Timurid Empire

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Oct 31, 2022

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The Timurid Empire (Persian تيموريان, "Tīmūriyān") or Gurkani (Persian وركانى, "Gurkānī") or Turan (Persian توران, "Tūrān") was a Turko-Mongolian dominion that stretched across the present-day states of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, the southern Caucasus region, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, much of Central Asia, as well as parts of Russia, India, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey.

The empire was founded by Tamerlane (Latinized version of Timur-i leng), a warlord of Turkish-Mongolian lineage who created it between 1370 and his death in 1405. Proposing himself as a great restorer of Genghis Khan's Mongol Empire, he rode the myth of the ancient emperor throughout his life, even expressing his admiration for Borjigin several times. Tamerlane cultivated vigorous trade relations with Ming China and the Golden Horde. During the Timurid period, Turkestan and Khorasan experienced the most prosperous period in terms of the expression of Islamic architecture, and from the late 15th century onward, the old Chagatai Khanate experienced a vibrant cultural season and enjoyed military supremacy from Corasmia to the Caucasus. After Tamerlane elevated Samarkand to the role of capital, various artisans were forcibly relocated from the warlord's subjugated territories to today's Uzbek city. Spanish ambassador Clavijo reported the presence of 150,000 families of artisans moved to the capital. Despite the manner in which the population increase was achieved, between the 14th and 15th centuries Samarkand experienced the best interlude in its history. Shortly thereafter the so-called Timurid Renaissance took place, coinciding with the reign of the astronomer and mathematician Uluğ Bek.

In 1467, the ruling dynasty, known as the Timurids, lost most of Persia to the Ak Koyunlu confederation. However, members of the Timurid lineage continued to administer small-scale political entities, sometimes known as Timurid emirates, in Central Asia and parts of India. In the 16th century, Babur, a Timurid prince from Fergana (now in Uzbekistan), invaded Kabulistan (present-day Afghanistan) and established a small kingdom there. Twenty years later, he used what he founded as a base from which to invade medieval India and establish the Mughal empire.

The Timurid historian Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi states in his work Zafarnama (Book of Victories) that the name of the Timurid empire was originally Turan (Persian توران). Tamerlane personally ordered the name of his domain to be carved as Turan in a rock fragment on the mountainside of Ulu Tagh (in present-day Kazakhstan), known today as the Karsakpay inscription. The original text, in particular, reads:

In Timurid-era literature, the kingdom was called Iran-u-Turan (Persian: ایران و توران) or Mawarannahr (Arabic: ما وراء النهر, Mā warāʾ al-nahr). Shi'i authors confirm that Tamerlane, when he assumed the title of Gorkani after his wedding, having become ruler of the Chaghatai tribe, by analogy with his lord's title, made his domains assume the appellation of Gurkānī. This designation would apply to all members of the ruling dynasty.

Tamerlane (1370-1405)

Tamerlane (in chagatai: تیمور, Tēmür) was born in 1336 in the city of Kesh, near Samarkand, in an area under Mongol rule as early as 1300. At that time, communities formed by Turks and Mongols coexisted peacefully and there was already some cultural mixing: that is why some Mongols had joined Islam in the region. This process of assimilation did not escape the tribe to which Tamerlane belonged. According to the Secret History of the Mongols, the Barlas are said to have originated from the Borjigin clan, to which the family of Genghis Khan and his descendants belonged. Actually, contrary to what one might think following the above premise, Tamerlane had no kinship ties with Genghis.

Khan Tughluk Timur, eager to expand his domains, decided to settle Transoxiana in March 1360, confident that little resistance would be encountered. As expected, most of the tribal emirs yielded to his authority, while others, including Hajji Beg of the Barlas people, fled. It was decided at that point to find someone else suitable to administer Hajji Beg's old territories; the final choice fell on the young grandson of the fled emir, Tamerlane, who had submitted to them. In return for his loyalty, he was given the city of Kesh and its environs, formerly in the hands of his father.

Tughluk Timur granted the administration of Transoxiana to his son Ilyas Khoja, with Tamerlane subordinate to him. The ruthlessness with which the Mongols ruled the region caused many to oppose them, including Amir Hussain of the Qara'una and Tamerlane: the two together faced an army of Mongols and local tribes loyal to Ilyas Khoja, defeating them in a battle that took place in 1364. Soon after, Tughlugh Timur died and Ilyas Khoja left for Moghulistan with the intention of assuming power. In 1365, Khoja returned to Transoxiana. In May he defeated Amir Hussain and Timur at the Battle of Tashkent, but when he reached the gates of Samarkand its inhabitants refused to let him enter, resulting in a siege that saw the defenders triumph. A plague among the horses so robbed the Mongols of their ability to move quickly and their power that they were forced to leave Transoxiana again.

In 1368, Ilyas Khoja died. Most of the khan's family was assassinated, and mainly Tamerlane and his brother-in-law Amir Hussain, who had become related by marriage ties, remained on the political scene. The relationship between the two gave rise to a sort of duumvirate and was originally peaceful, becoming strained when both realized that they yearned for the same lands. The position of advantage appeared to be Hussain's: he was respected for his greater seniority and was in possession of various portions of northwestern Afghanistan, but this did not intimidate the young Tamerlane, who became the spokesman for those nobles who felt harassed and, officially proclaiming that he supported their interests, demanded that his rival cede possession of the cities he administered to him. For his part, Hussain Sufi replied that, "having conquered these places by the sword, only someone with another sword will be able to take them back." Tamerlane then sent troops into the region and captured the places he hoped to get under his control, also plundering the surrounding area. However, Hussain, at least temporarily, resisted and came to the conclusion of a peace with the other side, despite the fact that hostilities had all but disappeared. As a result of his successes, Tamerlane had gained many supporters in Balkh, an Afghan city composed of numerous merchants, tribesmen, prominent Muslim clergymen, aristocrats, and farmers, due to his courteous manner and the many gifts he offered. Such behavior, which surrounded Tamerlane with supporters not only in Afghanistan but elsewhere as well, was probably aimed at attracting sympathies against Hussain, who was responsible for the removal of many political opponents and the seizure of their property, as well as responsible for enacting oppressive tax laws and exorbitant personal expenditures. When it became clear that his subjects would abandon him, around 1370, Hussain surrendered to Tamerlane, who was intent on laying siege once again to the lands near the present northern section of the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and was later assassinated, a circumstance that allowed the latter to be formally proclaimed ruler in Samarkand.

One thought that plagued him during his ascent, since he was not a direct descendant of Genghis, concerned his inability to bear the title of grand khan, having to make do with that of emir (a term for chief in Arabic). In 1370, proposing himself as the "heir" to Genghis Khan's legitimacy, he assumed the title gurkan: this is a Mongolian variant of the Persian word kurugen or khurgen, which meant "son-in-law." Such a choice was justified by the fact that Tamerlane married Hussain's wife, Saray Malik Katun (also known as Bibi Khanoum), who boasted the Genghis dynasty among her ancestors. It is to April 10, 1370, when he was thirty-four years old, that we ascribe the year of establishment of the Timurid empire in conjunction with his coronation.

Hussain had been succeeded by his brother Yusuf Sufi. Having now crystallized the conquest of Transoxiana for three years, Tamerlane attacked Korasmia in 1373: justifying this aggression was the circumstance that Yusuf Sufi failed to keep his promise to refrain from any hostilities, having sent troops to the vicinity of Khiva to impose his authority by force. After learning that Tamerlane was advancing in the direction of Korasmia, Yusuf Sufi became alarmed and agreed to hold negotiations as soon as possible to achieve peace. In the meantime, he tried to ensure that his eldest son, Pir Muhammad, could take over as successor to his empire.

In 1375, the issue of Korasmia flared up again. Once again uncomfortable in the subordinate position, Yusuf Sufi tried to take advantage of the campaigns Tamerlane was carrying out in the east and ravaged Transoxiana in various areas, almost reaching Samarkand. To crush this threat, in 1379, the emir pushed to the gates of Urgench at the head of a large army. Although diplomatic recourse was attempted, Yusuf Sufi took the ambassadors sent by Tamerlane prisoner and endured a three-month siege, the end of which Yusuf did not see because he died earlier stricken with illness. Thus, the region merged into the Timurid state, but after a while, because of the influence of Toktamish, a future great opponent of Tamerlane, the Sufi family rebelled against the ruler of the empire. The noble dynasty attempted to exploit its close relations with the Golden Horde, as well as the Red Horde, to which Khan Toktamish's mother belonged. Although Tamerlane hurled as many as four expeditions between 1371 and 1379 into Corasmia, it cannot be said that he succeeded in completely subjugating the Sufi family. After Toktamish revived the Red Horde as a para-state unit, its leading political members provided him with aid in his battles away from Korasmia, allowing Tamerlane to travel there in 1388: this time the expedition ended in success.

Tamerlane turned his gaze toward fragmented Iran only after the issue of Korasmia could be said to have been resolved. At that time, several communities lived west of the Amu Darya River, while somewhat more centralized was the situation in Iraq, where the Jalayrids dominated. Tamerlane initiated conquest operations for all these regions with the intention of annexing them to his empire.

Between 1381 and 1383 Tamerlane conquered Herat, an important center in western Afghanistan. From there, he advanced west to the Caspian Sea coast and south to Zaranj. The punishments inflicted on the rebels, as told by sources in 1383, were notable for their extreme cruelty. By 1384 every hotbed of revolt was extinguished, and Iran also flowed into the empire, allowing its ruler to turn his gaze to other latitudes.

After becoming aware of Iran's internal frailties during the campaign in Khorasan, Tamerlane decided to fully occupy what he did not yet possess in 1386, the year he set out from Samarkand. Under the pretext of attacking those potentially hostile caravans going on pilgrimage, he imprisoned the Lorestan ruler Malik Izzeddin and his sons, relegating them to Samarkand. After a series of upheavals, Tamerlane conquered Baghdad and marched to Tabriz, left unmanned at that time. Happy with the success of the operation, the warlord attacked the Georgians, taking possession of the fortresses of Iğdır and Kars. After subduing Naxçıvan, he made his entry into Tbilisi (Tiflis in contemporary sources). In any case, it is possible that he had come to Georgia not to conquer it permanently but to provide a show of strength and plunder the region. Reaching Esfahan in 1387, the warlord subdued it and met with the city's exponents, offering them peace: following the outbreak of some scuffles, he ordered the traditional extermination of the entire population, effectively wiping out the presence of a thriving center of the time.

After capturing Esfahan, Tamerlane advanced in the direction of Shiraz: when he arrived there, he was informed that Toktamish had sent troops against the empire and that riots had broken out around Samarkand, which forced him to return to the capital.

A series of turmoil involved the Timurid empire in the 1370s: beyond minor-scale skirmishes, Tamerlane flanked his longtime enemy Toktamish and struck the land of the Kipčaki (Dasht-i Kipchak), expanding further northward between 1377 and 1380. The help provided in the struggles against the Golden Horde allowed Tamerlane to understand how he was more powerful. For this, his empire did not hesitate to plunder regions of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Corasmia that showed sympathies toward Toktamish. After a fifth campaign in Corasmia in 1388, he subdued the large city of Kunya-Urgench and transferred its population to Samarkand, ordering the destruction of the city and requiring barley crops to be planted in place of the old foundations. Only during a new expedition against the Kipčaki in 1391 did the settlement return to existence for military purposes.

From 1387 and until 1398, Tamerlane also clashed in Cumania with Toktamish on various battlefields, causing the struggle to reach the level of a clash between the ancient Mongol heritage and the growing strength of the Turks.

During the campaign against the Kipčaki, the Mongols in Iran took advantage of the warlord's absence to start a rebellion. The emir, in the early 1390s, sent his men there and asked them to gather troops and prepare for battle. He himself arrived in Bukhara in June 1392. From there, he crossed the Amu Darya River and advanced to Mazandaran, where he subdued the opposing rulers: later, he advanced to southern Iran, into Fars, and attacked the Muzaffarids. Shah Mansur retreated to Shiraz without recognizing Tamerlane's rule. Tamerlane attacked him in March 1393 and Shah Mansur was severely defeated, ending up captured and killed along with all members of the dynasty.

After conquering Mazandaran and the Persian province, Tamerlane advanced in the direction of Baghdad in August 1393. In today's Iraqi capital, he addressed valuable gifts to Sultan Ahmad Jalayir, the last member of the Jalairi, and asked him to submit. Fearing Tamerlane, the latter agreed, but since he would be deprived of all power, he preferred to flee to Cairo, to the Mamluk Sultanate. After capturing the present-day Iraqi capital, Tamerlane sent emissaries to the emir of Erzincan, the beys of Garagoyunlu (eastern Azerbaijan) and Ak Koyunlu, in Mamluk land and before the ruler of the Eretnids (Sivas and Kayseri region), Kadi Burhan al-Din. Tired of waiting for answers, he made surprise and successful attacks on Mosul, Mardin and Diyarbakır, finally reaching Aladağ, north of Lake Van. While there, the emir of Erzincan, Taharten, came to him and declared his obedience. The Mamluk sultan killed Tamerlane's emissary, who then decided to advance in the direction of Syria, but as a result of Burhan al-Din's efforts, an alliance was formed among several governors hostile to the emir, including Toktamish. Advancing toward Erzurum, Tamerlane, thinking that he would be surrounded by the Mamluks to the south and Toktamish to the north, attacked the latter.

On his return, he first occupied himself with subduing Georgia, this time without merely plundering. Having entered Tbilisi again, he raged throughout the area between Cartalia and Kachezia, attacking Christian clergy and monuments and causing massacres throughout the valleys of Upper Cartalia.

Despite his defeat at the Battle of Kunduz in 1391, the Mamluk sultan, who was in power in Kipčaka land, allied with Toktamish and, after completing preparations, they launched an attack on Tamerlane in February 1395. The ensuing battle on the Terek River saw the emir prevail by a wide margin, but the emir failed to take his eternal enemy prisoner and decided to continue the campaign. Once he attacked the populations along the Dnepr River, he plundered those who supported Toktamish and forced them to take refuge in the Balkan Peninsula. Tamerlane continued his conquest operations in Astrakhan and Saraj, without finding serious resistance. With this march, Thanks to this series of clashes, he dealt a severe blow to the Red Horde and enriched himself with enough booty to further proceed to expand his domains.

Having completed the acquisition of the Chagathai lands in Central Asia and the Ilkhanate in Persia, Tamerlane could now face the great Islamic powers to the southeast and west of his domains: India; the Mamluk sultanate of Syria and Egypt; and the Ottoman Turk sultanate.

In 1398 Tamerlane, taking as his pretext the excessive tolerance the Sultan of India was showing toward his own Hindu subjects, attacked the Muslim overlord of Delhi, crossing the Indus and routing the Rajputs of interior Sindh. During the advance, Tamerlane himself was shot by one of the many arrows that battered his body over the years. A few days later, he still managed to arrive in front of Delhi, where little resistance could be put up against him by the troops of the Tughlaq sultan Mahmud Shah, despite the problems created by the latter's use of elephants. A major battle took place on December 17, 1398, during which, thanks to an effective tactical ploy that intimidated the large mammals, Tamerlane prevailed. The conquest of the Delhi Sultanate proved to be one of the most valiant victories achieved by Tamerlane, having in fact succeeded in accomplishing what Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan had failed to do.

The city, one of the richest in those days, was seized and atrociously ravaged and looted during three days. Despite the officially sanctioned prohibitions, the brutalities continued, and almost all of the citizens who survived the massacre were enslaved and carried off, propelled by an army that was once very fast in its movements but on the occasion so laden with loot that it had to march extremely slowly. It took a century or so before the city could finally recover. Leaving Khiżr Khān as his governor in the Punjab, Tamerlane said goodbye to Delhi after staying there for fifteen days more or less in January 1399, reaching only on April 15 Termez, on the Amu Darya (present-day border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan). According to the Castilian ambassador Ruy González de Clavijo (who arrived in Samarkand on September 8, 1404), ninety captured elephants served only to transport certain stones with which Tamerlane intended to erect a mosque in Samarkand, probably the huge building (cloaked in legend) named after his wife Bibi Khanoum.

At the gates of the 15th century, the powerful emir possessed an empire stretching from the territories west of the Volga and the Caucasus to the borders of China, and from the Aral Sea to the Indian Ocean to the Ganges Valley in India. The reason Tamerlane started marching west again in 1399 concerned what was happening in Azerbaijan, especially because of Miran Shah's pipelines. After becoming the ruler of Khorasan, Miran Shah ascended to head the lands once included in the suppressed Ilkhanate in 1393, then gaining control of Azerbaijan and surrounding territories and taking no part in the campaign in India. Tamerlane received reports of a power vacuum in Iran and Azerbaijan, considering that Shah had become mentally ill as a result of a horse fall and was ordering the killing of political opponents without reason, the destruction of historical monuments for futile reasons, and the desecration of tombs considered sacred by some religious denominations.

For this reason, Tamerlane began a new campaign four months after his return from Indian land. Although it is usually referred to as a "seven-year campaign," this one actually lasted a lustre and was Tamerlane's longest. Once he arrived in Bingol after stopping in Karabakh, he again imposed his control in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Iraq, at which point he made his way into Syria and Anatolia. It was then that Tamerlane was able to attack the Ottoman Empire, then ruled by the fourth sultan, Bayezid I, who was intent on expanding both westward and eastward, annexing territories inhabited by Turkoman peoples who had invoked the emir's help.

To open his way to Anatolia, Tamerlane attacked the Mamluk sultan of Egypt al-Nāṣir Faraj (1389-1412), easily destroying his army. He next invaded Syria, conquering Antioch, then sacked Aleppo, then took the cities of Damascus (January 1401), with many of the inhabitants massacred, with the exception of the artisans, who were deported en masse to help with the beautification work in Samarkand, and Baghdad (June 1401, causing another extermination). The campaign was interrupted only when the Mamluk sultan of Egypt himself made an act of submission.

The clash with the Ottoman sultan took place at the Battle of Ancyra (Ankara) on July 20, 1402. It was a clash of vast proportions, so much so that contemporary sources estimate the men loyal to Tamerlane at between 800,000 and 1,400,000 men: however, modern scholars consider the figures likely to be exaggerated. With the help of Turkish-Mongols from Transoxania, Korasmians (Persians), Turcomans, as well as a large number of Indian war elephants, the Ottomans, outnumbered and joined by Serbian mercenaries and 10,000 Janissaries, suffered a disastrous defeat.

The great military experience of Tamerlane's men made all the difference is Sultan Bayezid I, although heroically defended by the Serbian allied contingent destined for his person and heirs, was captured and spent the last months of his life as a prisoner in Tamerlane's court (according to some sources, he died by suicide in captivity). Only Bayezid's eldest son managed to escape the massacre, thus preserving the dynastic line of the Ottoman Sultanate.

The battle was also attended by numerous ambassadors sent by the Christian kings to Tamerlane to assess his power and real military strength. Tamerlane's strategic conduct of the battle, according to reports, had once again been perfect, despite the enormous mass of fighters. The victory prompted the emir to soon plan raids in all directions from the present-day Turkish capital.

Tamerlane's victory over the Turks succeeded in fact in delaying the Ottomans' seizure of Constantinople by fifty years. Westerners, however, were very concerned about the Ottoman advance in Anatolia, which was eroding the Byzantine empire and could threaten all the states bordering the Mediterranean. In the months following the great battle, Tamerlane had attacked Bursa, Nicaea, and Pergamum, where he was enchanted to contemplate the remains of classical civilization, as he had been in Baalbek. Having become master of Anatolia, he proved unwilling to stop, given his dream of performing Genghis Khan's feat a second time. This explains the conquests of Smyrna, defended by the Hospitallers of Rhodes, Phocaea and Chios. Europeans were very undecided about what to do, and many continued to hope for alliance with the Mongols, such as Henry III of Castile, who sent multiple ambassadors to Tamerlane. Ambassador de Clavijo who visited Tamerlane's court in Samarkand in 1404 noted that despite the splendor of the city adorned with majestic buildings and surrounded by high walls, the great emir continued to live and hold court in an encampment of twenty thousand tents, in the manner of the Mongol nomads.

Given his reputation as a rich and influential power in East Asia, Tamerlane thought seriously in the last years of his life about invading China. His empire had already received tribute from that land on three occasions (1387, 1392 and 1394). To this end, he formed an alliance with the Mongol tribes concentrated in present-day Mongolia and prepared to reach Bukhara. Although Tamerlane preferred to fight his battles in the spring, in 1405 he decided instead to undertake an unusual winter campaign that cost him his life due to an unknown disease contracted in Farab, thus never having reached the Chinese border.

Shah Rukh's rule (1405-1447)

After Tamerlane's death, the Timurid state began to weaken: civil wars and disputes over the throne broke out in the country, as sons and grandsons vied for power despite the fact that the warlord had appointed his grandson Pir Muhammad as his successor. With the various claimants located in Samarkand, Iran, Miranshah, Baghdad, Azerbaijan, and Herat, respectively, one can easily understand how the same stability of a united empire could no longer be imagined. Tamerlane's departure thus coincided with the end of the apogee of the Timurid reality, which never returned to relive its former glory. Pir Muhammad outlived his grandfather by only one year and died in 1406, when the throne was briefly occupied by Miran Shah.

Although other sons and grandsons of the late warlord failed to establish themselves in the course of the civil wars over all the territory held by Tamerlane, Shah Rukh, his fourth son, managed to retain his position as governor in Khorasan and established himself permanently in Samarkand between 1405 and 1409. During the same period he handed over the administration of the city to his son Uluğ Bek, moving the capital to Herat. In the years immediately before, he was able to reunite some of the territories under the control of other emirs and seized several settlements by advancing into southern and central Iran. However, some of what had been conquered during his predecessor's reign came back under the control of the past holders. The Jalayrids, backed by the Ottomans, fought strenuously to regain what they had lost in Baghdad, forcing Shah Ruk to have to give up the prospect of reasserting himself in Azerbaijan (disputed several times), western Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia. Lands in Syria, taken from the Mamluk Sultanate, also followed the same fate. The Chagatai Mongols grew rapidly as a political group, and the weight of their authority became significant throughout Shah Rukh's reign.

During the 1420s and 1430s, the sultan had to worry about suppressing rebellions in the Kara Koyunlu, with the recapture of some important centers such as Tabriz proving ephemeral. Difficulties also arose in the religious sphere: his ostracism toward the Hurufites led a worshipper in 1426 to attempt to assassinate him as he exited a mosque. The series of investigations he set in motion to find the perpetrator proved indirectly instrumental in removing members of his court who were disliked by him, but this did not guarantee him greater support from his subjects. He had better luck in the cultural, economic, and administrative spheres, replacing his father's outdated system, which was strongly tied to Mongolian customs, with more modern institutions. He also brought into action courts that enforced Shari'a law. His passion for art led him to meet influential Chinese, Persian, and Arab artists, contributing to a blossoming season for literature and architecture.

In 1446, at the age of seventy, a major conflict engaged him with his nephew Muhammad bin Baysonqor, eager to expand his influence in Persia. Shah Rukh prevailed over the insurgents by taking most of them prisoners and almost completely crushing rebel outbreaks. His death in 1447 prevented the operations from finally coming to an end, with the result that civil wars and infighting resurfaced in several geographical areas.

The rule of Uluğ Bek (1447-1449)

After Shah Rukh's death in 1447, he was succeeded by his son Uluğ Bek. The latter soon had to face other heirs claiming Tamerlane's throne. Although without having brought back luck in this struggle, the throne wars further compromised the empire. Due to internal conflicts, the government suffered a weakening. During Uluğ Bek's rule, the Kara Koyunlu began to pose a threat to the Timurid state. At the same time, the Chagatai began to organize attacks to establish power in Transoxiana. Uluğ Bek distinguished himself more for his scientific knowledge than in his role as ruler. Defeated by the troops of his belligerent rebel son Abdal-Latif Mirza, Uluğ Bek resigned in favor of Abdullatif on October 24, 1449, and declared his intention to make a pilgrimage to Mecca with Haji Khorasan. Abdal-Latif freed his father from the captivity to which he had been forced, tacitly authorizing him to leave the capital. However, he made sure that Ulugh Beg never reached his destination by having him assassinated, as well as his brother Abdal-Aziz, in 1449. Apparently, Uluğ Bek was sentenced to death on charges of deviating from Islamic teachings following a summary trial.

The reign of Abu Sa'id (1451-1469)

During Abu Sa'id's reign, the Timurid state saw its path of decline increase and slow down at alternating times. The loss of supremacy in the western lands within the Timurid sphere of influence caused a severe blow. At the same time, there were mass migrations of Uzbek communities to Transoxiana. The intensification of such movements, which had indeed already begun during Tamerlane's reign, had a discrete impact during Abu Sa'id's tenure. Indeed, the growing influence of the Uzbeks in the upper echelons of society and in the military allowed them to aspire in time to positions of great prestige. With the reconquest campaign westward, that is, into Khorasan and Azerbaijan, Abu Sa'id wanted to restore Timurid authority, despite the fact that the operations had no lasting effect and the acquisitions were lost within a few years. On the contrary, taking advantage of the clashes in which engaged the Kara Koyunlu, he managed to retake the capital Herat in 1458.

In 1460, he had to confront an alliance of three princes in his empire who were hostile to him. Between 1460 and 1463 he was forced to carry on struggles against further opponents, engaging in prolonged and costly sieges (this was the case with some of the clashes that took place on the Uzbek Syr Darya). Abu Sa'id was the last Timurid to try to restore Tamerlane's empire from Kashgar to Transcaucasia. To succeed in his purpose, in the last years of his life he wanted to engage in a campaign against Uzun Hasan, head of the Aq Qoyunlu. Using his son's request for help in Hasan's lands as a pretext, he abandoned the previous diplomatic relations woven with the Aq Qoyunlu and launched an assault in February 1368. Misadventures related to the difficulty of supplying supplies, harsh winter temperatures and ambushes suffered by the Timurids on their westward march demoralized the army, undermining the outcome of the Battle of Qarabagh on February 4, 1469. Adding to the numerous losses was the capture of Abu Sa'id, who was imprisoned and later beheaded by Hasan.

The ultimate loss of the western territories anticipated the fragmentation of Abu Sa'id's successors. It was one of Tamerlane's grandsons, Husayn Bayqara, who conquered Herat on March 24, 1469, and was thus able to become the Timurid ruler of Greater Khorasan.

The government of Hussein Baygara (1469-1506)

Sultan Husayn Bayqara, son of Mansur Mirza, great-grandson of Tamerlane, served under Abul-Qasim Babur, another of Tamerlane's grandsons and ruler of Herat, in the subsequent uprisings that broke out after the departure of Uluğ Bek. After distinguishing himself in a sequel of antecedent campaigns, it was with the capture of the ancient capital now included in Afghanistan that he enshrined his title as leader of the Timurid empire.

As soon as he came to power, the situation he found himself in appeared quite complicated: conflicts with Uzun Hasan, which had not ended with the death of Bayqara's predecessor, prompted him in the wake of enthusiasm to push deep into Timurid territory. Taking advantage of an incredible number of desertions, Hasan was even able to take Herat from his enemy in 1470 for six weeks. At the heroic recapture, which took place in a night operation involving only 350 men, he hurriedly made sure that the Timurid governors in Transoxiana would refrain from provoking new conflicts, which they roughly did because this one was too rehearsed from past clashes. At that point, he tried to protect himself from the Shaybanids and fortified his fortresses along the Amu Darya. In addition, he also established himself in Corasmia.

Having revived the land he administered, albeit smaller in size than in decades past, and having eliminated external and internal threats, Bayqara focused on literature and art and ruled with his sons, whom he appointed governors of the provinces. Bayqara was seen as "a good king, a lover of peace and justice," and he built numerous structures, including a famous school. The empire finally seemed to breathe the period of peace that had been missing for so long. During the 37 years of the sultan's reign, Herat rose to the role of a center of Turkish culture, and that happy span of time is called the "Timurid Renaissance" by historians.

However, the situation changed when, in the last twenty years of the sultan's reign, he was forced to deal with several uprisings and incursions. The disputes were caused by his sons, who wanted to succeed him before his death; they tried to gain more influence in the government by going through the tactic of disobedience. Badi 'al-Zaman Mirza, his eldest son, exercised a relatively important role in these disputes, having attempted, in 1499, to assassinate his father. Meanwhile, taking advantage of the complicated situation, the Uzbeks, who had long been a threat to the stability of the state, rebelled and conquered, in 1500, first Bukhara and then Samarkand. In 1501, as the civil war between the sultan and his son continued, Muhammad al-Shaybani, leader of the Uzbeks, advanced almost unmolested into Transoxiana. Once threatened with Khorasan, as he suffered from the effects of illness and advanced age, Bayqara did not move even after Bābur, his distant relative with whom he had allied himself, advised him to act. The Uzbeks therefore began to conduct unopposed raids into Khorasan. Eventually, the sultan changed his mind and began to march against them, but he died in 1506 shortly after starting his campaign. The inheritance of his empire was disputed between his sons Badīʿ al-Zamān and Muzaffar Ḥusayn. Bābur, who had begun an expedition in support of Ḥusayn, observed the fighting between the brothers and decided that, due to the impossibility of defending the territory, it was good to withdraw. The following year, Muḥammad Shaybānī conquered Herat, forcing Ḥusayn's successors to flee, thus ending Timurid rule in Khorasan. The great legacy of the empire ended right in the hands of Bābur, an influential general who was able to create one of the most influential dominions in Asia known as the Mughal empire.

State Ordination

While Tamerlane assumed the title of emir, his successors took on the title of sultan: the recognition of emir shifted to those who showed courage in battle, participating in local battles and administration. The Timurid state was a typical eastern feudal monarchy, with an administrative division divided into provinces. These were run by princes and emirs appointed by the highest-ranking rulers.

The ruler was in charge of the allocation of fiefs, appointed a treasurer, and distributed, broadly speaking, war buttons. He also took care of the management of religious policies, lending care to Islamic customs and authorizing in each province and city the appointment of magistrates (qadi), jurists (muftī) and bazaar supervisors (muḥtasib). There was also a pre-established judge exclusively for military matters. The figures of the emirs of justice were initially meant to inform the ruler about problems between the soldiers and the people.

During Tamerlane's reign, four couch viziers operated daily:

In addition to these ministers, three others were later added to oversee assets abroad and in the country, to deal with financial relations of state importance there, and to manage the revenue of the provinces. This trio was subordinate to the couch.

Drawing up documents to inform the ruler about the condition of the army, the people, the claimants, the improvement and the hardships of the empire were court scribes. Post offices were established as early as Tamerlane's reign to ensure the transmission of information. Each station housed 200 horses and was paid for by the local population.


During its heyday, the Timurid empire stretched from the Irtyš and Volga rivers to the Persian Gulf, from the Ganges to Damascus and eastern Turkey. To administer such a vast domain, it is clear that some kind of regulatory system was needed: over time, there was a shift from yassa (the code of oral rules handed down by the Mongol peoples) to the rules of the Turks and finally to sharia.


The attacking force of the Timurid state army consisted of heavily and lightly armored cavalry units. Elephant tactics, learned during the Indian campaign, fascinated Tamerlane, who resorted to using these large mammals in clashes with Mamluks and Ottomans. At the same time, as expansion proceeded, Tamerlane's officers resorted to enlisting subjugated peoples in their ranks. In the hierarchy of the army, as one ascended to the top, equipment was also better.

Depending on the number of enemy forces, the army was led by the ruler himself, and by the umarāʾ al-muʾminīn. The latter, a kind of Timurid-era supreme general, was the commander of the army. The title of emir, as mentioned above awarded for doing meritorious deeds, was further divided into twelve ranks. From the first to the twelfth rank, the emir of each rank was considered the deputy of the one immediately above. The twelfth was the deputy to the emir al-'Umara, while the emir al-'Umara was the deputy ruler. In the army, the basic unit consisted of ten people (onlik), headed by an officer, while the basic division was that in tumen (corresponding to 1,000 men). The basic equipment of middle-class soldiers included a tent, two swords, a pike, a rope, some leather, an axe and other equipment. The yasavul were tasked with providing additional assistance or carrying out the ruler's orders in military matters.

As the army marched, it was assigned a commander (tovachi), who supervised the maneuvers. If anything was taken from the army, the tovachi were liable to more or less severe penalties depending on the extent. The construction of defensive fortifications found various developments, preferring above all the use of wooden palisades around the sites to be garrisoned and the building of citadels.

In the Timurid state army, groups that carried out night raids were called chapavul. The center of the army was called qol, the right flank barangar and the left jarangar. When the army advanced, reconnaissance units advanced in front of it and were called sentries (qarovul). Subdivisions, particularly complicated with reference to scouts, rearguards and other sections became even more articulated depending on the number of fighters employed and the enemy faced. The use of the tactic of feigned retreat, a typically Mongol choice, also occurred in various situations. During Tamerlane's reign, one-third of the operational army was obliged to protect the borders and two-thirds to be immediately available for participation in any campaigns.


It is thought that the main symbol of the Timurids was the so-called "sign of Timur," consisting of three equal circles (or rings) arranged in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Ruy de Clavijo, the ambassador of the king of Castile to the court of Tamerlane in 1403, and the Arab historian Ibn Arabshah provided a description of the insignia as it appeared on the seal of the emir, as well as on coins of the Timurid era. It is not known for sure what meaning the triangular sign had, but, according to Clavijo, each circle stood for the three continents of the known world (Europe, Asia and Africa). Another possible theory is that it referred to the appellation reserved for Tamerlane of "Sahib-Qiran" (the ruler of three benevolent planets).

Often representations of tamga (symbols of Mongolian origin) on coins were accompanied by the Persian expression Rāstī rastī (راستى رستى, Nastaliq), which can be translated as "In righteousness lies salvation." It is also known that the same expression was also sometimes quoted on official documents.

Tamerlane was affiliated with the Barlas tribe, thus being likely a descendant of that Turkic-Mongolian population living between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and other regions of Central Asia. Because of their close ties with the indigenous peoples of Central Asia, particularly in Transoxiana, the Barlas saw within them people who professed religions other than Islam (especially Buddhism and shamanism). These close connections allowed for an influence and mixing of different cultures. For this reason, the Barlas drew elements from the Mongolian, Uyghur, Turkoman, Tarkhan, Persian (especially) and other tribes still from Central Asia. For this reason, the Timurid era had a plural character, reflecting both the Turkic-Mongolian origins and the dynasty's high literary, artistic, and courtly Persian culture.


Central Asia of the Timurid era expressed itself in different languages according to social class. At least in the early stages, the military was almost exclusively Turk-Mongolian, while the civil and administrative element was almost exclusively Persian. The language spoken and known by all Turkish-Mongolians almost everywhere turned out to be Chagatai. In any case, the main idiom of the period was Persian, the native language of the Tajiks and the one learned by anyone with even a minimal rate of education. In the bulk of the territories subdued by Tamerlane, Persian appeared to be the main language of administration and literary culture. Thus, the language expressed in the couch assemblies was Persian, such that the scribes who recorded the meetings necessarily had to be experts in Persian culture, regardless of their ethnic origin. Persian thus became the official language of the Timurid empire and found utility in administrative, academic, literary, and poetic fields. Chagatai was the native and colloquial language of the Timurid dynasty, while Arabic remained the "idiom of the elite," that expressed by scholars in philosophy, science, theology and religious sciences.

The golden age of Persian painting began during the Timurid renaissance. During this period, Chinese art and artists significantly influenced Persian works. The Timurids extruded Persian art into written texts, which combined paper, calligraphy, illumination, illustration, and binding into a brilliant and colorful whole. The Turkic-Mongolian ethnicity was the source of stylistic representation of Persian art during the Middle Ages. The Mongols themselves intermarried with the Persians and Turks of Central Asia, even adopting their religion and languages. Yet their simple control of the world at that time, particularly in the 13th-15th centuries, was reflected in the idealization of Persians as equal to Mongols. Although the ethnic composition gradually merged with the local Iranian and Mesopotamian populations, the fascination of the Mongol heritage continued for quite some time, traversing eastern Iran, Asia Minor and even lapping North Africa.

Although it is not possible to speak of a unique style during this period when important Islamic artworks were created, it is possible to analyze a summary of local differences. Among the places where original works were created, there were unique art centers that embodied the general spirit of Timurid art. In this respect, Samarkand, Baghdad, Herat and Shiraz became centers of craftsmanship.

In Samarkand, capital of the Timurid state, in addition to artists from Central Asia and Iran, there were artists who had moved from India, Anatolia, and Syria. Spanish Ambassador Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo reported that there were 150,000 families of artists in Samarkand. During Tamerlane's reign, important architectural works were created in Samarkand, which became a center of art. A second positive period coincided with the reign of Sultan Shah Rukh. The latter, also assisted in this by his Persian wife, Goharshad, encouraged artists to move to Afghanistan when the capital was relocated, thus enabling a rush to create new works. After Uluğ Bek's death, a period of artistic stagnation followed, which regained vigor during the reign of Abu Sa'id and Sultan Husayn Bayqara. With the latter extinguished, it returned to a phase of decline until, during the Mughal empire, there was a rediscovery and revaluation of Timurid craftsmanship, as well as in Safavid lands.


Timurid architecture drew on and developed many Seljuk architectural canons. Turquoise and blue tiles, which formed intricate linear and geometric patterns, often decorated the facades of buildings. Sometimes the interior was similarly decorated, with stucco paintings and reliefs providing additional embellishments. Timurid architecture constituted the pinnacle of Islamic art in Central Asia. The spectacular and majestic buildings erected by Tamerlane and his successors at Samarkand and Herat helped spread the influence of the Ilkhanid school of art to India, thus giving rise to the famous Mughal school of architecture.

The earliest chronological example of Timurid architecture was the mausoleum of Ahmed Yasawi, in present-day Kazakhstan, while one of the largest was the mausoleum of Tamerlane, located in the empire's capital. The latter building, dating from the 14th century, is covered with "turquoise Persian tiles." Nearby, in the center of the ancient city, one observes the "Persian-style madrassa" (religious school) and the "Persian-style mosque" of Uluğ Bek. The mausoleums of the Timurid princes, with their turquoise and blue domes, remain among the finest and most exquisite manifestations of Persian architecture. Axial symmetry is a feature of all major Timurid structures, notably the Shah-i-Zinda in Samarkand, the Musallah complex in Herat, and the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad. Double domes of various shapes abound, while exteriors are adorned in bright colors. Tamerlane's rule over the region strengthened the influence of his capital and Persian architecture on India.

The Balkh Green Mosque, built in 1422, and the Änew Mosque complex, completed between 1455-1456, represent some of the most important works of the middle period of Timurid architecture: unfortunately, only remnants of the latter survive, as it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1948. One of the most important works of the late phase turns out to be the Ishratkhana Mausoleum, built between 1460 and 1464 for the burial of the women of the Timurid dynasty at the behest of one of Abu Sa'id's wives. Constructed between 1460 and 1502 in the city of Ghazni for Uluğ Bek's son Abdu Razzaq, the mausoleum has been considered by John D. Hoag to be a precursor to the architectural structure of the Taj Mahal, both with reference to the central part in the center and the associated side sections.

Of great interest information about the Timurid palaces can be traced in historical sources and travelogues. In addition to information about the Blue Palace built by Tamerlane in Samarkand, there are reports of the works built in the surrounding cities, such as Naqsh-e jahàn, Bagh-e Chenar (on the outskirts of Samarkand), Bāgh-i Zāghān (in Herat), and Bagh-i Dilgush. The gardens made in the Timurid period will survive the fall of the empire, attesting even during the Mughal interlude. The remains of Shahrisabz's palace, Ak Saray, also described by coeval writings, have survived to the present day.


Persian literature, especially poetry, even on commission, occupied a central place in the process of assimilation of the Timurid elite into noble Persian-Islamic culture. The Timurid sultans, particularly Shah Rukh and his son Uluğ Bek, patronized Persian culture on several occasions. Among the major literary works of the Timurid interlude is the Persian biography of Tamerlane, known as Zafarnāmeh (Persian ظفرنامه), written by Sharaf al-Din Ali Yazdi, which in turn was based on the older Zafarnāmeh of Nizām al-Dīn Shāmī, Tamerlane's official biographer during his lifetime. The most famous poet of the Timurid era was Giami, the last great medieval Sufi mystic of Persia and one of the best known authors in Persian poetry. Some of Timurid Sultan Uluğ Bek's works on astronomy were also written in Persian, despite the fact that the bulk was published in Arabic. The Timurid prince Baysonqor also commissioned a new edition of the Persian national epic Shāh-Nāmeh, known as Baysonqor's Shāhnāmeh, and edited its introduction. T. Lenz's assessment of the work is as follows:

The Timurids also played a very important role in the history of Turkish literature. Building on the established Persian literary tradition, a national Turkish literature developed in the Chagatai language. Poets such as Ali-Shir Nava'i, Sultan Husayn Bayqara, and Bābur encouraged other Turkish idiom authors to write in their own vernacular, in addition to Arabic and Persian. Bāburnāma, Bābur's autobiography (though highly Persianized in its lexical structure, morphology, and by vocabulary), as well as the chagatai poetry of Mīr Alī Sher Nawā'ī, are among the best-known Turkish literary works and influenced many others.


In the 15th century, the capital of the Timurid state, Samarkand, became an important scientific center. This was especially true during the reign of Uluğ Bek, with learned personalities from different lands all coming to Samarkand. In addition to his activities as ruler, Uluğ Bek took a keen interest in astronomy and mathematics, producing works that continue to fascinate scholars today. Between 1417 and 1422 he was concerned with the construction of the city madrasa, now a World Heritage Site, and an observatory in the 1420s. Among the most famous scholars who frequented these buildings were Qadi-zade-i Rumi and Al-Kashi.

The Timurid Empire played a decisive role in the history of the vast territories it absorbed, with various peoples vying to claim their Turk-Mongolian heritage. The era in which it existed coincided with a great development of Central Asia and, perhaps, with the highest apogee ever reached by Samarkand in its history. Architectural traditions were further developed during the Timurid period, and many of these architectural monuments have survived to the present day. The impact of the "Timurid Renaissance" had quite lasting effects. Babur, who took over from the old empire, was able to make the lands he subdued very powerful, also picking up the Timurid legacy and making it his own.

Significant achievements were also made in the Caucasus area: in the Timurid era, migrations of Turks into Azerbaijan continued, causing consequences especially in terms of religious conversion to Islam. Decidedly less strong, however, was the impact in Georgia. The influence was not only limited to the ethnic component in Azerbaijan, as it also affected the Azerbaijani language. It is customary to identify its origin as a mixture of Oghuz (eastern and southern area) and Kipčaki (western and northern area) elements. However, the distinction does not arise because of phonetic and lexical differences. Using the method of glottochronology, linguist Oleg Mudrak has come to the conclusion that the formation of the Azerbaijani language, with all its dialects except Şəki, dates back to the 1360s, i.e., the Timurid period.

Much tarnished was the cultural legacy in Iran. In any case, although the Timurid influence in the long run was mild, it received much appreciation in the artistic and literary fields. As for Afghanistan, various populous centers, including Kabul, experienced a happy period alternately in the two centuries or so of the empire's existence and experienced the establishment of a Persian-Arab identity. In any case, the quick transition from the Timurids to Bābur dimmed the memory of the former, and scholars soon forgot, as is evident from the sources, their contribution.

Aside from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, where the empire also had its impact, today Uzbekistan is home to the greatest legacy inherited from the Timurid period. The Chagatai, who rose to the level of a cultural language during that historical phase, played an important role in the formation of the modern Uzbek idiom. Dealing with the reconstruction of Tamerlane's epic and the years immediately following, Castin Marozzi has been particularly careful in his study of Ambassador Rui Gonzalez de Clavijo's writings pertaining to the conditions of the Timurid state in modern Uzbekistan. After gaining its independence from the USSR, interest in Tamerlane returned to the spotlight in Uzbek lands and became very palpable. On September 1, 1993, on the occasion of Uzbekistan's Independence Day, President Islam Karimov inaugurated a monument dedicated to Tamerlane in the capital city of Tashkent. In 1996, on the occasion of the 660th anniversary of the warlord's birth, a museum dedicated to the conqueror was opened in Tashkent and the honor of the Order of Tamerlane was established.


  1. Timurid Empire
  2. Impero timuride
  3. ^ In chagatai e in mongolo, le parole Temur o Temir significano "ferro": Khabtagaeva (2019), p. 38.
  4. ^ In realtà, Tughluk Timur non era un nipote di Gengis, ma uno dei suoi discendenti.
  5. ^ Qui si intende Zeynaddin Abubakr Taibadi, che divenne un famoso sceicco e consigliere di Tamerlano. Morì nel 1389.
  6. ^ Sistan, Kandahar e Afghanistan.
  7. Subtelny, Maria E. Timurids in Transition: Turko-Persian Politics and Acculturation in Medieval Iran (англ.). — Leiden: Brill, 2007. — P. 260. — ISBN 978-9004160316.
  8. ^ Manz, Beatrice Forbes (1999). The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge University Press, p.109. ISBN 0-521-63384-2. Limited preview at Google Books. p.109. "In almost all the territories which Temür incorporated into his realm Persian was the primary language of administration and literary culture. Thus the language of the settled 'divan' was Persian." B.F. Manz, W.M. Thackston, D.J. Roxburgh, L. Golombek, L. Komaroff, R.E. Darley-Doran. "Timurids" Encyclopaedia of Islam Brill Publishers 2007; "During the Timurid period, three languages, Persian, Turkish, and Arabic were in use. The major language of the period was Persian, the native language of the Tajik (Persian) component of society and the language of learning acquired by all literate and/or urban Turks. Persian served as the language of administration, history, belles lettres, and poetry." Bertold Spuler. "CENTRAL ASIA v. In the Mongol and Timurid Periodse". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Retrieved 2017-09-14. "Like his father, Olōğ Beg was entirely integrated into the Persian Islamic cultural circles, and during his reign Persian predominated as the language of high culture, a status that it retained in the region of Samarqand until the Russian revolution 1917 ... Ḥoseyn Bāyqarā encouraged the development of Persian literature and literary talent in every way possible ... Robert Devereux (ed.) "Muhakamat Al-Lughatain (Judgment of Two Languages)" Mir 'Ali Shir Nawāi; Leiden, E.J. Brill 1966: "Nawa'i also employs the curious argument that most Turks also spoke Persian but only a few Persians ever achieved fluency in Turkic. It is difficult to understand why he was impressed by this phenomenon, since the most obvious explanation is that Turks found it necessary, or at least advisable, to learn Persian – it was, after all, the official state language – while Persians saw no reason to bother learning which was, in their eyes, merely the uncivilized tongue of uncivilized nomadic tribesmen. David J. Roxburgh. The Persian Album, 1400–1600: From Dispersal to Collection. Yale University Press, 2005. pg 130: "Persian literature, especially poetry, occupied a central in the process of assimilation of Timurid elite to the Perso-Islamicate courtly culture, and so it is not surprising to find Baysanghur commissioned a new edition of Firdawsi's Shanama."
  9. Manz, Beatrice Forbes (1999). The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge University Press, p.109. ISBN 0-521-63384-2. Limited preview at Google Books. p.109. "In almost all the territories which Temür incorporated into his realm Persian was the primary language of administration and literary culture. Thus the language of the settled 'divan' was Persian."
  10. B.F. Manz, W.M. Thackston, D.J. Roxburgh, L. Golombek, L. Komaroff, R.E. Darley-Doran. "Timurids" Encyclopaedia of Islam Brill Publishers 2007; "During the Timurid period, three languages, Persian, Turkish, and Arabic were in use. The major language of the period was Persian, the native language of the Tajik (Persian) component of society and the language of learning acquired by all literate and/or urban Turks. Persian served as the language of administration, history, belles lettres, and poetry."
  11. Robert Devereux (ed.) "Muhakamat Al-Lughatain (Judgment of Two Languages)" Mir 'Ali Shir Nawāi; Leiden, E.J. Brill 1966: "Nawa'i also employs the curious argument that most Turks also spoke Persian but only a few Persians ever achieved fluency in Turkic. It is difficult to understand why he was impressed by this phenomenon, since the most obvious explanation is that Turks found it necessary, or at least advisable, to learn Persian – it was, after all, the official state language – while Persians saw no reason to bother learning which was, in their eyes, merely the uncivilized tongue of uncivilized nomadic tribesmen.
  12. David J. Roxburgh. The Persian Album, 1400–1600: From Dispersal to Collection. Yale University Press, 2005. pg 130: "Persian literature, especially poetry, occupied a central in the process of assimilation of Timurid elite to the Perso-Islamicate courtly culture, and so it is not surprising to find Baysanghur commissioned a new edition of Firdawsi's Shanama."
  13. Marion Linska, Andrea Handl und Gabriele Rasuly-Paleczek, S. 66
  14. vgl. Baysonqor, Bāysonḡor in Encyclopædia Iranica

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