Wednesday, December 29


In 329 BCE Bessus, the last Achaemenid king of Persia, was deposed and jailed to Nautaca, the ancient Zoroastrian town of the Nine-Horse Races. Alexander spent time here with his beloved Bactrian wife Roxana, it was cool at an altitude of 600m over the steppe, so-much-so that in the middle ages it came to be known as Kash (heart-pleasing.) In this town in 1336 was born a tyrant of tyrants, Timur the Lame. It is said that the tiny infant's palms were filled with blood at birth. Timur expanded and built out the family seat in Aksarai -- White Residence -- and renamed the town as Shakhr-i-sabz (Shahr-i-sabz) -- City of Green. Today, his statue dominates the approach to the collapsed entrance arch. Below, newly married couples congregate for photos of their "Russian" (i.e. civil or registry) marriages decked in gowns and tuxedos (the "Uzbek" or traditional wedding to be performed later at home), under the benevolent eye of Amir Timur.

From the Tuzk-i-Timuri:

"The History of my expedition against Hindustan:

About this time there arose in my heart the desire to lead an expedition against the infidels, and to become a ghází; for it had reached my ears that the slayer of infidels is a ghází, and if he is slain he becomes a martyr. It was on this account that I formed this resolution, but I was undetermined in my mind whether I should direct my expedition against the infidels of China or against the infidels and polytheists of India. In this matter I sought an omen from the Kurán, and the verse I opened upon was this, “O Prophet, make war upon infidels and un­believers, and treat them with severity.”

My great officers told me that the inhabitants of Hindustán were infidels and unbelievers. In obedience to the order of Almighty God I determined on an expedition against them, and I issued orders to the amírs of mature years, and the leaders in war, to come before me, and when they had come together I questioned the assembly as to whether I should invade Hindustán or China, and said to them, “By the order of God and the Prophet it is incumbent upon me to make war upon these infidels and polytheists.” ...

At this time the prince Sháh Rukh said: “India is an extensive country; whatever Sultán conquers it becomes supreme over the four quarters of the globe; if, under the conduct of our amír, we conquer India, we shall become rulers over the seven climes.” He then said: “I have seen in the history of Persia that, in the time of the Persian Sultáns, the King of India was called Dáráí, with all honour and glory. On account of his dignity he bore no other name; and the Emperor of Rome was called Cæsar, and the Sultán of Persia was called Kisra, and the Sultán of the Tátárs, Khákán, and the Emperor of China, Faghfúr; but the King of Írán and Túrán bore the title of Sháhinsháh, and the orders of the Sháhinsháh were always paramount over the princes and Rájás of Hindustán, and praise be to God that we are at this time Sháhinsháh of Írán and Túrán, and it would be a pity that we should not be supreme over the country of Hindustán.” I was excessively pleased with these words of Prince Sháh Rukh. Then the Prince Muhammad Sultán said: “The whole country of India is full of gold and jewels, and in it there are seventeen mines of gold and silver, diamond and ruby and emerald and tin and iron and steel and copper and quicksilver, etc., and of the plants which grow there are those fit for making wearing apparel, and aromatic plants, and the sugar cane, and it is a country which is always green and verdant, and the whole aspect of the country is pleasant and delightful. Now, since the inhabitants are chiefly polytheists and infidels and idolaters and worshipers of the sun, by the order of God and his prophet, it is right for us to conquer them."

Timur's piety is keenly informed by the prospect of loot; in fact the more his nobles talk about the wealth of India, the more anxiously does Timur consult his theologians:

"My wazírs informed me that the whole amount of the revenue of India is six arbs; now each arb is a 100 krors, and each kror is a 100 lacs, and each lac is a 100,000 miskáls of silver. Some of the nobles said, “By the favour of Almighty God we may conquer India, but if we establish ourselves permanently therein, our race will degenerate and our children will become like the natives of those regions, and in a few generations their strength and valour will diminish.” The amírs of regiments (kushúnát) were disturbed at these words, but I said to them, “My object in the invasion of Hindustán is to lead an expedition against the infidels that, according to the law of Muhammad (upon whom and his family be the blessing and peace of God), we may con­vert to the true faith the people of that country, and purify the land itself from the filth of infidelity and polytheism; and that we may overthrow their temples and idols and become gházís and mujáhids before God.” They gave an unwilling consent, but I placed no reliance upon them. At this time the wise men of Islám came before me, and a conversation began about the pro­priety of a war against infidels and polytheists; they gave it as their opinion that it is the duty of the Sultán of Islám, and all the people who profess that “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the prophet of Allah,” for the sake of preserving their religion and strengthening their law, to exert their utmost endeavour for the suppression of the enemies of their faith. "

On Dec 15, 1398, Timur prepared to attack Delhi. In his campaign through the Punjab, he had accumulated 100,000 Hindu prisoners of war, who were clearly a security-risk if left behind amongst baggage as the main army engaged in war.

"Massacre of 100,000 Hindus:

At this Court Amír Jahán Sháh and Amír Sulaimán Sháh, and other amírs of experience, brought to my notice that, from the time of entering Hindustán up to the present time, we had taken more than 100,000 infidels and Hindus prisoners, and that they were all in my camp. On the previous day, when the enemy's forces made the attack upon us, the prisoners made signs of rejoicing, uttered imprecations against us, and were ready, as soon as they heard of the enemy's success, to form themselves into a body, break their bonds, plunder our tents, and then to go and join the enemy, and so increase his numbers and strength. I asked their advice about the prisoners, and they said that on the great day of battle these 100,000 prisoners could not be left with the baggage, and that it would be entirely opposed to the rules of war to set these idolaters and foes of Islám at liberty. In fact, no other course remained but that of making them all food for the sword. When I heard these words I found them in accordance with the rules of war, and I directly gave my com­mand for the Tawáchís to proclaim throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and whoever neglected to do so should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the gházís of Islám, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. 100,000 infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Mauláná Násiru-d dín 'Umar, a counsellor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives."

Around 1400, it is estimated the world population was 350 million. India and China have consistently had 1/3 of the world population, and each has been roughly as populous as the other. By this reasoning, around the time of Timur, the population of India was around 60 million. As a proportion of population, then, 100,000 killed in one night is like a contemporary slaughter of 2 million souls -- if not in terms of the banality of mass-murder, at least in terms of impact on the economy and society. If you consider the killing to be limited to Punjab's the then-population of ~5 million, and assume the prisoners were mostly able-bodied men, then that single night's work represents a decimation: killing one able-bodied man in ten. Then there is more:

"Sack of the City of Dehlí:

On the 16th of the month some incidents occurred which led to the sack of the city of Dehlí, and to the slaughter of many of the infidel inhabitants. One was this. A party of fierce Turk soldiers had assembled at one of the gates of the city to look about them and enjoy themselves, and some of them laid violent hands upon the goods of the inhabitants. When I heard of this violence, I sent some amírs, who were present in the city, to restrain the Turks. A party of soldiers accompanied these amírs into the city. Another reason was that some of the ladies of my harem expressed a wish to go into the city and see the palace of Hazár-sutún (thousand columns) which Malik Jauná built in the fort called Jahán-panáh. I granted this request, and I sent a party of soldiers to escort the litters of the ladies. Another reason was that Jalál Islám and other díwáns had gone into the city with a party of soldiers to collect the contribution laid upon the city. Another reason was that some thousand troopers with orders for grain, oil, sugar, and flour, had gone into the city to collect these supplies. Another reason was that it had come to my knowledge that great numbers of Hindus and gabrs, with their wives and children, and goods, and valuables, had come into the city from all the country round, and consequently I had sent some amírs with their regiments (kushún) into the city and directed them to pay no attention to the remonstrances of the inhabitants, but to seize and bring out these fugitives. For these several reasons a great number of fierce Turkí soldiers were in the city. When the soldiers proceeded to apprehend the Hindus and gabrs who had fled to the city, many of them drew their swords and offered resistance. The flames of strife were thus lighted and spread through the whole city from Jahán-panáh and Sírí to Old Dehlí, burning up all it reached. The savage Turks fell to killing and plundering. The Hindus set fire to their houses with their own hands, burned their wives and children in them, and rushed into the fight and were killed. The Hindus and gabrs of the city showed much alacrity and boldness in fighting. The amírs who were in charge of the gates prevented any more soldiers from going into the place, but the flames of war had risen too high for this precaution to be of any avail in extinguishing them. On that day, Thursday, and all the night of Friday, nearly 15,000 Turks were engaged in slaying, plundering, and destroying. When morning broke on the Friday, all my army, no longer under control, went off to the city and thought of nothing but killing, plundering, and making prisoners. All that day the sack was general. The following day, Saturday, the 17th, all passed in the same way, and the spoil was so great that each man secured from fifty to a hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. There was no man who took less than twenty. The other booty was immense in rubies, diamonds, garnets, pearls, and other gems; jewels of gold and silver; ashrafís, tankas of gold and silver of the celebrated 'Aláí coinage; vessels of gold and silver; and brocades and silks of great value. Gold and silver ornaments of the Hindu women were obtained in such quantities as to exceed all account. Ex­cepting the quarter of the saiyids, the 'ulamá, and the other Musulmáns, the whole city was sacked. The pen of fate had written down this destiny for the people of this city. Although I was desirous of sparing them I could not succeed, for it was the will of God that this calamity should fall upon the city."

In December 1398 Timur marched on Meerut and destroyed that city. He then rode up to Haridwar and sacked the holy city on January 23, 1399.

"Information was also brought to me that all the men whom I had defeated in the valley of Kútila, before coming hither, had not been killed. The day having drawn to a close, many had escaped and were hiding in the thickets and broken ground. Neither had all their property been plundered. So I resolved to go again next day to that valley, and to put all the surviving infidels to death. At dawn on the 5th Jumáda-l awwal I said my morning prayer, and started with a suitable force for the valley of Kútila, which lies at the foot of a lofty mountain and on the banks of the Ganges ... My brave men displayed great courage and daring; they made their swords their banners, and exerted themselves in slaying the foe. They slaughtered many of the infidels, and pursued those who fled to the mountains. So many of them were killed that their blood ran down the mountains and the plain, and thus (nearly) all were sent to hell. The few who escaped, wounded, weary, and half dead, sought refuge in the defiles of the hills. Their property and goods, which exceeded all computation, and their countless cows and buffalos, fell as spoil into the hands of my victorious soldiers." ...

And then on to Kashmir:

"When my eyes fell upon the Rája of Jammú, who was wounded and a prisoner, fear took possession of his heart, and he agreed to pay certain sums of money and to become a Musulmán if I would spare his life. I instantly ordered him to be taught the creed, and he repeated it and became a Muhammadan. Among these infidels there is no greater crime and abomination than eating the flesh of a cow or killing a cow, but he ate the flesh in the company of Musulmáns. When he had thus been received into the fold of the faithful, I ordered my surgeons to attend to his wounds, and I honoured him with a robe and royal favours."

By April 1400, Timur had returned to his own capital beyond the Amu Darya. Immense quantities of spoils and slaves were taken from India. According to Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, 90 captured elephants were employed merely to carry precious stones looted from his conquest, so as to erect a mosque at Samarkand – what historians today believe is the enormous Bibi-Khanym Mosque. Unlike Genghis Khan, whose slaughters were aimed strategically, at holding and retaining territory, Timur's great killings served no long term purpose altogether; he did not establish any administration or society to replace ('better' being asking for too much) what he destroyed. In the space of a just a century or two, the foolish grandeur he had tried to bring to Samarqand was in ruins (most of what you see in the footage is the result of Russian restoration.)


Till the dissolution of the USSR, Timur was treated as a local brigand by the state. Since Uzbekistan's reluctant independence in 1991, the cult of Lenin has given way to a cult of Timur. From Robert Rand's Tamerlane's Children (see post on Sevara Nazarxon below):

(Edvard) 'Rtveladze is Uzbekistan's foremost Tamerlane scholar. I wondered whether the decision to make Amir Timur the nation's father figure was a controversial one, given Timur's record as a brutal warrior ...

“Was there any protest of the decision to elevate Timur?” I asked.

Rtveladze, a wiry man with green eyes and a weathered face, leaned forward on his desk. It was Karimov's decision, he said, and his alone. “Literally, this intiative to create the cult of Timur as a national hero came from him.”

“By the way,” he added, “our President knows history very well. I have often discussed history personally with him, on various excursions to our museums, and he has sufficient historical knowledge to determine who should be the national symbol of Uzbekistan.”

“Was there any opposition to the choice of Timur, given his violent track record?” I asked.

“There was among scholars,” Rtveladze said. “Among the country's intelligentsia there were discussions that Timur shouldn't be made a national hero because he was a cruel conqueror of other peoples, and so forth. But, you know, history is complicated and multi-dimensional. It is difficult to evaluate the role of the individual in history.”

Rtveladze took a drag on a cigarette, one of the many he smoked during our conversation. His office overlooks the Cabinet of Ministers building, the functional arm of Karimov's government. And overlooking Rtveladze, on the wall above his desk, is a photograph of Edvard Rtveladze with the Uzbek President. '


Below, the drive from Bukhara through Qarshi and G'uzor; Shakhrisabz, and Aksarai palace.


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