Tamerlane, the last greatest nomadic conqueror and his cursed tomb


The body of the last great nomadic conqueror Tumur (historically best known as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame), originally from the ancient Barlas tribe of Mongols, was exhumed from his tomb in the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum (Samarkand, modern Uzbekistan) by Soviet expedition on June 19, 1941.

According to relevant sources, Tumur’s tomb was inscribed with the words, “When I rise from dead, the world shall tremble.” It is also said that when the expedition leader M.M.Gerasimov exhumed the body, an additional inscription “Whomsoever opens my tomb shall unleash an invader more terrible than I” was found.

Surprisingly, three days after the exhumation of his body, Adolf  Hitler launched the Operation Barbarossa, which is known as the largest military invasion of all time, upon the Soviet Union.

Then Joseph Stalin, the head of the Soviet Union, has learned about such a strange coincidence and has ordered to return the remains of Tumur back to the mausoleum. The Soviet government even allocated approximately one million rubles for his reburial.

Tumur was re-buried with all the honors by Islamic ritual in November 1942 just before the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad, which was a turning point in the World War II…

Soviet scientists fully investigated the corpse of Tumur before his reburial. The findings of the investigation claimed that he was a tall and a broad-chested man with strong cheek bones at the height of 5 feet 8 inches (173 centimeters), which was above average in his era. Tumur was lame and had a withered right arm due to his injuries. His right thighbone had knitted together with his kneecap, and the configuration of the knee suggested that he had kept his leg bent at all times and therefore, must have had a pronounced limp.

Gerasimov reconstructed Tumur’s trait from his skull and found that his facial characteristics displayed Mongoloid features with some Caucasoid mixture. Anthropologist Oshanin also concluded that Tumur’s cranium predominately showed the characteristics of a Mongoloid type.

Tumur means “Iron” both in Mongolian and Turkish languages. Tumur was born on April 9, 1336 in Transoxiana (the ancient name used for the portion of Central Asia between the Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers), near the city of Kesh, which was then called the Chagatai Khanate.

His father, Taraghai was described as a minor noble of Barlas tribe of Mongols, known as a turkified tribe in many aspects. Historian Beatrice Forbes Manz states that although Taraghai has not been powerful in politics, he was reasonably wealthy and influential. 

Persian statesman Rashid al-Din, who served at the court of Chagatai Khanate, wrote that the four-thousand army, which Chinggis (Genghis) Khan had allocated to his son Chagatai, was consisted mostly of Barlas tribe warriors. This small Mongol tribe has been turkified by the local population in the second half of the XIII century and then fully adopted the Turkic Chagatai language by the XIV century.

By the time of Tumur’s birth, there was no longer a single Great Mongol Empire. In his native Chagatai Khanate, the descendants of Chagatai ruled, while the descendants of another son of Chinggis Khan, Juchi was in the Golden Horde. In Ilkhanate, which controlled Persia and the nearby lands, Chinggis Khan’s grandson Hulagu’s descendants were in power. In China and its surrounding countries, the Yuan Empire was led by the descendants of Kublai, the grandson of Chinggis Khan.

The four Chinggisids empires were autonomous from each other and internal strikes were intensified. In 1346, the last Chinggisid Qazan Khan, who was the central power in the Chagatai Khanate, was killed during a battle by the forces of rebellious amir Qazaghan. Qazan Khan’s death was regarded the end of the effective power of the court of Chagatai; the amirs seized control of the khanate and the khans ruled in name only. In 1347, Chagatai khanate was split into two separate states: Mawarannah and Moghulistan.


Tumur defeated all his rivals and gained control of the western Chagatai Khanate by 1370 and spent the next 35 years in various wars and expeditions. He led military campaigns across Western, Southern and Central Asia, the Caucasus and southern Russia, and emerged as the most powerful ruler in the Muslim world  after defeating the Mamluks of Egypt and Syria, the emerging Ottoman Empire, and the declining Delhi Sultanate. As a result of these conquests, he founded Timurid Empire.

When in july 20, 1402 Tumur captured the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid at Ankara, he was often praised and considered as a trusted ally by European rulers, such as Cherles VI of France and Henry IV of England, because they believed that he was saving Christianity from the Turkish Empire in the Middle East.

Those two kings also praised him due to his victory at Ankara allowed Christian merchants to remain in the Middle East and allowed for their safe return home to both France and England. Tumur was also praised because it was believed that he helped to restore the right of passage for Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Tumur’s empire set the momentum for the rise of more structured and lasting Gunpowder Empires in the 16th and 17th centuries. He envisioned the restoration of the Great Mongol Empire and acknowledged himself as a Chinggis Khan’s heir.

By the end of his reign, Tumur had gained complete control over all the remnants of the Chagatai Khanate, the Ilkhanate, and the Golden Horde, and even attempted to restore the Yuan dynasty in China.

Tumur’s Turco-Mongolian heritage brought opportunities and challenges as he sought to rule the Mongol Empire and the Muslim world. According to Mongolian tradition, Tumur could not claim the title of Khan or rule the Mongol Empire as he was not a descendant of Chinggis Khan. Therefore, Tumur set up a puppet Khan as the nominal ruler of his empire.

Tumur never used the title of Khan and instead he used the title of Amir, the general. To reinforce this position, Tumur claimed the title Guregen (Khurgen in Mongolian means “Royal son-in-law”) when he married Saray Mulk Khanum, a princess of Chinggisid descendant.

As with the title of Khan, he also could not claim the supreme title of the Islamic world, Caliph, because the “office was limited to the Quraysh, the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad”.

Tumur was, above all, a master of the military techniques developed by Chinggis Khan, using every weapon in military and diplomatic armory of the day. He never missed an opportunity to exploit the weakness (political, economic, or military) of the adversary or to use intrigue, treachery, and alliance to serve his purposes.


The seeds of victory were sown among the ranks of enemies by his agents before any engagements. He conducted sophisticated negotiations with neighboring and distant powers, which are recorded in diplomatic archives in many countries including England and China. In the battlefields, nomadic tactics of mobility and marvel were his core weapons of attacks.

He was also extraordinarily intelligent not only intuitively but also intellectually. During his travel to Samarkand and many other places, Tumur, under the guidance of distinguished scholars, was able to learn the Persian, Mongolian and Turkish languages. 

By 1368, Han Chinese forces had driven the Mongols out of China. The first of the new Ming dynasty Emperors Hongwu, and his son Yongle, produced tributary states of many Central Asian countries. The suzerain-vassal relationship between Ming Empire and Timurid Empire has existed for a long time.

Eventually, Tumur planned to invade China. To this end, he made an alliance with Mongol army based in Mongolia and prepared all the way to Bukhara. Enkhe Khan of Mongolia sent his grandson Ulzii Tumur after he converted to Islam, while at the court of Tumur in Samarkand.

But Tumur died en route during an uncharacteristic winter campaign. In December 1404, Tumur began military campaigns against Ming China and detained Ming’s envoy. He suffered illness while encamped on the further side of the Syr Daria and died at Farab on February 17, 1405, before reaching to Chinese border.

Tumur’s sons and grandsons fought over the succession when the Chinese expedition disbanded, but his dynasty survived in Central Asia for a century in spite of fratricidal strife.

Samarkand became a centre of scholarship and science. Ulug Bek, his grandson, developed an observatory and the astronomical tables that were later used by the English royal astronomers in the XVII century. During the Timurid renaissance of the XV century, Herāt, southeast of Samarkand, became the homeland of the brilliant schools of Persian miniaturists.

At the beginning of the XVI century, when the dynasty ended in Central Asia, his descendant Bābur established himself in Kabul and then conquered Delhi, to found the Muslim line of Indian emperors known as the Great Mughals …

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