Tamerlane (also Tamberlaine; 1336-1405) was a fiery, charismatic, brutal Mongol ruler who attempted to reclaim Genghis Khan’s empire in the fourteenth century. His bloody reign inspired poetry from such later writers as Christopher Marlowe, Lord Byron, and Edgar Allan Poe.
He was born Timur Leng in 1336 in Shahr-i-Sabz, south of Samarkand, the son of a Turk commander. As a young man, he injured himself in a sheep-raiding accident, and "'as unable to bend his right knee or raise his right arm ever again. This earned him the nickname Timur the Lame, which became Tamerlane. Mongol power in Transoxiana had been significantly reduced from the days of Genghis Kan, as various factions sought to assert leadership. Tamerlane claimed he was Genghis's descendant, but there is no evidence to support this, although apparently two of his four wives were related to Genghis. In 1361, Tamerlane became chieftain of the Timurid tribe. With Amir Husayn, his brother-in-law, Tamerlane began defending the Timurids against the dominating Chingisid tribe. Within a decade he defeated the Chingsids, and later Husayn's army itself. Tamerlane named himself sole ruler of Transoxiana in 1369. He saw himself as having been selected by God to lead, having been born during the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.
After seizing power in Central Asia, Tamerlane assaulted western Iran and eastern Anatolia for the next three decades, leading armies of upwards of 300,000. He began attacking Persia in the 1380s, burying 2,000 Persians alive during a raid in Isfizar, an assault he would later blame on his associates.
|Tamerlane's army in battle|
In 1398-1399, Tamerlane attacked India swiftly conquered Delhi after 100,000 captives slaughtered. In battle on the banks of the Indus River against an army on elephants, his soldiers placed straw on their camels' backs, then set the straw on fire. The camels ran in alarm, and the elephants retreated, trampling many Indian soldiers in the process.
Tamerlane turned west and conquered Damascus in 1400-1401, moving toward an assault on the Byzantine Empire. In 1402, Turkish Anatolia fell to Tamerlane. He forced many of the Anatolian soldiers to join his army, ultimately capturing the Anatolian leader Beyezid, who died after eight months of torture.
In his old age, Tamerlane began plans for an invasion of China. He became sick after excessive eating and drinking at a celebration before the incursion; after three days of heavy drinking, he died from a fever on February 18, 1405.
Despite his physical handicaps (or perhaps because of them), Tamerlane was an exceptional field leader, governing from horseback. Though his armies numbered in the hundreds of thousands, he kept his soldiers in units of 10. As a political leader, he did not establish government in the lands he conquered, though he would make Samarkand his capital. During his reign, Tamerlane beautified Samarkand, imported captured artisans from Syria and India to design buildings. He would generously reward good workenrs, but on one occasion, Tamerlane had two artisans hanged for building a mosque porch he did not like.
Tamcrlane's bravado was legendary. Before assaulting Damascus, he announced, "I am the scourage of God appointed to chastise you, since no one knows the remedy for your iniquity except me:. You are wicked, but I am more wicked than you, so be silent!“
He was said to be tall strongly built and well proportioned, with a large head and broad forehead. His complexion was pale and ruddy, his beard long and his voice full and resonant. In 1941, the body of Tamerlane was permitted to be exhumed by a Russian scientist, M. M. Gerasimov. The scientist found Timur, after examining his skeleton, a Mongoloid man about 5 feet 8 inches. He also confirmed Tamerlane's lameness. In his book The Face Finder, Gerasimov explains how he was able to reconstruct exact likenesses of Timur from a careful consideration of his skull. Different sources indicate that Timur is a man with extraordinary intelligence - not only intuitive, but intellectual. Even though he did not know how to read or write, he spoke two or three languages including Persian and Turkish and liked to be read history at mealtimes. He had aesthetic appreciation in buildings and garden. It has been said that he loved art so much that he could not help stealing it! Known to be a chess player, he had invented a more elaborate form of the game, now called Tamerlane Chess, with twice the number of pieces on a board of a hundred and ten squares.
|Tamerlane's tomb in Samarkand|