The Inflictor Of Terror
In all of the history of the world there has always been the infamous, those despots of terror who instilled fear and horror where ever they went. In a time when barbarians ruled the plains of Asia like Genghis Khan some 200 years before hundreds of thousands could not escape the wrath of Tamerlane. Their are only a few names that have inspired such terror in the hearts and souls of men. In the 1300's Tamerlane was such a man. He is considered one of histories most ruthless conquerors. Sure, we can mention Attila The Hun, Ivan the Terrible and others over the course of history but, it is Tamerlane that stands alone as histories most feared warrior.
Amir Timur whose conquests continues to both fascinate and terrorize us some six centuries after his death. The black heart of Tamerlane wielded his sword spilling the blood of hundreds of thousands all across Asia. We have to come into the 20th century where Hitler and Stalin whose own atrocities have only exceeded those by Tamerlane. Historians would agree that if Tamerlane had access to modern age weaponry there is no telling of the devastation and carnage he would have caused.
Two hundred years earlier there was Genghis Khan whose own inflictons of terror managed to conquer most of Asia. But, unlike Genghis Khan Tamerlane's conquered with merciless abandonment. The way he annihilated everyone that opposed him only contributes to lethal legacy he left behind. Though his real mane was Amir Timur, Tamerlane is remembered as the worlds most vicious conqueror who ravaged and burned whole cities to the ground plundering, looting, and killing off entire populations. Just the mere thought of Tamerlane has inspired horrific terror in the minds of man through-out history. There were really two conflicting personalities to this man. One the vicious warrior and the other a builder of cities. The most successful one was the city of Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan.
Timur was born in 1336, near the city of Kesh (now called Shahrisabz), about 50 miles south of the oasis of Samarkand, in Transoxiana. Tamerlane's father, Taragay, was the chief of the Barlas tribe. The Barlas were a mixture of Mongolian and Turkic ancestry. They descended from the hordes of Genghis Khan and the earlier inhabitants of Transoxiana. But, unlike their nomadic ancestors, the Barlas were settled agriculturalists and traders.
In Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Arabshah's 14th century biography, "Tamerlane or Timur: The Great Amir," stated that Timur was descended from Genghis Khan on his mother's side. The European versions of Timur's name "Tamerlane" are based on the Turkic nickname Timur-i-leng, meaning "Timur the Lame." It was only when Timur's body was exhumed by a Russian team lead by archaeologist Mikhail Gerasimov in 1941, that they found evidence of two healed wounds on Timur's right leg. His right hand was also missing two fingers. Speculation has it that he was wounded in 1363 or 1364, while fighting as a mercenary for Sistan. During Timur's youth, the region ofTransoxiana was torn by conflict between the local nomadic clans and the sedentary Chagatay Mongol khans who ruled them.
The Chagatay had abandoned the mobile ways of Genghis Khan and their other ancestors, and instead heavily taxed the people in order to support their now urban lifestyle. With heavy taxes imposed rebellion soon erupted which paved the way for Timur to gain and eventually loose power. I started in 1347, when a local prince named Kazgan seized power from the Chagatay ruler Borolday. Kazgan would rule until he was assassination in 1358. After Kazgan's death, tribal factions and even various religious leaders vied for power. When Tughluk Timur, a Mongol warlord, emerged victorious in 1360 Timur's uncle Hajji Beg who led the Barlas at this time refused to submit to Tughluk Timur. The Hajji fled, and the new Mongol ruler decided to install the seemingly more pliable young Timur to rule in his stead. It turned out that Timur was already plotting against the Mongols. He formed an alliance with the grandson of Kazgan, Amir Hussein, and married Hussein's sister Aljai Turkanaga. The Mongols soon caught on; Timur and Hussein were dethroned and forced to turn bandit in order to survive. In 1362 Tamerlane was imprisoned in Persia but managed to become a mercenary soldier following his escape. His success as a soldier of fortune he soon amassed a large army and together with Hussein brutality defeated the son of Tughuk Timur.
By 1366, the two warlords controlled Transoxiana. WhenTimur's wife died in 1370 it freed him to attack his erstwhile ally Hussein. Hussein was besieged and killed at Balkh, and Timur declared himself the sovereign of the whole region. Timur was not directly descended from Genghis Khan, so he ruled as an amir, rather than as khan. Over the next decade, Timur seized the rest of Central Asia, as well. With Central Asia in hand, Timur invaded Russia in 1380. He helped the Mongol Khan Toktamysh retake control, and also defeated the Lithuanians in battle. Timur captured Herat in 1383. By 1385, all of Persia was his. With invasions in 1391 and 1395, Timur fought against his former protege in Russia, Toktamysh. The Timurid army captured Moscow in 1395. While Timur was busy in the north, Persia revolted. He responded by leveling entire cities, and using the citizens' skulls to build grisly towers and pyramids. By 1396, Timur had conquered Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Mesopotamia and Georgia. Timur's army of 90,000 crossed the Indus River in September, 1398 and set upon India. The country had fallen to pieces after the death of Firuz Shah; Bengal, Kashmir and the Deccan each had separate rulers. The Turkic/Mongol invaders left carnage along their path; Delhi's army was destroyed in December, and the city ruined. Timur seized tons of treasure and 90 war elephants, and took them back to Samarkand. Timur looked west in 1399, retaking Azerbaijan and conquering Syria. Baghdad was destroyed in 1401, and 20,000 of its people slaughtered. In July of 1402, Timur captured Turkey and received submission from Egypt. The rulers of Europe were glad that the Ottoman Turk sultan Bayazid had been defeated, but they trembled at the idea that Tamerlane was now at their doorstep. The rulers of Spain, France, and other powers sent congratulatory embassies to Timur, hoping to stave off an attack. Timur had bigger goals in mind and in 1404 he set off to conquer Ming China. (The ethnic-Han Ming Dynasty had overthrown his cousins, Uan, in 1368.) The Timurid army set out in December, during an unusually bitter cold winter. Men and horses died of exposure, and the 68-year-old Timur fell ill. He died in February, 1405 at Otrar, in Kazakhstan. Timur started life as the son of a minor chieftain, much like his putative ancestor Genghis Khan. Through sheer intelligence, military skill and force of personality, Timur was able to conquer an empire stretching from Russia to India, and from the Mediterranean Sea to Mongolia.
Unlike Genghis Khan, however, Timur conquered not to open trade routes and protect his flanks, but to loot and pillage. The Timurid Empire did not long survive its founder, because he rarely bothered to put any governmental structure in place after he destroyed the existing order. While Timur professed to be a good Muslim, he obviously felt no compunction about destroying the jewel-cities of Islam and slaughtering their inhabitants. Damascus, Khiva, Baghdad. These ancient capitals of Islamic learning never really recovered from Timur's attentions. His intent seems to have been to make his capital at Samarkand the first city of the Islamic world. Contemporary sources say that Timur's forces killed about 19 million people during their conquests. Despite a death-bed warning from the conqueror, his sons and grandsons immediately began to fight over the throne when he passed away. All that he conquered was now lost.
Timur epitaph was that he was lionized in the west for his defeat of the Ottoman Turks. Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great and Edgar Allen Poe's "Tamerlane" are also good examples of his legacy. It is not surprisingly though that the people of Turkey, Iran and the Middle East remember him as a most savage, ruthless and brutal man. In post-Soviet Uzbekistan, Timur has been made into a national folk hero. The other side of Tamerlane shows that the people of Uzbek where in cities like Khiva, all they remember is that he burned their city to the ground and killed thousands.
It can be said that the biggest difference between Genghis Khan and Tamerlane is that both typified Barbarian tactics but Genghis Khan's dynasty lasted long after his death. This, even though Tamerlane succeeded in building a lasting city such as Samarkand it was Genghis khan who managed to integrate whole populations that he conquered, where asTamerlane simply slaughtered them. Both men instilled fear but the terror and mayhem caused by Tamerlane's conquests to this day men still tremble at the mere mention of his name.