Find out when Tamburlaine the Great was first written and published, and which sources Christopher Marlowe used to write it.

Title page for Tamburlaine the Great, Part I
Title page from the Quarto Edition of Tamburlaine the Great, Part I (1605).


Tamburlaine the Great is the only play by Christopher Marlowe to be published during his lifetime. Written in two parts around 1587-88, it was first entered into the Stationers’ Register (the record book for the publishing industry) in August 1590. Both parts were published in one volume by the printer Richard Jones, and later reprinted as a second and third edition in 1592 and 1597. Tamburlaine the Great was next published separately in two parts in quarto edition by the bookseller Edward White; Part I in 1605 and Part II in 1606.

Marlowe was not actually cited as the author in the first printings of the play (no author was credited), however, the similarities between Tamburlaine the Great and Marlowe’s other works lead scholars to believe that Marlowe wrote Tamburlaine.


Marlowe’s Tamburlaine is loosely based upon the life of 14th century Turko-Mongol military leader Amir Timur, who conquered central Asia and parts of India, and founded the Timurid Empire.

Marlowe would have likely drawn from two 16th century accounts of Timur: Silva de Varia Lección (c.1540) by Spanish scholar and historian Pedro Mexía, and Magni Tamerlanis Scytharum Imperatoris Vita (1553) by the Italian, Petrus Perondinus.

The Silva was an ‘encyclopedic’ account of historical knowledge at the time, with a whole chapter dedicated to the figure of Timur. The Silva was a bestseller across Europe, translated into English in 1571, and in circulation in England by the time Marlowe had begun to write his play.

Marlowe’s other source Tamerlanis was written in Latin (the universal language at the time), and scholars argue it offered Marlowe a clearer conception of Timur’s character – he portrays him as brutal, destructive and dominated by an insatiable thirst for power.