CKM 2018-20 / Aziz Yardımlı



Turkic Khaganate 600

“Yukarıda mavi gök, aşağıda kara toprak yaratılırken, ikisi arasında insan oğulları yaratıldı. Ve insan oğullarının üstünde atalarım kağan Bumin ve İsthemi duruyordu. Türk halkının efendileri olduklarında, onun imparatorluğunu kurarak yönettiler ve ülkenin yasasını belirlediler. Dünyanın dört bucağında çok sayıda düşmanları vardı, ama onlara karşı seferlere önderlik ederek dünyanın dört bucağında pek çok ulusa boyun eğdirdiler ve barışı kabul ettirdiler. Onlara baş eğdirdiler ve diz çöktürdüler. Bunlar bilge kağanlar, yiğit kağanlar idiler; ve tüm subayları bilge ve yiğit idi; tüm soylular ve bütün bir halk türeli idi. Böyle büyük bir imparatorluğu nasıl yönetebildiklerinin, ve imparatorluğu yönetirken nasıl yasaya bağlı kalabildiklerinin nedeni bu idi.”
The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia / Edited by DENIS SINOR
Chapter 11 The establishment and dissolution of the Turk empire



"When high above the blue sky and down below the brown earth had been created, betwixt the two were created the sons of men. And above the sons of men stood my ancestors, the kaghans Bumin and Ishtemi. Having become the masters of the Turk people, they installed and ruled its empire and fixed the law of the country. Many were their enemies in the four corners of the world, but, leading campaigns against them, they subjugated and pacified many nations in the four corners of the world. They caused them to bow their heads and to bend their knees. These were wise kaghans, these were valiant kaghans; all their officers were wise and valiant; the nobles, all of them, the entire people were just. This was the reason why they were able to rule an empire so great, why, governing the empire, they could uphold the law."*


It is a regrettable fact that no translation of the Orkhon inscriptions into idiomatic English exists. That given in Talat Tekin’s otherwise very valuable A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic, (1968) cannot lay such claim. The three translations given in this chapter are my own, of passages taken from the Köl tegin and Bilge kaghan inscriptions. They are based on the editions prepared by V. Thomsen, 1896, S.E. Malov, 1951, and Talat Tekin in the aforementioned book. I have attempted to convey the meaning of the text but did not consider philological problems which should be, and have been, treated elsewhere.



Göktürks (W)

Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia (6th to 8th century).

The Göktürks, Celestial Turks or Blue Turks (Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰:𐰉𐰆𐰑‎), romanized: Türük Bodun, Middle Chinese: 厥, romanized: Tɦutkyat; Khotanese Saka: Ttūrka, Ttrūka;) were a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia. The Göktürks, under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan (d. 552) and his sons, succeeded the Rouran Khaganate as the main power in the region and established the Turkic Khaganate, one of several nomadic dynasties which would shape the future geolocation, culture, and dominant beliefs of Turkic peoples.


Map of the Tujue Khanate (Ashina clan of Göktürks) at its greatest extent in 570.

Situation of Interior Asia in Late 6th Century with approximate ranges of Eastern and Western Gokturks (Tujue).


Strictly speaking, the common name Göktürk is the Anatolian Turkish form of the ethnonym. The Old Turkic name variants for Göktürk were Old Turkic: 𐰰𐰼𐰇𐱅,‎ romanized: Türük Old Turkic: 𐰛𐰇𐰜⁚𐰰𐰼𐰇𐱅‎, romanized: Kök Türük, or Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰚,‎ romanized: Türk. They were known in Middle Chinese historical sources as the tɦutkyat (Chinese: ; pinyin: Tūjué). According to Chinese sources, the meaning of the word Tujue was "combat helmet" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Dōumóu; Wade–Giles: Tou-mou), reportedly because the shape of the Altai Mountains where they lived, was similar to a combat helmet.

Göktürk means “Celestial Turks,” or sometimes “Blue Turks” (i.e. because sky blue is associated with celestial realms). This is consistent with “the cult of heavenly ordained rule” which was a recurrent element of Altaic political culture and as such may have been imbibed by the Göktürks from their predecessors in Mongolia. The name of the ruling Ashina clan may derive from the Khotanese Saka term for “deep blue,” āššɪna.

Researchers such as Peter B. Golden, H. W. Haussig, S. G. Klyashtorny, A. N. Bernstamm, Carter V. Findley, D.G. Savinov, S. P. Guschin, Rona-Tas and R. N. Frye have pointed out that the origin of the Ashina is from the Indo-Iranian Saka or Wusun.

According to American Heritage Dictionary the word Türk meant “strong” in Old Turkic.


The Göktürk rulers originated from the Ashina clan, who were first attested to 439. The Book of Sui reports that in that year, on October 18, the Tuoba ruler Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei overthrew Juqu Mujian of the Northern Liang in eastern Gansu, whence 500 Ashina families fled northwest to the Rouran Khaganate in the vicinity of Gaochang.

According to the Book of Zhou and the History of the Northern Dynasties, the Ashina clan was a component of the Xiongnu confederation, but this is contested. According to the Book of Sui and the Tongdian, they were "mixed Hu (barbarians)" (雜胡) from Pingliang. According to the New Book of Tang, the Ashina were related to the northern tribes of the Xiongnu, in particular they were of Tiele tribe by ancestral lineage.

Chinese sources linked the Hu on their northern borders to the Xiongnu just as Graeco-Roman historiographers called the Pannonian Avars, Huns and Hungarians “Scythians.” Such archaizing was a common literary topos, implying similar geographic origins and nomadic lifestyle but not direct filiation.

As part of the heterogeneous Rouran Khaganate, the Türks lived for generations north of the Altai Mountains, where they “engaged in metal working for the Rouran.” (Wei Zheng et al., Book of Sui, Vol. 84. (in Chinese).) According to Denis Sinor, the rise to power of the Ashina clan represented an 'internal revolution' in the Rouran Khaganate rather than an external conquest.

According to Charles Holcombe, the early Turk population was rather heterogeneous and many of the names of Türk rulers, including the two founding members, are not even Turkic. This is supported by evidence from the Orkhon inscriptions, which include several non-Turkic lexemes, possibly representing Uralic or Yeniseian words. Peter Benjamin Golden points out that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, who were of an undetermined ethnic origin, adopted Iranian and Tokharian (or non-Altaic) titles, he also adds that this hypothesis assumes that they were not themselves lranian or Tokharian in speech. German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp points out that many common terms in Turkic are Iranian in origin. Whatever language the Ashina may have spoken originally, they and those they ruled would all speak Turkic, in a variety of dialects, and create, in a broadly defined sense, a common culture. Several historians have pointed out that the origin of the Ashina is from the Indo-Aryan Wusun.


The Göktürks reached their peak in late 6th century and began to invade the Sui Dynasty of China. However, the war ended due to the division of Turkic nobles and their civil war for the throne of Khagan. With the support of Emperor Wen of Sui, Yami Qaghan won the competition. However, the Göktürk empire was divided to Eastern and Western empires. Weakened by the civil war, Yami Qaghan declared allegiance to Sui Dynasty. When Sui began to decline, Shibi Khagan began to assault its territory and even surrounded Emperor Yang of Sui in Siege of Yanmen (615 AD) with 100,000 cavalry troops. After the collapse of Sui dynasty, the Göktürks intervened in the ensuing Chinese civil wars, providing support to the northeastern rebel Liu Heita against the rising Tang in 622 and 623. Liu enjoyed a long string of success but was finally routed by Li Shimin and other Tang generals and executed. The Tang dynasty was then established.

Conquest by the Tang (W)


Although Göktürk Khaganate once provided support to the Tang Dynasty in the early period of Chinese civil war, the conflicts between the Göktürks and Tang finally broke out when Tang was gradually reuniting China. Göktürk began to attack and raid the northern border of the Tang Empire and once marched their main force to Chang'an, the capital of Tang. Having not recovered from the civil war, the Tang briefly had to pay tribute to Göktürk nobles. Allied with tribes against the Göktürk Khaganate, the Tang defeated the main force of Göktürk army in Battle of Yinshan four years later and captured Illig Qaghan in 630 AD. With the submission of Turkic tribes, the Tang conquered the Mongolian Plateau.

Emperor Taizong of Tang (唐太宗).

After hard court debate, Emperor Taizong decided to pardon the Göktürk nobles and offered them the positions of imperial guards. However, the plan ended in an assassination plan of the emperor. On May 19, 639 Ashina Jiesheshuai and his tribesmen directly assaulted Emperor Taizong of Tang at Jiucheng Palace (宮, in present-day Linyou County, Baoji, Shaanxi). However, they did not succeed and fled to the north, but were caught by pursuers near the Wei River and were killed. Ashina Hexiangu was exiled to Lingbiao. After the unsuccessful raid of Ashina Jiesheshuai, on August 13, 639 Taizong installed Qilibi Khan and ordered the settled Turkic people to follow him north of the Yellow River to settle between the Great Wall of China and the Gobi Desert. However, many Göktürk generals still remained loyal in service to the Tang Empire.

In 679, Ashide Wenfu and Ashide Fengzhi, who were Turkic leaders of the Chanyu Protectorate (單于大都護府), declared Ashina Nishufu as qaghan and revolted against the Tang dynasty. In 680, Pei Xingjian defeated Ashina Nishufu and his army. Ashina Nishufu was killed by his men. Ashide Wenfu made Ashina Funian a qaghan and again revolted against the Tang dynasty. Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian surrendered to Pei Xingjian. On December 5, 681 54 Göktürks including Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian were publicly executed in the Eastern Market of Chang'an. In 682, Ilterish Qaghan and Tonyukuk revolted and occupied Heisha Castle (northwest of present-day Hohhot, Inner Mongolia) with the remnants of Ashina Funian's men. The restored Göktürk Khaganate intervened in the war between Tang and Khitan tribes. However, after the death of Bilge Qaghan, Göktürk could no longer subjugate other Turk tribes in grassland. In 744, allied with Tang Dynasty, the Uyghur Khaganate defeated the last Göktürk Khaganate and controlled the Mongolian Plateau.


📙 The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia / Chapter 11: The establishment and dissolution of the Turk empire

The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia / Chapter 11: The establishment and dissolution of the Turk empire (LINK: KİTAPLAR)


Göktürks (Blue Turks)

Göktürks (Blue Turks) (L-The History Files)

The Gök Türks (or Göktürks) were early Turks who lived a semi-nomadic lifestyle in Central Asia, principally in Mongolia, to the north and west of China. They emerged into history in the early sixth century AD from obscure tribal origins. The Chinese recorded more than one source for them during the sixth and seventh centuries but none provide entirely conclusive evidence. Even so, Chinese records are the best hope of pinning them down.

As can be expected with such an obscure group in a region that was almost entirely outside the reach of contemporary writers, Chinese records of the Göktürks offer a mixed bag of options. They could have been a division of the Hsiung-nu (Xiongnu) who were certainly recorded by the Chinese, and who may have given rise to the Huns who later terrorised Europe and the Xionites who plagued eastern Iran. While the Huns migrated west, possibly to escape population pressure on hunting grounds, the Göktürks clearly remained behind, perhaps supplying that very pressure on hunting grounds during their own rise. They could also have been the Turkified Xianbei who fled a massacre by the Northern Wei who ruled northern China in the fifth century. A third option is that they were Turkified Indo-Europeans, making them Tocharians who had intermarried with proto-Turkic groups in the three-and-a-half millennia since their split from the main body of Indo-Europeans of the Pontic-Caspian steppe (see link, right, for a more detailed examination of the Tocharians).

Whatever their origins, these were the first nomads in Mongolia (or anywhere) to refer to themselves as Turks. It is believed that this name was for a dynastic ancestor called Türük, of the Ashina tribe (which can also be shown as Asen, Asena, Ashinas (in Islamic texts), or Açina). All of these bear a marked Indo-Iranian influence. Türük (and by extension his tribe) was believed to have descended from the combination of a child and the Kök Böri ('Blue Wolf'), hence blue Turk. The story surrounding this descent is a more sophisticated version of the same myth that was used by the Wusun people some centuries before. The word 'kök' (the earlier form) or 'gök' (seemingly a later, Anatolian Turkish form) means 'blue', but also 'sky' or, in a more abstract sense, 'heavens'. Such an early name for an illiterate people was quite naturally rendered in a variety of different ways by different writers across several centuries, including Kök Türük, Tourkh, Tr’wk, Tujue, Turk, and Türük. They all mean the same thing.

Curiously, perhaps, in The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley points out that the Ashina name probably originates from one of the Indo-Iranian languages of Central Asia. Edward Dawson confirms this with the observation that the 'As-' or 'Ash-' verb, meaning 'to be', as seen in Asha, is also present among Germans. In this case, most uses of it were altered to 'is-', except in the word for the early Germanic gods, the Os or Aesir (see feature link, right, for more information). Blue is the colour that was used to identify the east — therefore 'gök' in Turkic — which provides a dual meaning for Göktürk, in that the blue Turks were also the 'Turks of the East'. Findley's observation is further supported by Peter Benjamin Golden and also by the Hungarian researcher, András Róna-Tas, who finds it highly plausible ‘that we are dealing with a royal family and clan [that is] of Iranian origin, almost certainly Saka.’ If that origin provided anything more than simple cultural influences then this would mean that the Ashina core tribe was almost certainly of Indo-European origin. To balance this, Zhu Xueyuan suggests that Ashina derived from the Manchu word 'Aisin' and the early Wusun (Asin or Osin), whom he considers to have been a Tungusic people.

İstemi and Bumin were two Göktürk brothers (notably bearing non-Turkic names — a common occurrence with Göktürk rulers which reveals a level of heterogeneity amongst the early Turks). Defeating the ruling Rouran, they managed to unite all Turkish-speaking peoples within a confederation. The empire they created was almost immediately divided in two, east and west. Each division maintained its own line of descent, although the two divisions frequently interacted.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Hayreddin Barbarossa (drawn from Turkish editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and Grand Larousse), with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Origin of the Turks and the Turkish Khanate, Gao Yang (Tenth Türk Tarih Kongresi, Ankara 1986), from Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, Burhan Oğuz (1976), from The Turks in World History, Carter Vaughn Findley (Oxford University Press 2005), from The Origins of Northern China's Ethnicities, Zhu Xueyuan (Beijing 2004), from Ethnogenesis in the tribal zone: The Shaping of the Turks, Peter Benjamin Golden (2005), from The History of the Medieval World: From the Conversion of Constantine to the First Crusade, Susan Wise Bauer (2010), and from External Link:Encyclopaedia Iranica. )


The Göktürks and the Khazaks

The Göktürks and the Khazaks (L)

The Göktürks and the Khazaks

On the steppes themselves, meanwhile, a Turkish confederacy, led by the Göktürks, rose to dominate a vast tract of central Asia, from the mid-6th century. They allied with the Sasanians to destroy the power of the White Huns in 560 CE, and their power soon came to stretch from the borders of China to the borders of the Byzantine Empire. Although the confederacy divided into western and eastern halves, these seem to have continued on friendly terms and to have co-operated with one another. Between them, the Göktürks controlled almost the entire length of the Silk Road.

The western Göktürks were replaced by the Khazaks in the 7th century, while the eastern Göktürks endured into the 8th. The histories of both the Khazaks and the Göktürks were disrupted by a major challenge from the two major agricultural-based powers of the day, the Tang empire of China and the Islamic Caliphate of the Arabs. Between them, they briefly dominated central Asia. For a time the Göktürks were absorbed into the Tang empire, and to the west the Kazakhs were forced northward by the Muslim armies of the Caliphate. However, both steppe confederacies recovered in the late 8th century, and the Khazaks reached the peak of their power in the late 8th century by bringing a region stretching from the Caspian Sea to the River Danube under their dominance.

The Khazaks had a more sedentary way of life than other steppe peoples, with an economy to some extent based on farming. They controlled the western sector of the Silk Road, and under their protection towns developed in favoured locations. The Khazak rulers achieved a unique distinction by adopting Judaism as their official religion, in the mid-8th century.

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Khazaks faced a growing challenge to their power from the emerging Rus principalities, and their power was destroyed by another Turkic group, the nomadic Pechenegs, who in the 10th century occupied a huge band of territory between the Don and lower Danube rivers. From there the Pechenegs menaced the Rus states, the Bulgarian Khanate and the Byzantine Empire. Finally they were destroyed by Byzantine forces in 1122.


Another group of steppe people who came into prominence in the 10th century were the Oguz Turks. At that time these migrated from the eastern steppes, where their original homeland was, probably in Mongolia. They made their new homeland in the region east of the Caspian Sea. Like other Turkish groups in this area they converted to Islam. Then, taking advantage of the disintegrating power of the Caliphate, one of their leading clans, the Seljuqs, invaded southward and conquered a huge empire in the Middle East. When the Seljuq power declined, in the 12th century, other Turkish groups, such as the Karakhanids and the Khwarezm, who succeeded them in Iran and the Transoxus regions. The Khwarezm Shah were the dominant state in the region when the Mongols arrived, in the 13th century.


📹 The History of the Göktürks / Every Year (VİDEO)

The History of the Göktürks / Every Year (LINK)



📹 Göktürk Khaganate, The First Turkic Empire (VİDEO)

Göktürk Khaganate, The First Turkic Empire (LINK)

The First Turkic Empire, history of the Göktürk Khaganate explained in 5 minutes.


  Eastern Turkic Khaganate

Extent of Silk Route/Silk Road. Red is land route and the blue is the sea/water route.

Eastern Turkic Khaganate

Eastern Turkic Khaganate (W)

The Eastern Turkic Khaganate (Chinese: 東突厥; pinyin: Dōng tūjué) was a Turkic khaganate formed as a result of the internecine wars in the beginning of the 7th century (AD 593–603) after the Göktürk Khaganate (founded in the 6th century in Mongolia by the Ashina clan) had splintered into two polities – Eastern and Western. Finally, the Eastern Turkic power was absorbed by the Chinese Tang Empire.


Status Khaganate
Capital Ordu Baliq
Common languages Ruanruan, Middle Chinese
Historical era Early Middle Ages
Turkic Khaganate founded
Göktürk civil war, Eastern Turkic dynasty founded
• Conquest by Tang dynasty
• Second Turkic Khaganate established
624 4,000,000 km2 (1,500,000 sq mi)
Preceded by Succeeded by
Turkic Khaganate
Protectorate General to Pacify the North
Today part of China




In 552-555 the Gokturks replaced the Rouran in Mongolia, forming the Turkic Khaganate (552-630). They quickly spread west to the Caspian Sea. Between 581 and 603 the Western Turkic Khaganate in Kazakhstan separated from the Eastern Khaganate in Mongolia. In the early period the Chinese were weak and paid tribute to the Turks. The Chinese grew stronger and overthrew the Eastern Turks in 630.

Before the Khaganate

‘Turk’, meaning something like ‘strong’, was the self-description of the small Ashina clan or tribe. It was later applied to the Gokturk Khaganate and later by Muslim historians to all speakers of Turkic languages. The Chinese equivalent, Tujue,[a] was sometimes applied to many northern peoples and does not always mean 'Turk' in the strict sense. The Chinese report that in 439 a man named Ashina led 500 families west from Gansu to Gaochang near Turfan. About 460 the Rouran moved them east to the Altai which was an important source of metalwork for Siberia and Mongolia. David Christian says that the first dated mention of ‘Turk’ appears in Chinese annals in 542 when they made annual raids across the Yellow River when it froze over. In 545 the future Bumin Qaghan was negotiating directly with the Western Wei (535-57) without regard to his Rouran overlords. Later the Turks were sent east to suppress a rebellion by the Kao-ch’e, but the Turks absorbed them into their own army. Bumin demanded a royal bride from the Rouran and was denounced as a ‘blacksmith slave’. Bumin took a bride from the Western Wei, defeated the Rouran ruler in Jehol and took the royal title of Khagan (552).

Nominal unity (552-581)

The west was given to Bumin's younger brother Istämi (552-75) and his son Tardush (575-603). Ishtami expanded the empire to the Caspian and Oxus. The Gokturks somehow gained the Tarim Basin and thus the Silk Road trade and the Sogdian merchants that managed it. Bumin died in the year of his rebellion (552) and was followed by three of his sons. Issik Qaghan (552-53) reigned briefly. Muqan Khagan (553-72) finished off the remaining Rouran, who resisted until 555, pushed the Kitans east and controlled the Yenisei Kirghiz. He was followed by Taspar Qaghan (572-81). The three brothers extracted a large amount of booty and tribute from the Western Wei (535-57) and Northern Zhou (557-581), including 100,000 rolls of silk annually.

East-West split (581-603)

In 581 the Sui dynasty was founded and began to reunify China. The Chinese began pushing back, generally by supporting or bribing one faction against the other. Taspar died the same year the Sui dynasty was founded. The three claimants were the sons of the three previous rulers. Taspar chose Muqan's son Apa Qaghan, but the elders rejected this and chose Taspar's son Anlo (581). Anlo soon yielded to Issik's son Ishbara Qaghan (581-87). Anlo became insignificant and Apa and Ishbara fought it out. In 584 Ishbara attacked Apa and drove him west to Bumin's brother Tardush, who ruled what was becoming the Western Khaganate. Apa and Tardush then drove Ishbara east. He submitted to the Chinese and with Chinese support drove Apa west into Tardush's territory. In 587 both Apa and Ishbara died. See Gokturk civil war. Ishbara was followed in the east by his brother Bagha Qaghan (587-88) who was followed by Ishbara's son Tulan Qaghan (588-99). In 587 Tulan stopped paying tribute to the Sui and two years later was assassinated. Tardush moved from the west and briefly reunified the Turkic empire (599-603). The Chinese supported his rivals, he attacked China, the Chinese poisoned the wells and he was forced to retreat.

Independence (603-630)

From 603 the east and west were definitely split. The east went to Yami Qaghan (603-09) as a sort of Chinese vassal. He admired Chinese culture and had the Chinese build him a civilized house in the Ordos country.

As the Sui Dynasty's power waned, separatist Chinese leaders agreed to become vassals of Shibi Qaghan (609-19) and adopted Turkic-style titles, as well as the Khaganate's wolf's-head banners. In 615, the Chinese lured his Sogdian advisor into a trap and killed him. He stopped paying tribute and briefly besieged Emperor Yang of Sui in Shanxi.

In 615 Emperor Yang assigned Li Yuan, who would later become the first emperor of the Tang Dynasty, the impossible task of protecting the Sui dynasty's northern border. In 617, when tens of thousands of Turks reached Taiyuan, they found the gates open and the city suspiciously quiet. Fearing an ambush, the Turk's retreated. Li Yuan's deception had been successful and he quickly pressed his advantage offering the Turks "prisoners of war, women, jade and silks" in return for their friendship. The Turks declined, demanding instead that Li Yuan become a "Son of Heaven" and accept a Turkic title and banner.

Shibi's younger brother Chuluo (619-20) ruled for only 18 months. The next brother, Illig Qaghan (620-30), was the last independent ruler. He led yearly raids against the new Tang dynasty (618-907). In 626 he reached the gates of Chang’an. Emperor Taizong of Tang, who had just overthrown his father, chose to pay an enormous ransom. Taizong waited and enlarged his cavalry. In 627-29 unusual cold led to mass livestock deaths and famine. Instead of lowering taxes, Illig raised them. The Xueyantuo, Uyghurs, Bayegu and some of Illig's people rebelled and in 629 were joined by the Kitan and Taizong. Six Chinese armies attacked in a 1200 kilometer front and Illig was captured (630). See Tang campaign against the Eastern Turks.

After the First Khaganate (630-683)

After the fall of the Khaganate Zhenzhu Khan (629-45) of the Xueyantuo ruled much of the north. Taizong made the Ashina live inside the Ordos Loop. In 639, after an Ashina assassination attempt, Taizong made them live between the Yellow River and Gobi under Qilibi Khan (639-43) as a buffer state between China and the Xueyantuo. In 642 the Xueyantuo drove them south of the river. (See Tang campaign against the Eastern Turks#Aftermath in Mongolia.) Zhenzhu's son Duomi Khan (645-46) planned to attack China. Taizong allied with the Uyghurs and broke up the Xueyantuo clan. The Ashina Chebi Khan (646-50) tried to revive the Khaganate but was captured by the Chinese and Uyghurs. Two more attempts by Ashina Nishufu (679-80) and Ashina Funian (680-681) failed. Turkic power was restored by the Second Turkic Khaganate (682-744), followed by the Uyghur Khaganate (744-840).


  Western Turkic Khaganate

Western Turkic Khaganate

Western Turkic Khaganate (W)

The Western Turkic Khaganate (Chinese: 西突厥; pinyin: Xī Tūjué) or Onoq Khaganate (Old Turkic: 𐰆𐰣:𐰸:𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣, romanized: On oq budun, lit. ‘Ten arrow people’) was a Turkic khaganate in Eurasia, formed as a result of the wars in the beginning of the 7th century (AD 593–603) after the split of the Turkic Khaganate (founded in the 6th century in Mongolia by the Ashina clan) into a western and an eastern Khaganate.

The whole confederation was called Onoq, meaning "ten arrows". According to a Chinese source, the Western Turks were organized into ten divisions.

The khaganate's capitals were Navekat (summer capital) and Suyab (principal capital), both situated in the Chui River valley of Kyrgyzstan, to the east from Bishkek. Tong Yabgu's summer capital was near Tashkent and his winter capital Suyab.

The Western Turkic Khaganate was subjugated by the Tang dynasty in 657. After many unsuccessful rebellions, it was succeeded by the Second Turkic Khaganate in 682.

Status Khaganate
Capital Navekat (summer capital)
Suyab (principal capital)
Common languages Sogdian (coinage, official)
Old Turkic
Zurvanite Zoroastrianism
Khagan of the Western Khaganate
• 587-604
Niri Qaghan
Yabgu of the Western Khaganate
• 553-576
• 576-603
Historical era Early Middle Ages
Turkic Khaganate founded
Göktürk civil war, Western Turkic Khaganate founded
• Conquest by Tang dynasty
630 3,500,000 km2 (1,400,000 sq mi)
Preceded by Succeeded by
Turkic Khaganate
Protectorate General to Pacify the West
Oghuz Yabgu State
Khazar Khaganate
Kangar union


Summary: The first Turkic Khaganate was founded by Bumin in 552 in Mongolia and quickly spread west toward the Caspian. Within 35 years the western half and the Eastern Turkic Khaganate were independent. The Western Khaganate reached its peak under Tong Yabghu Qaghan (618-630). After Tong's murder there were conflicts between the Dulu and Nushibi factions, many short-lived Khagans and some territory was lost. From 642 the expanding Chinese Tang dynasty began interfering. The Tang destroyed the Khaganate in 657-659.

552-575: Western expansion: The Gokturks and Mongols were the only two empires to rule both the eastern and central steppe. The Gokturks were the first steppe empire to be in contact with three great agrarian civilizations: Byzantium, Persia and China. Their expansion west from Mongolia is poorly documented. Gumilyov gives the following. Bumin gave the west to his younger brother Istami (553-75). 1. The campaign probably began in the spring of 554 and apparently met little resistance. They took Semirechye and by 555 had reached the Aral Sea, probably on a line from the lower Oxus, across the Jaxartes, north of Tashkent to the western tip of the Tian Shan. They drove before them various peoples: Xionites, Uar, Oghurs and others. These seem to have merged into the Avars whom the Gokturks drove across the Volga in 558. (These people crossed the western steppe and reached Hungary by 567.) 2. The Turks then turned southeast. At this time the Ephthalites held the Tarim Basin (or had just lost it to the Turks?), Ferghana, Sogd, Bactria and Merv, with the Persians at approximately their present border. Khosrow I made peace with the Byzantines and turned on the Ephthalites. Fighting started in 560 (?dates uncertain) after the Ephthalites murdered a Turk ambassador to the Shah. The Persians won a victory in 562 and the Turks took Tashkent. In 565 the Ephthalites were defeated at Qarshi and withdrew to Bactria where fragments remained until the Arab conquest. The Turks demanded the tribute formerly paid to the Ephthalites and when this was refused, crossed the Oxus, but thought better of it and withdrew. In 571 a border was drawn along the Oxus, the Persians expanding east to Afghanistan, while the Turks gained the Sogdian merchant cities and their control of the silk road. 3. Around 567-576 (sources differ) the Turks took the area between the Caspian and Black Seas. 4. In 568 they took part of Bactria.

575-630: Ishtami was followed by his son Tardush (575-603). About 581 he intervened in the eastern Gokturk civil war. In 588/89 Turks were defeated by Persians near Herat. In 599-603 he gained the eastern half of the Khaganate, but after his death the two halves were definitely split. Heshana Khagan (603-611) was driven out of Dzungaria and then defeated by Sheguy (610-617), Tardush's grandson, who conquered the Altai, reconquered Tashkent and raided Ishfahan. His brother Tong Yabghu Qaghan (618-630) was the greatest Khaghan. He ruled from the Tarim basin to the Caspian, met Xuanzang (probably), sent men to fight the Persians south of the Caucasus and sent his son Tardush Shad to fight in Afghanistan. In the year of his death the Chinese overthrew the Eastern Khaganate in Mongolia. He was murdered by his uncle Külüg Sibir (630) with Dulo support. The Nushibi put Tong's son Irbis Bolun Cabgu (631-33) on the throne. The Nushibi rebelled and enthroned Dulu Khan (633-34) who was followed by his brother Ishbara Tolis (634-38). There was a Dulu-Nushibi conflict and Yukuk Shad (638-42), son of the final eastern Khagan, was brought in. The factions quarreled and the Nushibi and Emperor Taizong of Tang enthroned Irbis Seguy (642-51). The Chinese demanded part of the Tarim Basin and then seized part of it until the war was stopped by Taizong's death. Irbis was overthrown by Ishbara Qaghan (Ashina Helu) (651-58) who, after about six years of war, was captured by the Chinese. See Conquest of the Western Turks. After this there were several puppet Khagans. In 679-719 the old Gokturk capital of Suyab was one of the Four Garrisons of Anxi. The Chinese remained in the area until the time of An Lushan's rebellion (756).

Relations with the Persians and Byzantines {Roma}

Central Asia during Roman times, with the first Silk Road.

During the late 6th century, the Turks consolidated their geopolitical position in Central Asia, as the lynchpin in trade between East Asia and Western Asia — in which Persia and Byzantium {!} were the dominant powers. For much of this period, Istämi ruled the Khaganate from a winter camp near Karashar. A timeline of the westward expansion of the Turks under Istämi might be reconstructed as follows: 552 Mongolia; 555 Aral Sea (probably); 558 Volga River (by defeating the Avars); 557-565 in alliance with the Persians, the Turks crushed the Hephthalites, after which a Turco-Persian border along the Oxus lasted several decades; 564 Tashkent; 567-571 the North Caucasus; 569-571 the Turks were at war with Persia, and; 576 a major incursion into the Black Sea area, including Crimea.

A first Turk legation (or embassy) to reach Constantinople visited Justin II in 563. A Sogdian merchant named Maniakh led a Turco-Sogdian legation to Constantinople in 568, pursuing trade and an alliance against the Avars and Persians. A Byzantine official named Zemarchus accompanied Maniakh on his return journey; (Zemarchus later left an pioneering account of the Turks.) Maniakh now proposed to bypass the Persians and re-open a direct route north of the Caspian. If trade on this route later increased (uncertain) it would have benefited Khorezm and the Black Sea cities and might have had something to do with the later rise of the Khazars and Rus’.

The Turks' control of the Sogdian merchant cities along the Oxus from the late 6th century gave the Western Turks substantive control of the central part of the Silk Road. A Chinese general complained that the: “Turks themselves are simple-minded and short-sighted and dissention can easily be roused among them. Unfortunately, many Sogdians live among them who are cunning and insidious; they teach and instruct the Turks.” Sinor saw the Byzantine alliance as a Sogdian scheme to benefit themselves at the expense of the Turks. A related fact is that the Eastern Turks extracted a large amount of silk as booty from the Chinese which had to be marketed westward. Before 568, Maniakh, a leading merchant, visited the Sassanian Persian court, in a bid to open up trade; this proposal was refused, apparently because the Persians wanted to restrict trade by and with the Byzantines. The members of a second Turk legation to Persia were reportedly poisoned. From 569, the Turks and Persia were at war, until the Turks were defeated near Merv; hostilities ceased in 571.

In 576, Valentinus led a Byzantine mission to a Turxanthos whose camp was west of the Caspian. Valentinus wanted action against the Persians and Turxanthos complained that Byzantium was harboring the Avars. Valentinus then went east to meet Tardu. What caused this hostility is not clear. In 576-77 a Turk general called Bokhan and an Utigur called Anagai captured the Crimean Byzantine town of Panticapaeum and failed at a siege of Chersonesus. This marks the westernmost extent of Turk power.

A major incursion into Bactria by the Turks, in 588-589, was defeated by the Sasanians. The Turk-Byzantine alliance was revived in the 620s during the last great Byzantine-Persian war before the Arab conquests. In 627 Tong Yabghu Qaghan sent out his nephew Böri Shad. The Turks stormed the great fortress of Derbent on the Caspian coast, entered Azerbaijan and Georgia, did a good bit of looting and met Heraclius who was besieging Tiflis. When the siege dragged on, the Turks left and Heraclius went south and won a great victory over the Persians. The Turks returned, captured Tiflis and massacred the garrison. On behalf of the Byzantines, a Turk general named Chorpan Tarkhan then conquered most of Armenia. What the Turks gained from this is not clear.


Map showing Byzantium along with the other major silk road powers during China's Southern dynasties period of fragmentation.

Onoq or ten tribes


Tang dynasty military campaigns against the Western Turks.


For the origin of the Onoq two contradicting accounts are given:

In the beginning [after 552], Shidianmi [Istämi] followed the Shanyu [Qaghan] and commanded the ten great chiefs. Together with their 100,000 soldiers, he marched to the Western Regions and subdued the barbarian statelets. There he declared himself as qaghan, under the title of ten tribes, and ruled them [the western barbarians] for generations.

— Tongdian, 193 and Jiu Tangshu, 194


Soon [after 635], Dielishi Qaghan [of the Western Göktürks] divided his state into ten parts, and each was headed by one man, together they made up the ten she [shad]. Every she is given an arrow by him, thus they were known as the ten arrows. He also divided the ten arrows into two factions, each consisted of five arrows. The left [east] faction consisted of five Duoliu (Duolu) tribes, headed by five chuo [qur] separately. The right [west] faction consisted of five Nushibi (Ch. 弩失畢) tribes, headed by five sijin [irkin] separately. Each took command on one arrow and called themselves as the ten arrows. Thereafter, each arrow was also known as one tribe, and the great arrow head as the great chief. The five Duolu tribes inhabited to east of Suiye [water] (Chu River), and the five Nushibi tribes to the west of it. Since then, they called themselves as the ten tribes.

— Tongdian, 193 and Jiu Tangshu, 194


The first statement dates their origin back to the beginning of the First Turkic Qaghanate with Istämi, younger brother of Tumen (Bumen), who had brought with him the ten tribes probably from the Eastern Qaghanate at Mongolia and left to the west to expand the Qaghanate. The exact date for the event was not recorded, and the shanyu here referred to might be Muhan Khan.

The second statement contributes it to Dielishi, who took over the throne in 635 and began to strengthen the state by further affirming the initial ten tribes and two tribal wings, in contrast with the rotation of rule between the Tumen (through Apa) and Istämi (through Tardu) lineages in the Western Qaghanate. Thereafter, the name "ten tribes" (十姓) became as a shortened address for the Western Turks in Chinese records. Those divisions did not include the five major tribes, who were active further east of the ten tribes.

The earlier tribes consisted of eight primary tribes ruled by ten chiefs-in-command, afterwards called the on (ten) oq (arrows) (十箭). They were the five Duolu (咄陆) tribes, and the three Nushibi (弩失毕) tribes. The relationships between the ten tribes and the ruling elites were divided into two groups. The more aristocratic Duolu tribes, who held the title qur, and the lower-rated Nushipi in west, who were probably initially made up of Tiele conscripts. During the reformation the more powerful Nushipi tribes such as A-Xijie and Geshu were sub-divided into two tribal groups with a greater and lesser title under a fixed tribal name.


Orkhon Inscriptions

Bilge Khagan inscription, main side, 16:

powerful enemies kneel and proud ones to bow. The Turgesh kagan (and his people) was our Turk. Because of their unawareness and foolishness, for their being traitorous, their kagan had died; his buyruqs and lords, had died too. The On-Oq people suffered a great deal. In order the land (lit.: 'earth and water'), which was ruled by our ancestors, not to be left without a ruler, we organized Az people and put them into the order... was Barys bek.

Bilge Khagan inscription, 1st side, 1:

I, Tengri- llike and Tengri born Bilge kagan Turkic. Hear my words. When my father, Bilge kagan Turkic, ruled, you, supreme Turk beks, lower Tardush beks, Shadapyt beks led by Kul Chur, the rest Tyules beks, Apa Tarkhan. Led by Shadapyt beks, Bairuks. Tamgan Tarkhan, Tonyukuk, Boila Baga Tarkhan, Buyruqs…, Inner Buyruqs, led by Sebek Kul Erkin, all Buyruq beks! My father.

Bilge Khagan inscription, 2nd side: 15:

From sons of Ten Arrows to wives, see this. Erected stone inscriptions…

Bain Tsokto inscription

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 19:

I reached my army to Shantung towns and the seas. Twenty three town were destroyed. All of them had left on Usyn-bundatu land.(?). Tabgaches’ kagan (China) was our enemy. The kagan of "Ten Arrows" was our enemy.

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 30:

... he might kill us". "So the Turkic kagan started out" – he said. "All Ten Arrows people started out" – he said. – "(among them) there is also Tabgaches' (China) army". Having heard these words my kagan said: "I will be a kagan .."

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 33:

Three messengers came, their words were similar: "One kagan with his army went on campaign. The army of Ten Arrows people went on campaign too. They told that they would gather in the step of Yarysh". Having heard these words I told them the kagan. What to do?! With the reply (from khan)

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 42:

Killed there. We took to prison about fifty persons. That night we sent (messengers) to every nation. Having heard these words, beks and people of Ten Arrows all

Tonyukuk inscription, main side: 43:

came and subdued. When I was settling down and gathering the coming beks and people a few people ran away. I led to campaign the army of Ten Arrows people.


📜 Rulers of the Western Turkic Khaganate

Yabgu reign father,
Regnal name

(Chinese reading)

Personal name

(Chinese reading)

Istämi 553–576 Ashina Tuwu,
Shìdiǎn mì Kèhán 室點密
Tardu 576–603 Istämi,
Ashina Tuwu
Dátóu Kèhán 玷厥

Kaghan reign father,
Regnal name

(Chinese reading)

Personal name

(Chinese reading)

Niri Qaghan 587–604 Yangsu Tegin,
Muqan Qaghan
Nílì Kèhán 向氏
Heshana Khagan 604–611 Niri Qaghan
Yansu Tegin
Chùluó Kèhán 達曼
Sheguy 611–618 Tulu Tegin,
Shèguì Kèhán 射匮
Tong Yabghu Qaghan 618–628 Tulu Tegin,
Tǒng yèhù Kèhán 統葉
Tǒng yèhù
Külüg Sibir 628–630 Tardu,
Qūlìqí pí Kèhán 莫贺咄
Irbis Bolun Cabgu 631–632 Tong Yabgu Qaghan,
Tulu Tegin
Yǐpí bōluō sìyèhù Kèhán 阿史那咥力
Āshǐnà xilì
Duolu Qaghan 633–634 Bagha Shad,
Duōlù Kèhán 阿史那泥孰
Āshǐnà Níshú
Ishbara Tolis 634–639 Bagha Shad,
Shābōluō Kèhán 阿史那咥力
Āshǐnà Tóng
Yukuk Shad 639–642 Illig Qaghan,
Yami Qaghan
Yǐpí duōlù Kèhán 阿史那欲谷
Āshǐnà Yùgǔ
Irbis Seguy 642–650 El Kulug Shad,
Ishbara Tolis
Yǐpí shèkuì Kèhán 阿史那莫賀咄
Āshǐnà Mòhèduō
Ashina Helu 651–658 Böri Shad,
Shābōluō Kèhán 阿史那賀魯
Āshǐnà Hèlǔ

Later claimants

Khagans under Tang suzerainty (657-742)

Kunling Protectorate (657-736)
Mengchi Protectorate (657-742)



  Tang campaign against the Eastern Turks

Tang campaign against the Eastern Turks

Tang campaign against the Eastern Turks (W)

Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626-649), the second emperor of Chinese Tang Dynasty, faced a major threat from Tang's northern neighbor, the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. Early in Emperor Taizong's reign, he placated the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's Illig Qaghan (also called Jieli Khan and Ashina Duobi), while preparing for several years for a major offensive against the Eastern Turkic (including forming an alliance with the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's restless vassal Xueyantuo, which was ready to throw off the Eastern Turkic yoke). He launched the offensive in winter 629, with the major general Li Jing in command, and in 630, after Li Jing captured Ashina Duobi, the Eastern Turkic Khaganate was destroyed. Subsequently, control of the territory north of Tang largely fell to Xueyantuo, and Emperor Taizong initially tried to settle many the Eastern Turkic people within Tang borders. Eventually, after an incident where he was nearly assassinated by a member of the Eastern Turkic royal house, Ashina Jiesheshuai, he tried to resettle the Eastern Turkic people north of the Great Wall and south of the Gobi Desert, to serve as a buffer between Tang and Xueyantuo, creating a loyal Eastern Turkic Khaganate's prince Ashina Simo as the Qilibi Khan, but Ashina Simo's reign collapsed around new year 645 due to dissent within and pressure from Xueyantuo without, and Tang would not attempt to recreate the Eastern Turkic Khaganate any further (although remnant tribes rose later, and during the reign of Emperor Taizong's son Emperor Gaozong, Eastern Turkic was reestablished under Ashina Gudulu, as a hostile power against Tang).
Date 629-630

Decisive Tang victory

  • Fall of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate
Tang Dynasty Eastern Turkic Khaganate
Commanders and leaders
Li Jing
Li Shiji
Xue Wanche
Chai Shao
Wei Xiaojie
Li Daozong
Su Dingfang
Jieli Khan (Ashina Duobi) (POW)


A portrait of Emperor Yang of Sui, by the Tang court artist Yan Liben (600–673)

The Eastern Turkic Khaganate, which had been a vassal to Tang Dynasty's predecessor Sui Dynasty, had turned against Sui during the reign of Emperor Yang of Sui (r. 604-618) and subsequently, during Sui's breakup late in Emperor Yang's reign, had intervened in the process by supporting various claimants to the imperial title—including Tang's founder Emperor Gaozu, Xue Ju the Emperor of Qin, Liang Shidu the Emperor of Liang, Liu Wuzhou the Dingyang Khan, Gao Kaidao the Prince of Yan, Dou Jiande the Prince of Xia, and Liu Heita the Prince of Handong—playing them off against each other to try to make them subservient to the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. In 623, Liu Heita, the last major challenger to Tang rule, was captured and killed by Emperor Gaozu's crown prince Li Jiancheng, marking the reunification of China under Tang rule. The Eastern Turkic Khaganate, to which Emperor Gaozu still paid allegiance and tributes, began a campaign of routine pillaging incursions into Tang territory, effectively asserting authority over Tang territory in that manner, while continuing to protect Liang, who remained as the sole Chinese claimant of imperial authority against Tang, and also fostering the aspirations of Emperor Yang's young grandson Yang Zhengdao (楊政道), who was in the khaganate with his grandmother Empress Xiao and carried the title of Prince of Sui. The Turkic incursions were causing so many problems for the Tang that Emperor Gaozu considered burning the capital Chang'an to the ground and moving his seat to the modern southwestern Henan region, a proposal that was supported by Li Jiancheng, another son, Li Yuanji the Prince of Qi, and the chancellor Pei Ji, but vehemently opposed by Gaozu's son Li Shimin, the Prince of Qin. Due to Li Shimin's opposition (and guarantee that eventually he would be able to defeat the Eastern Turks), Emperor Gaozu abandoned the proposal.

In 626, Li Shimin, who had been locked in an intense rivalry with Li Jiancheng, ambushed and killed both Li Jiancheng and Li Yuanji (who supported Li Jiancheng) at Xuanwu Gate, and then effectively forced Emperor Gaozu to first make him crown prince and then abdicate in his favour. Li shimin took the throne as Emperor Taizong. Less than a month later, the Turkic ruler Illig Qaghan (Ashina Duobi) and his nephew, the subordinate Tölis Qaghan (Tuli Qaghan, Ashina Shibobi, 阿史那什鉢苾), made a major incursion into Tang territory, this time advancing all the way to Chang'an, shocking the Tang officials. Emperor Taizong was forced to personally meet with them at the Wei River Bridge outside the Chang'an, give them and major Eastern Turkic officials gifts, and promise further tributes. Only after he did so did Ashina Duobi and Ashina Shibobi withdraw (渭水之盟).

Détente early in Emperor Taizong's reign (W)

For the next several years, there was relative peace between Tang and the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. Meanwhile, it was said that Ashina Duobi's governance was deteriorating—as the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's laws had been lax and simple, but Ashina Duobi entrusted much government function to the Chinese man Zhao Deyan (趙德言), who abused his power and instituted complicated regulations, causing the people to be alienated. Moreover, it was said that Ashina Duobi trusted the ethnic Xiongnu (?) rather than his own Turkic people, leading to a number of rebellions that Ashina Duobi had to suppress. By 627, Emperor Taizong, hearing this, was contemplating attacking the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, and he consulted the chancellor Xiao Yu and his brother-in-law Zhangsun Wuji. Xiao advocated attacking, but Zhangsun, pointing out that the Eastern Turkic Khaganate had not attacked and therefore there was no good reason to break the peace, opposed, and Emperor Taizong did not attack the Eastern Turkic Khaganate.

At the same time, however, Xueyantuo, which had been a vassal of both the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and the Western Turkic Khaganate at times, was beginning to strengthen, as was another vassal of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, Uyghurs, and Ashina Duobi was unable to defeat or contain them. Ashina Duobi's relationship with Ashina Shibobi was also deteriorating—as he had put the eastern part of the state under Ashina Shibobi's responsibility and blamed Ashina Shibobi for the gradual peeling away by the vassals Khitan and Xi tribes to the east. Further, when he sent Ashina Shibobi against Xueyantuo and Uyghurs, Ashina Shibobi was unable to prevail over them. Ashina Duobi put Ashina Shibobi under arrest for a number of days before releasing him, and once Ashina Shibobi returned to his troops, he refused to follow Ashina Duobi's orders any more, drawing an attack from Ashina Duobi in 628. Emperor Taizong, who had sworn to be a blood brother of Ashina Shibobi on a prior occasion, agreed to launch troops to protect Ashina Shibobi—and at the same time, was using the opportunity to attack Liang Shidu, who by this point was still under the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's protection. With much internal troubles, Ashina Duobi was unable to aid Liang, and later in 628, with Emperor Taizong's brother-in-law Chai Shao (柴紹) sieging Liang's capital Shuofang (朔方, in modern Yulin, Shaanxi), Liang Shidu's cousin Liang Luoren (梁洛仁) assassinated Liang Shidu and surrendered, ending the final rival claim to Emperor Taizong's for China's imperial throne. Around the same time, the Xueyantuo tribes had coalesced around the leadership of a chieftain, Yi'nan, although Yi'nan initially declined the offer of the title of khan. When Emperor Taizong heard this, however, he sent the general Qiao Shiwang (喬師望) to Xueyantuo to create Yi'nan Zhenzhupiqie Khan (or Zhenzhu Khan for short), creating an alliance with Xueyantuo. When Ashina Duobi heard this, he sought long-term peace in forms of a marriage to a Tang princess, which Emperor Taizong did not answer. Instead, he prepared for a major assault on the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, with the major general Li Jing commanding and with the general Zhang Gongjin (張公謹) assisting Li Jing.

Another source says that Illig Qaghan's (Ashina Duobi's) problems were caused by two unusually cold winters that led to mass livestock deaths and famine. Illig responded by raising taxes rather than lowering them which provoked opposition.

Defeat of the Eastern Turks

Li Jing commanded the main prong of the attacks against the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, with the generals Li Shiji, Xue Wanche (薛萬徹), Wei Xiaojie, Li Daozong and Chai Shao commanding the other prongs, but with Li Jing in overall command. Bauer describes this as six separate cavalry formations along a 1200 km front. In spring 630, Li Jing's forces, surprising Ashina Duobi's, captured the Wuyang Range outside the Dingxiang (定襄, in modern Hohhot, Inner Mongolia), approaching Ashina Duobi's court. He then sent spies to Ashina Duobi's camp and persuaded a number of Ashian Duobi's close associates, including Kangsumi (康蘇密), to surrender (along with Sui's Empress Xiao and her grandson Yang Zhengdao). Ashina Duobi withdrew to the Yin Mountains and offered to submit to Tang—but while he was negotiating with the Tang envoy Tang Jian (唐儉), whom Emperor Taizong sent to negotiate with him, he was considering withdrawing further, north of the Gobi Desert. Li Jing and Li Shiji, believing that Ashina Duobi was merely stalling for time, joined their forces and their vanguard, Su Dingfang, attacked Ashina Duobi's tent, defeating him and killing his wife (Sui Dynasty's Princess Yicheng). Ashina Duobi fled further to his subordinate khan Ashina Sunishi (阿史那蘇尼失), but was soon captured by the Tang generals Li Daozong and Zhang Baoxiang (張寶相) and delivered to Chang'an. Turkic nobles largely surrendered to Tang, while the Turkic Khaganate's people scattered in three directions—either surrendering to Tang, surrendering to Xueyantuo, or fleeing west to the Western Turkic Khaganate and the nearby kingdoms such as Qocho, Kucha and Tuyuhun.

Aftermath in Mongolia

Initial attempt to settle Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people within the Tang state

Emperor Taizong requested opinions from his officials as to what to do with the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people, and it was said that the majority opinion was to move them to the modern Shandong and Henan region and scatter them within Tang prefectures to sinicize them, making them unable to reorganize. However, there were several officials who held differing opinions whose opinions were recorded in historical records:

  • Yan Shigu opined that the Eastern Turkic people should continue to be settled north of the Yellow River, remaining in tribal form, as vassals.
  • Li Baiyao proposed that the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people remain north of the Yellow River but be scattered, with a member of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's Ashina clan serving as khan, but only over the Ashina, while other tribes within the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people be given their own chieftains, with positions equivalent to the Ashina khan; he also opined that a protector general be placed at Dingxiang to govern over them.
  • Dou Jing (竇靜) opined that the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's chieftains and people should be scattered, and that daughters of imperial clan members be given to the chieftains as wives, to better control them as vassals.

Two key opinions, given by two chancellors, emerged from the discussion:

  • Wen Yanbo opined that the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people should be settled in the northern prefectures within Tang borders, remaining in tribal form, on lands that were currently not settled.
  • Wei Zheng opined that the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people should be outside of Tang boundaries on their own lands.


Emperor Taizong eventually accepted Wen's opinions, establishing four nominal prefectures over Ashina Shibobi's people and six nominal prefectures over Ashina Duobi's people, with two commandants governing over the people. Ashina Sunishi and another Eastern Turkic Khaganate's prince, Ashina Simo (who, in particular, was given the Tang imperial surname Li and therefore also known as Li Simo), were created princes, and a large number of other chieftains were given general ranks; they were settled in or near Chang'an. Emperor Taizong also gave the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people who possessed Han people as slaves ransoms and had them return those Han slaves to Tang. Also thereafter, Emperor Taizong often requisitioned Turkic cavalry soldiers to supplement regular Tang troops on various campaigns, such as the 634 campaign against Tuyuhun.

Meanwhile, Xueyantuo largely took over Eastern Turkic Khaganate's former territory, with most of Eastern Turkic Khaganate's former vassals submitting to it. Yi'nan remained nominally submissive to Tang, remaining formally respectful to Emperor Taizong, while at the same time trying to affirm Xueyantuo's control over the region. Former Eastern Turkic Khaganate's vassals Khitan, Xí (霫), and tribes directly submitted to Tang, as did the city kingdom of Yiwu (伊吾).

Brief attempt to recreate Eastern Turkic Khaganate under Ashina Simo

In 639, a conspiracy to assassinate Emperor Taizong came into shape, led by Ashina Shibobi's brother Ashina Jiesheshuai. Ashina Jiesheshuai was said to live immorally and corruptly, and when Ashina Shibobi rebuked him, he resented Ashina Shibobi and falsely accused Ashina Shibobi of treason. Emperor Taizong, because the false accusation, disliked Ashina Jiesheshuai and long refused to promote him. Ashina Jiesheshuai therefore formed a conspiracy with 40-some of his former subordinates and Ashina Shibobi's son Ashina Hexian'gu (阿史那賀暹鶻), and on May 19, 639, they hid around outside Emperor Taizong's palace, intending to charge into the palace when the palace gates would be opened to allow Emperor Taizong's son Li Zhi the Prince of Jin to exit in the morning at dawn. However, the wind was high that morning, and Li Zhi did not exit the palace early; as Ashina Jiesheshuai was concerned about being discovered after dawn, he started attacking the palace gates anyway. His men killed some tens of imperial guards, but could not progress against the resistance of the imperial guard commander Sun Wukai (孫武開). Ashina Jiesheshuai eventually took imperial guards' horses and fled, attempting to flee north. He and his followers were captured and executed, except for Ashina Hexian'gu, who was exiled.

After Ashina Jiesheshuai's assassination attempt, Emperor Taizong, with voices coming from a number of officials, decided that it was not advisable to keep the Turkic people within the borders. On August 13, 639, he created Ashina Simo as the Yiminishuqilibi Khan (or Qilibi Khan for short) and ordered the settled Turkic and Xiongnu people to follow Ashina Simo north of the Yellow River to settle between the Great Wall and the Gobi Desert. The Turkic Khaganate's people, fearful of Xueyantuo, initially refused. Emperor Taizong thereafter issued an edict to Yi'nan, delivered by his official Guo Siben (郭嗣本), stating:

After Jiali Khan was defeated, his tribes all surrendered to me. I forgave their errors and approved of their turning to goodness, treating their officials as my old subordinates and their people as my people. China values respect and righteouness and does not seek to destroy others. I defeated the Eastern Turkic Khaganate to prevent Illig Qaghan from harming the people. I did not covet his land or want to seize his livestock and people, and I long wanted to consider selecting a new khan for them. That is why I settled their people south of the Yellow River to let them graze. Since I agreed to select a khan for them, I should not turn back on my own words. After the fall, I will send the Turkic Khaganate north of the Yellow River to their old territory to rebuild themselves. The khan of Xueyantuo was created first, and the khan of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate is created second; the khan created first is greater than the khan created second. You will live north of the Gobi, and he will live south of the Gobi. You should both defend your own territory and comfort your own people. If you exceed your boundaries and attack each other, I will send troops to punish you both.

Yi'nan, while unhappy with Eastern Turkic Khaganate's reestablishment, indicated that he would submit. The Turkic people were thus willing to follow Ashina Simo north of the Yellow River, and the Eastern Turkic Khaganate was reestablished as a Tang vassal. Emperor Taizong also created the princes Ashina Zhong (阿史那忠, Ashina Sunishi's son) and Ashina Nishou (阿史那泥熟) as assistants for Ashina Simo—although, perhaps foreshadowing what would eventually happen, Ashina Zhong was said to miss life in Chang'an so much that each time imperial emissaries were sent to the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, he begged them to intercede to allow him to return to Chang'an, a request that Emperor Taizong eventually approved. In spring 640, Emperor Taizong established a general post near the Eastern Turkic Khaganate to help defend it.

In spring 641, Ashina Simo's people finally crossed the Yellow River, and he established his headquarters at Dingxiang. He was said to have 30,000 households, 40,000 troops, and 90,000 warhorses. He submitted a petition to Emperor Taizong, stating:

I have received blessings that I did not deserve, and I lead this tribe as its chief. I hope that for generations, we will continue to serve as a watchdog outside the empire's north door, guarding it. But we are still currently weak, and if Xueyantuo should attack us, we might not be able to stand. If that happens, I request permission to withdraw within the Great Wall.

Emperor Taizong agreed. In winter 641, indeed, with Yi'nan anticipating that Emperor Taizong would soon be offering sacrifices to heaven and earth at Mount Tai and would take his soldiers with him, he believed that he could destroy Ashina Simo quickly. He therefore had his son Dadu (大度) to head Xueyantuo troops, along with conscripted troops from vassal tribes Tiele, Bayegu, Tongluo (同羅), Pugu (僕骨), Uyghurs, Mohe, and Xí, launch a major attack on the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. Ashina Simo could not resist the attack, and withdrew within the Great Wall to Shuo Prefecture (朔州, roughly modern Shuozhou, Shanxi) and sought emergency aid. Emperor Taizong sent the generals Zhang Jian (張儉), Li Shiji, Li Daliang, Zhang Shigui (張士貴), and Li Xiyu (李襲譽), to attack Xueyantuo to assist Ashina Simo, with Li Shiji in overall command. Around the new year 642, Li Shiji dealt a major defeat to Dadu, who fled after heavy casualties. Emperor Taizong, while sending an emissary to rebuke Yi'nan, did not take further actions from Xueyantuo at this point. It was said that Yi'nan continued to be unhappy with Eastern Turkic Khagante's existence, and continued to harass the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. (Yi'nan, however, tried to maintain peaceful relations with Tang, and at one point was engaged to marry Emperor Taizong's daughter Princess Xinxing, but Emperor Taizong regretted the marriage agreement and broke it in 643 under the pretense that Yi'nan's offer of bride price (with livestock) was not paid for on time.) When Emperor Taizong sent further emissaries to order Yi'nan from attacking the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, Yi'nan's response was:

How do I not dare to follow the emperor's edict? But the Turkic Khaganate's people are treacherous and should not be trusted. Before the destruction of their state, they invaded China each year and continued to kill thousands of people. I thought that, after the emperor defeated them, he would make them into slaves and reward them to the Chinese people, but instead the emperor raised them like his own sons and showed much grace to them. Despite this, Ashina Jiesheshuai rebelled. They look like humans, but have hearts like beasts, and should not be treated as humans. I have received much grace from the emperor, and I have nothing to repay him for. I am willing to kill the Turks for China.

Around the new year 645, Ashina Simo's people, apparently under the Xueyantuo pressure, collapsed and abandoned Ashina Simo. (At this time, Emperor Taizong was deep in his preparation to attack Goguryeo, and therefore, if Xueyantuo had attacked, might not have been able to protect the Eastern Turkic Khaganate.) They crossed the Yellow River south, seeking to be settled among Sheng (勝州, also in modern Hohhot, but south of the Yellow River) and Xiazhou (夏州, roughly modern Yulin) Prefectures. Despite officials' opposition, Emperor Taizong agreed, and did so. Ashina Simo, with his reconstituted state in shambles, also returned to China, and was again made a Tang general, ending Tang's attempt to recreate the Eastern Turkic Khaganate as a vassal.

Later campaign against Ashina Tuobo

Yi'nan remained formally submissive to Tang, but after Yi'nan's death in 645, Yi'nan's son and successor, the Duomi Khan Bazhuo, took a hostile stance against Tang, and Tang and Uyghurs forces subsequently destroyed Xueyantuo in 646.

Meanwhile, there had been a remnant Eastern Turkic Khaganate's prince, Ashina Hubo, who had not submitted to Xueyantuo previously and had settled to the north of Xueyantuo, and who by now was claiming the title of Yizhuchebi Khan (or Chebi Khan in short), who tried to reestablish the Eastern Turkic Khaganate as a power. In winter 647, Ashina Hubo sent his son Ashina Sabolo (阿史那沙鉢羅) to Tang to offer tributes, and he also offered to personally visit Emperor Taizong. Emperor Taizong sent the general Guo Guangjing (郭廣敬) to escort him, but Ashina Hubo had no actual intentions of departing for China and did not do so. In spring 649, Emperor Taizong responded by sending the general Gao Kan (高侃) north against Ashina Hubo, along with troops from Uyghurs and Pugu (僕骨) tribes. Emperor Taizong himself died in summer 649, during the pendency of the campaign, which eventually led to Gao's victory over Ashina Hubo, capturing him. In fall 650, Gao returned to Chang'an with Ashina Hubo, whom Emperor Taizong's son and successor Emperor Gaozong released and made a general, ending (for the time being) an attempt to rebuild the Eastern Turkic Khaganate.


  Tang campaigns against the Western Turks

Tang campaigns against the Western Turks

Tang campaigns against the Western Turks (W)

Tang Dynasty's conquest of Western Turks (Tujue) Khanate.

The Tang campaigns against the Western Turks, known as the Western Tujue in Chinese sources, were a series of military campaigns conducted during the Tang dynasty of China against the Western Turkic Khaganate in the 7th century AD. Early military conflicts were a result of the Tang interventions in the rivalry between the Western and Eastern Turks in order to weaken both. Under Emperor Taizong, campaigns were dispatched in the Western Regions against Gaochang in 640, Karasahr in 644 and 648, and Kucha in 648.

The wars against the Western Turks continued under Emperor Gaozong, and the khaganate was annexed after General Su Dingfang's defeat of Qaghan Ashina Helu in 657. The Western Turks attempted to capture the Tarim Basin in 670 and 677, but were repelled by the Tang. The Second Turkic Empire defeated the fragmented Western Turks in 712, and absorbed the tribes into the new empire.

Emperor Taizong's campaigns against the oasis states brought the Tarim Basin under Tang control.

The areas controlled by Tang China came under the dynasty's cultural influences and the Turkic influence of the ethnically Turkic Tang soldiers stationed in the region. Indo-European prevalence in Central Asia declined as the expeditions accelerated Turkic migration into what is now Xinjiang. By the end of the 657 campaign, the Tang had reached its largest extent. The Turks, Tibetans, Muslim Arabs and the Tang competed for control over Central Asia until the collapse of the Tang in the 10th century.


The Gokturks split into the Western and Eastern Turkic Khaganates after a civil war. Allied with the Byzantine Empire, the Western Turks were mired in wars against the Sassanid Persians. The Western Turks expanded as the khaganate of the Eastern Turks declined.

Early military conflicts

Tang Gazou (566-635; 618-626).
Emperor Gaozu, Taizong's predecessor, allowed the assassination of a Western Turk qan by Eastern Turkic rivals on November 2, 619. Eastern Turk was the suzerain of Tang from 618 to 620. Throughout the reign of Tong Yabghu Qaghan (618-628), Western Turks and Tang had a very close relation.

Emperor Taizong, in his war against the Western and Eastern Turks, employed the Chinese strategy of "using barbarians to control barbarians". In 641, he instigated a civil war between the eastern and western confederations of the Western Turks by supporting Isbara Yabghu Qaghan. The qaghan in the east, Tu-lu Qaghan, invaded the oasis states controlled by Isbara Yabghu in the west. He assassinated his rival and unified the Western Turkic Khaganate.

Following the reunification, Tu-lu Qaghan began orchestrating raids against Chinese cities. In 642, Emperor Taizong once again intervened by assisting a revolt against Tu-lu's reign. Disaffected Western Turkic tribes had requested the support of Taizong in Chang'an, who enthroned a new qaghan Irbis Seguy. Irbis Seguy was able to exert control over the Turkic tribes and the former qaghan fled in exile.

The Tang court and the Western Turks began negotiating over the control of five oasis states in the Tarim Basin. Irbis Seguy wanted to strengthen his ties with the Tang through a royal marriage with a Tang princess. Although the oasis states were vassals of the Turks, Irbis Seguy did not have the power to simply cede them to the Tang. The possibility of further diplomatic exchanges ended when Taizong began his invasion of the Tarim Basin.

Campaigns against the Tarim Basin oasis

Campaign against Karakhoja

Karakhoja had been ruled by the Qu family since 498. The most Sinicized of the oasis states, Karakhoja had adopted Chinese script as its official script, the Chinese classics as a subject for study, and an imperial bureaucracy. As the oasis state nearest to Tang China, the Chinese constituted a large portion of Karakhoja's population. Karakhoja also served as China's main Silk Road trade route into Central Asia. The route was severed when the Western Turk Tu-lu Qaghan, enthroned in 638, promised Karakhoja military support.

Campaigns against Karasahr

In 632, Karasahr submitted to the Tang as a tributary state, as did the nearby kingdoms of Kashgar and Khotan. Tensions between Tang and Karasahr grew as the Chinese expanded further into Central Asia, and peaked when the Tang defeated and annexed Gaochang. The Chinese forces stationed in Gaochang, a short distance away from Karasahr, posed a direct threat to the oasis state.

Karasahr allied with the Western Turkic Khaganate and ceased sending tributes to the Tang court. A military campaign was dispatched by the Tang emperor against Karasahr. Led by Commander Guoxiao Ke, protectorate-general of the Anxi Protectorate,, the army marched towards Karasahr from Yulduz. The Tang forces mounted a surprise attack at dawn, resulting in the annexation of Karasahr and the capture of its king. The Western Turk army to retake Karashar was defeated by the Tang.

Karasahr was controlled by proxy through a Tang loyalist, Long Lipozhun, brother of the captured ruler. He was deposed in 644 by his cousin, with the support of the kingdom of Kucha, nominally a Tang vassal, and the Western Turks. In 648, the Tang conducted a second military campaign against Karasahr, commanded by Ashina She'er, a member of the Turkic Ashina royal family. Karasahr fell, the usurper was beheaded, and Tang rule was re-established under another Tang loyalist. A Chinese military garrison was established in the kingdom, the first of the Four Garrisons of Anxi.

Campaign against Kucha

After the fall of Karasahr, Ashina Sh'er's army marched towards the neighboring kingdom of Kucha. She'er's decoy horsemen led the defending Kucha forces, numbering 50,000 soldiers, into an ambush. The Kucha soldiers retreated to the nearby city of Aksu after their defeat. The Tang army besieged the city for forty days. Kucha surrendered on 19 January 649 and She'er captured the king. By employing diplomacy, the surrounding tribes loyal to Kucha submitted to the Tang.

Campaign against the Western Turks


Ashina Helu, a former Tang general in Gansu, fled west and declared himself qaghan of the Western Turks, unifying the Turkic tribes under a single khaganate. Helu invaded the kingdoms of the Tarim Basin and led frequent raids against bordering Tang cities. Emperor Gaozong sent an army led by Su Dingfang to defeat the Western Turks. The Turkic commanders Ashina Misha and Ashina Buzhen, rivals of Helu, led the side divisions.

Ten thousand Uyghur horsemen participated in the campaign as allies of the Tang. Porun, an Uyghur leader enthroned by Emperor Taizong, oversaw the Uyghur cavalry as a vice commander. He served under the leadership of the Yanran Protector-General and Vice Protector-General, administrators of the Yanran Protectorate. The army departed from Ordos in march and traversed through 3,000 miles of steppes and desert, without stopping by the oasis kingdoms for supplies. Along the way, tribes like the Chumkun and Su offered additional reinforcements. The troops reached the Kyrgyzstan by November, enduring the harsh conditions of the winter.

Su Dingfang defeated Helu's army of 100,000 cavalry at the battle of Irtysh River, fought along the Irtysh River in the Altai Mountains region. Helu had been caught off guard by Su's ambush and suffered a large number of casualties. The qaghan attempted to flee to Tashkent, but was caught the next day and sent to the Tang capital as a prisoner. The remaining tribes of the Western Turks surrendered. Gaozong pardoned Helu, but the qaghan died the following year.

Further campaigns

The dissolution of the khaganate fragmented the Western Turkic tribes. In 670, a Western Turkic tribe allied with the Tibetan Empire and invaded the Tarim Basin. The Anxi protectorate was abandoned and the Tang withdrew back to Turfan. Control of the oasis states returned to the Tang between 673 and 675, and the protectorate was re-established.

In 677, the Western Turks conducted a second military expedition with the Tibetans against the Tang in the Tarim Basin. The Turks were repelled by the Tang and defeated in 679. Tang forces captured the leader of the Western Turks and annexed Tokmak, which was transformed into a military base.

Ilterish Qaghan founded the Second Turkic Empire after a successful revolt in 682. The expansion of the khaganate continued under Ilterish's brother, Qapaghan Qaghan. In 712, Kul Tigin, son of Ilterish, defeated the remnants of the Western Turks, members of the Turgis confederation. Now defeated, the Western Turks were absorbed into the new empire.

Historical significance

The Tang campaigns marked the end of Indo-European Xinjiang, as Turkic linguistic and cultural influences spread into Central Asia. Tang China was responsible for the influx of Turkic migrants, because of the number of Turks that served in the Tang military as soldiers and generals during the dynasty's military expeditions.

Tang influence in the Central Asia encompassed art, trade, and politics. Chinese coinage remained in use in Xinjiang after the Tang withdrew from the region. Central Asian art adopted many Tang Chinese stylistic elements, like the sancai three color glaze used for ceramics. According to Chinese sources, Turkic states and polities still valued ties with the courts of dynasties in northern China as a form of prestige. The Qarakhan and Qarakhitay khans held titles that identified them as Tabghach or Khitay, named after kingdoms in northern China. Tang architectural influences are apparent in the Buddhist architecture in Dunhuang.



  Battle of Yinshan 630

Battle of Yinshan

Battle of Yinshan 630 (W)

The Battle of Yinshan (Chinese: 陰山之戰; pinyin: Yīnshān zhī zhàn) was fought in 630 CE near the Yin mountain range close to the city of Dingxiang (定襄, in modern Hohhot, Inner Mongolia). Emperor Taizong (598-649) commissioned the famed Tang military officer Li Jing (李靖, 571–649), along with Li Shiji, Wei Xiaojie, Li Daozong, Chai Shao (柴紹), and Xue Wanche (薛萬徹) to attack forces under the command of Illig Qaghan (Ashina Duobi), leader of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate (also known as the Göktürks), a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples based in Inner Asia. The battle ended in defeat for the Göktürks and resulted in the dissolution of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, which was eventually replaced by the Protectorate General to Pacify the North, otherwise known as the Anbei Protectorate (安北都護府) in 647 CE after the Tang dynasty definitively conquered the Xueyantuo.


Tang dynasty's campaign against the Eastern Turks (Tujue) Khanate in 629 - 630, with a misspelled Bohai Bay.
Date 630 CE
Result Tang victory
Tang Dynasty Eastern Turkic Khaganate
Commanders and leaders
Li Jing Illig Qaghan (Ashina Duobi)



In 623, The Eastern Turkic Khaganate began a campaign of routine pillaging incursions into Tang territory, while continuing to protect Liang Shidu, who claimed the title of Emperor of Liang. In 626, Li ShiMin succeeded Emperor Gaozu as Emperor Taizong of the Tang. Less than a month later, the Turkic ruler Ashina Duobi (Illig Qaghan) and his nephew, Ashina Shibobi (阿史那什鉢苾), invaded Tang territory, advancing all the way to the ancient capital Chang'an, shocking the Tang officials. Emperor Taizong was forced to personally meet with them at the Wei River Bridge outside Chang'an, give them and major Eastern Turkic officials gifts, and promise further tributes. Only after he did so did Ashina Duobi and Ashina Shibobi withdraw.

For the next several years, there was relative peace between the Tang and the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. Meanwhile, Ashina Duobi's territory suffered two unusually cold winters that led to mass livestock deaths and famine and he was forced to suppress a number of rebellions. By 627, Emperor Taizong contemplated taking advantage of Ashina Duobi's weakened state by launching an attack, but ultimately refrained after his advisers convinced him not to break the peace.

Internal strife within the Eastern Turkic Khaganate continued as vassal tribes became restless under Ashina Duobi's rule. Ashina Duobi and Ashina Shibobi also fell into conflict after the latter was unable to defeat rebellious Xueyantuo and Uyghur vassal tribes. After Ashina Duobi attacked Asina Shibobi's forces in 628, Emperor Taizong, who had sworn to be a blood brother of Ashina Shibobi on a prior occasion, agreed to launch troops to protect Ashina Shibobi — and at the same time use the opportunity to attack Liang Shidu, who by this point was still under the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's protection. Liang Shidu was assassinated in 628, ending the final rival claim to Emperor Taizong's for China's imperial throne. To head off Taizong's efforts to ally with rebellious vassal tribes against him, Ashina Duobi sought long-term peace in the form of a marriage to a Tang princess, which Emperor Taizong did not answer. Instead, he prepared for a major assault on the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, with the major general Li Jing commanding and with the general Zhang Gongjin (張公謹) assisting Li Jing.


In spring 630, Li Jing, employing six separate cavalry formations of nearly 100,000 men along a 1,200 km front, captured the Wuyang Range outside Dingxiang (定襄, in modern Hohhot, Inner Mongolia), , approaching Ashina Duobi's court. He then sent spies to Ashina Duobi's camp and persuaded a number of his close associates, including Kangsumi (康蘇密), to surrender (along with Sui's Empress Xiao and her grandson Yang Zhengdao). Li Jing's nighttime assault on the walls of Dingxiang forced Ashina Duobi to withdraw to Iron Mountain (Tieshan) in the Yin Mountains where he offered to submit to Emperor Taizong — but while he was negotiating with the Emperor Taizong's envoy Tang Jian (唐儉), he was also considering withdrawing further north of the Gobi Desert. Li Jing and Li Shiji, believing that Ashina Duobi was merely stalling for time, joined their forces and their vanguard, Su Dingfang, attacked Ashina Duobi's encampment on March 27, 630, defeating him and killing his wife (Sui Dynasty's Princess Yicheng). Ashina Duobi fled further to his subordinate khan Ashina Sunishi (阿史那蘇尼失), but was soon captured by the Tang generals Li Daozong and Zhang Baoxiang (張寶相) and delivered to Chang'an. Turkic nobles largely surrendered to Tang, while the Turkic Khaganate’s people scattered in three directions — either surrendering to Tang, surrendering to the Xueyantuo, or fleeing west to the Western Turkic Khaganate and the nearby kingdoms such as Qocho, Kucha, and Tuyuhun.



Emperor Taizong eventually decided to have the Eastern Turkic Khaganate’s people settled in the northern prefectures within Tang borders, remaining in tribal form, on lands that were currently not settled. He established four nominal prefectures over Ashina Shibobi's tribes and six nominal prefectures over Ashina Duobi's tribes, with two commandants governing the areas. Ashina Sunishi and another Eastern Turkic Khaganate prince, Ashina Simo (who, in particular, was given the Tang imperial surname Li and therefore also known as Li Simo), were created princes, and a large number of other chieftains were given general ranks; they were settled in or near Chang'an. Emperor Taizong also gave the Eastern Turkic Khaganate's people who possessed Han people as slaves ransoms and had them return those Han slaves to Tang. Also thereafter, Emperor Taizong often requisitioned Turkic cavalry soldiers to supplement regular Tang troops on various campaigns, such as the 634 campaign against Tuyuhun.

Meanwhile, Xueyantuo largely took over Eastern Turkic Khaganate's former territory, with most of Eastern Turkic Khaganate's former vassals submitting to it. Former Eastern Turkic Khaganate's vassals Khitan, Xí (霫), and tribes directly submitted to Tang, as did the city kingdom of Yiwu (伊吾).


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  Turks in the Tang military

Turks in the Tang military

Turks in the Tang military (W)

Tang Dynasty, circa. 700 CE.

The military of the Tang Dynasty was staffed with a large population of Turkic soldiers, referred to as Tujue in Chinese sources. Tang elites in northern China were familiar with Turkic culture, a factor that contributed to the Tang acceptance of Turkic recruits. The Tang emperor Taizong adopted the title of "Heavenly Kaghan" and promoted a cosmopolitan empire. Taizong regularly recruited and promoted military officers of Turkic ancestry, whose steppe experience contributed to the western and northern expansion of the Tang empire. The Turkic general Ashina She'er participated in the Tang capture of the Karakhoja, Karasahr, and Kucha kingdoms in Xinjiang. The half-Turkic general An Lushan started a revolt that led to the decline of Tang Dynasty.

The Orkhon inscriptions by the Gokturks were critical of the Turks that had served the Tang Dynasty, and condemned them for helping the Chinese emperor expand his burgeoning empire. The Turkic soldiers stationed by the Chinese in the Tang garrisons of Central Asia settled in the region, spreading Turkic languages in an area that had been predominantly Indo-European.


The empire of the Tang Dynasty was more cosmopolitan and diverse than the earlier Han Dynasty. The Tang Dynasty elites of northern China had an interest in Turkic culture and intermingled with the people of the steppes. The setting of one Tang poem describes a yurt, and the performance of a Turkic actress was hosted in the emperor's palace. Following the Tang Dynasty's defeat of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, the government authorized the settlement of Turks along the borders of the Tang empire. Turkic officers of the former khaganate were recruited as generals in the Tang military, and their experience with steppe warfare contributed to the Tang's military successes as it expanded westward.

Emperor Taizong and multiculturalism

Emperor Taizong, also known by his personal name Li Shimin, was familiar with the culture of the steppe nomads and employed military strategies using steppe tactics as a prince. Taizong was a skilled horseman, and during a celebration of his victory and ascension to the throne, sacrificed a horse in a ritual derived from a Turkic religious practice. He was able to outmaneuver the heavy cavalry of the Sui Dynasty with his light cavalry, a characteristic of steppe warfare. Taizong shared personal relationships with Turkic allies as a prince, reinforced through oaths sworn as blood brothers. His later successes as an emperor against the armies of Central Asia through diplomacy and divide and rule are the result of his early experiences with Turkic culture.

Taizong's adoption of the Heavenly Kaghan title was used to legitimize his role as a steppe khan not solely as a Chinese emperor with the title of Son of Heaven. He valued the kaghan title and was sincere about his role as a leader of Central Asia. He sought to solidify his claim as a kaghan by organizing a gathering of Turkic leaders in the Lingzhou fortress during the last years of his reign to reconfirm his title.

While mostly symbolic, the title of Heavenly Kaghan shows Taizong's open attitudes towards the existence of a multicultural and ethnically diverse Tang empire. Taizong was proud of his policies promoting ethnic equality, and was reported to have said that, "The emperors since ancient times have all appreciated the Chinese and depreciated the barbarians. Only I view them as equal. That is why they look upon me as their parent."

He had a paternalistic attitude towards his subjects and believed that it was his duty to treat the Chinese and foreign ethnic groups as equals under one ruler. Taizong's views grew into state policy as his government recruited Turkic and other non-Han Chinese soldiers into the Tang military. Turkic soldiers were later promoted to higher ranks as commanders and generals. The surname of Li, belonging to the royal family of Li Shimin, was awarded to Han and non-Han officers for their service.

Tang relationship with the Turks may have further deepened had the crown prince Li Chengqian, a Turkophile, been enthroned as Taizong's successor. Li Chengqian enthusiastically embraced Turkic customs, and Chinese historian Sima Guang recorded that he:

"He [Chengqian] lved to emulate Turkish speech and their manner of dress. He chose from among his retinue those who had Turkish features and grouped them in bands of five; he made them plait their hair, wear sheepskins, and herd sheep. He had made five wolf's head banners and tents and set up yurts. The crown prince took up residence here; he gathered sheep and cooked them, and then, drawing out his waist-knife, he would carve the meat and let everyone eat."

Chengqian was deposed as crown prince by Taizong after his plans to usurp the throne were revealed. He was exiled by Taizong and died as a commoner.


Map of Tang campaigns against the Tarim Basin oasis states. The Turkic general Ashina She'er led the campaigns against Karasahr and Kucha..


Turkic generals and Tang military campaigns

Turkic generals led many of the Tang Dynasty military campaigns that expanded the dynasty's territorial reach into Central Asia. In total, ten Turks were able to reach the highest military position of general. Ashina She'er, formerly the ruler of Beshbaliq and Kharakhoja between 630 and 635 and a member of the Ashina clan, was recruited as a Tang general in 635. He fought as a commander in a successful campaign against Karakhoja in 640. She'er was chosen as the general for the military expedition against Karasahr. The Tang loyalist that had been installed as ruler after the first invasion of Karasahr in 644 by Chinese general Guo Xiaoke was deposed by his cousin in a revolt. The usurper was executed after the rebellion was suppressed, and Tang governance returned to the oasis state. She'er continued onward to the nearby kingdom of Kucha, a state that had supported Karasahr during its war against the Tang.

Emperor Taizong himself tended to the injuries of the Turkic Generals Qibi Heli and Ashina Simo, who were both wounded during the campaign against Goguryeo.

Ashina Zhong, the brother of She'er, also served as a Turkic general of the Tang Dynasty, and was a participant in a military performance hosted by Emperor Gaozong in 655. Another Turkic member of the Ashina clan, Ashina Helu, briefly served as a commander of the Tang army in Gansu before his rise as a kaghan of the Western Turkic Khaganate. During his reign, the Turkic tribes were unified under a single leader. Emperor Gaozong, Taizong's successor, dispatched a military expedition in 657 against Helu, who had been raiding Tang settlements. The campaign was led by the general Su Dingfang and the Turkic commanders Ashina Mishe and Ashina Buzhen, who were opposed to Helu. Helu was defeated and captured by the Tang forces, and the territories annexed from the Western Turks were placed under Tang governance through the Anxi Protectorate.

Gaozong awarded the military service of the Turkic commanders Mishe and Buzhen by appointing them as proxy rulers of ten Western Turkic tribes. The ten tribes were split between the two cousins, and the western half was given to Buzhen while Mishe controlled the eastern tribes. In 685, the sons of Mishe and Buzhen were sent from the Tang capital of Chang'an, where they resided, to succeed their fathers in the west. Neither lasted long as Turkic rulers; one was overthrown by his tribal subjects and the other was deposed by the Second Turkic Khaganate after an invasion in 690.

An Lushan was a Tang general of mixed Turkic and Soghdian ancestry whose revolt between 755 and 763, the An Shi Rebellion, devastated the Tang Dynasty. Unlike the majority of Turkic military officers, An Lushan served the Tang as an official closely involved with the politics of the imperial court, rather than as a general in a garrison on the Tang frontier. The dynasty might have collapsed had it not been for their alliance with the Uyghur Turks. The rebellion diminished the Tang enthusiasm for cosmopolitanism that was a characteristic of the dynasty's earlier years.

The Orkhon inscriptions, a memorial erected by the Turks, lamented the Tang influence on the Turks and the Turkic adoption of Chinese titles:

"The Turkish people let their state.... go to ruin... their sons worthy of becoming lords became slaves, and their daughters worthy of becoming ladies became servants to the Chinese people. The Turkish lords abandoned their Turkish titles. Those lords who were in China held the Chinese titles and obeyed the Chinese emperor and gave their service to him for fifty years. For the benefit of the Chinese, they went on campaigns up to [the land of] the Bukli qaghan in the east, where the sun rises, and as far as the Iron Gate in the West. For the benefit of the Chinese emperor they conquered countries."

The inscriptions, made to commemorate the elites of the Second Turkic Empire, stress the importance of loyalty between a kaghan and the ruler's subjects. The Turks that sided with the Tang are condemned, and the disunity of the Turkic tribes is blamed on a lack of respect for the authority of the kaghan.

Historical significance

The Turkic soldiers and generals that worked in the Chinese garrisons of Central Asia spurred Turkic migration into the area. The Turkic language and culture of the Tang soldiers there gradually displaced the indigenous Indo-European languages. The native languages of Sogdian and Tokharian disappeared as the Turkic languages spread in the Tarim Basin.

The Tang Dynasty declined after the An Shi Rebellion, and the dynasty eventually fell in 907. During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, an era of upheaval following the dynasty's collapse, many of the kingdoms in China were ruled by families of Turkic ancestry. The Shatuo Turks founded the Later Tang in 923, the Later Jin in 936, and the Later Han in 947. Eventually, the Song Dynasty after uniting all the states once again.


  Tang dynasty in Inner Asia

Map of the six major protectorates during Tang dynasty. The Protectorates are marked as Anxi, Anbei, Andong.

Tang dynasty in Inner Asia

Tang dynasty in Inner Asia (W)

The Tang dynasty in Inner Asia was the expansion of the Tang dynasty's realm in the Inner Asia in the 7th and, to a lesser degree, the 8th century AD, in the Tarim Basin, across the Gobi Desert and into Middle Asia. Wars were fought against the Gokturk Empires and Xueyantuo, but also against the states of the Tarim basin. This expansion was not steady; for example, the Tang did lose control of the Tarim basin temporarily to the Tibetans in the 680s, and their expansion north of the Gobi was thwarted in 682. Emperor Taizong's military success was, in part, a consequence of changes he initiated in the Chinese army, including improved weaponry. The emperor placed a new emphasis on cavalry, which was very important because his non-Chinese opponents used the horse effectively in warfare.


Tang expansion

The Tang dynasty was one of the Golden Ages of Chinese history. Coming out of the devastation of the late Sui, Tang emperors were eager to secure China's borders by defeating the Gokturks who were the primary military threat to North China. As a result, Tang forces mounted several campaigns against the Gokturks in order to neutralize them and secure China's borders in the process. Securing the Tarim Basin, which contained key trade routes, was also a secondary objective.

Tang conquest of the Eastern Gokturks

The Eastern Gokturks were the primary threat to the Tang dynasty. Following Liang Shidu's defeat and death, the Tang dynasty prepared to march against the Eastern Gokturks. In 630, the Tang army marched against the Gokturks and defeated them in Southern Mongolia, sending them to flight. However, the real victory came when Li Jin, regarded as one of China's best generals, surprised the Eastern Gokturk Khan with a fast force of 3,000 Cavalry at the battle of Ying shan, which also involved a rear guard of over 100,000 Tang troops. This battle destroyed the Gokturk army, resulting in the capture of the Khan and over 120,000 Gokturks. Thus ended the Eastern Gokturk Empire. Emperor Taizong of Tang took up the title of Tian Kehan, or "Heavenly Khan" of the Gokturks.

Tang conquest of Xueyantuo

Xueyantuo had helped Tang armies defeat the Eastern Gokturks, but after the demise of the Eastern Gokturks, Xueyantuo-Tang relations turned hostile because Xueyantuo kept on making attacks on Gokturks who were now Tang subjects.

In 642, Taizong sent an army to attack Xueyantuo and destroyed it.

Tang Conquest of the Western Gokturks

The Western Gokturks were not an initial threat to the Tang, so initially relations were peaceful. However, Civil war and dispute in the Western Gokturks gave the Tang the opportunity to expand into Central Asia. From 642 to 645, the Tang army defeated the Western Gokturks and drove them out of Dzungaria.

In 657, the Tang defeated the last Western Gokturk Khan and took over all Western Gokturk territory.

The second Göktürk Kaghanate

In what has been described as "a response to a surge of something like national sentiment", the Eastern Türkish Kaghanate was restored in 682 by Elterish (a.k.a. Qutlugh). In the Orkhon inscriptions, Elterish's son describes the modest beginnings of Elterish's struggle against the Tang thus:

My father the kaghan set out with seventeen men, and as the word spread that he had set out and was advancing, those who were in the towns went up into the mountains and those who were in the mountains came down, they gathered, and there were seventy-seven men. Because heaven gave them strength, the army of my father was like wolves and his enemies were like sheep. [...] When they were seven hundred, in accordance with the institutions of my ancestors my father organized those who had been deprived of their state, those who had been deprived of their kaghan, who had become slaves and servants, who had lost their Türk institutions"

The new Kaghanate was centered on the upper Orkhon river and in the Ötükän, presumably the Khangai mountains. After decades of war and border raids with China, peace was made in 721–22. The second Gokturk Khanate remained a tributary and vassal of the Tang dynasty. It then survived until the 740s, when it fell due to internal conflicts and was succeeded by the Uighur Kaghanate.

Battle of Talas River

The Battle of Talas was a military engagement between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate along with their ally the Tibetan Empire against the Chinese Tang dynasty, governed at the time by Emperor Xuanzong. In July 751 AD, Tang and Abbasid forces met in the valley of the Talas River to vie for control of the Syr Darya region of central Asia. After a stalemate in several days of combat, the Tang lost the battle because the Karluks defected from the Tang side to the Abbasid side. The defeat marked the end of Tang westward territorial expansion, resulting in Muslim control of Transoxiana for the next four hundred years.

Retrenchment of Tang influence post-763

In 755, the Tang dynasty was subject to the devastating Anshi Rebellion and lost much influence in Inner Asia, which came to be dominated by the Uyghurs. Tang influence and rule over the Northwestern regions, however, continued until the dynasty's fall in 907, at which time these areas were taken over by the Tanguts, who later established Xi Xia.

Tang-Uyghur relations

Although they now controlled most of the Mongolian region, the Uyghur Khans still maintained relatively cordial relations with the Tang dynasty, accepting many titles from the Tang emperors. in 788, the Uyghur Khan pleaded the Tang emperor to change the title of the Uyghurs from Huihe (回紇) to Huihu (回鶻).

Fall of the Uyghur Khanate

By the mid-800's, the power of the Uyghur Khanate was on the wane. Attacked on all sides, the Uyghurs retreated to the Xinjiang area and their Khanate collapsed, to be replaced by other peoples.



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