The fifth generation banker and power broker Vakhatchand, c. 1780s

In this colorful book, historian Sudev Sheth traces how a family of diamond dealers deployed wealth to play off political leaders and survive the collapse of the Mughal Empire. The story highlights the unique role played by Jain and Hindu bankers in the daily affairs of Islamic, Hindu, and early colonial forms of Indian government. 

Bankrolling Empire (Cambridge University Press, 2024 Code: BRE2023 for 20% off) features brazen emperors, sickly princes, irate governors, and quick-witted matriarchs who commanded banking networks across cities. It explores unlikely rivalries, flaky friendships, and daring tycoons who gambled vast sums as a way to hedge against political uncertainty.

Sheth employs unconventional sources to tap into the thrilling lives of moneyed persons. Excerpts from Persian diaries, Gujarati poems, French trading manuals, Marathi letters, Sanskrit hymns, and Dutch shipping records tell new tales and are presented in English translation for the very first time.

Spanning several political dynasties and still thriving today as a billion-dollar family firm in its fourteenth generation, the entrepreneurs featured in this book help us see state power and social change through fresh eyes. How did capitalists outsmart politicians, and what insights can we gain for our own times?

What leading thinkers are saying about Bankrolling Empire?

"A remarkable account, path-breaking in its detail...necessary reading -- not just for historians of late Mughal India, but for anyone interested in business history and in historical relations between private capital and state power."

Sunil Khilnani

Author of The Idea of India

"How a dynasty of indigenous merchants and bankers in Gujarat made and unmade the fortunes of local rulers. A deeply researched study that lifts the Orientalist curtain which still shrouds the nexus between money and power in premodern Asia."

Francesca Trivellato

Professor, Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton

"Original and rich narratives about family business, the relationship between business and politics…use of unconventional primary sources, written in 11 Asian and European languages, is extraordinarily impressive."

Geoffrey Jones

Professor, Harvard Business School

"Innovative in its concepts, and creative in its use of a range of historical materials…a welcome and original attempt to illustrate the transition from the Mughal to the British empire from the hitherto-neglected perspective of the Indian families who financed both."

Abhishek Kaicker

Associate Professor, University of California, Berkeley

"Bankrolling Empire weaves a rich and exciting narrative of the inter-dependence between merchant capital and state formation in Mughal India….a must read."

Farhat Hasan

Author of State and Locality in Mughal India

"Deep analysis and wide research…a pathbreaking contribution to our understanding of global capitalisms in the early modern world."

Sumit Guha

Author of Ecologies of Empire, 1400–1900

"An important contribution to the study of early modern India. Sudev Sheth resolves a long-standing debate over the Mughal empire’s dependency on indigenous financiers."

Richard M. Eaton

Author of India in the Persianate Age, 1000–1765

"This delightful book uses the prism of family history to address a longstanding debate in the history of the Mughal empire…based on remarkable multi-lingual research, it is a major contribution to South Asian history."

Nandini Chatterjee

Author of Negotiating Mughal Law