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The Rise of Tīmūr and Western Diplomatic Response, 1390–1405


Tīmūr (or Tamerlane), the Barlas tribesman whose empire stretched from the Mediterranean to India in the early fifteenth century has been a much studied and much romanticized figure in the history of Central Asia. His displays of macabre and often brutal intimidation of enemies have become almost as legendary as his military prowess. Indeed, Western legend of Tīmūr is as full of spine-tingling grotesquerie as any Gothic novel, and has been embellished far beyond plausibility.

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1 No less a historian than Arnold Toynbee wrote of Tīmūr that “To the vast majority of those to whom his name means anything at all, it commemorates a militarist who perpetrated as many horrors in the span of twentyfour years as the last five Assyrian kings perpetrated in a hundred and twenty…The crack-brained megalomania of [a] homicidal madman whose one idea is to impress the imagination of mankind with a sense of his military power by a hideous abuse of it…” Toynbee A.J., A Study of History, iv (Oxford, 1939), p. 500.

2 de Sacy S., “Mémoire sur une correspondance inédite de Tamerlan avec Charles VI”, Mémoires de l'Institut Royal de France, Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, VI (1822), pp. 470522.

3 Cf. Barker J. W., Manuel II Palaeologus (1391–1425): A Study in late Byzantine Statesmanship (New Brunswick, 1969), pp. 504509.

4 Setton K. M., The Papacy and the Levant (Philadelphia, 19761984), i, p. 376, mentions Tīmūr only briefly. Likewise, Manz B. F., whose recent book on Tīmūr's method of governance [The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane (Cambridge, 1989)] is a seminal work on the topic, and the first scholarly monograph of note on Tīmur by an English-language scholar in over a century, barely mentions his relations with the West.

5 News could have reached the West through several sources. The first might have been through Christian Georgia, which came under attack in 1386/7. Another would have been through Russia itself. The khan of the Golden Horde, Toqtamish, formerly a protégé of Tīmūr, was a skilled diplomat and had made agreements with Poland, Lithuania and Moscow early during his struggles against his former overlord. Cf. Crummey R. O., The Formation of Muscovy 1304–1613 (London and New York, 1987), p. 64. It should be noted that it was to Toqtamish the Venetians first turned for protection of Tana against any possible Tartar incursions. (See below.) On Tīmūr's impact on Christian Russia, cf. Halperin C.J., “The Russian land and the Russian Tsar: the emergence of Muscovite ideology, 1380–1408”, Forschungen zur osteuropaischen Geschichte, XXIII (1976), pp. 4852.

6 Registres des délibérations du sénat de Venise concernant la Romanie, ed. Thiriet F. E. (The Hague, 19581961), no. 860. I would wager that the Venetians were in error as to the identity of Tīmur's foe. The dates of the Venetian reports do not occur in a period of any Tīmūrid-Ottoman conflict [cf. Togan A. Z. V., “Timurs Osteuropapolitik”, Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft, CVIII (1958), pp. 279–98]. Rather, I think it likely that these reports came in response to the sack of Baghdad and the flight of Sultan Ahmad Jalayir in the summer of 1393. It is possible that these reports came through Venetian traders/diplomats in Damascus or Egypt, where the sultan fled.

7 Registres …du sénat, nos. 898, 927, 981; Délibérations des assembliées Vénitiennes concernant la Romanie, ed. Thiriet F. E. (Paris, 1971), no. 933.

8 Looting of Saray is briefly noted by Manz, Rise and Rule, p. 72.

9 Nicopolis, despite its important position in the history of the later crusades, has rarely been the subject of any detailed research. A. S. Atiya wrote the last monograph on the Crusade of which I am aware: The Crusade of Nicopolis (London, 1934; reprinted New York, 1978). Other, shorter studies can be found in Setton, The Papacy and the Levant, i, chap. 14; Housley N., The Later Crusades: from Lyons to Alcazar, 1274–1580 (Oxford, 1992), pp. 76ff; Palmer J. J. N., England, France and Christendom (Chapel Hill, 1972), pp. 202–7; Tipton C. L.The English at Nicopolis“, Speculum, XXXVII (1962), pp. 528–40; Rosetti R., “Notes on the Battle of Nicopolis”, Slavonic Review, XV (1937), pp. 629–8.

10 On Franco-Byzantine relations at this time, cf. Barker , Manuel II Palaeologos, pp. 154–69. Much has been written on Manuel's subsequent journey to the West in search of aid [notably, Ibid.; Nicol D. M., “A Byzantine emperor in England: Manuel II's visit to London in 1400–1401”, University of Birmingham Historical journal, XII (1971), pp. 204–25; Schlumberger G., “Un Empereur de Byzance à Paris et à Londres”, in Byzances et croisades: pages meédiévales (1927), pp. 87147], but this lies somewhat outside the scope of the present article.

11 De Sacy [“Memoire”, p. 514] was of the opinion that Sandron was with the French contingent at Nicopolis and made his way eastward from there, though his evidence is quite sketchy. Two later scholars of Nicopolis [Roulx J. M. A. Delaville le, Le France en Orient au XIVe siecle: expéditions du maréchal Boucicaut (Paris, 1886) and Atiya, Crusade of Nicopolis], make no mention of Sandron as a member of the French contingent.

12 Roemer H. R., “Timur in Iran”, in The Cambridge History of Iran 6: The Timurid and Safavid Periods, eds. Jackson P. and Lockhart L. (Cambridge, 1986), p. 77. On the European community in Damascus, cf. Fischel W.J., “A new Latin source on Tamerlane's conquest of Damascus (1400/1401)”, Oriens, IX (1956), p. 205, n. 3; and de Meneses A. Lopez, “Los consuldados catalanes de Alejandriá y Damasco en el reinado de Pedro el Ceremonioso”, Estudios de la Edad Media de la Corona de Aragon, VI (1956). On these campaigns see, very briefly, Manz , Rise and Rule, p. 73.

13 “Item, narat [sic] suprascriptus quod die xviiij augusti applicuit Peyram una galea armata Ianuensium veniens de Trapesonda cum qua venerunt duo ambaxatores Timerbey, quorum unus vocatur frater Franciscus, ordine praedicatorum…qui venerunt ad imperatorem Romanie et ad illos de Peyra pro hortando eos quod stent in suis terminis quod non faciant pactum cum Turcho quia post collectores bladorum dictus Timerbeg [sic]; debebat ire contra Basaithum Turchum…” Dennis G.T., “Three reports from Crete on the situation in Romania, 1401–1402”, Studi Veneziani, XII (1970), p. 245 [reprinted in his Byzantium and the Franks (London, 1982)]. This visit is confirmed by several entries in the Peran Register of Accounts. Cf. Iorga N., “Notes et extraits pour servir à I'histoire des croisades au XVe siècle, I”, Revue de l'Orient Latin, IV (1896), pp. 81–4.

14 “Post ejus legationis prolatum, elevatum fuit Peirae vexillum magnum ipsius Domini Tamborlani vocati cum honore et multa laetitia.” Stella G., Annales Genuenses ab anno 1298 usque ad finem anni 1409 in Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, ed. Muratori Ludovico (Milan, 1730), xvii, p. 1194d.

15 Alexandrescu-Dersca M.-M., Le campagne de Timur en Anatolie (Bucharest, 1942; reprinted London, 1977), PP. 123–4.

16 On this dating of the battle of Ankara, cf. Ibid., pp. 116–19, who is followed by Roemer , “Timur in Iran”, p. 78.

17De Sacy , “Mémoires”, pp. 473–4, 478–80.

18 “Pro quibus omnibus magnifice Princeps amicitiae vestrae referimus…gratiarum eandem ex corde rogantes de vestra penes nos et nostros concinuanda benivolentia, et ut nostri mercatores ad vestra dominia de beneplacito vestro personaliter accedere valeant prout nobis complacet ut et vestri mercatores ad nostra dominia poterint se conferre.” Henry IV to Tīmūr, (Westminster, c. 1403) in Original Letters Illustrative of English History, including numerous royal letters from autographs in the British Museum, the State Paper Office and one or two other collections, ed. Ellis H., (London, 1846; reprinted London, 1969), 3rd series, i, pp. 54–8.

19 “Intelleximus etiam ex dictarum continentia litterarum qualiter ad partes Thurciae noviter accedentes nostrum vestrumque veterem Inimicum Baazitam scilicet et totam ipsius patriam infra modici temporis spatium suffragante Domino conculcastis. Unde spiritum consolationis et gaudii suscepimus vehementer.” Original Letters, p. 57.

20 De Sacy , “Memoires”, pp. 521–2.

21 “Eo tempore allata sunt nova in Angliam per mercatores Graecos, quod multum lactificaverunt Imperatorem Constantinopolim et amicos ejus. Nunciatum est siquidem regnum suum hostili terrore vacuatum, et quod Rex de Letto, commisso bello contra Bassak, filium Bathardan illustrem, quern <Admiratum> appellant, eundem Bassak in bello peremerit, et destruxerit Ierusalem et in circuitu regionem; et quod idem Rex de Letto conversus sit ad Christianitatis ritum, propter tarn gratiosam victoriam a coelo sibi datam, cum sexaginta millibus hominum sectae suae; qui, in signum suae fidei, jam utuntur albis vestibus supra armaturam suam, insertis crucibus rubri coloris in eisdem vestimentis.” Walsingham Thomas, Annales Ricardi Secundi et Henrici Quarti regum Angliae in Johannis de Trokelowe et Henrici de Blaneford Chronica et Annales, ed. Riley H. T. (Rolls Series, London, 1866), sub anno 1401. Cf. also Walsingham T., Historia, sub anno 1401. The same story is repeated in English by Capgrave John, [The Chronicle of England, ed. Hingeston F. C., (London, 1858), sub anno 1401].

22 On the conversion stories regarding Ghazan, cf. Schein S., “Gesta Dei per Mongolos 1300. The genesis of a non-event”, English Historical Review, XCIV (1979), pp. 805–19. On the use of the conversion motif in other Western chronicles and accounts of the East, cf. my article, Pseudo-conversions and patchwork pedigrees: the Christianization of Muslim princes and the diplomacy of Holy War”, journal of World History (forthcoming).

23 Adam of Usk, Chronicon, ed. Thompson E. M. (London, 1904), sub anno 1402.

24 Chronique du religieux de Saint-Denys, contenant le règne de Charles VI., de 1380 à 1422, ed. Bellaguet L. F. (Paris, 18391852), iii, pp. 46–7.

25 de Monstrelet Enguerrand, La chronique d'Enguerran de Monstrelet (Paris, 18571862), i, p. 85.

26 On the identity of John and his later writings and work, cf. Kern A., “Der ‘Libellus de Notitia Orbis’ Iohannes’ III (De Galonifontibus?) O. P. Erzbischofs von Sultanyeh”, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, VIII (1938), and Papacostea ş., “Un Călător în Tările Române la Începtul Veacului al XV-lea”, Studii, Revistá de Istorie, XVIII (1965).

27 Kern , “Der ‘Libellus…’”, pp. 82–4. He posits either French or Italian.

28 Henry IV to Prester John, 1400, in Royal and Historical Letters during the Reign of Henry the Fourth, King of England and of France, and Lord of Ireland, ed. Hingeston-Randolph F. C. (London, 18601865), i PP. 419–20. Wadding claimed that his actual name was John Greenlaw, cf. Wadding Luke, Annales minorum, seu Trium ordinum a S. Francisco institutorum (Rome/Naples/Ancona, 17311933), ix, p. 248.

29 Kern , “Der ‘Libellus …’”, p. 84, n. 8; that John was in Venice is attested to by two letters written by him in Venice, which are reproduced in a tract by Tomasso Antonio Caffarini written in the first decade of the fifteenth century. He can be placed there in January and February of 1403. As the letters, which were addressed to Cosimo Gentile de Meliorati, the bishop of Bologna, are unrelated in content to the present work, they need no further comment other than that they place John in Venice at that time. Cf. Caffarini Tommasso Antonio, Tractatus super informatione originis, et processus, ac lenariae approbationis et confirmationis Fratrum, et Sonorum Ordinis de Poenitentia Sancti Dominki Fundatoris, et Paris Ordinis Fratrum Praedkatorum in Ecclesiae venetae antiquis monumentis mine etiam primum editis illustratae ac in decades distributii, ed. Cornaro Flaminio (Venice, 1749), xi, i, pp. 45, 4951.

30 The text in the Chronographia is in Latin. Chronographia Regum Francorum, ed. Moranvillé H. (Paris, 18911897), iii, pp. 191233. A French version of the same text has appeared independently. Cf. Moranvillé H., “Mémoire sur Tamerlan et sa cour par un Dominicain, en 1403”, Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes, LV (1894), pp. 433–64.

31 “…aux autres qui feroient aucune chose contre lui ou qui contrediroient sa volulonté il est très cruel et les fait mourir de cruelle mort et leur fait souffrir divers tourmens;…”, Ibid., pp. 454.

32 de Meneses Lopez, “Los consuldados catalanes,” p. 114; Lluch Antoni Rubiò i, ed., Diplomatari de l'Orient català (1301–1409); collecció de documents per a la histoóia de l'expedció català a Orient i dels ducats d'Atenes i Neopàtria (Barcelona, 1947), no. 668.

33 Cf. de Ayala Pedro Lopez, Coronica de Enrique III, eds. Wilkins C. L. and Wilkins H. M. (Madison, 1992), 3.24.

34 de Clavijo Ruy Gonzàlez, Embajada a Tamorlàn, ed. López-Estrada F. (Madrid, 1943), pp. xlixlxiv. The bulk of López-Estrada's introduction concerning Gomez de Sotomayor and Sanchez de Palazuelos stems from the writings of Argote de Molina about the ambassadors rather than about the embassy itself. Cf. de Clavijo Ruy Gonzalez, Historia del Gran Tamorlàn, ed. de Molina G. Argote (Madrid, 1782), pp. 13ff.

35 de Clavijo Gonzàlez, Embajada, pp. liiliv.

36 Marinescu C., “Du nouveau sur les relations de Manuel II Paléologue (1391–1425) avec l'Espagne”, in Atti dello VIII Congresso Intemazionale di Studi Bizantini, Palermo 3–10 Aprile 1951 (Rome, 1953), i, pp. 430–1.

37 Ibid., p. 431.

38 Lluch Rubiò i, Diplomatari, nos. 672, 676–677; Barker , Manuel II Palaeologos, pp. 255256. It is unclear as to exactly how Martí came to obtain the news of Tīmŭr's victory at Ankara. John of Sulṭāniyya had not yet, by this point in time, come to Spain. It could be that he received news from the Castilian court, through the return of Enrique's two ambassadors from the battle, but there is no proof of this. The Byzantine emperor used two separate ambassadors in his missions to Spain: Constantine Rhallis Palaeologos and Alexios Vranas. It was Vranas who carried Martis letter of congratulations back to Manuel in June 1403. It is therefore possible that Vranas was the bearer of the good tidings.

39 Letters to Tīmūr (Valencia, 1 April 1404) and Mīrānshāh (Valencia, 1 April 1404) in Lluch Rubiò i, Diplomatari, nos. 679–80.

40 On Tīmūr's correspondence with Enrique, cf. de Clavijo Gonzàlez, Embajada, pp. liiliv.

41 Cf. Yazdī Sharaf al-Dīn 'Alī, Ẓafar-nāma, ed. Ilahdad M. M. (Calcutta, 18851888), ii, pp. 598.

42 On these earlier alliances, cf. Knobler A., “Missions, Mythologies and the Search for non-European Allies in anti-Islamic Holy War, 1291–c. 1540”, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Cambridge, 1990, pp. 3272; Boyle J. A., “The II-Khans of Persia and the Princes of Europe”, Central Asiatic journal, XX (1976), pp. 2540; Richard J., “The Mongols and the Franks”,Journal of Asian History, III (1969), pp. 4557; Sinor D., “The Mongols and Western Europe”, in A History of the Crusades 3. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. Setton K. M. (Madison, 1975), 513–44.

43 Registres…du sénat, no. 1076; Délibérations des assemblées, no. 994.

44 Alexandrescu-Dersca , La campagne de Timur, pp. 125–8.

45 le Roulx Delaville, Le France en Orient, p. 390 n. 2; Barker , Manuel II Palaeologos, p. 204, n. 5.

46 Luttrell A., “The Hospitallers at Rhodes: 1306–1421”, in A History of the Crusades 3. The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, ed. Setton K. M. (Madison, 1975), p. 308. [Luttrell's source citation from N. Iorga's “Notes et extraits” appears to be incorrect and I have been unable to locate the correct reference.]

47 Yazdī Sharaf al-Dīn ‘Alī [Ẓafar-nāma, ii, p. 482] gave the name “ Ṣoba” as one of the Frankish kings who had sovereignty over Chios and who approached Tīmūr. Whether this referred to a specific member of the Maona familiar to the author is unclear. [Perhaps Baldassare Cibo, cf. Rovere A., “;Documenti della Maona di Chio (secc. XIV–XVI)”, Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria, n.s. XlX/ii (1979), docs. 55, 56, 68.] Niẓām al-Dīn Shāmī, [Histoire des conquētes de Tamerlan intitulée Zafar-nama, ed. Tauer F. (Prague, 19371956), i, p. 269 and ii, p. 180] speaks of one “Ṣata” in the same context. [Perhaps a member of the Cattaneo family. Cf. Rovere, “Documenti”, docs. 58, 65.]

48 Iorga, “Notes et Extraits… I”, pp. 238–40.

49 Hookham H., Tamburlaine the Conqueror, London (1962), p. 256.Miller W. [“The Gattilusj of Lesbos (1335–1462)”, in Essays on the Latin Orient (Cambridge, 1925)] gives no corroboration of this.

50 Barker , Manuel II Palaeologos, p. 218.

51 Dennis G. T., “The Byzantine-Turkish Treaty of 1403”, Orientalia Christiana Periodka, XXXIII (1967), pp. 7288.

52 Cf. Knobler A., “Missions, Mythologies…”, pp. 32154.

53 On Tīmūr's place in popular literature and historiography, see A. Knobler, ȁCreating an enemy: the refiguring of Timur in English historiography”, (forthcoming).

54 On Tīmɫr's heroic virtues, see, for example, the essay by SirTemple William, “Of Heroic Virtue”, in Five Miscellaneous Essays by Sir William Temple, ed. Monk S. H. (Ann Arbor, 1963), p. 136, where he is hailed as “a great and heroic genius”. For other examples, cf. Knobler, “Creating an enemy”, passim.

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