The Indian Subcontinent:
A History of Conquerors

India’s diverse languages and cultures are the result of many outside influences.  The subcontinent has been continuously raided from the north, despite the natural barriers provided by the Himalayas. 

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The Dravidians were India’s first inhabitants.  Archaeologists believe the Dravidians migrated to India from East Africa in prehistoric times.  Aryan invaders from the north conquered the Dravidians about 1500bc.  The Aryans were related to the Persians and Europeans.  Their language, Sanskrit, is similar to Greek and Latin.  Linguists classify Sanskrit as an “Indo-European language.”  The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages.  Most of India’s modern languages are rooted in Sanskrit or Dravidian languages. 

Persians, Alexander the Great’s armies from Greece, and Huns from Central Asia also invaded India in ancient times. About AD800, Muslims first began to settle near the mouth of the Indus River in modern Pakistan. Muslim warriors began to move south about AD1000 to conquer the Indians. The Indian’s slow elephants were no match for the Muslim’s swift war horses. Additionally, the Indians relied on the warrior Kshatriya caste to fight. Moreover, Indians from lower castes were attracted to Islam because Muslims believe that all people are equal.

About 1500, new Muslim invaders, called Moguls, arrived in India.  The greatest of the Mogul emperors was Akbar, who ruled from 1556 to 1606.  Unlike previous Muslim rulers, Akbar did not force Hindus to become Muslims.  He ordered that Muslims and Hindus be treated equally.  India became a prosperous nation under Akbar, and the emperors who followed him became some of the richest rulers in the history of the world.

Islamic art, culture and architecture became an important part of Indian culture during the Mogul Dynasty. The Taj Mahal, in the northern Indian city of Agra, is an example of Mogul architecture. Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his wife, who died in childbirth in 1631. A mausoleum is a large tomb. The Shah told builders he wanted a building as beautiful as his wife. Twenty thousand people worked daily for more than twenty years to complete the white marble structure.

Portuguese sailor Vasco da Gama circumnavigated Africa to reach India in 1498. His journey paved the way for other European nations, including the Dutch, French and British. The Europeans came to India to trade for jute (a tropical plant used for making rope), indigo (a blue dye), sugar, tea, cotton, ginger, pepper, and other spices. Eventually, India’s Mogul rulers became puppets of the British. In 1857, British troops exiled the last of the Mogul emperors after an uprising by the Indian people. Nineteen years later, the British proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India.

The British at first had no interest in changing the Indian way of life, but they eventually made many reforms. They outlawed suttee in 1829. Suttee was an Indian custom of a widow burning herself, either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband, or soon after his death. Sometimes, wives were sacrificed before their husband's expected death in battle. The frequency of suttee has been exaggerated, but the question of its abolition became important to the Indian people. They argued that colonial rulers had no right to change Indian customs. The British believed that in making moral decisions, rulers must consult their own consciences, not those of their subjects.

The British also built the largest railway system in Asia, constructed roads and irrigated large areas of land. They improved health care an d prevented many famines.

The Indian people were not happy with British rule. They resented the harsh taxes of their colonial rulers. The British forbade the Indian people from trading with other nations. India’s many ethnic groups united to evict the British and bring self-rule to the subcontinent.

Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal was built by Mogul emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife. The Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the finest example of Mogul architecture, a style that combines elements from Islamic, Persian, Turkish and Indian architectural styles.

Akbar the Great ruled India from 1452 until hiks death in 1605. Akbar led India to a period of great prosperity.


Islamic Art
Islamic art is known for its intricate patterns.



Vasco daGama Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese sailor who reached India by circumnavigating Africa in 1498.

Queen Victoria
The British proclaimed Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877.


  To cite this page (MLA):

Dowling, Mike. "The Indian Subcontinent: A History of Conquerors at". Updated July 8, 2014. Web. Date of Access. <>