Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo
There is a bite of winter in the air, the chinar trees on the hills shiver in the breeze. Looking for a walkway that might be to the lee of this north wind, I see on a house adorned with swastika-like mandalas a little sign announcing Rui Gonsales de Klavixo kochasi (lane).
Picking up this breeze carries us all the way back to the 5th century, when small confederacies of ironworkers of mixed caucasoid and mongoloid genes, called Turks (helmet-wearers), of perhaps no more than 500 families, emerge from the Huns in Central Asia. As they grow over time, they split into tribes such as the Yakut in the North, inhabiting say Sakha Republic by the Arctic; the Chuvash in the East, say around the Irtysh Basin in Siberia; and the Oghuz in the West, around lands bounded by the steppes of the Iranian-origin Scythians (Sakas) in Kazakhstan.
The Oghuz Turks are linguistically related to the Kimaks of the middle Yenisei of the Ob, the old Kipchaks who later emigrated to southern Russia, as well as the modern Kyrghyz. Around 985 there was a schism in the Oghuz. The Seljuq Turks split off from the main branch and headed south, to settle first the Syr Darya area, and then Khorasan, picking up Persian language and culture. Described in Attila And the Nomad Hordes, the main Oghuz branch, i.e. "those Uzes or Torks who settled along the Russian frontier were gradually Slavicized though they also played a leading role as cavalry in twelfth and early thirteenth century Russian armies where they were known as Black Hats ... Oghuz warriors served in almost all Islamic armies of the Middle East from the eleventh century onwards, in Byzantium from the ninth century, and even in Spain and Morocco."
Throughout the 1200's, a new tribal confederation arose in Central Asia, this time in Mongolia. Genghis Khan's hordes pushed westwards through Central Asia and northwards up Russia. Both Seljuq and Oghuz were pushed out towards the West and South. There, they greatly contributed to the demise of the Byzantine empire, riven with civil war and dissension with Rome. In 1299, the Oghuz broke out from under Seljuq overlordship and Osman (Ottoman) Bey founded an empire carrying his name that would last till 1923.
In the hands of Osman Bey's successors, the Turks pushed into Europe. Thessaloniki was wrested from Venice in 1387. In 1389, a coalition of Christian princes of the Balkans led by Lazar Hrebeljanović faced the invading army of the Ottoman Sultan Murad I. At the Battle of Kosovo, both armies were wiped out; Lazar and Murad both losing their lives, the remnants of each side eventually retreating from Kosovo. However, while the Turks had reinforcements in the East, the Serbs were left with too few men to effectively defend their land; subsequently the Serbian principalities that were not already Ottoman vassals capitulated one after another. Etienne, Lazar's son, submitted to the Sultan surrendering his daughter Marie Despina to the harem.
Watching with alarm Ottoman power rise, Timur attempted to create an alliance with Europe to contain the mutual enemy. In 1402, he sent the Archbishop of Soltaniyeh (in Zanjan province of Persia) to the court of Charles IV "The Mad" of France with a letter, addressing Charles as "The most serene, most victorious King and Sultan, the king of the French and many other nations, the friend of the Most-High, the very beneficent monarch of the world, who has emerged triumphant from many great wars," and offering both offensive and defensive pacts. European courts thus became aware of the possibility of a valuable second front against the Ottomans. Timur also sent an ambassador to Spain; in response, in 1403, Henry III "The Sufferer" of Castile sent an embassy to Timur's court in Samarkand, led by the Madrid knight Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo.
Clavijo sailed to Constantinople in 1403, then along the Black Sea coast of Turkey to Trabzon, overland through Armenia to Iran, finally reaching Tehran. Clavijo's original intention was to meet thence Timur at his winter pasturage in what is now Georgia, but due to foul weather conditions and a shipwreck, the embassy was forced to return to Constantinople and spend the winter there. The following months Clavijo chased the wake of Timur's army, but was unable to catch up to the rapidly moving, mounted horde. He decided to continue all the way to Samarkand, arriving there on September 8, 1404, subsequently providing the most detailed contemporary description of Timur's court by a Westerner.
Clavijo found Samarkand a grandly cosmopolitan place. From his Narrative of the Embassy of Clavijo, which has been called 'the oldest Spanish narrative of travels of any value':
The city of Samarcand is situated in a plain, and surrounded by an earthen wall. It is a little larger than the city of Seville, but, outside the city, there are a great number of houses, joined together in many parts, so as to form suburbs. The city is surrounded on all sides by many gardens and vineyards, which extend in some directions a league and a half, in others two leagues, the city being in the middle. In these houses and gardens there is a large population, and there are people selling bread, meat, and many other things; so that the suburbs are much more thickly inhabited than the city within the walls. Amongst these gardens, which are outside the city, there are great and noble houses, and here the lord has several palaces.
... Many streams of water flow through the city, and through these gardens, and among these gardens there are many cotton plantations, and melon grounds, and the melons of this land are good and plentiful; and at Christmas time there is a wonderful quantity of melons and grapes. Every day so many camels come in, laden with melons, that it is a wonder how the people can eat them all. They preserve them from year to year in the villages, in the same way as figs, taking off their skins, cutting them in large slices, and then drying them in the sun.
Outside the city there are great plains, which are covered with populous villages, peopled by the captives which the lord caused to be taken from the countries which he conquered. The land is very plentiful in all things, as well bread as wine, fruit, meat, and birds; and the sheep are very large, and have long tails, some weighing twenty pounds, and they are as much as a man can hold in his hand. These sheep are so abundant in the market that, even when the lord was there with all his host, a pair was worth only a ducat. Other things are so plentiful, that for a meri, which is half a rial, they sell a fanega (i.e. bushel) and a half of barley, and the quantity of bread and rice is infinite.
The lord had so strong a desire to ennoble this city, that he brought captives to increase its population, from every land which he conquered, especially all those who were skilful in any art. From Damascus he brought weavers of silk, and men who made bows, glass, and earthenware, so that, of those articles, Samarcand produces the best in the world. From Turkey he brought archers, masons, and silversmiths. He also brought men skilled in making engines of war: and he sowed hemp and flax, which had never before been seen in the land.
There was so great a number of people brought to this city, from all parts, both men and women, that they are said to have amounted to one hundred and fifty thousand persons, of many nations, Turks, Arabs, and Moors, Christian Armenians, Greek Catholics, and Jacobites, and those who baptize with fire in the face (i.e. Hindus or Zoroastrians) who are Christians with peculiar opinions. There was such a multitude of these people that the city was not large enough to hold them, and it was wonderful what a number lived under trees, and in caves outside.
The city is also very rich in merchandize which comes from other parts. Russia and Tartary send linen and skins; China sends silks, which are the best in the world, (more especially the satins), and musk, which is found in no other part of the world, rubies and diamonds, pearls and rhubarb, and many other things. The merchandize which comes from China is the best and most precious which comes to this city, and they say that the people of China are the most skilful workmen in the world. They say themselves that they have two eyes, the Franks one, and that the Moors are blind, so that they have the advantage of every other nation in the world. From India come spices, such as nutmegs, cloves, mace, cinnamon, ginger, and many others which do not reach Alexandria ...
... As there is not a place for the orderly and regular display of the merchandize for sale, the lord ordered that a street should be made in the city, with shops for the sale of merchandize. This street was commenced at one end of the city, and went through to the other. He entrusted this work to two of his Meerzas, and let them know that if they did not use all diligence to complete it, working day and night, their heads should answer for it. These Meerzas began to work, by pulling down such houses as stood in the line by which the lord desired the street to run, and as the houses came down, their masters fled with their clothes and all they had: then, as the houses came down in front, the work went on behind. They made the street very broad, and covered it with a vaulted roof, having windows at intervals to let in the light.
As soon as the shops were finished, people were made to occupy them, and sell their goods; and at intervals in this street there were fountains. A great number of workmen came into the city, and those who worked in the daytime, were relieved by others who worked all night. Some pulled down houses, others levelled the ground, and others built the street; and day and night they made such a noise, that they seemed to be like so many devils.
This great work was finished in twenty days, which was very wonderful; and the owners of the houses which were pulled down went to certain Cayris (Qazis?) who were friends of the lord; and one day, when they were playing at chess with the lord, they said that, as he had caused those houses to be destroyed, he ought to make some amends to the owners. Upon this he got into a rage, and said, " This city is mine, and I bought it with my money, and possess the letters for it, which I will show you to-morrow; and, if it is right, I will pay the people, as you desire." When he had spoken, the Cayris were afraid, and they were surprised that he did not order them to be killed, or punished for having thus spoken; and they replied that all that the lord did was right, and that all his commands ought to be obeyed.
Clavijo hung around, entertaining and informing himself:
The chief city of India is called Delhi, and here Timour Beg fought a battle with the lord of India. The Indian collected a great force, and had fifty armed elephants; and in the first battle the lord of India defeated Timour Beg, by means of his elephants. On the following day they renewed the contest, and Timour took many camels, and loaded them with dry grass, placing them in front of the elephants. When the battle began, he caused the grass to be set on fire, and when the elephants saw the burning straw upon the camels, they fled. They say that the elephants are much afraid of fire, because they have small eyes; and thus the lord of India was defeated.
... When the lord of India was defeated, he fled to the mountains, and collected another force, but he did not venture to attack his enemy. The plain country which was then conquered, is governed by this grandson of Timour Beg, from the great and rich city of Hormes; but the greater part of India is still held by the former lord. This battle took place about twelve years ago, and since that time, neither Timour Beg, nor his grandson, have attempted to advance further into India.
The people and the lord of India are Christians, of the Greek faith (i.e. to Calvijo's Uzbek informants, Christians and Hindus are undifferentiated infidels); but, among them, there are some who are distinguished by a brand in their faces, and who are despised by the others; and Moors and Jews live amongst them, but they are subject to the Christians.
Clavijo, and the other ambassadors to the court, witness a feast:
There were three hundred jars of wine placed before the lord, on the ground; and there were also large skins full of cream, into which the attendants put loaves of sugar, and mixed it up; and this was what they drank on that day. When the people were all arranged in order round the wall which encircled the pavilion, Cano (i.e. Khanum) , the chief wife of the lord, came forth to be present at the feast. She had on a robe of red silk, trimmed with gold lace, which was long and flowing, but without sleeves, or any opening, except one to admit the head, and two arm holes. It had no waist, and fifteen ladies held up the skirts of it, to enable her to walk. She had so much white lead on her face, that it looked like paper; and this is put on to protect it from the sun, for when they travel in winter or summer, all great ladies put this on their faces. She had a thin veil over her face, and a crested head dress of red cloth, which hung some way down the back. This crest was very high, and was covered with large pearls, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones, and it was embroidered with gold lace, on the top of which there was a circlet of gold, set with pearls. On the top of all there was a little castle, on which were three very large and brilliant rubies, surmounted by a tall plume of white feathers. One of these feathers hung down as low as the eyes, and they were secured by golden threads; and, as she moved, they waved to and fro. Her hair, which was very black, hung down over her shoulders, and they value black hair much more than any other colour. She was accompanied by three hundred ladies, and an awning was carried over Cano, supported by a lance which was borne by a man. It was made of white silk, in the form of the top of a round tent, and held over her, to protect her from the sun.
A number of eunuchs, who guard the women, walked before her, and in this way she came to the pavilion where the lord was, and sat down near him, with all her ladies, and three ladies held her head dress with their hands, that it might not fall on one side.
As soon as she was seated, another of the wives of the lord came out from another enclosure, with many ladies, dressed in the same way, and sat down in the pavilion, a little below Cano. She was the second wife, and was called Quinchicano (Kuchuk Khanum?). Then, from another enclosure, came another wife, and sat down a little below the second; and in this way nine wives came out, and sat round the lord, eight of them being his own, and one the wife of his grandson ... The names of the other wives were Dileoltagna, Cholpamalaga, Mundagasa, Vengaraga, Ropa-arbaraga, and Yauguraga, which means " queen of the heart," and Timour Beg gave her that name last August.
When they were all seated in order, they began the drinking, which lasted a long time. They gave the women their wine, with the same ceremonies which have been described to you, when I told you of the entertainment given in the tents of Hausada. The lord called the ambassadors before him, and gave the master of theology a cup of wine with his own hand, for he now knew that Ruy Gonzalez never drank wine. Those who took drink from the hand of the lord, observed the following ceremonies. First they knelt down with their right knees, then they went forward a little, and knelt with both knees. They then took the cup, got up, and walked backwards a little, so as not to turn their backs, knelt down again, and drank so as not to leave a drop in the cup.
Each of the ambassadors was held under the armpits by two knights, who did not leave them, until they had returned to the place where they were before.
Clavijo had arrived in the twilight of Timur. His embassy had been overtaken somewhat by events -- Timur had defeated the Ottomans and captured their Sultan Bayazit I, relieving the pressure on Europe. Clavijo's mission was no longer urgent, and he was unable to secure a letter from Timur to Henry.
On Friday, the 1st of November, the ambassadors went to see the lord, according to his order, expecting that he would dismiss them, and they found him at the mosque, which was being built. They waited from morning until noon, when the lord came out of a tent, and sat down on a carpet, where they brought him much meat and fruit. He sent to the ambassadors to say that they must excuse him that day, as he could not speak with them, having much business with his grandson Peer Mohammed, who was called king of India; and who was about to return to his own territory, whence he had come. On that day the lord gave him many horses, and robes, and arms, and knights to accompany him on his return.
On the following Saturday the ambassadors returned to the lord, as he had commanded, but he did not come out of his tent, because he felt ill. The ambassadors waited until noon, when he came out; but some of his courtiers told the ambassadors to go away, as he would not see them, so they returned to their lodgings.
On Sunday the ambassadors again went to the lord, to see if he would order them to be dismissed, and they waited a long time. The three confidential Meerzas asked them what they wanted, and told them to return to their lodgings, as the lord would not see them. They then sent for the knight who had charge of them, asked him why he had let them come, and ordered his nose to be pierced through; but he proved that he did not send them, nor had he seen them that day, and he thus escaped, with only a sound flogging. The Meerzas did this, because the lord was very sick, and all his women and attendants were running about in a state of bewilderment: so the Meerzas told the ambassadors to return to their lodgings, and to remain there, until they were sent for.
On the 18th of November, the Meerzas sent the Zagatay, who was to accompany the ambassadors, to say that they were to depart; and they replied that they would not go, without either seeing the lord, or receiving a letter from him; but he said that they must either go at once with all the supplies due to their rank, or stay, and go at another time without them. On that day, therefore, they left the place where they were lodging, and went to a garden near the city, with the ambassador from the sultan of Babylon, where they were ordered to wait for the ambassadors from Turkey. They remained in this garden until Friday the 21st of November, when they all assembled, and departed from Samarcand.
Timur recovered somewhat to insist on mounting a final conquest of China. He rode out across the Syr Daria shortly after dismissing Clavijo. Three months later, near Otrar at the Chinese border, he died during the march.
Here is a clip in Spanish on La Embajada a Tamorlan: