The Editor's Back Fence

Who was Tamerlan?

By Becky O'Malley
Friday April 19, 2013 - 09:41:00 AM

None of the reports I've seen about the young man who died in Watertown, Massachusetts, as police pursued him in their search for those responsible for the Boston marathon bombing took note of his first name. It was Tamerlan, an Anglicization of the name of a 14th century folk hero, Timur, who led the armies of what my first Russian teacher at my Massachusetts college used to call "the Wild Tribes of Central Asia". The Emperor Tamerlan ( alternatively Timur, Tamerlan, Tamburlaine) is described in Wikipedia as a Turkic ruler who conquered West, South and Central Asia and founded the Timurid dynasty. He was a romantic warrior who captured the imagination not only of Central Asians, but of Europeans. He was the subject of a 16th Century play by Christoper Marlowe and a 19th Century epic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, among others. One might speculate that whoever gave Tamerlan Tsarnayev his name was familiar with the historic associations, and even that the young man who has been accused of being a bomber might have fancied himself the 21st Century incarnation of the ancient hero.