In the medieval period, rulers were required to have a group of faithful followers who could support them to govern and administer the state appropriately and to crush any rebellion against the rulers. The contemporary ruling dynasties of the Mughals, the Safavids of Iran, and the Ottomans of Turkey trained their slaves to protect and defend their masters faithfully.
However, Mughal emperor Akbar, instead of the slaves, introduced the Mansabdari or rank holding system in the 11th year of his succession (1564). He appointed people of different religions and creeds without any prejudice. Those who were recruited as mansabdars formed a group of faithful officers to serve their sovereign with dedication and devotion, as the criterion set was merit and loyalty. The Mughal princes, who, so far, had their own separate identity, were also integrated in this system. This changed their status and they became servants to the king. In this capacity, there remained no difference between them and other officers.
Akbar organized the nobility and his army by means of the Mansabdari system. Every officer was assigned a rank valued in terms of a certain number of mounted soldiers. The ranks normally given to top officers and nobles were valued from 10 to 5000 later raised to 7000.The ranks were divided into two: zat and sawar.Zat means personal where by the status and salary of the individual was fixed. Out of this salary in addition to meeting his own personal expenses, he had to maintain a stipulated quota of horses, elephants, camels, mules and carts.
The other rank indicated the number of cavalrymen (sawar) a mansabdar was required to maintain. For every sawar, a mansabdar was paid at a rate of Rs 240 per annum over and above his salary. A person was required to maintain as many sawars as his zat rank was placed in the first category of that rank; if he maintained less than half then in the third category. Thus there were three categories in every rank.No one could have a higher quota of sawars than his zat rank.The mansab was not hereditary.
The sawar rank was distinguished by two special features: For every 10 cavalrymen the mansabdar had to maintain 20 horses and a provision was made that the contingents of the nobles should be mixed ones that is drawn from all the groups- Mughal, Pathan, Hindustani and Rajput.This was intended to weaken the spirit of tribal and ethnic exclusiveness. The mansabdars were assigned a jagir in lieu of cash payment. Although modifications in the system were made from time to time this remained the basic structure as long as the Empire held together. The number of mansabdars rose from 2069 at the time of Jahangir’s accession in 1605 to 8000 in 1637 during Shah Jahan’s reign and to 11,546 during the latter half of the Aurangzeb’s reign.