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1401-1405 - Tamerlane

In AD 1393 Timur occupied Baghdad, remaining there a couple of months, and on his departure left orders to his lieutenant, Mirza Abu Bakr, to rebuild the city, which had then fallen for the most part to ruin. In 1401 a Mongol, Tamerlane (Timur-i-leng or Timur the Lame, 1336-1405), who had been atabeg of the reigning prince of Samarkand [in modern Uzbekistan], sacked Baghdad and massacred many of its inhabitants. Tamerlane killed thousands of Iraqis and devastated hundreds of towns. Like Hulagu, Tamerlane had a penchant for building pyramids of skulls. Despite his showy display of Sunni piety, Tamerlane's rule virtually extinguished Islamic scholarship and Islamic arts everywhere except in his capital, Samarkand.

Timur died in 1405, when in the seventieth year of his age and about to invade China. Besides exercising sovereignty over Transoxiana and those vast regions more or less absorbed in Asiatic Russia of the 19th century, and inclusive of the Caucasus, Astrakhan and the lower Volga, and overrunning Mesopotamia, Syria, Asia Minor, Afghanistan and India, he had at this time left his indelible mark upon the chief cities and provinces of Persia. Khorasan and Mazandaran had submitted to him in 1381, Azerbaijan had shortly after followed their example, and Isfahan was seized in 1387. From Isfahan he passed on to Shiraz, and thence returned in triumph to his own capital of Samarkand. Five years later he subdued Mazandaran, and later still he was again at Shiraz, having effected the subjugation of Luristan and other provinces in the west. It may be said that from north to south, or from Astarabad to Hormuz, the whole country had been brought within his dominion.

After the death of Timur, Sultan Ahmad the Jalayr in part recovered possession of his dominions. In Iraq, political chaos, severe economic depression, and social disintegration followed in the wake of the Mongol invasions. Baghdad, long a center of trade, rapidly lost its commercial importance. Basra, which had been a key transit point for seaborne commerce, was circumvented after the Portuguese discovered a shorter route around the Cape of Good Hope. In agriculture, Iraq's once-extensive irrigation system fell into disrepair, creating swamps and marshes at the edge of the delta and dry, uncultivated steppes farther out. The rapid deterioration of settled agriculture led to the growth of tribally based pastoral nomadism. By the end of the Mongol period, the focus of Iraqi history had shifted from the urbanbased Abbasid culture to the tribes of the river valleys, where it would remain until well into the twentieth century.

The third son of Timur, Miran Shah, had ruled over part of Persia in his father's lifetime; but he was said to be insane, and his incapacity for government had caused the loss of Bagdad and revolt in other provinces. His claim to succession had been put aside by Timur in favor of Pir Mahommed, the son of a deceased son, but Khalil Shah, a son of the discarded prince, won the day. His waste of time and treasure upon a fascinating mistress named Shadu '1-Mulk, the "delight of the kingdom," soon brought about his deposition, and in 1408 he gave way to Shah Rukh, who, with the exception of Miran Shah, was the only surviving son of Timur. In fact the uncle and nephew changed places - the one quitting his government of Khorasan to take possession of the Central-Asian throne, the other consenting to become governor of the vacated Persian province and abandon the cares of the empire at Samarkand. In 1409 Khalii Shah died; and the story goes that Shadu '1-Mulk stabbed herself and was buried with her royal lover at Rai, one of the towns which his grandfather had partly destroyed.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:45 ZULU