‘The wrath of God’
Legitimization and limits of Mughal military violence in early modern South Asia
in A global history of early modern violence

This chapter explores how the Mughal Empire legitimized its perpetration of military violence in early modern South Asia. It begins by highlighting that Mughal imperial discourse laid great emphasis on the dispensation of justice as the cornerstone of kingship. In turn, this allowed the empire to conceptualize the waging of war and the committing of violence as necessary means for establishing a just social order under the paternal guardianship of the emperor. Within such an ideological framework, war and violence were thought of more as a moral compulsion than a matter of princely whim or dynastic ambition. The chapter also studies the nature, purpose, and effects of military violence perpetrated by Mughal armies in the course of campaigns during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It argues that the scale of this violence was always limited by the urge of the Mughal emperors to project themselves – in both discourse and actuality – as the embodiment of just, tolerant, and caring universal sovereigns. The chapter concludes by assessing the role of military violence in Mughal empire-building and by comparing the Mughal case with other polities of early modern Eurasia.

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