The Garden Guide

Book: Journey and Embassy to Samarkand
Chapter: Biography - Life of Timur Beg

Ancestors of Timur Tamerlane

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At his birth, the enormous empire of his predecessor in universal conquest was rapidly falling to pieces; and the numerous kingdoms formed by the energetic sons and grandsons of Genghis Khan, were for the most part in a state of helpless anarchy, under the nominal sway of their degenerate descendants {Genghis Khan. His name is so written by Abulghazi, who says that Zen means 'great,' and gis, the 'superlative.' Fadlallah asserts that Cheng means 'strong,' and that Chengez is the plural. D'Herbelot, who is followed by Gibbon, spells the name Genghiz Khan}. The last great wave of those devastating floods of conquest which, for centuries, had periodically burst forth from the wilds of central Asia, to spread terror and desolation over the eastern world, was rapidly subsiding. The most contemptible puppet descendants of the mighty Genghis sat on the thrones of Persia, Samarkand, and China; while their former vassals were beginning to assert their independence in every direction. The country between the rivers River Oxus and River River Jaxartes, known to the Arabs as Mawur-ul-naher, had fallen to the share of Chagatai, on the death of his father Genghis Khan in 1227, and the land had been ruled by his descendants for more than a century, when Timur was born in 1337; but each succeeding Sultan of Mawur-ul-naher had become more degenerate, and more contemptible than his predecessor, while the insolent independence of powerful vassals, at the head of large bodies of cavalry, kept the country in a state bordering on anarchy {Grand Tartary extended from the Volga to the ocean, and from the Gihon to Siberia. Ptolemy divided this vast region into Scythia beyond, and this side the Imaus. North of the sources of the Ganges, a range of mountains extends to Kashgar, where it turns to the north-east, towards the river Ili; this chain was called by Ptolemy, the Imaus. That part of Scythia on this side the Imaus, which lies between the River Oxus and River River Jaxartes, was known to Roman geographers as Transoxiana, and to the Arabs as Mawurul-naher. In 706 the Arab conquerors first crossed the River Oxus, under the command of Catiba, who introduced Islamism into the countries of Bokhara, Samarkand, and Fergana}. The most famous of Timur's ancestors was Karachar Nevian, the minister of Chagatai, and the first convert to Islamism amongst the wild conquerors. He ruled with justice and moderation for many years, and established his own tribe of Berlas round the town of Kesh (Shakrisabz), near Samarkand {Karachar Nevian outlived Chagatai, and died in 1270}. He became Sepah Salar or general of Chagatai's forces, and the title was made hereditary in his family; but his great grandson, Teragay, who was Timur's father, appears to have resigned the office, preferring the retirement of Kesh (Shakrisabz), and the society of learned men, to the turbulent strife of the court of Samarkand. Teragay, the chief of the tribe of Berlas, is said to have been a man of distinguished piety and liberality, and he inherited an incalculable number of sheep and goats, cattle and servants {Sir Thomas Brown ridicules the idea that Timur was a common shepherd, because his father possessed flocks and herds.'- Vulgar and Common Errors, book vii, chap, xvi}. His wife, Tekina Khatoum, was virtuous and beautiful; and on the 8th of April, 1336, she gave birth to a son, at their encampment, near the verdant walls of the delicious town of Kesh (Shakrisabz) {'In spring the walls and terraces of Kesh are all green and cheerful.'-Babur's Memoirs}. This child was the future aspirant for universal empire. Timur was of the race of Turkish wanderers, and he was of noble lineage, amongst a people who thought much of their descent. His countrymen lived in tents, loved the wandering lives of warlike shepherds, better than the luxury and ease of cities; and, even in the countries which they had conquered, preferred an encampment in the open plains, to a residence in the most splendid palaces. Brought up amidst such feelings, a youth of undoubted genius would naturally turn the whole force of his vigorous intellect to the achievement of military glory; but if Timur had not been a great conqueror, he would inevitably have become famous in some other way; and under any circumstances, he would have left the impress of his genius on the history of the Asiatic races. Timur was no vulgar conqueror, no ordinary man: his history, as displayed both in his own writings, and in those of his biographers, proves that, if not in his acts, certainly in his thoughts and opinions, he was in advance of his age and country.