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Bayezid I versus Tamerlane: An exhausted Ottoman army under Bayezid is forced to attack a Timurid army under Tamerlane before it perishes from thirst. Can Bayezid use the traditionally defensive Ottoman army to not only defeat the great Tamerlane but quickly?
This battle was fought between two bitter rivals. Bayezid and Tamerlane were known to write each other crude, insulting letters to each other for years leading up the battle. Any sort of victory therefore meant infinitely more to the victor than typical battles. That Tamerlane won such a battle in decisive fashion is a testament to his abilities as a commander.
This battle was decided more by the strategic maneuvering than the tactical engagements. Tamerlane’s engineering feat of diverting the Cubuk Creek was timed perfectly so that Bayezid raised no suspicions until his water sources suddenly disappeared. Although not decisive, Tamerlane’s actions reduced the Ottoman soldier’s effectiveness and forced Bayezid to attack if he had not already chosen to do so. In the sixteenth century, Pavio Giovio warned that the Ottomans always won if attacked and always lost if forced to attack themselves. While no modern survey has been undertaken to confirm this, Ankara certainly supports this statement.
Famed general and Turkey’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk took a special interest in the Battle of Ankara. According to Turhal, it is because of his interest and field research in 1934 along with fellow independence war General Omerhalis that we know so much about the battle (2009: 45). After assessing the battle’s terrain, Ataturk is reported to have said, “Look how Thunderbolt [Bayezid] trapped Iron [Tamerlane]. Only a commander like [Tamerlane] could break this trap, no other can break such a trap” (Turhal, 2009: 13). When one looks at the corner Tamerlane had placed himself in, it is truly remarkable that regardless of the water situation, he was able to defeat the great Ottoman army tactically.
This is yet another battle where determining the strength of each side was the greatest challenge. Sources even disagree in which side was superior in numbers. As usual, I decided which numbers were most credible based on what happened in the battle, not by the authors’ wide-ranging estimates. The Ottomans advanced in a crescent formation, a huge indication that their front extended beyond the Timurid front. The Ottomans attacked, suggesting numerical superiority but not in the context of running out of water. What suggests numerical superiority is that Bayezid waited until 10am to launch the attack, indication of a confident attacking force, not a completely desperate attempt to reach water.
I am particularly proud of the final product because of the scanty accounts of the battle are and scarcity of related maps. The deployment I have shown reflects accounts’ descriptions but is also based on typical deployments of Ottoman and Timurid armies during the time period.
I strongly recommend you take a look at Turhal’s excellent product on this battle. Its imagery and maps are amazing, and make me eager to visit the battlefield. You will notice that its maps differ from my own as I did not have access to this product when I first animated the battle (seven years since upgrading the animation and writing this!), and instead relied on a different, engineering study of the battlefield terrain.
– Jonathan Webb
Black, Jeremy. The Seventy Great Battles in History. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Dincer, Turgut. “The Battle of Ankara (1402).” http://members.core.com/~turgut/ankara.htm (accessed August 7, 2009).
Heath, Ian. Armies of the Middle Ages Vol. 2: The Ottoman Empire, Eastern Europe and the Near East, 1300-1500. Sussex: Flexprint, 1984.
Lamb, Harold. Tamerlane the Earth Shaker. New York: Garden City, 1928.
Marozzi, Justin. Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World. Suffolk: Da Capo, 2006.
Turhal, Abdullah. “Battle of Ankara 28 July 1402: Research on the battle and notes from the field trip performed for the examination of the battlefield today.” Altar Modelling. 2009. http://www.altarmodeling.com/pdf/Battle-of-Ankara2009.pdf (accessed January 8, 2016).
Bayezid I: http://lexicorient.com/e.o/s04-bayezid1.htm
Map of Northeastern Europe: http://iranpoliticsclub.net/maps/maps08/
Map of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_map_projections
Ottoman soldiers: http://chinahistoryforum.com/lofiversion/index.php/t18570.html
Timurid soldiers: http://wabforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1938&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=0
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