Battle of Ankara 1402 CE | Ottoman-Timurid War

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Battle of Ankara 1402 CE | Ottoman-Timurid War  

Introduction

On 20th July 1402 CE, the armies of Sultan Bayezid I and Timur (Tamerlane) faced each other at the field of Cubuk in Angora (present-day Ankara, Capital of Turkey). It is known as the first Battle of Ankara. Timur achieved a decisive victory and the first Ottoman Interregnum started. But within three years, Timurid Empire fell into decline after the death of Timur and the Ottoman Empire recovered and lasted for three to four centuries more.

Background

A lot of battles were fought within the Islamic states just like outward movement. Out of these battles, Battle of Ankara is of great historical value. In 1396 CE, Sultan Bayezid I defeated the allied forces of Hungarian King Sigismund I and lord John in the Battle of Nicopolis. After this battle Bayezid was aiming to conquer Constantinople and enter Central Europe. At the same time he was also aware of the threat from the East. In all these circumstances, a Turko-Mongolian was born in 1336 CE, who became the leader of his tribe in 1358 CE and was rulling the Central Asia by 1370 CE. By 1386 CE, Timur had conquered almost all of the Central Asia including Persia (present-day Iran).

On the Western side, the Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I was expanding his Empire’s territories and he also reached Persia and Iraq. Now the boundaries of their empires were coinciding with each other. But both of them didn’t indulge in a war as being Muslims. Timur wrote in a letter to Bayezid I that,

And Bayezid I replied with these words,

By 1401 CE, Timur had conquered Damascus and Aleppo in order to restrict the alliance of Mamluk Empire of Syria and Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. By the end of this year, Timur attacked Sivas and the battle started.

Positioning and Battle

It is said that the Timurid army was consisting of 140,000 warriors with 32 elephants also but on the other side Sultan Bayezid I’s host was consisting of 85,000 warriors including the Ottoman Turks, European Vassals, Janissaries, and his sons and ghazi’s. Timur sieged Ankara and Bayezid lifted the siege of Constantinople and started moving towards Anatolia. They reached Anatolia in the June of 1402 CE. But they were too much tired and thirsty but couldn’t find time to take rest. Sultan Bayezid I, instead of taking defensive positions, decided to attack and started moving eastward between Sivas and Tokat. Sultan Bayezid was thinking of using dense forests to resist Timur’s horse archers.

When the Ottomans reached there, Timurids were not present as they had moved towards South and rested by encamping exactly at the same place from where Ottomans started their journey to East. Timur moved to the southwest and took Kayseri, while Bayezid I was still sure that he would find his enemy to the north. Timur continued towards Ankara and ended up behind the Ottoman forces. The Sultan learned about the brilliant maneuver of his enemy when Ankara was besieged. Bayezid I couldn’t allow Timur to ransack his lands and so had no other choice but to force march his tired troops to Ankara.

The Battle of Ankara took place on 28th July 1402 CE. Timur’s army was a traditional Mongol-Tatar force with a significant number of horse archers. He also had a few dozen armored elephants captured during his invasion of India. Meanwhile, the Ottoman army was a mix of old Seljuks irregular forces, Tatar mercenaries, a small professional army corps created by the earlier Sultans and Eastern European Knights led by a Serbian vassal of Bayezid, Stefan Lazarevic. At the beginning of the campaign Timur and Bayezid I had similar numbers with more than 100,000 troops, but it is said that the Ottoman Sultan lost at least 20,000 during the forced march from Sivas to Ankara. Timur divided his horse archers into four groups with one in the center, two on the flanks and one more in reserve, while his elephants were positioned in the vanguard.

Bayezid I had a strong center with archers in front, janissaries in the second line and warriors in reserve. On the left, he placed the Serbian cavalry of Stefan, while his right was manned by the troops from Anatolia and Tatar mercenaries. Bayezid I hoped that his flanks, who had a defensible position would hold so that he would be able to counter-attack with his center. Timur moved his wings forward, while his center lags behind. The battle started on the Ottoman left, as their Serbian troops were attacked by the enemy cavalry, but they managed to stop them and inflict substantial damage.

One more wave was sent against the Serbs. This time an attempt to outflank them was made, but Stefan’s forces stood their ground. Meanwhile, Timur’s left flank attacked the Ottoman right commanded by Prince Suleiman. Timur also sent his center forward to tie down Bayezid’s Janissaries. Something unexpected Bayezid I happened on his right flank, as all eighteen thousand of his tartar mercenaries changed sides and joined Timur’s attack on the Ottoman right. Suleiman was encircled and Bayezid I had to send his reserve to help. On the left flank Serbian units were now attacked by even more enemies, but despite increasing casualties held them off. Sources claimed that Stefan sent a messenger to the Sultan suggesting a retreat, while it was still possible but Bayezid I rejected it.

At this point, Prince Suleiman was ordered to withdraw to save his life, while Stefan was told to hold the flank with a portion of his forces and cover the retreat with the rest. Timur sent his reserve on a deep flanking maneuver and both the right and left flank of the Ottoman army were overrun by their foes. Still, the Serbian forces managed to use their advantage in armor to break out of the encirclement and join Suleiman in his retreat. The remainder of the Ottoman center was slowly pushed towards a hill called Cataltepe.

It is said that Bayezid along with his troops and janissaries was able to hold off the enemy for hours, despite being severely outnumbered. Later he was able to break the encirclement with his bodyguards, but an arrow killed his horse and for the first time in history, an Ottoman Sultan was imprisoned. Although both armies lost a significant number of warriors, it was a decisive victory for Timur. There are conflicting theories on what happened with Bayezid I, once he was in captivity, but in any case, he died a few months later. In 1404 CE, Timur started an invasion of China, but he died in early 1405 CE. The Ottomans entered an extended period of an internal war between the sons of Bayezid I.

 

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