Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day






The Middle Ages

5th - 15th century



The Mongolian Empire and Its Successors



1  Genghis Khan, founder of the
Mongolian empire

The conquests of 1 Genghis Khan and his successors fundamentally changed the structures of Asia and Eastern Europe. The "Mongolian storm" that hit Baghdad in 1258 brought about the end of the old Islamic world. The destructive force of the mounted nomads resulted in the downfall of many cities and kingdoms. The Mongols' religious tolerance enabled them to assimilate into the dominant cultures of the territories they conquered, such as China and Persia. The huge empire founded by Tamerlane in the 14th century saw itself as heir to both the Mongolian and Islamic traditions but rapidly disintegrated after his death.

The Campaigns of Conquest of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan united most of the Mongolian tribes and undertook campaigns of conquest in every cardinal direction. With them came dreadful devastation.


Even before the rise of Genghis Khan, Central Asia had been dominated by Turkish and Mongolian 2 nomadic tribes since the migrations of late antiquity.

Their strength lay in their 3 swift and flexible fighting methods, which included attacks by mounted archers in small, mobile units.

2 Yurts-Mongolian tents-covered with felt,
Persian miniature, 14th century

3  Mounted Mongolian warlord,
painted ceramic tile

4 Genghis Khan's Mongol army storms
a fortress during the invasion of the
northern Chinese province of Tangut,
miniature painting, ca. 1590

6 Meeting of Genghis Khan's sons,
Persian book illustration, 14th с

Between 1133 and 1211, Mongolians of the Qara-Khitai tribal group ruled vast stretches of central Asia, but they were driven back to the east by the Khwarizm-shahs after 1200.

At the end of the 12th century, Temujin, who was descended from the ruling family of a small tribe in the northeast of present-day Mongolia, was able to unite several tribes and assemble a strong army. In 1206, he took the title Genghis Khan ("Universal Ruler") and began his carefully planned campaigns of conquest.

First he subjugated southern Siberia in 1207 and in 1211-1216 conquered 4 northern China.

He made an unsuccessful attempt to advance into central China, but the Uigurs submitted to him in 1209. A careless act by the Khwarizm-shahs presented the opportunity for a long-planned campaign in the west. Between 1219 and 1221 Genghis Khan overran Transoxiana and also wide stretches of the Khwarizm territories. In 1220, he founded his capital, Karakorum, in the north of Mongolia. He then captured northern Persia, Armenia, and Georgia and defeated the Russian princes in 1223.

Genghis Khan waged his campaigns with extreme cruelty and presided over widespread plundering and destruction. He did, however, lay the foundation for an empire supported by caravan trade, establishing a huge network of trading posts and communications points; he also kept the Silk Road free of banditry. The Mongolians also demonstrated a pragmatic tolerance of different religions. The subjugated empires were absorbed into a "friendship union" and required to pay tribute, from which considerable Mongolian state rserves were accumulated.

Genghis Khan 5 died in 1227, after which the empire was divided among his 6 four sons.

5 Genghis Khan's mausoleum, inner Mongolia


The Spread of Mongolian Rule

The empire may have been divided among the sons of Genghis Khan, but it was the third generation that proved its military power through the conquest of wide stretches of Asia and Eastern Europe.


Genghis Khan's son 7 Ogodei, who succeeded him as the "great khan," decided in a war council in 1236 to conquer Russia, Poland, and Hungary and from there to move into the rest of Europe.

His nephew Batu Khan subjugated most of Western Russia between 1236 and 1242. In 1240, he stormed Kiev and advanced almost to the Baltic Sea.

In 1240-1241, his troops devastated Poland and Hungary and annihilated an army of German and Polish knights at 8 Liegnitz, in Silesia, in early 1241.

Europe appeared to lie open to the Mongolians when, in December 1241, Ogodei died and Batu Khan turned his army back east to settle the succession. In 1251, Mangu Khan, another grandson of Genghis Khan, became great khan in Karakorum and began the systematic construction of a great empire.

In the meantime, his cousin 9 Batu and his successors made themselves largely independent and founded the khanates of the Golden and Blue Hordes in Muscovy and Eastern Europe.

However, they lost territory in battles against the Russian grand dukes in the 14th century, and in 1502 the states were destroyed. Mangu Khan, whose cultured court was characterized by religious tolerance, respectfully received a papal legation headed by Willem van Ruysbroeck in 1253.

7 Great khan Ogodei

8 Battle of Liegnitz, April 9, 1241

9 Batu Khan on his throne,
Persian book illustration, 14th century

He charged his younger brother 10 Kublai Khan, who in 1260 inherited the title of great khan, with new conquests to the East and South; Kublai Khan then invaded 12 China and founded the Yuan dynasty, which survived until 1368.

Htilegu Khan conquered Persia and led the Mongolian sacking of Baghdad that ended the caliphate and the old Islamic order in 1258. After disposing of the small principalities in the Middle East, he was finally halted by the Egyptian Mamelukes. Htilegu Khan founded the Il-khan dynasty, which ruled over Iran, Iraq, Syria, East Anatolia, and the Caucasus from the royal palace in Tabriz.

The dynasty converted to 11 Islam during the reign of Khan Ghazan in 1300.

In 1335, the Mongolian Empire disintegrated into a series of minor principalities. Though it only existed for 150 years, the Mongolian empire affected peoples and states across the known world, from China to Eastern Europe.

10 Great khan Kublai Khan

12 Occupation of fortresses strung along
the Yangtse River in 1275 during
Kublai Khan's invasion of China,
from an Indian miniature, ca. 1590

11 Niche in the Friday mosque
in Yazd, Iran, built in 1325-34



Ogodei, also spelled Ogadai, Ogdai, or Ugedei (born 1185, Mongolia—died 1241, Karakorum, Mongolia), son and successor of the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan (d. 1227), who greatly expanded the Mongol Empire.

The third son of Genghis, Ögödei succeeded his father in 1229. He was the first ruler of the Mongols to call himself khagan (“great khan”); his father used only the title khan. He made his headquarters on the Orhon River in central Mongolia, where he built the capital city of Karakorum on the site laid out by his father. Like his father, he carried out several simultaneous campaigns, using generals in the field who acted independently but who were subject to his orders. The orders were transmitted by a messenger system that covered almost all of Asia.

In the East, Ögödei launched an attack on the Jin (Juchen) dynasty of North China. The Song dynasty in South China wished to regain territory lost to the Jin and therefore allied itself with the Mongols, helping Ögödei take the Jin capital at Kaifeng in 1234.

Ögödei’s Chinese adviser, Yelü Chucai, convinced him to reverse previous Mongol policy. Instead of leveling North China and all its inhabitants in the usual Mongol manner, he preserved the country in order to utilize the wealth and skills of its inhabitants. That decision not only saved Chinese culture in North China but it also gave the Mongols access to the Chinese weapons that later enabled them to conquer the technologically superior Song. Knowledge of governmental techniques gained from the people of North China made it possible for the Mongols to be rulers as well as conquerors of China.

In the western part of his empire, Ögödei sent Mongol armies into Iran, Iraq, and Russia. With the sacking of Kiev in 1240, the Mongols finally crushed Russian resistance. In the next year Mongol forces defeated a joint army of German and Polish troops and then marched through Hungary and reached the Adriatic Sea. Thereafter for more than 200 years Russia remained tributary to the Mongols of the Golden Horde.

Ögödei died during a drinking bout, and his troops called off their intended invasion of western Europe. His widow, Töregene, ruled as regent until 1246 when she handed over the throne to Güyük, her eldest son by Ögödei. Ögödei is described in contemporary sources as a stern, energetic man given to drinking and lasciviousness.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





Batu, (died c. 1255, Russia), grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Khanate of Kipchak, or the Golden Horde.

In 1235 Batu was elected commander in chief of the western part of the Mongol empire and was given responsibility for the invasion of Europe. By 1240 he had conquered all of Russia. In the campaign in central Europe, one Mongol army defeated Henry II, Duke of Silesia (now in Poland), on April 9, 1241; another army led by Batu himself defeated the Hungarians two days later.

With Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and the Danube valley under his control, Batu was poised for the invasion of western Europe when he received news of the death of the head of the Mongol empire, the great khan Ögödei (December 1241). In order to participate in the choice of a successor, Batu withdrew his army, saving Europe from probable devastation. He established the state of the Golden Horde in southern Russia, which was ruled by his successors for the next 200 years. In 1240 Batu’s army sacked and burned Kiev, then the major city in Russia. Under the Golden Horde, the centre of Russian national life gradually moved from Kiev to Moscow.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Golden Horde

Golden Horde, also called Kipchak Khanate, Russian designation for the Ulus Juchi, the western part of the Mongol Empire, which flourished from the mid-13th century to the end of the 14th century. The people of the Golden Horde were a mixture of Turks and Mongols, with the latter generally constituting the aristocracy.

The ill-defined western portion of the empire of Genghis Khan formed the territorial endowment of his oldest son, Juchi. Juchi predeceased his father in 1227, but his son Batu expanded their domain in a series of brilliant campaigns that included the sacking and burning of the city of Kiev in 1240. At its peak the Golden Horde’s territory included most of European Russia from the Urals to the Carpathian Mountains, extending east deep into Siberia. On the south the Horde’s lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the Iranian territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Il-Khans.

Batu founded his capital, Sarai Batu, on the lower stretch of the Volga River. The capital was later moved upstream to Sarai Berke, which at its peak held perhaps 600,000 inhabitants. The Horde was gradually Turkified and Islāmized, especially under their greatest khan, Öz Beg (1313–41). The Turkic tribes concentrated on animal husbandry in the steppes, while their subject peoples, Russians, Mordvinians, Greeks, Georgians, and Armenians, contributed tribute. The Russian princes, particularly those of Muscovy, soon obtained responsibility for collecting the Russian tribute. The Horde carried on an extensive trade with Mediterranean peoples, particularly their allies in Mamlūk Egypt and the Genoese.

The Black Death, which struck in 1346–47, and the murder of Öz Beg’s successor marked the beginning of the Golden Horde’s decline and disintegration. The Russian princes won a signal victory over the Horde general Mamai at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. Mamai’s successor and rival, Tokhtamysh, sacked and burned Moscow in retaliation in 1382 and reestablished the Horde’s dominion over the Russians. Tokhtamysh had his own power broken, however, by his former ally Timur, who invaded the Horde’s territory in 1395, destroyed Sarai Berke, and deported most of the region’s skilled craftsmen to Central Asia, thus depriving the Horde of its technological edge over resurgent Muscovy.

In the 15th century the Horde disintegrated into several smaller khanates, the most important being those of the Crimea, Astrakhan, and Kazan. The last surviving remnant of the Golden Horde was destroyed by the Crimean Khan in 1502.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





Mongke, also spelled Mangu (born 1208, Mongolia—died 1259, Szechwan, China), grandson of Genghis Khan and heir to the great Mongol empire.

Elected great khan in 1251, he was the last man who held this title to base his capital at Karakorum, in central Mongolia. Under his rule the city achieved an unprecedented splendour, and the Mongol Empire continued to expand at a rapid rate. Its territory became so large and diverse that Möngke was the last great khan capable of exerting real authority over all the Mongol conquests.

In the West, Möngke’s armies, led by his brother Hülegü (c. 1217–65), launched an attack on Iran, crushing the last resistance there by the end of 1256. The Mongols then advanced on Iraq, taking the capital at Baghdad in 1258. From there they moved into Syria in 1259, took Damascus and Aleppo, and reached the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

In the East, Möngke’s armies, under the command of his other brother, the famous Kublai (1215–94), outflanked the Chinese in the south and captured the Thai kingdom of Nan-chao, located in present-day Yunnan Province in China. They then brought much of present-day Vietnam under their suzerainty. Meanwhile the main Mongol forces began to advance against China proper. In 1257 Möngke took personal charge of his armies within China. Disease, however, ravaged his ranks, and Möngke died in the field. He was succeeded by his brother Kublai, who completed the conquest of China. A strict man, Möngke tried to preserve the old Mongol way of life. His contemporaries judged him to be a benevolent ruler.

Encyclopaedia Britannica




Kublai Khan

Kublai Khan, Kublai also spelled Khubilai, or Kubla (born 1215—died 1294), Mongolian general and statesman, grandson of Genghis Khan. He conquered China and became the first emperor of its Yüan, or Mongol, dynasty. He was thus at one and the same time the overlord of all the Mongol dominions—which included areas as diverse as that of the Golden Horde in southern Russia, the Il-Khanate of Persia, and the steppe heartlands where Mongol princes were still living the traditional nomadic life—and the ruler of his own realm of China. To govern China, with its long and individual political and cultural history, demanded statecraft of a special order.

Historical background.
The Mongols were a parvenu nomadic power. Before the time of Genghis Khan they had been no more than a group of semibarbaric tribes, more or less unknown to history. They had only primitive cultural traditions, and, except for some organized hunting and the management of their herds, they had little experience of economic activity. Until a few years before Kublai’s birth, they had been illiterate. They had only the most elementary ideas of statecraft.

This political incompetence contributed much to the rapid collapse of their empire. With a few outstanding exceptions, such as Kublai himself (whom the Mongols always called Setsen Khan, the Wise Khan), the rulers of the Mongols seem to have looked upon power as a personal, at most a family, possession, to be exploited for immediate gain. Hence, except in areas where, like China, there was a firm native political tradition, they never succeeded in organizing a durable state. In China, too, everything depended ultimately upon the willpower and ability of the ruler.

The Mongols had come to power in China, as elsewhere, by sheer force of arms; and with this prestige to back him, relying on his dominant personality, and building on the foundations of the brilliant civilization developed by the preceding Sung dynasty, Kublai for a while could maintain the illusion that Mongol supremacy was firmly based. Indeed, his reign must have appeared to be a period of solid expansion and lasting achievement to his contemporaries, including Marco Polo, the Venetian traveller who became Kublai’s agent and whose book is the chief Renaissance source of information on the East.

Yet Kublai Khan was faced at the outset of his reign by an insoluble dilemma, which was given vivid expression in a memorial presented to him by one of his Chinese advisers: “I have heard that one can conquer the empire on horseback, but one cannot govern it on horseback.” In other words, to administer China the inexperienced Mongols would have to adopt Chinese methods, even live according to a Chinese pattern; and, to the extent that they did so, they would be bound to become more and more assimilated and perhaps lose their identity altogether. If, on the other hand, they worked through Chinese and other agents they would become alienated from the mass of the population, which would reject them. In either case, the Mongols, culturally and numerically inferior and used to a different pattern of life, could not continue for long to rule China as a distinct and privileged caste; and only the brilliance of Kublai’s personal achievement obscured this truth.

Rise to power.
Kublai Khan was the fourth son of Tolui, the youngest of Genghis’ four sons by his favourite wife. He began to play an important part in the extension and consolidation of the Mongol empire only in 1251, when he was in his middle 30s. His brother, the emperor Möngke, resolved to complete the conquest of Sung China, which had been planned by Genghis’ third son, Ögödei, and also to subdue Persia—a task allotted to Kublai’s brother Hülegü. Kublai was invested with full civil and military responsibility for the affairs of China. He appears never to have learned to read or write Chinese, but already he had recognized the superiority of Chinese thought and had gathered around himself a group of trustworthy Confucian advisers.

His attitude toward government was formed under the influence of these learned Chinese, who convinced him of the necessary interdependence of ruler and ruled and reinforced his innate tendency toward humanity and magnanimity. At home, in the fief allotted to him in the Wei River Valley (in modern Shensi Province), he established a competent administration and a supply base. In the field, he stressed to his generals the precepts of his mentors—the importance and effectiveness of clemency toward the conquered. This was a great advance in civilized behaviour compared to the methods of Genghis Khan and those of Kublai’s contemporaries in Central Asia, where the massacre of the population was still the expected sequel to the capture of a city.

Kublai took Sung China in the flank, subjugating the Tai kingdom of Nanchao in present-day Yunnan before handing over command to his general Uriyangqadai. In 1257 Möngke assumed personal charge of the war, but he died in 1259. When Kublai, who with another army was besieging a city, heard that his brother, Arigböge, who had been left in charge of the homeland because he was the youngest, was planning to have himself elected khan, he patched up a truce with Sung. In April 1260 he arrived at his residence of K’ai-p’ing, or Shang-tu (the Xanadu of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem), in southeastern Mongolia. Here his associates held a kuriltai, or “great assembly,” and on May 5 Kublai was unanimously elected khan in succession to Möngke.

Ten days later he announced his succession in a proclamation drawn up in Classical Chinese. Because primogeniture was not a recognized principle at the time, Arigböge, with some very powerful supporters, held a kuriltai at Karakorum and had himself declared khan, ignoring Kublai’s action. In spite of Marco Polo’s insistence that Kublai was the lineal and legitimate descendant of Genghis Khan and the rightful sovereign, there have always been doubts about this legitimacy. A legend recorded in Mongol chronicles to the effect that the dying Genghis designated the child Kublai as a future khan seems to have been contrived so as to provide retrospective justification of an act of usurpation.

In 1264 Kublai defeated Arigböge in battle and forced him to submit. He died two years later. But the family feud, of which this was one manifestation, continued throughout Kublai’s reign. Against him were ranged those who resented the abandonment of the old ways of the steppe and the adoption of an alien, China-centred culture. The split was all the deeper because the leader of the opposition was Kaidu, who, as a grandson of Ögödei, who had been designated personally by Genghis as his successor, represented the cause of legitimacy. The throne had passed from the line of Ögödei to that of his brother Tolui in 1250 as a result of a coup d’etat. Kaidu never relaxed his hostility toward Kublai and remained master of Mongolia proper and Turkistan until his death in 1301.

The war with Kaidu showed how decisively Kublai had identified himself with the Chinese world and turned against the world of the nomads. Genghis had been strong and ruthless enough to compel the Mongols, always inclined to family feuds, to serve his cause; but Kublai, powerful though he was, could no longer control the steppe aristocracy effectively.

Unification of China.
Kublai’s achievement was to reestablish the unity of China, which had been divided since the end of the T’ang dynasty. This achievement was that much greater because he was a barbarian, nomadic conqueror. Even in Chinese official historiography the Mongol Kublai is treated with respect. As early as 1260 he instituted a reign period, in the Chinese manner, to date his reign; and in 1271, eight years before the disintegration of the Sung, he proclaimed his own dynasty under the title of Ta Yüan, or Great Origin. He never resided at Karakorum, Ögödei’s short-lived capital in northern Mongolia, but set up his own capital at what is now Peking, a city known in his time as Ta-tu, the Great Capital.

The final conquest of Sung China took several years. Kublai might well have been content to rule the North and to leave the Sung dynasty nominally in control of South China, but the detention and ill treatment of envoys he had sent convinced him that the declining regime in the south must be dealt with decisively. Military operations opened once again in 1267. The Sung emperor was apparently badly served by his last ministers, who are said to have kept him misinformed of the true situation, whereas many Sung commanders went over voluntarily to the Mongols. In 1276 Kublai’s general Bayan captured the child emperor of the day, but loyalists in the south delayed the inevitable end until 1279.

With all China in Mongol hands, the Mongol conquests in the south and east had reached their effective limit; but Kublai, seeking to restore China’s prestige, engaged in a series of costly and troublesome wars that brought little return. At various times tribute was demanded of the peripheral kingdoms: from Burma, from Annam and Champa in Indochina, from Java, and from Japan. The Mongol armies suffered some disastrous defeats in these campaigns. In particular, invasion fleets sent to Japan in 1274 and 1281 were virtually annihilated, though their loss was due as much to storms as to Japanese resistance.

Kublai was never entirely discouraged by the indifferent results of these colonial wars nor by their expense, and they were brought to an end only under his successor. Marco Polo suggests that Kublai wished to annex Japan simply because he was excited by reports of its great wealth. It seems, however, that his colonial wars were fought mainly with a political objective—to establish China once more as the centre of the world.

Social and administrative policy.
By themselves the Mongols were incapable of ruling China, and, though at the lower levels they made use of Chinese civil servants, posts of importance were allotted to foreigners. Of these Marco Polo is a familiar example. Kublai instituted a “nationalities policy” under which the population of China was divided into four categories. At the top were the Mongols, forming a privileged, military caste of a few hundred thousand, exempt from taxation, and living at the expense of the Chinese peasantry who worked the great estates allocated for their upkeep.

The foreign auxiliaries of the Mongols, natives for the most part of Central Asia, formed the second group, the se-mu jen, or persons with special status. This class furnished the higher officialdom, and its members, with their worldwide contacts and their privileged status, also formed a new breed of merchants and speculators. Like the Mongols, they were exempt from taxation and enjoyed preferential use of the official postroads and services.

The bulk of the population belonged to the third and fourth classes, the han-jen, or northern Chinese, and the man-tzu, or southern barbarians, who lived in what had been Sung China. The expenses of state and the support of the privileged bore heavily on these two classes, with Kublai’s continuing wars and his extravagant building operations at Ta-tu. Peasants were brought in as labourers, to the neglect of their farms. Food supplies in the north were inadequate for the new labour force and the unproductive Mongols, and large quantities had to be brought by sea and, when the sea routes proved insecure, along the Grand Canal. The repair and extension of this canal also demanded much labour.

Kublai, in common with other Mongol rulers, was much preoccupied with religion. His reign was a time of toleration for rival religions and of economic privilege for the favoured religions. Clerics and their communities were exempted from taxation, and Buddhist temples especially were granted generous donations of land and of peasants for their upkeep. The arrogance of the many Tibetan lamas who enjoyed a special status in China was particularly detested.

Such a discriminatory social policy was eventually bound to arouse strong resentment. Moreover, it was only on the surface that Kublai’s China, with its intense commercial activity, was economically strong and wealthy. Trade was mainly carried on in the interests of a privileged, foreign merchant class, not those of the community at large. The common people of China were becoming progressively poorer. The old examination system, which admitted to the civil service only men with a proper knowledge of Confucian philosophy, had lapsed, and customary restraints upon absolutism and arbitrary rule, such as would have been imposed by the censorate (a body that scrutinized the conduct of officials) and a professional public service, were lacking.

The Chinese literati were excluded from public office and responsibility. As a result, adventurers could attain high positions, and even an emperor of Kublai’s unique ability remained for years on end in ignorance of, and unable to check, the depredations of his dishonest foreign financial advisers. The extravagant policies that Kublai had countenanced and the financial ineptitude of later Mongol emperors, provoked, in the 14th century, the economically motivated uprisings that brought the dynasty down.

Kublai is celebrated, mainly because of Marco Polo’s account, for his use of paper money. Paper money had, however, been in use in China under the Sung, and Kublai’s innovation was merely to make it the sole medium of exchange. Toward the end of the dynasty, an incapable financial administration stimulated inflation by the overissue of paper money, but in Kublai’s time the use of banknotes was essential. The supply of copper was too small to form a metal currency in a period of expanding trade, and in any case large quantities were diverted to the temples to be made into statues and other cult objects.

Though celebrated above all as a Chinese emperor, Kublai also helped to form the political traditions of his own Mongol people. To him and to his adviser, the Tibetan grand lama ’Phags-pa, is attributed the development of the political theory known as the “dual principle”—that is, the parity of power and dignity of church and state in political affairs. This theory was turned to practical account on more than one occasion in the subsequent history of Mongolia and, for example, underlay the constitution of the theocratic monarchy proclaimed in 1911, when Mongolia recovered its independence from China.

Kublai’s character is difficult to assess. The only personal account of him is by Marco Polo, and this is more of a panegyric than a sober appraisal. Marco presents Kublai as the ideal of a universal sovereign. Yet he does not overlook his human weaknesses, above all, an indulgence in feasting and hunting, a complicated and expensive sexual life, a failure to exercise proper supervision over his subordinates, and occasional outbursts of cruelty.

Kublai’s career is interesting above all because of the way in which he interpreted—and finally failed to reconcile—his dual roles. As it turned out, he became a Chinese emperor of traditional type. China absorbed his interests and energies to the exclusion of the Mongol homeland, and for years he was actually engaged in civil war with rival Mongol princes of the steppes. Under him, China, and of course the privileged Mongols, enjoyed a brilliant spell of prosperity, but his politics, pursued with less skill by his successors, isolated the Mongols in China from their environment. With the collapse of the dynasty, the Mongols withdrew to the steppes and never again played any role of more than local importance.

Charles R. Bawden

Encyclopaedia Britannica



Baghdad before the Mongolian Attack on February 10, 1258:

"Together with them [two high officials and the army leader of Baghdad], the Baghdad army decided to withdraw, and much of the population hoped in this way to be saved.

However, they were divided up between the thousand-, hundred-, and ten-man units of the Mongolian army and were killed. Those who remained in the city dispersed and hid themselves beneath the Earth and underneath the baths."

Rashid ad-Din's Book of The Tribes

The conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols led by Hiilegu in 1 258, Persian miniature





The Empire of Tamerlane

After 1370, the conqueror Tamerlane united Islamic and Mongolian traditions in his vast Asian empire. He brought scholars and artists to his capital, Samarkand, making it a center of culture.


In the 14th century, an aggressive expanding empire, combining Mongolian and Islamic characteristics once again emerged in Central Asia. The Jagatai khanate, the descendants of the second son of Genghis Khan, ruled in Central Asia, but its dominion had split into various tribal groupings during the 14th century. In the context of this political turmoil, a Turkic prince known as Tamerlane was able emerge as a powerful leader.

Tamerlane seized power in Samarkand in 1366, and in April 1370 united the majority of the khanates of 5 Transoxiana under his leadership.

1 Tamerlane, artist's reconstruction
based on contemporary descriptions

5 Hiob's well in Bukhara, one of the most important cities in Transoxiana
(present-day Uzbekistan) built in the 14th century

In 1370 he occupied the Mongolian vassal Khwarizm, and in 1379 plundered the rebellious Konya Urgench. By 1381 he had conquered most of Afghanistan. He either integrated local rulers into his "union of friendship" or climinated them.

Tamerlane captured 2 Isfahan in 1387 and seized Shiraz from the Muzaffarids in 1393.

By 1391 he had made a fugitive of his most dangerous rival, Tokhtamysh, the khan of the Golden Horde, who had carved out an empire in western Russia and the Caucasus; The conquest yielded enormous treasures that were hauled back to his royal residence in Samarkand. In 1393, Tamerlane occupied Iraq and the of Baghdad, crushing the local warlords ruling there. In 1394, he besieged Damascus, and then plundered it in 1401.

In July 1402, Tamerlane annihilated the 3 Ottomans in Anatolia and took Sultan Bayezid I, who had refused the offer of an alliance, prisoner.

The restless general, who ruled his world empire 4 from his saddle, had already waged a military campaign against India in 1398-1399, in the course of which he occupied Lahore and Delhi and had 100,000 Indian prisoners executed.

2 Conquest of the city of Isfahan
by Tamerlane, 1387

3 After defeating Ottoman armies
in Anatolia, Tamerlane takes the
Sultan Bayezid I prisoner, holding
him in a golden cage,
lithograph, 18th с

4 Tamerlane on horseback, atop a mound of skulls

Tamerlane tended to treat cities and rulers relatively mildly if they surrendered to him, but showed no mercy to those who resisted. The fate of those who rebelled was even worse, as with the cities of Isfahan and Baghdad when they revolted in 1387 and 1401; Tamerlane had 10,000 inhabitants killed and their heads piled up in pyramids outside the city walls.

Aside from his conquests Tamerlane, who ruled over one of the largest empires in history, also gathered around him scholars, poets, and court painters. Many of these came from from the occupied territories, carried off to Samarkand where they made the capital the "center of the world" and the "threshold of Paradise," building magnificent mosques and madrassas. Tamerlane was a strict Sunni, but also sought to preserve the pre-lslamic Mongolian nomad traditions. In the autumn of 1404, he set off to the north with an enormous army to conquer China, but died in Utrar on February 19,1405.


Timurid Dynasty

Timurid Dynasty, (fl. 15th–16th century ad), Turkic dynasty descended from the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), renowned for its brilliant revival of artistic and intellectual life in Iran and Central Asia.

After Timur’s death (1405), his conquests were divided between two of his sons: Mīrānshāh (d. 1407) received Iraq, Azerbaijan, Moghān, Shīrvān, and Georgia, while Shāh Rokh was left with Khorāsān.

Between 1406 and 1417 Shāh Rokh extended his holdings to include those of Mīrānshāh as well as Māzanderān, Seistān, Transoxania, Fars, and Kermān, thus reuniting Timur’s empire, except for Syria and Khuzistan. Shāh Rokh also retained a nominal suzerainty over China and India. During Shāh Rokh’s reign (1405–47), economic prosperity was restored and much of the damage wrought by Timur’s campaigns was repaired. Trading and artistic communities were brought into the capital city of Herāt, where a library was founded, and the capital became the centre of a renewed and artistically brilliant Persian culture.

In the realm of architecture, the Timurids drew on and developed many Seljuq traditions. Turquoise and blue tiles forming intricate linear and geometric patterns decorated the facades of buildings. Sometimes the interior was decorated similarly, with painting and stucco relief further enriching the effect. The Gūr-e Amīr, Timur’s mausoleum in Samarkand, is the most notable example. The tiled dome, rising above a polygonal chamber, is fluted and slightly bulbous. Of the Ak-Saray, Timur’s palace built between 1390 and 1405 at Kesh, only the monumental gates remain, again with coloured-tile decoration.

The schools of miniature painting at Shīrāz, Tabriz, and Herāt flourished under the Timurids. Among the artists gathered at Herāt was Behzād (d. c. 1525), whose dramatic, intense style was unequaled in Persian manuscript illustration. The Baysunqur workshops practiced leatherwork, bookbinding, calligraphy, and wood and jade carving. In metalwork, however, Timurid artistry never equaled that of earlier Iraqi schools.

Internal rivalry eroded Timurid solidarity soon after Shāh Rokh’s death. The years 1449–69 were marked by a constant struggle between the Timurid Abū Saʿīd and the Uzbek confederations of the Kara Koyunlu (“Black Sheep”) and Ak Koyunlu (“White Sheep”). When Abū Saʿīd was killed in 1469, the Ak Koyunlu ruled unopposed in the west, while the Timurids receded to Khorāsān. Nevertheless the arts, particularly literature, historiography, and miniature painting, continued to flourish; the court of the last great Timurid, Ḥusayn Bayqarah (1478–1506) supported such luminaries as the poet Jāmī, the painters Behzād and Shāh Muẓaffar, and the historians Mīrkhwānd and Khwāndamīr. The vizier himself, Mīr ʿAlī Shīr, established Chagatai Turkish literature and fostered a revival in Persian.

Although the last Timurid of Herāt, Badīʿ az-Zamān, finally fell to the armies of the Uzbek Muḥammad Shaybānī in 1506, the Timurid ruler of Fergana, Ẓahīr-ud-Dīn Bābur, survived the collapse of the dynasty and established the line of Mughal emperors in India in 1526.

Encyclopaedia Britannica





Timur, also spelled Timour, byname Timur Lenk or Timurlenk (Turkish: “Timur the Lame”), English Tamerlane or Tamburlaine (born 1336, Kesh, near Samarkand, Transoxania [now in Uzbekistan]—died Feb. 19, 1405, Otrar, near Chimkent [now Shymkent, Kazakhstan]), Turkic conqueror, chiefly remembered for the barbarity of his conquests from India and Russia to the Mediterranean Sea and for the cultural achievements of his dynasty.

Timur was a member of the Turkicized Barlas tribe, a Mongol subgroup that had settled in Transoxania (now roughly corresponding to Uzbekistan) after taking part in Genghis Khan’s son Chagatai’s campaigns in that region. Timur thus grew up in what was known as the Chagatai khanate. After the death in 1357 of Transoxania’s current ruler, Amir Kazgan, Timur declared his fealty to the khan of nearby Kashgar, Tughluq Temür, who had overrun Transoxania’s chief city, Samarkand, in 1361. Tughluq Temür appointed his son Ilyas Khoja as governor of Transoxania, with Timur as his minister. But shortly afterward Timur fled and rejoined his brother-in-law Amir Husayn, the grandson of Amir Kazgan. They defeated Ilyas Khoja (1364) and set out to conquer Transoxania, achieving firm possession of the region around 1366. About 1370 Timur turned against Husayn, besieged him in Balkh, and, after Husayn’s assassination, proclaimed himself at Samarkand sovereign of the Chagatai line of khans and restorer of the Mongol empire.

For the next 10 years Timur fought against the khans of Jatah (eastern Turkistan) and Khwārezm, finally occupying Kashgar in 1380. He gave armed support to Tokhtamysh, who was the Mongol khan of the Crimea and a refugee at his court, against the Russians (who had risen against the khan of the Golden Horde, Mamai); and his troops occupied Moscow and defeated the Lithuanians near Poltava.

In 1383 Timur began his conquests in Persia with the capture of Herāt. The Persian political and economic situation was extremely precarious. The signs of recovery visible under the later Mongol rulers known as the Il-Khanid dynasty had been followed by a setback after the death of the last Il-Khanid, Abu Said (1335). The vacuum of power was filled by rival dynasties, torn by internal dissensions and unable to put up joint or effective resistance. Khorāsān and all eastern Persia fell to him in 1383–85; Fars, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Georgia all fell between 1386 and 1394. In the intervals, he was engaged with Tokhtamysh, then khan of the Golden Horde, whose forces invaded Azerbaijan in 1385 and Transoxania in 1388, defeating Timur’s generals. In 1391 Timur pursued Tokhtamysh into the Russian steppes and defeated and dethroned him; but Tokhtamysh raised a new army and invaded the Caucasus in 1395. After his final defeat on the Kur River, Tokhtamysh gave up the struggle; Timur occupied Moscow for a year. The revolts that broke out all over Persia while Timur was away on these campaigns were repressed with ruthless vigour; whole cities were destroyed, their populations massacred, and towers built of their skulls.

In 1398 Timur invaded India on the pretext that the Muslim sultans of Delhi were showing excessive tolerance to their Hindu subjects. He crossed the Indus River on September 24 and, leaving a trail of carnage, marched on Delhi. The army of the Delhi sultan Mahmud Tughluq was destroyed at Panipat on December 17, and Delhi was reduced to a mass of ruins, from which it took more than a century to emerge. By April 1399 Timur was back in his own capital. An immense quantity of spoil was conveyed away; according to Ruy González de Clavijo, 90 captured elephants were employed to carry stones from quarries to erect a mosque at Samarkand.

Timur set out before the end of 1399 on his last great expedition, in order to punish the Mamlūk sultan of Egypt and the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I for their seizures of certain of his territories. After restoring his control over Azerbaijan, he marched on Syria; Aleppo was stormed and sacked, the Mamlūk army defeated, and Damascus occupied (1401), the deportation of its artisans to Samarkand being a fatal blow to its prosperity. In 1401 Baghdad was also taken by storm, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred, and all its monuments were destroyed. After wintering in Georgia, Timur invaded Anatolia, destroyed Bayezid’s army near Ankara (July 20, 1402; see Battle of Ankara), and captured Smyrna from the Knights of Rhodes. Having received offers of submission from the sultan of Egypt and from John VII (then coemperor of the Byzantine Empire with Manuel II Palaeologus), Timur returned to Samarkand (1404) and prepared for an expedition to China. He set out at the end of December, fell ill at Otrar on the Syr Darya west of Chimkent, and died in February 1405. His body was embalmed, laid in an ebony coffin, and sent to Samarkand, where it was buried in the sumptuous tomb called Gūr-e Amīr. Before his death he had divided his territories among his two surviving sons and his grandsons, and, after years of internecine struggles, the lands were reunited by his youngest son, Shāh Rokh.

Timur began his rise as leader of a small nomad band and by guile and force of arms established dominion over the lands between the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers (Transoxania) by the 1360s. He then, for three decades, led his mounted archers to subdue each state from Mongolia to the Mediterranean. He was the last of the mighty conquerors of Central Asia to achieve such military successes as leader of the nomad warrior lords, ruling both agricultural and pastoral peoples on an imperial scale. The poverty, bloodshed, and desolation caused by his campaigns gave rise to many legends, which in turn inspired such works as Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great.

The name Timur Lenk signified Timur the Lame, a title of contempt used by his Persian enemies, which became Tamburlaine, or Tamerlane, in Europe. Timur was heir to a political, economic, and cultural heritage rooted in the pastoral peoples and nomad traditions of Central Asia. He and his compatriots cultivated the military arts and discipline of Genghis Khan and, as mounted archers and swordsmen, scorned the settled peasants. Timur never took up a permanent abode. He personally led his almost constantly campaigning forces, enduring extremes of desert heat and lacerating cold. When not campaigning he moved with his army according to season and grazing facilities. His court traveled with him, including his household of one or more of his nine wives and concubines. He strove to make his capital, Samarkand, the most splendid city in Asia, but when he visited it he stayed only a few days and then moved back to the pavilions of his encampment in the plains beyond the city.

Timur was, above all, master of the military techniques developed by Genghis Khan, using every weapon in the 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 the enemy by his agents before an engagement. He conducted sophisticated negotiations with both neighbouring and distant powers, which are recorded in diplomatic archives from England to China. In battle, the nomadic tactics of mobility and surprise were his major weapons of attack.

Timur’s most lasting memorials are the Timurid architectural monuments of Samarkand, covered in azure, turquoise, gold, and alabaster mosaics; these are dominated by the great cathedral mosque, ruined by an earthquake but still soaring to an immense fragment of dome. His mausoleum, the Gūr-e Amīr, is one of the gems of Islamic art. Within the sepulchre he lies under a huge, broken slab of jade. The tomb was opened in 1941, having remained intact for half a millennium. The Soviet Archaeological Commission found the skeleton of a man who, though lame in both right limbs, must have been of powerful physique and above-average height.

Timur’s sons and grandsons fought over the succession when the Chinese expedition disbanded, but his dynasty (see Timurid dynasty) survived in Central Asia for a century in spite of fratricidal strife. Samarkand became a centre of scholarship and science. It was here that Ulūgh Beg, his grandson, set up an observatory and drew up the astronomical tables that were later used by the English royal astronomer in the 17th century. During the Timurid renaissance of the 15th century, Herāt, southeast of Samarkand, became the home of the brilliant school of Persian miniaturists. At the beginning of the 16th 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.

Encyclopaedia Britannica



The Rule of the Timurids

The empire that Tamerlane founded was divided up among his successors, but these new kingdoms continued to influence Central Asia well into the 16th century.


Tamerlane's heirs, the Timurids, divided the empire among themselves as dictated by Mongolian tradition after Tamerlane's chosen successor—his grandson Pir Muhammad, governor of Kandahar—was murdered in 1407. In the course of time, Tamerlane's youngest son, Shah Rokh, who had reigned in Herat since 1405, established himself as the most important of the heirs and head of the clan. He gained control of Transoxiana and Persia, and most of the rulers of the Uzbeks and the Golden Horde submitted. Iraq, however, was lost to local dynasties. Shah Rokh, a notable patron of the arts and sciences, was one of the more peaceful and cultivated Timurids.

His son,7 Ulugh Beg, who had been an autonomous khan in Samarkand since 1409, was one of the most significant scholars of his time.

In 1428-1429, he had an observatory with telescopical instruments constructed, from which he made the most exact calculations of the stars possible in the period. The capital, Samarkand, which had been founded by his grandfather Tamerlane, continued to shine under his reign.

The rulers were also buried 8, 9 here in a magnificent necropolis.

9 The necropolis, Shah-i Zinda, outside Samarkand,
painting by W. W. Werestschagin, ca. 1870

8 Ceramic tombstone from a mausoleum
in Shah-i Zinda, Samarkand

7 Ulugh Beg Madrasa in Samarkand, built between 1417-20,
painting by W. W. Werestschagin, ca. 1870



Ulugh Beg

Ulūgh Beg, (born 1394, Solṭānīyeh, Timurid Iran—died Oct. 27, 1449, Samarkand, Timurid empire [now in Uzbekistan]), grandson of the Asian conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) and one whose primary interest was in the arts and intellectual matters. Under his brief rule the Timurid dynasty of Iran reached its cultural peak.

His father, Shāh Rokh, captured the city of Samarkand and gave it to Ulūgh Beg, who made it a centre of Muslim culture. There he wrote poetry and history and studied the Qurʾān. His greatest interest was astronomy, and he built an observatory (begun in 1428) at Samarkand. In his observations he discovered a number of errors in the computations of the 2nd-century Alexandrian astronomer Ptolemy, whose figures were still being used.

Ulūgh Beg was a failure in more mundane affairs. On his father’s death in 1447 he was unable to consolidate his power, though he was Shāh Rokh’s sole surviving son. Other Timurid princes profited from his lack of action, and he was put to death at the instigation of his son, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf.


In 1447, he waged war against his own son Abd al-Latif over the succession to the empire of Shah Rokh. The conflict ended with the murder of Ulugh Beg in 1449 and Abd al-Latif a year later.

Abu Said, a great-grandson of Tamerlane, emerged victorious from the ensuing turmoil to rule over Transoxiana. In 1469, he was taken captive and executed by Turkic tribesmen of the Aq-Qoyunlu, the "White Sheep Turks," who advanced out of Persia. His son, Sultan Ahmad, held on to the Samarkand area, but was constantly under pressure from the Uzbek Shaibanids. Ahmad's nephew was Babur, the first great Mogul of India.

The last Timurid still ruled from Herat over a part of 10 Afghanistan, but died in 1506 during a campaign against the Shaibanids, after they attacked the city.

The last rulers descended from Tamerlane are remembered more for their 6 patronage of the arts than for their conquests.

10 The Blue Mosque in Mazar i-Sharif, Afghanistan,
built ca. 1480

6 Timuridian miniature painting
from Herat, Afghanistan, ca. 1488


The Gur-e Amir Mausoleum

Tamerlane and his successors were buried in the magnificent mausoleum Gur-e Ami, in Samarkand.
In 1941, Russian scientists under the direction of anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov investigated the remains,
and Gerasimov reconstructed the facial characteristics of Tamerlane and his sons, Miranshah and Shah Rokh.

An examination of Tamerlane's skeleton showed deformities on the right elbow and the right hip;
the right kneecap had also grown together with the thigh. He was practically a hemiplegic.

The ruins of the Gur-e Amir mausoleum,
painting by W. W. Werestschagin, ca. 1870