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Timur

Timur (tĭmŏrˈ) [key] or Tamerlane tămˈərlān, c.1336–1405, Mongol conqueror, b. Kesh, near Samarkand. He is also called Timur Leng [Timur the lame]. He was the son of a tribal leader, and he claimed (apparently for the first time in 1370) to be a descendant of Jenghiz Khan. With an army composed of Turks and Turkic-speaking Mongols, remnants of the empire of the Mongols, Timur spent his early military career in subduing his rivals in what is now Turkistan; by 1369 he firmly controlled the entire area from his capital at Samarkand.

Campaigns he waged against Persia occupied him until 1387. By that time he had in his possession the lands stretching E from the Euphrates River. He advanced (1392) across the Euphrates, conquered the territory between the Caspian and Black seas, and invaded several of the Russian states. By weakening the Crimean Tatars he helped clear the way for the conquests of the grand duchy of Moscow. Timur abandoned some of his Russian conquests to return to Samarkand and invade (1398) India along the route of the Indus River. He took Delhi and brought the Delhi Sultanate to an end, but he withdrew with little addition to his domain.

In 1400, Timur ravaged Georgia and proceeded to the Levant, where he took Aleppo and Baghdad. His next war was fought in Asia Minor against the Ottoman Turks, and in 1402, at Angora, he captured their sultan, Beyazid I, who, contrary to popular belief, was well treated. Timur died while planning an invasion of China. His tomb at Samarkand was long known to archaeologists, but it is only recently that his skeleton, buried in a deep crypt, was found.

Timur's reputation is that of a cruel conqueror. After capturing certain cities he slaughtered thousands of the defenders (perhaps 80,000 at Delhi) and built pyramids of their skulls. Although a Muslim, he was scarcely more merciful to those of his own faith than to those he considered infidels. His positive achievements were the encouragement of art, literature, and science and the construction of vast public works. He had little hope that his vast conquests would remain intact, and before his death he arranged for them to be divided among his sons. The Timurids are the line of rulers descended from him. Christopher Marlowe's play Tamburlaine luridly recounts his conquests.

See biographies by H. Hookham (1962) and B. F. Manz (1989); J. H. Sanders, tr., Tamerlane (tr. of late 14th-century Arabic work by A. Ibn Arabshah, 1936).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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