Timur (Tamerlane) Research Paper

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The Turkic conqueror Timur is remembered as a skilled debater, a speaker fluent in several languages, and one of the last great nomadic warriors. Timur organized notorious massacres from India to Turkey, leaving numerous towers of skulls as reminders to the conquered.

Timur-i Leng (Timur the Lame), also known in English as Tamerlane or Tamburlaine, was the last of the great nomadic emperors. His detractors called him Timur-i Leng because his right arm and leg were paralyzed from arrow wounds received during a raid in his youth. During his reign, however, he was known as Emir Timur, and he engaged in a career of conquest that took him from India to Turkey and that shook the foundations of several empires.

Born near Kesh (now Shakhrisabz, in Uzbekistan), near Samarqand in 1336, Timur was the son of Taragai of the Barlas tribe, a tribe of Mongolian origins but thoroughly Turkic in ethnicity by Timur’s lifetime. Timur began his career as a minor leader and sometimes bandit during the unrest that marked much of Central Africa during the mid-fourteen century.

With the collapse of the Chagatai khanate, a successor state of the Mongol Empire that covered most of Central Asia, new opportunities arose in the region. Timur took advantage of the situation and became the lieutenant of his brother-in-law Husain. The two gained control of Mawarannahr (Arabic for “the land between the rivers,”—the rivers being the Syr Dar’ya and Amu Dar’ya), or Transoxiana, before a falling-out pitted them against each other in 1370, with Timur emerging as the victor.

After becoming the ruler of Mawarannahr, Timur spent the following ten years consolidating his control in the region and defending it from raids by the remnants of the Chagatai khanate in what is now Kazakhstan and Xinjiang (northwestern China). In 1380 Timur supported Toqtamysh, a prince of the Golden Horde (another successor empire to the Mongol Empire; it controlled the area of present-day Russia and Ukraine), in Toqtamysh’s bid to rule the Golden Horde.

Not until 1383 did Timur attempt to expand his realm beyond Mawarannahr, sending his forces across the Amu Dar’ya into Persia. By 1385 Timur had incorporated the regions of Khorasan (which is now present-day northeastern Iran and surrounding areas of Afghanistan), Afghanistan, and eastern Persia (Iran) into his realm, and by 1394 the regions of Fars (present-day southwestern Iran), Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia had succumbed to his armies as well. Timur rarely established an effective administrative apparatus in his conquered territories, apparently preferring plundering territory outside of Mawarannahr to governing it effectively.

Meanwhile, Timur’s protege Toqtamysh, now the ruler of the Golden Horde, decided to challenge Timur’s authority. As a descendent of Genghis Khan, Toqtamysh viewed himself as the rightful ruler of all the lands that the Mongol Empire had once comprised. Toqtamysh defeated Timur’s generals during invasions in 1385 and 1388; Timur retailiated by invading the Russian steppes in 1391. Although Timur defeated Toqtamysh and dethroned him, Toqtamysh regained power and invaded Timur’s empire again in 1395. Timur in turn struck back, defeating Toqtamysh once and for all on the Kur River in 1395 and proceeding to break the power of the Golden Horde.

Timur did not incorporate the Golden Horde into his empire, preferring to place a puppet ruler on the throne. Not content with his victories in Persia and the Russian steppes, Timur invaded India in 1398, justifying his actions—as he did for many campaigns—on religious grounds. In the case of the destruction of the sultanate of Delhi, he justified his actions on the grounds that Sultan Mahmud Tughluq was excessively tolerant of his Hindu subjects. In the wake of the sack of Delhi, Timur’s army carried an immense amount of wealth back to his capital at Samarqand.

Timur did not stay long in his capital. In 1399 he marched west, his eye on both the Mamluk sultanate (in Egypt and Syria) and the Ottoman Empire (in Anatolia, modern Turkey). Both states had either supported enemies of Timur or threatened his clients. After putting down a rebellion in Azerbaijan, Timur invaded Syria in 1401 and defeated the Mamluks, sacking Aleppo and Damascus in the process. Timur then invaded Anatolia and defeated the Ottoman army at Ankara in 1402; his capture of the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I left the Ottoman Empire in turmoil.

With his western frontier secure, Timur returned to Samarqand in 1404, where he began planning for an invasion of China (at that time ruled by the Ming dynasty). The invasion ended prematurely in 1405, when Timur died at the city of Otrar. His empire, held together primarily through the force of his will, quickly disintegrated into smaller states ruled by his sons and grandsons.

In the annals of world history, Timur is remembered most for his conquests and cruelty. He orchestrated many massacres and left numerous towers of skulls as reminders to the conquered. Although illiterate, Timur was noted for being very intelligent, an expert chess player, a fluent speaker in several languages, and well versed in the art of debate. Furthermore, Timur dramatically impacted five states. His defeat of the Ottomans made it possible for the Byzantine Empire to survive fifty years longer than it might have otherwise, as Bayezid had planned to attack Constantinople before being defeated by Timur. The defeat of the Mamluks, while not destroying them, exposed the slow decay of their once grand military might. By defeating Toqtamysh, Timur eroded the strength of the Golden Horde and accelerated the end of nomadic dominance over the principalities of Russia. Although he sacked Moscow, then a small town, Timur’s defeat of Toqtamysh actually contributed to that city’s rise. His destruction of Delhi, on the other hand, was the death knell for the sultanate of Delhi. Although Timur’s empire disintegrated after his death, Timur’s descendents established the Mughal Empire in India, supplanting the sultanate of Delhi.


  1. Arabshah, A. (1936). Tamerlane or Timur the great amir. Lahore, India: Progressive Books.
  2. Clavijo, G. (1928). Embassy to Tamerlane. London: George Routledge & Sons.
  3. Hookham, H. (1962). Tamburlaine the conqueror. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
  4. Manz, B. F. (1991). The rise and rule of Tamerlane. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Nicolle, David. (1990) Mongol Warlords Ghenghis Khan, Kublai Khan, Hulegu, and Tamerlane. New York: Sterling.

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