To Plunder, Destroy and Kill: Atrocity and Terror as Tamerlane Sacks Delhi— Part II
Timur, historically known as Tamerlane (1336 - 1405), was a Turco-Mongol conqueror and the founder of the Timurid Empire in Persia and Central Asia. After having conquered much of the Near East, Timur decided to on a massive invasion of India. As he pushed across the lands, conquering, he declared:
“The people of Samana and Kaithal and Aspandi are all heretics, idolaters, infidels, and misbelievers. They had now set fire to their houses and had fled with their children and property toward Delhi, so that the whole country was deserted.”
In late December 1398, Timur left from the fort of Aspandi. After marching twenty miles, he arrived at the village of Taghlak-pur, which is opposite the fort of that same name. When the people of the fort heard of the approach of Timur’s army, they abandoned it and scattered throughout the country. Timur would learn that the people who fled were called Sanawi [that is, fire-worshippers, Zoroastrians, or Ghebers]. Timur saw these people as misbelievers and ordered that their houses be burned and their fort and buildings to be razed to the ground.
The next day, Timur marched to Panipat, where he encamped. There he found that, “in obedience to orders received from the ruler of Delhi, all the inhabitants had deserted their dwellings and had taken flight.” After his soldiers entered the fort, they reported to Timur that “they had found a large store of wheat, which I ordered to be weighed, to ascertain the real weight, and then to be distributed among the soldiers.”
Timur receives envoys during an attack on Balkh (Afghanistan) in 1370. Representational image. ( Public Domain )
To Plunder and Destroy and Kill
From that day on, Timur and his forces continued to make their way through India where they pillaged, raped, and plundered, or in the words of Timur: "Their orders were to plunder and destroy, and to kill everyone they met.” The next day, his forces proceeded to the palace of Jahan-puma, which is five miles (eight kilometers) from Delhi. As they progressed “They plundered every village and place they came to, killed the men, and carried off all the valuables and cattle, securing much booty; after which they returned, bringing with them a number of Hindu prisoners, both male and female.”
After much fighting and bloodshed, Timur held a court and summoned the princes, amirs, and officers to his tent. Timur likely informed his men after all the information had been gathered and considered as to what their next move was. He praised his men for their obedience and bravery. Besides praising his men, he also cautioned them, stating:
“I therefore gave them instructions as to the mode of carrying on war; on making and meeting attacks; on arraying their men; on giving support to each other; and on all the precautions to be observed in warring with an enemy. I ordered the amirs of the right wing, the left wing, the van, and the center to take their proper positions, and cautioned them not to be too forward or too backward, but to act with the utmost prudence and caution in their operations.”
Afterwards, his men gave many blessings as they proceed from the tent. Timur knew that his men needed to hear some uplifting and cautionary words. It gave the officers confidence which could be distributed on down to the lower ranks and they were going to need it since Timur was very cautious.
The Problem of Prisoners
Before proceeding further, Timur had to make a decision on the one hundred thousand prisoners under his control. Timur feared that once he engaged the main enemy force, he would have to leave the prisoners in the rear with the gear. This was too dangerous, for the prisoners could revolt, find arms, and attack Timur from the rear during the battle. Therefore, Timur “immediately directed the commanders to proclaim throughout the camp that every man who had infidel prisoners was to put them to death, and that whoever neglected to do so, should himself be executed and his property given to the informer. When this order became known to the champions of Islam, they drew their swords and put their prisoners to death. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolaters, were slain on that day.”
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