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Tamerlane: Upcoming book excerpt: The Tatar Invasions of Muslim Lands

By Adan Makina

This is an excerpt from Author Adan Makina’s upcoming book: “The Tatar Invasions of Muslim Lands: from Islamic and secular perspectives.”

This chapter is exclusive to Tamerlane who is considered the toughest and the last of the Turco-Mongol Sunni-Muslim conquerors who broke the ranks of the Mongols and finally sent their remnants to Manchuria to face the volatile Manchus who finally splintered them by sending them to the mountains and deserts of Mongolia. His right name is Timur-i lang in Persian while Tamerlane is French. At a tender age, according to legend, he was shot with an arrow on one leg and arm, thus, he got injured and was known to limp when walking. Timur the Great rose to prominence in the 14th century and considered himself the “Sword of Islam.” In 1398, he captured India such that he left death and destruction after his departure. He is known as the inventor of the Tamerlane Chess.

Tomb of Gur-i-Timur; Samarkand, Uzbekistan; photo credit/Wikipedia

Tamerlane’s father was called Og and he was the descendant of the famous kingdom of Sechatay whose main capital was Samarkand or Samarqand that was located along a historic river.[i] He was born in 1336 near the city of Kesh, currently known as Shahrisabz in Uzbekistan. The Muslim military tactician who remained famous in European history for centuries for embodying romance and horror, kept his forces together, divided and dispersed them at times along the countryside during peacetimes and war. From 1382 to 1405, he was known for conquering and reconquering regions stretching from Delhi to Moscow in Eurasia, while in Central Asia, he swept regions from T’ien Shan Mountains to as far as the Taurus Mountains of Anatolia.[ii] Throughout his reign, Gur-i-Timur remained on the move with his army of confederated tribes who were drawn from almost every region he captured.

Admiring sown lands over the Steppe, he avoided Dzungaria or Zungaria that was the lands of the Golden Horde, and instead, focused on the Middle Eastern territories that combined Iran, Afghanistan, and Khorezm.[iii] Corresponding to the northern half of Xinjiang, Dzungaria is a geographical subregion in Northwest China. Also known as Beijiang, it is a portmanteau of the Mandarin language, for “Bei” that implies north and Xinjiang for “Northern Zinjiang.”[iv] While other conquerors established themselves fully in the Steppe, Gur-i-Timur simply swept it and crossed it over with lightning speed.

Distinct from Southern Nanjiang that is in the Tarim Basim and the major economic power of Zinjiang, Dzungaria remains the major economic powerhouse that is known as GDP.[v] To this day, there is the Dzungarian Gate that is a significant pass between China and Central Asia.[vi]

While some researchers portend that he was from a family of shepherds, to the contrary, he was not, because he hailed from a family that was engaged in revenues and other special minerals such as silver and gold extraction and commerce.[vii] Born to a royal and loyal family, Tamerlane’s father was a wealthy landlord while his mother was the daughter of a famous honorable religious man.[viii] However, according to some historians, roughly 17 million people died in his conquests.As per Marlowe’s quote, “The Uzbek literary theorist U. Tuychiyev describes it as following: “… actually, the real facts can be the foundation stone of any work, but they are not enough to make the work of fiction.”[ix] The most advanced elements of fiction are the real facts and imaginative power of mind.” At times called Amir Temur, as per Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 1593), the English Renaissance poet and dramatist who lived only 29 years, his poetry differs from the Muslim Turco-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane, and that his main character is “Tamburlaine the Great”–a Scythian shepherd and nomadic bandit who suffered at the hands of Mycetes, a Persian Emperor who dispatched his troops to conquer Tamburlaine. Using a foreign writer’s language as a reference, Marlowe describes Tamburlaine as “…a tall, broad shouldered person with long arms and golden hair. Clearly, he looks like Europeans.”[x] Thus, to the writer of this book, he concurs with Marlowe’s dramatization of Tamburlaine–a man who is contrary in character to the Turco-Muslim conqueror Tamerlane. To Marlowe, Tamburlaine resembled a faithless man who fought with his own soul or his life and as well considered himself superior to God for, he gave instructions to his people to burn the Qur’an. Regarding revenging upon his life Marlowe dramatizes in the following lines:

Tamburlaine! A Scythian shepherd so embellished;
With nature’s pride and richest furniture!
His looks do menace heaven and dare the gods;
His fiery eyes are fix’d upon the earth,
Here Tamburlaine is described as Scythian shepherd with fiery eyes, who rebels against God and Heaven.

As dramatized by Marlowe, at the height of his power, Tamburlaine claims superior to God after capturing Babylon and thus he orders the burning of the Qur’an–an order that contravenes Islamic doctrines and creeds. Below is Marlowe’s dramatic injunctions:

Now, Casane, where’s the Turkish Alcoran
And all the heaps of superstitious books  
Found in the temples of that Mahomet
Whom I have thought a god?       
They shall be burnt.[xi]

Tamburlaine was not Tamerlane because, at no time did Timur order the desecration or burning of the Qur’an or the Turkish Alcoran mentioned in the poem above.

Tamerlane’s War Expansion

While his total empire stretched from Russia to India, and from the Mediterranean Sea to Mongolia, his expansive land domain included Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and parts of Turkey, Syria and India.[xii]  Born to a royal and loyal family, Tamerlane’s father was a wealthy landlord while his mother was the daughter of a famous honorable religious man.[xiii] However, according to some historians, roughly 17 million people died in his conquests. To prove that he was not the killer of the largest human population in history, the opening of his tomb in Samarkand, Uzbekistan under the instructions of Stalin of the former USSR in 1941, whether a heresay or a real testimony, a reflection of the two curses inscribed in his tomb, clearly define the kind of person he was. The two curses will appear to the reader at the end of the chapter.

After the decline of the powerful Timurid Dynasty, smaller but powerful empires evolved such as “the Qing and Ming in present day China, the Vijayanagara and Mughal in India, the Safavid in Iran and the Ottoman in Turkey.”[xiv] John Darwin’s masterpiece After Tamerlane covers 600 years of global history especially on empires. From 1382 to 1405 his thousands of well-armed soldiers crisscrossed Eurasia. The terminology Eurasia is a combination of Europe and Asia and are divided by the Ural Mountains. Russia and Kazakhstan straddle both continents and the Northern and Eastern Hemispheres. The never tiring Tamerlane who moved with speed undeterred by foreign enemies, traveled with ease from Delhi to Moscow and from the Central Asian Tien Shan Mountains to the Anatolian Mountains known historically as the Taurus Mountains. His destruction of Damascus on 24 March 1401 and his smashing of the Golden Horde could be irrefutable and deserving of further research endeavors, because, Christopher Marlowe’s dramatic character Tamburlaine the Great on the viciousness of Timur, could be out of context and an exaggeration as earlier noted.

One struggle aspect that distinguished Tamerlane from the past Mongol conquests was that he stumbled upon nations that had already been captured by his previous conquerors. The Timurid realm coincided with the Turkic Islamic traditions and institutions. He is regarded undefeated military tactician and brutal in his military conquests. On the other hand, he was a patron of architecture and arts because of his interaction with famous intellectuals like Ibn Khaldun, Hafez, and Hafiz -i-Abru while his reign introduced the Timurid Renaissance.[xv] The Timurid Renaissance was a period in Islamic and Asian history spanning from the 13th century to the 16th century. It rose to prominence in the 13th century after the demise of the Islamic Golden Age of the 8th to the 13th centuries.[xvi] It was also an era when the mamluks played significant role in the advancement of Astronomy.[xvii]

The Timurid Dynasty originated from the remnants of the Barlas Mongol tribe of Genghis Khan’s army[xviii] and thereafter settled in Central Asia. Due to intermingling with the Turkish people, they became Turkicized in terms of habits and language such that there was an era they had a strong force and were generally known as Moghulistan for “Land of Mongols” in Persian. After adopting Islam, the Mongols and the Turks of central Asia both embraced Persianate societal influence that injected Persian arts, culture, literature, and language.[xix] Also known as Islamic Persosphere, historical Persianate started with the Bavandid (651–1349) in Western, specifically in Central Asia it ended with the Pahlavi (1925–1979). In Eastern, especially Central Asia to the Indian Subcontinent, it started with the Qarakhanid (840–1212) and ended with the Jammu and Kashmir (1846–1952).

The terminologies of persianization and persification are newly-crafted sociological terminologies that remain unique to Persian culture, language, arts, literature, and music. It is a type of cultural shift or assimilation. Persianized or Persified applies to individual and social inclination or acclimation to Persian influence. Such Iranian cultural influences that started during the early and middle Islamic periods had great impact on non-Iranian people such as Arabs and different Caucasian societies like the Georgians and Armenians plus Daghestani and Turkic peoples. Likewise, it infiltrated Seljuks, Ghaznavids, and the Ottomans.[xx] There are two types of inequality: man-made and natural. Terms like inferiority complex and superiority complex have been with us for a long time. Regardless of whether it refers to “the Good (Clint Eastwood), the Bad (Lee Van Cleef), and the Ugly (Eli Wallach)”[xxi]–a movie that first came to fore in 1966 and known as “Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo” in Italian, inequality exists to this day.

Read the full- Book excerpt- Tamerlane: The Tatar Invasions of Muslim Lands: from Islamic and secular perspectives.

Adan Makina
Email: [email protected]

[i] Du Bec, J. (1753). The History of the Life of Tamerlane the Great: Giving an Exact and Authentic Account of His Birth and Family, His Wars with the Muscovites, the King of China, the Famous Bajazet Emperor of the Turks, and the Soldan of Egypt, His Conquest of Persia, and the Other Remarkable Actions of His Life. W. Owen, near Temple-Bar.

[ii] Manz, B. F. (1999). The rise and rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge University Press.

[iii] Ibid, Manz.

[iv] S. Frederick Starr (15 March 2004). Xinjiang: China’s Muslim Borderland. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 30–. ISBN 978-0-7656-3192-3.

[v] Stahle, Laura N (August 2009). “Ethnic Resistance and State Environmental Policy: Uyghurs and Mongols” (PDF). University of southern California.

[vi] MacFarquhar, Roderick; Fairbank, John K.; Twitchett, Denis (1991). Cambridge History of China: The People’s Republic, Part 2: Revolutions Within the Chinese Revolution, 1966–1982. Cambridge University Press. p. 266. ISBN 9780521243377.

[vii] Ibid, Du Bec.

[viii] Temirovna, M. P. (2021). THE CORRELATION OF HISTORICAL TRUTH AND IMAGINATION IN CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE’S TRAGEDY “TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT”. Web of Scientist: International Scientific Research Journal2(12), 455-457.

[ix] Тўйчиев У. Ўзбек адабиётида бадиийлик. –Тошкент: Янги аср авлоди, 2011. 364 – б.

[x]Парфёнов А. Кристофер Марло. – Москва: Худлит, 1964 – С. 14. 

[xi] Christopher Marlow. Tamburlaine the Great. – London: Dover Publication, 2002, –128P

[xii] Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). Who was Tamburlaine the Conqueror? Retrieved September 14, 2022.

[xiii] Temirovna, M. P. (2021). THE CORRELATION OF HISTORICAL TRUTH AND IMAGINATION IN CHRISTOPHER MARLOWE’S TRAGEDY “TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT”. Web of Scientist: International Scientific Research Journal2(12), 455-457.

[xiv] Darwin, J. (2008). After Tamerlane: the global history of empire since 1405. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

[xv] Marozzi, Justin (2004). Tamerlane: Sword of Islam: Conqueror of the World. HarperCollins.

[xvi] Saliba, George (1994). A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam. New York University Press. Pp. 245,250, 256-257. ISBN 0-8147-8023-7.

[xvii] King, David A. (1983). “The Astronomy of the Mamluks”, Isis, 74 (4): 531-55. Doi:10 1086/353360.

[xviii] B.F. Manz, “Tīmūr Lang” (2006). From Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition.

[xix] Arjomand, Said Amir (2004). Studies on Persianate SocietiesISBN 978-81-7304-667-4.

[xx] Bhatia, Tej K. (2004). The handbook of bilingualism, p.788-9.

[xxi] Variety film review; 27 December 1967, page 6.

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