During the struggle between Sahu and Sambhaji, loyal, reliable and capable Balaji Vishwanath aided Sahu. After his coronation in 1708,Sahu conferred upon him the title of Sena- Karte and eventually elevated him to the post of Peshwa in 1713.
Balaji Vishwanath (1714-20)
Balaji Vishwanath laid the foundation of the future Maratha Confederacy. He enabled Sahu in consolidating his power. After him the office of Peshwa became hereditary and Balaji and his successors became the rulers of the Maratha kingdom. Balaji has been credited with a mastery of finance .He laid the foundations for a well-organized revenue system in the swaraj territory that was under direct royal administration.
Peshwa Baji Rao I (1720-40)
After the death of Balaji Vishwanath, Sahu appointed his eldest son Baji Rao the Peshwa. Under him the Maratha power reached its zenith. He reorganized the armies of the state and started his campaigns in 1731.In 1732, Baji Rao over ran the province of Malwa and conquered Bundelkhand.He was aware of the disintegration of the Mughal Empire and wanted to take full advantage of the situation. In 1739 the Portuguese were defeated and the island of Bassein was taken from them. Thus Baji Rao was successful in his policies. He made Pune the center of his activities and came to be known as seat of Peshwas. During this period regional dynasties emerged. Ranoji Sindhia founded the Sindhia dynasty of Malwa; Malhar Rao Holkar was given a part of Malwa who later on laid the foundations of Holkar house of Indore. The Gaikwads established themselves in Gujarat with head quarters at Baroda. Instead of checking these feudatories, Baji Rao entrusted large powers on chiefs like Sindhia and Holkar.Baji Rao founded the Maratha Empire through his conquests. .
Balaji Baji Rao (1740-61)
Balaji Baji Rao became the next Peshwa on the death of his father. He was a commander like his father. During his tenure the Third Battle of Panipat was fought between the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali in 1761.The Marathas lost and the huge damages were done.
Peshwa Madhava Rao (1761-1772)
Balaji Baji Rao was succeeded by his son Madhava Rao I. His uncle Raghunatha Rao wanted to assist Madhava Rao in his work. But serious differences broke out between the Peshwa and his uncle leading to a war between the two in 1762 in which the Peshwa’s army was defeated. The differences erupted again in 1765.Raghunath Rao demanded the partition of the Maratha state between himself and the Peshwa. Nizam Ali marched towards Poona but was defeated after a struggle of two years and was forced to surrender. Bhonsle of Nagpur was also subjugated. Rajput were brought under Maratha suzerainty and the Jats were forced to accept Maratha over lordship. Madhav Rao died in 1772.After him the Maratha dominion faced a deep crisis and its fortunes declined under his successors.
Peshwa Baji Rao II (1795-1816)
During his Peshwaship the subsidiary Treaty of Bassein (1802) was signed by the Peshwa with the British. It led to the second Anglo- Maratha War in 1803-05.The Third Anglo- Maratha was brought an end to the Maratha power. The Peshwaship was abolished and he was pensioned off to Bithur near Kanpur
Decline of Maratha Power
Marathas were brave but internal jealousies and treachery marked the course of their empire. The economy of the Maratha state was not on a sound basis. Agriculture was the main source of income but it depended on rainfall. No industry or trade routes were set up. The Marathas tried to preserve religion at the sacrifice of science. They avoided handling modern equipment for fear that they would lose their religion. They failed to develop artillery as the main support of defense. The Marathas recruited foreigners as soldiers to defend their country. They also failed to develop strong navy. In the absence of strong leadership the morale of the army was low and the soldiers often fled from the battlefield.