His reform of the tax structure was based on the solid work of Šīr Shah Sūr (r. 947-52/1540-45), whose revenue minister, Tōdar Mal, was recruited by Akbar despite objections from Muslim nobles. Characteristically Akbar was not satisfied until 987/1579-80 when his third try at an equitable land tax saw the establishment of a system in which the state demanded one-third of the normal average gross agricultural production. Ten-year averages were the basis of the assessment, derived from careful records of land areas planted, crops sown, yields, prices, and taxes, all kept by a competent bureaucracy of local and central officials, whose papers were written, significantly, in Persian. The success of this system, where it was fully applied, gave the peasantry security and the state sufficient income, enabling Akbar to abolish many unpopular irregular taxes that had often discouraged investment and trade. Yet Akbar was not able to carry out his intention of having state officials deal directly with all peasant cultivators. Political necessity forced him to leave largely intact the powers of hereditary local chieftains and intermediaries (zamīndārs), a great source of political difficulty after his reign. Nevertheless, Akbar’s system was the model for the successor governments to the Mughals, including the British, and it could be argued that greater equity was not achieved in some areas until the Indian land reform legislation of the 1960s.
While Akbar’s tax reforms grew by trial and error out of earlier Indian practice, his redirection of the nobility was a daring innovation with minimal precedent. The indiscipline and personal opportunism of the nobles had been a constant threat to both Bābor and Homāyūn, and again Akbar worked patiently and persistently for many years to find viable alternatives. Enlarging upon Šīr Shah’s reform of the Delhi sultanate practice, he eventually created a complex system of hierarchical territorial organization with dual civil and military bureaucracies, officered by men appointed and frequently transferred by himself; a parallel structure of intelligence officers reported directly to him to insure that he was continuously well informed. The heart of this organization was the manṣabdārī system, which placed every official, civil as well as military, into a hierarchy of rank (nominally as the holder of a command of a certain number of cavalry troops, from the command of ten to the command of thousands), with regular review holding out the incentive of promotion or demotion to all the nobility and officeholders.