The Life of Tamerlane
The Seven Years Campaign, Part 1:
Miranshah is deposed;
War with Georgia;
Battles with Bayezid Yilderim;
The Fall of Sivas.
1399. The Lame Conqueror and his hordes have returned in triumph from India, bearing the spoils of war: plunder and captives to enrich the city of Samarkand. Timur has dealt with his troublesome son Miranshah, removing him from the throne of Persia for weakness and cowardice.1 The hedonistic courtiers who had led Miranshah into debauchery and depravity were sent to the scaffold, though Miranshah himself was spared2; Muhammad Sultan, eldest child of Timur's first son Jahangir, took his throne.
"Then setting out with that army, on the second day of the latter month of Jumadi, which was the fifth day of the week, he took the city of Tiflis and advancing to the country of Karj [Georgia] laid waste to whatever forts and towers he took and... slew all without distinction, who submitted, as well as those who resisted. . ." 3
His kingdom now in order, Timur began a campaign of revenge in Georgia. King Giorgi VII had joined in a general revolt against the ineffectual Miranshah, and he would now learn the consequences of opposing Timur's will. In the late winter of 1399, Timur and his army began their march through Georgia, laying waste to everything in their path; villages and churches were set aflame, crops trampled by the Tatar horses, gardens dug up, and vineyards torn out by the roots and burned. Every man, woman, and child was put to the sword. Though the campaign was briefly interrupted by heavy snows, it resumed in the spring of the following year (1400), this time aiming to capture Tahir (son of Sultan Ahmad Jalayir of Baghdad), who had taken refuge with the Georgians. This failed when Tahir escaped to the court of Bayezid Yilderim, but Georgia itself buckled under the onslaught; King Giorgi was forced to surrender, and Georgia was at peace once more.
1400. The knights of Christendom are long gone from the region; their failed land grab has passed into the annals of history, and the Great Schism has since occupied the attentions of the Church. In the lower Middle East, the Mamluk Sultans and their slave armies rule a prosperous and powerful kingdom, stretching from the Nile to Damascus; they control Jerusalem, the pilgrimage routes of the sacred hajj, the eastern Mediterranean and Red Sea (holding them against the constant efforts of the Italians) and all the trade with India. But the kingdom is rent with strife surrounding a question of succession. The Sultan Barquq has recently passed under the wings of Azrael, and his ten-year-old successor Faraj is having some difficulty enforcing his claim against various powerful pretenders. Young Faraj is forced to appeal to the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid (called Yilderim, the Thunderbolt) for help. Bayezid is happy to oblige, sending an army of some 20,000 soldiers, which swings the tide of the war in favor of the young Sultan. As recompense, the faithless Turk helps himself to the northern frontier post of Malatiya.
This last act was the latest step in the rampage that earned Bayezid his title of Yilderim, the Thunderbolt. Though he had pulled out of Serbia following his father Murad's death at the Battle of Kosovo (mostly to secure his claim to the throne of the Ottoman Empire), he would soon return to Europe, silencing the last dying gasp of the Crusades in the Battle of Nicopolis on the lower Danube. Here he laid waste to an army of Hungarian, Romanian, French, English, and German crusaders, chasing the survivors as far as Athens, which he occupied for a short while. King Sigismund of Hungary fled through the Hellespont on a Venetian galley with the taunts of Bayezid's soldiers ringing behind him. The Turk had already expanded his empire in Anatolia until it pushed against Timur's domains in Armenia, and he again turned his attentions eastwards, having concluded a treaty with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaeologus. 4 With his western flank secured, he was free to press on into Armenia.
This last move was pure folly. Bayezid had certainly proved himself an able and skilled commander, but he was no match for the old (Timur was in his mid-60s) and battle-hardened (Timur had been waging war for over 30 years, and he rarely lost a battle) Tatar. As it happened, the two were already at odds; Bayezid was at that time sheltering two of Timur's enemies: Sultan Ahmad Jalayir of Baghdad (who had fled his domain in 1393, one jump ahead of Timur's armies) and Qara Yusuf of the Black Sheep Turkomans (similarly driven from his kingdom in 1393). Timur had sent a stern and paternalistic letter to Bayezid, warning of the awful retributions that would come if he continued his support for the two deposed kings; Bayezid, naturally infuriated, replied with a letter which began "O ravening dog named Timur" and ended with an insult directed against Timur's wives.5 All was ready for their first confrontation; in 1400, Bayezid's army (under his son Suleiman) attacked Armenia, provoking the client king Tarharten to plead for help.
The Tatar was waging his war in Georgia when the letters from Tarharten and Manuel Paleologus arrived. They were all the impulse he needed to swing his awful path westward once again. Bayezid was absent, fighting in Europe, when Timur's horde reached the gates of Sivas on the upper Euphrates. This vital outpost was the key to Timur's further strategy; it lay between Anatolia to the west, the Mamluk Empire to the south, and the domain of Baghdad to the southeast. Bayezid's son Suleiman, showing a healthy mix of wisdom and fear, left the defense of the city in the hands of his general Mustafa and some 4,000 Armenian Spahis. This garrison resisted Timur's siege for only three weeks, after which the walls fell to a series of mines. The Muslim inhabitants were spared after paying a huge ransom, but the Christians were slaughtered; the soldiers were buried alive in mass graves, and the civilians were thrown into the moat or trampled to death by the Tatar cavalry. This was to fulfill a promise not to shed their blood. Timur then marched south to Malatiyah on the Syrian frontier, which surrendered without a fight.
By these moves the wily conqueror split the lines of communication between the Ottomans, the Mamluks, and the Sultan of Baghdad; this last, fearing capture, fled west to Cairo, leaving his wives and children to the mercy of the Tatars. The Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction had tweaked Bayezid's nose, and was now prepared to continue against the Mamluks.
Further Events of the Seven Year's Campaign
1Miranshah had completely failed to quash two rebellions, one in Baghdad and another in Azerbaijan. In addition, he had desecrated the tomb of the Il-Khan Uljaytu, dug up the bones of the historian Rashid al-Din, and spent his days in debauchery. He loved drunkenness, poetry, and (it is rumored) the pleasures of opium and hashish. In the eyes of an old warrior like Timur, this behavior was disgraceful; clearly Miranshah was not fit to rule.
Arabshah, p. 105: "[Timur] put to death those dangerous men and evildoers, but did not harm Amiranshah, his own son, whom he himself had reared; and complex affairs passed between them, which none but Allah can unfold.
3Arabshah, p. 105
4Interestingly enough, this same Emperor had appealed to Timur for help against the Ottomans, despite the Lame Conqueror's Muslim faith and ongoing campaigns of genocide against the Christians of Georgia.
5This last was a mortal insult to the Tatars, amongst whom it was absolutely forbidden even to speak of their wives.
One final endnote: This is the only history of its kind anywhere on the Interweb. Try a Google search for "Seven Years Campaign" and "Timur" together and you will see.
Hah, look who was (sort of) wrong. www.ce.metu.edu.tr/~turkmens/ documents/Journal2/merv.html mentions the Seven Years Campaign, very briefly. The title of that page is a very odd coincidence, neh? Thanks go to Sartorius.
Arabshah, Ahmed (tr. J.H. Sanders), Tamerlane, or Timur the Great Amir; London, Luzac and Co., 1936.
de Clavijo, Gonzalez (tr. Guy le Strange), Embassy to Tamerlane; London, George Routledge and Sons, 1928.
Gibbon, Edward, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol VII; London, Methuen and Co., 1900.
Hookham, Hilda, Tamburlaine the Conqueror; London, Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1962.
Lamb, Harold, Tamerlane the Earth Shaker; New York, Garden City Publishing Co., 1928.
Questions and comments welcome
Battle of the Mire
Siege of Takrit
The Seven Years Campaign
Battle of Aleppo
Battle of Damascus
Battle of Angora