The Life of Tamerlane

The Seven Years Campaign, Chapter 3: The Battle of Angora
Previous: The Battle of Damascus

The year is 1402. Timur has utterly destroyed the power of the Mamluks, sacked Aleppo, burned Damascus, and plundered Antioch and Baghdad. He sits at Qarabagh, the Black Garden of the Caucasus, resting his armies from their long campaigns. Only one enemy remains to oppose him: Sultan Bayezid I, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, who was called Yilderim, the Thunderbolt. The two have clashed before, and Bayezid’s pride was stung by defeat. Nevertheless, Timur offered peace terms, in order to present a united front to their Christian foes. The terms were not acceptable to Bayezid; never would he submit to this barbarian from beyond the civilized world, and he would not hand over Sultan Ahmed Jalayir of Baghdad and Qara Yusuf of the Black Sheep Turkomans1. Timur, cunning strategist that he was, therefore entered negotiations with the Christian Emperor Manuel III of Trebizond (an independent fragment of the Byzantine Empire), the regent John of Constantinople, and the Italian sailors of the Mediterranean (these last two offered the support of their fleets).

"Timur, therefore, found an opportunity of attacking Ibn Othman [Bayezid], and sought a friend and a road and looked for a guide and reviewed his army; wild beasts seemed collected and scattered over the earth, and stars dispersed, when his army flowed hither and thither, and mountains to walk, when it moved, and tombs to be overturned, when it marched, and the earth seemed shaken by violent movement, when the army marched hither and thither and the last day displayed its terrible signs."2

In the summer of 1402, all was prepared. Timur marched west into Anatolia, leading an army of battle-hardened veterans from his long campaigns in India and the Middle East, supplemented by his son Muhammad Sultan and a levy of fresh soldiers from Samarkand. Bayezid moved quickly to counter him, withdrawing his troops from the European mainland and Constantinople (to which he had laid siege), then marching east against the Tatars. Gathering vassals from Serbia, Turkey, and the Russian steppes, he moved north of Sivas (on his eastern border, slightly north of Syria) to block Timur’s expected path of advance.

The cunning old Tatar was informed of this move by his scouts, and by spies among the Emirs of Anatolia. Instead of moving to oppose Bayezid directly, he struck out southwest, burning and pillaging as he went. This was to draw Bayezid into a direct confrontation- for the harvest was ripe, and the Ottoman could ill afford to have an enemy army operate unchecked in his lands. After seventeen days of marching, the Tatar horde arrived at a position northeast of the heavily-fortified city of Angora, in the central highlands of Turkey. By this move he had cut off Bayezid from his homeland and forced him to give battle. Siege operations against the citadel of Angora had already begun when word arrived that the Turkish army was within striking distance. Timur called off his siege engineers and drew up his lines to prepare for battle.

Let us now step back to consider the situation. The armies were about equal in size; though some eyewitnesses report over one million troops in Timur’s horde, the real number is probably closer to 200,000. While Bayezid’s army was approximately equal to Timur's, but was mainly infantry, while Timur’s forces were almost entirely mounted; he even counted a few Indian war elephants amongst his numbers. Furthermore, the Tatar horde was well-fed, as it had been marching through rich and fertile farmland; they controlled all the sources of water near Angora but for one befouled spring, and they were dug in to a well-fortified position. Bayezid’s army, on the other hand, had been force-marching for weeks through hot and dry deserts; they were hungry, thirsty, and weary. Nevertheless, Bayezid was determined to drive out the invaders; he gave the order to form up, and battle was joined on the twenty-eighth day of July, 1402.

"[A]nd the tracker of Destiny and hunter of Fate set dogs upon cattle and they ceased not to be overthrown and overthrow and to be smitten by the sentence of the arrow with sharp decree... and the zeal of battle lasted between those hordes, from sunrise to evening, when the hosts of iron gained the victory and there was read against the men of Rum the chapter of "Victory"."3

At this time the legendary shrewdness and malevolence of Timur made itself fully apparent. Those Tatars whom Bayezid had recruited from the steppes of Russia suddenly left the Turkish lines and marched to Timur’s side, where he had induced them by promises of land in Anatolia and appeals to their common heritage4. Thus deserted by the greater part of his force, Bayezid was utterly defeated by the hordes of the steppe; his Jannissaries were slaughtered to the last and his Serbian knights thrown down and trampled underfoot. He himself was taken captive by the Khan of Chagatay, along with his sons Isa and Musa. Only his eldest son Suleiman escaped. Angora itself surrendered and was looted. So ended one of the greatest battles of the era; one conqueror from the steppe had overthrown and doomed another.

The Aftermath

The greater part of the Ottoman army had been destroyed or captured; only a small portion, commanded by Bayezid’s eldest son Suleiman, had escaped. They fled west towards the Ottoman capital at Brusa, where they snatched up what treasures they could and escaped as Timur’s son Muhammad Sultan rode into the city. He looted what Suleiman had left behind, sending it back to Samarkand; since Brusa was both the capital of the Ottoman Empire and a major trade center, there was wealth in abundance.

Prince Suleiman then ran north to the Sea of Marmara, where he and his armies were ferried across by Genoese and Venetian sailors. They were not yet safe; the people of Constantinople, remembering the horrors of the Turkish siege, took this opportunity to kill and plunder the fleeing Ottoman soldiers. Timur’s army, lacking ships, was unable to cross into Europe. The conqueror whom no man could withstand had finally met his match. The Tatar flood was confined by the borders of the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Though they continued as far as Smyrna on the western edge of Turkey (where they overthrew the last outpost of the Crusaders, slaughtering the Knights Hospitaller defenders and hurling their heads into the harbor), their conquest in the west was finished.

Bayezid himself did not last one year; kept like an animal in an iron cage, he died of a stroke on the return march to Samarkand, before his sons could amass the necessary ransom. His kingdom was split among his sons and the various petty lords, which division gave the Byzantines at Constantinople another fifty years of life. Timur received ambassadors from the courts of France and Spain, who were granted the rights and privileges of trade in the Tatar domains. Sultan Faraj of Egypt finally acceded to the demands made some years prior; he handed over Timur’s nephew Atilmish and paid a heavy tribute to appease the wrath of the conqueror.

In 1404 Timur returned to Samarkand. The planned campaign of seven years had been concluded in less than five. The Lame Conqueror had subdued every kingdom, principality, and power of Western and Central Asia; he now turned his eye east, towards China, where he planned to reestablish the domain of his great forebear Temujin.

Here ends the chronicle of The Seven Years Campaign

1 It may be that this was simple stubborn pride, but the customs of the Ottomans prohibited the relinquishing of their guests to the demands of others.
2Arabshah, p. 173.
3Arabshah, p. 183. A few explanations: The "men of Rum" are the Turks; Rum (from Rome) was an old name for Turkey (and also, I believe, an Arabic word for the Greeks, here meaning the Byzantines, whose land the Ottoman Turks had conquered). The "hosts of iron" are Timur's armies; this is a pun on Timur's name, which means "iron" in Turkish. The "chapter of "Victory"" is a reference to the Qur'an, chapter 48.
4Arabshah, on pages 178-179 of his chronicle, sets down the substance of the letter which Timur sent to the leaders of Bayezid's vassals:

"Your nobility is also mine, and your race joined with mine and our countries with yours; we are all shoots and branches of the same tree; our fathers long ago in the past grew up in one nest and gradually occupied countless others... You are to me an inner garment; other men are only an outer. Others may have acquired royal dignity, but you hold it from the very beginning... You are not in the house of contempt or perdition and the land of Allah is wide; and why should you be slaves of a man who is a son of slaves...?"
With these and many other blandishments and flatteries Timur induced the Tatars to desert their master Bayezid in the very heat of battle.


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.

Further reading:

Battle of the Mire
Siege of Takrit
The Seven Years Campaign
Battle of Aleppo
Battle of Damascus
Battle of Angora
Tamerlane Chess