Siege of Samarkand, Summer 1501

The siege of Samarkand during the summer of 1501 saw the city fall to the Uzbek leader Muhammad Shaibani Khan after being defended during the summer of 1501 by Babur.

The conquest of Samarkand was the main aim of the young Babur, a descendant of Tamerlane and originally the ruler of Ferghana, the eastern part of the small Transoxiana remnant of Tamerlane's empire. He had briefly held the city in 1497, before capturing it in a dramatic surprise attack in 1500, just after it had been captured by Muhammad Shaibani. The Uzbek leader then withdrew to gather strength, while Babur attempted to increase the size of his army. Eventually, in April/ May 1501 Babur advanced out of the city at the head of a small army, hoping that this would finally force some of his potential allies to join him. Instead it exposed his small army to defeat at Sari-i-Pul (April-May 1501). Babur was able to escape from the battlefield and returned to Samarkand with a small band of supporters.

At this date Samarkand was one of the largest cities in the world, having been greatly expanded by Tamerlane. Babur lacked the strength to properly defend the city, but he was supported by the general population. For several days they were able to keep the Uzbeks at a distance from the walls, before they became over-confident, advanced too far from the city, and suffered heavy losses. After this Shaibani was able to get close to the city walls and impose a proper blockade.

Babur left an account of the siege in his memoirs (the Babur-nama), in which he describes an incident in which the Uzbeks were able to get inside the walls by attacking at two points at once, only to be expelled by Babur and his reserve. After some heavy fighting early in the siege Shaibani withdrew a short distance and imposed a blockade on the city, which lasted for three or four months.

By the end of this period it was clear that Babur was not going to receive any help from outside the city, and supplies were running low. Babur was finally forced into peace negotiations, and had to agree to humiliating terms. His eldest sister, Khanzada Begam, was married to Shaibani and the city surrendered to him, in return for a safe-conduct for Babur and the rest of his family. Evidently not trusting Shaibani to honour this agreement, Babur escaped from the city one dark night soon after the marriage of his sister. Babur was now a wanderer without a home, for his original kingdom of Ferghana was now held by his brother Jahangir, who had been given it by treaty before the attack on Samarkand.  

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 April 2010), Siege of Samarkand, Summer 1501 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/siege_samarkand_1501.html

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