DBA Resource Page

Medieval Army Lists

Ghaznavids (962-1186 AD)
DBA 115

Descended from a Sassanid general who established himself a ruler of Transoxania, the Samanid Dynasty in 960 AD found itself torn between two military families, one of which was headed by the Turkic general Alptigin, who had used his influence to conquer eastern territories and establish himself as a provincial governor at Ghazna (modern Ghazni in Afghanistan). When the Samanid Emir Abu ol-Hasan died in 961 AD and Alptigin's candidate was rejected by the court ministers, he retired from Khurasan (northeastern Iran) to Ghazna, where he ruled as a largely independent sovereign, thus starting the Ghaznavid list in 962 AD.

Alptigin's son-in-law Sebuktigin succeeded him in 977 AD and was recognized as governor of Ghazna by the Samanids. Sebuktigin consolidated and expanded his kingdom eastward to the Indian border, which prompted the Shahi prince Jayapala of Waihind to launch a preemptive strike at Ghazna. Jayapala was defeated and forced to pay a large tribute, and when he defaulted and mobilized a new army, he was defeated again.

Sebuktigin died in 997 A.D. and was succeeded by his famous son, Mahmud in 998 AD. Only 27 and a staunch Moslem, Mahmud of Ghazna took the title Emir in deference to the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad who legitimized his rule. He also adopted the title Sultan, signalling clearly his independence from the Samanids. By diplomacy, he made a treaty with the Qarakhanids (Ilek Khanate) recognizing a boundary along the Oxus river that effectively split the territory of the Samanids. In 999 AD, the Ghaznavids defeated the Samanids (laying claim to Khurasan) and the Qarakhanids captured Bukhara, the Samanid capital.

With his kingdom secure, and with encouragement from the Caliph, Mahmud turned his attentions eastward in 1001 AD, vowing to invade India once a year to bring the word of Allah to the Hindu kingdoms of India by fire and sword.

His first major campaign in northern Indian was against Jaipal, the Hindu ruler of the Punjab. In battle near Peshawar, Mahmud's 15,000 Ghulam cavalry routed Jaipal's army of 12,000 horse, 30,000 foot and 300 elephants, leaving nearly half their number dead. Jaipal was captured and released to rule as a tributary, but was so grief-stricken by his defeat and despised by his people for it, that he abdicated in favor of his son Anandpal and immolated himself on his own funeral pyre.

It took several years, but Anandpal was able in 1008 AD to raise a large army with contingents from the Hindu princes of Ujjayan, Gwalior, Kalinjar, Kannaws, Delhi, and Ajmerand to take the field against Mahmud. The respective armies encamped at Peshawar and Und for 40 days, challenging each other to engage. When the battle finally materialized, Mahmud found his army hard pressed by the fierce attack of Khokar tribemen on both flanks when a stray arrow panicked Anandpal's elephant causing it to flee the field. Seeing their leader in apparent flight broke the morale of the Indian army and ensured Mahmud's decisive victory.

Mahmud launched a total of 17 campaigns into Indian between 1001 and 1026, annexing the Punjab, establishing a provincial governor at Lahore, and consolidating northeastern Indian before looking south. The Indian kingdoms of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Kannawj and Kalinjar were all conquered and left in the hands of Hindu vassals. With the tribute and plunder gained from his campaigns, he transformed Ghazna into one of the leading cities of Central Asia, patronizing scholars, establishing colleges, laying out gardens, and building mosques, palaces, and caravansaries.

In his last Indian campaign in 1024 AD, Mahmud reached the southern coast of Kathiawar along the Arabian Sea, where he sacked the city of Somnath and destroyed its famous Hindu temple to Shiva (whose mystical idol was apparently levitated by magnetic forces).

Mahmud returned home in 1026 and spent the last four years of his life contending with the influx of Oghuz Turkic horse tribes and opportunistically seizing Rayy (1029 AD) and Hamadan from the distracted Buyid (Daylami) Dynasty.

His son Mas'ud (1031-1041 AD) continued the policy of allow Oghuz tribes to graze in Khorasanian territory until 1038 AD, when the tribes united under an Oghuz leader named Seljuq and claimed Ghaznavid territory as their own. Mas'ud also faced a threat on his Indian frontier in the person of Ahmed Niyaltigin, the Ghazanvid governor in Lahore, who manifested rebellious intentions. Mas'ud dispatched a Hindu ally general Tilak, who defeated and killed Niyaltigin, thus securing Lahore. In the west, however, the Seljuq tribes decisively defeated the Ghaznavid army at Dandanqan (1040 AD). Unable to defend Khorasan and his lands in Central Asia, Mas'ud decided to move his court to Lahore, but was deposed by his guards near the Marghila pass between Attock (Atak) and Rawalpindi during transit.

A new Sultan was named and the Ghaznavid kingdom, now reduced to eastern Afghanistan and northern India) continued until1186 AD with its capital at Lahore. In 1150 AD, Ala Al-Din Hussain (Janansuz) of Ghur sacked Ghazna and drove back the Seljuqs until he was defeated and captured. In the interim, the Ghaznavid ruler Bahram was able to briefly reoccupy the remains of Ghazna until his death, when the Seljuqs forced the next Ghaznavid monarch to retire to Lahore. The Ghaznavid dynasty continued until 1186 AD, when the Ghurids under Muhummad Bin Sam overran Lahore and continued their campaign of conquest in northern India.

Army List

4x3Cv Ghulam Cavalry (Turkish and Indian slave soldiers, plus contingents from Khurasan and Transoxiana)
2x2Lh Arab, Turkic, Tadjiki or Kurdish ghazis
1xEl + 2x4Bw
or 3x3Cv
Ghaznavid elephants (Indian). Bow are armored Ghaznavid regulars, perhaps stiffened with spear (including Daylami and Indian recruits). Cavalry are more Ghulams and/or mercenary Ghazis (Arab/Kurdish auxilliaries)
1x3Wb or 3Aux Warband were Turkic/Arab Ghazis on foot, or Hindu infantry (sword or javelin) after 1001 AD. Auxilia were contingents raised in Afghanistan and Khurasan for regional campaigns.
1x4Aux Daylami
1x2Ps Daylami or Indian

Ghulams are highly trained slave-soldiers, mostly Turkic or Indian in origin, but including Khurasanis and others.

The Ghaznavid army included an elite Palace Guard consisting of 4,000-6,000 ghulam heavy cavalry. The balance of the standing army army was also comprised of ghulams bring the core force to an estimated 30,000. Cavalry was armed with recurve bows, maces, battleaxes, lances, long curved swords, and even lances depending on nationality. Maces in particular were regarded as a heroic weapon. Horses were unarmored.

Regular ghulam infantry wore mailed coats and carried leather-covered of metal shields. They were equipped with the recurve bow and a belted weapon (mace or short sword) for close fighting, although it is thought that many were provided spears or that spearmen were added to the ranks of bow units. The regular foot, including Daylami auxilia, were often transported on camels, horses or mules as mounted infantry, but fought on foot once deployed.

The Ghaznavid regulars were supplemented by mercenary ghazis (either seeking plunder or fighting as Soldiers of the Faith intent on jihad against the Hindu), ally/subject troops, and local auxillaries mobilized for specific campaigns.

With only one optional element, Elephants may be under-represented in the Ghaznavid list. Hindu subject princes were required to pay tribute in elephants and large annual reviews were held where as many as 1670 "battle-ready" elephants were recorded. A standing force of 1000 elephants was kept at Ghazna, the capital. Islamic historians recount use of 400-700 elephants in individual battles, with each elephant bearing a crew of four spearmen or archers. Elephants used in battle were protected with all-around armor. Elephants were also used in the baggage train.


The historical opponents of the Ghaznavid were the Medieval Hindu (83a), Khazar (93), Ghuzz (94), Arab Imperial (100), and Seljuk Turkish (124)


There is a reasonable variety of Ghaznavid miniatures in 15mm and you can easily employ figures created for other Central Asian and Later Persian/Arab ranges. Falcon Miniatures (U.K.) offers a specific range (GAZ) with armored elephants (w/command), Ghulam heavy cavalry, armored infantry, Daylami infantry, light cavalry/infantry, plus Indian ally general, spear, archers and cavalry. Essex has several Ghaznavid (AEA19-21) and Daylami (AEA22-24) in its Arab Conquest/Empire range. Irregular's Arabs and Turks range includes Ghaznavid and generic figures and you can add Indian elephants and allies from their Moghul Indian range.

You can also select from other ranges such as Battle Honors or Old Glory later Sassanids (to represent Khuransani mercenary "ghazis" or Yehudi mercenary archers), Old Glory's Asiatic Horse ranges, and Museum's Khwarismian range (for Turkic Ghulam foot soldiers, Khwarismian horse, Sogdian horse archers, etc.)

Other Resources

Dennis Leventhal, The Glamour of Ghaznavids, SAGA (Sept-Oct. 2000). Available on-line to Magweb subscribers.

From the De Bellis Bookstore, David Nicolle's Osprey titles -- The Armies of Islam, 7th-11th Centuries (Men-at-Arms 125) and Armies of the Caliphates, 862-1098 (Men-at-Arms 320) both contain color illustrations of Ghaznavid soldiers.

| Top of Page | Medieval Armies | DBA Resource Page |

Last Updated: Oct. 16, 2000

Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page can be sent to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.