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The evolutionary empire: demystifying state formation in Mughal South Asia 1556-1707

Morshed, Safya (2022) The evolutionary empire: demystifying state formation in Mughal South Asia 1556-1707. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004505


This doctoral thesis studies how conflicts affected state formation in the Mughal empire. Specifically, it shows that the precarious relationship between the state and powerful elites (Mansabdars and Zamindars) led the state to adopt policies which prioritised local governance and empowered the elite. The administrative skills of this elite incentivised the state to adopt a state-building strategy of conciliation and cooperation. High costs of conflict made these elites increasingly valuable to the state because of their effectiveness at administering at lower costs. As the costs and nature of conflicts changed over time, the state adapted to these challenges by ‘localising’ the structure of administration. Where recent literature on Mughal state has been more qualitative, I adopt a relatively more quantitative approach to measuring the effects of conflict on state development over time. By building or digitising new datasets of Mughal conflicts and government officials, I map the empire’s institutional transformation and identify critical periods of structural change. I supplement the statistical findings with case-study analysis and anecdotal evidence to provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms involved. I compare patterns of development to other Asian empires to highlight the divergent paths of development within the continent. This thesis bridges and contributes towards two literatures which have not engaged with one another methodologically: 1) debates on the development of precolonial India and 2) the role of conflicts on the state capacity of early modern states. Whilst both literatures have increasingly stressed the importance of high information costs in influencing the management of elite intermediaries in early modern states, how conflict pressures influenced state policies in Mughal India have yet to be explored fully. My findings challenge literature that has argued the state’s structure was centralised and static in the seventeenth century. The findings instead demonstrate a dynamic evolution of the empire over the period. The findings additionally highlight the importance of local cultures, institutions and environments in influencing paths of state formation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2022 Safya Morshed
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Roy, Tirthankar and Claridge, Jordan

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