Tamerlane

Tamerlane

(1336-1405)

The great conqueror of central Asia was born near Kesh, in present-day Uzbekistan.

He was of a tribe that had a mixed Turkish and Mongol heritage, the Barulas. Wounded by an arrow in his early life, he was called “Timur-i Lang,” meaning “Timur the Lame,” which westerners changed over time to Tamerlane.

Tamerlane grew up hearing tales of the glo¬ rious conquests of Genghis Khan (see no. 30) in the golden city of Samarkand. Intensely ambitious, he defeated all his local rivals to become the regional governor of Transoxiana, of which Samarkand was the capital. Still, he needed to establish himself as a worthy suc¬ cessor to Khan. Therefore, he married Saray Mulk Khanum, a princess of the Genghisid line. Though she bore him no children, she remained his chief wife throughout his life.

Once he felt secure in his home province, Tamerlane turned southwest and made war against the kingdom of Khurasan (1381) in present-day Iran. He penetrated even further west and reached occupied Sistan.

Around the age of 40, Tamerlane com¬ menced a series of spectacular campaigns which established him as the greatest con¬ queror of his day. He made savage attacks on Christian Armenia and Georgia in the late 1380s. Then, he was caught by surprise when Tokhtamish (a former protege and leader of the Golden Horde in southern Russia) made war against him.

Tamerlane went north with an army of 200,000 men. His Mongol foes withdrew for hundreds of miles before finally giving battle at the confluence of the Kama and Volga rivers. Tamerlane won an over¬ whelming victory. In revenge for Tokhtamish’s disloyalty, he changed the trade routes so that caravans went south of the Caspian Sea and through his territory.

During the Five Years’ Campaign (1392-1397), Tamerlane terrorized virtually all his neighbors in central Asia. He then turned south and attacked the Delhi sultanate in northern India. He captured Delhi and conducted an enormous massacre of prison¬ ers.

Once again, his interest and direction shift¬ ed. Tamerlane attacked the Christian states in the Middle East and was drawn into a tremendous confrontation with Bayezid, leader of the Ottoman Turks. After exchang¬ ing insults by messenger, the two leaders clashed at the Battle of Angora (1402). Tamerlane won and kept Bayezid as a person¬ al prisoner until his death.

In 1404, Tamerlane laid out comprehen¬ sive plans for a campaign against China. He set out from Samarkand late in the year with an enormous army. His health finally gave out and he died at Otrar in present-day Kazahkstan.

The greatest military leader of his century, Tamerlane was the last of the great conquerors from the steppes, the great plains of southeast Europe and Asia.