1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Timūr
TIMŪR (Timur i Leng, the lame Timūr), commonly known as Tamerlane, the renowned Oriental conqueror, was born in 1336 at Kesh, better known as Shahr-i-Sabz, “the green city,” situated some 50 m. south of Samarkand in Transoxiana. His father Teragai was head of the tribe of Berlas. Great-grandson of Karachar Nevian (minister of Jagatai, son of Jenghiz Khan, and commander-in-chief of his forces), and distinguished among his fellow-clansmen as the first convert to Islamism, Teragai might have assumed the high military rank which fell to him by right of inheritance; but like his father Burkul he preferred a life of retirement and study. Under the paternal eye the education of young Timūr was such that at the age of twenty he had not only become an adept in manly outdoor exercises but had earned the reputation of being an attentive reader of the Koran. At this period, if we may credit the Memoirs (Malfūẓāt), he exhibited proofs of a tender and sympathetic nature.
About 1358, however, he came before the world as a leader of armies. His career for the next ten or eleven years may be thus briefly summarized from the Memoirs. Allying himself both in cause and by family connexion with Kurgan, the dethroner and destroyer of Kazan, chief of the western Jagatai, he was deputed to invade Khorasan at the head of a thousand horse. This was the second warlike expedition in which he was the chief actor, and the accomplishment of its objects led to further operations, among them the subjection of Khwarizm and Urganj. After the murder of Kurgan the contentions which arose among the many claimants to sovereign power were arrested by the invasion of Toghluk Timur of Kashgar, a descendant of Jenghiz. Timūr was despatched on a mission to the invader's camp, the result of which was his own appointment to the government of Māwarā’lnahr (Transoxiana). By the death of his father he was also left hereditary head of the Berlas. The exigencies of his quasi-sovereign position compelled him to have recourse to his formidable patron, whose reappearance on the banks of the Sihon created a consternation not easily allayed. Māwarā’lnahr was taken from Timūr and entrusted to a son of Toghluk; but he was defeated in battle by the bold warrior he had replaced at the head of a numerically far inferior force. Toghluk's death facilitated the work of reconquest, and a few years of perseverance and energy sufficed for its accomplishment, as well as for the addition of a vast extent of territory. During this period Timūr and his brother-in-law, Hosain—at first fellow-fugitives and wanderers in joint adventures full of interest and romance—became rivals and antagonists. At the close of 1369 Hosain was assassinated and Timūr, having been formally proclaimed sovereign at Balkh, mounted the throne at Samarkand, the capital of his dominions.
The next thirty years or so were spent in various wars and expeditions. Timūr not only consolidated his rule at home by the subjection of intestine foes, but sought extension of territory by encroachments upon the lands of foreign potentates. His conquests to the west and north-west led him among the Mongols of the Caspian and to the banks of the Ural and the Volga; those to the south and south-west comprehended almost every province in Persia, including Bagdad, Kerbela and Kurdistan. One of the most formidable of his opponents was Toktamish, who after having been a refugee at the court of Timūr became ruler both of the eastern Kipchak and the Golden Horde, and quarrelled with Timūr over the possession of Khwarizm. It was not until 1395 that the power of Toktamish was finally broken (see Mongols; Golden Horde).
In 1398, when Timūr was more than sixty years of age, Farishta tells us that, “informed of the commotions and civil wars of India,” he “began his expedition into that country,” and on the 12th of September “arrived on the banks of the Indus.” His passage of the river and upward march along the left bank, the reinforcement he provided for his grandson Pir Mahommed (who was invested in Multan), the capture of towns or villages accompanied, it might be, with destruction of the houses and the massacre of the inhabitants, the battle before Delhi and the easy victory, the triumphal entry into the doomed city, with its outcome of horrors—all these circumstances belong to the annals of India. In April 1399, some three months after quitting the capital of Mahmūd Toghluk, Timūr was back in his own capital beyond the Oxus. It need scarcely be added that an immense quantity of spoil was conveyed away. According to Clavijo, ninety captured elephants were employed merely to carry stones from certain quarries to enable the conqueror to erect a mosque at Samarkand. The war with the Turks and Egyptians which succeeded the return from India was rendered notable by the capture of Aleppo and Damascus, and especially by the defeat and imprisonment of Sultan Bayezid I. (see Turkey: History, and Egypt: History, Mahommedan period). This was Timūr's last campaign. Another was projected against China, but the old warrior was attacked by fever and ague when encamped on the farther side of the Sihon (Syr-Daria) and died at Atrār (Otrar) on the 17th of February 1405. Markham, in his introduction to the narrative of Clavijo's embassy, states that his body “was embalmed with musk and rose water, wrapped in linen, laid in an ebony coffin and sent to Samarkand, where it was buried.” Timūr had carried his victorious arms on one side from the Irtish and the Volga to the Persian Gulf and on the other from the Hellespont to the Ganges.
Timūr's generally recognized biographers are—‘Alī Yazdī, commonly called Sharifu ’d-Dīn, author of the Persian Zafarnāma, translated by Petis de la Croix in 1722, and from French into English by J. Darby in the following year; and Ahmad ibn Mohammed ibn Abdallah, al Dimashki, al ‘Ajmi, commonly called Ibn ‘Arabshāh, author ot the Arabic ‘Aljaibu ’l Makhlnkāt, translated by the Dutch Orientalist Golius in 1636. In the work of the former, as Sir William Jones remarks, “the Tartarian conqueror is represented as a liberal, benevolent and illustrious prince”; in that of the latter he is “deformed and impious, of a low birth and detestable principles.” But the favourable account was written under the personal supervision of Timūr's grandson, Ibrāhīm, while the other was the production of his direst enemy. Few indeed, if any, original annals of this class are written otherwise than to order, under patronage, or to serve a purpose to which truth is secondary. Among less reputed biographies or materials for biography may be mentioned a second Zafarnāma, by Maulānā Nizāmu ’d-Dīn Shanab Ghāzāni (Nizām Shāmi), stated to be “the earliest known history of Timūr, and the only one written in his lifetime”; and vol. i. of the Matla‘u’s-Sa‘dain—a choice Persian MS. work of 1495—introduced to Orientalists in Europe by Hammer, Jahrbücher, Dorn and (notably) Quatremère. There are also the Memoirs (Malfūẓāt) and Institutes (Tuzukāt), of which an important section is styled Designs and Enterprises (Tadbīrāt wa Kangāshahā). Upon the genuineness of these doubt has been thrown. The circumstance of their alleged discovery and presentation to Shah Jahān in 1637 was of itself open to suspicion. Alhazen, quoted by Purchas in his quaint notice of Timūr and referred to by Sir John Malcolm, can hardly be accepted as a serious authority. His assumed memoir was printed for English readers in 1597 by William Ponsonby under the title of a Historie of the Great Emperor Tamerlan, drawn from the ancient monuments by Messire Jean du Bec, Abbot of Mortimer; and another version of the same book is to be found in the Histoire du Grand Tamerlan, by De Sainctyon, published at Amsterdam in 1678. But, although the existence of this Alhazen of Jean de Bec has been believed by many, the more trustworthy critics consider the history and historian to be equally fictitious.
Reference may be made to two more sources of information. (1) Supposed likenesses of Timūr are to be found in books and in the splendid collection of Oriental manuscripts and drawings in the British Museum. One contained in the Shah Jahān Nāma—a gorgeous specimen of illuminated Persian manuscript and exquisite calligraphy—represents a most ordinary, middle-aged Oriental, with narrow black whisker, fringing the cheek and meeting the tip of the chin in a scanty, pointed beard; a thin moustache sweeps in a semicircle from above the upper lip; the eyebrow over the almond-shaped eye is marked but not bushy. But it were vain to seek for an expression of genius in the countenance. Another portrait is included in a set of sketches by native artists, some of which, taken probably from life, show great care and cleverness. Timūr is here displayed as a stoutish, long-bodied man, below the middle-height, in age and feature not unlike the first portrait, but with thicker and more straggling hair, and distincter, though not more agreeable character in the facial expression, yet not a sign of power, genius, or any elements of grandeur or celebrity. The uncomfortable figure in the Bodleian Library does not give much help. Sir John Malcolm has been at some pains to invest his portrait of Timūr with individuality. But an analysis of his results leaves the reader in more perplexity than satisfaction at the kind of information imparted, and he reverts insensibly to the sources from which his instructor has himself been instructed. (2) As regards plays, in Marlowe's Tamburlaine Timūr is described as tall of stature, straightly fashioned, large of limb, having joints strongly knit, long and sinewy arms, a breadth of shoulders to “bear old Atlas's burden,” pale of complexion, and with “amber hair wrapp'd in curls.” The outline of this description might be from Sharifu ’d-Dīn, while the colours are the poet's own. A Latin memoir of Tamerlane by Perondinus, printed in 1600, entitled Magni Tamerlanis scytharum imperatoris vita, describes Timūr as tall and bearded, broad-chested and broad-shouldered, well-built but lame, of a fierce countenance and with receding eyes, which express cruelty and strike terror into the lookers-on. But Jean du Bec's account of Timūr's appearance is quite different. Now Tamburlaine was written in 1586. The first English translation of Jean du Bec is dated in 1595, the Life by Perondinus in 1600, and Petis de la Croix did not introduce Sharifu ’d-Dīn or ‘Alī Yazdī to European readers till 1722. The dramatist must have heard of Timūr in other quarters, equally reliable it may be with those available in the present stage of Oriental research. At the beginning of the 18th century Timūr was represented in Rowe's Tamerlane as a model of valour and virtue. The plot, however, has little to do with history, and is improbable and void of interest. By Matthew Gregory Lewis again “Timour” is depicted as the conventional tyrant of a gorgeous melodrama, slaying, burning, slaughtering and committing every possible atrocity until checked by a violent death and a poetical climax.
Apart from modern European savants and historians, and the more strictly Oriental chroniclers who have written in Persian, Turkish or Arabic, the following authorities may be cited—Laonicus Chalcondylas, Joannes Leunclavius, Joachimus Camerarius, Petrus Perondinus, Lazaro Soranzo, Simon Mairlus, Matthew Michiovius. A score or so of other names are given by Samuel Purchas. See also Sir Clements Markham's Clavijo, in the Hakluyt Society's publications; White's edition of Davy's translation of the Institutes (1783); Stewart's translation of the Malfūẓāt; Malcolm's History of Persia; and Trans. Roy. Soc. (1885); Horn, “Gesch. Irans in islam. Zeit,” in Geiger and Kuhn, Grundr. der iranisch. Philol. (1904); works quoted, s.v. Mongols.
(F. J. G.)