Battle of Ghaj-davan/ Ghujduwan, Tuesday 12 November 1512

The battle of Ghaj-davan (12 November 1512) was an Uzbek victory over a largely Persian army that ended any chance that Babur had of retaking his ancestral home of Samarkand.

Babur's second occupation of Samarkand had been ended by the great Uzbek conqueror Shanbani Khan in 1501, leaving Babur without a strong base. In 1504 he captured Kabul in an attempt to move away from the Uzbeks, and it looked as if his last chance to take Samarkand had gone. This all changed when Shanbani entered into a feud with Shah Ismail Safawi, the new ruler of Persia. In December 1510 Shanbani was killed at the battle of Merv, and his empire soon began to fall apart.

Babur realised that this gave him a chance to occupy Samarkand for a third time, but after an early rebuff he entered into a fatal agreement with the Shah. In return for military help Babur agreed to impose the Shah's Shi'a beliefs on the Sunni inhabitants of Samarkand. After a triumphant entry into the city Babur soon found that his new religious affiliation made him unpopular. Worse was to come. Babur had dismissed his Persian troops, and this encouraged the Uzbeks to return. In May 1512 Babur was defeated at Kul-i-Malik, and was forced to abandon Samarkand and retreat to Hisar.

At the same time as his Persian affiliations were alienating the people of Samarkand, Babur's unwillingness to actively persecute the Sunni inhabitants of the city angered Shah Ismail, who dispatched an army under Najm Sani to discipline his unruly subordinate. By the time Najm reached the borders of Khorasan Babur was already a refuge. The Persian army spent twenty days at Balkh, from where Najm exchanged letters with Babur and possibly with the Shah, before he decided to go to Babur's aid and attempt to recover Bokhara and Samarkand (possibly without waiting for orders from the Shah).

The two armies soon joined up, and began to advance towards Bukhara. Babur's force was much smaller than the Persian army, and it would appear that he was a virtual prisoner of his ally. At any rate he had no influence with Najm. When the army reached Qarshi (Karshi) the city was stormed, and despite all of Babur's efforts the entire population was massacred.

From Qarshi the combined army moved on towards Bukhara. The Uzbeks responded by sending an army under Timur and Abu-sa'id out from Samarkand to threaten the marching column. Najm responded by sending Bairem Beg to attack the Uzbeks, and they retreated into Ghaj-davan.

Once again Najm Sani ignored his advisors, and decided to besiege Ghaj-davan. This placed him in a very vulnerable position, on the edge of the desert, short of supplies and with a strong Uzbek army on his flanks at Bukhara. Sources disagree on the length of the siege, but it probably lasted for about four months. During this period the garrison's food supplies held out, but the besiegers found themselves short of food, and it would appear that Najm was on the verge of ordering a retreat when a new Uzbek army appeared.

This army, under 'Ubaid Khan, came from Bokhara. The Persian siege can't have involved an effective blockade, for 'Ubaid Khan was able to unite with the garrison before the battle began. The Uzbeks were still outnumbered, but the battle took place in the suburbs outside the walls of Ghaj-davan, which countered the Persians numerical advantage. The Persians may also have been suffering from contention amongst the army commanders, while Babur, who had command of the rear-guard, appears to have lost any interest in a Persian victory.

The main part of the Persian army was defeated in street fighting in the suburbs and Najm Sani was killed in the fighting. Babur was able conduct a fighting retreat with the rear-guard, and escaped to relative safety at Hisar, before a failed assassination attempt convinced him to move back to Kunduz, where he spent most of 1513 before retreating to Kabul. Persian historians of the period claimed that the defeat was caused by treachery on Babur's part, although given the small size of his own army and his position in a rearguard that was probably posted outside the suburbs, there would appear to have been little that he could have done. The defeat at Ghaj-davan ended any last chance Babur had of regaining Samarkand, and his attentions soon moved east, to India.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (11 May 2010), Battle of Ghaj-davan/ Ghujduwan, Tuesday 12 November 1512 ,

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