Indo-Turks and Anglo-Normans

Posting after a while, as this topic is very BP and I managed to write a rather long Twitter thread on it. So just compiling it all here in a neater format. May revisit and clean it up further later.

A short piece on why the Islamo-Turkic colonialism in India is not the same as the experience of the English who were colonized at roughly the same time by the Francophone Normans. Note Mahmud Ghaznavi died in 1030 / William Duc de Normandie was born in 1028.

A common reason given for it is commonality of religion, i.e. the Anglo-Saxons were Christian like the Normans. Ergo the kind of in/out-group dynamic didn’t play out in the same manner. This I think true only in a very marginal sense, as opposed to being the primary reason.

Why? Because the level of confessional identity was not as strong across Christendom as people like to believe. 15-21c Europeans were far more aware of their Christianity, but that didn’t stop the numerous religious wars and bloody ethnic conflict (down to today).

Similarly body count of Muslim on Muslim conflict (again, down to today) will disabuse anyone of strength of confessional identity over tribal / ethnic / linguistic bonds. Religion, esp medieval religion, should be understood as one of many differences as opposed to *the* difference

So we come to details of what’s special about the Norman-English case:

a) Firstly, unlike India, Anglo-French nobility actively tried to nativise into the Saxon state. Eg William Ætheling, was the grandson of William the conqueror and direct descendant of Alfred the Great.

He was heir apparent precisely to legitimise the Norman bloodline within existing (West) Saxon tradition. It is just chance that he drowned (ironically crossing the English Channel) resulting in the Anarchy and rise of the Angevin Plantagenets.

Moghals too had a policy of matrimonial alliances with the Rajputs, but no Moghal heir apparent (irrespective of who his mum was) was given the official title of rāja /kumāra etc to signify descent unlike say the Ætheling.

Moghal relation with the Rajputs was always a transactional exchange of women (receptacles of honour, and treated as high-value chattel) and services in lieu of patronage and portion of rents. This remained the model until the last Moghal.

b) Saxon state was one of the best organised states of Europe from Alfred’s time. So while the feudals changed, the organisation persisted.

This is a feature of central importance because what Alfred and his successors achieved was unprecedented in post-Roman Europe, namely a near total abstraction away of the state organisation from the person of the king. So kings became almost like appointees of the state (except with some form of genetic succession).

This trend became more and more explicit with the evo of the English state, ultimately leading to Parliamentary sovereignty in the long 17c – a fascinating topic in itself.

c) An important but remarkably under-appreciated aspect of the Normans was how relatively reformist they were in social terms compared to Anglo-Saxons.

Saxon England had significant continuity of Norse social & political influence until 11c and was seen as a legitimate part of the Norse cultural world. Eg Saxon Harold defeated Harald of Norway in the Danelaw days before his tired army lost to William. And this influence meant that the practice of keeping and taking slaves was commonplace.

Roughly 10-30% of the population of Anglo-Saxon England were slaves. The incoming William immediately banned the practice and where he harried the North, and spilt a lot of blood, he also liberated slaves! The change was so quick that Britons were no longer slaves by mid 12c. Lawrence of Durham wrote in 1130s:

“After England began to have Norman lords, the English no longer suffered from outsiders that which they had suffered at their own hands. In this respect they found that foreigners treated them better than they had treated themselves”

Compare this to the Indian case where slavery was rampant under the Delhi Sultanate and Moghals later perfected the trade of selling Indian slaves for Central Asian horses. This continued until the Marathas and finally (and aptly!) the British themselves discontinued the practice.

d) Plantagenet successors of the Normans (after the Anarchy) became the first true solely English royal house as they lost their lands in Northern France. And continued the process of devolution of powers with Baron’s Wars (and the signing of Magna Carta)

There was no such devolution to be seen under the Moghals who routinely murdered their brothers in succession wars that bookended the change of power from each Moghal monarch to his successor. For the institution of monarchy was in the person of the king, not abstracted away.

e) There was also a lot of continuation of the Saxon cultural heritage in important documents – the Anglo-Saxon chronicle continued to be updated from Alfred’s time right down to 12c. This added to a sense of historical continuity in spite of wars and political turmoil.

f) Finally, the Normans were ruling a much smaller territory and were able to decisively control and shape (and audit, cf. the Domesday Book) all of it. Whereas the Moghals were never in complete control over a much larger territory. Aurangzeb, who ruled over territorially the largest  empire of all Moghals, died on campaign against the Marathas. The people who begged to differ with the Moghals outlasted them.


18 thoughts on “Indo-Turks and Anglo-Normans”

  1. i) that moghuls and the earlier delhi sultans did not themselves feel that they were indian was the main factor for non assimilation. their marriage to rajput females was considered spoils of conquest. no moghul princess was married to a hindu raja.
    ii)the compositions of the royal court was also full of foreign muslims.
    iii) i had read somewhere that up-till aurangzeb, all moghul emperors were dreaming of re capturing their former homeland!!!.

    1. This comment is merely restating some of the points made, and introducing errors. It is incorrect that Rajput princesses who married into the Moghal house were “spoils of conquest”. One can argue that they were property (like all women were seen at the time), but they had significant political value attached to them by the Moghals. And matrimonial alliance was an active policy to create family relations with the Rajputs (albeit in one direction, as Moghals were higher in the pecking order)
      Secondly, Saxon court had a lot of Normans too by the time of Edward the Confessor. And unlike India, Norman conquest was an exercise in complete elite replacement. All big landowners of England to this day – the Grosvenors, Cadogans, Fitzherberts, Percys etc – are of Norman descent, whereas Indian Rajput / Maratha houses still continue and are in active politics…

  2. You have compared slavery, matrimonial links and royal progeniture/fratricide as “points of differences” but have left out the major difference.

    The Normans had a superior economy and grasp of taxation, all stemming from good administrative acumen. The Domesday tax assessments all prove that the Anglo-Saxons had a very primitive economy.

    The tax burden was enormous – almost 4000 lords ruled the countryside. The Normans rationalised this, wiped out the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy and reduced it to a mere 200 Norman barons.

    This enormous reduction in rent-seeking had a major impact throughout the island and made the Normans popular among the serfs. This fundamentally transformed the chances of the success of the Norman lordship in the long run.

    If you compare it to the experience with the Indo-Turks, there is almost no parallel in administrative easing. The Indo-Turks were basically “sheep-stealers” who got lucky. They leeched as much as possible with the exception of Akbar, who seemed to understand the invisible hand.

    To this day, you can see the after-effects of the Indo-Turks – the areas ruled for the longest time by them – the BIMARU areas and Pakistan – are the worst HDI performers/industrial laggards in the Indian subcontinent.

    And also the most developed areas of India – the Western and Southern belt – are the most prosperous and advanced – they were also the least ruled by the Indo-Turks.

    From time to time, I point out that even the “Communist Paradise” of India – Kerala – outperforms Pakistan (the last surviving Indo-Turk outpost in sensibilities & aesthetics) on HDI and human capital metrics.

    1. Sorry, but this is a comment for the sake of one. Normans inherited the most well-oiled state in W Europe. And they made the Gini coefficient worse (not better) by concentrating wealth. No Norman or French ever undertook any exercise remotely like the Domesday audit in France or elsewhere on the continent for a good reason. They didn’t have the people for it.

    2. ‘And also the most developed areas of India – the Western and Southern belt – are the most prosperous and advanced – they were also the least ruled by the Indo-Turks.’

      Hyderabad state, the largest state in the Deccan, was continuously ruled by Indo-Turks till Independence.

      1. Laggard until CB Naidu started the modernization of Hyderabad.

        Telangana state, dominion of the Nizams, had the longest running Maoist insurgency of all the South Indian states!

  3. One interesting thing is Norman surnames are still overrepresented among British upper-middle class.

    Presumably the y-haplogroups would also be overrepresented, even though UK has no caste-endogamy, seems like father-son transfer of socioeconomic class is quite strong.

    Probably some interesting lessons for India here, I think 500 years from now caste will be dead, but Iyers will still be overrepresented in IITs.

    1. It isn’t just surnames. Most English forenames are Norman / French too. English language itself contains significant French lexicon, including 60 percent of this sentence.

    2. Greg Clark has good research on this. IIRC the elite families of Florence in the 14th century are still overrepresented among the elites of Florence today. The elite families of pre-communist Hungary and China are still overrepresented among their respective countries today. All their mass killing seemed to have had no effect.

      1. Communist Hungary didn’t really have mass killing, although China did. And Gregory Clark himself points out that communism in Hungary certainly had a strong effect on inequality, it compressed the entire income distribution. It just didn’t have that much effect on *mobility*, which is a separate thing.

  4. one knows who the author is by second paragraph. Please provide good sources to read about this.

      1. I was saying i knew it was you from the second para onwards. Sources please. Not that i would read, but can catalogue it.

  5. i think religion basically explains it. despite the norman-french alienness initially religious unity was ultimately going to swallow them. the indo-turks would eventually have been assimilated like the sakas before them were, but there was a constant replenishment of turanians (as well as persian functionaries) that prevented that. Islamic India was a world apart and somewhat integrated to the lands to the west.

  6. Islamic India was for a while cut off from the Islamic heartlands by Mongol invasions which devastated Iran, Turan, and Baghdad. Allauddin Khilji and the Deccan Sultanate held the Mongols at bay till the worst of the Mongol depredations had receded.

    One can speculate that if the Mongols had not eventually embraced Islam in Central Asia and the Middle East, whether Islam in India would have survived.

  7. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world with no land route to the ‘Islamic heartlands’ so permanently cut off from it.

    The theory that Islamic civilization would not survive without contact with the Middle East has little merit. Will it evolve differently than the Islamic heartlands? Sure, like it has in India or Europe or Africa. But will it die or be absorbed locally by other religions? I think unlikely as most evidence is to the contrary.

    1. I agree, but Islam to Indonesia spread mostly via India. And there were heavy existing links and religious spread there were never cut off.

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