Ulugh Beg

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Ulugh Beg
Portrait of Ulugh Beg revised.jpg
Ulugh Beg's portrait in Ulugh Beg Observatory, Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Ruler of the Timurid Empire
PredecessorShah Rukh
SuccessorAbdal-Latif Mirza
BornMirza Muhammad Taraghay
22 March 1394
Sultaniyeh, Timurid Empire, now Zanjan Province, Iran
Died27 October 1449 (aged 55)
Samarkand, Timurid Empire, now Samarqand Region, Uzbekistan
Gur-e-Amir Samarkand in the Mausoleum of Timur
  • Aka Begi Begum
  • Sultan Badi al-mulk Begum
  • Aqi Sultan Khanika
  • Husn Nigar Khanika
  • Shukur Bi Khanika
  • Rukaiya Sultan Agha
  • Mihr Sultan Agha
  • Sa'adat Bakht Agha
  • Daulat Sultan Agha
  • Bakhti Bi Agha
  • Daulat Bakht Agha
  • Sultanim Agha
  • Sultan Malik Agha
IssueAbdal-Latif Mirza
FatherShah Rukh
MotherGawhar Shad
Occupationastronomer, mathematician and sultan

Mīrzā Muhammad Tāraghay bin Shāhrukh (Chagatay: میرزا محمد طارق بن شاہ رخ, Persian: میرزا محمد تراغای بن شاہ رخ), better known as Ulugh Beg (الغ‌ بیگ) (22 March 1394 – 27 October 1449), was a Timurid sultan, as well as an astronomer and mathematician.

Ulugh Beg was notable for his work in astronomy-related mathematics, such as trigonometry and spherical geometry, as well as his general interests in the arts and intellectual activities.[1][2] It is thought that he spoke five languages: ArabicPersianTurkic, Mongolian, and a small amount of Chinese.[3] During his rule (first as a governor, then outright) the Timurid Empire achieved the cultural peak of the Timurid Renaissance through his attention and patronage. Samarkand was captured and given to Ulugh Beg by his father Shah Rukh.[citation needed]

He built the great Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand between 1424 and 1429. It was considered by scholars to have been one of the finest observatories in the Islamic world at the time and the largest in Central Asia.[1] Ulugh Beg was subsequently recognized as the most important observational astronomer from the 15th century by many scholars.[4] He also built the Ulugh Beg Madrasah (1417–1420) in Samarkand and Bukhara, transforming the cities into cultural centers of learning in Central Asia.[5]

However, Ulugh Beg's scientific expertise was not matched by his skills in governance. During his short reign, he failed to establish his power and authority. As a result, other rulers, including his family, took advantage of his lack of control, and he was subsequently overthrown and assassinated.[6]

Early life[edit]

He was a grandson of the great conqueror and king, Timur (Tamerlane) (1336–1405), and the oldest son of Shah Rukh, both of whom came from the Turkicized[7] Barlas tribe of Transoxiana (now Uzbekistan). His mother was a noblewoman named Gawhar Shad, daughter of a member of the representative Turkic[8][9] tribal aristocracy, Ghiyasuddin Tarkhan.

Ulugh Beg was born in Sultaniyeh during his grandfather's invasion of Persia. He was given the name Mīrzā Muhammad Tāraghay. Ulugh Beg, the name he most commonly known by, was not truly a personal name, but rather a moniker, which can be loosely translated as "Great Ruler" (compare modern Turkish ulu, "great", and bey, "chief") and is the Turkic equivalent of Timur's Perso-Arabic title Amīr-e Kabīr.[10]

As a child he wandered through a substantial part of the Middle East and India as his grandfather expanded his conquests in those areas. After Timur's death, Shah Rukh moved the empire's capital to Herat (in modern Afghanistan). Sixteen-year-old Ulugh Beg subsequently became the governor of the former capital of Samarkand in 1409. In 1411, he was named the sovereign ruler of the whole of Mavarannahr.


Jade dragon cup that once belonged to Ulugh Beg, 1420–1449 AD, British Museum.[11]

The teenage ruler set out to turn the city into an intellectual center for the empire. Between 1417 and 1420, he built a madrasa ("university" or "institute") on Registan Square in Samarkand (currently in Uzbekistan), and he invited numerous Islamic astronomers and mathematicians to study there. The madrasa building still survives. Ulugh Beg's most famous pupil in astronomy was Ali Qushchi (died in 1474). Qadi Zada al-Rumi was the most notable teacher at Ulugh Beg's madrasa and Jamshid al-Kashi, an astronomer, later came to join the staff.[3]


Ulugh Beg and his astronomical observatory scheme, depicted on the 1987 USSR stamp. He was one of Islam's greatest astronomers during the Middle Ages. The stamp says "Uzbek astronomer and mathematician Ulugbek" in Russian.
Observatory built by Ulugh Beg in the 1420s. The site was later rediscovered by Russian archaeologists in 1908.[citation needed]

Astronomy piqued Ulugh Beg's interest when he visited the Maragheh Observatory at a young age. This observatory, located in Maragheh, Iran, is where the well-known astronomer Nasir al-Din al-Tusi practised.[4]

Ulugh Beg Observatory in Samarkand. In Ulugh Beg's time, the walls were lined with polished marble.

In 1428, Ulugh Beg built an enormous observatory, similar to Tycho Brahe's later Uraniborg as well as Taqi al-Din's observatory in Constantinople. Lacking telescopes to work with, he increased his accuracy by increasing the length of his sextant; the so-called Fakhri sextant had a radius of about 36 meters (118 feet) and the optical separability of 180" (seconds of arc). The Fakhri sextant was the largest instrument at the observatory in Samarkand (an image of the sextant is on the side of this article). There were many other astronomical instruments located at the observatory, but the Fakhri sextant is the most well-known instrument there. The purpose of the Fakhri sextant was to measure the transit altitudes of the stars. This was a measurement of the maximum altitude above the horizon of the stars. It was only possible to use this device to measure the declination of celestial objects.[12] The image, which can be found in this article, shows the remaining portion of the instrument, which consists of the underground, lower portion of the instrument that was not destroyed. The observatory built by Ulugh Beg was the most pervasive and well-known observatory throughout the Islamic world.[3]

With the instruments located in the observatory in Samarkand, Ulugh Beg composed a star catalogue consisting of 1018 stars, which is eleven fewer stars than are present in the star catalogue of Ptolemy. Ulugh Beg utilized dimensions from al-Sufi and based his star catalogue on a new analysis that was autonomous from the data used by Ptolemy.[13] Throughout his life as an astronomer, Ulugh Beg came to realize that there were multiple mistakes in the work and subsequent data of Ptolemy that had been in use for many years.[2]

Using it, he compiled the 1437 Zij-i-Sultani of 994 stars, generally considered[who?] the greatest star catalogue between those of Ptolemy and Tycho Brahe, a work that stands alongside Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's Book of Fixed Stars. The serious errors which he found in previous Arabian star catalogues (many of which had simply updated Ptolemy's work, adding the effect of precession to the longitudes) induced him to redetermine the positions of 992 fixed stars, to which he added 27 stars from Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi's catalogue Book of Fixed Stars from the year 964, which were too far south for observation from Samarkand. This catalogue, one of the most original of the Middle Ages, was first edited by Thomas Hyde at Oxford in 1665 under the title Tabulae longitudinis et latitudinis stellarum fixarum ex observatione Ulugbeighi and reprinted in 1767 by G. Sharpe. More recent editions are those by Francis Baily in 1843 in vol. xiii of the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society and by Edward Ball Knobel in Ulugh Beg's Catalogue of Stars, Revised from all Persian Manuscripts Existing in Great Britain, with a Vocabulary of Persian and Arabic Words (1917).

In 1437, Ulugh Beg determined the length of the sidereal year as 365.2570370...d = 365d 6h 10m 8s (an error of +58 seconds). In his measurements over the course of many years he used a 50 m high gnomon. This value was improved by 28 seconds in 1525 by Nicolaus Copernicus, who appealed to the estimation of Thabit ibn Qurra (826–901), which had an error of +2 seconds. However, Ulugh Beg later measured another more precise value of the tropical year as 365d 5h 49m 15s, which has an error of +25 seconds, making it more accurate than Copernicus's estimate which had an error of +30 seconds. Ulugh Beg also determined the Earth's axial tilt as 23°30'17" in the sexagesimal system of degrees, minutes and seconds of arc, which in decimal notation converts to 23.5047°.[14]


In mathematics, Ulugh Beg wrote accurate trigonometric tables of sine and tangent values correct to at least eight decimal places.[15]

War of succession and death[edit]

Ulugh Beg's headstone at the foot of Timur's in the Gur-e-Amir

In 1447, upon learning of the death of his father Shah Rukh, Ulugh Beg went to Balkh. Here, he heard that Ala al-Dawla, the son of his late brother Baysunghur, had claimed the rulership of the Timurid Empire in Herat. Consequently, Ulugh Beg marched against Ala al-Dawla and met him in battle at Murghab. He defeated his nephew and advanced toward Herat, massacring its people in 1448. However, Abul-Qasim Babur Mirza, Ala al-Dawla's brother, came to the latter's aid and defeated Ulugh Beg.[12]

Ulugh Beg retreated to Balkh where he found that its governor, his oldest son Abdal-Latif Mirza, had rebelled against him. Another civil war ensued.[12] Abdal-Latif recruited troops to meet his father's army on the banks of the Amu Darya river. However, Ulugh Beg was forced to retreat to Samarkand before any fighting took place, having heard news of turmoil in the city. Abdal-Latif soon reached Samarkand and Ulugh Beg involuntarily surrendered to his son. Abd-al-Latif released his father from custody, allowing him to make pilgrimage to Mecca. However, he ensured Ulugh Beg never reached his destination, having him, as well as his brother Abdal-Aziz assassinated in 1449.[16][17][18]

Eventually, Ulugh Beg's reputation was rehabilitated by his nephew, Abdallah Mirza (1450–1451), who placed his remains at Timur's feet in the Gur-e-Amir in Samarkand,[19] where they were found by Soviet archaeologists in 1941.


Ulugh Beg had thirteen wives:

  • Aka Begi Begum, daughter of Muhammad Sultan Mirza bin Jahangir Mirza and Khan Sultan Khanika, mother of Habiba Sultan known as Khanzada Begum and another Khanzada Begum;
  • Sultan Badi al-mulk Begum, daughter of Khalil Sultan bin Miran Shah and Shad Malik Agha;
  • Aqi Sultan Khanika, daughter of Sultan Mahmud Khan Ogeday;
  • Husn Nigar Khanika, daughter of Shams-i-Jahan Khan Chaghatay;
  • Shukr Bīka Khanika, daughter of Darwīsh Khan of the Golden Horde;
  • Rukaiya Sultan Agha, an Arlat lady, and mother of Abdal-Latif Mirza, Ak Bash Begum and Sultan Bakht Begum;
  • Mihr Sultan Agha, daughter of Tukal bin Sarbuka;
  • Sa'adat Bakht Agha, daughter of Bayan Kukaltash, mother of Qutlugh Turkhan Agha;
  • Daulat Sultan Agha, daughter of Khawand Sa'id;
  • Bakhti Bi Agha, daughter of Aka Sufi Uzbek;
  • Daulat Bakht Agha, daughter of Sheikh Muhammad Barlas;
  • Sultanim Agha, mother of Abdul Hamid Mirza and Abdul Jabrar Mirza;
  • Sultan Malik Agha, daughter of Nasir-al-Din, mother of Ubaydullah Mirza, Abdullah Mirza and another Abdullah Mirza;


The Ulugh Beigh crater on the moon, named for Ulugh Beg.[20]


Soviet anthropologist Mikhail M. Gerasimov reconstructed the face of Ulugh Beg. Like his grandfather Timurlane, Ulugh Beg is close to the Mongoloid type with slightly Europoid features.[21][22] His father Shah Rukh had predominantly Caucasoid features, with no obvious Mongoloid feature.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Science in Islamic civilisation: proceedings of the international symposia: "Science institutions in Islamic civilisation", & "Science and technology in the Turkish and Islamic world"[1]
  2. ^ a b "Ulugh Beg". OU Libraries. Britannica Academic. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |url= (help)
  3. ^ a b c "Samarkand: Ulugh Beg's Observatory". Depts.washington.edu.
  4. ^ a b "The Legacy of Ulugh Beg | Central Asian Monuments | Edited by H. B. Paksoy | CARRIE Books". Vlib.iue.it. Retrieved December 2, 2018.
  5. ^ The global built environment as a representation of realities: By author:A.J.J. Mekking [2]
  6. ^ "Ulugh Beg". The University of Oklahoma Libraries. Britannica Academic.
  7. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, "Timur", Online Academic Edition, 2007. Quotation: "Timur was a member of the Turkicized Barlas tribe, a Mongol subgroup that had settled in Transoxania..."
  8. ^ V. V. Bartold. Улугбек и его время [Ulug Beg and his time]. St Petersburg (1918). p. 37.
  9. ^ "Ulug Beg – Biografiya" Улугбек - Биография. Opklare.ru. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  10. ^ B. F. Manz, "Tīmūr Lang", in Encyclopaedia of Islam, Online Edition, 2006
  11. ^ "cup". British Museum. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
  12. ^ a b c Krisciunas, Kevin (1992). "The Legacy of Ulugh Beg". In Paksoy, Hasan Bulent (ed.). Central Asian Monuments. Istanbul: Isis Press – via Carrie Books.
  13. ^ "The Star Catalogues of Ptolemaios and Ulugh Beg" (PDF). Astronomy & Astrophysics.
  14. ^ L. P. E. A. Sédillot, Prolégomènes des tables astronomiques d'OlougBeg: Traduction et commentaire (Paris: Firmin Didot Frères, 1853), pp. 87 & 253.
  15. ^ "Ulugh Beg (1393 - 1449)". mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  16. ^ "ʿABD-AL-LAṬĪF MĪRZĀ – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Iranicaonline.org.
  17. ^ The history of Persia. Containing, the lives and memorable actions of its kings from the first erecting of that monarchy to this time; an exact Description of all its Dominions; a curious Account of India, China, Tartary, Kermon, Arabia, Nixabur, and the Islands of Ceylon and Timor; as also of all Cities occasionally mention'd, as Schiras, Samarkand, Bokara, &c. Manners and Customs of those People, Persian Worshippers of Fire; Plants, Beasts, Product, and Trade. With many instructive and pleasant digressions, being remarkable Stories or Passages, occasionally occurring, as Strange Burials; Burning of the Dead; Liquors of several Countries; Hunting; Fishing; Practice of Physick; famous Physicians in the East; Actions of Tamerlan, &c. To which is added, an abridgment of the lives of the kings of Harmuz, or Ormuz. The Persian history written in Arabick, by Mirkond, a famous Eastern Author that of Ormuz, by Torunxa, King of that Island, both of them translated into Spanish, by Antony Teixeira, who liv'd several Years in Persia and India; and now render'd into English.
  18. ^ Jonathan L. Lee, The "Ancient Supremacy": Bukhara, Afghanistan and the Battle for Balkh, 1731 (1996), p. 21
  19. ^ Ahmad Hasan Dani, Akhmadali Askarovich Askarov, Sergeĭ Pavlovich Gubin, Rediscovery of the civilization of Central Asia: integral study of silk roads, roads of dialogue, steppe route expedition in USSR (1991), p. 82
  20. ^ image, James Stuby based on NASA (2015), English: Ulugh Beigh, on the moon, retrieved December 2, 2018
  21. ^ Frye, Richard Nelson (January 5, 2019). Greater Iran: A 20th-century Odyssey. Mazda. ISBN 9781568591773. Retrieved January 5, 2019 – via Google Books.
  22. ^ Gerasimov, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich (January 5, 1971). "Ich suchte Gesichter". J. B. Lippincott. Retrieved January 5, 2019 – via Google Books.
  23. ^ Frye, Richard Nelson (March 22, 2005). Greater Iran: A 20th-century Odyssey. Mazda. ISBN 9781568591773 – via Google Books.
  24. ^ Gerasimov, Mikhail Mikhaĭlovich (March 22, 1971). "The Face Finder". J. B. Lippincott – via Google Books.


  • O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Ulugh Beg", MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, University of St Andrews
  • 1839. L. P. E. A. Sedillot (1808–1875). Tables astronomiques d’Oloug Beg, commentees et publiees avec le texte en regard, Tome I, 1 fascicule, Paris. A very rare work, but referenced in the Bibliographie generale de l’astronomie jusqu’en 1880, by J.
  • 1847. L. P. E. A. Sedillot (1808–1875). Prolegomenes des Tables astronomiques d’Oloug Beg, publiees avec Notes et Variantes, et precedes d’une Introduction. Paris: F. Didot.
  • 1853. L. P. E. A. Sedillot (1808–1875). Prolegomenes des Tables astronomiques d’Oloug Beg, traduction et commentaire. Paris.
  • Le Prince Savant annexe les étoiles, Frédérique Beaupertuis-Bressand, in Samarcande 1400–1500, La cité-oasis de Tamerlan : coeur d'un Empire et d'une Renaissance, book directed by Vincent Fourniau, éditions Autrement, 1995, ISSN 1157-4488.
  • L'âge d'or de l'astronomie ottomane, Antoine Gautier, in L'Astronomie, (Monthly magazine created by Camille Flammarion in 1882), December 2005, volume 119.
  • L'observatoire du prince Ulugh Beg, Antoine Gautier, in L'Astronomie, (Monthly magazine created by Camille Flammarion in 1882), October 2008, volume 122.
  • Le recueil de calendriers du prince timouride Ulug Beg (1394–1449), Antoine Gautier, in Le Bulletin, n° spécial Les calendriers, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, juin 2007, pp. 117–123. d
  • Jean-Marie Thiébaud, Personnages marquants d'Asie centrale, du Turkestan et de l'Ouzbékistan, Paris, éditions L'Harmattan, 2004. ISBN 2-7475-7017-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Ulugh Beg
Preceded by Timurid Empire
Succeeded by