Sources on Tamerlane (1336-1405), including the Battle of Angora (1402)

Tamerlane, the name was derived from the Persian Timur-i lang, “Temur the Lame” by Europeans during the 16th century. His Turkic name is Timur, which means ‘iron’. In his life time, he has conquered more than anyone else except for Alexander. His armies crossed Eurasia from Delhi to Moscow, from the Tien Shan Mountains of Central Asia to the Taurus Mountains in Anatolia. From 1370 till his death 1405, Temur built a powerful empire and became the last of great nomadic leaders.  There are abundant ancient sources written about Tamerlane, including his own memoirs. Other sources include an account from Spanish Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, sent by King Henry III of Castile on a return embassy to Tamerlane; a Persian biography of Tamerlane by Ali Sharaf al-Din and the Arab biography by Ahmad ibn Arabshah.

The first section given here is from Timur’s own memoirs, where he recounts a battle in 1364.  The second account is from is by Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo, who discusses the events leading up to the battle of Angora in 1402,  where Timur defeated and captured the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I.  The final account is by Ahmad ibn Arabshah, who discusses the same battle, but provides more details on the fighting.

From: The Mulfuzat Timury, or Autobiographical Memoirs of the Moghul Emperor Timur, trans. Maj. Charles Stewart (Holborn: Oriental Translation Commitee, 1830).

Chapter 27

The arrangement I made for the third war with the Jetes, was this; when I collected six thousand horse, I formed them into seven divisions, and marched towards the jetes; when I reached the village of Akyar, I was informed that the enemy were very numerous, and were advancing very rapidly; I therefore halted at Akyar, and sent off an express to hasten Amir Hussein; when he drew near, I again marched and crossed the Khujend river, and then fortified its (norther0 bank; I also sent out spies for information, these soon returned, and informed me that the Jete army was encamped on the banks of the Badam river; that Shuknum Behader commanded the right wing, Haji Beg the left, Alyas Khuaje the centre, and Kipchak Behader the advanced line.

In consequence of this intelligence, I now modeled my forces; I gave the command of the right, which consisted of Amir Hussein’s troops, to Belanchi Arlat; the advanced line was under charge of Melk Behader, and the left, with the Kipchak tribe, was led by Amir Sarbuga; I took post with the left, leaving Amir Jaku and other chiefs with the reserve; I kept a few o my confidential officers about myself; when I had made this arrangement, Amir Hussein crossed the river with one thousand horse, and drew up his army.

Every thing being in proper order, I said to Amir Hussein, “it is not advantageous that we should make a general engagement, I will advance and attack the enemy with my forces, if you will faithfully promise to protect my rear, or if you choose to lead, I will support you; at this time we were more numerous than the enemy, and out troops were therefore presumptuous; but, according to custom, I consulted the Koran, and this verse opened, “when you are proud of your numbers, you shall be defeated, but God will finally give you the victory;” on which I became strong of heart.

But Amir Hussein would not attend to my request of dividing our armies, saying, “do not let us separate, but let us advance in line, and attack our foe.”  I again replied, “it is not to our advantage to fight them thus; let us attack them in the Cossack maner;” but he would not listen to my advice.

Being without choice, I yielded to his opinion, and he drew out our armies.  In a short time, the (Munkelay) skirmishers of the enemy came close to us, and the light troops of both sides charged each other; after which, the advanced lines came to blows, and some squadrons under command of Zinde Khushm, made a furious attack on Amir Hussein’s right, which fell into disorder, but several of his chiefs kept their ground; Alyas Khuaje then sent a division under charge of Amir Shumsaddyn, to repeat the attack; this leader approached very near to Hussein; I, seeing that we were likely to be defeated, made a desperate charge with seventeen squadrons on Shumsaddyn; upon this, fearing to oppose me, he drew in his reins, and turned his face to flight.  Having thus routed him, I made a charge on the centre of Alyas Khuaje, and having worsted them, I sent a message by Taban Behader, to Amir Hussein, “desiring him to come to me immediately, and victory would be completed by total flight of the enemy.”

Amir Hussein behaved like a blockhead, abused my messenger, and said, “what, am I a coward, that he thus summons me in front of the army.” Again I sent Mulk Mehedi, who was one of his relations, to request that he would come up, as the enemy were just on the point of giving way; Amir Hussein was again angry with him, and said, “be patient, until I can unite my broken troops.”  Mulk Mehedi replied, “Amir Timur has defeated the first line of the enemy, and is now engaged with the reserve which is about to give way; if your reserve will only make its appearance, no doubt the enemy will flee;” on which Amir Hussein struck him, and sent him back.

When Mulk Mehedi returned to me, I saw that he was much downcast, but he did not tell me that he had been struck, and only said, “it is a folly to assist this stupid fellow; the scoundrel wishes that we should uselessly endanger our lives, while he may escape the vortex of danger.” From this hint, I saw that it was Amir Hussein’s wish to make me a mouthful for the jaws of the adversary, and saw no prospect of assistance from Amir Hussein, I desisted from further fighting, and forming my own troops in order of battle, I took post on the bank of the rivulet which ran through the plain.

When the enemy saw that I had discontinued the fight, and having collected my men, had taken post in the field, they being much fatigued, were rejoiced, and also took post in the plain.

That night my saddle was my bed, and my officers formed a circle around me; I however sent out scouts on all sides, to bring intelligence. While in this situation, a messenger came from Amir Hussein, to apologize for his misconduct, to express sorrow and regret for what had past, and to request that I would recommence the fight; I sent back the messenger to say, “that we had lost the opportunity; that when I had broken the enemy, it would have been easy to have conquered them; that now they were all collected and formed in order, it would be useless to make any attempt on them.”

Having thus passed the night on the field of battle, and the horses having rested, as soon as the morning dawned, we performed our prayers; when the sun rose, the enemy being able to see the situation of my army, beat their drums, and began to practice incantations.

In consequence, a very heavy rain fell, and the plain became such a slough, that our horses could scarcely move; notwithstanding this, my warriors from their excess of bravery, and sense of honour, beat their drums, drew their swords, spurred their steeds, and advanced through the mud and slough; I also ordered the trumpets to sound, and dashed forward.

About this time, a (Yedchi) magician was seized by my people; when they struck off his head, the storm ceased: I then ordered the troops to charge, which they did, and dispersed the enemy; they continued the pursuit, while I halted in the plain, and caused the music of victory to sound.

Whilst in this situation, the (Tugh) flag of Amir Shumsaddyn, the general of the Jete army, came in sight, followed by all his troops; at this moment I had only two thousand horse with me, I directed one of them to charge the enemy, which they did in so brave a manner, that they broke the first line, and reached the flag, but the second line then came to the assistance of the first, and the battle continued from morning till night; till at length nearly one thousand of my two thousand men were killed; “to God alone belongs power and might.”

As the night came on, my troops that were dispersed rejoined me, and I found that by this calamity, I had lost a thousand warriors; my officers were therefore of opinion, that in consequence of this misfortune, and that want of co-operation by Amir Hussein, it was requisite that we should retrogade some marches towards Kesh, where being joined by all my detachments, I might then make head against the Jetes; we therefore set out for Kesh.

From this event, I found by experience, that in whatever army there are two generals, discord must ensue, and I resolved never again to unit with Amir Hussein, or to appoint two generals to one army.

From Gonzalez de Clavjo, Embassy to Tamerlane 1403-1406, trans. Guy le Strange (New York and London, 1928).

At this season Bayezid and Timur, each severally having retired to his own lands, proceeded to send envoys the one to the other, but without coming to any accord of peace.  It was at this period that [Manuel] the Emperor of Constantinople and the Genoese lords who were settled in Pera sent messages to Timur saying that if he were about to do battle with the Turk they would aid him with men and galleys.  They promised for sure forthwith, or in brief delay, to arm their ships of war and station them [in the Dardanelles] so that the Turkish troops who already were over in Greece should not be able to pass back into Asia Minor; and thereby he, Timur, would the better be able to deal with the Sultan.  Further the Greeks sent and promised Timur a subsidy in money.  The Turk therefore now found himself at enmity both with the Emperor of Constantinople and with Timur, and no accommodation having been effected between the two Muslim princes (the Turk and the Tartar) each began to assemble his forces for battle.  In these happenings indeed Timur was of the two much the more astute and the better prepared for war.  He marched out from Persia invading the Sultan’s country, taking the same road which he had passed on the previous campaign, namely through the Arzinjan lands to the city of Sivas.  Sultan Bayezid having news that Timur was thus in occupation of his provinces, immediately set aside the business he had in hand and betook himself first to Angora where was a strong castle and where already he had stored his munitions of war and supplies.  Then at the head of all his host Bayezid set out in haste to come up with Timur on the march, but the latter no sooner knew what the Turkish Sultan intended than he forthwith left the line of road he was following and turned off to the left hand south among the mountains.  Bayezid coming up where he thought to find Timur, now became aware that the latter had changed his route, and rashly imagined that this was done to escape him, in short that Timur had now taken to flight.  He therefore followed on after him with all possible speed, but for eight days Timur held on his passage through the mountainous region, keeping ahead and skillfully avoiding engagement with the Turks.  Then Timur turned back into the plains, marching direct on Angora where Bayezid had left his baggage and munitions, and the Sultan realized that his enemy had escaped him by his guile.  In vain by forced marches he sought to catch up with him before he should arrive at the castle of Angora.  The Sultan indeed with his weary troops at the last moment came up with Timur who had led him thus by devious ways with intent to exhaust him.  Then that battle was fought, and Bayezid overcome and taken prisoner as has already been related.

From Tamerlane of Timur the Great Amir, trans. J.H. Sanders (London, 1936)

Now Timur had already reached the city of Angora, and his cavalry and infantry were resting, trained, waiting for battle, and were ready to engage, nay they anxiously sought that with one mind, and already went in front to the water, like the leaders of the Koreish, and like the Muslims of Badar, they left his army in a thirsty place; and they were perishing with distress and violent thirst and being murdered by thirst for want of water…

But when the armies had approached each other and those wild beasts were mutually raging, the plains and deserts being filled with them, and when the left wing engaged with the right and the right with the left, the Tatars withdrew from the army of Bayezid and joined Timur’s army, according to the arrangement and plan; and they were the strength of the army and a numerous part among the host of Bayezid, so many that the multitude of the Tatars was about a third of that great and warlike army, nay, it is said that the whole host of the Tatars nearly equaled the army of Timur.

And Bayezid had with him his eldest son, Amir Suleyman, who, when he saw the deeds of the Tatars, certain of the calamity, which threatened his father, took the rest of the flower of his army and withdrew from the battlefield and turning his back abandoned his father in the fierce stress of battle and  made his way with his men towards Brusa, and none remained with Bayezid except footmen, and those inferior, and a few mail-clad troops.  None the less, with his remaining companions he sustained the battle, fearing that if he fled, he would encounter that divorce, and it was in that battle and confusion as is said in the poem of Antara:

Truly I remember you, while the spears quench their thirst upon me,
And the white swords of Hind are washed in my blood,
And I desire the kisses of the swords, because they shoe
Like flashing, gleaming mouth.

And he was patient of the turn of fortune and wished according to the rile of Imam Malik to perform what he had undertaken.  Then he was surrounded by cavalry like arms by bracelets.  And when the kindred of Bayezid were certain of defeat and knew that they had fallen into the army of calamity, the infantry stood firm against mail-clad cavalry, skillfully using axes and all the sharpest swords.  And in those ranks were about five thousand who scattered their enemies and routed many of them; yet they were like a man who sweeps away dust with a comb or drains the sea with sieve or weighs mountains with a scruple.  And out of the clouds of thick dust they poured upon those mountains and the fields filled with those lions continuous storms of bloody darts and showers of black arrows and 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 sharp arrow with effective decree, until they became like hedgehogs, and the zeal of battle lasted those hordes from sunrise to evening, when the hosts of iron gained the victory and there was read against the men of Rum [Turks] the chapter of Victory.

Then their arms being exhausted and the front line and reserves alike decimated, even the most distant of the enemy advanced upon them at will and strangers crushed them with swords and spears and filled pools with their blood and marshes with their limbs and Bayezid was taken and bound with fetters like a bird in a cage.  This battle occurred about one mile from the city of Angora on the fourth day of the week, the 27th of Zulhaj, in the year 804 [1402] and most of the army was destroyed by thirst and heat, for it was the 18th of Tamuz.

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