Famous people of Uzbekistan
Amir Temur or Tamerlane as a military genius. The map of the Timurid Empire. The exigencies of Timur's quasi-sovereign position. Monument of Emir Timur in Tashkent. Period of expansion. Indian Campaign. Last campaigns, death. Contributions to the arts.
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Famous people of Uzbekistan
About Amir Temur
Timur, among his other names, he is commonly called as Tamerlane. He was a 14th century Turco-Mongol conqueror of much of western and central Asia, and founder of the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty in Central Asia, which survived until 1857.
Timur belonged to a family of Turkicized Barlas clan of Mongol origin. He was Turkic in identity and language, he aspired to restore the Mongol Empire. He was also steeped in Persian culture and in most of the territories which he incorporated, Persian was the primary language of administration and literary culture. Thus the language of the settled «diwan» was in Persian and its stribe had to be adept in Persian culture, regardless of their ethnic origin.
Timur was a military genius and his troops were essentially Turkic-speaking. He wielded absolute power, yet never called himself more than an emir, and eventually ruled in the name of tamed Chingizid Khans, who were little more than political prisoners. His heaviest blow was against the Mongol Golden Horde, which never recovered from his campaign against Tokhtamysh. Despite wanting to restore the Mongol Empire, Timur was more at home in a city than on a steppe as evidenced by his funding of construction in Samarkand. He thought of himself as a ghazi, but his biggest wars were against Muslim states.
He died during a campaign against the Ming Dynasty, yet records indicate that for part of his life he was a surreptitious Ming vassal, and even his son Shah Rukh visited China in 1420. He ruled over an empire that, in modern times, extends from southeastern Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, through Central Asia encompassing part of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, North-Western India, and even approaching Kashgar in China. Northern Iraq remained predominantly Assyrian Christian until the destructions of Timur. When Timur conquered Persia, Iraq and Syria, the civilian population was decimated. In the city of Isfahan, he ordered the building of a pyramid of 70,000 human skulls, from those that his army had beheaded, and a pyramid of some 20,000 skulls was erected outside of Aleppo. Timur herded thousands of citizens of Damascus into the Cathedral Mosque before setting it aflame, and had 70,000 people beheaded in Tikrit, and 90,000 more in Baghdad. As many as 17 million people may have died from his conquests.
Timur's legacy is a mixed one. While Central Asia blossomed under his reign, other places such as Baghdad, Damascus, Delhi and other Arab, Persian, Indian and Turkic cities were sacked and destroyed, and millions of people were slaughtered. Thus, while Timur still retains a positive image in Central Asia, he is vilified by many in Arab, Persian and Indian societies. At the same time, many Western Asians still name their children after him, while Persian literature calls him «Teymour, Conqueror of the World».
Timur was born in Transoxiana, near Kesh, situated some 50 miles south of Samarkand in modern Uzbekistan. His father Taraghay was the head of the Barlas, a nomadic tribe in the steppes of Central Asia. They were remnants of the original Mongol invaders of Genghis Khan of whom many had embraced Turkic or Iranian languages and customs.
The spurious genealogy on his tombstone taking his descent back to Ali, as well as the presence of Shiites in his army, led some observers and scholars to call him a Shiite. However, his official religious counselor was the Hanafite scholar Abd al Jabbar Khwarazmi. There is evidence that he had converted to extremist Shia Nusayri sect under the influence of Sayyed Barakah, a Nusayri leader from his mentor, Balkh. He also constructed one of his finest buildings at the tomb of Ahmed Yesevi, an influential Turkic Sufi saint who was doing most to spread Sunni Islam among the nomads.
In his memoirs Timur gave the following information about his ancestry:
My father told me that we were descendants from Abu-al-Atrak the son of Japhet. His fifth son, Aljeh Khan, had twin sons, Tatar and Mogul, who placed their feet on the paths of infidelity. Tumene Khan had a son Kabul, whose son, Munga Bahadur, was the father of Temugin, called Zengis Khan. Zengis Khan abandoned the duty of a conqueror by slaughtering the people, and plundering the dominions of God, and he put many thousands of Moslems to death. He bestowed Mawur-ulnaher on his son Zagatai, and appointed my ancestor, Karachar Nevian, to be his minister. «Karacher appointed the plain of Kesh for the residence of the tribe of Berlas, and he subdued the countries of Kashgar, Badakshan, and Andecan. He was succeeded by his son Ayettekuz as Sepah Salar. Then followed my grandfather, the Ameer Burkul, who retired from office, and contented himself with the government of his own tribe of Berlas. He possessed an incalculable number of sheep and goats, cattle and servants. On his death my father succeeded, but he also preferred seclusion, and the society of learned men.»
Map of the Timurid Empire
In about 1360 Timur gained prominence as a military leader. He took part in campaigns in Transoxania with the khan of Chagatai, a fellow descendant of Genghis Khan. His career for the next 10 or 11 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 which he led, and its success led to further operations, among them the subjection of Khwarizm and Urganj.
After the murder of Kurgan the disputes which arose among the many claimants to sovereign power were halted by the invasion of the energetic Jagataite Tughlugh Timur of Kashgar, another descendant of Genghis Khan. Timur was dispatched on a mission to the invader's camp, the result of which was 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. The Barlas were taken from Timur and entrusted to a son of Tughluk, along with the rest of Mawarannahr; but he was defeated in battle by the bold warrior he had replaced at the head of a numerically far inferior force.
Rise to power
Monument of Emir Timur in Tashkent
Tughlugh's death facilitated the work of reconquest, and a few years of perseverance and energy sufficed for its accomplishment, as well as for the addition of a vast extent of territory. It was in this period that Timur reduced the Jagatai khans to the position of figureheads, who were deferred to in theory but in reality ignored, while Timur ruled in their name. During this period Timur and his brother-in-law Husayn, at first fellow fugitives and wanderers in joint adventures full of interest and romance, became rivals and antagonists. At the close of 1369 Husayn was assassinated and Timur, having been formally proclaimed sovereign at Balkh, mounted the throne at Samarkand, the capital of his dominions.
It is notable that Timur never claimed for himself the title of khan, styling himself amir and acting in the name of the Chagatai ruler of Transoxania. Timur was a military genius but sometimes lacking in political sense. He tended not to leave a government apparatus behind in lands he conquered, and was often faced with the need to conquer such lands again after inevitable rebellions.
Period of expansion
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 among the Mongols of 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 Kurdistan.
One of the most formidable of his opponents was Tokhtamysh who, after having been a refugee at the court, became ruler both of the eastern Kipchak and the Golden Horde and quarreled with him over the possession of Khwarizm and Azerbaijan. Timur supported Tokhtamysh against Russians and Tokhtamysh, with armed support by Timur, invaded Russia and in 1382 captured Moscow. After the death of Abu Sa'id, ruler of the Ilkhanid Dynasty, in 1335, there was a power vacuum in the Persian Empire. In 1383 Timur started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia by 1385 and massacred almost all inhabitants of Neishapur and other Iranian cities.
In the meantime, Tokhtamysh, now khan of the Golden Horde, turned against his patron and invaded Azerbaijan in 1385. It was not until 1395, in the battle of Kur River, that Tokhtamysh's power was finally broken after a titanic struggle between the two monarchs. In this war, Timur first led an army of over 100,000 men north for more than 700 miles into the uninhabited steppe, then west about 1000 miles, advancing in a front more than 10 miles wide. The Timurid army almost starved, and Timur organized a great hunt where the army encircled vast areas of steppe to get food. Tokhtamysh's army finally was cornered against the Volga River in the Orenburg region and destroyed. During this march, 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 in such northern regions. Timur led a second campaign against Tokhtamysh via an easier route through the Caucasus. Timur then destroyed Sarai and Astrakhan, and wrecked the Golden Horde's economy based on Silk Road trade.
Informed about civil war in India, Timur began a trek starting in 1398 to invade the reigning Sultan Nasir-u Din Mehmud of the Tughlaq Dynasty in the north Indian city of Delhi. He invaded India on the pretext that the Muslim Delhi Sultanate was too tolerant and soft toward its Hindu subjects.
Timur crossed the Indus River at Attock on September 24. The capture of towns and villages was often followed by the looting, massacre of their inhabitants and raping of their women, as well as pillaging to support his massive army. Timur wrote many times in his memoirs of his specific disdain for the 'idolatrous' Hindus, although he also waged war against Muslim Indians during his campaign.
Timur's invasion did not go unopposed and he did meet some resistance during his march to Delhi, most notably with the Sarv Khap coalition in northern India, and the Governor of Meerut. Although impressed and momentarily stalled by the valour of Ilyaas Awan, Timur was able to continue his relentless approach to Delhi, arriving in 1398 to combat the armies of Sultan Mehmud, already weakened by an internal battle for ascension within the royal family.
The Sultan's army was easily defeated on December 17, 1398. Timur entered Delhi and the city was sacked, destroyed, and left in ruins. Before the battle for Delhi, Timur executed more than 100,000 captives, mostly Hindus.
Timur himself recorded the invasions in his memoirs, collectively known as Tuzk-i-Timuri. In them, he vividly described the massacre at Delhi:
In a short space of time all the people in the fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels, and all the goods and effects, the treasure and the grain which for many a long year had been stored in the fort became the spoil of my soldiers. They set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground….All these infidel Hindus were slain, their women and children, and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors. I proclaimed throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners should put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the ghazis of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death.
One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasiruddin Umar, a counselor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives….on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolaters and enemies of Islam at liberty…no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword.
As per Malfuzat-i-Timuri, Timur targeted Hindus. In his own words, «Excepting the quarter of the saiyids, the 'ulama and the other Musalmans, the whole city was sacked». In his descriptions of the Loni massacre he wrote,»..Next day I gave orders that the Musalman prisoners should be separated and saved.»
During the ransacking of Delhi, almost all inhabitants not killed were captured and enslaved.
Timur left Delhi in approximately January 1399. In April he had returned to his own capital beyond the Oxus. Immense quantities of spoils were taken from India. According to Ruy Gonzбles de Clavijo, 90 captured elephants were employed merely to carry precious stones looted from his conquest, so as to erect a mosque at Samarkand - what historians today believe is the enormous Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Ironically, the mosque was constructed too quickly and suffered greatly from disrepair within a few decades of its construction.
Last campaigns and death
Painting by Stanisіaw Chlebowski, Sultan Bayezid prisoned by Timur, 1878, depicting the capture of Bayezid by Timur.
Before the end of 1399, Timur started a war with Bayezid I, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the Mamluk sultan of Egypt. 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. Timur invaded Syria, sacked Aleppo and captured Damascus after defeating the Mamluk army. The city's inhabitants were massacred, except for the artisans, who were deported to Samarkand. This led to Timur's being publicly declared an enemy of Islam.
In 1400 Timur invaded Armenia and Georgia. More than 60,000 people from the Caucasus were captured as slaves, and many districts of Armenia were depopulated.
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. After years of insulting letters passed between Timur and Bayezid, Timur invaded Anatolia and defeated Bayezid in the Battle of Ankara on July 20, 1402. Bayezid was captured in battle and subsequently died in captivity, initiating the 12-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.
By 1368, the Ming had driven the Mongols out of China. The first Ming Emperor Hongwu demanded, and received, homage from many Central Asian states paid to China as the political heirs to the former House of Kublai. Timur more than once sent to the Ming Government gifts that could have passed as tribute, at first not daring to defy the economic and military might of the Middle Kingdom.
Timur wished to restore the Mongol Empire, and eventually planned to conquer China. Mongol khan Enkh sent his grandson Ulzitumur, also known as «Buyanshir.» Timur made an alliance with the Mongols and prepared all the way to Bukhara. In December 1404, Timur started military campaigns against the Ming Dynasty, but he was attacked by fever and plague when encamped on the farther side of the Sihon and died at Atrar in mid-February 1405. His scouts explored Mongolia before his death, and the writing they carved on trees in Mongolia's mountains could still be seen even in the 20th century.
Of Timur's four sons, two 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 Mughal Empire and ruled over most of North India. Babur's descendants, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, expanded the Mughal Empire to most of the Indian subcontinent along with parts of modern Afghanistan.
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. Timur had carried his victorious arms on one side from the Irtish and the Volga to the Persian Gulf, and on the other from the Hellespont to the Ganges River.
Contributions to the arts
Timur became widely known as a patron to the arts. Much of the architecture he commissioned still stands in Samarqand, now in present-day Uzbekistan. He was known to bring the most talented artisans from the lands he conquered back to Samarkand. And he is credited with often giving them a wide latitude of artistic freedom to express themselves.
According to legend, Omar Aqta, Timur's court calligrapher, transcribed the Qur'an using letters so small that the entire text of the book fit on a signet ring. Omar also is said to have created a Qur'an so large that a wheelbarrow was required to transport it. Folios of what is probably this larger Qur'an have been found, written in gold lettering on huge pages.
Timur was also said to have created Tamerlane Chess, a variant of shatranj played on a larger board with several additional pieces and an original method of pawn promotion.
Timur's mandating of Kurash wrestling for his soldiers ensured for it a lasting and legendary legacy. Kurash is now a popular international sport and part of the Asian Games.
Timur's legacy is a mixed one. While Central Asia blossomed under his reign, other places such as Baghdad, Damascus, Delhi and other Arab, Persian, Indian and Turkic cities were sacked and destroyed, and millions of people were slaughtered. Thus, while Timur still retains a positive image in Central Asia, he is vilified by many in Arab, Persian and Indian societies. At the same time, many Western Asians still name their children after him, while he is called as «Teymour, Conqueror of the World» in the Persian literature.
Timur's generally recognized biographers are Ali Yazdi, commonly called Sharaf ud-Din, author of the Zafarnвma in Persian, translated by Petis de la Croix in 1722, and from French into English by J. Darby in the following year; and Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdallah, al-Dimashiqi, al-Ajami translated by the Dutch Orientalist Colitis in 1636. In the work of the former, as Sir William Jones remarks, «the Tatarian conqueror is represented as a liberal, benevolent and illustrious prince», in that of the latter he is «deformed and impious, of a low birth and detestable principles.» But the favourable account was written under the personal supervision of Timur's grandson, Ibrahim, while the other was the production of his direst enemy.
Among less reputed biographies or materials for biography may be mentioned a second Zafarnвma, by Nizam al-Din Shami, stated to be the earliest known history of Timur, and the only one written in his lifetime. Timur's purported autobiography, the Tuzuk-i Temur is a later fabrication, although most of the historical facts are accurate.
More recent biographies include Justin Marozzi's Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, and Roy Stier's Tamerlane: The Ultimate Warrior.
Timur's body was exhumed from his tomb in 1941 by the Soviet anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov. He found that Timur's facial characteristics conformed to that of Mongoloid features, which he believed, in some part, supported Timur's notion that he was descended from Genghis Khan. He also confirmed Timur's lameness. Gerasimov was able to reconstruct the likeness of Timur from his skull.
Famously, a curse has been attached to opening Timur's tomb. In the year of Timur's death, a sign was carved in his tomb warning that whoever would dare disturb the tomb would bring demons of war onto his land. Gerasimov's expedition opened the tomb on June 19, 1941. Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany, began three days later. Timur's skeleton and that of Ulugh Beg, his grandson, were reinterred with full Islamic burial rites in 1942.
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