Also known as Tamerlane, Timur was an Turkic-Mongol warlord and one of the last great conquerors from Central Asia. Born on April 8, 1336 in the Chagatai Khanate (which was partially comprised of what is modern-day Uzbekistan), he envisioned himself to be an heir of Genghis Khan and restorer of the Mongol Empire. Its believed that around his teenage years or during his time as mercenary, he was shot with arrows in the leg and hands, losing two of his fingers and becoming crippled for life, earning his "Lame" nickname. That did not stop him in the slightest from becoming a fearsome warlord. Timur was a Muslim generally believed to be a Sufi who not only relied on Islamic symbols to legitimize his conquest, referring to himself as The Scourge of God, but used his Mongolian heritage to justify his campaigns as reclaiming their land taken by usurpers. By rallying a multi-ethnic army and slowly taking control of the surrounding areas, he established the Timurid Empire in 1370.
Much like his predecessor, Timur was also a military genius, a man of culture and patron of the arts that enjoyed the company of scholars. However, just like Genghis Khan, he was just as capable of appalling brutality upon his enemies. He was a very shrewd and charismatic politician — he had to be due to the many disadvantages to legitimization of his rule. While he claimed to be Temujin's heir, he wasn't actually descended by blood from him and could not use the title of khan (note: Timur was a Mongol and was a member of the Borjigid, the Imperial clan of Chinggis Khaan, and therefore was indeed related to him, however, the legal criteria for claiming the title of Khaan in the post-Mongol Central Asian kingdoms was that a claimant had to be directly descended from one of Chinggis Khaan's 4 sons, which disqualified Timur as, rather than being his grandson, he was in fact the Great Khaan's 1st cousin four times removed. However, as the Timurids grew in imperial power and prestige to the point of surpassing the Chinggisids, Timur's successors would later claim the title directly anyway), and instead used the title of amir (meaning "general") and only acquired recognition after marrying a Mongol princess as his Top Wife. Likewise, Timur could not style himself as Caliph, the supreme and spiritual leader of the Islamic world, as the office was already taken by the Abbasids during that time, but Timur reacted to the challenge by creating a legend of himself as an "supernatural power ordained by Allah" as earlier rulers have successfully exploited the notion that military and political success were the result of God's favor. Therefore, with Timur's successful career as a conqueror, it was easy to justify that he was favored by God since no ordinary man — specially a cripple like him — could have such good fortune. At the time, he easily became the most feared man in Asia as he conquered everything on his path; it didn't matter if they were Christians (the brutal conquests of Georgia and Armenia, the Church of the East's destruction and crushing the Knights of Rhodes at the Siege of Smyrna), Hindus (the invasion of the Delhi Sultanate) or even his fellow Muslims (the sacks of Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus and Isfahan) — it's generally believed that over 17 million people were killed during his campaigns, which would amount to 5% of the world's population at that time. To name a few of his horrific atrocities, he supposedly built a pyramid from the skulls and bones of his victims in Baghdad and Isfahan (Isfahan is also where he is has known to have gathered women and children of the city and had the kids trampled to death by his cavalry, personally leading the riders in this work due to their initial misgivings), ordered each of his soldiers to behead two victims or else they would be beheaded for falling short of the quota and invaded India solely because their rulers were growing too tolerant of them. Keep in mind that these things were engineered by a man who could not properly hold a sword, nor physically mount a war horse without assistance.
Although his conquests were characterized by brutality towards anyone on his path regardless of their faith, it was other Muslim nations such as the Persians, Ottomans and Mamluks that took the brunt of his violence even though he was a Muslim himself. His appalling sacks of Baghdad and Damascus made him "sworn enemy of Islam" from the Muslim leaders at the time, especially the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I. Tensions escalated after one of Bayezid's sons, Ertuğrul, was killed by Timur's troops in Anatolia, with the Sultan and the Emperor trading Strongly Worded Letters to each other, where the latter advised the former to not antagonize him: "Thou hast obtained some victories over the Christians of Europe; thy sword was blessed by the apostle of God; and thy obedience to the precept of the Koran, in waging war against the infidels, is the sole consideration that prevents us from destroying thy country, the frontier and bulwark of the Moslem world. Be wise in time; reflect; repent; and avert the thunder of our vengeance, which is yet suspended over thy head. Thou art no more than a pismire; why wilt thou seek to provoke the elephants? Alas! they will trample thee under their feet".
Bayediz was livid and could barely hide it his next response: "Know, O ravening dog named Timur (...) If I fly from thy arms, may my wives be thrice divorced from my bed: but if thou hast not courage to meet me in the field, mayest thou again receive thy wives after they have thrice endured the embraces of a stranger". In other words, he called Timur a coward and threatened to capture him and have him Forced to Watch as his Royal Harem was raped before his eyes. Bad mistake. Timur marched 140,000 of his forces and 32 War Elephants to Ankara to meet his opponent in its fateful battle. With the Timurids outnumbering the Ottoman forces in the Çubuk plain, the Battle of Ankara turned into massacre since the Tartars had deserted the Sultan in front of the crushing odds, two of his sons were killed in combat and Bayezid himself was taken prisoner alongside his Christian wife Despina Hatun, a Serbian princess that was sent to his harem. Accounts diverge on how they were treated; some historians believe the warlord had treated them well, since he regarded the Sultan as a Worthy Opponent; legends claim that upon realizing Bayezid was blind while playing chess with him, Timur snickered that "I smile that Allah should have given the dominion of the world to a blind man like you and a lame man like me". Others claim that Bayezid and his wife were humiliated by the warlord, who trapped the Sultan inside a cage and forced him to watch Despina serve Timur and his guests completely naked, which was probably a way to get back at the offense Bayezid paid him; it's possible Timur may have done more to Despina than just this. The fact is that Bayezid died in captivity one year later and his wife was returned shortly after to her brother's court. This was a turning point, as the Ottoman Empire suffered a massive blow as this was the only time in history a Sultan was captured in combat and, at that moment, it was very feared by the Europeans as victory against them had seemed impossible for the best coalition of Christian armies, and Timur succeeded against them almost effortlessly. With this victory, he became the effective leader of the Islamic world as his own empire stretched from Southern Turkey to the Xinjiang region in China.
After this, Timur turned his attention to China and planned to invade it by striking an alliance with the Mongol Empire. However, while on route to his invasion, he died of an illness on February 1405 before even reaching the Chinese border. His successors never managed to complete the campaign and the Timurid Empire would slowly tear itself apart with partitions — one could say the empire was only as good as Timur was alive. Nobody is sure why Timur didn't persist in his conquest westward; it's possible that he had no interest in pushing towards what was uncharted territory for him and, since he was already nearing the end of his life, he probably thought about returning to Asia and complete some unfinished business in an area he was familiar with.note Ironically, his Ottoman enemies would recover from their defeat at Ankara with The Fall of Constantinople and eventually becoming a caliphate in their own right by capturing Mecca and Medina, the two holiest sites on Islam. On the flipside, one of Timur's descendants Zahir-ud-din Muhammad Babur would match his ancestor by founding the Mughal Empire in India.
One would have expected that would be the end of the story, but fast-forward to World War II in 1941, when Soviet scientists were sent on an expedition to Uzbekistan to search for Timur's tomb. They found it and it's said that — allegedly — there were two inscriptions on it: "When I rise, the world will tremble" and "Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I". Well, three days afterwards Adolf Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and attacked the Soviet Union, which was considered the largest invasion of all time and made the Soviets endure the largest number of casualties than any side in the conflict. It was only after Timur's remains were reburied with full Islamic rituals that the Soviets won the Battle of Stalingrad, the bloodiest battle in history and turned the tide of the war against the Nazis. Due to the string of coincidences between these events, many superstitious folks attribute Timur's curse with changing the course of history.
Today, Timur's legacy, like that of many warlords and prolific conquerors, is very mixed. He is viewed more positively in Muslim Central Asia and is considered Uzbekistan's national hero, with his statue replacing Karl Marx's after the downfall of Communism. However, chances are he is viewed as an Evil Overlord by Arabs, Iranians, Turks and Indians because of the brutality of his conquests, and it's said his name became an expletive in some parts of the world. The most ironic thing of all is that he was relatively popular among Christians in Europe, since the Ottoman Turks' Shocking Defeat Legacy brought immediate relief and gave them time to build their strength and prepare for future wars. Still, the very thought of Timur's army being even more numerous and dangerous than the Turks, not to mention the complete destruction of the Church of the East at his hands (not that the Roman Catholics were particularly upset about its loss since their particular doctrine was considered heretical at any rate) was terrifying to grasp, which is why they sent missionaries to convince him to convert to Catholicism.note Timur, for his part, was warm and welcoming towards the European Christians (the Knights of Rhodes notwithstandingnote and even then, Timur viewed them as worthy enemies like Bayezid) and regarded the Catholic King Henry III of Castile as "his very own son", which goes a long way in explaining why European poems, musics and operas were dedicated to him as the "Muslim Defender of Christendom". Generally speaking, while his body count is lower than Genghis Khan, who presumably killed around 40 million people and 10% of the world's population at the time, it's believed by some that his reputation of deliberate brutality was unsurpassed until the modern era and the advent of fascist and Stalinist regimes.
Works that feature Timur the Lame
- Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition features an entire campaign around his conquests, from his beginnings in Transoxiana to the Battle of Ankara.
- Eternal Darkness: The Big Bad quotes a speech attributed to Timur before throwing his victims down a pit to bury them alive.
- Medieval II: Total War has a Scripted Event featuring the Timurid Empire as an unplayable faction appearing in the Eastern part of the map and starting a massive invasion.
- A Scotsman in Egypt: The Timurids are the last major antagonist in the story, planning to invade the Scottish Empire (that is to say, pretty much all of Europe) after the death of King Domnall thanks to information passed along by a turncoat. Until it turns out the "turncoat" killed the actual traitor and took his place to send the Timurids false information, setting up their generals to be killed in a single strike, it turns out Domnall's death was part of the false information relayed to the Timurids... oh, and to top it off, these vast Hordes from the East find themselves outnumbered by the armies of Scotland.
- Tamburlaine, a theater play written by Christopher Marlowe.
- Tamerlane, a fictionalized poem written by Edgar Allan Poe.
- Turandot: He is depicted as the blind and deposed King of Tartary and Calaf's father.
- Warhammer: Tamurkhan the Maggoth Lord is a fantasy version of Timur as a blind, handicapped Champion of Nurgle that belonged to the barbarian tribes in the Chaos Wastes and rode war mammoths into battle.