Tamerlane the Merciless

Tamerlane, who is known in Uzbekistan as Amir Timur, or Timur the Great, but Tamerlane was from the epithet of Timur the Lame.  He was one of history’s greatest and cruelest conquerors. His Turkish and Mongol army is said to have killed 17 million men, women and children in his 14th-century rampage across Asia from the Black Sea to Delhi.

He was born April 8th 1336 in Balkh, now Afghanistan, then one the principal stops along the Silk Road that traversed from India passed through Peshawar to Taxila Pakistan and then went through the Khyber Pass to Bamiyan and across the Hindu Kush to Balkh.   From Balkh, the Great Central highway led east along the Wakhan Corridor and through the Pamirs to China, or north to Termez and onward to Central Asia to Bamiyan, itself some 2,500 m above sea level, the approximate halfway point of an arduous journey across the country.

After Akcha, the colour of the landscape changed from lead to aluminium, pallid and deathly, as if the sun had been sucking away its gaiety for thousands and thousands of years; for this now was the plain of Balkh, and Balkh they say is the oldest city in the world¹….and “Home of the Aryan Race”².   (Robert Byron)

This is the route that Alexander the Great travelled in June 329 BC where at Balkh he met the beautiful Roxana, daughter of Sogdian ruler Oxyartes.  Balkh then was the capital of the kingdom of Bactria and was called by the Greeks “the lands of a thousands cities. ”  Gold, silver and rubies were mined in the hills of Badakshan and lapis lazuli the beautiful blue gemstone, was found only in its midst.

khyber pass
The Khyber Pass today 

Everything then seemed to flow from Balkh — south to Herat and Persia; north to Termez and Iran– northeast to Tashkent — northwest to Bukhara land of the famous carpets and due east to through the Khyber Pass (Pakistan).  So steeped in legend and myth, Marco Polo followed the same route through the Khyber to Tibet and China


 And then there was Tamerlane

Histories say he cemented whole populations into towers and starved them — not for capitulation but joy. He assacred as many as 100,000 civilians in a day, bombarded ships with human heads shot from cannons and left pyramids of skulls to mark the cities he destroyed.

A play by Christopher Marlowe c. 1610 reflected and reinforced his image in Europe as a terrifying barbarian wrote ‘‘Threatening the world with high astounding terms/And scourging kingdoms with his conquering sword.”

Now he is safely buried in Samarkand, Uzbekistan along with filled with magnificent mosques, tombs and dazzling ensembles of ceramic tiles that he ordered from the many artisans and architects he conquered. His, naturally enough, is the greatest of all. He is buried beneath a six-foot-long slab of jade that has been cleaned and renovated to attract pilgrims and tourists who get the new whitewashed version of his deeds as a great leader in the mould of Geghis Khan — though of no relation.†

Bibi Khanum Mosque

Another beauty is the Bibi Khanum mosque, according to legend built and eponomously named for Tamerlane’s favorite wife while he was away sacking northern India.  But of course, his is the show stopper.  First it is enormous; Bibi Khanum looks like a piker next to it.  Second it is intricate and colourful.

Suddenly the road entered a grove of giant chimneys, whose black outlines regrouped themselves against the stars as we passed. For a second, I was dumbfounded – expecting anything on earth, but not a factory; until, dwarfed by these vast trunks, appeared the silhouette of a broken dome, curiously ribbed, like a melon. There is only one dome in the world like that, I thought, that anyone knows of: the Tomb of Tamerlane at Samarkand. The chimneys therefore must be minarets. I went to bed like a child on Christmas Eve, scarcely able to wait for the morning.

–Robert Byron, ³

gur emir
Gur Emir, Mosque of Emir Tamerlane — true to color.  All the mosques here on not in tturquoise but lapis lazuli as above.  You can see here the “chimneys” that struck Mr. Byron’s fascination.  In the picture below, they are in the back.

In the 1940’s when the Soviets ruled the area they dug up his grave and autopsied his remains. They discovered that the lameness was because of two arrows in his thigh, and not as had been disparaging suggested from being trampled by stolen cows;  his genetics are Iranian Persian and not Mongolian Chinese.

tamerlane's conquest.png
Tamerlane’s approximate area of Conquest  — from Samarkand to the Black Sea and Bucharest to Egypt and the Nile and then to Delhi and the Tigris.

Local residents and Muslim clergy tried to stop the excavations, but the expedition continued its work despite everything. Tashmuhammed Kari-Niyazov was the leader of the expedition. The expedition also included the writer and historian Sadriddin Aini, the famous orientalist A. Semenov and M. Gerasimov. Also it included a young cinematographer Malik Kayumov who filmed the whole thing. These excavations examined the human remains in the tombs to prove that they belonged to Tamerlane and his closest relatives and discover his genetic heritage. Excavations began on June 16 1941.


First opened was the tombs of Ulugbek’s sons, then the tomb of Timur’s sons who fought with one another — against his dying advice: Miranshah and Shahrukh. On June 18 they discovered the remains of Ulugbek himself, the grandson of Timur, who was better than all the rest and brought some peace to his people along with art and poetry. Finally, on June 19 the heavy gravestone was taken from the Tamerlane’s tomb.

                                    The map of Tamerlane

Tamerlane's NatalChart

Tamerlane based on our rectification is a lipped bowl with a southern bent — meaning that takes from everything outside of himself i.e. all that he conquered, for his own use.  That seems to fit his historical record.  The Moon is conjunct his ascendant suggesting his appetite was large and that he was his own worst enemy:  he told his sons not to follow in his bloody footsteps, but never showed them an alternative though with Venus conjunct Uranus in the fourth he was apprised of one.

Mars in the sixth house conjunct Jupiter shows how war was his “day job” and he relished it.  Jupiter is inconjunct the ascendant it rules  highlighting his appetite for destruction.  It is opposite Saturn creating the Line of Motivation and as no t-square comes of this pairing,  it has no outlet but itself — more destruction, more war, more devestation.

Interesting is the biwheel of Tamerlane and the excavation of his grave.  Notice at the fourth house where Uranus and Mercury are interrupted by transitting Mars and then the North Node of Tamerlane’s chart meets the South Node of his transit — because of his reputation they were there to “dig” (Neptune opposing in the earth sign of Virgo) and see for themselves.  The Moon in Gemini, the travelled for his ghastly mission, is opposite his Ascendant — was he truly the descendant of the Great builder Khan?  The tenth is empty but for the transiting part of fortune — 10 Virgo “a round stone hidden in another” gives us the answer — nothing is what it seems.

Tamerlane Biwheel.png

An essay from the New Yorker, Baghdad and Tamerlane.


  1. Byron, Robert  Road to Oxiana, c 1937, Picador Travel Classics, pg 326.  Byron died in WWII hostilities in 1941.
  2. ibid. 237.
  3. ibid. 105
  4. Tucker, Jonathan, The Silk Road:  Art and History, London:  I. B. Taurus & Co. Ltd., 2015.

Other trivia:

  • The Boston Marathon bombers, Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, are of Afghani heritage born in Dagestan, north of Azerbaijan.  It is about 2000 miles or about  the same as going from New York to San Francisco.
  • Whenever spotting a city “Timur” or “Timor” in the Islamic World i.e. East Timor, the Timor Sea,  the place is named for Tamerlane in his native Arabic tongue.
  • Sichaun (Szechaun) pepper is called in Arabic, “timur.”

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