Birthday: April 9, 1336
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Timūr Gurkānī, Amir Timur, Tamerlane
Born Country: Uzbekistan
Born in: Kesh, Chagatai Khanate, Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan
Famous as: Monarch of the Timurid Empire
Emperors & Kings
Spouse/Ex-: Aljaz Turkhan Agha, Chulpan Mulk Agha, Dil Shad Agha, Touman Agha, Tukal Khanum
father: Amir Taraghai
mother: Tekina Khatun
Died on: February 19, 1405
place of death: Otrar, Farab, near Shymkent, Syr Darya, Kazakhstan
Who was Timur?
Timur, later Timūr Gurkānī, also known as Amir Timur or Tamerlane ("Timur the Lame"), was a Turco-Mongol Persianate warlord and the founder and the first monarch of the Timurid dynasty. As a military commander, he never lost a battle and is often considered one of the greatest generals and tacticians of all time. At the height of his reign, his empire stretched from modern-day Turkey to India. He was the most powerful ruler of the Muslim world of the time and led successful military campaigns against the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate of India. He was also victorious against Russia, the Golden Horde, Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, and the Christian Knights Hospitaller. He was the final great nomadic conqueror of the Eurasian Steppe. His empire was the precursor of the more organised and lasting Islamic Gunpowder Empires of the 16th and 17th centuries. Timur believed himself to be the heir of the legacy of Genghis Khan and sought to replicate the latter man’s accomplishments through conquests. One of the most brutal conquerors in history, he caused the deaths of millions all over Asia. He was also a prolific patron of art and architecture and held regular interactions with intellectuals and scholars.
Childhood & Early Life
According to most contemporary sources, Timur was born in the late 1320s in Kesh, Chagatai Khanate (present-day Shahrisabz, Uzbekistan) to Amir Taraghai and Tekina Khatun. However, later Timurid dynastic histories indicate April 8, 1336, as his birth date.
He was part of a Mongolian tribe called Barlas. His father, some sources claim, was a minor noble of the tribe. Many modern historians hold the view that Timur purposefully understated his father’s place in their society, so his achievements would seem more astounding. As a child, Timur led a small group of young raiders who robbed travellers of various goods, including animals.
Around 1363, a shepherd shot him with two arrows while he was attempting to steal a sheep. One arrow hit him in the right leg, while the other went into his right hand. Timur eventually lost two fingers.
Some sources state that he sustained the crippling injuries while he was working as a mercenary for the khan of Sistan in Khorasan. Due to these injuries, he came to be known as Timur the Lame or Tamerlane by Europeans.
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Early Military Campaigns
About 1360, Timur garnered some fame as a leader of a war band predominantly comprised of Turkish tribesmen. He participated in campaigns in Transoxiana with the khan of the Chagatai Khanate. As an ally of the Amir Qazaghan, he took part in the invasion of Khorasan.
After Qazaghan was murdered, Timur eventually became the ruler of Transoxiana. Following his father’s death, he assumed the leadership of Barlas. In a few short years, he turned the Chagatai Khans into figureheads, administering over a significant portion of land in their name.
Becoming a Ruler
Timur and his brother-in-law, Amir Husayn, began their journey together, as fugitives and co-participants in adventures. Over the years, their relationship deteriorated, and they became rivals and enemies.
Because of his generosity and willingness to share his wealth with the people, Timur accumulated significant following in Balkh. In contrast, Husayn heavily taxed these people and then used the money to build lavish structures. Around 1370, Timur forced the other man to surrender to him. After Husayn’s assassination, Timur became the undisputed ruler of Balkh.
Empowered by his Turco-Mongolian heritage, Timur wanted to reign over the Mongol Empire and the Muslim world. He was not a Borjigid or a descendant of Genghis Khan, so he could not proclaim himself a Khan.
He could not be the Caliph either, the supreme leader of the Islamic world, as that title was restricted to the Quraysh, Prophet Muhammad’s tribe. Ultimately, he chose Amir, meaning general, as his title and used propaganda to establish himself as the “Sword of Islam”.
In the ensuing 35 years, Timur conducted numerous wars and expeditions. His campaign to the west extended his domain to the lands near the Caspian Sea and the banks of the Ural and the Volga. He conquered almost every province in Persia, including Baghdad, Karbala and northern Iraq, in the south and south-west.
One of his most dangerous enemies was Tokhtamysh, the Khan of the Golden Horde. After beginning his career in Timur’s court, Tokhtamysh started his dispute with the other man for the control of Khwarizm and Azerbaijan. He was decisively defeated in the Battle of the Terek River in 1395 and was killed in 1406.
A practising Sunni Muslim, Timur waged wars on people of both Shia and Sunni faith on religious grounds. He was especially brutal towards Ismailis and wiped out the Church of the East. Timur proclaimed himself a ghazi following his victory against the Christian Knights Hospitaller at the Siege of Smyrna in 1402.
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In 1398, Timur attacked northern India. At the time, much of the region was ruled by Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq. In the battle that took place on December 17, 1398, Timur won an easy victory and went on to capture Delhi.
With Delhi being one of the richest cities of the time, its conquest was one of the greatest successes of Timur. Hundreds of thousands of the captives were executed before the battle of Delhi and while quashing multiple rebellions.
In late 1399, Timur began his campaign against Bayezid I, sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which culminated in the Battle of Ankara on July 20, 1402. Bayezid I was defeated and taken captive. He died a year later. Timur sacked Aleppo and Damascus and also quarrelled with the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Nasir-ad-Din Faraj.
Family & Personal Life
One of the most prominent consorts of Timur was Turmish Agha, the mother of his heir, Jahangir Mirza. Saray Mulk Khanum, the former widow of Amir Husayn, was the Empress Consort of the Timurid Empire as Timur’s chief consort.
He had 41 other consorts, including Tolun Agha, concubine and mother of Umar Shaikh Mirza I; Mengli Agha, concubine and mother of Miran Shah; and Toghay Turkhan Agha, the lady from the Kara Khitai and mother of Shah Rukh.
In his reign, Timur named a successor twice. Both passed away before him. His first heir was Jahangir Mirza, who died in 1376. He then chose his grandson Muhammad Sultan Mirza, who passed away in 1403.
On his deathbed, he picked another grandson, Pir Muhammad Mirza, who failed to secure his throne. Ultimately, Timur’s youngest son, Shah Rukh, ascended his father’s throne in 1405.
Death & Legacy
Timur generally liked to conduct his battles in the spring. However, he passed away while travelling to begin his campaign against Ming China in winter. He caught an illness while he and his men were camping on the farther side of the Syr Daria. On February 17, 1405, Timur passed away in Otrar, Farab, near Shymkent, Syr Darya (now in Kazakhstan).
Timur left a mixed legacy. Samarkand and the rest of central Asia thrived under his reign, while places like Baghdad, Damascus, and Delhi took generations to fully recover from the effects of his invasions.
Timur’s army killed millions and caused unprecedented destructions to economic and cultural centres all over Asia. However, he is hailed as a unifying force in the Muslim world.
After his death, the Timurid dynasty gradually declined. One of his grandsons was Ulugh Beg, astronomer, mathematician, and the sultan of the Timurid empire from 1447 to 1449. Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty in the Indian subcontinent, was one of his descendants. In Uzbekistan, Timur is seen as a national hero.