The Rise and Fall of Timur (Tamerlane): The crippled bandit who conquered half the planet

Fareeha Arshad

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Statue of Tamerlane in SamarkandWikimedia Commons

The crippled Timur or Tamerlane rose from nothing to create one of the greatest empires in the history of the world. At a time when disabled men like him didn’t live for long, he went ahead and not only survived but also became one of the greatest conquerors on Earth. His empire stretched from the Indian Subcontinent to the Mediterranean in the West.

Over 150 years before the birth of Timur, the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan ruled central Asia. After his death, a large portion of the empire was taken up by Chagatai Khan, the second eldest son of Genghis Khan. During the Mongol descendant’s rule, the ancient empire flourished into a beautiful yet remote region.

The neighbouring northern land of Chagatai Khanate was ruled by Gengis Khan’s grandsons — a ravenous bunch of nomads who were not bounded by any laws. Following the internal conflicts that persisted among them, the khanate was divided into two small fragments — the Moghulistan and the Transoxiana.

Early life

Timur was born in a divided world into a family of nobles of Transoxiana in 1336. During his childhood, Timur raided and stole poultry animals from travellers. At one such raid, the 27-year-old Timur was shot with arrows — one hit his right leg, and the other his arm. These injuries crippled Timur for the rest of his life.

Being crippled in a culture and environment where such people were quickly perceived as a liability, Timur’s rise happened due to his inflicted wounds. This incident earned him his name, Timur the Lame or Tamerlane.

The rise to power

Timur rose to power only in the 1360s, with seven men behind him and four horses in total. During this period, the Chagatai Khans ruled over Transoxiana. To make a name for himself, Timur would participate in Chagatai Khans’ raids and military campaigns.

When the original ruler of Transoxiana passed away in 1357, he paired with the ruler of Moghulistan to take over the throne. The Transoxianan heir, Ilyas Khoja was the new king, however, he was controlled by Timur himself.

Seven years later, Timur — lusting for more power — switched teams again.

Now he teamed up with his brother-in-law, Amir Husayn. Together, they conquered the entirety of Transoxiana. Unwilling to share the power, Timur turned against his new partner and got him off the game altogether.

After coming into power, Timur, with his wit, played the Chagatai Khans against each other. The descendants of the Khans fought among themselves for power and influence. Timur managed to turn the proud sons of Genghis Khan into his puppets.

Or that’s what he thought.

Genghis Khan’s laws stated that only a descendant of the Great Khan could become the Khan of the Chagatai. This way, Timur could not become the Khan of West Chagatai yet. To deal with the situation, Timur appointed a puppet Khan to take the throne, Suurgatmish Khan. Besides, he married the widow of Emir Husayn, Saray Mulk Khanum, a Chagatai princess and Genghis Khan’s descendant. This newfound relation even permitted Timur to refer to himself as the Gurgan or the son in law of the Great Khan. This is how the Gurkani Dynasty came into existence.

With all the hurdles crossed and sorted, Timur became the new ruler of the Western Chagatai in Balkh. In 1370, the Gurgan captured the city of Samarkand and made it the capital of his new empire.

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Timur’s Registan in the ancient city of Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan)Wikimedia Commons

With the power and influence he now had, Tamerlane was just getting started.

Expansion of the Timurid Empire

During the first decade of his rule, Timur ensured that all neighbouring kingdoms obliged to his supremacy — even if that meant resorting to violence.

In the next decade, Timur focussed on expanding his empire into the Persian lands. The first Persian kingdom to accept Timur was the Sarbadar Kingdom in 1381. One after the other, all the five Persian Kingdoms bowed down to the Timurid Empire.

Timur did not stop. He headed towards the Indian Subcontinent which was then ruled by the Delhi Sultanate. The crippled Emperor lead an invasion in 1398. The capital city was ransacked and plundered. Thousands of people were killed. The city was reduced to ashes — taking them a century to cope up with their losses.

A year later, the determined Emperor took over the Mamluk Sultanate, during which thousands of men, women, and children were killed — except for skilled workers and a few slaves. He even went as far as to build towers out of skulls. In 1400, Tamerlane headed towards the Ottomans in the west. On the way, he conquered the regions of Armenia and Georgia.

The Timurid Empire had always had weak relations with the Ottomans. Though neither wanted to initiate a war, the lust for more power forced Timur to step onto the battlegrounds once more. In 1402, the Battle of Ankara between the Timurid and the Ottomans took place, ending with Tamerlane on the winning side. After the phenomenal victory, the crippled Emperor even managed to subdue Anatolia.

Now Timur had his eyes set on the Ming Dynasty of China.

The end of the crippled bandit who ruled the world

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Statue of TimurWikimedia Commons


Despite being sick and over sixty years of age, the leader did not deter to plan his attack in bringing down the last opponent standing. Desperate to win immediately and establish his unchallenged Empire, Timur launched an early, unplanned attack in 1404 — which was unlike him.

Turns out, this immature attack put an end to the unstoppable emperor. His body was returned to Samarkand, the capital city of the Timurid Empire.

Tamerlane was a man who came from no royal connection and experienced physical disability too early in his life. Yet, this man singlehandedly went ahead and conquered a large portion of the planet. His rule extended from Europe to Asia. Babur, his descendant, originated the Mughal Empire that ruled over the Indian Subcontinent.

As ruthless and cruel he was, Timur was definitely one of the greatest conquerors to ever live.

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State
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