Timurid Empire


The Timurid (in Persian تيموريان, “Tīmūriyān”) or Gurkani (in Persian وركانى, “Gurkānī”) or Turan (in Persian توران, “Tūrān”) empire was a Turko-Mongolian domain that extended into the present-day states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, the southern region of the Caucasus, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, much of Central Asia, as well as parts of Russia, India, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

The empire was founded by Tamerlane (Latinized version of Timur-i leng), a warlord of Turkish-Mongolian lineage who created it between 1370 and his death in 1405. Proposing himself as a great restorer of Genghis Khan”s Mongol Empire, he rode the myth of the ancient emperor throughout his life, even expressing his admiration for Borjigin several times. Tamerlane cultivated vigorous trade relations with Ming China and the Golden Horde. During the Timurid period, Turkestan and Khorasan experienced the most flourishing period in terms of expression of Islamic architecture, and from the end of the fifteenth century, the old Chagatai Khanate experienced a vibrant cultural season and enjoyed military supremacy from Corasmia to the Caucasus. After Tamerlane elevated Samarkand to the role of capital, various artisans were forcibly transferred from the warlord”s subjugated territories to today”s Uzbek city. The Spanish ambassador Clavijo reported the presence of 150,000 families of artisans moved to the capital. Despite the way in which the demographic increase was achieved, between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Samarkand lived the best interlude of its history. Shortly thereafter, the so-called Timurid Renaissance took place, coinciding with the reign of the astronomer and mathematician Uluğ Bek.

In 1467, the ruling Timurid dynasty lost most of Persia to the Ak Koyunlu confederacy. However, members of the Timurid lineage continued to administer smaller political entities, sometimes known as Timurid emirates, in Central Asia and parts of India. In the 16th century, Babur, a Timurid prince from Fergana (now in Uzbekistan), invaded Kabulistan (now Afghanistan) and established a small kingdom there. Twenty years later, he used what he had founded as a base from which to invade medieval India and establish the Mughal empire.

The Timurid historian Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi states in his work Zafarnama (Book of Victories) that the name of the Timurid empire was originally Turan (in Persian توران). Tamerlane personally ordered the name of his domain to be carved as Turan in a rock fragment on the mountainside of Ulu Tagh (in present-day Kazakhstan), known today as the Karsakpay inscription. The original text, in particular, reads:

In the literature of the Timurid era, the kingdom was called Iran-u-Turan (Persian: ایران و توران) or Mawarannahr (Arabic: ما وراء النهر, Mā warāʾ al-nahr). Shi”i authors confirm that Tamerlane, when he assumed after his marriage the title of Gorkani, having become ruler of the tribe of Chaghatai, by analogy with the title of his lord, made his dominions assume the appellation of Gurkānī. This designation would apply to all members of the ruling dynasty.

Tamerlane (1370-1405)

Tamerlane (in chagatai: تیمور, Tēmür) was born in 1336 in the city of Kesh, near Samarkand, in an area under Mongol rule already in 1300. At that time, communities formed by Turks and Mongols coexisted peacefully and there was already a certain cultural mix: that is why some Mongols had joined Islam in the region. The tribe to which Tamerlane belonged did not escape this process of assimilation. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, the Barlas originated from the Borjigin clan, to which the family of Genghis Khan and his descendants belonged. In fact, contrary to what you might think following the premise made above, Tamerlane had no family ties with Genghis.

Khan Tughluk Timur, eager to expand his domains, decided to settle in Transoxiana in March 1360, confident that little resistance would be encountered. As expected, most of the tribal emirs succumbed to his authority, while others, including Hajji Beg of the Barlas people, fled. It was then decided to find someone else suitable to administer Hajji Beg”s old territories, and the final choice was the young nephew of the emir who had fled, Tamerlane, who had submitted to them. In exchange for his loyalty, he was assigned the city of Kesh and its surroundings, formerly in the hands of his father.

Tughluk Timur granted the administration of Transoxiana to his son Ilyas Khoja, with Tamerlane subordinate to him. The ruthlessness with which the Mongols ruled the region caused many to oppose them, including Amir Hussain of the Qara”una and Tamerlane: the two together faced an army of Mongols and local tribes loyal to Ilyas Khoja, defeating them in a battle in 1364. Shortly after, Tughlugh Timur died and Ilyas Khoja left for Moghulistan with the intention of assuming power. In 1365, Khoja returned to Transoxiana. In May he defeated Amir Hussain and Timur in the battle of Tashkent, but when he arrived at the gates of Samarkand its inhabitants refused to let him enter, resulting in a siege that saw the defenders triumph. A plague among the horses deprived the Mongols of their ability to move quickly and their power, so much so that they were forced to leave Transoxiana again.

In 1368, Ilyas Khoja died. Most of the khan”s family was assassinated and on the political scene remained mainly Tamerlane and his brother-in-law Amir Hussain, who had become related by marriage. The relationship between the two gave rise to a sort of duumvirate and was originally peaceful, then became tense when both realized they yearned for the same lands. Hussain had an advantage: he was respected for his seniority and was in possession of various portions of northwestern Afghanistan, but this did not intimidate the young Tamerlane, who became the spokesman of those nobles who felt harassed and, officially proclaiming to support their interests, asked his rival to give him possession of the cities he administered. For his part, Hussain Sufi replied that, “having conquered these places with the sword, only someone with another sword will be able to take them back”. Tamerlane then sent troops to the region and captured the places he hoped to get under his control, also plundering the surrounding area. However, Hussain, at least temporarily, resisted and came to the conclusion of a peace with the other party, despite the hostilities were far from disappearing. Thanks to his successes, Tamerlane had gained many supporters in Balkh, an Afghan city made up of many merchants, tribesmen, prominent Muslim clergymen, aristocrats and farmers, thanks to his courteous manners and the many gifts he offered. This behavior, which not only surrounded Tamerlane with supporters in Afghanistan but elsewhere as well, was likely aimed at attracting sympathy against Hussain, who was responsible for the removal of many political opponents and the seizure of their property, as well as for enacting oppressive tax laws and exorbitant personal expenses. When it became clear that his subjects would abandon him, around 1370, Hussain surrendered to Tamerlane, who was laying siege once again to the lands near the current northern section of the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and was then assassinated, which allowed him to be formally proclaimed ruler in Samarkand.

One thought that troubled him during his rise, since he was not a direct descendant of Genghis, was the impossibility of holding the title of grand khan, having to make do with that of emir (a term that in Arabic stands for chief). In 1370, proposing himself as the “heir” of the legitimacy of Genghis Khan, he took the title of gurkan: it is a Mongolian variant of the Persian word kurugen or khurgen which meant “son-in-law”. This choice was justified by the fact that Tamerlane married Hussain”s wife, Saray Malik Katun (also known as Bibi Khanoum), who had among her ancestors the Genghis dynasty. It is to April 10, 1370, when he was thirty-four years old, that we ascribe the year of establishment of the Timur empire in conjunction with his coronation.

Hussain was succeeded by his brother Yusuf Sufi. Crystallized by now three years the conquest of Transoxiana, Tamerlane attacked Corasmia in 1373: to justify this aggression was the circumstance that Yusuf Sufi did not keep his promise to refrain from any hostilities, having sent troops in the vicinity of Khiva to impose his authority by force. After learning that Tamerlane was advancing in the direction of Corasmia, Yusuf Sufi became alarmed and agreed to begin negotiations as soon as possible to achieve peace. In the meantime, he tried to ensure that his eldest son, Pir Muhammad, could take over as successor of his empire.

In 1375, the issue of Corasmia flared up again. Once again not comfortable in the position of subordinate, Yusuf Sufi tried to take advantage of the campaigns that Tamerlane was carrying out in the east and devastated Transoxiana in various areas, almost reaching Samarkand. To crush this threat, in 1379, the emir pushed to the gates of Urgench at the head of a large army. Although he tried to use diplomatic means, Yusuf Sufi took the ambassadors sent by Tamerlane prisoner and suffered a siege that lasted three months, of which Yusuf did not see the end because he died of an illness. In this way, the region became part of the Timurid state, but after a while, because of the influence of Toktamish, future great opponent of Tamerlane, the Sufi family rebelled against the sovereign of the empire. The noble dynasty tried to exploit its close relations with the Golden Horde, as well as the Red Horde, to which the mother of the khan Toktamish belonged. Although Tamerlane launched no less than four expeditions between 1371 and 1379 into Corasmia, it cannot be said that he was able to completely subjugate the Sufi family. After Toktamish revived the Red Horde as a para-state unit, its leading political members provided him with aid in his battles away from Corasmia, allowing Tamerlane to travel there in 1388: this time the expedition ended in success.

Tamerlane turned his gaze toward fragmented Iran only after the issue of Corasmia was resolved. At that time, several communities lived west of the Amu Darya River, while the situation in Iraq, where the Jalayrids dominated, was somewhat more centralized. Tamerlane started the conquest operations for all these regions with the intention of annexing them to his empire.

Between 1381 and 1383, Tamerlane captured Herat, an important center in western Afghanistan. From there, he advanced west to the coast of the Caspian Sea and south to Zaranj. The punishments inflicted on the rebels, as recounted by sources in 1383, were notable for their extreme cruelty. By 1384, every hotbed of revolt was extinguished and Iran too became part of the empire, allowing its sovereign to turn his gaze to other latitudes.

After becoming aware of Iran”s internal fragilities during the campaign in Khorasan, Tamerlane decided to fully occupy what he did not yet possess in 1386, the year he departed Samarkand. Under the pretext of attacking those potentially hostile caravans going on pilgrimage, he imprisoned the Lorestan ruler Malik Izzeddin and his sons, relegating them to Samarkand. After a series of riots, Tamerlane conquered Baghdad and marched towards Tabriz, left undefended at that time. Happy with the success of the operation, the warlord attacked the Georgians, taking possession of the fortresses of Iğdır and Kars. After subduing Naxçıvan, he entered Tbilisi (Tiflis in contemporary sources). However, it is possible that he had come to Georgia not to conquer it permanently, but to provide a show of force and plunder the region. Reached Esfahan in 1387, the warlord subdued it and met the exponents of the city offering peace: following the explosion of some scuffles, he ordered the traditional extermination of the entire population, erasing in fact the presence of a thriving center of the time.

After capturing Esfahan, Tamerlane advanced in the direction of Shiraz: when he arrived there, he was informed that Toktamish had sent troops against the empire and that riots had broken out around Samarkand, which forced him to return to the capital.

A series of turmoil gripped the Timurid empire in the 1370s: beyond minor skirmishes, Tamerlane flanked his longtime enemy Toktamish and struck at the land of the Kipchaks (Dasht-i Kipchak), expanding further north between 1377 and 1380. The help provided in the struggles against the Golden Horde allowed Tamerlane to understand how he was more powerful. As a result, his empire did not hesitate to plunder regions of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Corasmia that showed sympathy for Toktamish. After a fifth campaign in Corasmia in 1388, he subdued the great city of Kunya-Urgench and transferred its population to Samarkand, ordering the destruction of the city and imposing, in place of the old foundations, to plant barley crops. Only during a new expedition against the Kipčaki, in 1391, the settlement came back into existence for military purposes.

From 1387 and until 1398, Tamerlane also clashed in Cumania with Toktamish on various battlefields, making the struggle reach the level of a clash between the ancient Mongol heritage and the growing strength of the Turks.

During the campaign against the Kipčaki, the Mongols in Iran took advantage of the absence of the warlord to start a rebellion. The emir, in the early 1390s, sent his men there and asked them to gather troops and prepare for battle. He himself arrived in Bukhara in June 1392. From there, he crossed the Amu Darya River and advanced to Mazandaran, where he subdued the opposing rulers: later, he advanced to southern Iran, in the Fars, and attacked the Muzaffarids. Shah Mansur retreated to Shiraz without recognizing the government of Tamerlane. Tamerlane attacked him in March 1393 and Shah Mansur was severely defeated, ending up captured and killed along with all members of the dynasty.

After the conquest of Mazandaran and the Persian province, Tamerlane advanced in the direction of Baghdad in August 1393. In today”s Iraqi capital, he addressed precious gifts to Sultan Ahmad Jalayir, the last exponent of the Jalairi, and asked him to submit. Fearing Tamerlane, he accepted, but since he would have been deprived of all power, he preferred to flee to Cairo, in the Mamluk Sultanate. After capturing today”s Iraqi capital, Tamerlane sent emissaries to the emir of Erzincan, to the bey of Garagoyunlu (eastern Azerbaijan) and Ak Koyunlu, in Mamluk land and in the presence of the king of the Eretnids (region of Sivas and Kayseri), Kadi Burhan al-Din. Tired of waiting for answers, he made a surprise and successful attack on Mosul, Mardin and Diyarbakır, finally reaching Aladağ, north of Lake Van. While there, the emir of Erzincan, Taharten, came to him and declared his obedience. The Mamluk sultan killed Tamerlane”s emissary, who then decided to advance in the direction of Syria, but as a result of Burhan al-Din”s efforts, an alliance was formed between various governors hostile to the emir, including Toktamish. Advancing toward Erzurum, Tamerlane, thinking that he would be surrounded by the Mamluks to the south and Toktamish to the north, attacked the latter.

On his return, he first occupied himself with the subjugation of Georgia, this time without limiting himself to plunder. Once again entering Tbilisi, he raged in the entire area between Cartalia and Cachezia, attacking Christian clergy and monuments and causing massacres in all the valleys of Upper Cartalia.

Despite his defeat at the Battle of Kunduz in 1391, the Mamluk Sultan, who was in power in Kipaka land, allied himself with Toktamish and, after completing preparations, they launched an attack on Tamerlane in February 1395. The battle on the Terek River that followed saw the emir prevail by a wide margin, but he was unable to take his eternal enemy prisoner and decided to continue the campaign. Once attacked the populations along the Dnepr river, he plundered those who supported Toktamish and forced him to find refuge in the Balkan peninsula. Tamerlane continued his conquest operations in Astrakhan and Saraj, without finding serious resistance. With this march, thanks to this series of clashes, he inflicted a hard blow to the Red Horde and enriched himself with such a booty that he could further proceed to expand his dominions.

Having completed the acquisition of the Chagathai lands in Central Asia and the Ilkhanate in Persia, Tamerlane could now confront the great Islamic powers to the southeast and west of his domains: India; the Mamluk sultanate of Syria and Egypt; and the sultanate of the Ottoman Turks.

In 1398 Tamerlane, taking as a pretext the excessive tolerance that the Sultan of India showed towards his Hindu subjects, attacked the Muslim lord of Delhi, crossing the Indus and routing the Rajputs of the inner Sindh. During the advance, Tamerlane himself was hit by one of the many arrows that over the years tortured his body. A few days later, however, managed to arrive in front of Delhi, where little resistance could oppose the troops of the Tughlaq sultan Mahmud Shah, despite the problems created by the use of elephants by the latter. A great battle took place on December 17, 1398, during which, thanks to an effective tactical stratagem that intimidated the large mammals, Tamerlane prevailed. The conquest of the Sultanate of Delhi was one of Tamerlane”s greatest victories, and here he excelled in doing what Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan had failed to do.

The city, one of the wealthiest of its time, was taken and atrociously ravaged and pillaged for three days. In spite of the officially sanctioned prohibitions, the brutality continued and almost all the citizens who survived the massacre were enslaved and taken away, pushed by an army that was once very fast in its movements, but on this occasion so full of booty that it had to march with extreme slowness. It took about a century before the city could finally recover. Leaving Khiżr Khān as his governor in the Punjab, Tamerlane greeted Delhi after staying there for fifteen days more or less in January 1399, reaching only on April 15 Termez, on the Amu Darya (current border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). According to the Castilian ambassador Ruy González de Clavijo (arrived in Samarkand on September 8, 1404), ninety captured elephants were used only for the transport of certain stones with which Tamerlane intended to erect a mosque in Samarkand, probably the huge building (shrouded in legend) that took the name of his wife Bibi Khanoum.

At the gates of the fifteenth century, the powerful emir possessed an empire that stretched from the territories west of the Volga and the Caucasus to the borders of China, and from the Aral Sea to the Indian Ocean to the Ganges valley in India. The reason why Tamerlane started marching west again in 1399 concerned what was happening in Azerbaijan, especially because of Miran Shah”s pipelines. After becoming the ruler of Khorasan, Miran Shah took over the lands once included in the suppressed Ilkhanate in 1393, eventually gaining control of Azerbaijan and surrounding territories and not taking part in the campaign in India. Tamerlane received reports of a power vacuum in Iran and Azerbaijan, considering that Shah had become mentally ill as a result of a horse fall and was ordering the killing of political opponents without reason, the destruction of historical monuments for futile reasons, and the desecration of tombs considered sacred by some religious denominations.

Because of this, Tamerlane began a new campaign four months after his return from Indian land. Although it is usually referred to as a “seven-year campaign,” this one actually lasted a lustre and was Tamerlane”s longest. Once he arrived in Bingol after stopping in Karabakh, he re-imposed his control in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iraq, at which point he made his way into Syria and Anatolia. It was then that Tamerlane could attack the Ottoman Empire, then ruled by the fourth sultan, Bayezid I, intent on expanding both westward and eastward, annexing territories inhabited by Turkmen populations who had invoked the help of the emir.

To open his way to Anatolia, Tamerlane attacked the Mamluk sultan of Egypt al-Nāṣir Faraj (1389-1412), easily destroying his army. Next he invaded Syria, conquering Antioch, then sacked Aleppo, then took the cities of Damascus (January 1401), with many of the inhabitants massacred, with the exception of the artisans, deported en masse to contribute to the work of beautification of Samarkand, and Baghdad (June 1401, causing a new extermination). The campaign was interrupted only when the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt himself made an act of submission.

The clash with the Ottoman sultan took place in the battle of Ancyra (Ankara), on July 20, 1402. It was a battle of vast proportions, so much so that contemporary sources estimate the number of men loyal to Tamerlane between 800,000 and 1,400,000 men: however, modern scholars consider the figures likely exaggerated. Thanks to the help of Turkish-Mongols from Transoxania, Korasmi (Persians), Turcomans, as well as a large number of Indian war elephants, the Ottomans, fewer in number and flanked by Serbian mercenaries and 10,000 Janissaries, suffered a disastrous defeat.

The great military experience of Tamerlane”s men made the difference, and Sultan Bayezid I, although heroically defended by the Serbian allied contingent destined for his person and heirs, was captured and spent the last months of his life as a prisoner in Tamerlane”s court (according to some sources, he died by suicide in captivity). Only Bayezid”s eldest son managed to escape the massacre, thus preserving the dynastic line of the Ottoman Sultanate.

Numerous ambassadors sent by the Christian kings to Tamerlane were also present at the battle in order to assess his power and real military strength. Tamerlane”s strategic conduct of the battle, according to reports, was once again perfect, despite the enormous mass of fighters. The victory prompted the emir to soon plan raids in all directions from the current Turkish capital.

Tamerlane”s victory over the Turks actually succeeded in delaying the Ottomans” seizure of Constantinople by fifty years. Westerners, however, were very concerned about the Ottoman advance in Anatolia, which was eroding the Byzantine Empire and could threaten all the states bordering the Mediterranean. In the months following the great battle, Tamerlane had attacked Bursa, Nicaea and Pergamum, where he remained enchanted to contemplate the remains of classical civilization, as had happened in Baalbek. Having become master of Anatolia, he was not willing to stop, given his dream of performing the feat of Genghis Khan a second time. This explains the conquests of Smyrna, defended by the Hospitallers of Rhodes, Focea and Chios. The Europeans were very undecided about what to do and many continued to hope for an alliance with the Mongols, such as Henry III of Castile who sent several ambassadors to Tamerlane. Ambassador de Clavijo, who visited Tamerlane”s court in Samarkand in 1404, noted that, despite the splendor of the city adorned with majestic buildings and surrounded by high walls, the great emir continued to live and hold court in an encampment of twenty thousand tents, in the manner of Mongolian nomads.

Given his reputation as a rich and influential power in East Asia, Tamerlane seriously considered in the last years of his life to invade China. His empire had already received tributes from that land on three occasions (1387, 1392 and 1394). To this end, he formed an alliance with the Mongol tribes concentrated in present-day Mongolia and prepared to reach Bukhara. Although Tamerlane preferred to fight his battles in the spring, in 1405 he decided to make an unusual winter campaign that cost him his life for an unknown disease contracted in Farab, without ever having reached the Chinese border.

The rule of Shah Rukh (1405-1447)

After Tamerlane”s death, the Timurid state began to weaken: civil wars and disputes over the throne broke out in the country, as sons and grandsons vied for power despite the fact that the warlord had appointed his grandson Pir Muhammad as his successor. With the various claimants located in Samarkand, Iran, Miranshah, Baghdad, Azerbaijan, and Herat, respectively, one can easily understand how the same stability of a united empire could no longer be imagined. The departure of Tamerlane coincided with the end of the apogee of the Timur reality, which never returned to relive the splendor of the past. Pir Muhammad survived his grandfather for only one year and died in 1406, when the throne was briefly occupied by Miran Shah.

Although other sons and grandsons of the late warlord failed to impose themselves in the course of the civil wars over all the territory held by Tamerlane, Shah Rukh, his fourth son, managed to maintain his position as governor in Khorasan and established himself permanently in Samarkand between 1405 and 1409. In the same period he handed over the administration of the city to his son Uluğ Bek, transferring the capital to Herat. In the years immediately preceding this, he was able to reunite some of the territories under the control of other emirs and seized several settlements advancing towards southern and central Iran. However, part of what he had conquered during his predecessor”s reign returned to the control of the past holders. The Jalayrids, supported by the Ottomans, fought hard to regain what they had lost in Baghdad, forcing Shah Ruk to give up the prospect of reasserting himself in Azerbaijan (disputed several times), western Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia. The lands in Syria, taken from the Mamluk Sultanate, also followed the same fate. The Chagatai Mongols grew rapidly as a political group and the weight of their authority became significant throughout Shah Rukh”s reign.

During the 1420s and 1430s, the sultan had to worry about suppressing rebellions in the Kara Koyunlu, with the reconquest of some important centers such as Tabriz, which turned out to be short-lived. Even in the religious field there were difficulties: his ostracism towards the Hurufites led a believer, in 1426, to attempt to assassinate him at the exit of a mosque. The series of investigations that he put in place to find the responsible party was indirectly functional to remove members of his court he did not like, but this did not guarantee a greater support of his subjects. He was more successful in the cultural, economic and administrative fields, replacing the obsolete system of his father, strongly linked to Mongolian customs, with more modern institutions. In addition, he brought in courts to enforce Shari”a law. His passion for art led him to meet influential Chinese, Persian and Arab artists, contributing to a flourishing season for literature and architecture.

In 1446, at the age of seventy, a major conflict engaged him with his nephew Muhammad bin Baysonqor, who was eager to expand his influence in Persia. Shah Rukh prevailed over the insurgents, taking most of them prisoners and almost completely crushing the rebellious outbreaks. His death, which occurred in 1447, prevented the operations from concluding definitively, with the result that civil wars and internal struggles re-emerged in different geographical areas.

The rule of Uluğ Bek (1447-1449)

After Shah Rukh”s death in 1447, he was succeeded by his son Uluğ Bek. The latter soon had to face other heirs claiming Tamerlane”s throne. Although without having reported any luck in this struggle, the wars of the throne further compromised the empire. Due to internal conflicts, the government suffered a weakening. During Uluğ Bek”s rule, the Kara Koyunlu began to pose a threat to the Timurian state. At the same time, the Chagatai began to organize attacks to establish power in Transoxiana. Uluğ Bek distinguished himself more for his scientific knowledge than in his role as governor. Defeated by the troops of his belligerent rebel son Abdal-Latif Mirza, Uluğ Bek resigned in favor of Abdullatif on October 24, 1449, and declared his intention to make a pilgrimage to Mecca with Haji Khorasan. Abdal-Latif freed his father from the captivity to which he had been forced, tacitly authorizing him to leave the capital. However, he made sure that Ulugh Beg never reached his destination by having him assassinated, as well as his brother Abdal-Aziz, in 1449. It appears that Uluğ Bek was sentenced to death on charges of deviating from Islamic teachings following a summary trial.

The Reign of Abu Sa”id (1451-1469)

During Abu Sa”id”s reign, the Timurid state saw its path of decline increase and slow down at alternating times. The loss of supremacy in western lands within the Timurid sphere of influence caused a severe blow. At the same time, there were mass migrations of Uzbek communities to Transoxiana. The intensification of these movements, which had indeed already started during Tamerlane”s reign, had quite an impact during Abu Sa”id”s mandate. In fact, the growing influence of the Uzbeks in the upper echelons of society and in the army allowed them to aspire over time to positions of great prestige. With the reconquest campaign towards the west, i.e. in Khorasan and Azerbaijan, Abu Sa”id wanted to restore Timurid authority, although the operations did not have a lasting effect and the acquisitions were lost within a few years. On the contrary, taking advantage of the clashes in which the Kara Koyunlu were engaged, he managed to take possession of the capital Herat again in 1458.

In 1460, he had to deal with an alliance of three princes of his empire hostile to him. Between 1460 and 1463 he was forced to fight against further opponents, engaging in prolonged and costly sieges (such as some clashes on the Uzbek Syr Darya). Abu Sa”id was the last Timurid to try to restore Tamerlane”s empire from Kashgar to Transcaucasia. In order to succeed, in the last years of his life he wanted to engage in a campaign against Uzun Hasan, leader of the Aq Qoyunlu. Using his son”s request for help in Hasan”s lands as a pretext, he abandoned his previous diplomatic relations with the Aq Qoyunlu and launched his assault in February 1368. The misadventures linked to the difficulty of supply, the rigid winter temperatures and the ambushes suffered by the Timurids in their march towards the west demoralized the army, prejudicing the result of the battle of Qarabagh of February 4, 1469. The capture of Abu Sa”id, who was imprisoned and later beheaded by Hasan, added to the many losses.

The ultimate loss of the western territories anticipated the fragmentation of Abu Sa”id”s successors. It was one of Tamerlane”s grandsons, Husayn Bayqara, who conquered Herat on March 24, 1469, and was thus able to become the Timurid ruler of Greater Khorasan.

The Government of Hussein Baygara (1469-1506)

Sultan Husayn Bayqara, son of Mansur Mirza, great-grandson of Tamerlane, served under Abul-Qasim Babur, another of Tamerlane”s grandsons and ruler of Herat, in the subsequent revolts that broke out after the departure of Uluğ Bek. After having distinguished himself in a series of previous campaigns, it was with the capture of the ancient capital now part of Afghanistan that he consecrated his title as head of the Timurid empire.

As soon as he came to power, the situation he found himself managing appeared quite complicated: the conflicts with Uzun Hasan, which had not ended with the death of Bayqara”s predecessor, pushed him in the wake of enthusiasm to push deep into Timurid territory. Taking advantage of an incredible number of desertions, Hasan was even able to take Herat from his enemy in 1470 for six weeks. At the heroic reconquest, which took place with a night operation that saw the presence of only 350 men, he quickly made sure that the Timurid governors in Transoxiana refrained from provoking new conflicts, which more or less happened because they were too tried by past clashes. At that point, he tried to protect himself from the Shaybanids and fortified his fortresses along the Amu Darya. Moreover, it also imposed itself in Corasmia.

Having revived the land he administered, albeit smaller in size than in decades past, and having eliminated external and internal threats, Bayqara focused on literature and art and ruled with his sons, whom he appointed governors of the provinces. Bayqara was seen as “a good king, a lover of peace and justice,” and he built numerous structures, including a famous school. The empire finally seemed to breathe a period of peace that had been missing for so long. During the 37 years of the sultan”s reign, Herat rose to the role of center of Turkish culture and this happy period of time is called by historians the “Timurid Renaissance”.

However, the situation changed when, in the last twenty years of the sultan”s reign, he was forced to deal with several revolts and raids. The disputes were caused by his sons, who wanted to succeed him before his death; they tried to gain more influence in the government through the tactic of disobedience. Badi ”al-Zaman Mirza, his eldest son, played a relatively important role in these disputes, having attempted to assassinate his father in 1499. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the complicated situation, the Uzbeks, who had long constituted a threat to the stability of the state, rebelled and conquered, in 1500, first Bukhara and then Samarkand. In 1501, while the civil war between the sultan and his son continued, Muhammad al-Shaybani, leader of the Uzbeks, advanced almost undisturbed in Transoxiana. Once threatened with Khorasan, as he suffered from the effects of illness and advanced age, Bayqara did not move even after Bābur, his distant relative with whom he had allied himself, advised him to act. The Uzbeks therefore began to conduct unchallenged raids into Khorasan. Eventually, the sultan changed his mind and began to march against them, but he died in 1506 shortly after beginning his campaign. The inheritance of his empire was disputed between his sons Badīʿ al-Zamān and Muzaffar Ḥusayn. Bābur, who had begun an expedition in support of Ḥusayn, observed the fighting between the brothers and decided that, because of the impossibility of defending the territory, it was well to withdraw. The following year, Muḥammad Shaybānī conquered Herat, forcing Ḥusayn”s successors to flee, thus ending Timurid rule in Khorasan. The great legacy of the empire ended up in the hands of Bābur, an influential general who created one of the most influential dominions in Asia known as the Mughal Empire.

State Ordering

While Tamerlane assumed the title of emir, his successors assumed the title of sultan: the recognition of emir was given to those who showed courage in battle, participating in local battles and administration. The Timurid state was a typical eastern feudal monarchy, with an administrative division into provinces. These were managed by princes and emirs appointed by the highest ranking rulers.

The sovereign was responsible for the allocation of fiefs, appointed a treasurer, and distributed, in broad strokes, war buttons. In addition, he took care of the management of religious policies, taking care of Islamic customs and authorizing in every province and city the appointment of magistrates (qadi), jurists (muftī) and supervisors of the bazaars (muḥtasib). There was also a pre-established judge exclusively for military matters. The figures of the emirs of justice had initially the purpose of informing the sovereign about the problems between the soldiers and the people.

During Tamerlane”s reign, four viziers operated daily on the couch:

In addition to these ministers, three others were later added to oversee assets abroad and in the country, to deal with financial relations of state importance there, and to manage the revenues of the provinces. This trio was subordinate to the couch.

Drawing up documents to inform the ruler about the conditions of the army, the people, the applicants, the improvement and the hardships of the empire were court scribes. Post offices were established as early as Tamerlane”s reign to ensure the transmission of information. Each station housed 200 horses and was paid for by the local population.


During its heyday, the Timurid empire stretched from the Irtyš and Volga rivers to the Persian Gulf, from the Ganges to Damascus and eastern Turkey. To administer such a vast domain, it is clear that some kind of regulatory system was needed: over time, there was a shift from the yassa (the code of oral rules handed down by the Mongols) to the rules of the Turks and, finally, to the sharia.


The attacking force of the Timurid state army consisted of heavily and lightly armored cavalry units. The tactics of elephants, learned during the Indian campaign, fascinated Tamerlane, who resorted to the use of these large mammals in clashes with Mamluks and Ottomans. At the same time, as the expansion proceeded, Tamerlane”s officers resorted to enlisting the subjugated peoples in their ranks. In the hierarchy of the army, as one climbed to the top, the equipment was also better.

Depending on the number of enemy forces, the army was led by the ruler himself, and by the umarāʾ al-muʾminīn. The latter, a kind of Timurid-era supreme general, was the commander of the army. The title of emir, as mentioned above awarded for being responsible for meritorious actions, was further divided into twelve ranks. From the first to the twelfth rank, the emir of each band was considered the deputy of the one immediately above. The twelfth was the deputy of the emir al-”Umara, while the emir al-”Umara was the deputy ruler. In the army, the basic unit consisted of ten people (onlik), headed by an officer, while the basic division was that in tumen (corresponding to 1,000 men). The basic equipment of middle class soldiers included a tent, two swords, a pike, a rope, some leather, an axe and other equipment. The yasavul were tasked with providing additional assistance or carrying out the ruler”s orders in military matters.

As the army marched, it was assigned a commander (tovachi), who supervised the maneuvers. If anything was taken away from the army, the tovachi were liable to more or less severe penalties depending on the entity. The construction of defensive fortifications found various developments, preferring above all the use of wooden palisades around the sites to be garrisoned and the building of citadels.

In the Timurid state army, the groups that carried out night raids were called chapavul. The center of the army was called qol, the right flank barangar, and the left jarangar. When the army advanced, reconnaissance units advanced in front of it and were called sentries (qarovul). The subdivisions, particularly complicated with reference to reconnaissance, rearguard and other sections became even more articulated depending on the number of fighters employed and the enemy faced. Also the recourse to the tactic of the false retreat, a typically Mongolian choice, took place in various situations. During Tamerlane”s reign, one-third of the operational army was obliged to protect the borders and two-thirds to be immediately available for participation in possible campaigns.


It is thought that the main symbol of the Timurids was the so-called “sign of Timur,” consisting of three equal circles (or rings) arranged in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Ruy de Clavijo, the ambassador of the king of Castile to the court of Tamerlane in 1403, and the Arab historian Ibn Arabshah provided a description of the insignia as it appeared on the emir”s seal, as well as on coins of the Timurid era. It is not known for sure what meaning the triangular sign had, but, according to Clavijo, each circle stood for the three continents of the known world (Europe, Asia, and Africa). Another possible theory is that it referred to the appellation reserved for Tamerlane of “Sahib-Qiran” (the ruler of three benevolent planets).

Often the representations of tamga (symbols of Mongolian origin) on coins were accompanied by the Persian expression Rāstī rastī (راستى رستى, Nastaliq), which can be translated as “In righteousness lies salvation.” It is also known that the same expression was sometimes reported on official documents.

Tamerlane was affiliated to the Barlas tribe, being therefore probably a descendant of that Turkmen-Mongolian population that lived between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and other regions of Central Asia. Because of their close ties with the indigenous peoples of Central Asia, particularly in Transoxiana, the Barlas saw within themselves people who professed religions other than Islam (especially Buddhism and shamanism). These close connections allowed for an influence and mixing of different cultures. For this reason, the Barlas drew elements from the Mongol, Uyghur, Turkoman, Tarkhan, Persian (especially) and other tribes still from Central Asia. For this reason, the Timurid era had a plural character, reflecting both the Turkic-Mongolian origins and the high literary, artistic and courtly Persian culture of the dynasty.


Central Asia of the Timurid era expressed itself in different languages according to social class. At least in the early stages, the military were almost exclusively Turkish-Mongolian, while the civil and administrative element was almost exclusively Persian. The language spoken and known by all Turkish-Mongolians almost everywhere was Chagatai. However, the main language of the period was Persian, the mother tongue of Tajiks and the one learned by anyone with even a minimal education. In most of the territories subdued by Tamerlane, Persian appeared as the main language of administration and literary culture. Thus, the language expressed in the assemblies of the couch was Persian, so much so that the scribes who recorded the meetings necessarily had to be experts in Persian culture, regardless of their ethnic origin. Persian thus became the official language of the Timurid empire and found utility in administrative, academic, literary, and poetic fields. Chagatai was the native and colloquial language of the Timurid dynasty, while Arabic remained the “idiom of the elite”, the one expressed by scholars of philosophy, science, theology and religious sciences.


The golden age of Persian painting began during the Timurid renaissance. During this period, Chinese art and artists significantly influenced Persian works. The Timurids extruded Persian art into written texts, which combined paper, calligraphy, illumination, illustration, and binding into a brilliant and colorful whole. The Turkic-Mongolian ethnic group was the source of the stylistic representation of Persian art during the Middle Ages. The Mongols themselves intermarried with the Persians and Turks of Central Asia, even adopting their religion and languages. Yet, their simple control of the world at that time, particularly in the 13th-15th centuries, was reflected in the idealization of Persians in the same way as Mongols. Although the ethnic composition gradually merged with the local Iranian and Mesopotamian populations, the fascination with the Mongol heritage continued for quite some time, traversing eastern Iran, Asia Minor, and even touching North Africa.

Although it is not possible to speak of a unique style during this period in which important Islamic artworks were created, it is possible to analyze a summary of local differences. Among the places where original works were created, there were unique art centers that embodied the general spirit of Timurid art. From this point of view, Samarkand, Baghdad, Herat, and Shiraz became centers of craftsmanship.

In Samarkand, the capital of the Timurid state, in addition to artists from Central Asia and Iran, there were artists who had moved from India, Anatolia, and Syria. The Spanish ambassador Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo reported that there were 150,000 families of artists in Samarkand. During the reign of Tamerlane, important architectural works were created in Samarkand, which became a center of art. A second positive period coincided with the reign of Sultan Shah Rukh. He, also assisted in this by his Persian wife Goharshad, encouraged artists to move to Afghanistan when the capital was transferred, thus enabling a rush to create new works. After the death of Uluğ Bek, a phase of artistic stagnation followed, which regained strength during the reign of Abu Sa”id and Sultan Husayn Bayqara. Once the latter died out, a phase of decadence returned until, during the Mughal Empire, there was a rediscovery and revaluation of Timurid craftsmanship, as well as in Safavid lands.


Timurid architecture drew on and developed many Seljuk architectural canons. Turquoise and blue tiles, which formed intricate linear and geometric patterns, often decorated the facades of buildings. Sometimes the interior was similarly decorated, with paintings and stucco reliefs providing additional embellishment. Timurid architecture was the pinnacle of Islamic art in Central Asia. The spectacular and majestic buildings erected by Tamerlane and his successors at Samarkand and Herat helped spread the influence of the Ilkhanid school of art to India, thus giving rise to the famous Mughal school of architecture.

The earliest chronological example of Timurian architecture was the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi, in present-day Kazakhstan, while one of the largest was the mausoleum of Tamerlane, located in the capital of the empire. The latter building, dating from the 14th century, is covered with “turquoise Persian tiles”. Nearby, in the center of the ancient city, one observes the “Persian-style madrassa” (religious school) and the “Persian-style mosque” of Uluğ Bek. The mausoleums of the Timurid princes, with their turquoise and blue domes, remain among the finest and most exquisite manifestations of Persian architecture. Axial symmetry is a feature of all major Timurid structures, notably the Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, the Musallah complex in Herat, and the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad. Double domes of various shapes abound, while exteriors are adorned in bright colors. Tamerlane”s rule over the region strengthened the influence of his capital and Persian architecture on India.

The green mosque of Balkh, built in 1422, and the complex of the mosque of Änew, completed between 1455-1456, represent some of the most important works of the middle period of Timurid architecture: unfortunately, only the remains of the latter survive, as it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. One of the most important works of the late phase is the mausoleum of Ishratkhana, built between 1460 and 1464 for the burial of the women of the Timurid dynasty at the behest of one of Abu Sa”id”s wives. Built between 1460 and 1502 in the city of Ghazni for the son of Uluğ Bek, Abdu Razzaq, the mausoleum has been considered by John D. Hoag a precursor of the architectural structure of the Taj Mahal, both with reference to the central part in the center and the associated side sections.

Information of great interest about the Timur palaces can be found in historical sources and travelogues. In addition to information about the Blue Palace built by Tamerlane in Samarkand, there are reports about the works realized in the surrounding cities, such as Naqsh-e jahàn, Bagh-e Chenar (at the gates of Samarkand), Bāgh-i Zāghān (in Herat) and Bagh-i Dilgush. The gardens created in the Timurid period survived the fall of the empire, and were also present during the Mughal period. The remains of the palace of Shahrisabz, Ak Saray, also described by contemporary writings, have survived to the present day.


Persian literature, especially poetry, even on commission, occupied a central place in the process of assimilation of the Timurid elite into the Persian-Islamic noble culture. The Timurid sultans, particularly Shah Rukh and his son Uluğ Bek, patronized Persian culture on several occasions. Among the major literary works of the Timurid interlude is the Persian biography of Tamerlane, known as Zafarnāmeh (Persian ظفرنامه), written by Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi, which in turn was based on the older Zafarnāmeh of Nizām al-Dīn Shāmī, Tamerlane”s official biographer during his lifetime. The most famous poet of the Timurid era was Giami, the last great medieval Sufi mystic of Persia and one of the best known authors in Persian poetry. Even some of the works on astronomy of Timurid Sultan Uluğ Bek were written in Persian, despite the fact that the bulk was published in Arabic. The Timurid prince Baysonqor also commissioned a new edition of the Persian national epic Shāh-Nāmeh, known as Baysonqor”s Shāhnāmeh, and edited its introduction. T. Lenz”s assessment of the work is as follows:

The Timurids also played a very important role in the history of Turkish literature. Building on the established Persian literary tradition, a Turkish national literature in the Chagatai language developed. Poets such as Ali-Shir Nava”i, Sultan Husayn Bayqara, and Bābur encouraged other Turkish-speaking authors to write in their own vernacular, in addition to Arabic and Persian. The Bāburnāma, Bābur”s autobiography (though highly Persianized in its lexical structure, morphology, and vocabulary), as well as the chagatai poetry of Mīr Alī Sher Nawā”ī, are among the best known Turkish literary works and have influenced many others.


In the 15th century, the capital of the Timurid state, Samarkand, became an important scientific center. This was especially true during the reign of Uluğ Bek, with learned personalities from different lands all coming to Samarkand. In addition to his work as ruler, Uluğ Bek took a keen interest in astronomy and mathematics, producing works that continue to fascinate scholars today. Between 1417 and 1422, he oversaw the construction of the city”s madrasa, now a World Heritage Site, and an observatory in the 1420s. Among the most famous scholars who frequented these buildings were Qadi-zade-i Rumi and Al-Kashi.

The Timurid Empire played a decisive role in the history of the vast territories it absorbed, with various peoples competing to claim their Turko-Mongolian heritage. The era in which it existed coincided with a great development in Central Asia and, perhaps, with the highest apogee ever reached by Samarkand in its history. Architectural traditions were further developed during the Timurid period, and many of these architectural monuments have survived to the present day. The impact of the “Timurid Renaissance” had fairly long-lasting effects. Babur, who took over the old empire, was able to make the lands he subjugated very powerful, and he also picked up the Timurid legacy and made it his own.

Important results were also achieved in the Caucasus area: in the Timurid period, the migration of Turks to Azerbaijan continued, which caused consequences especially in terms of religious conversion to Islam. Decidedly less strong was instead the impact in Georgia. The influence was not only limited to the ethnic component in Azerbaijan, but also affected the Azerbaijani language. The origin of Azerbaijani language is usually identified as a mixture of Oghuz (eastern and southern area) and Kipčaki (western and northern area) elements. However, the distinction does not arise because of phonetic and lexical differences. Using the method of glottochronology, the linguist Oleg Mudrak came to the conclusion that the formation of the Azerbaijani language, with all its dialects except Şəki, dates back to the 1360s, i.e. to the Timurid period.

Very tarnished was the cultural legacy in Iran. However, even if the Timurid influence was mild in the long run, it received much praise in the artistic and literary fields. As for Afghanistan, various populous centers, including Kabul, experienced a happy period in alternation during the two centuries or so of the empire”s existence and experienced the affirmation of a Persian-Arab identity. In any case, the swift transition from the Timurids to Bābur dimmed the memory of the former, and scholars soon forgot, as is evident from the sources, their contribution.

Apart from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, where the empire also had an impact, today Uzbekistan is home to the greatest legacy inherited from the Timurid period. The Chagatai, which rose to the level of a cultural language during that historical phase, played an important role in the formation of the modern Uzbek idiom. In reconstructing the epic of Tamerlane and the years immediately following, Castin Marozzi has been particularly careful in studying the writings of Ambassador Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo concerning the conditions of the Timurid state in modern Uzbekistan. After gaining independence from the USSR, interest in Tamerlane returned to the spotlight in Uzbekistan and became very palpable. On September 1, 1993, on the occasion of the Independence Day of Uzbekistan, President Islam Karimov inaugurated a monument dedicated to Tamerlane in the capital Tashkent. In 1996, on the occasion of the 660th anniversary of the birth of the warlord, a museum dedicated to the conqueror was opened in Tashkent and the honor of the Order of Tamerlane was established.



  1. Impero timuride
  2. Timurid Empire
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