Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World

by Laurence on 9/7/2004

Speaking of London, England reminds us that Allan Massie favorably reviews Justin Marozzi’s new biography of Amir Timur in the August 28th issue of The Spectator:

‘We are very proud of Amir Temur,’ the Uzbek ambassador to the Court of St James’s told Justin Marozzi. ‘We do not call him Tamerlane.’ Nevertheless this is the title of Marozzi’s biography, and perhaps the publishers insisted it be marketed as Tamerlane, which is Temur-i-Lan or Temur the Lame, the name Amir Temur not being immediately recognisable. But clearly to style him Tamerlane is like calling Richard III ‘Crouchback’ or ‘Crookback’.

Temur has been neglected by western European historians. This is not surprising when you think that until quite recently Byzantium was terra incognita even to those graduating with degrees in history from good universities. So for us Temur has been Marlowe’s Tamburlaine mocking captive kings, ‘pampered jades of Asia’, for their inability to pull his carriage more than twenty miles a day. ‘It is,’ Marozzi writes, ‘one of history’s small ironies that a man who took such care to ensure his place in posterity by having his civil and military record meticulously chronicled should find his posthumous reputation in the hands of an Elizabethan playwright with a taste for the sensational.’ There is, however, much justice: Temur’s story is indeed sensational.

Born comparatively insignificant, this Tatar chief become a conqueror on a scale scarcely matched by Alexander the Great or Napoleon. He came to control all central Asia. He defeated the army of the Ottoman empire and took the sultan prisoner. He overcame the Persians, invaded India, advancing as far as Delhi, and, in old age, was preparing war against the Ming dynasty of China. Within the Muslim world, Marozzi, writes, he ‘is a household name, usually revered as a great conqueror and propagator of the faith’ — though, when convenient, he reverted to the shamanist practices of his Mongol ancestors and predecessors. ‘The question whether he was a good Muslim or whether he abided by Mongol customs misses the point. Temur was interested in either code insofar as it supported his designs of conquest.’ That was the purpose of his life: conquest and domination. He was as ruthless a conqueror as Genghis Khan, but unlike Genghis:

Temur was a creator as much as a destroyer. The splendid mosques and madrassahs [of Samarkand], the parks and the palaces, each of them a wonder of the world, revealed an appreciation of artistic excellence and architectural beauty that was entirely foreign to Genghis.

You can buy the book in England at Amazon.co.uk

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