End of the Timurid Dynasty

The rise of the Shaybānīd Uzbeks and political infighting among the Turkic Timurids combined to bring about the first Mughal ruler of India, the end of the Timurid Dynasty, more battles for power and control throughout Central Asia, and the end to the patronage of the Timurid court, which created a diaspora of scholars, artists, and writers.

Summary of Event

Shaybānī, for whom the Turko-Mongol Shaybānīd Uzbeks are named, was a grandson of the great Mongol khan, Genghis Khan, and brother of Orda and Batu, founders of the White Horde and Golden Horde, respectively. After the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, Shaybānī gained control of the region east and southeast of the Ural River in the former Kipchak (Turkic) realm. Timurid Dynasty
Muḥammad Shaybānī
Ḥusayn Bayqarah
Muḥammad Shaybānī
Mirāṇ Shāh
Shāh Rokh
Abū Saՙīd
Ḥusayn Bayqarah
Khoja Ahrar
Ismāՙīl I

By the early fifteenth century, the Uzbeks Uzbeks found themselves wedged between the disintegrating Golden Horde Golden Horde to the north and the Timurid Empire to the south. The loose tribal structure was forged into a khanate under Khan Abū՚l-Khayr (1429-1468), with its center located between the Ural and Irtyah Rivers. The Kyrgyz-Kazak Uzbeks disputed Abū՚l-Khayr’s ascension and seceded under their khans Janibeg and Girei. They then settled in southeast of what is now Kazakhstan.

Abū՚l-Khayr developed the Uzbek state until 1457, when the Oyrat (Kalmyk) Mongols assaulted his territories from the east and settled in the middle Syr Darya region. Janibeg and Girei took advantage of the situation and began a long, violent struggle against the Uzbeks that lasted until 1500 and all but destroyed the Uzbek state. Abū՚l-Khayr’s grandson, Muḥammad Shaybānī, a vassal of Maḥmūd Khan, the Jagataite khan of West Moghulstan, received Turkestan as a fief sometime around 1490. This provided him with a firm base of operations. Muḥammad was no nomadic chieftain, but a leader of refined culture and many skills. He was well read in Islamic literature and spoke Turkish, Persian, Arabic, and his native dialect. He was a patron of artists and writers and sought to re-create a Mongol Empire reminiscent of that of Genghis Khan. He would start by helping himself to the rapidly crumbling Timurid Empire to his south.

Timur’s (also known as Tamerlane; 1336-1405) empire stretched from east of the Indus River to central Anatolia, and from the Aral Sea to the Arabian Sea. At his death, the empire was divided between two of his sons, Mirāṇ Shāh (d. 1407), who received all but Khorāsān, and Shāh Rokh (1405-1447). Shāh Rokh reunited the patrimony forcibly and initiated a golden age of culture that contrasted dramatically with his father’s brutal rule.

Herāt in Khorāsān (now northwestern Afghanistan) replaced Samarqand as the center of power. After Shāh Rokh’s death, internal struggles for power invited Uzbek interference and rebellion. For more than two decades, Timurid ruler Abū Saՙīd (1451-1469) fought with confederations of the Turkic Kara Koyunlu and Ak Koyunlu tribes, managing to keep the aggressive steppe warriors at bay. After his death at the Battle of Karabakh, Karabakh, Battle of (1469) however, the west fell to the Ak Koyunlu Ak Koyunlu Dynasty , reducing Timurid power to Khorāsān.

Internal disputes continued in this rump state during the reign of the last major Timurid ruler, Ḥusayn Bayqarah, who rebuilt much of what had been lost. He took Samarqand from Khoja Ahrar, son of Abū Saՙīd, as well as Merv, Khiva, and Herāt, which served as his capital.

The arts continued to flower under Ḥusayn, including poetry, illustration, and the work of the famous painter and calligrapher Naqqāsh and the literature of Mir ՙAlī Shīr Navāՙi, a close friend of Ḥusayn, who has been called the Turkic Chaucer. In Central Asian terms, Herāt was another Renaissance Florence, a true center of culture. The lack of an effective administrative structure, however, made ruling this state difficult, and internal problems continued. One of the main weaknesses of the Timurids was their failure to integrate the sedentary peoples of their realm with the nomadic ones: The steppes and the cities remained distinct.

The Timurid-approved ruler of Transoxiana, Sultan Aḥmad, died in 1494. In 1499, Muḥammad took advantage of dynastic squabbling and began occupying the region. The following year he made peace with Girei’s son, Burunduq, khan of the Kazaks to the north, and quickly seized Bukhara and then confronted Samarqand. The local Timurid ruler, ՙAlī, left the city to negotiate with the Uzbeks, but was brutally killed. After taking the city, Muḥammad declared the end of the dynasty and himself ruler of Transoxiana. He quickly lost Bukhara to a counterstroke by Bābur, the Timurid sultan of Fergana (now in Uzbekistan). Muḥammad just as quickly retrieved Bukhara and then turned on Khwārizm, which was a vassal state of the Timurids. For ten months in 1505-1506, he laid siege to its main city, Khiva, which was defended by its governor, Ḥusayn, unsuccessfully.

The Uzbeks then proceeded on to Khorāsān and its capital of Herāt. Ḥusayn had just died, and leadership fell on the new sultan, the last Iranian Timurid, Badīՙ-az-Zāmān, who was unfit to meet the coming challenges. Balkh was attacked during the winter of 1506-1507 and surrendered in the spring. The defense of Herāt by Badīՙ lasted just three days that May; the capital capitulated on May 27, but the struggle for dominance in the region was by no means settled: Muḥammad faced a renewed Kazak conflict farther north, which weakened his ability to suppress encroachments from remaining Timurids (Bābur, especially), Mongol Dervishes, and Ṣafavid Iranians. In 1503, Bābur tried again—unsuccessfully—to recapture Timur’s old capital city. He lost his home state in addition to the battle.

Late in the decade, Ṣafavid Iranian shah Ismāՙīl threatened to bring his Shīՙite Islam army on a pilgrimage to the sacred city of Mashhad, which was deep in Khorāsān. Allying himself with the Sunni Bābur, he struck when the Kyrgyz attacked the Uzbeks from the northeast, taking Mashhad and Merv and killing Muḥammad at the Battle of Merv Merv, Battle of (1510) on December 2, 1510. The nomadic light cavalry proved no match for the shah’s field artillery.

Ismāՙīl visited a touch of nomadic barbarity on the defeated Uzbeks by turning their dead leader’s skull into a drinking cup. He went on to take Herāt and Balkh, while Bābur seized the opportunity to reestablish his kingdom in Afghanistan, centered in Kabul (which he had ruled from 1504 to 1509), and grabbing Samarqand (October, 1511) and Bukhara from the reeling Uzbeks, who retreated into Tashkent. Within a year, however, the Uzbeks returned and crushed a combined force at Ghajdavan (Ghajawan) on December 12, 1512. This reestablished Uzbek control in Transoxiana, and soon they had retaken Samarqand from Bābur (1514). Bābur, the last Timurid, became the first Mughal Mughal Empire ruler in India when he decided to shift the axis of his power from Afghanistan to northern India, having conquered the region by 1526.


The Timurids had established a court at Herāt unequaled in its cultural brilliance. Its destruction by the Uzbeks scattered poets, artists, scholars, and works of art and literature across the Central Asian landscape. Even if Ḥusayn Bayqarah and his kin had not mastered the art of integrating steppe culture with sedentary urban culture, they chose to privilege that of the civilized world, a move that proved enormously fruitful in the Islamic Mughal culture that Bābur planted in India.

Further Reading

  • Adshead, Samuel A. M. Central Asia in World History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1993. Discusses the politics and campaigns involved in the Timurids’ fall and places it in the context of the region’s broader political situation.
  • Jackson, Peter, ed. The Timurid and Ṣafavid Periods. Vol. 6 in The Cambridge History of Iran. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Presents the broad picture of the Timurid civilization and discusses its fall, especially from the Ṣafavid perspective.
  • Nicolle, David. The Age of Tamerlane. New York: Osprey, 1990. A well-illustrated study of warfare in the region to the early sixteenth century.
  • Thackston, M. W. A Century of Princes: Sources on Timurid History and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989. A useful collection of materials, especially for the period leading up to the dynasty’s fall.
  • Thackston, W. M., ed. The Baburnama: Memoirs of Bābur, Prince and Emperor. New York: Modern Library, 2002. An autobiographical account of Bābur’s life.

c. 1462: Kazak Empire Is Established

1469-1508: Ak Koyunlu Dynasty Controls Iraq and Northern Iran

Dec. 2, 1510: Battle of Merv Establishes the Shaybānīd Dynasty

Apr. 21, 1526: First Battle of Panipat

1598: Astrakhanid Dynasty Is Established