Siege of Takrit, 20 November-11 December 1393

The siege of Takrit (20 November-11 December 1393) was an example of Tamerlane's skills in siege warfare and saw his army capture a bandit stronghold said to be impregnable.

The siege came in the second year of Tamerlane's Five-year Campaign (1392-96), after the fall of Baghdad. While Tamerlane was at Baghdad he received a series of petitions from merchants and travellers asking him to deal with the bandits of Takrit. At the time the fortress of Takrit was built on a high rock close to the Tigris, and had been held by a robber band for some time. These bandits, now led by Emir Hassan, had been attacking passing caravans and the strength of the fortress meant that nothing had been done to stop them.

Tamerlane decided to intervene. Five of his commanders were send to blockade the fortress while he completed his business at Baghdad, before in mid-November Tamerlane left the city, arriving at Takrit on 20 November. He quickly realised that the best way to deal with the strong fortress on its rock would be to undermine its walls. Some of the outer-works were quickly destroyed, and this encouraged Hassan to try and negotiate an end to the siege. His younger brother was sent to meet Tamerlane to assure him of Hassan's obedience and services. Tamerlane gave the younger brother a beautiful horse and send him back into Takrit with a message that Hassan would be received well if he came before Tamerlane in person.

This demand would prove to be a sticking point through a series of negotiations that took place during the siege. Hassan clearly believed that he would not be safe in Tamerlane's hands (possibly remembering the fate of Tamerlane's early ally Husayn. Tamerlane had promised not to kill him at the end of the siege of Balkh in 1370, but had done nothing to prevent one of Husayn's other enemies from doing the deed). 

After the failure of this first round of negotiations Tamerlane resumed the siege. His men used battering rams to attack the walls and stone firing catapults to destroy many of Takrit's buildings. On the third day of the siege Hassan send out his mother with gifts of horses and rarities and a message that Hassan knew that he couldn't defend himself against the Imperial Army, but was afraid of appearing before the majesty of Tamerlane. Instead he would send his sons and brothers and hostages. Tamerlane responded by insisting that Hassan must surrender in person or be responsible for the deaths of the people in the town. This answer must have worried Hassan, for he decided to fight to the end.

While the negotiations had been underway the siege had been continuing. Tamerlane's men captured one tower wall under cover of night, and this forced the defenders to abandon the outer works and retreat into the inner fortifications.

Tamerlane decided to undermine the inner walls. Each Toman was allocated part of the wall, and tunnelled into the rock. According to Yazdi's history of Tamerlane 72,000 men were involved in this effort.

This great effort convinced Hassan to send his brother in yet another attempt to negotiate with Tamerlane, but once again the sticking point was Tamerlane's insistence that Hassan appear in person. Once again Hassan decided to fight, apparently with the support of his bandit supporters who feared the revenge of their victims.

After the failure of these negotiations Tamerlane ordered the start of the final assault. Most of the wall had now been undermined, and a large part of it was destroyed when the timbers in the mines under it were set on fire. The defenders managed to repair this first breach and fight off the assault.

On the night of 6 December 1393 Tamerlane ordered his men to set fire to all of the remaining wooden supports. Most of the wall fell, along with twenty towers still held by the defenders. A vicious battle broke out in the streets of the town, while Hassan retreated to a final strongpoint, described as a mountain by Yazdi. Tamerlane left him alone for five days while his men completed the destruction of the town. The final assault came on 11 December and ended in total success. Hassan was captured and taken before Tamerlane. He ordered the general population of the town to be separated from the defending solders. They were executed and the familiar towers of skulls built outside the town. 

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 August 2010), Siege of Takrit, 20 November-11 December 1393 ,

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