Sharaf al-Din 'Ali Yazdi, Zafarnameh (Book of Victories)

Introduction: The Persian scholar Sharaf al-Din 'Ali Yazdi was born in Yazd (Iran) in the 1370s. He was commissioned by Timur's grandson Ibrahim Sultan to write a book about Timur (1336–1405) and his deeds. Sharaf completed this task ca. 1425. He apparently used sources penned in Timur's own court, including the notes of secretaries and scribes; he also relied on earlier biographies of the conqueror to flesh out the book. As is typical of this genre of medieval history writing, the Zafarnameh heroicizes Timur and his accomplishments. Sharaf's work must have pleased his patron; an illustrated copy of the Zafarnameh associated with Ibrahim Sultan survives in fragments.

The first two passages (a–b) translated here address episodes of Timur's architectural patronage, which include details about the modular bases of Timurid design. The third excerpt (c) discusses the aftermath of his unexpected death on February 14, 1405: he fell ill on the way to China, where he planned to conquer the Ming dynasty. The Zafarnameh follows the voyage of his body and entourage from Otrar in present-day Kazakhstan to his burial in the Gur-i Mir in Samarkand.

Note: When referring to Timur, Sharaf used the Persian epithet Saaheb Gheraan, which has various meanings. It can refer to a king who reigns for more than thirty years; it also can imply that a person's powers derive from a favorable conjunction of planets—someone born under a lucky star. This more astrological meaning might be translated as "Auspicious Ruler." The epithet is left in Persian to convey both meanings. Some passages have been simplified and words added in brackets to aid comprehension.

Translations: Some passages have been simplified and words added in brackets to aid comprehension.

(a) Shrine of Ahmad Yasavi, Yasa
Saaheb Gheraan went to the village of Yasa to visit Sheikh Ahmad Yasavi . . . and ordered his holy grave to be repaired and founded a significant monument, which comprised a tall and spacious vault, with two minarets, and a 30 by 30–gaz square dome [1 gaz = 95 cm], and another dome which was 12 by 12 gazes with a chahar taq for the illuminating sepulcher, on the qibla side of the larger dome. And connected to that, on either side of the large dome, are two other cross-shaped spaces that are gathering halls, each 13.5 by 16.5 gazes, and also other rooms and vestibules. And it was ordered that the walls and the dome be covered with tiles and the gravestone be ornately carved out of white stone and adorned with artistic patterns. He appointed Mawlana Ubaydullah Sadr [religious official and administrator] to oversee the work until its completion. And the whole building took two years to build.
(b) The Bibi Khanum Friday mosque, Samarkand
As it is understood from the following Qur'anic verse, "The mosques of God are only to be maintained by those who believe in God and the Last Day" (sura 9:18), constructing a mosque is a result of sincere faith in the essence and attributes of the almighty God and belief in the moods and situations of Judgment Day. During the invasion of India, when the just Saaheb Gheraan was busy uprooting the foundation of infidelity and rebellion and destroying fire temples and pagodas, he aimed to build a Friday mosque in Samarkand and raise its battlement up to the edge of the heavens. And as the cavalcade of the conqueror of the world, protected by the will of victorious God, returned to Samarkand, his excellent order to build that mosque was issued.

And at a good hour and auspicious time, skilled engineers and deft intellectual masters laid the plan out, and nimble-handed masons, each of whom was the best among them in the country and unique in the realm, demonstrated the subtleties of capability and skillfulness in building the structure and strengthening its foundations. And nearly 200 people, from the stonemasons of Azerbaijan, Persia, India, and other areas were working there. And 500 people were cutting stones in the mountains and transferring them to the city. All the guilds from all over the country had been gathered in the capital, and everyone was doing their best in their own specialty. And to carry the tools and materials, they employed ninety-five elephants, which had recently arrived in Samarkand from India, and large stones were carried by ox-driven carts, and the task of overseeing the work was divided among the princes and commanders, and everyone did all the physical and intellectual effort of which a human is capable.

Usually Timur went to the construction site himself and oversaw the work, because he was very dedicated to the completion of that religious initiative. During that period, he usually spent his time near the [Bibi] Khanum mosque . . . until, due to the blessings of his royal attention, the battlements of the building touched the heights of the sky, and the beauty of its cheerful courtyard and beams of its refreshing air put the gardens of paradise into oblivion. . . . And 480 columns carved out of stone, each 7 gazes in height, were raised up and its high ceiling and novel pavement were all made of stone. Its height from floor to ceiling is about 9 gazes.

And in each of its corners four minarets have raised their heads toward the sky; their calls . . . reach the four corners of universe. And its great door, which is made up of seven alloys, calls the faithful from seven realms to the peaceful city of Islam, and all around its walls, from exterior and interior, and also the margins around the vaults, are decorated with stone inscriptions, which are sprinkled by the light and illumination of the letters and words of sura 18, The Cave (Al-Kahf). . . .

And when he [Timur] was passing in front of the Friday mosque, he thought that its entrance—which was built when he was away—was small and short, so he ordered it demolished and a wider and taller entrance built. And Khoja Mahmoud Dawood was questioned because of his fault in not extending and enlarging the mentioned entrance. And Timur sat in the madrasa of Saray Malek Khanum, which was located in front of the Friday mosque. And he detained and questioned the scribes and tax collectors and got angry at them, and after the interrogation, he punished those who had caused damage to the people, including [two men] who were among the heads of the scribes, and, during [Timur's] absence . . . were appointed as ministers. Both of them were hanged . . . .
(c) Timur's death, funerary procession, and burial in Samarkand
When the blessed Saaheb Gheraan moved from this world of neglect and vanity toward the eternal house of joyfulness and excitement, the shock of the accident caused a flood of anguish among the world, and the eyes of the old and the young became blurry and blind, due to the reverberations of that intolerable blow . . . . The princes took their royal hats off their heads and tore the cloak of patience; royal women scratched their faces and cut their hair; and commanders and courtiers tore their collars. That night, clouds were also crying and shedding tears. When the earth was embraced by the life-giving flames of the sun, people started to shroud Timur. . . .

On the Thursday night—the 18th of that month—princes and commanders and courtiers who were at Otrar gathered at the time of evening prayers, covered the blessed casket in silk and foulard, and transferred it onto a howdah [carriage on the back of a camel or elephant] out of the city, heading toward Samarkand. And they rode on the frozen river of Khojand . . . . So far they were mourning only secretly, but then they made it public, and the whole group of men and women started to cry and lament, and it suddenly reached such a climax that their sound passed the sorrowful sky and registered in the heavens . . . . The commanders and courtiers dropped their turbans and hats, and they themselves fell down on the ground; and women scratched their faces, and tore their hair so forcefully that they were about to perish.

On the night of the 22nd of Sha'ban [the last lunar month before Ramadan], the blessed corpse was brought into the mausoleum in Samarkand, and was buried there. . . . After two days, the prince Khalil Sultan [Timur's grandson] went to . . . the tomb and prayed, and all of the women and princes and commanders and the wealthy, who were all standing there in black robes, started to cry and weep. . . . And truly it was not an event that can be described in a few pages. . . . And after carrying out the mourning traditions, they recited the Qur'an to bless the noble spirit of the late king, and gave alms to the poor and the weak and to other people who needed help. And for many days they slaughtered numerous horses and sheep and cows, and cooked diverse food, and distributed it among the people. And after that they banged the great drum [kurke], and after it screamed and cried for a while, they tore its skin and made it silent. . . .

Due to having sincere love and good-hearted intentions and amity toward the family of the Prophet, the late Saaheb Gheraan wanted his grave to lie before that of Emir Sayyid Baraka [a holy man and teacher], so he had transferred the casket of the emir to the mausoleum . . . and buried him there. They buried the king there according to his will, and after a while they transferred prince Muhammad Sultan to that place as well, and buried him beside his father—may God light the chandeliers of remission upon their tombs and scent them with the breeze of the promised gardens of paradise. And as the sovereignty of Samarkand was transferred to prince Khalil Sultan, he opened the treasury and rewarded everyone with money. And in that situation, economy and moderation were not taken into consideration, as the gold was weighed in maunds [a unit of measure for mass or capacity, rather than weight]—like the weighing of cereal after harvest—and was taken in sacks.

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Yasa, Shrine of Ahmad Yasavi, plan and section Samarkand, Bibi Khanum Friday mosque, view toward the entrance Samarkand, Gur-i Mir, plan Cenotaph of Timur, Gur-i Mir, Samarkand