out into curses and imprecations on the Mirza’s head. Sultan Mahmud
was extremely unpopular, but his authority was too strong to be shaken. He let his new subjects grumble, and pursued his own policy unmoved.

Soon Sultan Mahmud began to cast his eyes about him, in search of further acquisitions. It occurred to him that Farghana was not only a desirable addition to his possessions: it offered a particularly promising field for intrigue. The ruler was young and inexperienced: there were, moreover, two younger brothers who might be used as tools in the game, and a number of ambitious begs, who were already becoming disappointed at their failure to bend the will of the boy king in their own interests. Accordingly, Sultan Mahmud took advantage of the opportunity afforded by the despatch of a complimentary embassy to Babur, in order to win over the powerful Hasan, son of Yakub, Babur's master of the Gate, who ruled in Andijan. Five or six months later, that is, towards the end of 1494, Babur found himself confronted by a formidable conspiracy. Hasan-i-Yakub plotted to dethrone his master, and to supplant him by the young Jahangir, in whom he hoped to find a pliant tool. He succeeded in securing a certain following among the disaffected begs, although the majority remained true to Babur. The wise Aisan-daulat Begum took charge of the crisis: a meeting of the loyalists was held in her presence, and it was decided to strike the first blow. Taking the opportunity of his absence from the citadel on a hawking excursion, they arrested Hasan's trustiest followers. On the news of this, Hasan at once set off for Samarkand, presumably to invite the active co-operation of Sultan Mahmud. Not desiring to appear empty-handed before his employer, he turned aside from the direct road, hoping to surprise Akhsi. Babur promptly despatched a body of men to head him off, and in a night attack the traitor was killed by a chance arrow from the bow of one of his own partisans. So far so good: but the agent having been disposed of, it remained to reckon with the principal. However, at the critical moment fortune once more favoured Babur, for Sultan Mahmud Mirza died suddenly in January, 1495.

Babur describes his uncle as follows: He was below the middle height, very rough in his appearance, and corpulent. He never neglected his prayers. All the arrangements of his court and government were excellent. He was a good accountant: not a dinar of revenue was spent without his knowledge. Early in life he kept a number of hawks, and in his latter years he was fond of hunting the nihilam. His racketing and drunkenness were carried to a frantic excess. No prince of all our family was so impure. He kept a number of buffoons and scoundrels to act vile and shameful tricks before the court, even on the days of public audience. He behaved very ill to the Khwajeh Abidulla. He fought two battles, and was defeated in both. He went twice on a religions war against Kaferistan, on which account he assumed the title of 'Ghazi'. He spoke ill, and his expressions were scarcely intelligible. His poetry was flat and insipid, and it is surely better not to write at all than to write in that style. After the death of Abu Sa'id in 'the disaster of Iraq', Mahmud fled with Khosrou Shah and other officers to Hisar, and he became sovereign of all the region extending to the Hindu Kush. He had five sons and eleven daughters. His eldest son, Masaud, did not succeed to the throne. He had received the government of Hisar from his father, and his brother Baisungur being appointed to that of Bokhara, was nearer to Samarkand at the time of Mahmud’s death. In January, 1495, he was seized with a violent illness, and died at the age of forty-three years.




1. B.F. Manz. Power, Politics and Religion in Timurid Iran. Cambridge, etc.: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
2. H.A.R. Gibb; J.H. Kramers, et al, eds. The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 1. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986.
3 . H.G. Keene. An Oriental Biographical Dictionary Founded on Materials Collected by Thomas William Beale. London: W. H. Allen & Co., Limited, 1894.
4. Baber; R.M. Calecott. The Life of Baber, Emperor of Hindostan. London: James Darling; Edinburgh: John Chisholm, 1844.
5. F.G. Talbot. Memoirs of Baber. Emperor of India. London: Arthur L. Humphreys, 1909.
6. L.F. Rushbrook Williams. An Empire Builder of the Sixteenth Century. London; New York; Bombay, etc. Longmans, Green and co., 1918.

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