ĒLTOTMEŠ, ŠAMS-AL-DĪN (d. 633/1236), first Sultan of Delhi. A member of the Ölberi tribe (for the correct spelling, see Golden) of the Qipčaq, he was enslaved at an early age and purchased in Delhi by Qoṭb-al-Dīn Āybeg, then one of the military commanders in India on behalf of the Ghurid Sultan Mo ʿezz-al-Dīn Moḥammad b. Sām (r. 599-602/1203-6). He rose in his master’s favor, obtaining the post of amīr-e šekār (master of the hunt) and in succession the governorship of Gwalior and the eqṭāʿs of Baran and Badāʾūn, and married Āybeg’s daughter. Following Moḥammad’s murder in 602/1206, Āybeg established himself as an autonomous ruler of the Indian territories with his capital at Lahore, and when Āybeg died in 607/1210-11, Ēltotmeš was summoned from Badāʾūn to Delhi to take over the government. Āybeg’s son Ārāmšāh was defeated and killed, but it was some years before Ēltotmeš overcame fellow commanders elsewhere in northern India. In particular he enjoyed no authority over another of Moḥammad’s Turkish slaves, Qamar-al-Dīn Qobača (Qobāča), who ruled lower Sind and now occupied Lahore, or over the Ḵalaj officers who governed west Bengal from Lakhnauti. Initially, Ēltotmeš bolstered his position by acknowledging the sovereignty of Moḥammad’s successor at Ḡazna, his slave Tāj-al-Dīn Yïldïz (Yeldūz).

The rise of Delhi and its ruler was greatly assisted by developments beyond the Indus. In 612/1216 Yïldïz was dislodged by the Kᵛārazmšāh and fled into the Punjab, where he was overthrown by Ēltotmeš near Sāmāna; thereafter, Ēltotmeš assumed the style of sultan. The destruction of the Chorasmian empire in turn by the Mongols in 618-19/1221-22 gave the infant Delhi polity a vital respite: the Kᵛārazmšāh’s son Jalāl-al-Dīn took refuge in the Punjab but did more damage to Delhi’s neighbors than to the Sultanate and eventually left for Persia in 621/1224. The Mongol onslaught also brought into India numerous Muslim fugitives who entered Ēltotmeš’s service as warriors and bureaucrats. It was doubtless this access of strength which enabled Ēltotmeš to absorb Qobača’s dominions (625/1228), to reduce Jalāl-al-Dīn’s lieutenants in the northwest Punjab (627/1229-30) and to conquer Lakhnauti (628/1230-31), thereby becoming the sole Muslim ruler in India. Ēltotmeš’s operations against the independent Hindu powers were equally spectacular but their effects were more shortlived. Early in his reign he reduced Jālōr to tributary status, and later he captured Ranthanbōr (623/1226), Mandōr (624/1227), and Gwalior (630/1232) and plundered in Mālwa (632/1234-35); but any Muslim garrisons left in these regions were withdrawn within a few years of his death.

Ēltotmeš, who in 626/1229 had received a diploma of investiture from the ʿAbbasid Caliph al-Mostanṣer, died on 20 Šaʿbān 633/29 April 1236. He was succeeded by four of his children, including his eldest daughter Rażīya and a grandson, but their reigns were dominated by the Turkish slave elite built up by Ēltotmeš, and in 664/1266 his dynasty was supplanted by one of these Turkish officers, Ḡīāṯ-al-Dīn Balaban. Although the basis of Muslim power in India had been laid by Āybeg’s victories in the late 6th/12th century, Ēltotmeš must be regarded as the real architect of the Delhi Sultanate. The poets and scholars who enjoyed his patronage included Tāj Reżā, Faḵr-e Modabber, who dedicated to him the Ādāb al-ḥarbwa’l-šajāʿa (q.v.), and Ḥasan Neẓāmī, whose florid Tāj al-maʾāṯer is an important source for the era of the Muslim conquest.




A. S. Bazmee Ansari, “Iltutmish” in EI2 III, pp. 1155-56.

S. Digby, “Iletmish or Iltutmish? A Reconsideration of the Name of the Delhi Sultan,” Iran 8, 1970, pp. 57-64.

P. B. Golden, “Cumanica II, The Ölberli (Ölperli): The Fortunes and Misfortunes of an Inner Asian Nomadic Clan,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 6, 1986 [1988], pp. 5-29.

M. Habib and K. A. Nizami, eds., The Delhi Sultanate A.D. 1206-1526, A Comprehensive History of India 5, Delhi, 1970, pp. 209-31.

A. B. M. Habibullah, The Foundation of Muslim Rule in India, 2nd ed., Allahabad, 1961, chap. 4. Ḥasan Neẓāmī, Tāj al-maʾāṯer, India Office Library ms., Ethé, Catalogue, no. 210 (for a detailed abstract, see S. H. Askari, “Taj-ul-Maasir of Hasan Nizami,” Patna University Journal 18/3, 1963, pp. 49-127).

P. Jackson, “Jalāl al-Dīn, the Mongols and the Khwarazmian Conquest of the Panjāb and Sind,” Iran 28, 1990, pp. 45-54.

Jūzjānī, Ṭabaqāt I, pp. 440-452 and passim; tr. Raverty, pp. 597-628 and passim.

I. H. Qureshi, The Administration of the Sultanate of Delhi, Lahore, 1944.

(Peter Jackson)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: December 13, 2011

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 4, p. 371