timurids

Carved earthenware tile with turquoise-glazed calligraphy, Uzbekistan, 1380-1420.

“The ancient traditions of unglazed and turquoise-glazed ceramics are here used side by side. The tile is from an architectural frieze. The colour contrast makes the fragment of text legible, even though the first two letters (reading left to right) have been twisted into a symmetrical knot.”

Poetry Submission - The Southern Review

I dropped an envelope in the mail two days ago (yes, the US Postal Service still exists and some organizations still demand that we writers use it) containing four poems for submission to The Southern Review. Three of them were recently mailed to The New Criterion; both publications, thankfully, allow for simultaneous submissions.

I chose to submit these poems to TSR because of the description the journal gives of the sort of work its editors are looking for:

Poems and fiction are selected with careful attention to craftsmanship and technique and to the seriousness of the subject matter. Although willing to publish experimental writing that appears to have a valid artistic purpose, The Southern Review avoids extremism and sensationalism.

Sounds good, no? Having read a few issues myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of that description.

Of course I can’t publish the poems here, but I can give you their titles: “Babur in Herat,” “Geometry and Anguish,” “November 16, 2009” and “Estragon and the Tupelo.” Yes, that first one is about the medieval Timurid prince and the last one contains a reference to Waiting for Godot. Heady stuff.

I’m still waiting for the editors of Modern Age to tell me in what issue this year my poem “We Lift Our Trusting Eyes” will be published. I’ll keep you posted on that and on TSR’s response.

A neat example of how science spread throughout Eurasia from its old centres in Central and West Asia to its new in Europe. I think that this serves as a reminder that knowledge is a collective human effort which cannot be ascribed to one people or era. It has no point to quibble over who was born where and when. In the end, great people contribute to all of humanity.


This is a topic that I’ve already read some about, but I’m keen to learn more about Ulugh Beg and his peers and I’ve identified this book which I hope can enlighten me on the topic. If any of my followers have recommendations for other books on the topic, I’d be happy to hear them.

Above: “Camp,” attributed to Muhammd Siyah Qalam, Tabriz school, 14th century. MS, Istanbul, Topkapi Palace Museum, fol. 8b.

“By the same token, the ideology of the Turko-Mongolian nomads dictated contempt for sedentary society and its chief occupation—agricultural activity. This attitude was consciously cultivated, despite the symbiotic relationship that had historically existed between the pastoral nomadic and sedentary sectors in the economy of Central Asia (Transoxiana) and eastern Iran (Khorasan). It expressed itself primarily in various exploitative practices whereby the sedentary population was literally viewed as “fair game,” either as the object of raiding and plunder or of extortionate taxation policies. It may be posited that the underlying goal of the Timurid törä, like the regulations of the Chinggisid yasa before it, was the maintenance of a warrior culture in order to counteract the assimilative pull of Iranian civilization that threatened to draw the Turkic nomadic elite and the Chaghatay tribesmen into its sedentary snare, transforming them from warriors into townsmen or, even worse, farmers. The dangers of acculturation and assimilation to the nomad had been succinctly expressed in a Turkic proverb, recorded by the eleventh-century dialectologist Mahmud al-Kashghari, that warned, “Just as the effectiveness of a warrior is diminished when his sword begins to rust, so too does the flesh of a Turk begin to rot when he assumes the lifestyle of an Iranian.”

One of the most outstanding expressions of the warrior culture in the Timurid context was the custom of political vagabondage. The sociopolitical phenomenon of qazaqliq (Persianized form, qazaqi) has been little studied, but it would appear to be important for an understanding of the evolution of the Timurid state. The term qazaq has been rendered variously as freebooter, brigand, vagabond, guerrilla warrior, and cossack, and qazaqliq referred to the period of “brigandage” that such an individual spent, usually as a young man, roaming about in some remote region on the fringes of the sedentary urban oases, usually after fleeing from a difficult social or political situation. Although the phenomenon must have existed in early steppe culture in order to accommodate renegades or social outcasts, the term qazaq does not appear to have gained currency in the Turko-Mongolian sphere before the fourteenth century.



It was during the period of his qazaqliq that a political contender assembled a cohort of loyal followers, who were referred to by such terms as nökär (companion), yigit (brave), and bahadur (hero). The creation of a warband was one of the characteristic features of nomadic Turko-Mongolian societies, and the comrade culture it fostered has been compared by Omeljan Pritsak and others to the comitatus of the early Germanic tribes. Followers rallied around an aspiring leader on the basis of free association, but they traditionally belonged to leading families, and members of the hereditary keshik corps must have played a part in the support group of a leader like Temür. The most important qualifications were personal ability and, above all, loyalty to the leader.

As proof of their loyalty, a leader’s followers pledged their lives to him, a notion sometimes referred to as jansipari (Turkic form jansiparliq), and they protected him at crucial times in battle. The size of the support group was constantly in flux, rising and falling with the leader’s political fortunes, but it seems that size was not a determining factor for success. In return for their loyalty, the leader was obliged to reward his followers in various tangible ways, primarily through the distribution of booty, gifts, and appointments to various military ranks and positions. This was also the period during which the leader forged alliances with local rulers, tribal leaders, merchant groups, and trading partnerships, and these alliances were often strengthened by marriage ties.”

- Maria E. Subtelny, Timurids in Transition: Turko-Persian Politics and Acculturation in Medieval Iran (Leiden: Brill, 2007) pp. 29-31


“I feel some curiosity about Gohar Shad, not on account of her piety in endowing religious foundations, but as a woman of artistic instinct. Either she had that instinct, or she knew how to employ people who had it. This shows character. And besides this, she was rich. Taste, character, and riches mean power, and powerful women, apart from charmes, are not common in Mohammadan history.”

- Robert Byron in The Road to Oxiana, p. 109f


I completely understand Byron’s curiosity with regard to the Timurid empress consort Gohar Shad. It only adds to the mystery that not much is known about her and that we don’t even know how she looked. I imagine that she have looked like this Persian miniature.

In 1370, the last great dynasty emerged from Central Asia: the Timurids (1368 - 1507). They were named for their leader, Timur (also known as Tamerlane), who conquered and controlled all of Central Asia, greater Iran, and Iraq, as well as parts of southern Russia and the Indian subcontinent. The Timurids were outstanding builders of monumental architecture. Herat, in present-day Afghanistan, became the capital and cultural center of the Timurid empire.