Siege of Samarkand (1501)
The second engagement between the Timurids and the Uzbeks at Samarkand took place in early 1501 C.E. When Babur captured the city in 1497, he found it to have been reduced to a wretched condition in so much that instead of any supplies drawn from the fertile fields around it, it was now absolutely necessary for the government to furnish the inhabitants with seed corn to sow their grounds and with other supplies to enable them to subsist till the ensuing harvest. To levy contributions for his army from such a country was quite impossible. His soldiers were consequently exposed to much distress and he possessed no adequate means of satisfying their wants. The men began to drop off and return home. The example set by the soldiers was soon followed even by the leaders. All his Mughal horse deserted and in the end Sultan Ahmed Tambol, a Mughal nobleman of the first rank in Andijan forsook him like the rest and returned home.
Ahmed Tambol rebelled and robbed took over his Kingdom of Fergana supporting Babur’s brother Jahangir Mirza as the new King and joined by Uzun Hasan. The rebels lay siege to Andijan. As Babur was marching to recover his lost Kingdom, his troops deserted him in Samarkand, leaving him with neither Samarkand nor Fergana. While in 1500 he planned to retake Samarkand he learnt that the Khan of the Uzbeks, Muhammad Shaybani, was headed towards the city.
Babur advancing by Uratippa (Istaravshan) reached Yurat khan about five miles from Samarkand without opposition. At Yurat khan Babur was joined by Muhammad Majid Tarkhan and the disaffected Baygs of Samarkand. They assured him that if he could gain the cordial cooperation of Khwaja Yahya a holy man of great note and influence in the city he might enter it without a struggle.
Babur now moved to the banks of the Dergham still nearer to the town and contrived to send his librarian to the Khwaja who at length told him to make his master advance and that the city should be given up to him But one of Babur's chiefs having unfortunately deserted at this very moment informed the enemy that a conspiracy was going on Measures of precaution had in consequence been adopted which baffled the attempt and the troops finding the garrison in a state of preparation fell back upon the camp To make up for this failure Babur was joined by Ibrahim Saru and several of the old Begs who had lately been driven from his service by the hostility of Ali Dost the prime minister of Babur. Ali Dost taking offence left Babur for Andijan and joined Sultan Ahmed Tambol.
On the road he learned that he was not the only foreign enemy in the field Muhammad Shaybani, the Khan of the Uzbeks of Turkistan who had probably been invited a second time by Sultan Ali bin Mahmud Mirza having again crossed the Syr Darya had defeated the Tarkhans of Bukhara and was in full march towards that city.
As soon as the approach of Muhammad Shaybani from Bukhara had been made known to Babur he at once perceived that with his moderate force it was in vain to think of coping with so formidable an antagonist. He therefore hurriedly broke up the blockade of Samarkand. He went from one hostile territory to another, from valley to valley all the while in immense distress and quickly losing followers.
He went towards the Valley of Kamrud, from fatigue and were came to the Pass of Sir-e-Tak and at length came down on the confines of Kan. Here he at length gained correct intelligence of all that had occurred since the arrival of Muhammad Shaybani. He found that on the taking of Samarkand all his own officers had retired from the neighborhood of the city and were dispersed in various quarters that Ibrahim Tarkhan had thrown himself into Shiraz and that Qamber Ali abandoning the fort of Khwaja Didar as too near the capital to be defensible had withdrawn to Yar ailak and attempted to put the fortresses there in a state of defense. Meeting with but an inhospitable reception from the Malik of the hill country of Kan Babur descended to the lower grounds and with his usual spirit pushed on for Keshtud one of the nearest towns to Samarkand; hoping to surprise the Uzbeks who he imagined would be in possession of the place and not looking for an enemy On reaching it however he found Keshtud in ruins and not a man left in the town Advancing still he at length halted on the Zarafshan River of Samarkand. He passed it by a bridge and dispatched Qasim Bayg with a party to attempt to surprise Rabat-i-Khwaja. They were just applying their scaling ladders to ascend the walls when the garrison was alarmed which compelled the assailants to retreat at full speed. Babur himself meanwhile had continued his course to Yar ailak where he was joined by Qamber Ali while Ibrahim Tarkhan and some other Begs sent to offer him their congratulations and to declare their steady adherence to his cause.
He camped at Isfandak Fort, a village in Yar ailak. Shaybani Khan was then in the vicinity of Khwaja Didar with 3000 or 4000 Uzbeks. That many more too had gathered from other places. The prefecture of Samarkand had been given to Jan Wafa Mirza, who was inside the Samarkand fortress with 500 or 600 men. Hamza Sultan and Mahdi Sultan were camped with their followers in Bodana field near Samarkand. Babur’s men, all told, were 240 in number.
In consultation with all the begs and warriors, Babur decided that since Shaybani Khan had only recently taken Samarkand, neither were the people yet attached to him nor was he to them. If we could take action now we would accomplish something. If we could get ladders up against the Samarkand walls and take them by stealth, the people of Samarkand would be with us. What choice did they have? Even if they did not assist us, they would not fight for the Uzbeks. After we got hold of Samarkand, what would be would be.
Having made this decision, Babur rode out of Yar ailak in the afternoon and continued all through the evening, reaching Yurat Khan at midnight. Thinking that the people had been warned of his approach, Babur returned to Yurat Khan without coming nearer the fortress. It was morning when he crossed the Zarafshan River below Rabat-i-Khwaja and came again to Yar ailak. A day or two later Babur moved from Isfandak Fort to Wasmand Fort. He charged from Wasmand in the afternoon. Khwaja Abul-Makarim was along too. At midnight, when Babur reached the Mughak Bridge on the Khiaban, he sent ahead a detachment of 70-80 brave warriors to put ladders opposite Lovers' Cave, attack and take control of the Turquoise Gate, and send word. The warriors went, set their ladders opposite the cave, and got up. No one was aware. From there they made it to the gate and attacked. Fazil Tarkhan, who was not one of those other Tarkhans but a Turkistani merchant Tarkhan who had served Shaybani Khan in Turkistan and been promoted. They fought with Fazil Tarkhan and a few of his men, killed them, broke the lock with an axe, and opened the gate. Babur arrived just at that time and entered through the Turquoise Gate.
The people of the city were still asleep. Shopkeepers looked out of their shops, recognized Babur and his men, and called down blessings upon them. A little while later the people got wind, and a strange joy and jubilation came over the people. Like mad dogs they stoned and clubbed the Uzbeks to death in the gutters. Somewhere between forty and a hundred Uzbeks were killed in this fashion. The city prefect Jan Wafa was in Khwaja Yahya's quarters. He got out and fled to Muhammad Shaybani. Entering through the gate, Babur proceeded straight to the Madrassa and Khanqah and sat down under the Khanqah arch. Dawn broke to alarms and chaos on all sides. Some of the lords and shopkeepers came as soon as they received word, joyfully bringing Babur what food they had on hand. After dawn word came that the Uzbeks had fortified themselves between the outer and inner gates at the Iron Gate and were putting up a fight. Babur immediately got to a horse and set out for the Iron Gate. By the time Babur arrived the people had driven the Uzbeks out of the Iron Gate. When Muhammad Shaybani learned of this he came in alarm, reaching the Iron Gate with a 100-150 men just as the sun was rising. He arrived at an odd moment, and Babur had only a few men with him. But Muhammad Shaybani probably saw the support the people were giving Babur and that he could do nothing, so he turned and got out fast. In the end he decided to retreat to Bukhara.
Babur said of his victory;
- “For nearly one hundred and forty years the capital Samarkand had been in our family. Then came the Uzbeks, the foreign foe from God knows where, and took over. Now the property that had slipped from our hands had been restored by God. The plundered and pillaged kingdom once again entered our domain”.
This attempt by Babur to regain control of Samarkand, by entering the city at night with 240 men; escalading the walls and overpowering the guards; magnifying the impression of his numbers by his boldness and rapidity until the citizens rose in his favor and massacred the Uzbeks wherever they were to be found; was indeed ingenious but above all bold and daring. He was now 19 years old. Babur, himself, compares his success to the surprise of Herat by Sultan Hussein Mirza Bayqara of Khurasan the grand exploit of the most celebrated prince of the age and justly gives it the preference. With this victory there was a chain reaction of expulsion of all Uzbeks from different fortresses and cities till only Bukhara was retained by the Uzbeks.