The Family and Early Days of Babar
On the 9th of April, 1336, there was born to the chief of the Birbas, a tribe of the purest Mughal origin, at Shehr-Sebz, thirty miles to the north of Samarkand, a son, the eldest of his family. This boy, who was called Taimur, and who was descended in the female line from Chengiz Khan, was gifted by nature with the qualities which enable a man to control his fellow men. Fortune gave him the chance to employ those qualities to the best advantage. The successors of Chengiz Khan in the male line had gradually sunk into feebleness and sloth, and, in 1370, the family in that line had died out. Taimur, then thirty-four, seized the vacated seat, gained, after many vicissitudes of fortune, the complete upper hand, and established himself at Samarkand the undisputed ruler of all the country between the Oxus and the Jaxartes. Then he entered upon that career of conquest which terminated only with his life. He established his authority in Mughalistan, or the country between the Tibet mountains, the Indus and Mekran, to the south, and Siberia to the north; in Kipchak, the country lying north of the lower course of the Jaxartes, the sea of Aral, and the Caspian, including the rich lands on the Don and Wolga, and part of those on the Euxine; he conquered India, and forced the people of territories between the Dardanelles and Delhi to acknowledge his supremacy. When he died, on the 18th February, 1405, he left behind him one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen.
After his death his empire rapidly broke up, and although it was partly reconstituted by his great-grandson, Abusaid, the death of this prince in 1469, when surprised in the defiles of the mountains near Ardebil, and the defeat of his army, precipitated a fresh division among his sons. To the third of these, Umershaikh Mirza, was assigned the province of Ferghana, known also, from the name of its capital, as Khokand.
Umershaikh was the father of Babar. He was an ambitious man, bent on increasing his dominions. But the other members of his family were actuated by a like ambition, and when he died from the effects of an accident, in 1494, he was actually besieged in Akhsi, a fortress-castle which he had made his capital.
His eldest son, Mbar, then just twelve years old, was at the time at Andijan, thirty-six miles from Akhsi. The enemy was advancing on Andijan. Mbar, the day following his father’s death (June 9), seized the citadel, and opened negotiations with the invader. His efforts would have availed him little, if there had not existed jealousies and divisions in the hostile camp These worked for him so as to secure to him all that remained of Ferghana. But he had lost the important towns of Khojend, Marghinan, and Uratiupé.
For two years after the retirement of the invader, the boy rested, consolidating his resources, and watching his opportunity. Then, troubles having arisen in Samarkand, he made a dash at that city, then the most important in Central Asia. He forced its surrender (November, 1497), but as he would not allow his troops to pillage, these deserted him by thousands He held on, however, until the news that Ferghana, was invaded compelled him to quit his hold. On the eve of his departure he was prostrated by a severe illness, and when at length he reached Ferghana it was to hear that his capital had surrendered to his enemies. He was, in fact, a king without a kingdom. ‘To save Andijan,’ he wrote, ‘I had given up Samarkand: and now I found that I had lost the one without preserving the other.’
He persevered, however, recovered Ferghana, though a Ferghana somewhat shorn of its proportions, and once more made a dash at Samarkand. The Uzbeks, however, forced him to raise the siege, and, his own dominions having in the interval been overrun and conquered, he fell back in the direction of Kesh, his birthplace. After many adventures and strivings with fortune, he resolved with the aid of the very few adherents who remained to him, to return and attempt the surprise of Samarkand. It was a very daring venture, for his entire following numbered but two hundred and forty men. He made the attempt, was foiled; renewed it, and succeeded. He was but just in time. For the last of the garrison had but just yielded, when the chief of the Uzbeks was seen riding hard for the place, at the head of the vanguard of his army. He had to retire, baffled.
But Mbar could not keep his conquest. The following spring the Uzbeks returned in force. To foil them Mbar took up a very strong position outside the city, on the Bokhara road, his right flank covered by the river Kohik. Had he been content to await his enemy in this position, he would probably have compelled him to retire, for it was too strong to be forced. But he was induced by the astrologers, against his own judgment, to advance beyond it to attack the Uzbek army. In the battle which followed, and which he almost won, he was eventually beaten, and retreated within the walls of the city. Here he maintained himself for five months, but had then to succumb to famine. He was allowed to quit the city with his following, and made his way, first to Uratiupé, ultimately to Dehkat, a village assigned to him by the reigning Khan of the former place. For three years that followed he lived the life of an adventurer: now an exile in the desert; now marching and gaining a throne; always joyous; always buoyed up by hope of ultimate success; always acting with energy and vigour. He attempted to win back, and had been forced to abandon, Ferghana: then he resolved, with a motley band of two to three hundred men, to march on Khorasan. It seemed madness, but the madness had a method. How he marched, and what was the result of his march, will be told in the next chapter.