The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane

Beatrice Forbes Manz

Cambridge University Press 1999
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane is not a biography of Temür (Timur, Tamerlane) or an account of his battles and conquests. It is a study of the political milieu within which Temür rose to power — the tribal confederation of the Ulus Chaghatay — and of the ways in which he used and changed it.

Located around the upper the Oxus, on what is now the northern border of Afghanistan, the Ulus Chaghatay was part of a broad Turco-Mongolian cultural domain, the legacy of Chinggis (Genghis) Khan and Chinggisid dynasties. Manz briefly describes this background, then turns to the Ulus Chaghatay in the mid fourteenth century, focusing on the power sources and political structures within the confederation and the ways in which individuals used them. The picture is of a complex mosaic of tribes and sub-tribal units (a segmentary system), regional settled populations, and independent military units.

Temür's rise to power within the Ulus Chaghatay was long and fraught with setbacks and reversals. He began as one among many contenders for power in the ongoing struggle within his tribe, the Barlas; with a combination of luck and political and military skill, and through the building of a non-tribal power base, he ended up with unquestioned leadership of the Ulus. (Manz doesn't enter into abstract debates about the role of individuals in history, but this is an interesting case study.) He then waged aggressive campaigns of conquest and plunder against neighbouring territories until his death in 1405, on the verge of invading China.

Manz describes in detail the makeup of Temür's army. He constructed a new elite of his followers and relatives: the old tribes, though they retained their separate existence, declined in importance. Conquered neighbours of the Ulus Chaghatay were fully incorporated into the army, but more distant ones were kept at arms length. Defeated nomadic confederations such as the Jalayir, the Aqqoyunlu, and the Qaraqoyunlu could not be integrated into his non-tribal army. The administrative structure of Temür's conquests also worked to prevent independent centres of power arising, balancing Persian bureaucrats with Turco-Mongolian governors from the Chaghatay elite. And the events following Temür's death illustrated the changes he had wrought on the Ulus Chaghatay and their neighbours.

Manz' analysis is scholarly and thorough. Even with the more involved details (of the powers of the Ulus Chaghatay and Temür's administrative structure) relegated to appendices, it is fairly heavy going. The stream of names is particularly overwhelming: the people involved blur together, while keeping track of the place-names is complicated by the absence of some from the maps provided. But The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane is not just for students of Central Asian and Middle Eastern history: it will also be of interest as a political study.

April 1999

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%T The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane
%A Manz, Beatrice Forbes
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 1999 [1989]
%O paperback, notes, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0521633842
%P xiii,231pp