Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Titles and Names of Timur

Ottoman Sultan Beyazid imprisoned by Amir Timur, painted by  Stanisław Chlebowski.
The two were life long rivals and engaged in voluminous epistolary diplomacy before finally going for each other's jugular

A rose by any other name ....... still has thorns. :)

Timur – 1336 AD to 1405 AD The phenomenally phenomenal Amir Timur (as he is known in Asia) or Tamerlane / Timur Lane / Timurlane (as he is known in the West) was, besides being a world conqueror and a decimate-or of dynasties, also a very superior diplomat. Further he also had a keen sense of literature and history coupled with a firm belief in the efficacy of display and showmanship(there are stories of him drinking boar's blood just before meeting enemy ambassadors as a preliminary custom before the commencement of the assault, only to vomit out this imbibed fluid in front of the ambassadors thereby fooling them into believing him to be ill at the point of imminent death; this of course would lull the enemy into underestimating Timur's capacity to win the ensuing engagment and Timur would subsequently have the upper hand during the actual battle).
These facts ensured that he cultivate a host of names and titles to impress his position and status on other lesser mortals. These titles actually tell us quite a lot about Timur's life, personality, achievements, and desires.

But before I enumerate all of his names and titles a little something about the name Timur. According to the memoirs of Timur, the Malfuzat-i-Timuri a.k.a Tuzik-i-Timuri, the name Timur is derived from the Quran. One week after his birth (during his Aqiqa ceremony) his parents took the new born baby to a highly revered Sufi saint by the name of Hazrat Sheikh Shamsh Ud Deen.

The Sheikh was at the time reading from the Quran and was on the 16th verse of the 67th chapter (Surah Al Mulk). The verse reads

“Do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)?”

The last word of the verse in question is Tamoor (to shake) and Sheikh Shamsh Ud Deen promptly named the boy Timur.

However it should also be kept in mind that Timur was a common Turko-Mongol name for that time and in most of the Turko-Mongol dialects it meant “Iron”.

Now there are at least 12 names and titles used by Timur throughout his career which have been acknowledged in Timur's own memoirs as well as those of others, official and unofficial court chronicles, on coinage, in diplomatic correspondence and firmans, in Khutbas (Friday sermons in mosques), histories, and of course also in popular imagination.

Please note that I have transliterated most of these names and titles for proper pronunciation. However the most commonly accepted spellings have also been provided. These are not arranged in any order of prefrence.

1.Abul Mansoor – Father of the Victorious
Name given by Timur's Pir Sheikh Zain Ud Deen Abu Bakr in a letter from the Pir to Timur. This name was not commonly used by Timur or for him and it seems to be more of a guidance and motivation from a guru than anything else.
Mansoor is the passive particle of the Arabic toot word “N S R” (victory) نصر.

2.Abul Fateh – Father of Victory
Name given to Timur by the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid I in diplomatic epistolary correspondence. Timur and Sultan Bayazid I were life-long arch rivals and continued to exchange letters and ambassadors throughout their lives. Although initially there was a surfeit of titles and complimentary honours between the two however later on the exchanges were more recriminatory and denigrating in nature. Abul Fateh is obviously an early title used by Sultan Bayazid I for Timur and hence it was a purely diplomatic title. There will be more on Bayazid I later.
“F T H” is Arabic for Victory and also for Opening فتح. FTH is also a highly auspicious root in Islam as it is the root for the name of the first and most sacred (for many) chapter of the Quran – Surah Fatih. Hence for Muslim it always carries immensely strong religious connotations as well.

3.Abul Ghaazi – Father of the Religious Warrior
Later day title adopted by or conferred upon Timur during his campaign in Hindustan in 1398 AD, adopted to acknowledge his shedding of Hindu blood by the river basin loads. Although Timur used this title (as did all of his descendants from the Timurid and Mughal dynasties) he could scarcely have laid any serious claim to it as almost all of his campaigns were against Sunni Muslims (Timur himself being a Sunni Muslim).Herat, Tabriz, Isphahan, Shiraz, Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Ankara these and hundred of other such cities laid waste by Timur were all Islamic cities with Muslim rulers and a Muslim populous. As a matter of fact Timur even accepted an ambassador from king Henry III of Castille to plot a campaign against Bayazid I and the Ottomans.
Ghaazi was retained as a popular title by all the Great Mughals though in most circumstances they did not often perform the duties entailed by the traditional meaning of Ghaazi.
The word Ghaazi / Ghazi comes from the Arabic word Ghaza غزا and originally primarily denoted a warrior indulging in war for prize money and spoils (the established and legitimate way of payment for warfare in Arabian culture ). Though soon after the revelation of Islam it took on the meaning of a religious warrior fighting infidels and this has been its traditional meaning ever since.

4.Ameer – Commander
All through his reign Timur ruled on the pretext of being a representative of and subservient to the Chagtai Khanate branch of Ghengis Khan. He plundered, fought, killed, annexed, destroyed all in the name of rebuilding the Mongol empire of Ghengis Khan. Being an Ameer of the Chagtai princes legitimized whatever he did in the eyes of all those around him. That's how he started his career as an empire builder (a campaign in Transoxia on behalf of the Chagtai circa 1360 AD) and that is also how it ended (in a campaign against the Chinese in 1405 AD). In fact he did manage to win over and concatenate most of the western half of the Chagtai Khanate. However he could never even get a foot through the door of the eastern half which was being ruled over by the Chinese.
Timur's soldiers and generals always referred to him as Ameer and he himself was very fond of this title. Often while rallying troops and also before launching into attacks he utilized this title. Amir Timur or Emir Timur is also how he is referred to in modern Central Asia where he is a much respected and loved figure.
Ameer comes from the Arabic root “A M R” أمر which means to command or order or in some rare cases to suggest. It has been a common titles for generals and commanders throughout the history of Islam all across the length and breadth of the Islamic world. As a matter of fact the English language word Admiral is a Crusade-era western borrowing from the Arabic title “Ameer Al - Bahar” (Commander of the Sea)

5.Goorkaan – Son in Law
Let the timidity (?) of this name not fool you (if it does in the first place). Timur hailed from the Balras clan (a highly “Turkified” Mongol clan) and he and his troops adhered to many aspects of their Mongol culture and law despite being Muslims in religion and Turkic in language. In
Mongol culture Goorkaan was a title awarded to the most respected leader from amongst all the tribes who would be voted in to head the tribes. Sometimes a leader could designate a successor as his Goorkaan. This title was often used in the Khutbas read in the name of Timur.
Goorkaan or Gürkan is a very common name in Turkey and countries of Turkic influence though I am not sure if this means exactly the same as the old Mongol usage.

6.Saahib-i-Qiraani – Lord of the Fortuitous Conjunction

Saahib-i-Qiraani or Sahib-i-Qirani or Sahib Ul Qiran was common title for Timur in official and court chronicals of his times as well as in the later Timurid and Mughal ones.
Saahib or Sahib is from Arabic “S H B” صحب and means lord. Qiraani means Fortuitous Conjunction. Though Qiraani or Qiran can also be related to the word horn ( also used for Dhul Qarnayan in the Quran ذل قرنين ).
It is said that at the time of the birth of Timur Jupiter and Venus were in conjunction and this is the raison d'etre of this title. Timur is referred to as Saahib-i-Qiraani whenever the Timurid and Mughal princes and chroniclers needed to use a tone of awe and whenever there was a need to impress divine acceptance of Timur's success and destiny. For example the Akbarnama speaks of Timur mostly as Sahib-i-Qirani though that could also be in order to reinforce the beneficence of Akbar's (a descendant of Timur) own fortuitous birth stars on the reader.
This title was also often represented on Timur’s personal standard during battles. It was supposed to represent Timur’s great luck in battle and also the divine assistance which was accorded to him for utterly vanquishing his enemies. Hence it worked as a terror tactic for the enemies and as a motivation for his own troops and commanders. Sahib-i-Qiraani also often enetered the Khutbas read in the name of Timur.
Sahib-i-Qiran is also often used as a title for Amir Hamza (prophet Muahmmad's uncle) in the Persian and Urdu versions of the Hamzanama (the tales of Amir Hamza) but a stand alone Sahib-i-Qiran would almost always refer to Timur.

7.Khaaqaan – Emperor Of China
This is the most disputable title used by Timur. Khaaqaan was a title traditionally used by the Emperor of China. Ghengis Khan and his descendants divided their conquered lands into four Khanates (or kingdoms), all were fragmented and lost soon after the passing away of second after Ghengis Khan. China too was one of the four Khanates and was ruled by a grandson of Ghengis Khan called Kublai Khan (the acknowledged last Great Khaaqaan of China). However by the 1360s China also slipped out of Mongol control due to bitter internecine conflict between the Mongols. Timur, who had always acted in the name of the descendants of Ghengis Khan, had long cherished to add this eastern section of the Khanates (China) to his empire and he decided to style himself as the rightful Khaaqaan, Emperor of China.
The Ming Emperor of China Hung Wu is said to have sent embassies on a grand scale to Timur to make him see the “error of his ways” to ask him to pay homage and tribute to the true Emperor of China (namely himself). Matters came to a head and Timur prepared an army of a quarter of a million to bring Emperor Hung Wu to submission. Facing the Central Asians was the Chinese army of a million soldiers. It is said that around one-fifth of the world's population would have been directly affected by this war. However Timur died soon after he began the march towards China and suddenly it was all over. The war never took place and the dispute of the title of the real Emperor of China was never resolved. Khaaqaan was often used in the Khutbas read in the name of Timur.
Interestingly Babur ( fifth in line of descent from Timur) also used Khaaqaan as one of his titles. Hence obviously even more than a 125 years later the old wound was still festering and egos were even higher than before.

Alittle about the title itself. It seems to have been derived from the Altaic word Qa'an. Qa'an قا آن is not to be confused with Khan خان Although both are probably derivatives of the same root. Qa'an means a supreme overlord as opposed to Khan which means village or tribal ruler. Now interestingly in Uighyar and Turkic grammar there is a rule which forces a “g” sound to be inserted between any two successive vowels. This resulted in the Qa'an becoming Qaagaan in the proto-Turkic languages and the Chinese title could be a borrowing from this.
For more discussion on the etymology of Khaaqaan click here
China History Forum on Khaqan / Khan / Qan

8.Paadshah – Master of Kings
Timur took on the title of Padshah much later in his career as a conqueror. He “became” the Padshah after subjugating Iran, Turan (Central Asia north of Iran), Rum (Turkey and Anatolia), Syria, and Hindustan. Hence obviously after the year 1400 AD.
This comes from Persian. Etymologically it is derived from Pati (Master) and Shah (King). Padshah being adopted as a title by Timur, a Central Asian Turkic monarch, was novel but not entirely unexpected. In the time and place of Timur Persian had long replaced Turkic languages in the realm of culture and education and was fast catching up with Turkic in the world of private communication as a fitting alternate.
Paadshah too was promptly appended to the long list of Timur's titles in the Khutba.
Paadshah was used by all the Mughal rulers. Babur was the first Timurid prince after Timur to move away from the established title of Mirza (denoting a prince or king of Timurid descent) and to style himself as Paadshah However Humayun had it changed to Baadshah as he did not feel it correct to use Paadshah as a term in Hindustan where it could lead to embarrassment owing to the fact that Paad is a North Indian word for flatulence.
Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who also used Paadshah as a title, got an extensive chronicle of his reign written which is known as the Padshahnama.

9.Geetee Staani – Winner of the World

I know the least about this title. It is Persian though these words find currency in many Turkic languages as well. This title is said to have been given to him by the official court chroniclers of his time as well as those of the Mughal era. Giti Staani is also how Mughal emperor Shah Jahan often referred to his illustrious ancestor Timur.

10 .Sultaan – Powerful
Sultaan is probably the most commonly used (and abused) title for a king in the Islamic world. In fact from Tangiers to Taiwan and all in between the one title which everybody understands is Sultan.
Sultaan comes from the Arabic “ S L T N” سلطن. Sultan denotes power or powerful. The term probably gained currency once the Abbassid Khalifs started dishing out official certificates of regency to various generals and war lords to rule. These certificates of “power” to represent the Khalif and rule according to the laws of Islam were thought of as infallible decrees from the highest authority in Islam and at least theoretically could not be questioned by anyone. Anybody who wanted to rule needed such a certificate from the Khalif. Theoretically the Khutba could be read in the name of a king only after he had received confirmation from the Khalif..
Sultaan would have been adopted early on by Timur to make a point of his being an “approved” ruler. Though at the time (1360s-1390s) the Khalifat was based in Cairo (under the protection of the Mamlukes of Egypt)and it had already been sapped of the last remaining semblance of power about 400 hundred yeas back, still being called a Sultaan would have been important for Timur as the Ottoman Sultaan Bayazid I was ever ready to join forces with the Mamluke Sultaan against Timur. Hence approval by the Khalif became important. This was also a standard part of the Khutba read in Timur's name.
This desire to get acceptance from the Khalif was also what made Muhammad Tughlaq of Delhi request robes of honour again and again from the Khalif in the 1340s – 1350s and hence no Sultaan anywhere could have peace of mind till he actually did receive a token approval from the Khalif of Islam.
In Hindustan Sultaan can used only for a man and Sultaana for a woman whereas in most of the Islamic world Sultaan may refer to either a man or a woman. In many cultures it forms a part of the name itself.

11 .Iskandar Ul Ahad – Alexander of the Age
Alexander has been and will always remain the epitome of martial achievement for Asians. Timur was just another in a long list of monarchs big and small who desired to bask in the glory of Alexander's legacy by liking their actual or fancied conquests to those of Alexander. It seems to be one of Timur's favourite titles. Hundreds of kings have styled themselves as Alexandar of the Age and often there were many kings flaunting this title simultaneously.
Iskandar is the Central Asian / Persian version of the name Alexander. Persian denies a “s” sound at the beginning of a word to be followed by anything other than a vowel. In case this happens then an “i” sound be prefixed to the “s”. Hence what is called as Sikandar in Hindustan will always be Iskandar in Persian.
Ahad is Arabic for era عهد.

12.Khusroo – Name of the last great Persian King - “Beautiful”
Khusroo or Khusrau was the last great Sassanian king. He died in 570 AD and the love stories of Khusroo and Shirin are immortal. He had many military achievements against his name and he conducted many building projects as well.
To know more click here
Wikipedia Khosrau I

Here it is important also to note that unlike many of his contemporaries Timur or his chroniclers never laid any claims to him being the Khalif of Islam. However one court historian Nizam Ud DinShami did refer to Timur as the “Refuge of the Khalifat” in Zafarnama. Of course Akbar, and some other Mughals did stake a claim to the title of Khalif of Islam but that's a different story....

To know more
1. Timur -
Wikipedia Timur

2. First half of Timur's career
The rise of Timurlane

3. On Timur and Timurid culture
Life of Timur

4. Autobiography of Timur

This is a quick-ish post and probably has many mistakes so I seek your forgiveness.


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