“If You Open This Grave The Greatest War Will Begin” – The Curse of Tamerlane

Tamerlane (also known as Timur Lenk) was a Mongolian ruler who lived in the 14th century and was one of the most famous and the most abusive conquerors, but also a man of great intelligence and extraordinary education. Tamerlane and his descendants were buried in the mausoleum of Guri-Amir in Samarkand, the capital of the Timur Empire. The epitaph on the Timur’s gravestone cautions against disturbing the spirit of the great conqueror. It prophesies that “the greatest war will happen if the grave of Timur is open”.

Guri-Amir in the beginning of XX century

Warned by the prophecy, it never occurred to anyone for centuries to open the tomb. Until one day, greatly impressed by the life and work of the famous ruler, Soviet leader Stalin decided to defile the ashes of the conqueror despite the curse. In June 1941 Stalin sent a team of archaeologists led by the famous anthropologist Mikhail Gerasimov to find and open the tomb of Tamerlane and bring his remains to him.

Excavations began on June 16 but the locals residents were afraid by the curse and tried to stop the expedition. “The Russian expedition is going to open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great! It will bring the curse on our heads! ” The news passed from mouth to mouth through the bazaars and streets of Samarkand in June 1941.

Forensic Recreation of Tamerlane by Mikhail Gerasimov (1941)

The guardians of the tomb were desperate and begged anthropologists not to touch the tomb. They warned, “if the grave of our ruler is disturbed, the great war will begin!”

But the members of the expedition, ignorant of the warnings opened the tomb of Tamerlane on June 20 and the mausoleum was filled with the sharp choking odor of the mixture of resins, camphor, rose and frankincense. According to archeologists, the most horrifying moment was when they removed Tamerlan’s trunk and they saw the words engraved on him..


“When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble”

Timur’s grave image: smarthistoryblog.com

Two days after the opening of the Timur’s tomb, on the night of June 22, Nazi Germany without declaring the war invaded the Soviet Union. Samarkand people were panic-stricken. The expedition was instantly winded up, and the remains of Timur and his dynasty were transported to be examined in Moscow.

Timur’s remain image: smarthistoryblog.com

However this time Stalin took seriously the curse of Tamerlane. He ordered Timur’s remain to be returned in the Gur-e Amir Mausoleum and to pay them respect under full Islamic burial procedure in November 1942, Soon after that, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus successfully in Stalingrad, which was the turning point on the Eastern Front.

Gur-e-Amin in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. (restored by soviets) image : Wiggum (2006).

Everyone at that time believed that Stalin, by returning Tamerlan to his mausoleum, influenced on the curse to be lifted. A few months later, the German 6th Army in Stalingrad surrendered. The USSR lost 26.6 million men and women in total, more than any other nation in mankind’s history yet the war was finally over. The Timur’s remains rest in peace in his grave until this day.

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