3. History’s Deadliest Conqueror
Tamerlane was born in Uzbekistan. His rise began in 1360, when he led tribesmen on behalf of the region’s ruling Khan. However, the Khan was murdered, triggering a power struggle. It ended with Tamerlane as the power behind a throne occupied by a figurehead puppet, through whom Tamerlane ruled. He claimed descent from Genghis Khan, which was dubious, but he justified his conquests as a restoration of the Mongol Empire and re-imposition of legitimate Mongol rule over lands seized by usurpers. Tamerlane then spent 35 years earning a reputation for savagery, while bringing fire and sword to the lands between the Indus and the Volga, the Himalayas and the Mediterranean. He wrecked Damascus and Aleppo in Syria; Baghdad in Iraq; Sarai, capital of the Golden Horde, and Ryazan, both in Russia; India’s Delhi, outside whose walls he massacred over 100,000 captives; and Isfahan in Iran, where he massacred 200,000.
Tamerlane was also in the habit of piling up pyramids of severed heads, cementing live prisoners into the walls of captured cities, and erecting towers of his victims’ skulls as object lessons and to terrorize and edify. Tamerlane is estimated to have killed about 17 million people, amounting to 5 percent of the world’s population at the time. Extrapolated to current global population of 7.7 billion, Tamerlane’s rampage would be the equivalent of killing 385 million people today. His decades-long warpath finally came to an end in 1405 as he was preparing to invade China, but he took ill while encamped, and died before launching the campaign. He would prove to be history’s last major Steppe conqueror, and the bloodiest of the lot.