Tamerlane (1336-1405) was the last of the great Mongol conquerors. When he died at the height of his power in 1405 he ruled the lands between the Mediterranean and Tibet. The seat of his power was his beloved Samarkand, where his body now rests.
The Persians called him Timur the Lame behind his back. In English this became Tamerlane or Tamburlaine.
Tamerlane was a Mongol by blood, a Turk in manner and speech and a Muslim by faith. He was of low birth but somehow married a princess of the house of Genghis Khan, one of his proudest achievements. He saw himself as a latter-day Genghis Khan, perfecting the Mongol art of war.
His army of mounted archers was part Mongol, part Turk. He often laid waste to cities killing tens of thousands, as he did in Delhi and Baghdad. And yet he was a lover of the arts and helped to build up Samarkand making it into a beautiful city of blue and gold buildings.
Starting with next to nothing, he managed to take over Transoxania (roughly present day Uzbekistan) by 1366. By 1380 he had Khwarezm to the south-west (roughly Turkmenistan) as well.
In the 1380s he took present day Iran and Afghanistan. In those days it was divided into little kingdoms, which made it easy work for Tamerlane. In the 1390s he moved on to take what is now Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Pakistan, north-west India and Iraq.
In 1401 he took Damascus and broke the back of Mamluk power in Egypt, from which it never fully recovered.
In 1402 he crushed the Ottoman Turks at the battle of Ankara and took their sultan, Bayezid, prisoner. Bayezid remained Tamerlane’s prisoner and killed himself in the end. His two sons fought over what was left of the Ottoman empire.
Tamerlane twice sent his army to Moscow and twice defeated the khan of the Golden Horde. At his death he was preparing to march on China.
On his deathbed he had the lands of present day Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, western Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, north-west India, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Syria and eastern Turkey.
By defeating the Persians, the Ottomans and the Arabs, Tamerlane came very close to making Samarkand the centre of the Muslim world and making it over in his image.
After Tamerlane died, the western lands of the empire were soon lost. The east held. Its three great cities were Samarkand, Bukhara and Herat. During the hundred years after his death it saw a golden age of art, architecture, science and letters for both Persians and Turks.
After a hundred years the east broke apart into pieces from in-fighting. One of these pieces, ruled by Babur, Tamerlane’s great-great-great grandson, grew into the Mogul empire.