Cosmography and sources

Fra Mauro (active ca. 1430-ca. 1459/1464) includes in his world map numerous references to the battles and conquests of Tamerlane (1336-1405). This brilliant military strategist, a descendant of the Mongol line of Genghis Khan (1162-1227), created a vast empire in Central Asia, defeating between 1395 and 1400 the Khanate of the Golden Horde, the Sultanate of Delhi, the Mamluks (who ruled over the regions of today’s Iraq and Syria), and Ottoman Anatolia. His domain extended to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and aroused in late Medieval Christianity fervent hopes of a grand alliance with Tamerlane against the Turks.

The Byzantine court, the Republic of Genoa, the king of France, and the king of Aragon all sent numerous embassies to Tamerlane to negotiate tribute payments and a common military campaign against the Islamic threat. Aragonese diplomats under the leadership of Ruy González de Clavijo (?-1412) reached Samarkand, the capital of Tamerlane’s empire, between 1403 and 1404. The sudden death of Tamerlane, who in 1404 had begun a military campaign against the Ming Dynasty in China, compelled Clavijo and his companions to abandon the capital as rapidly as possible.

Despite the brevity of his mission, Clavijo left a detailed description of the Timurid Empire, which amplified the renown of Tamerlane’s conquests and Samarkand’s magnificence. In addition to Tamerlane, Fra Mauro mentions also his son, Shah Rukh, who moved the empire’s capital from Samarkand, in today’s Uzbekistan, to Herat, in northwestern Afghanistan. Shah Rukh (1377-1447), who died in 1447, was succeeded by Ulugh Beg (1394-1449), who became famous not only as a ruler, but also as a great astronomer, builder of the astronomical observatory in Samarkand.