Timur expanded his kingdom successfully for more than 35 years of his life, which is proof of his military genius. Historyplex deals with the history of Timur the Lame, and gives you many interesting facts about his childhood, rise to power, empire, along with a lot of other information.
Did You Know?
Timur loved to play chess in his spare time, so as to sharpen his military tactics. In fact, he is said to have invented a modified version of chess, called Tamerlane Chess, which was played on a board of 110 squares, and involved double the number of pieces.
Timur, more popularly known as Tamerlane, was a conqueror of one of history’s largest empires, both, in Asia, and the world. The origin of his name is related to an injury that he suffered in his youth, which made him limp throughout his life. Revered by some Asian countries, while being despised by others, this famed ruler aimed to restore the glorious empire of the bygone Mongol ruler Genghis Khan, which had disintegrated after his death. To fulfill this objective, Timur would leave no stone unturned, ranging from showering generosities on merchants, to wiping out entire populations of enemy kingdoms.
The citizens of Timur’s kingdom were shocked by his ruthlessness, but at the same time, they had grown to admire the stability of his administration. He laid whole cities to waste, while carrying their wealth back to his homeland. Some of them, like Delhi in India, wouldn’t be able to recover from the loss, for well over a century. Timur was able to command enormous respect from his subjects, by sometimes calling himself a descendant of Genghis Khan, and, at other times, claiming to be the ‘Sword of Islam.’ It is this ability to keep his subjects loyal, either by reward or by coercion, that distinguishes his rule from other despots. Several interesting facts and information about Timur the Lame are given here.
Timur the Lame: Facts
Timur was born in April 1336 (exact date unknown), in a town called Kesh, now called Shahr-e-Shabz, in modern-day Uzbekistan. Kesh was situated at the edge of the mountains, southwards of Samarkand, which would serve as the capital of his future empire.
He was born to Taraqai, a leader of the Barlas clan, which was a Turko-Mongol tribe. Timur claimed to be a descendant of Genghis Khan from his mother’s side, though this hasn’t been proven.
There are various omens associated with his birth. It is said that the night he was born, a large helmet-like object landed from the sky, and many burning pieces of coal fell out of it, covering the entire city. Another legend states that, he was born with freshly-bloodied hands, which was interpreted differently by different astrologers. Some called it a sign that he would be a great executioner. Others said that he would rule the world one day. But all agreed that he would be responsible for many massacres.
Childhood and Early Years
Throughout his childhood, Timur was the leader of a bunch of thugs, who would loot travelers, especially shepherds. He spent this time in a place called Transoxiana, now called Uzbekistan.
By the age of twenty, he was well-trained in all kinds of outdoor exercises, and was an avid reader of the Quran. He could also speak Persian, Mongoloid, Turkish, and Arabic fluently.
At the age of twenty five, he was injured while stealing a flock of sheep. A shepherd ambushed the thugs, and fired two arrows at Timur – one into his right hand, which severed two fingers, and another into his hip, which made him lame, for life. This is why Timur was called ‘Timur the Lame’.
Another story says that, he was injured while serving as a mercenary, when attacked by a group of enemy soldiers. They toppled him from his horse and attacked him with swords, severing two fingers of his right hand, and injured his hip.
Rise to Power
In 1358, the ruler of Transoxiana, Amir Kazgan, was assassinated, which led to a power struggle among various chieftains. Finally, in 1360, a Mongol warlord called Tughluq Temur became the new ruler.
Tughluq initially appointed Timur as a minister in his court. All was well, until he named his son Ilyas Khoja as the new governor of Transoxiana, when Timur, having had enough, rebelled against him.
He forged an alliance with Amir Hussein, the grandson of Kazgan, by marrying his sister Aljai. Working together, Timur and Hussein defeated Khoja, and reoccupied Transoxiana.
However, his first taste of power didn’t last long. The duo were defeated in 1363 by Khoja, and Timur was shortly imprisoned.
After escaping, Timur and Hussein immediately regained power in Transoxiana, after which, they began fighting each other. In 1370, Timur was able to kill Hussein, in the region of Balkh, becoming the undisputed master of Transoxiana.
Timur set up his capital at the city of Samarkand, which would serve as the base of his future operations against East and West Asia.
Expansion of Empire
Timur began his plans of world domination, by defeating the Mongol Chagatai rulers in 1386, and installing puppet rulers in their place. This is because, only family members of Genghis Khan could rule the Mongol Kingdom.
After marrying a Chagatai princess named Saray Mulk Khanum, he could finally claim the Mongol throne for himself, as she was a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.
Before he attacked Persia, his subjects had to make preparations for weeks altogether. The attack was so successful, that the Persian king fled in terror, and this earned Timur all the land, stretching from Tigris to the Euphrates rivers. The following celebrations lasted for a whole week.
One of his most formidable enemies was Tokhtamysh, a former member of his court. Despite their feud, Timur actually supported him in his campaigns against Russia. Only when Tokhtamysh began intruding into Timur’s kingdom, that the tables were turned on him, and he was defeated in a series of battles, though Timur didn’t kill him.
In 1398, Timur, on hearing news of a power struggle going on in India’s Delhi Sultanate, attacked the country. The weakened Sultanate could not put up much of a fight, and despite resistance by communities like the Jats and Ahirs, Delhi, along with several other Indian cities, was looted of its wealth.
In the Battle for Delhi, Sultan Mahmud Shah Tughluq appeared on the battlefield, with 120 war elephants having poison on their tusks. Having never seen elephants before, Timur’s men were frightened. It is said that, Timur had hay and wood placed on his camels’ backs and set on fire; this caused them to charge at the elephants, which, being frightened, turned around and trampled their own men. Timur thus won an easy victory.
In 1400, Timur launched an attack on Georgia, and parts of the Russian Tatar Kingdom. Despite being victorious, and obtaining over 60,000 slaves, he didn’t press on deeper into Russia.
Timur then proceeded to annex Aleppo, Damascus, and other parts of Syria, before occupying Baghdad in 1401.
In 1402, Timur defeated the Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Ankara. The defeated Sultan Bayezid I was forced to live inside a cage, in which he was paraded before citizens, before being killed. The main reason for this war was the Sultan insulting Timur in a letter.
At the time of his death, Timur’s empire spanned parts of Southeastern Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan of Central Asia, up to parts of Pakistan, India, and Russia. It had even begun to threaten the Chinese Ming Dynasty.
Timur was infamous for his legendary cruelty. In all the wars fought by him, around 17 million people lost their lives. This was about 5% of the world’s population at the time.
Some of Timur’s worst massacres were carried out in India. He had long held the opinion that Delhi’s Muslim rulers were being too kind to their Hindu subjects. So, after attacking Delhi, he had more than 100,000 citizens massacred, with their heads erected as pillars, and their decapitated bodes left for the birds. It is said that after 3 days of slaughter, the ‘whole city reeked of decomposing corpses.’
In 1387, during Timur’s conquest of Persia, a town called Isfahan revolted, and killed his tax collectors. In retaliation, he killed so many people, that he was able to erect 28 towers of 1,500 heads each. Between 100,000 to 200,000 people were said to have been killed.
In his final years, Timur is said to have become even more cruel. A case in point is the 1401 Baghdad invasion, during which he ordered each soldier to bring at least two severed heads to him. This resulted in the slaughter of 20,000 inhabitants, mostly Christians, and some soldiers were so frightened that they simply decapitated prisoners caught early in the war, just so they could present two heads before their emperor.
The reason for his cruelty was Timur’s intolerance of all non-Muslims. He commonly had heads of the deceased piled up into high towers. Another of his favorite was to create pyramids of piled heads. Ordinary citizens were the most common victims, while the technical and artistic classes were spared.
The Chinese Ming Dynasty once sent Timur a letter, in which he was addressed as a subject and not an emperor. Enraged, he had the Chinese envoys, together with their 1,500 guards killed.
In 1405, he decided to bring China under his rule, and embarked on a massive campaign against the Ming Dynasty, in the month of January. This was the first time he began an operation in winter, as all his earlier battles were fought in spring. He reportedly ignored his generals’ advice.
Timur’s invasion of China proved to be his undoing. The winter of 1405 was the region’s worst winter in centuries. Soldiers had to dig through five feet of snow just to reach water.
A sixty-eight year-old Timur, who was already unable to walk and had to be carried on a stretcher, finally succumbed to plague and fever due to the extreme cold, on 17 February, 1405 in Otrar.
Timur’s corpse was embalmed and sent back to Samarkand, where it was buried in an ebony coffin in the tomb of Gur-e-Amir.
Despite his humble beginnings as a bandit leader, Timur rose to become one of the most powerful conquerors to have ever ruled this Earth. He began his journey hoping to restore Genghis Khan’s lost empire, but ended up establishing an even larger Timurid empire, which was smaller only to that of Alexander’s.
Parts of Central Asia blossomed under his reign. He is regarded as a hero in Uzbekistan, as he built Samarkand into one of the richest cities of the time. However, the citizens of the Uzbek city of Khiva regard him as a monster who destroyed their city and killed almost all citizens in a campaign.
In Saudi Arabia, India, Turkey, Iran, other parts of the Middle East, and Europe, he is vilified as a tyrant. He succeeded in driving out most of the Christians out of Central Asia, and even posed a threat to ancient Europe.
One of Timur’s descendants would be the legendary Mughal Emperor Babur, whose empire would cover enormous parts of Asia, and last for several centuries.
An archaeological team from the Soviet Union exhumed Timur’s tomb in Samarkand, in 1941, despite protests from the locals. His skeletal remains were sent to Moscow and studied, which helped determine his physical appearance.
Timur’s grave was inscribed with the warning: “Who ever opens my tomb will unleash an invader more terrible than I.” This is commonly referred to as ‘Timur’s Curse’.
Only within two days of the exhumation, Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, an invasion of the Soviet Union, which was the biggest invasion ever in history.
In November 1942, Timur’s remains were sent back to Samarkand and buried with Islamic rituals. Within a few days, the Soviet Union won the Battle of Stalingrad, the largest battle of the Second World War. It is also said that while transporting Timur’s corpse, the plane actually flew over the battlefield of Stalingrad.
While Timur was one of the world’s most successful warriors, he was also responsible for some of the worst massacres in history. Some might say, as the 1400s was an especially brutal period, it isn’t exactly fair to single him out for his cruelty. Whatever be the case, Timur the Lame certainly hasn’t received the same amount of attention as several other conquerors and tyrants in history.