In the beginning of the eighteenth century, Central Asia witnessed the enigmatic appearance of imaginary biographies about Tīmūr (Tamerlane), the famous conqueror of much of Central Eurasia three centuries earlier. These texts, authored anonymously in Persian and in Chaghatay Turkic at least three hundred years after Tīmūr's death, quickly gained enormous popularity. But despite their almost uninterrupted production from the eighteenth century until the present, they remain virtually unexplored by scholars and unfamiliar to people outside the region.
Tīmūr's “heroic apocrypha,” as I label this narrative cycle, consist of lengthy biographies of the hero, in prose, chronologically ordered from his birth to his death and presented in dozens of anecdotes. A “typical” manuscript begins with prophecies announcing Tīmūr's imminent birth, foretold by eminent Sufi shaykhs or by men of mythical, historical, and heroic significance, such as Alexander the Great. The story then develops through the course of Tīmūr's childhood, the young hero's first love, a daring prison rescue by his future bride, and the adventures that lead to his enthronement, including a memorable dream appearance by none other than the Prophet Muḥammad. In the course of the narrative, Tīmūr goes on pilgrimage to the graves of Qur'anic prophets while visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Jerusalem. He experiences countless adventures, battles, crises, and accomplishments, emerging triumphant from his campaigns in India, Russia, and the Ottoman lands.