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Sultan Bayezid is defeated by Timur at Ankara

Empires Clash with Fire and War Elephants! Changing the World, and the Battle of Ankara – Part II

The bloody Battle of Ankara was fought on 20 July 1402.  The Ottomans were led by Bayezid I, who brought his troops against the Turkic Mongols (Timurids), led by Timur, also known as Tamerlane. Two great empires, two powerful leaders, with only one outcome…

Bust of Timur [left], and portrait of Bayezid I [right].

Bust of Timur [left] ( CC BY-SA 3.0 ), and portrait of Bayezid I [right]. ( Public Domain )

Troubles on the Eve of Battle

After Timur had rampaged throughout Russia and the Caucasus, he struck deeply into Anatolia by sacking and destroying the city of Sivas before pushing further south. One would think that Bayezid would have countered this loss for Sivas but he did nothing. Bayezid could have attempted to placate Timur, but given his nature, would he accept it? Bayezid could have taken his large army and counter-attacked Timur’s forces as they headed south. However, none of the above happened. Instead, Bayezid waited for Timur to enter his domain before reacting.

[Read Part I here ]

In the summer of 1402, Timur moved his armies west to Sivas. This caused Bayezid to stir. Bayezid called off the siege against Constantinople and headed southeast to fortress of Angora, in central Anatolia.

Timur is said to have prayed all night. When morning arrived, he ordered the drums to sound. The sound of the drums in the early morning would have had a psychological effect on the Ottomans nearby. No matter how battle hardened a soldier becomes, new unknowns bring about unease. 

The army Timur had with him is said to have numbered between 140,000 and 200,000 troops. His army consisted primarily of cavalry but he had 32 war elephants at his disposal.

The troop size of Bayezid’s army consisted of 85,000 men. Bayezid’s forces were mostly infantry, including the elite Janissaries, with archers and cavalry (including Serbian knights). However, a quarter of his men were Tatars who were recently conquered, and thus their loyalty was in question.

Tatar soldiers at the vanguard of a battle (1620)

Tatar soldiers at the vanguard of a battle (1620) ( Public Domain )

Matters only got worse for Bayezid as discontent spread throughout the Ottoman ranks. For starters, they were tired after the long march and their pay was overdue. Compounding that, Bayezid’s scouts reported back to Bayezid that Timur had circled in behind the Ottomans and was now approaching from the rear. Yet more problems arose when Bayezid’s men needed access to water. Timur had built a reservoir and, on the day of the battle, diverted the principal water source for the area, Cubuk Creek, denying its use to the Ottoman army, which was now advancing from the east.

The Day of Battle

The terrain of the battlefield consisted of a large plain cornered by mountains on two sides. This is perfect for cavalry attacks. Moreover, it allows both armies to maneuver with fluidity. 

The Prince Shah Rukh and Khalil Sultan led Timur’s left wing. Miran Shah led the right wing, with Amir Sheikh Nur ad-Din as his lieutenant general. The main body consisted of the greatest lords of Asia and Timur’s son, Prince Muhammad Sultan led them. Timur led the reserves that consisted of forty companies. In front of Timur’s army was the war elephants armed with towers on their backs with archers and throwers of flame.

Manuscript showing war elephants with archers and soldiers on their backs. The Battle of Avarayr, Sharaknots, 1482

Manuscript showing war elephants with archers and soldiers on their backs. The Battle of Avarayr, Sharaknots, 1482 ( Public Domain )

Sultan Bayezid arranged his troops in battle order with Pesir, a European Serbian, leading the right wing. The left wing was under the command of Suleiman Chelebi, son of Bayezid. Bayezid led the main body. Muhammad Chelebi commanded the Ottoman reserves.

After Timur had met with his military counsel, he mounted his horse and gave the order to attack. Around 10 a.m. on the morning of 28 July 1402, Miran, commander of the right wing, began the battle by discharging a volley of arrows on the Ottoman left wing.

The Surprising Turns of Battle

It was during the initial stages of the battle that Bayezid made his first error. He placed his newly conquered Tatar cavalry in the front line to take the brunt of the initial attack. Once the battle commenced, they deserted to Timur, and cavalry from the recently subjugated emirates followed suit. This changing of sides reduced the Ottoman army by a quarter and, for all practical purposes, decided the battle.

Battle of Ankara. Mughal painting.

Battle of Ankara. Mughal painting. ( Public Domain )

Bayezid ordered his left wing to attack, covering it by an attack of his Anatolian cavalry. However, it was all for nothing; even though the cavalry fought bravely, they encountered hailstorms of arrows as well as Greek fire (a form of naphtha) and were driven back in confusion, losing some 15,000 men.

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Cam Rea  is an author and military historian. He has written numerous articles for Ancient Origins, Classical Wisdom Weekly, and has authored several books, including:  March of the Scythians: From Sargon II to The Fall of Nineveh

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Top Image: Sultan Bayezid is defeated by Timur at Ankara ( Public Domain )

By Cam Rea

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