Wednesday, January 5

Chingiz vs. Timur

'The Mongol is the slave of his sovereign. He is never free. His sovereign is his benefactor, he does not serve him for money.'

Saldi, a noyan of the Chaghatai Khanate, decided to attack India in 1297. (A Mongol Tumen had 10000 soldiers. 3-5 Tumen made up an Ordu -- from which we get Horde -- i.e. army corps, commanded by a noyan or general.)

His Khilji counterpart Zafar Khan met the Mongols near Jalandhar and sent them packing, securing Alauddin Khilji's throne. In 1299, the Mongols regrouped under Qutlugh Khwaja, and re-attacked, reaching all the way to Delhi, capturing Siri fort. This time, they did not intend to loot, but to annex Delhi, evidenced by their failure to stop and pillage the provinces on the way, and by their directness in reaching the capital. The Khilji lords counseled paying a ransom -- their own army had spent their lives in warfare against Hindus, and had no experience facing the bows of the Mongols. Alauddin decided, instead, to send Zafar Khan into battle again (he had become too popular for the Sultan's liking.)

Under Chingiz (Genghis) Khan, each Mongol soldier typically maintained 3 to 4 steeds. The ability to keep changing horses allowed him to travel at high speed for days without stopping. He either lived off the land (or water -- often carrying fishing hooks), or carried his own minimal provisions (dried ground meat, to be mixed with water for instant-soup.) In extreme situations, he lived off his animals (mares' milk and afterbirths.) The austerity made Mongol armies far less dependent on the logistical apparatus of agrarian armies marching on their stomachs. In some cases, as during the invasion of Hungary in early 1241, Mongols advanced 100 miles per day, which would not be matched till Rommel and his tanks.

When facing European formations of heavy cavalry, the Mongols would avoid direct confrontation, and would instead use their recurve bows to simply destroy knights' horses from a great distance, leaving heavily armored men on foot to be mopped up by lancers later. Their mobility made it possible to go scouting for months, gathering intelligence about routes and searching for terrain suited to the Mongols' strengths. The classical Mongols seldom invaded an opponent whose military/economic will, as well as the ability to resist, had not been thoroughly and completely scouted. For instance, Subutai (Chingiz Khan's primary strategist) and Batu (Chingiz' grandson) employed spies for almost ten years in central Europe, making maps, determining the level of ability of each principality to resist invasion (or to come to each-others' aid), prior to destroying the armies of Hungary and Poland in two separate battles just two days apart.

The austerity and preparation had loosened with the advent of the great-grandchildren of the khan. The Mongol invaders of North India were not at all familiar with the territory or conditions. Moreover, they were not very good at urban warfare; once inside forts, they lost the advantages that the steppes afforded them, and succumbed to the disadvantage of holding a position while their opponent was in motion and surrounding them. Khilji troops smashed the Ordu and butchered them, though a decoy set up by Qutlugh caused Zafar Khan himself to be trapped and killed. Later, 2000 Mongols prisoners were paraded before Alauddin Khilji.

Saif-ud-din Mahmud, father of Amir Khusrau (1253-1325), had been an officer of the Transoxian Kara-Khitai tribe, and he had had to flee Balkh when that province was overrun by Genghis Khan. The son felt no love for the Ordu; and he was at hand to witness the humiliation of the Mongols. Amir Khusrau writes of the prisoners:

Their eyes were so narrow and piercing that they might have bored a hole in a brazen vessel, and their stench was more horrible than their color … Their heads were set on their bodies as if they had no necks and their cheeks resembled leather bottles full of wrinkles and knots. Their noses extended from cheekbone to cheekbone. Their nostrils resembled rotting graves, and from them the hair descended as far as the lips. Their moustaches were of extravagant length, but their beards about their chins were very scanty. Their chests, in color half-black, half-white, were covered with lice which looked like sesame growing on a bad soil. Their bodies, indeed, were covered with these insects, and their skins were as rough-grained as shagreen leather, fit only to be converted into shoes.

It was one of the worst defeats for the Mongols. Legend has it that Zafar Khan created such great terror in the minds of the Mongols that whenever their horses refused to drink water, the Mongols would ask them if they wanted to meet Zafar Khan.

Zafar Khan's remains are buried across from the entrance to the Fort of Tughlaqabad in New Delhi, in the fortress enclosing the tombs of Ghiyasuddin Tughluq and Muhammad bin Tughluq, on the Mehrauli - Badarpur Road.


There was another aspect to Mongol tactics for world domination. A team under Chris Tyler-Smith from Oxford has recently taken tissue samples from 2,000 Central Asian men to study their Y chromosomes, the genetic code that confers maleness and is passed from father to son.

'Y chromosomes belonging to different men vary slightly. One in every 5,000 DNA units is not the same,' said Tyler-Smith. 'But when we looked at our results, we found a huge group that did not show any differences. We were absolutely amazed.'

The geographical spread of possessors of the chromosomes matched almost exactly the conquest of Chingiz (the only exception was the Hazara of Pakistan and Afghanistan, who are thought to be descendants of Mongol soliders sent to garrison the area.) From Recovering The Lost History Of Our Ancestors:

Mongol soldiers doubtless raped many women during their extraordinarily cruel and murderous campaigns. But there might be a more significant reason for the existence of so many men carrying the specific chromosome of the Mongol royal house: Genghis accumulated a large harem in which he seems to have labored with surprising industry ... an astonishing 8% of males throughout the former lands of the Mongol empire carry the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan. This amounts to a total of 16 million men, or about 0.5% of the world's total.

One in 200 men alive today is a descendant of Chingiz.

How about Tamerlane? While Timur's constant battlefield success was unmatched since Alexander of Macedon, and while he defeated all comers with a brutality that was unmatched till the 20th century, he failed to destroy any of his main foes. Timur was as cunning as Chingiz -- known to plant barley (for the horses) in forward areas two years ahead of a campaign, feigning mortal sickness in front of foreign ambassadors (vomiting boars blood, according to a visiting archibishop from Iran), spreading rumors that his army was deserting, that it was smaller, or larger than it was, that he himself had returned to the capital, and so on, all to trick the foe. His spies were everywhere, and his iron will was never questioned. On a long march, Timur saw a man doze off in the saddle; he half-muttered to himself that the man should get a comeuppance, and within a minute a stone-faced officer had presented the Amir with the unfortunate's severed head. (Timur is said to have praised Allah he enjoyed such obedience.) A battlefield hero was given the title tarkhan, which exempted him from tax, allowed him to keep war loot, admitted him to Timur's presence without prior appointment, absolved him from prosecution for the next 9 times he committed a crime; and what's more, let 7 generations inherit these privileges. A commander who, on the other hand, showed cowardice on the field of battle, would be shaved like a woman, face-painted with rouge, dressed in skirts and whipped as he was made to run barefoot through Samarkand.

It has been said that while Chingiz Khan butchered coldly and with an end in view, Timur indulged in acts of pointless sadism. Among the legends associated with Timur is his imprisonment of the Ottoman Sultan Bayazit, in a cage at his court, with his former adversary made to feed and defecate in public view like an animal; at the end of an year of this, Bayazit summoned enough will-power to keep smashing his head against the bars till he died. Another legend says that Timur ordered his cavalry to ride down and trample a choir of Christian children at Sivas (Sebastia in Turkey) because their song irritated him.

In terms of tactics, here is an extract from The Age of Tamerlane:

Timur adopted a purely defensive formation against the Sultan of Delhi's army at the battle of Delhi in 1398. He drew his troops up on the same hill that the British would hold during the Indian Mutiny four and half centuries later. Knowing that his men would face large numbers of war elephants, Timur had large barbed caltrops secretly scattered ahead of his position at night so as not to alert the Indians. His main defences consisted of a ditch hidden by brushwood, behind which was a wooden palisade strengthened with large shields or mantlets. Captured water buffaloes were tethered ahead of the lines in the knowledge that only these beasts were lrage enough to upset the advancing elephants. Detached forces of elite cavalry were also posted on each flank. When the massive Indian army advanced against Timur next day it was almost immediately disrupted by herd of fear-crazed camels and buffaloes with bundles of blazing oil-soaked straw or cotton on their backs. An attack and feigned flight of the Timurid cavalry drew the Indian elephants away from the protection of their infantry and into the defensive array. The Indian cavalry and infantry were then assaulted by Timur's elite horsemen from the flanks. Though hard fought, the battle rapidly turned into a rout and the Sultan of Delhi's men were harried back to the gates of Delhi.

The one order of Timur that was not obeyed was that he be buried plainly, in Shakhrisabz. His descendents created the Gur-i-Amir (photo above, also see min 10:30 in the video following the Registan Mithra post below.) From Wikipedia:

Timur's tomb is protected by a slab of jade in which are carved the words in Arabic: "When I rise, the World will Tremble". It is said that when Gerasimov exhumed the body, an additional inscription inside the casket was found reading "Whosoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I." In any case, two days after Gerasimov had begun the exhumation, Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, its invasion of the U.S.S.R. Timur was re-buried with full Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad.


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