Tamerlane & the rise of the Timurids

By Bloodswan

Tamerlane & the rise of the Timurids

In 1335 the last descendant of Hulegu died and thus began the end of the Il-khans of Iran. The Black Death had also taken its toll on the once powerful Golden horde and many Mongols had returned to a nomadic lifestyle. There was mass instability throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Tamerlane also known as Timur-i-lenk (Timur the lame) was born in 1336 near Kish. During his youth he was struck by arrows in a skirmish, which permanently damaged his right arm and leg thus, he came to be called Timur the lame. He was a Turco-Mongol whose family dominated a small territory South of Samarqand and owed their allegiance to the Jagatai Khans. By 1370 he had become ruler of Transoxania and in 1371 invaded Khwarazm. 5 years later he would conquer Jagatai lands as Far East as Mongolia.

In terms of constant battlefield success he was almost unrivalled and only in his youth did he face occasional battlefield defeats. He was however not a good statesman. He defeated all of his enemies in battle but constantly had to return to crush revolts and never destroyed any of his enemies completely. It seems he was more intent on creating wealth for his capital of Samarqand and thus the empire was doomed to fail from the beginning. He did however conquer regions as far apart as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Syria, Anatolia, the Caucasus and the tip of Egypt.

He inflicted heavy defeats on all of his enemies including the Georgians, Iranians, Turcomans, Mamluks, Tajiks, Ottomans and the Mongol Khanites capturing the cities of Herat in 1384, Tabriz in 1385, Isfahan and Shiraz in 1387 and Baghdad in 1396 and 1404. He also won important battles at Kunduzcha over the Golden horde in 1392, the Sultan of Delhi in 1399 and Ankara in 1404 over the Ottoman sultan Bayazid.

Tamerlane as an old man

Tamerlane is probably remembered most for his massacres and brutality. 80 000 were slain at Delhi (many of them flayed and burned alive) and the city itself did not recover until almost a century later, whole irrigation systems and agriculture centres were destroyed beyond repair, towers were made from the skulls of his enemies, at Sabzawar live captives were cemented between clay and brick to create minarets. He was responsible for ruining trade in the region and reducing populations by sometimes staggering amounts but despite this Tamerlane appears to have indulged in the arts and was much loved by his followers. Tamerlane died in 1405.

Timur's army

Tamerlane was himself a Muslim but his army was a mixture of Muslims, Christians, Shamanists, Pagans and Zoroastrians. The bulk of his army was made up of Turco-Mongol troops, which were made up of formations similar to the Mongol Tumen system.

Timur paid close attention to his army and frequently held military reforms and reforms. Horse archers were of great importance to his early success and heavy cavalry and infantry supported them. Later on he took particular interest in siege engineers and infantry took on a more important role but it is clear cavalry was the key to the Timurid army. Fear and terror were also of great importance to Tamerlane.

The Timurids also used elephants and they fastened curved blades to the elephant's shortened tusks and were trained to advance in a line in a series of short jumps, cutting upwards and downwards with each move. It was clear that any success the Timurids had under Tamerlane could be attributed to the military and his close attention to it.

The later Timurids

The revival of the Qara Qoyunlu in Eastern Anatolia was the Timurid's great threat initially and Timur's son Shahrukh had to retake Samarqand. Shahrukh led a campaign against the Qara Qoyunlu in Western Iran and defeated them in a 3-day battle at Alashgird.

In 1423 the Timurid Ulegh Beg began a 4-year war against the Mongols, which resulted in his defeat. Upon his defeat the Uzbeks began periodic raids into Timurid Khwarazm from the North.

1446 and the Timurid empire was severely weakened by Shahrukh's expedition into Western Iran and the Timurid empire lost Khwarazm and Northern Transoxania to the Uzbeks. Shahrukh died the following year and from 1447 - 1449 the Timurid Empire sank into civil war, which resulted in Ulegh Beg's murder.

Anarchy erupted in Transoxania in 1494 and by 1500 Timurid power was all but gone. In 1506 the Timurid sultan Husayn Bayqara died which effectively saw the end of the Timurid Empire.

Despite heavy defeats the later Timurids were not without military success and the collapse of the empire can be more attributed to the poor foundations set by Timur himself than to the incompetence of his descendants. They did leave one final legacy.

The Moghul Dynasty

From 1503 to 1507 a Timurid prince and descendant of both Tamerlane and Genghis Khan named Babur conquered Afghanistan. He consolidated his hold of the region until in 1526 he started a campaign into Northern India. The following year he founded he Moghul dynasty, which lasted up until 1857.



The age of Tamerlane by David Nicolle
Various Internet sources