Justin Marozzi: Tamerlane and Samarkand

Justin Marozzi

I’d always thought of Temur as a cut-rate Genghis Khan who burst out of the Asian steppe, conquered a sizeable chunk of territory, and then failed to hold his empire together.

It was only when researching a trip to Uzbekistan that I discovered Temur — or Tamerlane, as he was known in the West — was one of the world’s greatest conquerors.

He was a strategist on a par with Alexander the Great, with a reputation for utter ruthlessness and a habit of leaving pyramids of skulls on the site of cities foolish enough to defy him.

He was also a brilliant diplomat, a generous friend, and a patron who valued learning and supported the arts.

When he wasn’t razing cities to the ground, Temur embellished Samarkand with tiled madrassas and verdant parks and filled his beloved city with scholars from a melting pot of languages and creeds.

And yet, the empire he built ceased to exist within one hundred years of his death. His own disappearance was equally thorough, at least in the annals of the West.

Today’s guest has done much to resurrect Temur’s memory, and his biography of the conquerer was one of my top reads of 2023.

Justin Marozzi is the author of Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World, Islamic Empires: Fifteen Cities That Define a Civilization, and The Way of Herodotus: Travels With The Man Who Invented History. He is a regular contributor to a wide range of publications including the Financial Times, Spectator, Guardian, Standpoint and Prospect.

You can read more about him on his website and follow him on Twitter.

We spoke about Temur’s military genius, his architectural and cultural legacy, and how he’s remembered in Uzbekistan today.

These are the books we mentioned in the podcast:

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About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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