The Garden Guide

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

Timur and Toktamish

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Timur now prepared for the greatest and most extraordinary military exploit of his life, the invasion of the illimitable wilds of Kapchak. During his absence in Persia, Toktamish (or Tokhtamysh or Tokatmish), regardless of the debt of gratitude he owed to his benefactor, made several incursions across the River Jaxartes, and was held in check, with difficulty, by Timur's young son Omar Sheikh. In 1390 preparations were made, on a great scale, for the invasion of Kapchak, and the punishment of its ungrateful Khan. The officers were ordered to collect a year's provisions, for the troops under their command; and each soldier was supplied with a horse, a bow and quiver of arrows, and a leathern water bottle. Every ten soldiers had a tent, two mattocks, a spade, a hand saw, a hatchet, a hundred needles, an awl, about fourteen pounds of rope, a leathern knapsack, a copper pot, and a baggage horse. Having completed all the necessary preparations for his hazardous and daring campaign, Timur left Samarkand in 1390, crossed the River Jaxartes by a temporary bridge at Khojend, and wintered at Tashkent, where he was attacked with a severe illness. In January 1391, the army marched out of Tashkent, and for three weeks the intrepid Timur led his troops over the arid and uninhabited wastes, to the north of the Caspian Sea. At length he reached an isolated hill called Ulugh Tauk, whence he viewed the vast plains of Kapchak, stretching away as far as the eye could reach in every direction. He caused a lofty cairn to be erected at this spot, as a memorial to other times of his memorable expedition. Hunting as he marched, Timur then crossed the river Yelanjouk, in 54ï¾° north latitude, and his provisions at length began to fail him. His soldiers' rations were reduced to one bowl of broth a day; and great hunting parties were organized, encircling a vast space, and driving the game into the centre. Sheikh Daoud, a chief who had been brought up from a child amidst these cheerless solitudes, was sent on in advance, with a small troop of horse, to reconnoitre the enemy, who had hitherto remained invisible. He succeeded in discovering their camp, and in May 1391 Timur's army crossed the river Jaick, in 53ï¾° north latitude, and found itself face to face with the vast hordes of the Khan of Kapchak, who were greatly superior in numbers to the invaders. A brilliant series of cavalry engagements followed, which ended in the defeat and flight of Toktamish, and the host of Kapchak was scattered far and wide over the plain. A small remnant escaped across the Volga. The conqueror was enchanted with the verdure of the plains between the rivers Volga and Jaik; and was not a little astonished at finding that immediately the sun set, the dawn of day was clearly perceptible in the west. He passed the month of June in hunting along the banks of the Volga, and commenced his return march in July. The plains were covered with his army. Great troops of cattle, sheep, and camels, were intermingled with the Chatagai cavalry and their prisoners, while the unwieldy portable pavilions of Timur and his Amirs were dragged along by twenty-two oxen, eleven abreast. The ruts of these enormous waggons were twenty feet apart, and the axletrees were as large as a vessel's mast. The conqueror returned to Samarkand in the end of 1391 {In the meanwhile Timur's generals had crossed the river Irtish, and penetrated into the wilds of Siberia}; and, in the following May, he again departed with a large army, to subdue the western parts of Persia, where the Mozuffers had revolted. This was known as the expedition of five years. The first year was passed in reducing the forest covered province of Mazanderan, along the southern shores of the Caspian, where an obscure town on the sea coast, near Amul, held out against his whole army. For the first and only time in his life, Timur, the great commander of cavalry, was forced to have recourse to naval warfare. A brigade of boatmen with their boats, and a band of slingers of wild fire, were sent from the River Oxus to the Caspian, where they embarked, and invested the little town by land. The garrison then surrendered, and, being followers of the accursed sect of Hassan Sabah {Assassins}, a general massacre followed. The conquest of Mazaderan having been completed, Timur wintered in the valley of the Goorgaun.