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The Legendary Biographies of Tamerlane
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  • Ron Sela, Indiana University, Bloomington
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Book description

Timur (or Tamerlane) is famous as the fourteenth-century conqueror of much of Central Eurasia and the founder of the Timurid dynasty. His reputation lived on in his native lands and reappeared some three centuries after his death in the form of fictional biographies, authored anonymously in Persian and Turkic. These biographies have become part of popular culture. Despite a direct continuity in their production from the eighteenth century to the present, they remain virtually unknown to people outside the region. This remarkable and rigorous scholarly appraisal of the legendary biographies of Tamerlane is the first of its kind in any language. The book sheds light not only on the character of Tamerlane and how he was remembered and championed by many generations after his demise, but also on the era in which the biographies were written and how they were conceived and received by the local populace during an age of crisis in their own history.


'Sela’s book is a clear contribution to scholarship. He brings a relatively unknown body of fascinating material to our attention, and provides extensive translations of parts of this material, which give us an excellent view of what exists, helping us determine how to move forward. His work suggests new approaches to the history of a neglected period. Finally, the monograph gives us compelling evidence for the existence of a Tīmūrmania in Central Asia, long before we knew one existed, which continues to this day with fascinating ramifications. In all these ways Sela’s work is a service to the scholarly community.'

Anne Broadbridge Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society

'Sela's well-argued and concise study of a group of Persian and Turkic heroic stories devoted to the life of Amir Timur, or Tamerlane, brings to our attention a large body of literature that has until now been generally ignored or discounted by previous scholars of Central Asian history … historians of modern Central Asia would do well to apply to their own works Sela's emphasis on manuscript sources, his imaginative use of popular literature, and his critical approach to much current scholarship.'

Allen J. Frank Source: Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

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Manuscripts of Books of Tīmūr Consulted For This Book
‘Abd al-Raḥmān Sīrat. Kunūz al-a‘ẓam (Tārīkh-i Tīmūrī). MS of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Orientabteilung MS Or. Quart. 1231.
Dāstān-i Amīr Tīmūr. MS IVAN Uz No. 185/I.
Sayyid Muḥammad Khoja b. Ja‘far Khoja. Dāstān-i Amīr Tīmūr Ṣāḥib-qirān. MS IVAN Uz No. 7390.
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 1526.
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 1501.
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 4817
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 4436.
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 4890.
Tīmūr-nāma. MS IVAN Uz No. 699.
Other Primary Sources
Tali‘, Abdurrakhman-i. Istoriia Abulfeĭz-khana. Tr. A. A. Semenov. Tashkent: Akademiia nauk Uzbekskoĭ SSR, 1959.
Khân, Aboul-Ghâzi Bèhâdour. Histoire des Mongols et des Tatares par Aboul-Ghâzi Bèhâdour Khân. Publieé, traduite et annotée par le Baron Desmaisons. 1871–72. Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1970.
Bukhārī, , ‘Abd al-Karīm. Histoire de l'Asie centrale par Mir Abdoul Kerim Boukhary – Afghanistan, Boukhara, Khiva, Khokand depuis les dernières années du règne de Nadir Châh, 1153, jusqu'en 1223 de l'Hégire, 1740-1818 A.D. Edited and translated by Schefer, Charles Henri Auguste. Paris, 1876 (Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1970).
Hanway, Jonas. An historical account of the British trade over the Caspian Sea. London, 1753. Vol. 1.
Hātifī, , ‘Abdallāh. Tīmūr-nāma. Ed. Yusha’, Abu Hashim Sayyid. Madras: University of Madras, 1958.
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Ibn, Arabshāh, , Muḥammad, Aḥmad ibn. Tamerlane: or, Tīmūr the Great Amir. Translated by Sanders, J. H.. London: Luzac & Co., 1936.
Battuta, Ibn. Travels of Ibn Battuta, A.D. 1325–1354, tr. and ed. Gibb, H. A. R. et al, Hakluyt Society, 1958.
Kashmīrī, , ‘Abd al-Karīm. Bayan-i-Waqi’: a biography of Nadir Shah Afshar and the travels of the author Khwaja ‘Abdu'l Karīm ibn Khwaja ‘Aqibat Mahmud Kashmīrī. Ed. Nasim, K. B. (Lahore: Research Society of Pakistan, 1970).
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