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The Basmyls (Basmyl; Basmals, Basmils, Old Turkic: Old Turkic letter L2.svgOld Turkic letter M.svgOld Turkic letter S1.svgOld Turkic letter B1.svg, Basmïl,[1] Chinese: 拔悉密; pinyin: Báxīmì) were a 7th–8th century Türkic nomadic tribe who mostly inhabited the Dzungaria region in the northwest of the modern day People's Republic of China. According to literary sources, the terms Basmyls and Basmals are readily interchangeable. Basmyls played a prominent role in the Eastern Türkic Kaganate, and at one time were the dynastic tribe who led the Khaganate. They later merged with Karluk and Yagma tribes and created Kara-Khanid state.

Basmyls were the first to use the term Idyk-kut, which replaced khagan in the titles of the Uyghur rulers of Turpan. The second component kut/qut in the title is often found in Old Turk onomastics and titulature and has the lexical meaning "grace of heaven" or "blessing".[2]

The Tszychji tuntszyan records that in 720 the dynastic Basmal clan were Ashina who were descended from the Turkic peoples (Ch. 突厥 pinyin Tu-jue). Today's Argyns in the Kazakh Middle Juz are the former Basmals – these names are linguistically equivalent and mean "mixed tribe". In the 13th century Marco Polo records that the prevailing tribe of Tanduk were Argon Christians (i.e. Argyns), which means Basmul. The mixed origins of the Basmals are confirmed by their comprising forty clans, as opposed to the three tribes of Karluks, nine tribes of Uyghurs and ten tribes of the Jeti-su Türks. Early Middle Age locations for the Basmals are given in the Tszychji tuntszyan, where the Basmals' residence is named as Beitin, on the Bogdoshan ridge in the Guchen area.[3]

Turkic scholar Mahmut Kashgari of the 11th century, lists the Basmyls as one of ten prominent Türkic tribes and enumerates the locations of the Türkic polities from the borders of Greece to the borders of China in the following sequence: Bechen (Badjinak), Kyfchak (Kipchak), Oguz, Yemek (Kimek), Bashgyrt (Bashkort), Basmyl, Kai, Yabaku, Tatars, Kyrgyz. Kashgari also noted that the Kai, Yabaku, Tatar, and Basmyl tribes are all bilingial, speaking Türkic alongside their own languages, while peoples including the Kyrgyzes, Kyfchaks, and Oguzes have their own Türkic languages, which are related to the languages of the Yemeks and Bashkirts.[4]

Türkic period[edit]

From their inception in 552, the Basmyls were members of the First Türkic Kaganate. When this split into Eastern and Western Kaganates in 604, the Basmyls found themselves in the Western Türkic Kaganate, dominated by the Türkuts of the east. Following state administrative reforms in favor of the eastern part of the Kaganate, the Basmyls lost their position of primacy along with the tribes of Karluks, Yagma, Kipchaks, and Hun descendants the Chuyue, Chumi and Shato. In 641 disgruntled tribes, including the Dzunaria Basmyls, joined a revolt by pretender to the throne Yugu-Ukuk. The Chinese Tang empire used the turmoil in the Western Türkic Kaganate to become the dominant regional power, and by 649, as a result of the military defeats, Bukhara and the Basmyls submitted to the Tang rulers.[5]

Chinese vassalage period[edit]

The period from 649 to 703 is the best documented in Basmyl history due to the existence of Chinese annalistic records. This was also a prosperous period; vassalage did not impose any obligations and was instead afforded Chinese luxuries provided as gifts, until the Tang emperors felt confident enough to introduce their own bureaucracy to supplant the rule of the traditional Türkic nobility. According to ancient Türkic succession law, a brother succeeded a brother, and a nephew succeeded his uncle in a process of lateral succession. The Chinese thought such an idea absurd, and ignored it in their acts, causing further problems on top of existing resentment of the greedy bureaucracy. This 52-year period of relative quiet ended with the rise of the restored Eastern Türkic Kaganate, and its recapture of Dzungaria and the Dzungarian Basmyls by Kutlug and Kul Tegin.[6]

Türkic-Türgesh period[edit]

Because Chinese Tang forces in the "Western Territories" were negligible, to resist the restoration of the Türkic Kaganate, the Tang government had to accede to the rise of Turgesh, a nation descendent from Abars and Mukri, under the leadership of an Uchjile. In effect, the territory captured by Tang by 659 was divided between the Chinese, the Türkic Kaganate, and Türgeshes, a people who did not belong to the Tiele, Chuy, or Türkut group, but are first known as one of the five Dulu tribes. The Türgeshes numbered 5–700,000, and although this represented a large state for the time, they were under pressure from Arabs from the south. Given the complexity of the situation, Tang diplomacy succeeded in drawing the Basmyls into an anti-Türkic alliance that already included the Kidans, Tatabs, and a 300,000 strong Tang expeditionary army. This involved the Basmyls into one of the most exciting events of the century, and bestowed on them a place in the most celebrated Türkic compositions of the 8th century.[7]

Under an unrealistic plan concocted in 720 in Chang'an, China against the Türkic Kaganate, the Manchurian Kidans and Tatabs, and the south-western Dzungaria Basmyls were to simultaneously converge on the Bilge-kagan court from different directions. The Yenisei Kyrgyzes were also pressing from the north, and the Türgeshes from the west. Bilge-kagan's chancellor Tonyukuk developed a counter-plan, which involved facing the enemies one at a time, and the use of audacity and speed to compensate for their lack of forces. At the beginning of the subsequent war, the Basmyls were the first allies to joing the Türkic horde but failing to find any other coalition forces turned back. Tonyukuk's Türks left them alone and following a forced march came to Bishbalyk (Ch. Beitin), which they took by surprise attack. By the time the exhausted men and horses of the Basmyls reached Bishbalyk, instead of rest and provisions they found an enemy waiting. Surrounded under the walls of the fortress, the Basmyls surrendered, and the whole campaign fell apart. The war was immortalized in the Orkhon inscriptions on the Bilge-kagan and Tonyukuk monuments.[7]

Another inscription on the same monument takes a completely different view of the Bishbalyk operation. Likely written by a Basmyl resting behind the walls of the Bishbalyk fortress who was later probably ambushed and captured, this inscription is of dual interest as a historical document and a cultural monument. It is the first Turkic poem to be written with rhythm and rhyme, with syllabic rhythm of 4, 5, and 8 syllables in three lines making a stanza, where the eight syllable lines have central rhyme sounds as two tetrameter lines. The defeated Basmyl carved his composition on the rock: "In the Year of Monkey, in the ninth month, we secretly went to Bishbalyk. A felicitous hero is in hardship, his army in ambush. Let this man be happy there!" [7]

Second Turkic Kaganate[edit]

A turbulent period in the history of the Second Turkic Kaganate began in 740. During Tengri-khan's rule, Tonyukuk's daughter Katun-mother Po-beg had managed to consolidate power into her hands. She then entrusted rule to a favorite, a lowly tarkhan, causing discontentment within the upper nobility. The Eastern Shad Pan-kül attacked the court, killed Tengri-khan, and enthroned a son of the deceased. But Kut Yabgu (Chinese Gudu), a rival of Pan-kül, killed the new kagan after replacing him with his brother, then in 741 Kut killed his protégé and usurped the throne.

In 742 the Uyghurs, Basmals and Karluks rebelled simultaneously, attacking and killing the usurper then quickly created their own state. The Basmyl leader became supreme Khan, the leader of Uyghurs an eastern Yabgu, and the elteber of Karluks became a western Yabgu. The warring Türkic nobles came to terms and chose Pan-kül's son as Khagan with the title of Özmiş Khagan. These events were recorded in the "Selenga stone" inscription, which immortalized the feats of the Uyghur khan Moyanchur (Bayanchur).[8]

The Tang court offered Ozmysh-khan asylum whereupon he sent his son to China with five thousand covered wagons containing families, and fled his horde. In 744 the Basmyls killed Ozmysh-khan and sent his head to Chang'an. His brother Baimei-khan Kulun-beg was enthroned in his place, but most of the Türkic nobles joined in the election of the Basmyl leader Elterish (Ch. Sede Ishi) as supreme Khagan. The allies soon split apart; Uyghur leader Peilo attacked and defeated the Basmyls whose leader Elterish-kagan was beheaded and his head was sent to Changan with an offer to recognize Peilo with the title Kutlug-Bilge Kül-khan. The Basmyls, under pressure from the Karluks, then joined with the Uyghurs.[8]

Uyghur Period[edit]

Kypchak Türkic domination over the Uyghur lasted for the 50 years from 688 to 741. The Uyghur leader received the title Shadfrom his father and in 742 consolidated his people into the Tokuz-Oguzes or Nine Tribes. Unlike the Ashina Türks, Tokuz-Oguz Uyghurs were a leading but not a dominating tribe. After quelling the Basmyls and Karluks, the Uyghurs accepted them as equals.


Nestorian bishops in Merv and Herat are known from the 5th century onwards. For a time Christian merchants competed with the Jews, who eventually took control of the trade between China and Provence. The Turkic Kaganate with its harmonious system of ideological and political doctrines had no use for foreign religions, but the Dzungaria Türks, closely connected with caravan roads and trading cities, absorbed these ideas which they then carried worldwide alongside their goods. The spread of Christianity in the Türkic Kaganate proved minor, because the Türks maintained their own creed to bind the state together. However, the fall of the Kaganate stimulated successes for Christian proselytizing amongst the Karluks and Basmals. The Basmals widely adopted Christianity having absorbed most of the Türkic Kaganate fragments. The Argyns as descendants of Basmyls, retained Christianity until the 13th century, a religion that was also successful in the east among the Uyghurs. When a new war between the Uyghurs and Türgeshes flared up in 752, the anti-Uyghur coalition united Basmyls, Türgeshes, and defenders of the "trinity".[9]

Uyghur kaganate[edit]

Inscriptions on the "Selenga stone" are a main source for the record of events around 750. In 753, the Uyghurs continued their violent struggle against the Basmyls and Karluks. The war ended in 755 with the Uyghurs subduing the Karluk's eastern pasturing routes extending to the Saur and Tarbagatai.

The Uyghur tribal confederation consisted of a leading Tokuz-Oguz tribe, which incorporated Basmyls and eastern Karluks, six Tele tribes of Buguhun, Baiyrku, Tongra, Syge and Kibi, legally considered equal, and several subjugated tribes who paid tribute to the Tokuz-Oguz Khan Yaglakar family. The Tokuz-Oguz tribe were in a privileged position not only in respect to the tribal union, but also vis-a-vis the Basmyls and Karluks, who in battles were always "sent in front", because they were less valued and protected.[9]

In Dzungaria, the Basmyls lived next to the Karluks and Baiyrku, who were apparently one of the numerous tribes which in 747 battled against the Uyghurs on the side of the Basmyls. Another neighbor east of the Türgeshes were the Ograk, one of the aborigional tribes of Dzungaria, still known in the 1st century BCE as Uge. A community of Yduk-kas ("Holy People"), a reference to a Christian community, are mentioned as the Uch-Yduk ("Three Yduks") in the Orkhon inscriptions also resided within Basmyl territory.[9]

The Basmyls remained within the Uyghur Kaganate, so called after the Uyghurs captured the leadership of the Türkic Kaganate in 752, until its demise at the hands of Yenisei Kyrgyzes in 840.

Kyrgyz Kaganate period[edit]

Khatai period[edit]

Khatai (also Kara Khatai, Kidan) 12th century-1212

Mongols, Chagatai, Mogulistan periods[edit]

Mongols direct rule 1212-1335, Chagatai and Mogulistan 1227-1348

Timurids period[edit]

Timurids 1348-1695

Kalmyk period[edit]

Dzungarian Kalmyk Empire (Djungars) 1694-1758

Modern time[edit]

Kazakh Middle Juz tribe Argyn tamga, after S.Kudayberdy-Uly "Family tree of Türks, Kirgizes, Kazakhs and their Khan dynasties", Alma-Ata, Dastan, 1990
Location of Kazakh Middle Juz tribe Argyn, after M.S.Mukanov,[10]

In modern times, people of Argyn tribe is one of the main constituents of the Kazakh people, and a main component in the Middle Juz sub-confederation in Kazakhstan, which historically consisted of three tribal conglomerations of Senior Juz, Middle Juz, and Junior Juz.

Former Basmals are the present Argyns in the Kazakh Middle Juz, these names are equivalent ("mixed tribe"). As a proof serves the description of the "Tanduk" country by Marko Polo, which says that the prevailing tribe of that country are Argon Christians (i.e. Argyns), which means Basmul. Early Middle Age location of Basmals are given in the Tszychji tuntszyan, where Basmals' residence is named in Beitin, in the Bogdoshan ridge in Guchen area.[3]

Notable personalities[edit]

Elterish (Ch. Sede Ishi) Kagan (742- ca 745)


  • Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", (Russian): Древние тюрки
  • Grumm-Grjimailo G.E. "Western Mongolia and Uryankhai Territory", 3 volumes, vol. 2, Leningrad, 1926. (Russian)
  1. ^ Ethno Cultural Dictionary, TÜRIK BITIG
  2. ^ S.G.Klyashtorny, "Ancient Turk Rock Inscriptions in the Talas Ala-Too. A Sogdian Word in an Old Turk Inscription", Webfestschrift Marshak 2003, (Online Article).
  3. ^ a b Zuev Yu.A., Horse Tamgas from Vassal Princedoms (Translation of Chinese composition "Tanghuyao" of 8th-10th centuries), Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences, Alma-Ata, I960, p. 104, 132 (In Russian)
  4. ^ M.Zakiev, "Origin of Türks and Tatars", p.69, 192, Moscow, "Insan", 2002, ISBN 5-85840-317-4 (In Russian)
  5. ^ Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", Ch. 16 (In Russian)
  6. ^ Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", Ch. 21, 22 (In Russian)
  7. ^ a b c Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", Ch. 23 (In Russian)
  8. ^ a b Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", Ch. 26 (In Russian)
  9. ^ a b c Gumilev L.N., "Ancient Türks", Ch. 27 (In Russian)
  10. ^ Mukanov M.S., "Ethnic territory of Kazakhs in 18 - beginning of 20th century", Almaty, 1991, Муканов М. С. "Этническая территория казахов в 18 – нач. 20 вв. Алма-Ата, 1991 (In Russian)

See also[edit]