World History 1 266 - 17.1.2 The Timurids and the Aftermath of the Battle of Ankara

Timur was a Mongol from the Barlas tribe, which had been exposed to and assimilated Turkic culture. He was born in central Asia, in a part of the Chagatai Khanate (now modern Uzbekistan), in the 1320s or 1330s. At some point early in his life, he suffered an injury that left him lame in one leg and without two fingers. According to some stories, he had been wounded while attempting to steal sheep, but he may well have sustained his injuries in battle.

Timur sought to rebuild the empire that Chinggis Khan had controlled at the time of his death. Because he could not establish descent from Chinggis, he could not claim the title of khan himself. In the 1360s, he gained control of part of the Chagatai Khanate and placed one of Chinggis’s descendants, Soyurgatmish, on the throne, claiming to act in his name. He also married a female descendant of Chinggis and adopted the title “Royal Son-in-Law.”

Timur soon looked beyond central Asia for lands to control. In the 1380s and 1390s, he conquered Persia, portions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and Syria. He taxed the inhabitants of vanquished cities heavily and sent skilled artisans to work in his capital in Samarkand, but he spared people’s lives. Cities that did not submit were treated brutally, however. For example, when the city of Isfahan, in Persia, surrendered peacefully, he treated the residents leniently. However, when the people later rose in revolt, Timur responded unequivocally: he killed an enormous portion of the city’s population, with some reports claiming that 100,000 to 200,000 people were killed. Eyewitness accounts report his soldiers amassing piles of severed heads. Timur’s troops then turned north to the Russian territory controlled by a former follower named Tokhtamish, the khan of the Golden Horde, who sought the same lands in central Asia that Timur claimed. After destroying the Russian cities of Astrakhan and Ryazan, Timur defeated Tokhtamish’s army in 1391.

In the late 1390s, Timur turned eastward toward India. In 1398, he attacked the city of Delhi, the capital of the Muslim-ruled Delhi Sultanate. The sultan’s army rode into battle on war elephants clad in chain mail, frightening Timur’s troops, who had not seen elephants before (Figure 17.7). Timur piled hay on the backs of his camels, set the hay on fire, and sent the burning, panicked animals into the enemy’s lines, scattering the elephants. Victorious, Timur then destroyed Delhi.

A tall colorful rectangle image is shown with a thin brown border. At the top and bottom, panels are shown with black scripted writing. The top of the image shows brown and yellow hills and mountains along a blue sky. In the hills, four figures in solid colored shirts and turbans are seen holding round objects in their hands above their heads. To the left of them are three other figures in solid clothing and turbans, holding shields. At the foot of the hills two figures in orange and yellow robes and white turbans fight with each other. In front of them are two soldiers in brown helmets aiming bows and arrows at a figure on a horse to their right. He wears a purple robe and holds a white and pale green shield over his head. In between the soldiers and the rider on the horse a figure in blue and red clothing lies on the ground. The bottom half of the image shows three large black elephants with white tusks highly decorated with saddles, the one in the middle wearing a red mask, running toward the left. The elephant at the bottom shows a figure in a white shirt and green pants hanging off of its saddle. Behind the elephants, four riders are riding on horses, two aiming arrows at the elephants while two wield swords in the air. They all wear colorful shirts and head coverings. One man in purple falls to the ground in front of the horse in the lower right of the image.
Figure 17.7 In this image produced in India around 1600, Timur’s Mongol forces, wearing golden helmets, defeat the troops of the sultan of Delhi, who are shown sprawled across the backs of their war elephants. (credit: “Timur defeats the sultan of Delhi” by Zafarnama of Sharaf Al-Din ’Ali Yazdi/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Timur also coveted lands in Syria that were controlled by the Mamluk Sultanate and territory in Anatolia that was claimed by the Ottomans. Bayezid I had been steadily conquering weaker rulers in Anatolia and forcing them to become his vassals. In 1397, he defeated the ruler of the beylik of Karaman and went on to subdue smaller Anatolian states. Unwilling to submit to his domination, however, Turkish tribes and Ottoman vassals who Bayezid I believed owed allegiance to him turned to Timur, considering him their means of achieving independence from Ottoman rule. In turn, enemies of Timur such as Kara Yusuf, the leader of the Black Sheep Turks, and Sultan Ahmed, the ruler of the Persian Mongol Jalayir dynasty whose lands Timur had conquered, turned to Bayezid for assistance. Timur wrote to Bayezid, demanding that the Ottoman ruler cease aiding his enemies. Bayezid responded with insults and sent his forces to attack an ally of Timur’s in Armenia.

In 1400, Timur struck back, destroying the city of Sivas in Anatolia, part of Bayezid’s domain. He then went on to wage war against the Mamluk sultans in Egypt in Syria, preventing Bayezid from turning to them for help. He also entered into an allegiance with the Byzantines against the Ottomans, amassed forces from throughout his empire, and headed for Anatolia. Bayezid broke off his siege of Constantinople, which had begun in 1396, and rushed to meet him. In July 1402, Timur’s troops clashed with the Ottoman army at the Battle of Ankara in Anatolia.

On the field at Ankara, one of the great weaknesses of Bayezid’s Ottoman state was revealed. The Ottomans had built their empire in Anatolia by conquering other Turkish states and absorbing their rulers and the rulers’ descendants into their administration. These men, Bayezid’s unwilling vassals, had no wish to risk their lives for their Ottoman overlords. In addition, Bayezid had chosen to live primarily at Edirne, in Thrace. He had adopted elements of Greek culture and, as part of a strategy to build alliances with other rulers, had taken as wives or concubines a number of non-Turkish women, including the daughter of Prince Lazar. This decision further alienated him from the Turkish nobility of Anatolia. When Timur’s forces attacked at Ankara, therefore, many of Bayezid’s Turkish vassals abandoned the field and left Bayezid to his fate, happy to be free of Ottoman control. The Ottomans were defeated, and Bayezid and his sons Musa and Mustafa were captured by Timur. Bayezid remained Timur’s prisoner until he died a few months later.

Following his rout of the Ottomans and having conquered most of the domains of Chinggis Khan and his sons and grandsons, Timur turned eastward to claim his last prize—China. In 1368, the Mongol Yuan dynasty in China had come to an end. Its successor, the Chinese Ming dynasty, sought to make a tributary vassal of Timur, but the Ming emissaries and the soldiers who accompanied them had instead been imprisoned in Samarkand, the capital of Timur’s empire, in the Mongol heartland near the place of his birth. In December 1404, Timur set out to cross central Asia on his way to China. Within a few months, however, he fell ill, and in February 1405 he died. The invasion of China ended before it had begun, and the Chinese emissaries were released.

At the time of his death, Timur had conquered much of the land claimed in the original Mongol conquests of Chinggis Khan and his descendants. Unlike them, however, Timur made no real effort to rule the places he seized outside Persia. His armies conquered, plundered the riches of the defeated cities, seized artisans and whoever else might be of use to Timur, and sent the wealth and captives on to Samarkand. Thus, it was relatively easy for most places that Timur had conquered to regain their independence. Anatolia is a good example. Following his defeat of Bayezid I, Timur departed, leaving Bayezid’s sons to battle among themselves for control of their father’s lands. Although Bayezid’s son Mehmed declared himself a vassal of Timur, Timur did not assist him in his civil war against his brothers. Following Timur’s death, his own sons and grandsons fought over the lands he had conquered (Figure 17.8). In 1409, his son Shah Rukh emerged as his successor and the next head of the Timurids, the name given to the dynasty founded by Timur.

A map is shown of land highlighted in beige and water highlighted in blue. White lines crisscross the water and blue and gray lines run in various directions all over the beige lands. A white dashed line in the middle of the map runs across the water and is labelled “Tropic of Cancer.” The Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara, and Van Golu (Lake Van) are labelled in the northwest of the map, while the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea are labelled in the north with the Aydar Kul and the Ysyk-Kol in the northeast. Lake Nasser, the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf), Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, and the Bab el Mandeb are labelled in the south. A large expanse of the map is highlighted purple and labelled “Timurid Empire.” The purple highlighted area runs from the southeast corner of the Black Sea in the west to almost the end of the map in the east, from the Aral Sea in the north down to the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) and the Gulf of Oman in the south.
Figure 17.8 By the time of Timur’s death in 1405, his empire stretched from the border of Anatolia in the west to northern India in the east, and from modern Uzbekistan in the north to the Gulf of Hormuz in the south. (attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY 4.0 license)

While many in Asia regarded Timur as a villain, he was a hero of the Turks and Mongols of central Asia. Ibn Khaldun, the North African Muslim historian, credited him with unifying the world’s Muslims into a single empire. Timur’s greatest legacy may be an artistic one. Although conquered people might have been met with brutality, artists, architects, and artisans were spared and sent to Samarkand. During Timur’s lifetime, the city was in a constant state of construction, and buildings like the Bibi Khanum Mosque were erected or remodeled to please him. The Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta praised the city’s beauty, and its gardens made visitors forget the arid lands that surrounded it (Figure 17.9). Timur’s grandson Ulugbek built a madrasa (an Islamic school) and an observatory in Samarkand and invited Muslim mathematicians and astronomers to the city, making it an important site of learning in the fifteenth century. Many Europeans of the time also regarded Timur, whom they called Tamerlane (“Timur, the Lame”), as a hero.

Two images are shown. (a) A photograph of the front of a highly decorated mosaic building is shown. The front is a large pointed arched opening showing a similarly shaped door in the recess. On either side of the door are two even smaller similar shaped archways stacked on top of each other. On either side of the top of the large archway are images of an orange tiger with a long tail surrounded by blue, red, and white mosaic tiles. The rectangular perimeter of the building is decorated with various highly ornate mosaic tiles in green, brown, and beige. On either side of the rectangle, a square shaped mosaic matching building sits with a short round base with a striped dome on tope. All are decorated in matching mosaic tiles with the dome is teal blue. A tall, intricately decorated mosaic tiled tower sits at each end of the square building with a maroon and gold colored ovalish top. Stairs are seen in front of the doorways and large green trees are on either side of the stairs in a square area. In front of the building is a bricked walkway that extends across the image and along the sides of the building. The background shows other buildings in various shapes and sizes, trees, and a landscape of a city in the far background and a cloudy sky. (b) An image of a drawing is shown. A doorway on the top left has a highly decorate mosaic arch at the top and the open area shown in the rest of the image shows an orange background. In the doorway, a man in a green, long sleeved shirt dress with a red coat holds a long, thin stick over his head. He has a turban, beard, and black boots with a sword at his belt. In the right, top back of the image, three men in brow, green, and blue robes, two with turbans, are seen with various tools sawing, splitting with an axe, and sanding with a black object while other brown pieces surround them. In front of the man in the doorway, three figures are sitting on the ground in solid-colored robes and turbans with their arms extended in front of them. To their right, five figures similarly dressed sit on the ground in front of white, square objects, some holding thin, black items in their hands. In the forefront of the image on the left, a black tusked elephant is seen wearing gray and red décor on his head and a red blanket over his back. A man in an orange robe and white turban sits on the elephant’s neck holding a whip and a large, white object sits on the elephant’s saddle. The elephant’s trunk is around the waist of a dark skinned figure, bent at the waist and holding on to a large, white square object with another figure on the other side. Behind them is a two wheeled cart filed with large, square white objects pulled by a black and white horse with two figures on either side of the horse in long robes and turbans, looking at the elephant.
Figure 17.9 (a) A word meaning “country of sand” in Persian, the Registan of Samarkand was the public square of Timur’s splendid capital city of Samarkand in what is today Uzbekistan. A center for public gatherings, it was also a center of learning in the city and region, as evidenced by the three madrasas flanking the central square. (b) This image from the Zafarnama (“Book of Victories”), an account of Timur’s campaigns, depicts the construction of the Great Mosque for Timur's new capital in Samarkand. (credit a: modification of work “Samarkand, Registan, Sher-Dor Madrasah” by Arian Zwegers/Flickr, CC BY 2.0 ; credit b: modification of work “Building of the Great Mosque in Samarkand” by Bihzad/Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
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The content of this course has been taken from the free World History, Volume 1: to 1500 textbook by Openstax