20th December 2018
Timur, or Tamerlane, was a great Central Asian ruler during the 14th century, who carved out a vast empire stretching from Turkey to Delhi. Although relatively short, the legacy left by his rule is wide and far reaching. And is still felt today in Uzbekistan, where is also widely considered a national hero.
As mentioned, it is difficult to visit Uzbekistan and not see how highly Timur is still regarded by the people. Giant statues of him can be found in the centre of most cities, including Samarkand, Tashkent and Shakhrisabz, his birthplace. Often sat on his throne or astride a warhorse, it’s a source of great pride to this relatively new nation that Timur belongs to them - a reminder of a glorious past.
Timur started from relatively humble beginnings, but from his early thirties he embarked on a ruthless strategy of expansion. Conquering nearby city states and empires in numerous campaigns that took him from Egypt to China, until he became the most powerful man in Asia. Despite its size, his empire only continued for a few years his death, before quickly fragmenting as a result of infighting between claimants for the throne and external pressure.
However, Timur's influence goes far beyond simple military conquest, it is Timur who is responsible for commissioning much of the stunning architecture that we now associate with the great silk road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. Including the mighty Registan Square (above). He was also a great patron of the arts and theology, encouraging artists, scientists and theologians to attend his magnificent court. He also reopened many trade routes and welcomed ambassadors from European powers. And beyond that it was Timur’s descendent, Babur, who led an army through Afghanistan and into India in the 16th century, founding what would become the Mughal Empire.
Not without his critics, Timur is generally considered responsible for the death of 17 million people - 5% of the world’s population at the time - by historians. Cities that had been major centres of learning like Delhi, Baghdad and Damascus were destroyed, with much of their former wealth carried back to Samarkand. News of his death would have been greeted with sighs of relief by many of the inhabitants of these cities and his empire as a whole.
If legends are to be believed then Timur had one final card to play in world events, even after death. In 1941, a Soviet anthropologist opened his tomb to examine his remains and is alleged to have found this warning ‘Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I’. Three days later Hitler ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union.