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Tamerlane's Career and Its Uses

From: Journal of World History
Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2002
pp. 1-25 | 10.1353/jwh.2002.0017

Abstract

Tamerlane has remained an important figure in world history, both because of the impact of his career on the world of his time and because he remains fascinating and useful to many people. This paper explores the facts of Temür's career and the uses made of his image following his death, showing how his actions together with the stories circulated during his lifetime served to create a charisma that survives into our time. Tamerlane belonged to two worlds, the Islamic and the Turco-Mongolian, but was not eligible to hold the highest office in either one. To compensate for his low formal position, he deliberately created a persona which bordered on the supernatural. The dynasty he founded reworked earlier traditions to create the figure of a dynastic founder within both the Islamic and the Turkic traditions. Subsequent dynasties in the Middle East and Central and South Asia used Tamerlane to bolster their legitimacy, while European writers and historians found fascination in the contradictions of his personality and the monumentality of his ambitions. Many of the myths recounted later have their origins in stories apparently deliberately circulated by Tamerlane and his entourage. There is a striking continuity in the portrayal of Tamerlane and the use to which he has been put, from medieval Iran and India through the European Renaissance and Enlightenment to Russian, Soviet, and finally Uzbek formulations of history.



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