The Timurid Legacy and Turko-Mongol Identity

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The political and social systems of the Mughals in India, the Uzbeks in Central Asia, and the Safavids in Iran had common origins in the nomadic Turko-Mongol tradition, although by the mid- sixteenth century they had evolved divergently and each had developed its own distinctive characteristics. The Uzbeks more conservatively maintained the relatively egalitarian clan-oligarchy structure of the steppe nomads than did the Safavids, who adopted the Persian model of royal quasi-divine absolutism, or the Mughals, who also built a more centralized state and initiated considerable administrative reforms. Even so, traditional steppe ethos continued to be an underlying impulse force common to the three systems, particularly in military matters.

The inaccurate application of the term ‘Mughal’ (that is, ‘Mongol’) to the Timurids of India appears to have arisen from the common usage of the Indian subject population, who following the thirteenth century invasions tended to see all invaders from Inner Asia as ‘Mongols’, just as Europeans long persisted in applying the term ‘Tatar’ to all steppe peoples, and Middle Easterners that of ‘Frank’ to all Western Europeans. In order to clarify this ambiguity, modern Uzbek scholars refer to the Mughal dynasty of India as the ‘Baburids’, but this usage has not gained acceptance outside the former Soviet Union.

According to an Indian writer of the nineteenth century, ,most of the people in India’ by his time were under the impression that the Mughals were actual descendants of Chingis Khan’s son Chaghatai, Ad therefore ethnically Mongols.’ The confusion arises from the term ‘Chaghatai’ itself, its eventual association with predominantly Turkic tribal groups being due to the fact that Central Asia had been Chaghatay Khan’s inheritance following his father’s death. At the turn of the fifteenth century, however, ‘Mughal’ in Persian-language sources referred specifically to the eastern branch of Chaghatay-Chingisids, those occupying Mughulistan or Jungaria (i.e., the family of Haydar Mirza Dughlat, author of the Tarikh-i-Rashidi, who was a friend, supporter, and cousin of Babur), as distinguished from the Chaghatays of Ma- wara-e-nahr and Ferghana. Babur, the founder of the Timurid dynasty which would rule northern India for nearly four centuries, belonged to this latter, western group. Annette Beveridge explains his genealogy thus:

…if Babur were to describe his mother in tribal terms, he would say she was half-Chaghatai, half-Moghul; and if he so described himself, he would say he was half-Timurid-Turk, half Chaghatai. He might have called the dynasty he founded in India Turki, might have called it Timuriya; he would never have called it Moghul, after his maternal grandmother.

Uzbek khanate sources refer to Babur and his successors as ‘the Chaghatays’.3 An eighteen th-cen tury Central Asian historian, ‘Abd al-Rahman Tali, referring to the loss of Timurid lands to the Uzbeks, states that the con unction of Jupiter and Saturn in 1501 signalled the end of the ‘Chaghatay period’,’ but speaking of Shah Jahan’s 1646 Balkh invasion says that Nazr Muhammad ‘gave over Balkh to the Chaghatays’.’ This suggests that the Uzbeks acknowledged the continuity from Timur to the Mughals of India.

The Mughals seem not to have resisted the application of the term ‘Chaghatay’ to their own line; even in 1725 the writer Muhammad Hadi Kamwarkhan called his history of the Indian Timurids the Tazkirat al-salatin-i-Chaghata .6 However, according to the French traveller Francois Bernier, by the late seventeenth century the term ‘Mughal’ was applied by Indians to any light- skinned Muslim of foreign descent, including Persians, Turks, Arabs, and even Uzbeks .7

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur was born in Andijan in the Ferghana valley in 1483. He was fifth in descent from Timur, and at age I I he inherited the throne of Ferghana from which lie would launch repeated attempts to recapture his ancestor’s glorious capital, Samarqand. He succeeded twice briefly, but was unable to hold the city against Shibani Kha n’s Uzbek army. He reluctantly set up his small kingdom in Kabul to the south, which would be his stronghold for two decades before he finally turned his attentions toward India, but his dream of Samarqand he held to the end of his life. Indeed this obsession was to be the inheritance he bequeathed to his own descendants, which would haunt them mercilessly despite their successes and glories in India for two centuries to come.

Babur makes his appearance on the pages of Indian history as a great conqueror, from his crushing defeat of lbrahim Lodi at the Battle of Panipat on 21 April 1526. But in the Central Asian sphere of which he never ceased to consider himself a part, at his death four years later Babur probably left this world feeling like a colossal failure. He disliked India, which for all its riches was small consolation in his mind for the loss of his hereditary lands. The nostalgic reminiscences which fill his memoirs are curiously echoed by subsequent Mughal emperors who never even laid eyes on Central Asia.

Babur’s son and successor, Humayun, was as Central Asian as his father. In 1549, nine years after his disastrous loss of northern India to the Afghan Sher Shah Suri, he came out of Iran at the head of a Safavid army lent him by Shah Tahmasp, but showed more interest in attacking Balkh, the gateway to Samarqand, than in recapturing his father’s Indian conquests. Humayun’s efforts toward Balkh were thwarted, then as always, by his unco-operative brother Kamran, but had he succeeded in re-establishing himself in Central Asia it is quite doubtful there ever would have been a Mughal dynasty in India. Since in 1549 Humayun failed in what was clearly his first choice, one can speculate that it was a somewhat reluctant Mughal who finally reconquered Delhi in 1555.

The first arguably ‘Indian’ Mughal ruler was Akbar, who was born of an Iranian mother at Umarkot in Sindh in 1542 during his father’s flight toward Iran. Akbar, who succeeded to the throne at fourteen after Humayun’s accidental death, ruled on his own behalf after overcoming the influence of his Iranian Turkmen regent, Bayram Khan, in 1560 and that of his own harem in 1562, although some historians have wondered whether the magnificence of his long reign wasn’t more the work of brilliant intimates, such as his biographer and friend, Abu’l Fazl, and the Hindu financial wizard Raja Todar Mal.

Akbar was Indian not only by birth but in outlook as well. His rule was a meritocracy characterized by tolerance, heterodoxy, and innovation; he incorporated Hindus into his military and administration, welcomed religious debate, and his fiscal reforms, the brainchild of Todar Mal, did not differentiate between Hindu and Muslim. Under Akbar, the Mughal Empire expanded to cover two-thirds of the Indian subcontinent and became the richest land in the world. Although (as will be discussed later) Abu’l Fazl claims that Akbar never ceased to dream of reconquering Central Asia, in reality this was neither consistent with Akbar’s efforts to consolidate his Indian empire, nor feasible in light of Central Asia’s uncharacteristic stability at the time under cAbdullah Khan.

Akbar’s wayward son Salim, who may have poisoned his father and in any case hastened his death by ordering the assassination of Abu’l Fazl which left the Emperor irreparably distraught, succeeded to the throne as Jahangir in 1605. Though popularly known as an ineffectual lush ruled over by his Persian wife Nur Jahan, Jahangir was a complex man who could display both great refinement and unbridled savagery. He revived in his person the Mughal obsession with Central Asia, although his dreams remained dreams and were not put into action. This remained for his son Khurram, who on Jahangir’s death in 1627 became the emperor Shah Jahan, best known to the world as the man who commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal as a memorial to his wife, but also, more important to this discussion, as the Mughal who tried to reconquer the ancestral Central Asian homeland.

On hearing news of jahangir’s passing, Nazr Muhammad Khan, the Uzbek ruler of Balkh, seized the opportunity to attack Mughal Kabul. Though unsuccessful, Nazr Muhammad’s attempt provided Shah Jahan with one pretext for turning Mughal military attentions at last toward Central Asia. After false starts in 1639 and 1641, Shah jahan finally put the century-old Mughal fantasy to work and launched an invasion of Central Asia in 1646. The Mughal army captured and held Balkh for a year and a half, but was unable to penetrate further and ultimately abandoned the effort, withdrawing under humiliating circumstances in 1647 and returning the region to Nazr Muhammad’s control.

Yet even this disaster was not enough to put the Mughal dream to rest completely. Aurangzeb, Shah jahan’s diligent third son whose regnal name was cAlamgir, dethroned his father and locked him up in Agra fort within view of his masterpiece, the Taj and went on to make a career of reversing the policies of his forefathers. Nevertheless, as will be demonstrated subsequently, he retained a sufficient sense of duty to pass on the obligation of reconquering Central Asia to his own son, Mucazzam, and felt bound enough to Timur’s tomb in Samarqand to undertake its annual maintenance. In practice, however, Aurangzeb’s overriding obsession was the reduction of the Deccan to the south, which absorbed him for the bulk of his fifty- nine year reign. It seems to have been his genuine intention to finish the task Shah Jahan had started, but he never got around to it, and he left his successors an empire too exhausted for such a mission.8
The Uzbek Khans

The term ‘Uzbek’ is no less problematic than the appellation ‘Mughal’, and is even harder to trace. Abu’l Ghazi links the designation to the Juchid Mongol Ozbek Khan whom he credits with converting his subjects to Islam. Folk etymology offers the explanation, ‘oz’+’beg’, or ‘selfruler’. According to R.D. McChesney, the term ‘was applied by medieval historians to all the Turko-Mongol tribes of the White Horde (i.e., the peoples given to the Orda after the death of Juchi in 1225)’, but properly speaking should be used only in reference to non-Chingisid tribals.

The system by which the Uzbek-held lands of Central Asia were governed differed from that of the Mughals most fundamentally by its decentralization. As McChesney describes it, ‘…political life was shaped by the neo-Chingizid appanage system of state and its internal dynamic… sovereignty was corporate, embodied in the ruling or royal clan and shared among its eligible members’.”‘ (Appanages are indicated by the Mongol term tiyul and by the Arabic mamlakat, as opposed to the terms iqta’at and hukumat which refer to land grants.)” Thus a clan would elect its leaderusually the seniormost member-in a clan meeting (the Mongol quriltay), and divvy out territories to clan members to be ruled more or less independently. (Often a distinction was made between the sultan suri, or apparent ruler, who was generally the eldest clan member and often unsuited to rule, and the sultan ma’nawi, who actually exercised power.) 12 The first requirement for leadership was agnatic descent from Chingis Khan’s eldest son, Juchi. The Shibanid dynasty which ruled Central Asia throughout the sixteenth century traced descent from Juchi’s son Shiban, while the Ashtarkhanid dynasty which ruled throughout the seventeenth century traced theirs from another of Juchi’s sons, Toqay-Timur. It is on this basis that McChesney argues for calling the dynasty the ‘Toqay-Timurids’. The dynasty is referred to in Persian sources as the Ashtarkhanids, from its origins around Astrakhan, and by some modern scholars (particularly Soviet) as the Janids, after its nominal founder jani Muhammad.

The traditional Central Asian-style appanage system of rule provided less stability than the more centralized Safavid or Mughal systems. In the absence of an exceptionally able and charismatic leader (such as Timur had been, and cAbdullah 11 proved to be in the second half of the sixteenth century), civil disorder was the usual result.15 Multiple power bases did exist in Mughal India with regional governors, often members of the royal family, frequently attempting rebellions. But in the Uzbek territories the power bases were more evenly matched, and thus served more often than not to weaken each other. Appanage rulers were heavily dependent on the support of their amirs, who could bring about the sovereign’s downfall merely by withdrawing their support. Interestingly, Babur complains of exactly this type of authority problem during his early campaigns into India 16, and Humayun was plagued by struggles of a similar nature. It is Akbar, in fact, who represents the Mughal break with the traditional Central Asian system in favour of a more effective central authority.

Muhammad Shibani Khan-known alternately as Shaybani Khan, Shibaq, Shahi Beg, Shah Bakht or Shaybak-was born in 1451. A grandson of Abu’I Khayr, he succeeded by 1507 in bringing most of Central Asia under his control, but within a year of his death in battle against the Safavids in 1510 the Abulkhayrids had once again lost every major Central Asian city to rival clans. 17 Most of the subsequent leaders of the Abulkhayrid clan were elected on the basis of seniority until the death of cAbd al-cAziz in 1550, when civil war broke out between the appanages of Bukhara, Samarqand, Tashkent, and Balkh.

By 1582, however, cAbdullah Khan had consolidated the four major appanages into a unified state, and in addition that capable ruler took Badakhshan from the Mughals in 1584 and Khurasan from the Safavids in 1588. He broke precedent by naming an heir, cAbd al-Mu’min, in a 1590 quriltay, but the latter on his accession in 1598 caused such alarm by killing off relatives that he was himself assassinated. At this time the Ashtarkhanids, led by Din Muhammad, whose participation in the conquest of Khorasan had given them increasing power, proclaimed a khanate in Khorasan and Sistan, but Din Muhammad was killed at Herat by the Safavids and the clan regravitated toward Central Asia.

In 1599, under the leadership of Din Muhammad’s brother Baqi Muhammad, the Ashtarkhanid clan defeated Pir Muhammad and the Shibanids at Bukhara. The victors held a quriltay and elected as leader their senior member Jani Muhammad, who gave control of Bukhara to his son Baqi Muhammad as his appanage.”‘ The latter was succeeded in 1606 by his brother Wali Muhammad, who in turn stepped down in 1611 after losing the support of his amirs. This event led to a number of Uzbek officials seeking refuge in India.

A bipartite Uzbek state evolved from 1612, with the sons of Din Muhammad, Imam Quli Khan, and Nazr Muhammad Khan, ruling the appanages of Bukhara arid Balkh respectively. This arrangement persisted until Imam Quli, old and nearly blind, called his brother to Bukhara and abdicated in his favour in late 1641.1’ The ongoing conflict between the two brothers has perhaps been exaggerated, following in the steps of informants of Shah Jahan, whose menacing manoeuvres at Kabul in 1639 brought Imam Quli rushing to his brother’s assistance. The two Uzbeks then mustered a force which persuaded the Mughal ruler that the time for invasion was not yet ripe.

The younger brother’s short reign at Bukhara was troubled by the disaffection of a faction of amirs led by one Yalangtosh Biy, who goaded Nazr Muhammad’s son cAbd al-cAziz into chasing him back to Balkh. Filial disloyalty combined with incessant harassment by tribesmen (‘almans’) forced Nazr Muhammad to appeal to Shahj ahan for help.21 The Mughal emperor needed no more than such an invitation to set his army in motion toward Central Asia.

Following the one-and-a-half-year Mughal occupation of Balkh province, from which the region suffered even greater and more lasting hardship than did the Mughal army itself, Nazr Muhammad returned at Shah Jahan’s request and regained his throne. Unable to cope with the devastation the Mughals had wrought, in 1651 he abdicated in favour of his younger son Subhan Quli Khan, who once again presided over half of a bipartite state, in conjunction with his elder brother cAbd al-cAziz at Bukhara.

The double khanate lasted for thirty years, until cAbd alcAziz, seventy years old and wearied by constant attacks by Shibanid Uzbeks from Khwarazm, gave over his throne to Subhan Quli, who reigned over the re-unified Uzbek lands until his death in 1702. He was succeeded by his son cUbaydallah at Bukhara and his grandson Muhammad Muqim at Balkh, but the resurgence of decentralizing amirid power paved the way for the ultimate decline of the dynasty.

By the second half of the sixteenth century Mughal India was a colossus; Central Asia, while having enjoyed a period of stability under cAbdullah Khan, was becoming something of a backwater. The Mughal population in 1598 has been estimated at anywhere from sixty to ninety-eight million,while in Uzbek Turan, including Balkh, Stephen Dale has Put the figure at around five million people. Northern India had a diversified economy, was a net exporter of goods, and had a positive trade balance; it exported mainly bulky staples, and imported ‘specialty crops and luxury manufactures, most of them destined for the Mughal elite.

From Central Asia the Mughals received melons and other regional fruits, and the so-called turki steppe horses which were known for their endurance. Yet Central Asian coins, which weighed less than half the Mughal rupee even in the sixteenth century, were rapidly debased following the death of cAbdullah Khan. While India produced most of its own wealth, the golden age of Central Asia’s economy had come from trade. For centuries Central Asia’s crossroads location had ensured its prosperity, but for reasons which continue to be debated, by the sixteenth century the region’s ‘centrality’ was declining. Muzaffar Alam has recently argued that the increased European domination of the seas actually spurred overland trade during the seventeenth century, and that ‘the land-route in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries not only competed successfully with the maritime route, but also seems to have posed a kind of threat to it’.” But as the example Alam cites involves British attempts to control the routes taken by Armenian merchants in particular, his argument illustrates only the persistence of overland trade, and not its dominance.

The Mughals’ Timurid and Turko-Mongol
Self-Identity

The legitimacy of the Mughals both in their own eyes and in the eyes of others rested on their lineal descent from Timur. At a remove of five generations, Babur was one of a number of Timur’s descendants who were struggling to hold on to the splintering remnants of the Timurid empire in Central Asia at the end of the fifteenth century. He was the only one to establish a power base in the sixteenth century, but lie did so in India, which two centuries earlier Timur had conquered briefly and then left, not within the Timurid heartland-and even this accomplishment didn’t come until near the end of Babur’s life.

Yet although Babur’s wish was not to remain in India but rather to rule from Samarqand as Timur did, his legitimacy as an Indian ruler derived from his ancestor’s conquest. Babur writes in his memoirs, ‘Since we had always had in mind to take Hindustan, we regarded as our own territory the several areas of Bhera, Khushab, Chenab, and Chiniot, which had long been in the hands of the Turk [i.e., the Timurids]’. Accordingly, he forbids plunder when launching his first raid into India .25
Numerous paintings commissioned by the ‘ Mughal emperors give vivid visual testimony to this fact. One, near the beginning of an Akbar-nama done in 1596, gives a comparative portrayal of the festivities surrounding Timur’s birth and those surrounding Akbar ‘s.26 A later painting, commissioned by Shah Jahan in around 1635, shows Timur presenting his crown to Babur .27 A 1653 portrait depicts Timur sitting on an outdoor throne together with Babur to one side and Humayun to the other, and handing a turban pin (sarpich), symbolizing his authority, to Babur .28 Another, the two-page frontispiece of the official chronicle
of the first part of Shah Jahan’s reign, the Padshah-nama, has facing portraits of Timur and Shah Jahan.

This legitimacy became increasingly important for the Mughals after Babur’s death, as Humayun and his successors came to accept, to some degree at least, their role as Indian monarchs. But in a world where lineage was nearly everything, the Mughal descendants of Timur could not, ideologically speaking, abandon their paramount claim to Central Asia no matter how firmly established in India they became.

Abu’l FazI calls Akbar the ‘glory of the Gurgan (Timur’s) family’ (furugh-i-khandan-i-Gurgani) and the ‘lamp of the tribe of Timur’ (chiragh-i-dudman-i-Sahib-qirani).”‘ Timur himself, being unable to claim genuine Chingisid lineage, had sought to add to his legitimacy by marrying into a Chingisid family; hence the nisba of ‘Gurgan’, from the Mongolian guregan, meaning son-in-law.

Abu’I Fazl’s elder brother, the poet Faizi, calls the emperor the ‘lamp of the court of dominion of Timur’s dynasty’.-” Jahangir ordered the erection at Kabul, Babur’s burial site, of a stone engraved with his own name and those of his lineal ancestors back to Timur .32 He also had a stone throne put up next to the one over Babur’s grave, and had it engraved with his own name and Timur’s.”‘

Echoing Abu’I FazI, the chronicler Lahauri calls Shah Jahan ‘that pride of the Gurgan dynasty’. Shah Jahan fancied himself practically a re-incarnation of Timur, having supposedly been born, like his ancestor, during the con unction of Venus and jupiter (Shah Jahan’s horoscope, unfortunately, was off by several months). One of Timur’s favoured titles was ‘Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction’ (Sahib-i-qiran), leading Shah Jahan to assume the title of ‘Second Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction’ (Sahib-i-qirani Mani).” More than any other Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan embodied the desire for Central Asia as an obsession, and was the first since Humayun, a century earlier, to actually put the attempt at reconquest into action.

Timur was the prime role model and reference point for the achievements of the Mughal emperors. According to the Humayun-nama, the Timur-nama (i.e., the Zafar-nama of Sharaf al- Din cAli Yazdi, completed in 1424-5) and other such books were Humayun’s ‘real companions’ .31′ During his exile among the Safavids Humayun drew an omen from a dervish’s gift of a boot that the time was ripe for him to reconquer India, the ‘foot’ of the world, remembering how Timur had divined from the breast of a sheep that it was his time to take Khurasan, the ‘breast’ of the world.” Abu’l Fazl copiously quotes from Yazdi’s work,18 and compares Akbar’s horoscope favourably to that of his illustrious ancestor, whom lie calls I that brightener of the face of fortune’.`!’ He even goes so far as to say that Timur’s ‘holy existence was the forerunner of the perpetual dominion of his Majesty, the King of Kings (Akbar) ‘, and later points out that while during his India campaign Timur had captured 120 elephants, Akbar captured 1,500 during his campaigns.” Bada’uni mentions that on one occasion Akbar revived traditional Chaghatay dining hall customs for the visit of Mirza Sulayman, although he adds that they were discontinued again after the prince’s departure .41


Jahangir and Shah Jahan were both avid readers of Yazdi’s Zafar-nama. One copy of this work made in 1467-8 for the Timurid prince Aqa Mulla and now in the Walters Gallery in Baltimore, bears marginal notes in the hand of Jahangir and the seals of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. More than a century later Aurangzeb was sententiously quoting anecdotes about Timur to his father, Shah Jahan, whom he had imprisoned. In his high-handed way, the usurping son claimed humility before God just as Timur had done after defeating the Ottoman Sultan Bayazid ’41 and told his father, ‘I should disgrace the blood of the great Timur, our honoured progenitor, if I did not seek to extend the bounds of my present territories’. One assumes from this that Shah Jahan had been urging his son to renew the attempt to reconquer Central Asia, since Aurangzeb is defending here his campaigns in Bengal and the Deccan.

Apart from carrying on the torch of Timurid triumph, however, the Mughals were also subtle perpetuators of numerous Mongol traditions, demonstrating the additional layer of their character as products of the pre-Islamic steppe world. Babur’s death is said to have resulted from his taking an illness of Humayun upon himself-an old Mongol conception.” Legend has Chingis Khan’s son Tolui sacrifice himself in the same way in order to save his brother Ogodei.

Speaking of Emperor Humayun’s manner of receiving people, the Humayun-nama mentions that ‘His Majesty enjoined certain regulations (tura) which are fixed for interviews with kings’.”‘ Another passage, describing how after a hunt the emperor’s younger brother Prince Hindal offered his game to Humayun, ‘following the rules of Chinghis Khan’, uses a Persian synonym, dastur (‘ba dasturi-Chingiz Khan’).` Referring to an earlier event, when all the Timurid princes came to join Babur’s mourning march on the death of Sultan Husayn in 1506, Gulbadan states that one prince, Badi’ al-zaman, would not come since he was Babur’s elder, until Qasim Beg persuaded him by saying, ‘younger [Babur] is by years but by the tura he has precedence because he has more than once taken Samarqand by force’ .50 Abu’l FazI mentions that in 1548 Humayun received his brother Kamran ‘according to [Mongol] custom (ba didan-i-tura)’.”

According to Bada’uni, writing in Akbar’s time, it was a Mongol tura that ‘if the Emperor cast his eye with desire on any woman, the husband is bound to divorce her’ .52 Jahangir, in his memoirs, describes himself as having performed obeisance and prostration when greeting his mother ‘according to the tura of Chinghis, the qanun of Timur, and common usage’ .51 And when Jahangir’s rebel son Khusrau is brought before him, the captive is led up to the emperor’s left side, ‘after the manner (rasm) and custom (tura) of Chinghis Khan ‘. Mansura Haider has discussed the significance of the term tura to the Mughals in a recent article .55 However, like earlier British historians, she equates the term with yasa, which is Chingisid law, whereas tura is Mongol customary law (Mong. tura).


The late sixteenth century Portuguese traveller Montserrate describes how the Mughals maintained the Mongol arrangement of tents and pavilions in setting up the royal camp while on campaign. Akbar’s mansab ranking system was derived from a Mongol model (the evolution of the mansabsystem from its origins in the army of Chingis Khan is first traced by the British historian W.H. Moreland) .57 Akbar also introduced to India a Chingisid category of land grant, which unlike other types of grants, were not to be changed or terminated .51 Jahangir describes this in his memoirs:
… I informed the bakhshis that whoever wished to have his birthplace made into his jagir should make a representation to that effect, so that in accordance with the Chinghiz canon (tura) the estate might be conveyed to him by al tamgha and become his property, and lie might be secured from apprehension of change. Our ancestors and forefathers were in the habit of granting jagirs to everyone under proprietary title, and adorned the farmans for these with the al tamgha seal, which is an impressed seal made in vermilion (i.e., red ink). I ordered that they should cover the place for tile seal with gold-leaf (tila-push) and impress the seal thereon, and I called this the altun (gold) tamgha”
The Mongol title ‘Tarkhan’, which offered privileges such as excusing the holder from otherwise mandatory attendance at court, was bestowed infrequently by the Mughal emperors on favourites, such as the Chingisid Mirza Jani Beg, who was honoured thus by Akbar. Other Tarkhans mentioned in the Ma’athir al-‘umara, an eighteenth century ‘peerage’ of the Mughal empire, include Mirza Ghazi Beg (i, P. 582), Mirza cIsa (i, p. 689), Muhammad Salih (ii, p. 205), and Nur al-din (ii, p. 483) .60 The title was originally a hereditary one.61 Under Timur a Tarkhan had free access to the palace, and criminal immunity for himself and his children up to nine offenses.

The number ‘nine’ also held a special significance for the Mughals. For example, gifts made to the emperor had to be given nine at a time; so that the Turkish word for nine, tuqquz, came to mean ‘a 9 ift’.62 As Humayun’s sister Gulbadan writes, ‘Even the gifts were presented in the Mongol tura, namely all sorts of stuffs in tuqquz, 163 An enduring example of the number nine’s continuing significance is given by the Khwarazmian Uzbek Abu’l Ghazi, who divided his Shajarah-i-turk into nine chapters because ‘wise men have said: “nothing must exceed the number nine”‘.” To cite a Mongol precedent, young Chingis Khan, giving thanks to the mountain Burkhan Khaldun for sheltering him from his Merkit enemies, knelt nine times facing the sun.”

Yet however much the Mughals preserved vestiges of steppe tradition, the Uzbeks remained closer to those shared roots. A description in the Bahr al-asrar of the ceremonial seating arrangements at the court of Nazr Muhammad shows, in the words of the Russian orientalist V.V. Bartol’d, ‘how much the Uzbek khans … even in the mid-seventeenth century, had to take into consideration the traditions of nomadic life and kinship systems’. (Bartol’d goes on to point out that this situation had changed greatly by the nineteenth century.)6

The Mughals’ consciousness of their Timurid roots was perhaps most enduringly manifested in the architectural legacy they left. Anyone who has seen Timur’s mausoleum, the Gur-i-Amir, at Samarqand, Humayun’s tomb at Delhi and the Taj Mahal at Agra can see the connection. Lisa Golombek has called the latter two monuments ‘variations on the theme of the imperial mausoleum in a garden setting’, bearing the two main characteristics of monumentality and rationalism’ which Mughal tombs share with Timurid architecture. The Timurid double-dome inspired the double-domes of Mughal architecture, and the perfection of the transverse vault was ‘the key to all the major innovations of Timurid architecture’ .67 John Hoag, citing examples such as the Ishrat-khana and the Bibi Khanum mosque at Samarqand, states in regard to the Taj Mahal that ‘the very building of such a lavish tomb to the memory of a woman is a Turkish, Central Asian custom rather than Indian’.68

Foreign Recognition of the Mughals’
Timurid Legitimacy

It has been argued that Babur’s inability to establish himself at home in Central Asia stemmed from his failure to gather a sufficient support base amongst either of the two groups which could have ensured his power, the more urbanized Timurids or the still semi-nomadic Moghuls.69 Even so, Babur’s Uzbek rival, Shibani Khan, sought to strengthen his own connections to Timurid legitimacy, by marrying Babur’s maternal aunt, two daughters of maternal stepuncles, and Babur’s own sister, and arranged to have other members of his own family enter into similar marriages.10 Later, when Babur took Kabul from the Arghuni clan, whom he saw as usurpers since they had captured the territory from Ulugh Beg’s son cAbd al-Razzaq, they ceded the province to Babur ‘by pact and agreement’, suggesting they found it expedient to recognize his Timurid credentials.

Once the Mughals were firmly established as rulers of India, the rest of the world found it expedient to recognize their Timurid pedigree as well. Shah cAbbas of Iran addresses Jahangir in official correspondence as ‘him who sits upon the Gurgani throne and is the heir of the crown of Timur’ ’72 and at one point allowed a Mughal ambassador, Khan cAlam, to take away from Isfahan as a gift for the emperor, a rare painting of Timur and his sons and favoured generals battling against Tuqtamish Khan .71

Shah cAbbas later sent Shah Jahan a ruby inscribed with the names Timur, Shah Rukh, Ulugh Beg, Shah cAbbas (!), Akbar, Jahangir, and Shah Jahan .71 Around 1640 Hasan Khan Shamlu, the Safavid governor of Herat, flustered by the proximity of the Mughal armies assembling at Kabul, wrote to Shah Jahan addressing him as the ‘descendant of the family of pure wisdom’ (nataij-i-dudman-i-‘aql-i:fahim), the ‘augmenter of the prestige of the Gurgan throne’ (hamal-afza-yi-takht-i-gurgani), and ‘Great Lord of the Auspicious Conjunction (sahib-qiran-i-alikhagani)’.75

Timurid princes and pretenders often claimed authority in the border regions, and the nature of Timurid prestige was such that such claims often gained local support. One example was a false Prince Husayn, son of Prince Shah Rukh, who sent a request to Jahangir for an army to help him retake Badakhshan from the Uzbeks. Jahangir rebuffed the request, since the Badakhshanis had already produced a number of Timurid pretenders each of whom the Uzbeks had succeeded in killing off.76 Another pretender mentioned in the Mughal sources is a false Baysunghur, son of Prince Daniyal, one of Jahangir’s brothers. This individual went to Balkh and presented himself to Nazr Muhammad, who received him well at first, but appears not to have offered actual support. The pretender next tried his luck in Iran at the court of Shah Safi, before proceeding to Baghdad and finally to Turkey where he was exposed as an impostor by the Mughal ambassador Waqqas Hajji .77

Legitimacy and Prestige Accorded to Uzbek Rulers

As true Chingisids, the Uzbek rulers enjoyed a claim to legitimacy which held to some extent throughout Muslim Asia. Within Central Asia itself they were the major force to be reckoned with for three and a half centuries, and a constant concern to neighbours on all sides including the Mughals, the Safavids, the Russian tsars, and the Ming Chinese. The Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani portrays the Uzbeks as patrons and protectors of the Timurids during the Uzbek ascendancy in the fifteenth century. Shibani Khan’s grandfather, Abu’l Khayr Sultan, who had taken Khwarazm from Timur’s son Shah Rukh before he was even twenty years of age, is said to have become so famous and powerful that ‘the great rulers of the world’ came to seek his assistance, ‘such that, at the time of the conquest of Qara Yusuf Turkmen’s offspring, the descendants of Amir Gurgan, Prince Abu Sa’id, Prince Manuchehr, Prince Muhammad Chuki, and Prince Sultan Husayn took refuge at his court and returned to their own states only with his (Abu’l Khayr’s) help’ .78

Shah Jahan, striving to instil trust in Nazr Muhammad while advancing on the latter’s territory, refers to him in his letters as ‘the noblest of the dynasty of Chinghis Khan’. (He also refers to the Balkh ruler as ‘the brightest gem in the crown of royalty’, and ‘the star of the constellation of propriety’.)”‘ The official Mughal chronicle of the time likewise refers to the Uzbek as ‘that descendant of Chinghis Khan’.110

Subhan quli Khan was arguably the last effective Uzbek ruler of Central Asia. The Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani boasts that the power and prestige attributed to him was such that he received simultaneous embassies from Turkey, Kashgar, and Crimea.” However, while Subhan Quli was a frequent correspondent with Aurangzeb and still a military threat to the Turkic lands to the east, by the end of the seventeenth century the Uzbek khanates despite their Chingisid lineage were ceasing to be at the forefront of the thoughts even of the Mughals, and had receded into obscurity in the minds of most of the rest of the Islamic world. They remained, perhaps, Chingisid legends mainly in their own minds. In support of this interpretation, the early nineteenth century Polish-Russian scholar, Joszef Senkowski, believes a purported letter from Ahmet II cited in the Tazkira-yi Muqim Khani as proof of an Ottoman embassy is a forgery, since it was written in a Central Asian dialect of Turkish which the Ottomans would have considered beneath their dignity to write .82

Mutual Perceptions

The Muslim inhabitants of Central Asia and those of’ northern India in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries appear not to have tho g each other mainly as foreigners or as subjects of another king. Rather, they considered each other foremost as Muslims and secondarily in terms of family connections or other loyalties which, as has been seen, were spread out across their adjoining territories.

Official chronicles attempt to mirror such perceptions. Abu’l FazI writes that, ‘the mutual affection of neighbouring nations, such as Persians, Turanians, Ottomans, and Indians is too well- known to be described’ .113Similarly, after abolishing transit taxes in Kabul, Jahangir writes that he has ‘greatly benefited the people of Iran and Turan’. Although his motives can hardly have been entirely altruistic, the emperor’s statement at least reflects a sort of ideal about how non-Arab Muslim peoples in Asia viewed their interdependence.

The overriding perception of Central Asians towards India appears to have been of its fabulous wealth. The greatest evidence for the prevalence of this view is in the number of Central Asians who travelled to India, either permanently or temporarily, in search of financial betterment. Even those Central Asians who never travelled to India would have heard about it from those who did, either through gossip or perhaps by reading travelogues (safar-namas) such as those of Mutribi Samarqandi or Mahmud b. Amir Wali. They also would have been aware of the magnificent gifts brought to the Balkh and Bukhara courts by Mughal. ambassadors, sent by Indian Muslims to friends and family in Central Asia, or bestowed on Central Asian travellers and brought back home by them. Finally, there existed in all major Central Asian towns successful communities of Indian merchants, both Hindu and Muslim, and, in the words of Muzaffar Alam ‘the fabulous wealth and unmatched trading skill of the Indians often seem to have excited enough jealousy on the part of the local people to land them into trouble’.” However successful these Indian merchants may have been, they are said to have repeated a proverb: ‘The pleasure that can be had in one’s own courtyard cannot be had even in Balkh or Bukhara’.”

The Muslims of Mughal India, for their part, respected Central Asia primarily for its centres of religious learning, especially the seminaries at Bukhara, where some Indian Muslims went to study.”‘ Central Asia, and Bukhara in particular with its many madrasas, had long enjoyed a prestigious reputation in the realm of Islamic education. This reputation rested substantially on Bukharan-produced orthodox texts such as those of Taftazani (fourteenth c.), which were included in curricula throughout the Islamic world.

Rulers’ Views of Their Mutual Relationship

In general terms, the prevailing theme in diplomatic correspondence is friendship between the corresponding parties. In this the Mughal and Uzbek rulers were no exception. The theme was enriched by the special historical ties between the two Central Asian groups. Rulers on both sides didn’t fail to make mention of this in their communications, and official chronicles generally paint a rosy picture of love, understanding, co-operation, and mutual support between the two entities. The alleged purpose of cAbdullah Khan’s letters to Akbar, for example, is ‘to recall ancient relations and renew friendship’. “” Actually cAbdullah Khan was attempting to explain why he had invaded and taken Badakhshsan from the Mughals. The Tabaqat-i-Akbari states that cAbdullah Khan was ‘always shaking the chain of friendship and alliance’, and quotes from a letter Akbar sent the Uzbek ruler which ends with the couplet, ‘While we each with the other are in amity/ Both land and sea from tumult and disturbance are free’.”9

The Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani claims that Imam Quli Khan was ‘always friendly’ towards the Mughals, glossing over the fact that he had broken off relations with them for several years because of a perceived insult by Jahangir. Jahangir had been frivolous with Imam Quli’s envoy, asking after the Uzbek ruler’s love life, meaning young boys. When the envoy replied, ‘Our khan is free from worldly attachments, and never are his thoughts engaged in worldly things’, Jahangir quipped, ‘And what has your khan seen of the world, that he holds no more inclinations towards it?’90

Imam Quli, on hearing this, kept a Mughal delegation waiting in Bukhara for months without receiving them, and finally took their gifts and gave them away except for a sword of Akbar. In the Silsilat al-salatin, written thirty years after the Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani, the above mentioned remarks are attributed instead to Shah Jahan and Muhammad Sadiq, son of Imam Quli’s ambassador Khwaja cAbd al-Rahim,” but the earlier account is more plausible. In any event no one could afford to brush off the Mughals for long. Even the Shibanids of Urganj in Khwarazm sent an embassy to Jahangir in order to ‘shake the chain of hereditary connections’ .92

The Mughals’ sense of superiority over their Uzbek rivals to the north-west is clear, however. The official illusion hinted at in the Mughal chronicles is that the Mughals were still somehow the true and legitimate masters of Central Asia but were content to let the Uzbeks ‘housesit’ for them there as long as order was maintained. The Shah Jahan-nama calls Nazr Muhammad’s march on Kabul following ahangir’s death ‘rebellious’, a term which implies Mughal suzerainty. Thus the invasion of 1646 was portrayed by the Mughal sources simply as a ‘peacekeeping mission’.93 But it is not difficult to see a very different picture between the lines, and throughout the sources’ fear of the Mughals comes through far more profoundly than any talk of friendship. Specifically, the Uzbeks never forgot that the Mughals had come from Central Asia and dreamed of returning there as conquerors. Referring to Humayun, Abu’l Fazl writes that ‘the dread residence of His Majesty in Badakhshan wrought dismay in all Turan’.11 Further on lie claims that cAbdullah Khan’s motives in soliciting Akbar’s friendship were, in addition to securing help against internal rivals, ‘that he might repose in peace and be without apprehension of the world-conquering armies’.

The Uzbek sources confirm the insecurity felt towards the Mughals. The Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani, for example, states matter-of-factly that, ‘it was known in Bukhara that Jahangir intended to invade Badakhshan’ .116 This concern, which Jahangir cannot truly be said to have warranted, was multiplied on the accession of the more assiduous Shah Jahan. Once the succession was clearly established, Nazr Muhammad sent an embassy led by Waqqas Hajji I to apologize for his improper conduct’ in attacking Kabul after Jahangir’s death.” When Shah Jahan arrived at Kabul in 1639, supposedly to subdue the restive Hazara hill tribes, a nervous Nazr Muhammad immediately dispatched an embassy to meet him Soon afterwards lie sent another embassy from Balkh, as did his brother Imam Quli from Bukhara.

The Safavid governor of Herat, Hasan Khan Shamlu, was also unsettled by the proximity of the Mughal army at Kabul and sent a number of letters to high-ranking Mughal officials, such as Asaf Khan, making ‘anxious inquiries’ regarding their plans. Hasan hopes the Mughal intentions are to recover their ‘ancestral burial grounds’ (gurkhana-imawriahi), and promises Safavid troop support from the Khorasan regiments under his command.”‘ He appears to have received a reassuring response, that indeed Shah Jahan’s presence in Kabul signalled only his intent to recover the ‘burial grounds of the great ancestors’ (gurkhana-yi-ajdad-i-‘izam).

It was during the invasion and occupation of Balkh that the Uzbeks first encountered and acquired respect for Shah Jahan’s fourth son Aurangzeb, who was sent to replace his elder brother Murad Bakhsh as field commander after the initial success of the expedition. The Ma’athir- i-cAlamgiri, an official chronicle of the early part of Aurangzeb’s reign, describes how the devout prince astonished his Uzbek foes on the field of battle by stepping down from his horse in the midst of the fray in order to perform the zuhr (noon) prayer. This act is said to have made cAbd al-cAziz give up the fight, on the grounds that ‘to quarrel with such a man is to ruin one’s self. This impression, if not the incident itself, is independently confirmed by the French traveller Bernier, who learns of it from the ambassadors Subhan Quli sent to cAlamgir’s court in 1661-2, following the latter’s victory in the 1659 war of succession.

Turkishness

The fact that by ethnological criteria, both Mughals and Uzbeks can be considered as Turks, highlights the need for precision and specificity in defining and applying ethnic terms. For purposes of historical discussion it would be preferable to concentrate on the usage of the sources-if only the sources were precise and specific themselves. In actuality they use the term ‘Turk’ in two senses. In one, an ethnic sense, the word applies to a group which is neither Mughal nor Tajik (Persian- speaking). The second, social sense, distinguishes a group which are not city-dwellers.

These distinctions are confused by related genealogies and complicated by intermarriages, as the case of Babur and Shibani Khan vividly illustrates; the two arch-rivals were actually bound by a number of marriage ties. The early sixteenth century Tarikh-i-Rashidi distinguishes between the Uzbeks, the Chaghatays, and the Mughals in a political sense; that is, as tribes in conflict: ‘…of the four great tribes, three-namely, the Uzbeg, the Chaghatai, and the Moghuls-had always been at variance… 1.106 Babur’s definitions, meanwhile, appear to be more of the social type. In his memoirs, he applies the term ‘Turk’ to herdsmen and shepherds, in opposition to the term Sart which he uses for settled peoples (Eli, agarci sart u dihnishin dur, vali atrak dek gala-u ramaligh ellar dur, cAbd alRahim Khan-i-khanan translates both Sart and dih-nishin into his Persian text as Tajik). Babur also uses the same terms as linguistic designations, when he proposes at a banquet that, ‘anyone who sang a song in Persian (sartca) would be allowed to drink a goblet of wine… . Then it was proposed that anyone who sang a song in Turkish (tukica) would be allowed to drink a goblet’.

As has been stated earlier, both Chaghatays and Uzbeks served the Mughals, particularly in the traditional Turkic domain of military service. Twenty-seven of the fifty-one nobles accompanying Humayun on his return to India in 1555 were either Chaghatay or Uzbek Central Asians, and by 1580 Central Asian nobles still slightly outnumbered Persians at forty-eight to forty- seven. In Shah Jahan’s time (1647-8) the balance, though tipped, was still fairly close, with 23.3 per cent of the officials ranking above 500 being Central Asian as opposed to 28.4 per cent Iranian.” Quite a few of the military men included in the Ma’athir al-‘umara’ are classified as Uzbeks: Abd al-Rahim Beg (i, p. 48), Abdullah Khan (i, p. 82), Allah Quli Khan (i, p. 208), Bahadur Khan (i, p. 351), Iskandar Khan (i, p. 691), Qazaq Khan Baqi Beg (ii, p. 523), Ibrahim Khan (ii, p. 659), Shadi Khan (ii, p. 727), Shah Beg (ii, p. 743), and Shamshir Khan Arslan Biy (ii, p. 798).

The sources include many references, both positive and negative, to the Chaghatays and the Uzbeks as specific groups. At Akbar’s coronation the officers and grandees of Chaghatay lineage received special marks of attention.”‘ Jahangir in his memoirs calls Mir cAli b. Feridun Khan Barlas, ‘one of the trusted amirzadas’ of the Timurid clan.”‘ (Amirzada would refer to a descendent of Timur, who titled himself amir. ‘Barlas’ was the name of the tribe to which Timur belonged, and was therefore a prestigious surname to have in Mughal India.) In addition to Feridun Khan (i, p. 527), the Ma’athir al-‘umara’ has entries for several other commanders of the Barlas clan, including Muhammad Quli Khan (ii, p. 183) and Tarbiyat Khan (ii, p. 926).

Timur’s legacy carried sufficient weight in India two centuries after his brief conquest that the inhabitants of Pakli claimed descent from the Qarlughs he left there, although Jahangir dismisses them as ‘pure Lahauris’ .112 Even at the tail end of Aurangzeb’s reign a century later, the term ‘Chaghatay’ was bestowed upon favourites of the Emperor as a designation of honour. The Ma’athir al’umara’ has entries for Sa’id Khan Chaghatai (ii, p. 679) and Sarfaraz Khan Chaghatay (ii, p. 714), among others.

Not surprisingly, the Central Asian sources do not always give the Chaghatay designation such positive associations. The Shajarah-i-turk attributes Burke Sultan’s loss of Samarqand in the mid-fifteenth century to the defection of Chaghatays in his army to Abu Sa’id despite the fact that their leader, Muhammad Chuki Mirza, ‘recognized the justice of Burka’s opinion’. (The army had been made up of ‘Chaghatays and Uzbeks’.)”‘ Even the Eastern Mughal Haydar Mirza, a relative and supporter of Babur and Humayun, states that at the time of Babur’s birth ‘the Chaghatai were very rude and uncultured, and not refined as they are now’. He claims they couldn’t pronounce the future emperor’s proper Muslim name, and so called him ‘Babur’ (‘the tiger’) instead. For Abu’l- Ghazi, the author of Shajarah-i-turk, the Mughals were too far removed to mention, except for one vague passing reference to a Persian who had gone ‘to fight the Chaghatais I . 116

Timur was not actually a blood descendant of Chingis Khan, which is why even despite his nearly equalling the Mongol’s conquests he never dared to take for himself the supreme Mongolian title of khagan, but called himself simply amir, or ‘commander’.”‘ The Uzbek rulers, however, unlike the Mughals, were true Chingisids, and thus looked down upon the ancestry of the Timurids. Yet, according to Timur Beisembiev:

The rule of the Shaybanids and Ashtarkhanids in Central Asia were [sic] regarded in Moghul India as a crying injustice and abuse of the Chingizid tradition, since both Shaybanids and Ashtarkhanids, although Chingizids, were descended from Juchi, the elder son of Chingiz Khan, and therefore had not any right on the ulus of his middle son Chaghatay.

Even so, Shibani Khan did not consider himself an Uzbek, a fact which highlights the difference between historical and modern usage of the term. His official chronicle, the Shibani-nama, has him say, ‘Let the Chaghatai not call me an Uzbek’, which suggests ‘that he had already risen above his nomadic counterparts 1.120 In fact he was not an ‘Uzbek’ in the usage of the time; he was a Chingisid. Furthermore, as the inheritor of the high court culture of the Timurid Sultan Husain’s Herat, Shibani Khan had pretensions of being a highly cultivated man himself.

On the positive side, by Islamic standards, Uzbeks were known throughout the Muslim world for their piety and orthodoxy. A modern ‘Uzbek’ apologist, Edward Allworth, somewhat improbably cites this as a major cause in the Safavid-Uzbek conflict, claiming (on the basis of no cited source) that Shah Isma’il’s pederasty ‘greatly angered the pious Uzbek [Shibani] Khan’. According to the Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani ‘Ubaydullah Khan arrived one day late for the Battle of Marv in 1510 where his predecessor lost his life, but dutifully recited prayers over Shibani’s corpse. (If so it would have been an incomplete corpse, since Shibani’s head had been sent off to Isma’il who, following an ancient Turko-Mongol custom, had it fashioned into a drinking cup.) ‘Ubaydullah is said to have spent most of his time in pious activities, to have loved conversing with theologians,composed several treatises on Islam, and to have been just and brave into the bargain .123 Haydar Dughlat agrees that ‘Ubaydullah was ‘a true Musulman, religiously inclined, pious and abstinent’, as well as a calligrapher and a musician. 121 cAbdullah Khan wrote to Akbar reprimanding him for veering off the straight path of Islam ‘125 and even the Uzbek nobles in Akbar’s service are said to have been constantly infuriated by his heterodox practices. 121, Of the Ashtarkhanid ruler Imam Quli Khan, the Tazkira-yi-Muqim Khani says he was ‘just, disinterested, active, pious, and divided the day between administrative affairs and domestic virtues’ .127

The Uzbeks, with nomadic detachment, also prided themselves on the simplicity of their tastes. Receiving an embroidered tent and other expensive gifts from Jahangir, Imam QuIi Khan, ‘who hated luxury’, gave it all away to an attendant while the Mughal ambassador looked on.”” The Uzbek chronicle claims, moreover, that he treated all who came to him with generosity, while ‘retaining the utmost simplicity in his own home, habits, and customs’. Imam Quli is said to have kept only two horses in his royal stables, although in wartime ‘his subjects gladly provided any mount he needed’. The explanation given for Nazr Muhammad’s inability to hold Bukhara is that the local inhabitants, ‘accustomed to Imam Quli’s economic simplicity, were revolted by Nazr Muhammad’s ruinous innovations’ .130

As the inheritors of the Mongol tradition, Uzbeks thought of themselves as superior horsemen and archers. The Venetian Niccolao Manucci attests to the validity of this characterization, calling the Uzbeks ‘active horsemen and dextrous archers, their bows and arrows being large and powerful’.”‘ A delegation sent by Subhan Quli Khan to Aurangzeb even boasted to the Frenchman Bernier that i their womenfolk were like Amazon warriors. They claimed that during the Mughal occupation of Balkh, an Uzbek girl had single-handedly decimated a Mughal contingent which had plundered her village. Bernier, like Manucci, notes that Uzbek bows and arrows were much larger than the Indian articles. The said delegation brought with them some of these Amazon women to sell as slaves in India.”‘ Manucci praises these Uzbek women for their skill with arrow, lance, and sword, and says they were valued as guards when the king was within his harem.

It has been noted that the steppe tradition of clan politics implied a more decentralized pattern of authority than was found in the Mughal imperial system. This led to problems between the Mughal rulers and their Central Asian, often Uzbek, military commanders, who also felt a certain amount of friction on religious grounds with the Persian Shi’as who vied for power at court and were more used to accepting an unchallenged emperor ‘in the Persian imperial tradition’. Akbar’s attempt to recall a senior Uzbek officer in Oudh touched off a unified Uzbek rebellion in 1565.

In fact it appears that while the Mughals valued transplanted Uzbeks for their military excellence, they never really trusted them, and in the final balance the portrayal of Uzbek character in the Mughal sources is overwhelmingly bad. The Mughal sympathizer Haydar Dughlat calls them ‘that abominable race’, saying they are tyrannical and cruel. 136 Babur, citing Shibani Khan’s outrageous behaviour on taking Herat (robbing holy men, ‘correcting’ the paintings of the master Bihzad with his own hand, and so on), points out that showing ritual piety doesn’t mean one isn’t still a heathen.137 Shah Nawaz Khan, writing in the, eighteenth century, states that ‘Turk-like ignorance’ (shararat-i- turkana) is innate, and that such people ‘call bigotry and obstinacy the defending of the Faith’.

The Uzbeks’ ‘egalitarian’ inclinations often translated into simple anarchy, as individual military leaders refused to submit to authority and attempted to set up their own independent mini-domains. In the words of Abu’l Fazl, ‘the wicked spirits of Transoxiana (jina’ith-i-Ma wara’ an-nahr) in the darkness of their heart have no respect for glory or majesty’ .139 According to the Tazkira-i-Muqim Khani, the efforts of Balkh governor Mahmud Biy Ataliq to ensure justice and public order within his jurisdiction ‘displeased the Uzbeks, always turbulent and accustomed to impunity in their violations’.”‘ Whether one sees in Uzbek politics an unmitigated lawlessness or a romantic individualism, the destabilizing effects on Central Asia are undeniable. During the one hundred and eighty year period from 1526 to 1707, six Mughal emperors ruled northern India (not counting the interlude of Afghan Suri control), while throughout the same period Central Asia was ruled by no less than nineteen khans, who were often at war either with one another or with their own generals.

The early eighteenth century Central Asian historian Qipchaq Khan complains of the corruption and instability of Uzbek rule, stating that because of looting and disorder in the Uzbek lands ‘the Sayyids, the Turks, and the Tajiks are coming over to Hindustan in large numbers’. He goes on to quip that ‘it will take a thousand years to recount all the misdeeds of the Uzbeks’. Qipchaq Khan 141 refers to the Uzbeks as ‘unenlightened’, (f.116b), ‘blood-drinking’ (f. I 14b), and says it was ‘in their nature , to destroy property (f.113b). Another early eighteenth century history by a Central Asian living in India, the Silsilat al-salatin, echoes the theme of endemic official corruption, and condemns Nazr Muhammad Khan for allowing irregularities in the collection of taxes and in the forging of documents. 143

The Mughal sources, equally harsh, state the Uzbeks’ nature to be ‘essentially compounded of treachery’.”” They are shameless”‘ and cowardly, plundering and pillaging when they can and then running away, 141 so that ‘even the wind cannot overtake the dust raised by an Uzbek in his headlong flight’. During the Balkh invasion of 1646, Nazr Muhammad fled rather than meet the Mughal armies he had ostensibly called to his aid. Following Aurangzeb’s success in eliminating his brothers for succession to the Mughal throne in 1659, Bernier states that ‘theTatars of Usbec eagerly dispatched ambassadors, out of fear of punishment, or expectation of advantage’, since ‘with their inbred avarice and sordidness they had been guilty of treachery when Aurangzeb was on the point of capturing Balk’.(Bernier betrays here a somewhat muddled understanding of the Balkh expedition.)”‘ The Venetian Niccolao Manucci, who spent much of his life in India and served Aurangzeb as a physician and military adviser, concurs with this assessment. As he puts the matter, the Uzbeks had been so impressed by Aurangzeb’s bravery during the Balkh campaign, that Subhan Quli ‘dreaded that, having now become king, with so much wealth and so many valiant and victorious soldiers, he might take the route of Balkh, and renew the former wars’ .150

Mughals thought of the Uzbeks as ‘simple-minded’ (sadalawhi),”” although not necessarily beyond hope of redemption. Babur writes to his son Prince Kamran, ‘The people of Transoxiana are simple, but when they have brains they are worthy of trust and office’ .152 jahangir calls Arslan Biy ‘a simple Uzbek (Uzbak-i-sada-yi-pur-karist) … fit to be educated and honoured’.

A verse quoted by prince Aurangzeb highlights another interesting aspect of ‘turkishness’, associating it with idle boasting. While the old Persian literary convention was for using the term turk as a metaphor for youth and beauty, Aurangzeb gives it a new twist in reference to a turncoat officer who had o ‘ nce said, ‘if I were to be commissioned, people would see what turkishness (turkiyyat) can do’, to which Aurangzeb replies that it is one thing to boast but another to make it good, and quotes the verse: Digar ba khud manaz/ ki turki tamam shud (‘enough of praising yourself; your turki is at an end’) .151 Perhaps what was implied in the original verse is that youth has a tendency toward boastfulness, but Aurangzeb seems to be making a play which associates the trait with Turks.

Although pederasty was known and often accepted throughout the Muslim world, there appears to have been a stereotype among some Mughals associating the practice with Uzbeks. Abu’l Fazl and Bada’uni show rare concord in condemning the Shibanid Khan Zaman (cAli Quli Khan) for his affair with the son of a camel-driver, behaviour which Bada’uni refers to as ‘following the manners of Transoxiana’ .115 Emperor Jahangir’s penchant for baiting Central Asians about their homosexual affairs will be mentioned again in Chapter Six.

Two Europeans present at the Mughal court during the Uzbek embassy of 1662 have left very unflattering accounts of how the ambassadors’ behaviour was perceived there. To the Frenchman Francois Bernier, one shared meal was sufficient to convince him that the Uzbeks were an unsalvageable race: ‘I found them ignorant beyond all conception … not a word was uttered during dinner (the meal consisted only of horseflesh); my elegant hosts were fully employed in cramming their mouths with as much pelau as they could contain; for with the use of spoons these people were unacquainted.””‘ Manucci had occasion to dine with Subhan Quli’s ambassadors as well, having been asked to treat one of the party who was ailing. ‘It was disgusting to see how these Uzbak nobles ate,’ lie says, ‘smearing their hands, lips and faces with grease while eating’. His conclusion was that among the Uzbeks, ‘he is most lovely who is most greasy’. Manucci adds that the ambassadors complained continuously of the lack of fat in the Indian diet and that Indian pilaf didn’t contain enough butter.”‘

Bernier felt the Uzbeks’ worst fault was their lack of cleanliness. He mentions that during the embassy’s fourmonth stay at Delhi most of the retinue sickened and some died, either from the heat ‘or from the filthiness of their persons, and the insufficiency of their diet’. 158 Manucci, with his medical pretensions, is more precise. Citing the Uzbeks’ avarice in pocketing the living stipends given them by Aurangzeb, he says they ate sick horses and camels to save money. 159 Bernier goes on to say that ‘There are probably no people more narrow-minded, sordid, or uncleanly than the Usbec Tartars’, citing their hoarding of their expense money and living ‘in a style quite unsuitable to their station [as ambassadors]’.160 Manucci states that on their departure from India, the Uzbek emissaries were offered a parting gift of pan by the Mughal wazir Jacfar Khan. The Uzbeks, he says, helped themselves not only to the pan but to the gold box it was offered in as well, causing the remaining Mughal dignitaries to make their offerings in cheaper containers.

One cannot easily dismiss the words of Bernier and Manucci regarding Uzbek behaviour as being Euro-centric, since they nowhere make such vituperous comments about the Mughal customs which would have been to them just as foreign. Manucci was adaptable enough to live for many years in India, yet when the Uzbeks invited him to return with them to Central Asia, his avowed desire to see that part of the world was quashed by his disgust at the Uzbek ambassadors’ habits. 162

Nevertheless, we have in all this derogatory talk a clear case of cultural bias, working in both directions. The Mughals considered themselves to have risen above their origins, and attained the heights of civilization. The Uzbeks, meanwhile, proudly continued to embody those very same origins. To an extent they can be said to have represented the survival of the steppe ethic which Rene Grousset romanticizes in The Empire of the Steppes, where he likens the nomadic peoples to hungry wolves on the prowl, raiding the oases as if they were chicken Coops. In the end, whether one sides with the wolf or with the chickens is no more than a matter of personal sympathies.

The contest for the inheritance of Timurid glory is a rare case in history, where both sides can be considered the winners. The Uzbeks could count themselves as the possessors of the former Timurid heartlands, including Timur’s capital, Samarqand. The Mughals of India, on the other hand, were by the end of the sixteenth century, ruling over the wealthiest empire in the world.