Timur (Tamerlane)

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Also Timur Lang, or Timur the Lame; the Muslim conqueror and devastator of Muslim Asia; b. Kesh, Transoxania, 1336; d. Utar (Otrar), Central Asia, January, 1405. Descended from Turkish (not Mongol) stock no longer migratory, Timur began his career with an attempt to free his native Transoxania from the barbarian Mongol nomads who had overrun it during the invasion of Genghis Khan in 1220. Since Mongol authority in Transoxania was already weakened, Timur, by his ability and ruthlessness, made himself one of the leading Mongol vassals and, swearing allegiance to a puppet Khan of his own choosing, joined with the native prince of Balkh to expel the Mongol Khan and his army in 1363 (see mongols). In these efforts he had the energetic support of the Muslim Ulamā' (clergy) of Samarqand and of the Islamic population. Timur then seized the throne of Balkh, had his ally assassinated, made himself the champion of the Muslim settled people against the still half-pagan nomads, and freed Khwarizm (Khiva) and the Oxus Valley of Mongol domination in successive campaigns from 1370 to 1380.

While much of his life was spent in wars against the Mongols, Timur did not break with Mongol political theory. In fact, he issued decrees in the name of a Khan who was really his prisoner, married Mongol princesses of the line of Genghis Khan, and even claimed himself to be of Genghisid descent.

In 1381 his mounting ambition led him to attack cities of Persia, slowly recovering from Mongol devastation and misrule. The rest of his career was a series of great campaigns in all directions, in which he sacked and destroyed the chief cities of Islam in Asia, although he posed as a model of Muslim piety. He looted the Muslim Sultanate of Delhi in 1398 to "punish" it for living at peace among Hindus and crushed the forces of the Ottoman Empire for not attacking Christian Europe with sufficient vigor. He avenged hostility toward his troops with savage reprisals against the local populations; deliberately massacred the Christian populations of cities in Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Georgia; nearly obliterated Nestorian Christianity, once flourishing under the Mongols; and burned and plundered capitulated Damascus in 1401 for having supported Muāwiya against alĪ 740 years earlier.

Pyramids of human heads and ruined cities were not his only monuments; the scholars and artisans of conquered cities were carried off forcibly to Transoxania to make Samarqand Asia's most splendid capital. In the 15th century his descendants, the Timuri Dynasty, while dissipating their power in fratricidal struggles, sponsored a brilliant revival of Persian Islamic culture in Eastern Iran. In 1526, a prince of their house, Baber, conquered Delhi to found the Great Mughal Dynasty of India. Timur died while on a campaign to loot the Ming Empire of China.

Bibliography: e. g. browne, A Literary History of Persia, 4v. (2d ed. Cambridge, Eng. 1929) v.3. a. j. toynbee, A Study of History (London 1934) 4:491501. r. gonzalez de clavijo, Embassy to Tamerlane 140306, tr. g. le strange (London 1928).

[j. a. williams]