Battle of Marghinan, 1499

The battle of Marghinan of 1499 was a minor conflict that helped to secure Babur's come-back after his disastrous occupation of Samarkand in 1497. The city had fallen to Babur after a second siege in two years, but he had then lost control of his own capital city of Andijan. When Babur left Samarkand to regain control of Andijan his enemies took control of that city as well, and he found himself without a power-base. By the spring of 1499 Babur was effectively in exile in the area around Khujand, between Andijan and Samarkand, with only 200-300 supporters left.

Babur's fortunes revived dramatically soon after he moved into summer pastures south of Aura-tipa. One day a messenger arrived in his camp, claiming to be a messenger from Ali-dost Taghai, the man who had surrendered Andijan to Babur's enemies after learning that Babur was seriously ill. He was rewarded with command of Marghinan, to the west of Andijan, but he had now had a change of heart, and offered to surrender the town to Babur.

Babur and his small band left their summer camp on the evening of the same day and made a dramatic dash to Marghinan. As they approached the town some doubts began to creep in, as they realised the whole thing could be a trap, but Babur decided it was too late to back out, and approached the town. Fortunately for him the offer was genuine, and after what must have been a tense meeting at the town gate he took control of the walled town.

Babur had been usurped by Auzun Hasan and Sultan Ahmad Tambal, officially in the name of his brother Jahangir. Their rule had clearly been unpopular, for Babur was soon able to raise a significant army. Several of his commanders were sent out into the surround area in an attempt to gain support further afield.

The usurpers were quick to respond. A few days after Babur arrived in Marghinan they arrived at Sapan, a village two miles to the east of the city, and prepared to besiege Babur's weakened forces.

The siege would never begin. A day or two after arriving at Sapan the usurpers advanced towards Marghinan, but Babur reacted by sending his men out to fight in the suburbs outside the city walls. Auzun Hasan and Tambal were unable to make any progress and were forced to retreat. The same thing happened on two further days.

Although these were probably only minor skirmishes, Auzun Hasan and Tambal's failure to crush Babur quickly encouraged his supports to rise elsewhere in Fergana. Auzun Hasan sent some of his best men off in an unsuccessful attempt to deal with a revolt at Akhsi. When the news of their failure reached him, Auzun Hasan and Tambal were forced to retreat back towards Andijan. 

Loyalty was clearly not a major feature of politics in Fergana in this period. Auzun Hasan had left his brother in law Nasir Beg in command of Andijan, but he now declared for Babur, and was taken back into his service. The usurpers were forced to scatter back to their remaining strongholds, and in June 1498 Babur returned to Andijan. Auzun Hasan made for Akhsi, where he was soon forced to surrender, while Jahangir and Tambal took refuge at Auzkint.

Babur's success would be short-lived.  A large part of his army was made up of Mongol mercenaries, as had been the army of Auzun Hasan. After the fall of Akhsi many of the latter's men had stayed behind. Babur decided to order them to hand back any goods that they had taken from his own men during the last few years. Unsurprisingly the Mongols didn't hang around to surrender their plunder, and instead rode to Auzkint, where they offered their services to Tambal. A significant number of Babur's own Mongol troops appear to have joined this revolt.

In the struggle that followed Babur's men would suffer a defeat at the Ailaish River, and Tambal would be able to briefly besiege Andijan, before the fighting was decided in Babur's first open battle, at Khuban, but this military success would be undermined by a political failure, and Babur would eventually be forced to agree to the partition of Fergana.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (21 April 2010), Battle of Marghinan, 1499 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_marghinan.html

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