History Optional Paper-1 Solution – 2008: Q.5 (c)
Q.5 (c) Write a short essay on: “The ‘Corps of Forty’ and its relations with the Sultans.”
Iltutmish organized the slaves in a corporate body which was personally loyal to him. The later historian, Ziauddin Barani, calls these slave officers the “Corp of Forty” (Chihalgani).
The number forty does not matter because we can identify less than 25 such persons in the list of Iltutmish’s nobles.
This elite corp was very proud of itself. It did not consider even the free amirs, both Turk and Tajik, as being equal to them.
Other groups of nobles envied the status and privileges of the members of the ‘Corps of Forty’.
This ‘Corp of Forty’ had not behaved as a unified body. As Barani says, “none of them would bow or submit to another, and in the distribution of territories (iqtas), forces, offices and honours they sought equality with each other.”
But they united in one principle – to stop entry of non-Turkish persons in the higher circle as far as possible.
Relations with the Sultans
The ‘Corps of Forty’ tried to retain its political influence over the Sultan who would not like to alienate this group, but at the same time would not surrender his royal privilege of appointing persons of the other groups as officers. Thus, a delicate balance was achieved by Iltutmish which broke down after his death.
For example, some nobles of the ‘Corps of Forty’ did not approve the succession of Raziya, because she tried to organize non-Turkish groups as counterweight to the ‘Corps of Forty’. That was one main reason why a number of nobles of this group supported her brother, Rukun-ud-din whom they thought to be incompetent and weak, thereby giving them an opportunity to maintain their position.
This spectacle continued during the reign of Nasiruddin Mahmud.
During the reign of Balban, the influence of the ‘Corps of Forty’ was minimized. Since he himself was a member of the ‘Forty’ before his accession, he was fully aware of the nobles’ rebellious activities. Therefore, he eliminated them through assassin’s dagger or poisoning, even including his cousin.