Timur (Persian: تیمور Timūr, Chagatai: Temür, Uyghur: Temur; died 18 February 1405), historically known asTamerlane (Persian: تيمور لنگ Timūr(-e) Lang, “Timur the Lame”), was a Turko-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid dynasty in Central Asia. Born into the Barlas confederation in Transoxiana during the 1320s or 1330s, he gained control of the Western Chagatai Khanate by 1370. From that base, he led military campaigns across West,South and Central Asia and emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire and the declining Sultanate of Delhi. From these conquests he founded the Timurid Empire, although it fragmented shortly after his death. He is considered the last of the greatnomadic conquerors of the Eurasian steppe, and his empire set the stage for the rise of the more structured and lasting gunpowder empires in the 1500s and 1600s.:1
Timur envisioned the restoration of the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. As a means of legitimating his conquests, Timur relied on Islamic symbols and language, referring to himself as the “Sword of Islam” and patronizing educational and religious institutions. He converted nearly all the Borjigin leaders to Islam during his lifetime. His armies were inclusively multi-ethnic. Timur also decisively defeated the Christian Knights Hospitaller at Smyrna, styling himself aghazi.:91 By the end of his reign, Timur had gained complete control over all the remnants of the Chagatai Khanate,Ilkhanate, Golden Horde and even attempted to restore the Yuan dynasty.
Timur’s armies were feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe, sizable parts of which were laid waste by his campaigns. Scholars estimate that his military campaigns caused the deaths of 17 million people, amounting to about 5% of the world population.
He was the grandfather of the renowned Timurid sultan, astronomer and mathematician Ulugh Beg, who ruled Central Asia from 1411 to 1449, and the great-great-great-grandfather of Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, which ruled parts of South Asia for around four centuries, from 1526 until 1857. Timur is also recognized as a great patron of art and architecture, as he interacted with Muslim intellectuals such as Ibn Khaldun and Hafiz-i Abru.:341–2
Timur was born in Transoxiana, near the City of Kesh (an area now better known as Shahrisabz, “the green city”), some 80 kilometres (50 mi) south of Samarkand in modern-day Uzbekistan, part of what was then the Chagatai Khanate. His father, Taraqai, was a minor noble belonging to the Barlas tribe. The Barlas were originally a Mongol tribe that becameTurkified. According to Gérard Chaliand, Timur was a Muslim but he saw himself as Genghis Khan’s heir. Though not a Chinggisid or a descendent of Genghis Khan, he clearly sought to invoke the legacy of Genghis Khan’s conquests during his lifetime. His name Temur literally means “Iron” in old Turkic languages (Temir in modern Uzbek, Demir in modern Turkish.) BothTimur and Demir are popular male names in Turkey today.
Later Timurid dynastic histories claim that he was born on 8 April 1336, but most sources from his lifetime give ages that are consistent with a birthdate in the late 1320s. Historian Beatrice Forbes Manz suspects the 1336 date was an invention designed to tie Timur to the legacy of Abu Sa’id Bahadur Khan, the last ruler of the Ilkhanate descended from Hülegü, who died in that year.
At the age of eight or nine, Timur and his mother and brothers were carried as prisoners to Samarkand by an invading Mongol army.
In his childhood, Timur and a small band of followers raided travelers for goods, especially animals such as sheep, horses, and cattle.:116 In around 1363, it is believed that Timur tried to steal a sheep from a shepherd but was shot by two arrows, one in his right leg and another in his right hand, where he lost two fingers. Both injuries crippled him for life. Some believe that Timur suffered his crippling injuries while serving as a mercenary to the khan of Sistan in Khorasan in what is known today as Dashti Margo (Desert of Death) in south-west Afghanistan. Timur’s injuries have given him the names of Timur the Lame and Tamerlane by Europeans.:31
Timur was a Muslim, but while his chief official religious counselor and adviser was the Hanafi scholar ‘Abdu ‘l-Jabbar Khwarazmi, his particular beliefs are not known. In Tirmidh, he had come under the influence of his spiritual mentor Sayyid Barakah, a leader from Balkh who is buried alongside Timur in Gur-e Amir. Timur was known to hold Ali and the Ahlul Bayt in high regard and has been noted by various scholars for his “pro-Alid” stance. Despite this, Timur was noted for attacking Shiites on Sunni grounds and therefore his own religious inclinations remain unclear.
Timur is regarded as a military genius and a tactician, with an uncanny ability to work within a highly fluid political structure to win and maintain a loyal following of nomads during his rule in Central Asia. He was also considered extraordinarily intelligent – not only intuitively but also intellectually.:16 In Samarkand and his many travels, Timur, under the guidance of distinguished scholars was able to learn the Persian, Mongolian, and Turkic languages.:9 More importantly, Timur was characterized as an opportunist. Taking advantage of his Turco-Mongolian heritage, Timur frequently used either the Islamic religion or the law and traditions of the Mongol Empire to achieve his military goals or domestic political aims.
In about 1360 Timur gained prominence as a military leader whose troops were mostly Turkic tribesmen of the region. He took part in campaigns in Transoxiana with the Khan of Chagatai. His career for the next ten or eleven years may be thus briefly summarized from the Memoirs. Allying himself both in cause and by family connection with Kurgan, the dethroner and destroyer of Volga Bulgaria, he was to invade Khorasan at the head of a thousand horsemen. This was the second military expedition that he led, and its success led to further operations, among them the subjugation of Khorezm and Urganj.
Following Kurgan’s murder, disputes arose among the many claimants to sovereign power; this infighting was halted by the invasion of the energetic Chagtaid Tughlugh Timur of Kashgar, another descendant of Genghis Khan. Timur was dispatched on a mission to the invader’s camp, which resulted in his own appointment to the head of his own tribe, the Barlas, in place of its former leader, Hajji Beg.
The exigencies of Timur’s quasi-sovereign position compelled him to have recourse to his formidable patron, whose reappearance on the banks of the Syr Darya created a consternation not easily allayed. One of Tughlugh’s sons was entrusted with the Barlas’s territory, along with the rest of Mawarannahr (Transoxiana), but he was defeated in battle by the bold warrior he had replaced, at the head of a numerically inferior force.
It was in this period that Timur reduced the Chagatai khans to the position of figureheads while he ruled in their name. Also during this period, Timur and his brother-in-law Husayn, who were at first fellow fugitives and wanderers in joint adventures, became rivals and antagonists. The relationship between them began to become strained after Husayn abandoned efforts to carry out Timur’s orders to finish off Ilya Khoja (former governor of Mawarannah) close to Tishnet.:40
Timur began to gain a following of people in Balkh, consisting of merchants, fellow tribesmen, Muslim clergy, aristocracy and agricultural workers, because of his kindness in sharing his belongings with them. This contrasted Timur’s behavior with that of Husayn, who alienated these people, took many possessions from them via his heavy tax laws and selfishly spent the tax money building elaborate structures.:41–2 At around 1370 Husayn surrendered to Timur and was later assassinated, which allowed Timur to be formally proclaimed sovereign at Balkh. He married Husayn’s wife Saray Mulk Khanum, a descendant of Genghis Khan, allowing him to become imperial ruler of the Chaghatay tribe.
One day Aksak Temür spoke thusly:
“Khan Züdei (in China) rules over the city. We now number fifty to sixty men, so let us elect a leader.” So they drove a stake into the ground and said: “We shall run thither and he among us who is the first to reach the stake, may he become our leader”. So they ran and Aksak Timur, as he was lame, lagged behind, but before the others reached the stake he threw his cap onto it. Those who arrived first said: “We are the leaders.” [“But,”] Aksak Timur said: “My head came in first, I am the leader.” Meanwhile, an old man arrived and said: “The leadership should belong to Aksak Timur; your feet have arrived but, before then, his head reached the goal.” So they made Aksak Timur their prince.
Timur’s Turco-Mongolian heritage provided opportunities and challenges as he sought to rule the Mongol Empire and the Muslim world. According to the Mongol traditions, Timur could not claim the title of khan or rule the Mongol Empire because he was not a descendant of Genghis Khan. Therefore, Timur set up a puppet Chaghatay khan, Suyurghatmish, as the nominal ruler of Balkh as he pretended to act as a “protector of the member of a Chinggisid line, that of Genghis Khan’s eldest son, Jochi.”
As a result, Timur never used the title of khan because the name khan could only be used by those who come from the same lineage as Genghis Khan himself. Timur instead used the title of amir meaning general, and acting in the name of the Chagatai ruler of Transoxania.:106
To reinforce his position in the Mongol Empire, Timur managed to acquire the royal title of son-in-law when he married a princess of Chinggisid descent.:14
Likewise, Timur could not claim the supreme title of the Islamic world, caliph, because the “office was limited to the Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad.” Therefore, Timur reacted to the challenge by creating a myth and image of himself as a “supernatural personal power”” ordained by God. Since Timur had a successful career as a conqueror, it was easy to justify his rule as ordained and favored by God since no ordinary man could be a possessor of such good fortune that resistance would be seen as opposing the will of God. Moreover, the Islamic notion that military and political success was the result of Allah’s favor had long been successfully exploited by earlier rulers. Therefore, Timur’s assertions would not have seemed unbelievable to fellow Islamic people.
Timur spent the next 35 years in various wars and expeditions. He not only consolidated his rule at home by the subjugation of his foes, but sought extension of territory by encroachments upon the lands of foreign potentates. His conquests to the west and northwest led him to the lands near the Caspian Sea and to the banks of the Ural and the Volga. Conquests in the south and south-West encompassed almost every province in Persia, including Baghdad, Karbala and Northern Iraq.
One of the most formidable of Timur’s opponents was another Mongol ruler, a descendant of Genghis Khan named Tokhtamysh. After having been a refugee in Timur’s court, Tokhtamysh became ruler both of the eastern Kipchak and theGolden Horde. After his accession, he quarreled with Timur over the possession ofKhwarizm and Azerbaijan. However, Timur still supported him against the Russians and in 1382 Tokhtamysh invaded the Muscovite dominion and burned Moscow.
After the death of Abu Sa’id, ruler of the Ilkhanid Dynasty, in 1335, there was a power vacuum in Persia. In 1383, Timur started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia by 1385; he captured almost all of Persia by 1387. Of note during the Persian campaign was the capture of Isfahan. When Isfahan surrendered to Timur in 1387, he treated it with relative mercy as he normally did with cities that surrendered. However, after the city revolted against Timur’s taxes by killing the tax collectors and some of Timur’s soldiers. Timur ordered the massacre of the city’s citizens with the death toll reckoned at between 100,000 and 200,000. An eye-witness counted more than 28 towers constructed of about 1,500 heads each. This has been described as a “systematic use of terror against towns…an integral element of Tamerlane’s strategic element” which he viewed as preventing bloodshed by discouraging resistance. His massacres were selective and he spared the artistic and technical (e.g. engineers) elites.
In the meantime Tokhtamysh, now khan of the Golden Horde, turned against his patron and in 1385 invaded Azerbaijan. The inevitable response by Timur resulted in the Tokhtamysh–Timur war. In the initial stage of the war Timur won a victory at the Battle of the Kondurcha River. After the battle Tokhtamysh and some of his army were allowed to escape. After Tokhtamysh’s initial defeat Timur invaded Muscovy to the north of Tokhtamysh’s holdings. Timur’s army burned Ryazanand advanced on Moscow. He was pulled away before reaching the Oka River by Tokhtamysh’s renewed campaign in the south.
In the first phase of the conflict with Tokhtamysh, Timur led an army of over 100,000 men north for more than 700 miles into the steppe. He then rode west about 1,000 miles advancing in a front more than 10 miles wide. During this advance Timur’s army got far enough north to be in a region of very long summer days causing complaints by his Muslim soldiers about keeping a long schedule of prayers.It was then that Tokhtamysh’s army was boxed in against the east bank of the Volga River in the Orenburg region and destroyed at the Battle of the Kondurcha River.
It was in the second phase of the conflict that Timur took a different route against the enemy by invading the realm of Tokhtamysh via the Caucasus region. The year 1395 saw the Battle of the Terek River concluding the titanic struggle between the two monarchs.
Tokhtamysh was not able to restore his power or prestige. He was killed about a decade after the Terek River battle in the area of present day Tyumen.
During the course of Timur’s campaigns his army destroyed Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde, and Astrakhan, subsequently disrupting the Golden Horde’s Silk Road. The Golden Horde no longer held power after the coming of Timur.
In May 1393 Timur’s army invaded the Anjudan. This crippled the Ismaili village only one year after his assault on the Ismailis in Mazandaran. The village was prepared for the attack. This is evidenced by it containing a fortress and a system of underground tunnels. Undeterred, Timur’s soldiers flooded the tunnels by cutting into a channel overhead. Timur’s reasons for attacking this village are not yet well-understood. However, it has been suggested that his religious persuasions and view of himself as an executor of divine will may have contributed to his motivations. The Persian historian Khwandamir explains that an Ismaili presence was growing more politically powerful in Persian Iraq. A group of locals in the region was dissatisfied with this and, Khwandamir writes, these locals assembled and brought up their complaint with Timur, possibly provoking his attack on the Ismailis there.
In 1398, Timur invaded northern India, attacking the Delhi Sultanate ruled by Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq of the Tughlaq Dynasty. He was opposed by Ahirs and Jats but the Sultanate at Delhi did nothing to stop him. After crossing the Indus river on 30 September 1398, he sacked Tulamba and massacred its inhabitants. Then he advanced and captured Multan by October.
Timur crossed the Indus River at Attock (now Pakistan) on 24 September 1398. His invasion did not go unopposed and he encountered resistance by the Governor of Meerut during the march to Delhi. Timur was still able to continue his approach to Delhi, arriving in 1398, to fight the armies of Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq, which had already been weakened by a succession struggle within the royal family.
Capture of Delhi (1398)
The battle took place on 17 December 1398. Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq and Mallu Iqbal’s army had war elephants armored with chain mail and poison on their tusks.:267 With his Tatar forces afraid of the elephants, Timur ordered his men to dig a trench in front of their positions. Timur then loaded his camels with as much wood and hay as they could carry. When the war elephants charged, Timur set the hay on fire and prodded the camels with iron sticks, causing them to charge at the elephants howling in pain: Timur had understood that elephants were easily panicked. Faced with the strange spectacle of camels flying straight at them with flames leaping from their backs, the elephants turned around and stampeded back toward their own lines. Timur capitalized on the subsequent disruption in Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq’s forces, securing an easy victory. Delhi was sacked and left in ruins. Before the battle for Delhi, Timur executed 100,000 captives:
The capture of the Delhi Sultanate was one of Timur’s greatest victories, arguably surpassing the likes of Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan because of the harsh conditions of the journey and the achievement of taking down one of the richest cities at the time. After Delhi fell to Timur’s army, uprisings by its citizens against the Turkic-Mongols began to occur, causing a bloody massacre within the city walls. After three days of citizens uprising within Delhi, it was said that the city reeked of decomposing bodies of its citizens with their heads being erected like structures and the bodies left as food for the birds. Timur’s invasion and destruction of Delhi continued the chaos that was still consuming India and the city would not be able to recover from the great loss it suffered for almost a century.:269–274
Before the end of 1399, Timur started a war with Bayezid I, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the Mamluk sultan of Egypt Nasir-ad-Din Faraj. Bayezid began annexing the territory of Turkmen and Muslim rulers in Anatolia. As Timur claimed sovereignty over the Turkmen rulers, they took refuge behind him.
He invaded Baghdad in June 1401. After the capture of the city, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him. (Many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur.)
In the meantime, years of insulting letters had passed between Timur and Bayezid. Finally, Timur invaded Anatolia and defeated Bayezid in the Battle of Ankara on 20 July 1402. Bayezid was captured in battle and subsequently died in captivity, initiating the twelve-year Ottoman Interregnum period. Timur’s stated motivation for attacking Bayezid and the Ottoman Empire was the restoration of Seljuq authority. Timur saw the Seljuks as the rightful rulers of Anatolia as they had been granted rule by Mongol conquerors, illustrating again Timur’s interest with Genghizid legitimacy.
After the Ankara victory, Timur’s army ravaged Western Anatolia, with Muslim writers complaining that the Timurid army acted more like a horde of savages than that of a civilized conqueror. But Timur did take the city of Smyrna, a stronghold of the Christian Knights Hospitalers, thus he referred to himself as ghazi or “Warrior of Islam”.
Timur was furious at the Genoese and Venetians whose ships ferried the Ottoman army to safety in Thrace. As Lord Kinross reported in The Ottoman Centuries, the Italians preferred the enemy they could handle to the one they could not.
While Timur invaded Anatolia, Qara Yusuf assaulted Baghdad and captured it in 1402. Timur returned to Persia from Anatolia and sent his grandson Abu Bakr ibn Miran Shah to reconquer Baghdad, which he proceeded to do. Timur then spent some time in Ardabil, where he gaveAli Safavi, leader of the Safaviyya, a number of captives. Subsequently, he marched to Khorasan and then to Samarkhand, where he spent nine months celebrating and preparing to invade Mongolia and China.
He ruled over an empire that, in modern times, extends from southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, through Central Asia encompassing part of Kazakhstan,Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and even approaches Kashgar in China. The conquests of Timur are claimed to have caused the deaths of up to 17 million people, an assertion impossible to verify.
Of Timur’s four sons, two (Jahangir and Umar Shaykh) predeceased him. His third son, Miran Shah, died soon after Timur, leaving the youngest son, Shah Rukh. Although his designated successor was his grandson Pir Muhammad b. Jahangir, Timur was ultimately succeeded in power by his son Shah Rukh. His most illustrious descendant Babur founded the Islamic Mughal Empire and ruled over most of Afghanistan and North India. Babur’s descendants Humayun, Akbar,Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, expanded the Mughal Empire to most of the Indian subcontinent.
Markham, in his introduction to the narrative of Clavijo’s embassy, states that his body “was embalmed with musk and rose water, wrapped in linen, laid in an ebony coffin and sent to Samarkand, where it was buried.” His tomb, the Gur-e Amir, still stands in Samarkand, though it has been heavily restored in recent years.
By 1368 the new Chinese Ming Dynasty had driven the Mongols out of China. The first Ming Emperor Hongwu and his son Yongle demanded and received, homage from many Central Asian states as the political heirs to the former House of Kublai. The Ming emperor’s treatment of Timur as a vassal did not sit well with the conqueror. In 1394 Hongwu’s ambassadors eventually presented Timur with a letter addressing him as a subject. He summarily had the ambassadors Fu An, Guo Ji, and Liu Wei detained. He then had them and their 1,500 guards executed.Neither Hongwu’s next ambassador, Chen Dewen (1397), nor the delegation announcing the accession of the Yongle Emperor fared any better.
Timur eventually planned to conquer China. To this end Timur made an alliance with the Mongols of the Northern Yuan Dynasty and prepared all the way to Bukhara. The Mongol leader Enkhe Khan sent his grandson Öljei Temür, also known as Buyanshir Khan after he converted to Islam while he stayed at the court of Timur in Samarkand. In December 1404 Timur started military campaigns against the Ming Dynasty and detained a Ming envoy. But he was attacked by fever and plague when encamped on the farther side of the Sihon (Syr-Daria) and died at Atrar (Otrar) on 17 February 1405 before ever reaching the Chinese border. Only after that were the Ming envoys released.
Timur preferred to fight his battles in the spring. However, he died en route during an uncharacteristic winter campaign against the ruling Chinese Ming Dynasty. It was one of the bitterest winters on record. His troops are recorded as having to dig through five feet of ice to reach drinking water.
Just before his death, Timur designated his grandson Pir Muhammad ibn Jahangir as his successor. However, his other descendants did not abide by this wish, and spent the next fifteen years engaged in violent infighting.
Timur had numerous epistolary and diplomatic exchanges with various European states, especially Spain and France.
Relations between the court of Henry III of Castile and that of Timur played an important part in medieval Spanish Castiliandiplomacy. In 1402, the time of the Battle of Ankara, two Spanish ambassadors were already with Timur: Pelayo de Sotomayor and Fernando de Palazuelos. Later, Timur sent to the court of Castile and León a Chagatay ambassador namedHajji Muhammad al-Qazi with letters and gifts.
In return, Henry III of Castile sent a famous embassy to Timur’s court in Samarkand in 1403–06, led by Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, with two other ambassadors, Alfonso Paez and Gomez de Salazar. On their return, Timur affirmed that he regarded the king of Castile “as his very own son”.
According to Clavijo, Timur’s good treatment of the Spanish delegation contrasted with the disdain shown by his host toward the envoys of the “lord of Cathay” (i.e., the Ming Dynasty Yongle Emperor), the Chinese ruler. Clavijo’s visit to Samarkand allowed him to report to the European audience on the news from Cathay (China), which few Europeans had been able to visit directly in the century that had passed since the travels of Marco Polo.
The French archives preserve:
- A 30 July 1402 letter from Timur to Charles VI of France, suggesting that he send traders to the Orient. It is written in Persian.
- A May 1403 letter. This is a Latin transcription of a letter from Timur to Charles VI, and another from Amiza Miranchah, his son, to the Christian princes, announcing their victory over Bayezid, in Smyrna.
A copy has been kept of the answer of Charles VI to Timur, dated 15 June 1403.
Timur’s legacy is a mixed one. While Central Asia blossomed under his reign, other places such asBaghdad, Damascus, Delhi and other Arab, Georgian, Persian, and Indian cities were sacked and destroyed and their populations massacred. He was responsible for the effective destruction of the Christian Church in much of Asia. Thus, while Timur still retains a positive image in Muslim Central Asia, he is vilified by many in Arabia, Persia, and India, where some of his greatest atrocities were carried out. However, Ibn Khaldun praises Timur for having unified much of the Muslim world when other conquerors of the time could not.
Timur’s short-lived empire also melded the Turko-Persian tradition in Transoxiania, and in most of the territories which he incorporated into his fiefdom, Persian became the primarylanguage of administration and literary culture (diwan), regardless of ethnicity. In addition, during his reign, some contributions to Turkic literature were penned, with Turkic cultural influence expanding and flourishing as a result. A literary form of Chagatai Turkiccame into use alongside Persian as both a cultural and an official language.
Tamerlane virtually exterminated the Church of the East, also known to Westerners as theNestorian church, which had previously been a major branch of Christianity but afterwards was largely confined to certain parts of Iraq.
Timur became a relatively popular figure in Europe for centuries after his death, mainly because of his victory over the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid. The Ottoman armies were at the time invading Eastern Europe and Timur was ironically seen as a sort of ally.
Muhammad Iqbal, a philosopher, poet and politician in British India who is widely regarded as having inspired the Pakistan Movement,[better source needed] composed a notable poem entitled Dream of Timur, the poem itself was inspired by a prayer of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah II:
In 1794, Sake Deen Mahomed published his travel book, The Travels of Dean Mahomet. The book begins with the praise of Genghis Khan, Timur, and particularly the first Mughal Emperor Babur. He also gives important details on the then incumbent Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II.
The earliest known history of Timur’s reign was Nizam ad-Din Shami‘s Zafarnama, which was written during Timur’s lifetime. Between 1424 and 1428, Sharaf ad-Din Ali Yazdi wrote a second Zafarnama drawing heavily on Shami’s earlier work.Ahmad ibn Arabshah wrote a much less favorable history in Arabic. Arabshah’s history was translated by the Dutch Orientalist Jacobus Golius in 1636.
As Timurid-sponsored histories, the two Zafaramas present a dramatically different picture from Arabshah’s chronicle.William Jones remarked that the former presented Timur as a “liberal, benevolent and illustrious prince”, while the latter painted him as “deformed and impious, of a low birth and detestable principles.”
The Malfuzat-i Timurī and the appended Tuzūk-i Tīmūrī, supposedly Timur’s own autobiography, are almost certainly 17th century fabrications. The scholar Abu Taleb Hosayni presented the texts to the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, a distant descendent of Timur, in 1637–38, supposedly after discovering the Chagatai Turkish originals in the library of a Yemeni ruler. Due to the distance between Yemen and Timur’s base in Transoxania and the lack of any other evidence of the originals, most historians consider the story highly implausible and suspect Hosayni of inventing both the text and its origin story.
Timur arguably had a significant impact on the Renaissance culture and early modern Europe. His achievements both fascinated and horrified Europeans from the fifteenth century to the early nineteenth century.
European views of Timur were mixed throughout the fifteenth century with some European countries calling him an ally, while others saw him as a threat to Europe because of his rapid expansion and brutality.:341
When Timur captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid at Ankara, he was often praised and seen as a trusted ally by European rulers such as Charles VI of France andHenry IV of England because they believed he was saving Christianity from the Turkish Empire in the Middle East. Those two kings also praised him because his victory at Ankara allowed Christian merchants to remain in the Middle East and allowed for their safe return home to both France and England. Timur was also praised because it is believed that he helped restore the right of passage for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.:341–44
Other Europeans viewed Timur as a barbaric enemy who presented a threat to both European culture and the religion of Christianity. His rise to power moved many leaders, such as Henry III of Castile, to send embassies to Samarkand to personally scout out Timur, learn about his people, make alliances with him and to try to convince him to convert to Christianity in order to avoid war.:348–49
In the introduction to a 1723 translation of Yazdi’s Zafaranameh, the translator wrote:
[M. Petis de la Croix] tells us, that there are calumnies and impostures, which have been published by authors of romances, and Turkish writers who were his enemies, and envious at his glory: among whom is Ahmed Bin Arabschah…As Timur-Bec had conquered the Turks and Arabians of Syria, and had even taken the Sultan Bajazet prisoner, it is no wonder that he has been misrepresented by the historians of those nations, who, in despite of truth, and against the dignity of history, have fallen into great excesses on this subject.
Timur’s body was exhumed from his tomb in 1941 by the Soviet anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov. From his bones it was clear that Timur was a tall and broad chested man with strong cheek bones. Gerasimov reconstructed the likeness of Timur from his skull. At 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 meters), Timur was tall for his era. Gerasimov also confirmed Timur’s lameness due to a hip injury. Gerasimov also found that Timur’s facial characteristics conformed to that of Mongoloid features with somewhat Caucasoid admixture. In the study of “Anthropological composition of the population of Central Asia” shows the cranium of Timur predominate the characters of the South Siberian Mongoloid type. Timur is classified as being closer to the Mongoloid race with some admixture.
It is alleged that Timur’s tomb was inscribed with the words, “When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble.” It is also said that when Gerasimov exhumed the body, an additional inscription inside the casket was found reading, “Who ever opens my tomb, shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” In any case, the same day Gerasimov begun the exhumation, Adolf Hitler launchedOperation Barbarossa, the largest military invasion of all time, upon the USSR. Timur was re-buried with full Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.
In the arts
- Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II (English, 1563–1594): play by Christopher Marlowe
- Tamerlane (1701): play by Nicholas Rowe (English)
- Tamerlano (1724): opera by George Frideric Handel, in Italian, based on the 1675 play Tamerlan ou la mort de Bajazet by Jacques Pradon.
- Bajazet (1735): opera by Antonio Vivaldi, portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur
- Il gran Tamerlano (1772): opera by Josef Mysliveček that also portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur
- Tamerlane: first published poem of Edgar Allan Poe (American, 1809–1849).
- Timur is the deposed, blind former King of Tartary and father of the protagonist Calaf in the opera Turandot (1924) by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni.
- Timour appears in the story Lord of Samarkand by Robert E. Howard.
- Tamerlan: novel by Colombian writer Enrique Serrano in Spanish
- Tamburlaine: Shadow of God: a BBC Radio 3 play by John Fletcher, broadcast 2008, is a fictitious account of an encounter between Tamburlaine, Ibn Khaldun, and Hafez.
- Tamerlane (1928): historical novel by Harold Lamb.