The Curse of Tamerlane

It was a sunny day on 16 June 1941. A group of scientists, led by anthropologists Mikhail Gerasimov, had begun excavations in the Gur-e-Amir mausoleum in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

It was the resting place of the infamous Tamerlane, an invincible Turko-Mongol war commander and founder of the Timurid Empire. He is also known as Timur. Tamerlane is one of history’s most feared conquerors whose death toll comes as high as 17 million people.

Forensic Recreation of Tamerlane by Mikhail Gerasimov (1941)

His empire stretched from Russia to India, from the Mediterranean to Mongolia and on his final days of glory he was just about to conquer the Ming Empire of China. His campaign was put to a halt by one of history’s most severe winters. Tamerlane caught cold and died in 1405 in Otrar, Kazakhstan. He was 69 at that time and had 35 successful years of constant campaigning behind him.

Gur-e-Amin in Samarkand, Uzbekistan by Wiggum (2006)

Curse of Tamerlane

What Mikhail Gerasimov and his fellow scientists did not know of, was the curse of Tamerlane, also written as a warning on his tombstone:

“When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble”
“Whosoever disturbs my tomb will unleash an invader more terrible than I am”

– Tamerlane

There was already an ongoing panic among local Uzbek people who feared that a terrible war was going to come within three days after opening Timur’s tomb, just as it had been predicted in several Islamic books. Some of local Uzbeks also tried to warn the cameraman of the expedition, but to no avail.

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Opening of the Tomb

Everything went as it was planned. The head of the expedition Tashmuhammed Kari-Niyazov, Mikhail Gerasimov, a poet Sadriddin Aini and orientalist Semyonov first opened the tomb of Ulugh Begh’s and Timur’s sons Miranshah and Shahrukh.They were positively identified and their bones were placed in a box for takeaway.

On 18 June the tomb of Ulugh Begh, the grandson of Tamerlane and a famous astronomer, was opened. Finally, on 19 June the time had come to reveal what was in Timur’s tomb. Stalin personally had commissioned the expedition, so there was no way of not finding Tamerlane’s remains inside the tomb.

First, they had to lift the cover stone from the grave. The stone was broken. That corresponded with the legend from the 17th century that Persian King Nader Shah, who idolized Timur had once taken his tombstone as a trophy. Immediately all kinds of misfortunes started to happen to him and he was advised to take the stone back. On his way back to Samarkand, the stone was accidentally broken.

On 20 June they finally opened the coffin and found Tamerlane’s skeleton inside.

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Great Patriotic War

In just two days, on 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked Russia. History’s most horrifying war followed where Russia lost the total of 26.6 million men and women. Hitler was most certainly a much more terrible invader than Timur.

The course of war slowly began to change in November 1942. The Soviet Union managed to stop the Germans at Stalingrad and Operation Uranus was a success that turned the tables for the Allies.


Mikhail Gerasimov With the Forensic Recreation of Ivan the Terrible

It was later learned that in November 1942, Stalin had ordered the remains of Tameralne to be returned to Samarkand and reburied with full honor according to Islamic tradition.


Tamerlane’s tomb (black) today

All stills from the Russian documentary “Strange Affairs. The Curse of Tamerlane.” (Странное Дело.Проклятие Тамерлана.)

Wikimedia Commons

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