Born: Oct 14, 1542 in Umerkot, Sindh
Died: Oct 27, 1605 (at age 63) in Fatehpur Sikri, Agra
Nationality: Indian
Famous For: Rule of the Mughal Dynasty in India

Akbar was the most successful of all rulers of India’s Mughal Empire. He was known as Akbar the Great for his policy of combining military might with thoughtful diplomacy. He recognized that India could not be brought peacefully together under one religion, and instead took a culturally diverse and relatively tolerant approach.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he did not insist on unflinching loyalty to either Islam or his own tribe, but instead to himself as the personification of the empire. He was generally considered by his subjects to have something approaching godlike status, winning genuine loyalty and support from most of his people thanks to his ability and influence.

Early Years

Akbar was born in Sindh in October of 1542. Despite his high-born background (he was a direct descendent of Ghengis Khan) he was born into poverty as his father had been deposed before his son’s birth. He only regained power a few months before his death, meaning that Akbar became Emperor at the age of just 14.

He was lucky to be assisted by the highly able regent, Bairam Khan, who by winning the north back from the Afghans, helped Akbar to begin the long process of reuniting his disparate, sometimes fractious lands into a coherent and powerful Empire. Despite this help, Akbar quickly became determined to rule for himself, and on reaching adulthood in 1560, he dismissed the regent.

Leadership in the Military

Akbar was a successful military leader whose campaigns of expansion continued throughout his life. Although an able conqueror, his ability to hold on to his new domains owed much to his charisma and a series of shrewd alliances. He set up a strong central government and brought talented people from conquered lands into the administration.

His rule was particularly notable for the tolerance he showed to non-Muslim subjects. He abolished a tax aimed at them and promoted several to high levels in his government. On a larger scale, he allowed the Hindu majority in India to continue to practice that religion as long as they acknowledged his ultimate authority.

Akbar’s Administrative Skills

Akbar made several Hindu princesses his wives, giving them a status that was not enjoyed by non-Muslim conquered peoples before his rule. In 1574, he overhauled the empire’s taxation arrangements, introducing a system of checks and balances which separated civil from military fund-raising in order to prevent the regions undermining the central administration’s power.

Meanwhile, Akbar himself was becoming increasingly interested in religion, regularly taking part in other faiths’ festivals and ceremonies. By 1575, he had built a temple in which he received religious leaders, and he allowed the building of a Christian church in Agra. This was not popular with some stricter Muslims.

Growing the Mughal Empire

The Mughal Empire continued to grow under Akbar throughout the last years of the 16th century. He subjugated the Uzbeks in the 1580s and then traveled to the Valley of the Indus. He met with significant resistance from the Shia Chak Dynasty, but eventually prevailed and Mughal control was finally established in the early part of the 1590s.

Akbar followed this up with the subjugation of Baluchistan, an important strategic move as it allowed his Empire to surround the potentially threatening Persians on three sides. The two empires maintained relatively cordial relations, but it was clearly the Mughals who were now the more powerful. This remained the situation until Akbar died, perhaps from dysentery, in 1605.