Tamerlane : Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, Paperback

Tamerlane : Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


A powerful account of the life of Tamerlane the Great (1336-1405), the last master nomadic power, one of history's most extreme tyrants, and the subject of Marlowe's famous play.

Marozzi travelled in the footsteps of the great Mogul Emperor of Samarkland to write this wonderful combination of history and travelogue.

The name of the last great warlord conjures up images of mystery and romance: medieval warfare on desert plains; the clash of swords on snow-clad mountains; the charge of elephants across the steppes of Asia; the legendary opulence and cruelty of the illiterate, chess-playing nemesis of Asia.

He ranks alongside Alexander as one of the world's great conquerors, yet the details of his life are scarcely known in the West.

He was not born to a distinguished family, nor did he find his apprenticeship easy - at one point his mobile army consisted only of himself, his wife, seven companions and four horses - but his dominion grew with astonishing rapidity.

In the last two decades of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth, he blazed through Asia. Cities were razed to the ground, inhabitants tortured without mercy, sometimes enemies were buried alive - more commonly they were decapitated.

On the ruins of Baghdad, Tamerlane had his princes erect a pyramid of 90,000 heads.

During his lifetime he sought to foster a personal myth, exaggerating the difficulties of his youth, laying claim to supernatural powers and a connection to Genghis Khan.

This myth was maintained after his death in legend, folklore, poetry, drama and even opera, nowhere more powerfully than in Marlowe's play - he is now as much a literary construct as a historical figure.

Justin Marozzi follows in his path and evokes his legacy in telling the tale of this fabulously cruel, magnificent and romantic warrior.




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A thoughtful history of Timur The Lame (Tamerlane), his legacy and the efforts of the young nation of Uzbekistan to claim him as a much needed symbol of national unity. Reading this its impossible not to be impressed by the sheer drive and relentlessness of Timur, although its less clear why his troops did not eventually grow sated with conquest as, for example, did Alexander's. The relative paucity of sources does Maruzzi no favours, but it is a topic that would have been worth investigating. If plunder was the troops main motivation, surely some time to enjoy the spoils of war would have been appreciated? Marozzi also makes much of Timur's military brilliance but reading his accounts one is taken more by the tactical ineptness of some of his opponents, or perhaps their sheer folly in resisting him. The Christian kingdom of Georgia, for example, was ravaged 6 times by the marauding Tatars - it might have been wise to make at least a show of a conversion to Islam? Having said that, Marozzi also makes it clear that Timur wore his Islam lightly, and that his jihads against other Muslim rulers or Christians were merely pretexts for conquest, rather than the reason for them. Although happy to be "The Scourge Of God" when the occasion demanded, he was also happy for his troops to carouse drunkenly after battle, and he never took the Haj for example. Marozzi's thesis that Tamerlane was not only a great military leader, but a great statesman is harder to swallow. He may have commissioned some beautiful mosques and other architecture, but the general destruction and mass slaughter that accompanied most of his military victories cannot be explained, as Marozzi attempts, as an unfortunate strategic necessity. Never the less this is a fascinating portrait of one of history's most remarkable figures, and is highly recommended. The contrast between the current desolation of most of Timur's territories, compared to their relative splendor just 7 centuries ago, is particularly stark. Europeans may be startled, as I was, to learn that Timur turned away from laying waste to Eastern Europe on the assumption there was no city worth sacking whereas some of the most impoverished parts of Asia were once highly prized possessions; a reminder, as is the short duration of Timur's empire, of the impermanence of most successful societies