Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

The huge empire of Amir Timur was created and sustained due to his remarkable talent of military leader and statesman as well as well-trained and disciplined army. Amir Timur paid specific attention to his troops and their outfit.

One can get an idea about costumes of the Timur and Timurid epoch by looking at miniature paintings — illustrations to medieval manuscripts telling about heroes and events of the distant past, about feasts and battles…

The most popular genre in book miniature was battle-painting. It was present in substantial proportion in the illustrations to «Zafar-name» manuscript by Sharaf ad-din Ali Yazdi, «Timur-name» by Khatefi, medieval classical poems authored by Firdousi, Nizami, Jami, Navoi and others. When portraying the battles of epic heroes of Iran and Turan, and legendary leaders Iskandar and Timur, miniature painters meticulously drew the details of clothing, arms and outfit of their time, although their artistic language was rather conventional in the way humans, animals, landscapes and architecture were presented.

Miniatures created during the lifetime of Timur himself did not survive; yet, given that everything he used was pictured and thus preserved in miniatures wrought in Herat and Shiraz during the Timurid epoch, the time near to his, and also on the basis of evidence contained in written sources of his time, it is possible to restore the appearance of a Timurid warrior, his outfit and weapons. Judging by these, it can be inferred that the aesthetic ideal of the epoch was associated with the notion of a gallant and courageous warrior — a tall man of solid build and explicitly mongoloid facial features. Timur himself, according to his portrait created by a famous scientist M. M. Gerasimov by studying his remains, was a rather tall man for that time (170 cm), with torso slightly distorted (left shoulder higher than the right one), a proud head and mongoloid features of a flattened face; he did not shave his head and wore his graying reddish hair relatively long; he also had a long moustache (1, pp. 45-47). According to Mongolian custom, Timur and his soldiers plaited their hair in two braids tied in two tight knots hanging along their shoulders at the front. Later one, starting from 1430s-40s, perhaps under the influence of a refined urban environment, Timur’s successors began to clean-shave their heads.

Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

Timur’s army included infantry (piyoda, yayag) and cavalry (atlyk). Socially, military class belonged to the Timurid high society. As was with Genghis Khan, the troops of Timur and Timurids were organized using decimal system, i.e. were divided into tens, hundreds, thousands and tumans (10,000-12,000 men) lead, respectively, by unbashi, yuzbashi, mingbashi and emirs; the latter were responsible for tens of thousands of soldiers. Each unit and combat arm had their own insignia, such as banners (alim, bayroq) and horse-tails (tug). Vanguard, centre, both flanks and rear-guard were identified with different colour banners featuring different astrological shapes or symbols for an emblem or nishan. The commander-in-chief had a banner (alim) of different size that was raised on a tall shaft (2, p. 24-28). Warriors’ outfit depended on their rank. Timur’s «Code» offers a list of essential warrior equipment, in keeping with which a cavalry commander-of-ten was to have his own yurt and be armed with a sword, bow and arrows, and a spear, and be protected by chain mail; he was supposed to lead five horses behind him. A commander-of-hundred also had to have armour for his horse, ten spare horses, a chain mail, a helmet, as well as a mace or a club. In addition to the tent, every commander-of-thousand was supposed to have a marquee and all kinds of weapons (helmets, chain mails, spears, bows, quivers and arrows). A train with weapons had to follow an army minister (3, pp. 52-53). Emirs, according to their rank, wore armour, a sword, a sabre, a helmet, etc, while an infantryman armed himself with a sabre and a bow with any number of arrows. Timur’s bodyguards were equipped with maces, pole-axes and sabres, and their horses were covered by tiger hides. Based on this injunction one may note that miniatures mainly portrayed warriors of high and middle rank: emirs, commanders-of-thousand, hundred and ten, yet artists, especially Bekhzad, sometimes depicted ordinary warriors who could be distinguished by their costume and arms.

Everyday wear of warriors, like one of ordinary people, consisted of several garments worn one over the other: undershirt and underpants, upper open dress called kaba that resembled a wrap-up caftan with long or short sleeves, and the upper gown. Underwear of noblemen was predominantly made of silk that was perfect for hot climate: one felt very comfortable wearing it in hot weather; besides, it saved the warrior from lice and fleas that could not hold to its smooth surface. Going to the battle, noble warriors and emirs (probably ordinary soldiers too) wore, either on top of underwear or over their body, a special coarse calico shirt completely covered with Koran surah and prayers guarding from wounds and death (similar protective shirts used by warriors in all Muslim countries have been preserved in Topkapu Sarai Museum in Istanbul). A distinctive feature of the military was a composition waistband called kamarband that consisted of a belt with metal decorations shaped as rosettes or plates; hung to the belt were a sabre and sword, a dagger or knife, a bow holder and a quiver. In Central Asia since olden times the belt has been an integral part of warrior’s attire. It signified the achievement of masculinity and the right to bear arms. The belt preserved its meaning during the Timurid epoch too. Depending on the person’s status, belt could be made of leather, gold or silver (ordinary warriors wore bronze or steel belts).

Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

Over the underpants the warriors put on broad pants made of thick hide or suede to protect their legs from cold and wounds.

Length of the upper garments was apparently restricted by rank: miniatures show military leaders in longer gowns, whereas ordinary warriors wore shorter ones that would not interfere with their movements. Colour and type of fabric and its d?cor, and the presence of jewellery were an indication of the warrior’s social status and wealth.

In the time of peace a warrior could be recognized by wearing a belt, a sword and a sabre, as well as helmet and boots. Steel armour was rather heavy to wear daily and, besides, got heated under the sun, so it was put on immediately before the march.

In the time of war Timur’s warriors put on special protective clothing on top of their regular one. The Timurid protective armour, on the one hand, featured strongly present Mongolian elements introduced during Genghis Khan’s conquests, and, on the other hand, it preserved and developed Central Asian and Persian traditions that had evolved over many centuries. Depending on the combat arm, social status and military rank it could be leather or metal armour, chain mail, quilted coat or a garment strengthened with metal plates on its front, back and shoulders.

Judging by miniatures from Tabriz and Shiraz, during late 14th and the first half of the 15th centuries the warriors of Timur and subsequently of the Timurids used heavy and light armour. Primarily it was a plate-based (laminar) armour sewn onto a leather or fabric base — the sovut armour as described in the texts. It was known in Iran and Central Asia since ancient times (for example, see the picture on a shield from the Mug Mountain), as it was indispensable in close combat. The army of Amir Timur and the Timurids used armour made of rectangular leather, bronze or iron plates connected by small straps, or the latter were clenched to the interconnected straps. Leather plates were made of hard three-layer hide dried using a special method (4, p. 34). Noble horsemen could have them decorated with vegetable design. The cut of the armour resembled a cuirass; it was waist-long, tight-fitting and fastened at the side and shoulder; attached to it at sides at the bottom were two thigh-guards (butlyk) and an «apron» to protect the lower body. Plates in different combinations were sewn onto its shoulders, body, chest and back. Apart from leather, broadcloth could also be used as armour base (5, p. 141). Clavijo mentions its similarity to contemporary European armour «except that base is made of different fabric and shows from under the armour as a shirt would», and emphasises that it is of «a very good workmanship, only they don’t make it very strong and don’t know how to temper steel» (5, p. 141).

This type of armour was mainly used by cavalry. The design of flexible armour in which all elements could move did not hinder the rider’s movements, enabling him to ride easily and wield his weapons. A famous portrait of Amir Timur shows him in this kind of armour (6).

Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

Apart from a plate armour, also common were chain armour that appeared in Central Asia in early Middle Ages (7) and combined chain-plate armour. Herat 15th century miniatures show two types of a chain-mail shirt, zirikh: one with a horizontal neck, mid-forearm length sleeves and a short hem; and the other in the shape of an open shirt with an axial slit. The chain-mail rings, as can be seen in the museum items, were clenched with a rivet-nail exiting on either side of the rings (see chain-mail armour in Istanbul Military Museum).

From mid 15th century ring-plate armour, javshan, came into use and almost completely replaced laminar armour. It had a chain-mail base shaped like a thigh-long shirt with sleeves to the elbow, enforced with round or rectangular metal plates on the chest, sides, back and shoulders.

There are only few specimens of the Timurid epoch armour that survived in museums and private collections worldwide. One of them is kept in the collection of Rifaat Sheikh el Ard in Riyadh. The specimen was manufactured approximately in 1415-1435 and belonged to a Timurid, Ibrahim Sultan ibn-Shakhrukh (8, sat. No.31). It is a javshan or combined armour that consists of a knee-long chain-mail shirt with a round neck and elbow-length sleeves and features double netting. On the chest, back and sides it has 96 damask plates decorated with gold engraving contained in cartouches with vegetable arabesques. Gold-plated nails connect the plates to the armour. At the front, the upper right plate features an engraved inscription in Arabic that reads: «Made for the Treasury of Ibrahim Sultan». Similar armour was first pictured in a miniature illustrating the 1396 manuscript of Khoju Kirmani created three years after Baghdad had been taken over by Timur. Apparently, javshan remains the most popular armour not only in the 14th, but also in the 15th and16th centuries. Another specimen of Timurid armour was found in 2001 in Samarqand citadel and is now kept in the State Museum of History of Uzbekistan. It consists of more than a hundred plates — the elements of steel armour, and the largest one has almost square shape and guards the chest. At either side there are paired laps that reach the saddle. Smaller plates protecting shoulders, elbow- and knee-guards are riveted to one another and have openings for flexible connection. Fragments of a leather shirt and a helmet were also found at the same site (1, p. 47).

Central Asian ring armour was in many ways similar to the Ottoman Turkish, Russian and Persian ones in cuts and technology used in manufacturing armour in these regions. Apart from locally made armour, also in use were imported, donated or captured ones. For instance, Timur set off for a war on Georgia wearing Georgian armour, and Babur used to wear Kalmyk chain-mail.

Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

Besides heavy armour, miniatures also portray lighter armour known as kuyak. The term kuyak means armour in general (9); it is a knee-long gown or a mid-thigh-long caftan made of fabric that was fortified with plates from inside. On the outside one could only see the pivots forming an ornamental design. They could also be strengthened with discs enhancing chest protection. Judging by the miniatures, ordinary warriors wore quilted armour or khaftan — gowns with axial slit, or short quilted sleeveless jackets worn over a gown. This clothing, the most ancient kind of guarding armour, was lined with silk and cotton-wool (10, p. 224) and had large and patterned or very small vertical quilting. Infantrymen protected themselves from arrows using felt cloaks.

Armour was complemented with metal protection for the head (helmets), arms (forearm-guards) and legs (shin-guards).

Miniatures picture the soldiers of Timur and Timurid warriors wearing helmets of different shapes. The sources offer several terms for helmets: dubulga — a helmet in general; targ and khod denoting helmets of leaders and epic heroes; and nimtarg or half-targ — apparently a small hemispheric helmet (11, p. 56). These were made either of a whole sheet of metal or individual segments. Far-Eastern-type helmets were common in the second half of the 14th century, while during Timur’s time, according to Clavijo, people started using «round and tall» onion-shape helmets with a moving nose-guard piece that was «two fingers wide and beard-long. The piece could be raised or lowered» (5, p. 141), as well as shorter sphere-conic helmets with double ear-flaps and short crowns. In the Samarqand citadel a cylindrical/conical helmet was found (1). Helmets could have lamellar or annulated barmitsa (burka).

Forearm-guards were of two kinds: several whole-plate leaves connected by leather straps, hinges or chain-mail netting, and the elbow outward part was longer and the backside shorter. Legs from knee to ankle were protected by shin-guards (buturlyk) of several kinds: (a) two or three whole metal leaves connected by leather straps; and (b) same type, only with a hemispheric knee-guards. Later on, in the second half of the 15th century there appeared chain-mail and chain-plate protection for legs complemented by metal-plate shin-guards to which a separate round knee-guard was attached; the knee-guard had a shock-absorbing protrusion at the centre. Such shin-guards covered the leg from thigh to mid-calf and had special hooks attaching them to body armour. Buturlyk from the Military Museum in Istanbul are the exact copy of those pictured in the miniatures.

As the miniatures tell us, the equipment of heavy cavalry consisted of the full set of protective armour for the rider and his horse (helmet, armour, chain-mail, forearm- and shin-guards, horse armour or horsecloth, and shield), whereas light horsemen had an incomplete set (helmet, chain-mail or armour, leather armour, clothing fortified with metal elements, shabrack or horsecloth, and shield), and infantrymen were equipped with a shield and different kinds of protective clothing (quilted coats, individual elements of armour such as helmet and forearm-guards).

Military Costume of the Epoch of Timur and the Timurids

On their feet the cavalrymen wore high or low boots made of black or brown leather or suede with a short heel. Unlike European models, cavalry boots in the East had no spurs that induce wounds to the horse, causing it pain, since the horse was regarded as a sacred animal and the warrior’s best friend. Infantry wore soft felt low boots with buttons into which pants were tucked. The boot shape and design basically remained unchanged (long and narrow at the toe, with high bootleg). Bootlegs of noble warriors and high-ranking commanders could be embroidered with silk or gold threads and decorated with gemstones.

As combat gear of many oriental armies was similar, it was important to tell friends from enemies during battle. The distinction of Amir Timur’s warriors was their braided hair that was raised and released through an opening in a high crown of their helmets. The braids were dyed red and plaited in three strands «hanging at the back and reaching shoulder length». According to Clavijo, «hair thus plaited was that very sign that distinguished (the warriors of) Tamurbek» (5, p. 63). During the last quarter of the 15th century the troops of Sultan-Khusain were identified by little colour flags on their helmets. These helmet flags cannot be found in the miniatures of Iran or Middle East, which means that they probably appeared during Timurid epoch. The flags colour matched the one of the unit. It was Amir Timur who introduced the distinction of units by colour. According to Sharaf ad-din Ali Yazdi, Abdarazzak Samarqandi and Mirkhond, before the war with the Turkish sultan Bayazid, in the army brought from Samarqand each unit had clothes of a particular colour: those whose banner was red had, appropriately, red armour, saddles, shabracks, quivers, belts, spears, shields, maces, etc. The units could have clothing of yellow, white and other colours. Warriors could also be distinguished by their weapons and armour: some were armed with bows and swords and protected with armour, others wore chain-mail, etc. Mounted units, on top of that, had differently coloured horses (12, p. 154; 13, p. 23).

Amir Timur knew how to appreciate the loyalty of his warriors and did not spare his attention, endowing them with rich weapons, armour and horse-tails, and donated land, positions and beautiful women as gifts to them.

A warrior unable to prove his bravery was penalized by a public whipping, by taking his life, or by shaving off his beard, painting his face red and curling his hair in a feminine manner and making him run barefoot through the entire city of Samarqand. This shame was even worse than death.

Many of the items in the equipment of Amir Timur’s warriors lived on through many centuries, up until late 19th century.

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Zukhra Rakhimova