Sultan Raziyya bint Iltutmish


by Lotte  Houwinkten Cate

Sultan Raziyya bint Iltutmish (1205–1240) (Razia Sultana or Razia al-Din or Jalâlat ud-Dîn Raziyâwas) was the first woman to ascend to the throne and lead the army of the Delhi sultanate in Northern India. She ruled from 1236 to 1240. Raziyya dressed as a man in a tunic and turban.  Raziyya had multiple brothers, that could have become king, but, according to her chronicler Minhaji Siraj Juzjani – the only eyewitness account available to us – Raziyya received favor because her mother was of high lineage, and because her father thought her better qualified to reign than her brothers. His choice for Raziyya enraged her brothers and many subjects, stirring riots that were put down by troops led by Raziyya herself. An interesting emancipation can be seen on Raziyya’s coins: at first, she was named on coins with her father who stood then higher in rank, but from 1237 onwards she had her own coins on which she was named “the great sultan.” Sultan Raziyya negotiated with important military commanders and forced powerful administrators into retirement.

Raziyya legitimized her rule by cross-dressing, and this helped her cultivate her popularity with the people of Delhi, since male attire allowed her to ride out in public. But Raziyya’s courageous demonstrations of autonomy and rumors of an alleged love affair with an Ethiopian slave in her court proved too much for the Delhi male elite. After four years of rule Raziyya was incarcerated and one of her half-brothers enthroned. Nevertheless, Raziyya’s rule stands out for its relative length. At the time, her rule exceeded that of the ruler before her and the one that came after her.

Minhaji Siraj Juzjani, the only recorded eyewitness for the reign of Sultan Raziyya bint Iltutmish, wrote the following passage:

Sultan Raziyya – may she rest in peace – was a great sovereign, and wise, just, and beneficient, the patron of the learned, a dispenser of justice, the cherisher of her subjects, and of warlike skills, and was endowed with all the admirable attributes and qualities required of kings; but as she did not attain the destiny, in her creation, of being computed among men, of what advantage were all these excellent qualifications unto her?



Gabbay, Alyssa. “In Reality a Man: Sultan Iltutmish, His Daughter, Raziya, and Gender Ambiguity in Thirteenth Century Northern India.” Journal of Persianate Studies 4 (2011) pp. 45-63.

Hambly, Gavin R. G. Women in the Islamic World. New York: St. Martins Press, 1999.

Kumar, Sunil. “Sultan Raziyya Bint Iltutmish.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History. Bonnie G. Smith, ed. Vol. 1 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Zakaria, Rafiq. Raziya: Queen of India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966.

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