Battle of Pul-i-Sanghin, 1511

The battle of Pul-i-Sanghin or Abdara (1511) was the first victory won by Babur early in the campaign that led to his third and final occupation of Samarkand. Babur had lost control of Samarkand and his original kingdom of Fergana to the Uzbek conqueror Shaibani, and while Shaibani lived there was little or now chance of Babur regaining his homeland.

In 1509 Shaibani became involved in a war with Shah Isma'il of Persia, and in December 1510 he was killed at the battle of Merv. With the great Uzbek leader gone many of his Mongol troops left the Uzbek army, and rebels broke out across his former empire. Babur, who since 1504 had been ruler of Kabul, eagerly responded to a call for help from Mirza Khan, and crossed the mountains to Kunduz. His next target was Hisar (modern Hisor), further to the north.

A first expedition to Hisar had to be abandoned when Babur ran into strong Uzbek forces, but on his return to Kunduz Babur found a party of Persians who were returning his elder sister, the widowed former wife of Shaibani. Babur sent Mirza Khan to ask for help from Persia, and then advanced back towards Hisar. This time he camped on the southern banks of the Surkh-ab River (now the Vakhsh, one of the main rivers of Tajikistan), at the Pul-i-sangin (stone-bridge). The Uzbek sultans (key amongst them Hamza Sultan, Mahdi Sultan and Timur Sultan) camped on the far side of the river and both sides then waited for reinforcements.

After about a month Babur had still not received strong reinforcements, although Mirza Khan did rejoin the army, certainly with news of the new Persian alliance, and possible with some Persian troops. The Uzbeks either received reinforcements of their own, or decided that Babur was weak enough to attack, and one morning swam across the river below the bridge. Babur was informed of this at the time for afternoon prayers, and decided to retreat into the mountains. After an over-night march the army reached Abdara at about midday. Babur and his senior commanders decided to make a stand there, taking advantage of a strong position on a hill top.

When the Uzbeks arrived on the scene Timur Sultan decided to take possession of a second hill to the left of Babur's position. Babur responded by sending Mirza Khan to defend this hill. This position on Babur's left would see the only fighting during the battle - Babur's own position was too strong, and the Uzbeks were unwilling to risk an attack on it.

At first the fighting on the left went well for Timur Sultan. Most of Mirza Khan's men were forced back, and he was in danger himself. At this point reinforcements arrived, from a detachment by the future historian Mirza Haidar (author of the Tarik-i-Rashidi). These reinforcements restored the situation, and the battle on the left continued for the rest of the day.

Towards evening the Uzbeks realised that with no fresh water available at the base of the hill they would have to retire. As the troops facing Babur's main position began to withdraw his men charged down the hill. For the moment the Uzbek centre held its ground, but the fighting in the centre discouraged the troops facing Mirza Khan. They attempted to withdraw, but this retreat turned into a rout. This in turn spread to the Uzbek centre and soon the entire army was in retreat.

Although Timur Sultan escaped, Hamza and Mahdi were less fortunate. They were captured and immediately executed as traitors, having served Babur in the past. The defeated Uzbek army was pursued as far as the borders of Hisar province. Babur then advanced to Hisar, where he was joined by reinforcements that gave him 60,000 men.

Most of the remaining Uzbek Sultans were in Samarkand, to the north-west of Hisar, while Ubaid Ullah Khan, who should have been defending Bokhara, instead attempted to defend Qarshi (west of Hisar, south-west of Samarkand). Instead of attacking Qarshi Babur advanced one day beyond it, towards Bokhara. This forced Ubaid Ullah to abandon the fortress and attempt to reach Bokhara, but a vigorous pursuit prevented him from doing this. Bokhara fell to Babur without a struggle. When news of this defeat reached the Uzbek leaders in Samarkand they fled into Turkistan.

In mid October 1511 Babur entered the city in triumph, and became its ruler for the third and final time. His triumph would be short-lived. In order to gain Persian support Babur had agreed to try and impose Shah Isma'il's Shi'a beliefs on the Sunni inhabitants of Samarkand. This lost Babur the support of his new subjects, and meant that when the Uzbeks returned to the attack in 1512 Babur would be outnumbered. Defeat would follow, at Kul-i-Malik

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 April 2010), Battle of Pul-i-Sanghin, 1511 ,

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