Saray Mulk Khanum

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Saray Mulk
Antiquities of Samarkand. Mausoleum of Guri Bibi Khanym. General View of the Mausoleum WDL3732.png
This photograph of the Bibi Khanum mausoleum in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) is from the archaeological part of Turkestan Album.
Empress consort of the Timurid Empire
Tenure c. 1370 – 1405
Born c. 1343
Died c. 1406 (aged 62–63)
Samarkand, Timurid Empire
Spouse Amir Husayn of Balkh
Full name
Saray Mulk
House Borjigin (by birth)
Barlas Timurid (by marriage)
Father Qazan Khan ibn Yasaur
Religion Islam

Saray Mulk (c. 1343 – 1406) was the Great (or Grand) Empress of the Timurid Empire as the chief consort of Timur, also known as Tamerlane the Great, the founder of the Timurid Empire as well as the Timurid dynasty.[1][2][3]

By birth, she was a princess of Moghulistan as a daughter of Qazan Khan ibn Yasaur and was also a direct descendant of Genghis Khan.[4]

Family and lineage

Saray Mulk Khanum was born a princess of Moghulistan in c. 1343 to Qazan Khan ibn Yasaur,[5][6] the last Khan of the Chagatai Khanate. Saray's grandfather was Khan Yasa'ur, her father's predecessor and a great-great-grandson of Chagatai Khan. She was therefore, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan, the Great Khan (Emperor) and founder of the Mongol Empire. Saray was thus, a member of the House of Borjigin, the most renowned family clan in Eurasia.[7]

Being the daughter of a Khan, Saray held the title of Khanum ("daughter of a Khan or princess") by birth.

Marriage to Timur

Timur commanding the attack during the Siege of Balkh (1370)

Before her marriage to Timur, Saray had been previously married to her husband's predecessor, Amir Husayn of Balkh. When in 1370, Timur defeated and thereafter executed Husayn after the Siege of Balkh, he seized the harem of his predecessor and took to himself the latter's wives, one of whom was Saray Mulk Khanum, daughter of Khan Qazan and a Turko-Mongol princess. Saray was five years younger than Timur and was said to be very beautiful, sometimes described as possessing "surpassing" beauty.[8]

As the daughter of a Khan and a descendant of Genghis Khan, Saray enjoyed the status of Timur's senior wife, although in her first husband's harem the chief wife was a daughter of Khan Tarmashirin, who after Husayn's fall was married to the Jalayir Khan Bahram.[9] Through his marriage to Saray, Timur acquired the right to the surname Gurgan ("son-in-law") of Qazan Khan, which appears on his coins and often in the Mamluk sources. The title of gurgan was very important for Timur because it was indicative of his relations with the family of the Chughtai.[10][11] In 1397, Timur married Tukal-Khanum, a daughter of the Mongol Khan Khizr Khoja, who skipped over several other wives due to her exalted lineage and took the second place in the harem becoming second in status only to Saray. Saray, therefore, held the position of being Timur's chief consort until his death.[12]

Little is known of Saray and Timur's relationship,[13] apart from the fact that she was his confidante and one of his closest advisers,[14] but it is clear that she wielded great influence over her husband and in the Empire. She is also cited by most sources to have been Timur's "favourite" and his beloved wife. Saray also sometimes acted as regent during Timur's absences from Samarkand as a result of his western campaigns and wielded great authority at Court.[15] As Timur's chief consort, Saray additionally held the title of "Great Empress" similar to the title held by Genghis Khan's chief wife, Borte. The Spanish ambassador, Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, who was sent by Henry III of Castile to visit Timur's court in 1405, called Saray, "The Grand Khanum".[16]

In May 1394, Saray along with Timur's other wives followed her husband with the ughruq to Armenia and Transcaucasia where Ibrahim was born. In September, they returned to Sultaniya, but some time later were again summoned to join Timur. In the spring of 1395, both the Saray and Tukal with the children were sent to Samarkand, where Shahrukh had been staying since the autumn of 1394. In 1396, they were all in Khuzar, meeting Timur on his return from his "Five Years" campaign. During the Indian campaign, Saray Mulk Khanum and Ulugh accompanied Timur only as far as Kabul. In August 1398, Timur sent them back to Samarkand from the neighbourhood of Kabul.


Saray did not have any children with Timur,[17] though she is sometimes referred to as the mother of her husband's youngest son, Shahrukh Mirza, who was actually born of a concubine. Even if Saray had any children with her husband, they did not survive, and neither did Tukal-Khanum's, and yet their power and influence were well noted by foreign visitors to the Court. It was the two Chingisid princesses' personal qualities and pedigree that allowed them to develop a prestigious dynastic position since with Timurid consorts maternity was not in itself a path to power.[18] Upon the birth of Shahrukh's eldest son, Ulugh Beg in 1394, he was also, like his father, placed in Saray's care and grew up under the supervision of the Empress.[19]

Clavijo's account of the Empress

Ruy González de Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador who was sent by Henry III of Castile to the Timurid imperial court at Samarkand

Although the Spanish ambassador, Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo, probably did not intend it, his description of "Cano" (The Great Khanum), Timur's chief wife, as she entered the great pavilion serves as a potent metaphor for much that he witnessed during his sojourn in Samarkand, the capital of Timurid Empire, between 8 September and 20 November 1404. As the ambassador of Henry III of Castile, Clavijo enjoyed great generous access to the life and ceremony of the Timurid imperial court and left one of the most detailed and lengthy accounts of their settings. "Cano" identifiable as Empress Saray, had come to join her husband, Timur, for a great feast, one of the several arranged at the Khan-i-Gil (lit. Mine of clay) meadow located outside Samarkand.[20]

Clavijo offers an expanded description of Saray's procession into the pavilion and of what she was wearing. Joined by fifteen servants to carry her train, eunuchs, and a male servant carrying a "shade" (sombra), Saray Mulk Khanum was dressed in red silk, her face covered by a white veil. She wore a complex headdress, fashioned from red fabric ornamented with pearls, rubies, turquoise, feathers, and held together with gold wire.[21]

Clavijo estimated about 300 hundred attendants making up her royal suite. Her doubly screened face — one screen a cloth veil, the other a thick layer of applied make-up — concealed her true identity.[21] The face that dimly showed beneath her veil was so thickly covered with white lead to protect from the Sun, that it looked as if it were made of paper.[22]

Patronizing education

The Bibi Khanym Mosque in Samarkand was named after Saray by her husband

One of the most important buildings of the late 14th century in Samarkand was the Khanum madrasa, opposite the great mosque of Timur.[23] The madrasa was commissioned by Empress Saray in c. 1397 as she was interested in patronizing education and was built by her orders at the capital of the Timurid Empire: Samarkand. Saray had commissioned many other buildings, but only the Khanum madrasa foundations remains to this day. Timur named one of the largest mosques ever conducted (1399-1404) in honour of his wife, Bibi Khanum (Saray). However, the Bibi Khanym Mosque was actually commissied by Saray.[24]

See also


  1. ^ Renard, ed. by John (1998). Windows on the House of Islam : Muslim Sources on Spirituality and Religious Life. University of California Press. p. 246. ISBN 978-0-520-21086-8.
  2. ^ Lal, Ruby (2005). Domesticity and Power in the Early Mughal World. Cambridge University Press. p. 217. ISBN 0-521-85022-3.
  3. ^ Belozerskaya, Marina (2012). Medusa's Gaze : the Extraordinary Journey of the Tazza Farnese. Oxford University Press. p. 99. ISBN 978-0-19-973931-8.
  4. ^ Shterenshis, Michael (2013). Tamerlane and the Jews. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. p. 28. ISBN 113687366X.
  5. ^ Hanson, Paul Lavern (1985). Sovereignty and service relationships in the Timurid corporate dynasty under Babur: the continuing legacy of the Chingis Khanid political system. Univ. of Chicago, Dept. of History. p. 72.
  6. ^ Grube, Ernst J.; Sims, Eleanor (1980). Colloquies on Art & Archaeology in Asia. University of London, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, School of Oriental and African Studies. p. 53.
  7. ^ Humphrey, Caroline; Sneath, David (1999). The End of Nomadism ? : Society, State and the Environment in Inner Asia. Duke University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-8223-2140-8.
  8. ^ Tucker, Jonathan (2003). The silk road : art and history. Philip Wilson Publishers. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-85667-546-1.
  9. ^ Vasilii, Vladimirovitch Barthold (1956). Four Studies on the History of Central Asia. E.J. Brill. pp. 24–25. ASIN B0007J9IR0.
  10. ^ Sonbol, Amira El-Azhary (2005). Beyond the Exotic : Women's Histories in Islamic Societies (1. ed.). Syracuse Univ. Press. p. 340. ISBN 978-0-8156-3055-5.
  11. ^ Shterenshis, Michael (2002). Tamerlane and the Jews. RoutledgeCurzon. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-7007-1696-8.
  12. ^ Veit, edited by Veronika (2007). The role of women in the Altaic world : Permanent International Altaistic Conference, 44th meeting, Walberberg, 26-31 August 2001. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. p. 149. ISBN 9783447055376.
  13. ^ Time-Life Books (1989). The Age of calamity : Time Frame AD 1300–1400. Time-Life Books. p. 83. ISBN 978-0-8094-6441-8.
  14. ^ Bingham, Marjorie Wall (2005). An Age of Empires, 1200–1750. Oxford University Press. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-19-517839-5.
  15. ^ Tokhtakhodjaeva, Marfua (1995). Between the slogans of communism and the laws of Islam. Shirkat Gah Women's Resource Centre. p. 20.
  16. ^ Veit, edited by Veronika (2007). The Role of Women in the Altaic World : Permanent International Altaistic Conference, 44th meeting, Walberberg, 26-31 August 2001. Harrassowitz. p. 149. ISBN 978-3-447-05537-6.
  17. ^ Crompton, Samuel Willard (1999). 100 Military leaders Who Shaped World History. Bluewood Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-912517-33-9.
  18. ^ Balabanlilar, Lisa (2012). Imperial identity in the Mughal Empire : memory and dynastic politics in early modern South and Central Asia. I.B. Tauris. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-84885-726-1.
  19. ^ Veit, edited by Veronika (2007). The role of women in the Altaic world : Permanent International Altaistic Conference, 44th meeting, Walberberg, 26-31 August 2001. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. p. 149. ISBN 9783447055376.
  20. ^ Brummett, p. 113
  21. ^ a b Brummett, p. 114
  22. ^ Marlowe, Christopher (1976). Tamburlaine the Great Parts 1 & 2. Taylor & Francis. p. 13.
  23. ^ Bosworth, editors C.E.; Asimov, the late M.S. (2003). History of civilizations of Central Asia. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 40. ISBN 9788120815964.
  24. ^ Renard, edited by John (1998). Windows on the house of Islam : Muslim sources on spirituality and religious life. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 246. ISBN 9780520210868.


  • Brummett, Palmira Johnson (2009). The 'Book' of Travels: Genre, Ethnology, and Pilgrimage, 1250–1700. BRILL . ISBN 978-90-04-17498-6.
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