Siege of Samarkand, May/June- November 1497

The siege of Samarkand of (May/June to November 1497) saw Babur and Sultan Ali Mirza resume their unsuccessful siege of 1496, this time capturing the city after a siege that lasted for much of 1497.

The first siege ended at the start of the winter of 1496-97 with Babur and Ali Mirza agreeing to return in the following spring. Ali and Baisangher Mirza, the current occupant of the city, were involved in some small-scale fighting over the winter, before in the spring of 1497 their main armies came face-to-face somewhere close to Shiraz.

Babur had kept his preparations secret, and so when his advance guard appeared on the scene it came as an unpleasant surprise to Baisangher, who was forced to retreat back towards Samarkand. Shiraz quickly surrendered to Babur, whose forces then advanced towards Samarkand, fighting a skirmish on the way. Babur stopped at the Khan's Camping Ground, six miles east of Samarkand, where he remained for the next 40 to 50 days. During this period his men fought a series of skirmishes with Baisangher's men on the road to Samarkand. Most of these were apparently won by Babur's men, although he did suffer some losses when some of his men were enticed into an ambush at a place called the 'Lovers' Cave'.

This period of skirmishing was interrupted by the need to capture a small fort in the Shavdar Mountains that was holding out against Babur's men. Once this had been done Babur returned to Samarkand, and resumed the siege. This does not appear to have involved a formal blockade or any persistent attempt to breach the defences of the city, but instead a series of skirmishes between Babur's men and the defenders of the city (Babur's account rarely mentions Sultan Ali, his ally in the siege). Eventually, at the end of September or early October, Babur decided to move into winter quarters around the fort of Khwaja Didar.

This move came at just the right time. Baisanghar had failed to gain any support from his relatives, and so towards the end of the summer he called for help from the Uzbek leader Shaibani Khan, then serving as governor of Turkistan. Shaibani arrived at Khwaja Didar to find Babur's men in a strong position, and rather than risk an attack moved off towards Samarkand. On his arrival at the city he argued with Baisanghar, who had expected him to attack Babur's camp, and a few days later returned to Turkistan. Although he had made little contribution to the defence of the city, Shaibani had noticed both its wealth and its vulnerability, and in the next few years would return to the city and keep it from Babur.

For the moment Shaibani's disappearance was enough to end the siege. Towards the end of November 1497 Baisanghar fled from the city with 200-300 of his closest supporters, and escaped to relative safety in Kunduz. When the news reached Babur he left his camp and advanced in triumph into the city. Babur's own account of this triumph doesn't mention his ally Sultan Ali Mirza, who returned to his base in Bokhara, from where he would soon return to take control of Samarkand.

For Babur this was one of the highlights of his career - Samarkand was the glorious capital of his ancestor Tamerlane, and the objective of most of his early wars, but he would only hold it for 100 days. As soon as it became clear that he had captured the city Babur's rivals in Fergana claimed the throne for his brother Jahangir, and besieged Babur's supports in the citadel of Andijan. Babur was forced to lead his army out of Samarkand in an attempt to save his original capital, and in the attempt lost both cities.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 April 2010), Siege of Samarkand, May/June- November 1497 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_samarkand_1497.html

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