SULTAN OF BLOOD; He Beheaded and Raped Millions, and His Calling Card Was a Tower of Skulls. Was Emperor Tamerlane the Bloodiest Tyrant in History?

Daily Mail (London), February 3, 2005 | Go to article overview

SULTAN OF BLOOD; He Beheaded and Raped Millions, and His Calling Card Was a Tower of Skulls. Was Emperor Tamerlane the Bloodiest Tyrant in History?


Byline: ANDREW ROBERTS

ENEMIES were beheaded in their hundreds of thousands, whether they surrendered or not. In the killing fields, their heads were piled into grotesque knolls 15ft high and 30ft wide.

One historian recorded that 'vultures, scenting carrion, wheeled overhead, swooping down to pluck eyes out of sockets as 20,000 expressions of abject terror, horror, disgust and defiance stared out into a blank sky'.

This was the work of the Emperor Tamerlane, whose kingdom was founded on bloodlust and sadism, the like of which the world had never seen. The mere mention of his name - a derivation of Temur the Lame, after he was wounded in his youth - instilled fear in any who stood in his way.

Tamerlane - who was also known as Amir of the Tartars, Sword of Islam and Lord of the Fortunate Conjunction of the Planets - died 600 years ago this month. And despite the passing of the centuries and the litany of gruesome and worthy contenders, he is still considered by many historians to be the most cruel and bloodthirsty - and most successful - military conqueror ever.

When he came across a city to conquer, he put the entire population to the sword - children as well. The women died only after they had been raped and mutilated.

Occasionally, because he was an intellectual who spoke many languages and enjoyed chess, he would spare historians or chess masters. But anyone else who stood in his path was doomed.

When one town attempted rebellion during his reign of terror, its 2,000 inhabitants were taken prisoner and a tower constructed out of their living bodies.

As one historian recalls: 'They were piled one upon the other with mortar and bricks, so that these miserable wretches might serve as a monument to deter others from revolting.' There was method in Temur's homicidal madness; he knew that if his 'Golden Horde' of Tartars were so feared that people would submit to any humiliation rather than fight them, his empire would extend through that reputation.

And the method worked. Because of his quite astonishing viciousness, this Tartar chieftain, who was born in 1336 but whose early life remains a mystery, created a massive empire.

It stretched thousands of miles in every direction and reached into the modernday Balkans, Egypt, Turkey, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and even stretched to the borders of China.

Wherever he went, he left desolation.

When he marched his 100,000- strong army into a province of Afghanistan, then known as the 'Garden of the East', Tamerlane razed its capital Zaranj so completely that even now, nearly six centuries later, it remains deserted.

THOUGH the city had surrendered, recorded historian Arabshah: 'Temur drew the sword upon them and billeted upon them all the armies of death. He laid the city waste, leaving in it not a tree or a wall, and destroyed it utterly.' Everyone perished, 'from persons of 100 years old, to infants in the cradle'.

At the holy Persian city of Isfahan in 1387, he ordered every woman prisoner's breasts to be cut off and demanded that his 70,000 soldiers cut off one man's head each and hand it in to his adjutants.

Some baulked at this bloody demand and paid the more enthusiastic killers 20 dinars per head to commit the deed on their behalf. But such was the scale of the beheading, the price per head soon fell to half a dinar.

An eyewitness described what happened next: 'He ordered the children under seven years of age to be placed apart from their families, and ordered his warriors to ride over them.

'When his counsellors and the children's mothers saw this, they fell at his feet and begged that they would not kill them. He got angry and rode himself and then they were obliged to ride over the children, and they were all trampled upon. There were 7,000.' The historian Hafiz-i-Abru later walked around Isfahan and counted 28 towers each built out of 1,500 severed heads. …

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