Thursday, February 18, 2010

Deathday: Tamerlane the Great 1336-1405 RIP

"Tamerlane" is an epic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, first published in the 1827 collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. That collection, with only 50 copies printed, was not credited with the author's real name but by "A Bostonian." The poem's original version was 403 lines but trimmed down to 223 lines for its inclusion in Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems.


The poem itself follows a Turko-Mongol conqueror named Tamerlane. The name is a Latinized version of "Timur Lenk", the 14th century warlord, though the poem is not historically accurate.

Tamerlane ignores the young love he has for a peasant in order to achieve power. On his deathbed, he regrets this decision to create "a kingdom [in exchange] for a broken-heart." The peasant is named Ada in most of Poe's original version of the poem, though it is removed and re-added throughout its many revised versions.[1] The name "Ada" is likely a reference to the daughter of Lord Byron, a renowned poet whom Poe admired. In fact, the line "I reach'd my home -- my home no more" echoes a line in Byron's work "Don Juan."[2]


"Tamerlane" is the Latinized name of a 14th-century historical figure. The main themes of "Tamerlane" are independence and pride[3] as well as loss and exile.[4] Poe may have written the poem based on his own loss of his early love, Sarah Elmira Royster,[5] his birth mother Eliza Poe, or his foster-mother Frances Allan.[6] The poem may also mirror Poe's relationship with his foster-father John Allan; similar to Poe, Tamerlane is of uncertain parentage, with a "feigned name."[7] Only 17 when he wrote the poem, Poe's own sense of loss came from the waning possibility of inheritance and a college education after leaving the University of Virginia.[8] Distinctly a poem of youth, the poem also discusses themes Poe will use throughout his life, including his tendency toward self-criticism and his ongoing strivings towards perfection.[9]

The poem was influenced by Lord Byron's drama Manfred and his poem "The Giaour" in both manner and style.[10]

Poe may have first heard of Timur in July 1822 as a young man in Richmond, Virginia. A horse-spectacle called Timour the Tartar was staged at the Richmond theatre and repeated in October. Some Poe scholars speculate Poe was in attendance or at least heard of the show.[11]

Poe may have identified with the title character. He used "TAMERLANE" as a pseudonym attached to two of his poems on their first publication, "Fanny" and "To ——," both published in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter in 1833.

Publication history

"Tamerlane" was first published in Poe's earliest poetry collection Tamerlane and Other Poems. The "little volume", as Poe referred to it in the preface, consists of 10 poems.[12] This original version of the poem contained 406 lines. In an 1845 publication, it had been edited to only two hundred and thirty-four.[13] Tamerlane and Other Poems, which appeared in June 1827, was forty pages long and credited only by "a Bostonian".[14]

Tamerlane and Other Poems/Endnotes

In its initial publication in the collection Tamerlane and Other Poems, Poe included endnotes explaining some of his allusions from "Tamerlane." He also confesses early on that he knows little about the historical Tamerlane, "and with that little, I have taken the full liberty of a poet." These endnotes do not appear in any other collection that includes "Tamerlane."


1.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 124. ISBN 0801857309
2.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 41.
3.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 122. ISBN 0801857309
4.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. p. 27. ISBN 0807123218
5.^ Sova, Dawn B. Edgar Allan Poe: A to Z. Checkmark Books, 2001.
6.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. p. 27. ISBN 0807123218
7.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 39.
8.^ Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1972. p. 27. ISBN 0807123218
9.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 122. ISBN 0801857309
10.^ Campbell, Killis. "The Origins of Poe", The Mind of Poe and Other Studies. New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1962: 150.
11.^ Thomas, Dwight & David K. Jackson. The Poe Log: A Documentary Life of Edgar Allan Poe, 1809–1849. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1987: 52. ISBN 0-7838-1401-1
12.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 38–39.
13.^ Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. p. 122. ISBN 0801857309
14.^ Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance. Harper Perennial, 1991. p. 38.



I have sent for thee, holy friar;
But 'twas not with the drunken hope,
Which is but agony of desire
To shun the fate, with which to cope
Is more than crime may dare to dream,
That I have call'd thee at this hour:
Such father is not my theme —
Nor am I mad, to deem that power
Of earth may shrive me of the sin
Unearthly pride hath revell'd in —
I would not call thee fool, old man,
But hope is not a gift of thine;
If I can hope (O God! I can)
It falls from an eternal shrine.


The gay wall of this gaudy tower
Grows dim around me — death is near.
I had not thought, until this hour
When passing from the earth, that ear
Of any, were it not the shade
Of one whom in life I made
All mystery but a simple name,
Might know the secret of a spirit
Bow'd down in sorrow, and in shame. —
Shame said'st thou?
Aye I did inherit
That hatred [[hated]] portion, with the fame,
The worldly glory, which has shown
A demon-light around my throne,
Scorching my sear'd heart with a pain
Not Hell shall make me fear again.


I have not always been as now —
The fever'd diadem on my brow
I claim'd and won usurpingly —
Aye — the same heritage hath giv'n
Rome to the Cæsar — this to me;
The heirdom of a kingly mind —
And a proud spirit, which hath striv'n
Triumphantly with human kind.
In mountain air I first drew life;
The mists of the Taglay have shed
Nightly their dews on my young head;
And my brain drank their venom then,
When after day of perilous strife
With chamois, I would seize his den
And slumber, in my pride of power,
The infant monarch of the hour —
For, with the mountain dew by night,
My soul imbib'd unhallow'd feeling;
And I would feel its essence stealing
In dreams upon me — while the light
Flashing from cloud that hover'd o'er,
Would seem to my half closing eye
The pageantry of monarchy!
And the deep thunder's echoing roar
Came hurriedly upon me, telling
Of war, and tumult, where my voice
My own voice, silly child! was swelling
(O how would my wild heart rejoice
And leap within me at the cry)
The battle-cry of victory!


The rain came down upon my head
But barely shelter'd — and the wind
Pass'd quickly o'er me — but my mind
Was mad'ning — for 'twas man that shed
Laurels upon me — and the rush,
The torrent of the chilly air
Gurgled in my pleas'd ear the crash
Of empires, with the captive's prayer,
The hum of suitors, the mix'd tone
Of flatt'ry round a sov'reign's throne.
The storm had ceas'd — and I awoke —
Its spirit cradled me to sleep,
And as it pass'd me by, there broke
Strange light upon me, tho' it were
My soul in mystery to sleep [[steep]]:
For I was not as I had been;
The child of Nature, without care,
Or thought, save of the passing scene. —


My passions, from that hapless hour,
Usurp'd a tyranny, which men
Have deem'd, since I have reach'd to power
My innate nature — be it so:
But, father, there liv'd one who, then —
Then, in my boyhood, when their fire
Burn'd with a still intenser glow;
(For passion must with youth expire)
Ev'n then, who deem'd this iron heart
In woman's weakness had a part.
I have no words, alas! to tell
The lovliness of loving well!
Nor would I dare attempt to trace
The breathing beauty of a face,
Which ev'n to my impassion'd mind,
Leaves not its memory behind.
In spring of life have ye ne'er dwelt
Some object of delight upon,
With steadfast eye, till ye have felt
The earth reel — and the vision gone?
And I have held to mem'ry's eye
One object — and but one — until
Its very form hath pass'd me by,
But left its influence with me still.


'Tis not to thee that I should name —
Thou can'st not —would'st not dare to think
The magic empire of a flame
Which ev'n upon this perilous brink
Hath fix'd my soul, tho' unforgiv'n
By what it lost for passion — Heav'n.
I lov'd — and O, how tenderly!
Yes! she [[was]] worthy of all love!
Such as in infancy was mine
Tho' then its passion could not be:
'Twas such as angel minds above
Might envy — her young heart the shrine
On which my ev'ry hope and thought
Were incense — then a goodly gift —
For they were childish, without sin,
Pure as her young examples taught;
Why did I leave it and adrift,
Trust to the fickle star within [[?]]


We grew in age, and love together,
Roaming the forest and the wild;
My breast her shield in wintry weather,
And when the friendly sunshine smil'd
And she would mark the op'ning skies,
I saw no Heav'n, but in her eyes —
Ev'n childhood knows the human heart;
For when, in sunshine and in smiles,
From all our little cares apart,
Laughing at her half silly wiles,
I'd throw me on her throbbing breast,
And pour my spirit out in tears,
She'd look up in my wilder'd eye —
There was no need to speak the rest —
No need to quiet her kind fears —
She did not ask the reason why.
The hallow'd mem'ry of those years
Comes o'er me in these lonely hours,
And, with sweet lovliness, appears
As perfume of strange summer flow'rs;
Of flow'rs which we have known before
In infancy, which seen, recall
To mind — not flow'rs alone — but more
Our earthly life, and love — and all.


Yes! she was worthy of all love!
Ev'n such as from th' accursed time
My spirit with the tempest strove,
When on the mountain peak alone,
Ambition lent it a new tone,
And bade it first to dream of crime,
My phrenzy [[frenzy]] to her bosom taught:
We still were young: no purer thought
Dwell [[Dwelt]] in a seraph's breast than thine;
For passionate love is still divine:
I lov'd her as an angel might
With ray of the all living light
Which blazes upon Edis' shrine.
It is not surely sin to name,
With such as mine — that mystic flame,
I had no being but in thee!
The world with all its train of bright
And happy beauty (for to me
All was an undefin'd delight)
The world — its joy — its share of pain
Which I felt not — its bodied forms
Of varied being, which contain
The bodiless spirits of the storms,
The sunshine, and the calm — the ideal
And fleeting vanities of dreams,
Fearfully beautiful! the real
Nothings of mid-day waking life —
Of an enchanted life, which seems,
Now as I look back, the strife
Of some ill demon, with a power
Which left me in an evil hour,
All that I felt, or saw, or thought,
Crowding, confused became
(With thine unearthly beauty fraught)
Thou — and the nothing of a name.


The passionate spirit which hath known,
And deeply felt the silent tone
Of its own self supremacy, —
(I speak thus openly to thee,
'Twere folly now to veil a thought
With which this aching, breast is fraught)
The soul which feels its innate right —
The mystic empire and high power
Giv'n by the energetic might
Of Genius, at its natal hour;
Which knows (believe me at this time,
When falsehood were a ten-fold crime,
There is a power in the high spirit
To know the fate it will inherit)
The soul, which knows such power, will still
Find Pride the ruler of its will.
Yes! I was proud — and ye who know
The magic of that meaning word,
So oft perverted, will bestow
Your scorn, perhaps, when ye have heard
That the proud spirit had been broken,
The proud heart burst in agony
At one upbraiding word or token
Of her that heart's idolatry —
I was ambitious — have ye known
Its fiery passion? — ye have not —
A cottager, I mark'd a throne
Of half the world, as all my own,
And murmur'd at such lowly lot!
But it had pass'd me as a dream
Which, of light step, flies with the dew,
That kindling thought — did not the beam
Of Beauty, which did guide it through
The livelong summer day, oppress
My mind with double loveliness —


We walk'd together on the crown
Of a high mountain, which look'd down
Afar from its proud natural towers
Of rock and forest, on the hills —
The dwindled hills, whence amid bowers
Her own fair hand had rear'd around,
Gush'd shoutingly a thousand rills,
Which as it were, in fairy bound
Embrac'd two hamlets — those our own —
Peacefully happy — yet alone —
I spoke to her of power and pride —
But mystically, in such guise,
That she might deem it naught beside
The moment's converse, in her eyes
I read (perhaps too carelessly)
A mingled feeling with my own;
The flush on her bright cheek, to me,
Seem'd to become a queenly throne
Too well, that I should let it be
A light in the dark wild, alone.


There — in that hour — a thought came o'er
My mind, it had not known before —
To leave her while we both were young, —
To follow my high fate among
The strife of nations, and redeem
The idle words, which, as a dream
Now sounded to her heedless ear —
I held no doubt — I knew no fear
Of peril in my wild career;
To gain an empire, and throw down
As nuptial dowry — a queen's crown,
The only feeling which possest,
With her own image, my fond breast —
Who, that had known the secret thought
Of a young peasant's bosom then,
Had deem'd him, in compassion, aught
But one, whom phantasy had led
Astray from reason — Among men
Ambition is chain'd down — nor fed
(As in the desert, where the grand,
The wild, the beautiful, conspire
With their own breath to fan its fire)
With thoughts such feeling can command;
Uncheck'd by sarcasm, and scorn
Of those, who hardly will conceive
That any should become "great," born
In their own sphere — will not believe
That they shall stoop in life to one
Whom daily they are wont to see
Familiarly — whom Fortune's sun
Hath ne'er shone dazzlingly upon
Lowly — and of their own degree —


I pictur'd to my fancy's eye
Her silent, deep astonishment,
When, a few fleeting years gone by,
(For short the time my high hope lent
To its most desperate intent,)
She might recall in him, whom Fame
Had gilded with a conquerer's name,
(With glory — such as might inspire
Perforce, a passing thought of one,
Whom she had deem'd in his own fire
Wither'd and blasted; who had gone
A traitor, violate of the truth
So plighted in his early youth,)
Her own Alexis, who should plight
The love he plighted then — again,
And raise his infancy's delight,
The bride and queen of Tamerlane —


One noon of a bright summer's day
I pass'd from out the matted bow'r
Where in a deep, still slumber lay
My Ada. In that peaceful hour,
A silent gaze was my farewell.
I had no other solace — then
T'awake her, and a falsehood tell
Of a feign'd journey, were again
To trust the weakness of my heart
To her soft thrilling voice: To part
Thus, haply, while in sleep she dream'd
Of long delight, nor yet had deem'd
Awake, that I had held a thought
Of parting, were with madness fraught;
I knew not woman's heart, alas!
Tho' lov'd, and loving — let it pass. —


I went from out the matted bow'r,
And hurried madly on my way:
And felt, with ev'ry flying hour,
That bore me from my home, more gay;
There is of earth an agony
Which, ideal, still may be
The worst ill of mortality,
'Tis bliss, in its own reality,
Too real, to his breast who lives
Not within himself but gives
A portion of his willing soul
To God, and to the great whole —
To him, whose loving spirit will dwell
With Nature, in her wild paths; tell
Of her wond'rous ways, and telling bless
Her overpow'ring loveliness!
A more than agony to him
Whose failing sight will grow dim
With its own living gaze upon
That loveliness around: the sun —
The blue sky — the misty light
Of the pale cloud therein, whose hue
Is grace to its heav'nly bed of blue;
Dim! tho' looking on all bright!
O God! when the thoughts that may not pass
Will burst upon him, and alas!
For the flight on Earth to Fancy giv'n,
There are no words —— unless of Heav'n.


Look 'round thee now on Samarcand,
Is she not queen of earth? her pride
Above all cities? in her hand
Their destinies? with all beside
Of glory, which the world hath known?
Stands she not proudly and alone?
And who her sov'reign? Timur he
Whom th' astonish'd earth hath seen,
With victory, on victory,
Redoubling age! and more, I ween,
The Zinghis' yet re-echoing fame.
And now what has he? what! a name.
The sound of revelry by night
Comes o'er me, with the mingled voice
Of many with a breast as light,
As if 'twere not the dying hour
Of one, in whom they did rejoice —
As in a leader, haply — Power
Its venom secretly imparts;
Nothing have I with human hearts.


When Fortune mark'd me for her own,
And my proud hopes had reach'd a throne
(It boots me not, good friar, to tell
A tale the world but knows too well,
How by what hidden deeds of might,
I clamber'd to the tottering height,)
I still was young; and well I ween
My spirit what it e'er had been.
My eyes were still on pomp and power,
My wilder'd heart was far away,
In vallies of the wild Taglay,
In mine own Ada's matted bow'r.
I dwelt not long in Samarcand
Ere, in a peasant's lowly guise,
I sought my long-abandon'd land,
By sunset did its mountains rise
In dusky grandeur to my eyes:
But as I wander'd on the way
My heart sunk with the sun's ray.
To him, who still would gaze upon
The glory of the summer sun,
There comes, when that sun will from him part,
A sullen hopelessness of heart.
That soul will hate the ev'ning mist
So often lovely, and will lisp
To the sound of the coming darkness (known
To those whose spirits hark'n) as one
Who in a dream of night would fly
But cannot from a danger nigh.
What though the moon — the silvery moon
Shine on his path, in her high noon;
Her smile is chilly, and her beam
In that time of dreariness will seem
As the portrait of one after death;
A likeness taken when the breath
Of young life, and the fire o' the eye
Had lately been but had pass'd by.
'Tis thus when the lovely summer sun
Of our boyhood, his course hath run:
For all we live to know — is known;
And all we seek to keep — hath flown;
With the noon-day beauty, which is all.
Let life, then, as the day-flow'r, fall —
The trancient, passionate day-flow'r,
Withering at the ev'ning hour.


I reach'd my home — my home no more —
For all was flown that made it so —
I pass'd from out its mossy door,
In vacant idleness of woe.
There met me on its threshold stone
A mountain hunter, I had known
In childhood but he knew me not.
Something he spoke of the old cot:
It had seen better days, he said;
There rose a fountain once, and there
Full many a fair flow'r rais'd its head:
But she who rear'd them was long dead,
And in such follies had no part,
What was there left me now? despair —
A kingdom for a broken — heart.

Timur (from the Perso-Arabic form تیمور Tīmūr, ultimately from Chagatai (Middle Turkic) Temür "iron"; 8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), also known as Tamerlane (from Tīmūr-e Lang "Timur the Lame"), was a 14th-century conqueror of much of western and central Asia, and founder of the Timurid Empire and Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, which survived until 1857 as the Mughal Empire of India.[1][2][3][4][5]

Born into the Barlas tribe who ruled in Central Asia,[6][7] Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure, and remains so today. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire, yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi yet some Muslim states, e.g. the Ottoman Empire were impacted severely by his wars. A great patron of the arts, his campaigns also caused vast destruction. Timur told the qadis of Aleppo, during the sack of that newly-conquered city,"I am not a man of blood; and God is my witness that in all my wars I have never been the aggressor, and that my enemies have always been the authors of their own calamity."[8]


His full name in the Arabic tradition of ism, nasba, and nisbat was Tīmūr bin Taraġay Barlas. Temür means "iron" in the Chagatai language and in Mongolian (compare Temüjin "ironworker", the given name of Genghis Khan). The term temür is ultimately derived from a Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit word *čimara ("iron").[9]

At the point he reached adulthood he was better known and called as Timūr Gurkānī (تيمور گوركانى), Gurkān being the Persianized form of the original Mongolian word kürügän, "son-in-law", the title bestowed upon his ancestors due to the fact, that first person in Timur's ancestors who was by the name "kara-sharnoban", embraced Islam and married the daughter of Chagatai Khan, the son of Genghis Khan, thus became son-in-law of Chagatai Khan.

Various Persian sources use a byname, Tīmūr-e Lang (تیمور لنگ) which translates to "Timur the Lame", as he was lame after sustaining an injury to the leg in battle. During his lifetime his enemies used to tease him with it, much to Timur's discomfort. In the West, he is commonly known as Tamerlane, which derives from his Persian byname.

Timur was also the great great grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty.

Early life

Timur was born in Transoxiana, in City of Kesh (an area now better known as Shahrisabz, 'the green city,'), some 50 miles south of Samarkand in modern Uzbekistan. His father Taraqai was a small-scale landowner and belonged to the Barlas, a nomadic Turkic tribe. Timur was a Muslim, his official religious counselor was the Hanafite scholar 'Abdu 'l-Jabbar Khwarazmi. He also constructed one of his finest buildings at the tomb of Ahmed Yesevi, an influential Turkic Sufi saint who was spreading Sunni Islam among the nomads.

Military leader

In about 1360 Timur gained prominence as a military leader whose troops were mostly Turkic tribesmen of the region.[7][10]. He took part in campaigns in Transoxania with the Khan of Chagatai, a fellow descendant of Genghis Khan. His career for the next ten or eleven 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

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. This event was recorded by Marlowe in his famous work Tamburlaine the Great:[11]

Then shall my native city, Samarcanda...
Be famous through the furthest continents,
For there my palace-royal shall be placed,
Whose shining turrets shall dismay the heavens,
And cast the fame of lion's tower to hell.

A legendary account of Timur's rise to leadership, recorded among the Tatar descendants of the Qıpchaq Khanate in Tobol, goes as follows:

One day Aksak Temür[12] spoke thusly:

"Khan Züdei (in China) rules over the city. We now number fifty to sixty men, so let us elect a leader." So they drove a stake into the ground and said: "We shall run thither and he who among us is the first to reach the stake, may he become our leader". So they ran and Aksak Timur (since he was lame) lagged behind, but before the others reached the stake he threw his cap onto it. Those who arrived first said: "We are the leaders". (But) Aksak Timur said: "My head came in first, I am the leader". In the meanwhile an old man arrived and said: "The leadership should belong to Aksak Timur; your feet have arrived but, before then, his head reached the goal". So they made Aksak Timur their prince.[13][14]

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 Northern Iraq.

One of the most formidable of Timur's opponents was another Mongol ruler, a descendant of Genghis Khan named Tokhtamysh. After having been a refugee in Timur's court, Tokhtamysh became ruler both of the eastern Kipchak and the Golden Horde. After his accession, he then quarreled with Timur over the possession of Khwarizm and Azerbaijan. However, Timur still supported him against the Russians and in 1382 Tokhtamysh invaded the Muscovite dominion and burned Moscow.[15]

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 captured almost all of Persia by 1387. These conquests were characterised by exceptional brutality. For example, when Isfahan surrendered to Timur in 1387, he initially treated it with relative mercy as he commonly did with cities that surrendered without resistance. However, after the city revolted against Timur's punitive taxes by killing the tax collectors and some of Timur's soldiers, Timur ordered the complete massacre of the city, killing a reported 70,000 citizens. An eye-witness counted more than 28 towers, each constructed of about 1,500 heads.[16]

In the meantime, Tokhtamysh, now khan of the Golden Horde, turned against his patron and invaded Azerbaijan in 1385. This action would cause a counter by Timur that would become the Tokhtamysh–Timur war. In the initial stage of the war, Timur won a victory at the Battle of the Kondurcha River, however Tokhtamysh and his army were allowed to escape. After Tokhtamysh's initial defeat, Timur then invaded Muscovy to the north of Tokhtamysh's holdings. Timur's army burned Raizan and advanced upon Moscow, only to be pulled away before reaching the Oka River by Tokhtamysh's renewed campaign in the south.[15] In 1395, at the Battle of the Terek River, Tokhtamysh's power was finally broken concluding the titanic struggle between the two monarchs. In this Tokhtamysh–Timur 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 (See Battle of the Terek River). 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 during the course of his campaign destroyed Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde, and Astrakhan, subsequently wrecking the Golden Horde's economy based on Silk Road trade.

Indian campaign

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.[17] His campaign was officially based on rectifying the fact that the Muslim Delhi Sultanate was too tolerant toward its Hindu subjects, but was motivated greatly by the considerable wealth to be gained.[18]

Timur crossed the Indus River at Attock (now Pakistan) on September 24, 1398, but Timur's invasion did not go unopposed and he did meet some resistance during his march to Delhi, by the Governor of Meerut. 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. On this day the army of Sultan Mahmud Khan had prepared 120 war elephants armored with chain mail. He had put poison on the tusks, which put fright into the Tatar lines. Timur took action and the Tatars dug out a trench in front of their positions. Timur then took his camels and placed all the wood and hay he could on their backs. When the war elephants charged he lit the camels on fire and then prodded them with iron sticks. They charged at the elephants howling in pain. Timur had understood that elephants were easy creatures of panic. Faced with the strange specter of the burning camels flying straight at them with flames leaping from their backs, the elephants turned around and stampeded back toward their own lines. Timur entered Delhi and the city was sacked, destroyed, and left in ruins. Before the battle for Delhi, Timur executed 100,000 captives, mostly Hindus: [4][17]

"At this Court Amír Jahán Sháh and Amír Sulaimán Sháh, and other amírs of experience, brought to my notice that, from the time of entering Hindustán up to the present time, we had taken more than 100,000 infidels and Hindus prisoners, and that they were all in my camp. On the previous day, when the enemy's forces made the attack upon us, the prisoners made signs of rejoicing, uttered imprecations against us, and were ready, as soon as they heard of the enemy's success, to form themselves into a body, break their bonds, plunder our tents, and then to go and join the enemy, and so increase his numbers and strength. I asked their advice about the prisoners, and they said that 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 foes of Islám at liberty. In fact, no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword. When I heard these words I found them in accordance with the rules of war, and I directly gave my com mand for the Tawáchís to proclaim throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners was to 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 gházís of Islám, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. 100,000 infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Mauláná Násiru-d dín 'Umar, a counsellor 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."

Timur himself recorded the invasions in his memoirs, collectively known as Tuzk-e-Taimuri‎.[4][17][19][20] In them, he vividly described the massacre at Delhi:

On the 16th of the month some incidents occurred which led to the sack of the city of Dehlí, and to the slaughter of many of the infidel inhabitants. One was this. A party of fierce Turk soldiers had assembled at one of the gates of the city to look about them and enjoy themselves, and some of them laid violent hands upon the goods of the inhabitants. When I heard of this violence, I sent some amírs, who were present in the city, to restrain the Turks. A party of soldiers accompanied these amírs into the city. Another reason was that some of the ladies of my harem expressed a wish to go into the city and see the palace of Hazár-sutún (thousand columns) which Malik Jauná built in the fort called Jahán-panáh. I granted this request, and I sent a party of soldiers to escort the litters of the ladies. Another reason was that Jalál Islám and other díwáns had gone into the city with a party of soldiers to collect the contribution laid upon the city. Another reason was that some thousand troopers with orders for grain, oil, sugar, and flour, had gone into the city to collect these supplies. Another reason was that it had come to my knowledge that great numbers of Hindus and gabrs, with their wives and children, and goods, and valuables, had come into the city from all the country round, and consequently I had sent some amírs with their regiments (kushún) into the city and directed them to pay no attention to the remonstrances of the inhabitants, but to seize and bring out these fugitives. For these several reasons a great number of fierce Turkí soldiers were in the city. When the soldiers proceeded to apprehend the Hindus and gabrs who had fled to the city, many of them drew their swords and offered resistance. The flames of strife were thus lighted and spread through the whole city from Jahán-panáh and Sírí to Old Dehlí, burning up all it reached. The savage Turks fell to killing and plundering. The Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them, and rushed into the fight and were killed. The Hindus and gabrs of the city showed much alacrity and boldness in fighting. The amírs who were in charge of the gates prevented any more soldiers from going into the place, but the flames of war had risen too high for this precaution to be of any avail in extinguishing them. On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and destroying. When morning broke on the Friday, all my army, no longer under control, went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering, and making prisoners. All that day the sack was general. The following day, Saturday, the 17th, all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems; jewels of gold and silver; ashrafís, tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated 'Aláí coinage; vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Ex cepting the quarter of the saiyids, the 'ulamá, and the other Musulmáns, the whole city was sacked. The pen of fate had written down this destiny for the people of this city. Although I was desirous of sparing them I could not succeed, for it was the will of God that this calamity should fall upon the city.

Timur left Delhi in approximately January 1399. In April he had returned to his own capital beyond the Oxus (Amu Darya). Immense quantities of spoils were taken from India. According to Ruy Gonzáles 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.

Last campaigns and death

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 (see also Timur's invasions of Georgia). More than 60,000 people from the Caucasus were captured as slaves, and many districts were depopulated.[21]

He invaded Baghdad in June 1401. After the capture of the city, 20,000 of its citizens including Muslims were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him (many warriors were so scared they killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign just to ensure they had heads to present to Timur). 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.

Timur's army ravaged Western Anatolia, with Muslim writers complaining that the Timurid army acted more like a horde of savages than that of a civilized conqueror. After the Battle of Ankara, Timur did take the city of Smyrna, a stronghold of the Knights Hospitalers, thus he referred to himself as ghazi. Timur was furious at the Genoese and Venetians whose ships ferried the Ottoman army to safety in Thrace. As Lord Kinross reported in The Ottoman Centuries, the Italians preferred the enemy they knew to the one they did not.

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. Although Timur more than once sent to the Ming Government tributes after he had imprisoned the Chinese envoys for several months, he wished to restore the Mongol Empire, and eventually planned to conquer China. To this end, Timur made an alliance with the Mongols of the Northern Yuan Dynasty and prepared all the way to Bukhara. The Mongol leader Enkhe Khan sent his grandson Öljei Temür, also known as Buyanshir Khan. In December 1404, Timur started military campaigns against the Ming Dynasty and detained the Ming envoy, but he was attacked by fever and plague when encamped on the farther side of the Sihon (Syr-Daria) and died at Atrar (Otrar) in mid-February 1405.[22] 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.

Although he preferred to fight his battles in the spring, Timur died enroute during an uncharacteristic winter campaign against the ruling Chinese Ming Dynasty. It was one of the bitterest winters on record; his troops are recorded as having to dig through five feet of ice to reach drinking water. Records indicate though, that for part of his life at least, he was a surreptitious Ming vassal and that his son Shah Rukh visited China in 1420.[23] 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, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, North-Western India, and even approaches Kashgar in China. Northern Iraq remained predominantly Assyrian Christian until attacked, looted, plundered and destroyed by Timur leaving its population decimated by systematic mass slaughter. All churches were destroyed and any survivors forcefully converted to Islam by the sword.[24] Of Timur's four sons, two (Jahangir and Umar Shaykh) 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 Pakistan and North India. Babur's descendants Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, expanded the Mughal Empire to most of the Indian subcontinent along with parts of modern Pakistan and 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, though it has been heavily restored in recent years. 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 Samarkand, now in present-day Uzbekistan. He was known to bring the most talented artisans from the lands he conquered back to Samarkand, and 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 (also known as medieval chess) played on a larger board with several additional pieces and an original method of pawn promotion. These pieces included the camel, siege-weapon, giraffe, and several others as well as boasting a complicated system involving the ability to exchange pawns for certain pieces should they reach the other side of the board.

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.

Exchanges with the West

Timur had numerous epistolary exchanges with Western, especially French, rulers. The French archives preserve:

A July 30, 1402, letter from Timur to Charles VI, king of France, suggesting him to send traders to the Orient. It was written in Persian.[25]
A May 1403 letter. This is a Latin transcription of a letter from Timur to Charles VI, and another from Amiza Miranchah, his son, to the Christian princes, announcing their victory over Bayezid, in Smyrna.[26]
A copy has been kept of the answer of Charles VI to Timur, dated June 15, 1403.[27]


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. He was responsible for the effective destruction of the Christian Church in much of Asia. Thus, while Timur still retains a positive image in Central Asia, he is vilified by many in Arab, Persian and Indian societies.

Timur's military talents were unique. He used propaganda in what is now called information warfare as part of his tactics. His campaigns were preceded by the deployment of spies whose tasks included collecting information and spreading horrifying reports about the cruelty, size, and might of Timur’s armies. Such disinformation eventually weakened the morale of threatened populations and caused panic among enemy forces. He planned all his campaigns years in advance, including planting barley for horse feed two-years ahead of his campaigns. Whilst Timur’s uncharacteristic (for the time) concern for his troops inspired fierce loyalty he did not pay them. Their only incentives were from looting captured territory — a bounty that included horses, wives, precious metals and stones; in other words whatever they, or their newly indentured slaves, could carry away from the conquered lands.

Timur's short-lived empire also melded the Turko-Persian tradition in Transoxiania, and in most of the territories which he incorporated into his fiefdom, Persian became the primary language of administration and literary culture (diwan), regardless of ethnicity.[28] In addition, during his reign, some contributions to Turkic literature were penned, with Turkic cultural influence expanding and flourishing as a result. A literary form of Chagatai Turkic came into use alongside Persian as both a cultural and an official language.[29]

Timur became a popular figure in Europe for centuries after his death, not in the least because of his victory over the Ottoman Sultan and the humiliations to which he is said to have subjected his prisoner Bayezid.

Timur was officially recognized as a national hero of newly independent Uzbekistan. His monument in Tashkent takes the place where Marx's statue once stood.[30]


Timur's generally recognized biographers are Ali Yazdi, commonly called Sharaf ud-Din, author of the Zafarnāmeh in Persian (ظفرنامه), 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 (commonly called Ahmad Ibn Arabshah) 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 Zafarnāmeh, 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 Tuzk-e-Taimuri ("Memoirs of Temur") is a later fabrication, although most of the historical facts are accurate.[4]

More recent biographies include Justin Marozzi's Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (2006)[31] and Roy Stier's Tamerlane: The Ultimate Warrior (1998).[32]


Timur's body was exhumed from his tomb in 1941 by the Soviet anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov. From his bones it was clear that Timur was a tall and broad chested man with strong cheek bones. Gerasimov also found that Timur's facial characteristics conformed to partial Mongoloid features, which he believed, in some part, supported Timur's notion that he was descended from Genghis Khan. Gerasimov was able to reconstruct the likeness of Timur from his skull. His height was 5 feet 8 inches (1.73 meters), tall for his era. He also confirmed Timur's lameness due to a hip injury.

Timur's tomb is protected by a slab of jade in which are carved the words in Arabic: "When I rise, the World will Tremble". [33] It is said that when Gerasimov exhumed the body, an additional inscription inside the casket was found reading "Whosoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I."[34] In any case, two days after Gerasimov had begun the exhumation, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, its invasion of the U.S.S.R.[35] Timur was re-buried with full Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad (ref Marozzi 2004)

In the arts

Tamerlano (1724) - opera by George Frideric Handel, in Italian, based on the 1675 play Tamerlan ou la mort de Bajazet by Jacques Pradon.
Bajazet (1735) - opera by Antonio Vivaldi, portrays the capture of Bayezid I by Timur
Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II - play by Christopher Marlowe (English, 1563-1594).
Tamerlane - first published poem of Edgar Allan Poe (American, 1809-1849).
Tamerlan - novel by Colombian writer [Enrique Serrano] (ISBN-13: 978-9584205407) in Spanish [2]
Timur Lang is also the name of the warlord that shall be defeated in the game Might and Magic IX, a sort of joke using the names of Timur Leng and this game's designer's one, Timothy Lang.

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