Battle of Talas
|Battle of Talas|
Map of Transoxiana, with the Talas River
Karluk mercenaries (defected to the Abbasid side during the battle)
|Commanders and leaders|
|Ziyad ibn Salih||Gao Xianzhi
|Unknown. Chinese estimates the number of Arab troops were 200,000 Unknown amount of Tibetan troops.||30,000 by Chinese accounts. 100,000 by Arab accounts. All military units either infantry or cavalry was not indicated.|
The Battle of Talas, Battle of Talas River, or Battle of Artlakh (Chinese: 怛羅斯會戰; Arabic: معركة نهر طلاس) 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 battle was a defeat for the Tang and marked the end of their westward territorial expansion, resulting in Muslim control of Transoxiana for the next four hundred years. Control of this region was economically beneficial for the Abbasids because it was on the Silk Road. Supposedly, Chinese prisoners captured in the aftermath of the battle brought paper-making technology to the Middle East, from which it eventually spread to Europe.
The exact location of the battle has not been confirmed but is believed to be near Taraz and Talas on the border of present-day Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The Chinese name Daluosi (怛羅斯, Talas) was first seen in the account of Xuanzang. Du Huan located the city near the western drain of the Chui River.
Before the battle, there were other indirect encounters between some of the combatants, and the military might of China had been projected beyond the harsh continental climate and the dry desolate difficult terrain of the Tarim Basin, much of which consists of the Taklamakan Desert, as early as the Han Dynasty, when Emperor Wu of Han sent military expeditions to seize horses, which got as far as the Ferghana. Then, in 715, Alutar, the new king of Fergana Valley, was installed with the help of the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate. The deposed Ikhshid (the king of Fergana) fled to Kucha (seat of Anxi Protectorate), and sought Chinese intervention. The Chinese sent 10,000 troops under Zhang Xiaosong to Ferghana. He defeated the Arab puppet-ruler Alutar at Namangan and reinstalled Ikhshid. The inhabitants of three Sogdian cities were massacred as a result of the battle. The second encounter occurred in 717, when Arabs were guided by the Turgesh and besieged two cities in the area of Aksu. The commander of the Chinese Protectorate General to Pacify the West, Tang Jiahui, responded using two armies, one composed of Karluk mercenaries led by Ashina Xin (client qaghan of Onoq) and another composed of Tang regulars led by Jiahui himself.
In the year 750, Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah (As-Saffah), the founder of the Abbasid Caliphate, launched a massive rebellion (known as the Abbasid Revolution) against the incumbent Umayyad Caliphate from the province of Khurasan. After his decisive victory at the Battle of the Zab and eliminating those of the Umayyad family who failed to escape to Al-Andalus, As-Saffah sent his forces to consolidate his caliphate, including Central Asia, where his forces confronted many regional powers, including those of China's Tang Dynasty.
The numeric quantities of the combatants involved in the Battle of Talas are not known with certainty; however, various estimates exist. The Abbasid army (200,000 Muslim troops according to Chinese estimates, though these numbers may be greatly exaggerated) which included contingents from their Tibetan ally met the combined army of 10,000 Tang Chinese and 20,000 Karluk mercenaries (Arab records put the Chinese forces at 100,000 which also may be greatly exaggerated).
In the month of July 751, the Abbasid forces joined in combat with the Tang Chinese force (the combined army of Tang Chinese and Karluk mercenaries) on the banks of the Talas river.
The Tang army was subjected to a devastating defeat. The Tang dynasty's defeat was due to the defection of Karluk mercenaries and the retreat of Ferghana allies who originally supported the Chinese. The Karluks forces composed two-thirds of the Tang army changed to the Abbasid side while the battle was ongoing so that Karluk troops attacked the Tang army from close quarters and the main Abbasid forces attacked from the front so that the Tang troops were unable to hold their positions. The commander of the Tang forces, Gao Xianzhi, recognized that defeat was imminent and managed to escape with some of his Tang regulars with the help of Li Siye. Out of an estimated 10,000 Tang troops, only 2000 managed to return from Talas to their territory in Central Asia. Despite losing the battle, Li did inflict heavy losses on the pursuing Arab army after being reproached by Duan Xiushi. After the battle, Gao was prepared to organize another Tang army against the Arabs when the devastating An Shi Rebellion broke out in 755. When the Tang capital was taken by rebels, all Chinese armies stationed in Central Asia were ordered back to China proper to crush the rebellion.
Aftermath and historical significance
Shortly after the battle of Talas, the domestic rebellion of An Lushan (755–63) and subsequent warlordism gave the Arabs the opportunity to further expand into Central Asia as Tang influence in the region retreated. The local Tang tributaries then switched to the authority of the Abbasids, Tibetans, or Uighurs and the introduction of Islam was thus facilitated among the Turkic peoples.
It was the An Lushan Rebellion and not the defeat at Talas that ended the Tang Chinese presence in Central Asia and forced them to withdraw from Xinjiang—Talas was of no strategic importance, because the Arabs did not advance any further after the battle.
A small minority of Karluks converted to Islam after the battle. The majority of Karluks did not convert to Islam until the mid 10th century under Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan when they established the Kara-Khanid Khanate. This was long after the Tang dynasty was gone from Central Asia.
Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah, whose forces were known to the Chinese as the Black Robed Ta-Shih, spent his wealth on warfare. He died in the year 752 AD. His brother who succeeded him as the second Abbasid Caliph Abu Jafar al-Mansur (r. 754–775 AD) (A-p’uch’a-fo) helped the Chinese Emperor Suzong of Tang after he appealed for help during the An-Shi Rebellion in regaining control of his capital Chang'an from the treacherous commander, An Lushan, or his successors in the abortive Yan Dynasty. Abu Jafar al-Mansur responded by sending 4,000 men who helped the Tang troops in recapturing the city and were well rewarded by the Chinese Emperor. After the rebellion was repressed they were allowed to settle down permanently in China which helped in founding of the earliest Muslim communities in China. Some of them married local Chinese people and their descendants became native-born Muslims who retained their religious tradition and unique way of life.
In 760, a large scale massacre of wealthy Arab and Persian merchants occurred in China during the Yangzhou massacre (760), at the hands of Chinese rebels led by Tian Shengong. In 879 during the Guangzhou massacre, 120,000 to 200,000 Arab Muslim, Persian Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Christian foreign merchants in Guangzhou were massacred by Chinese rebels under Huang Chao.
The culture of Central Asia, once a mixture of Persian, Indian, and Chinese influences, disappeared under the power struggles between the empires of the Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. Islam grew as the dominant cultural force of Central Asia.
With the decline of Central Asian Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism was now cut off from Indian Buddhism and developed into an independent religion with distinct spiritual elements. Indigenous Buddhist traditions like Pure Land Buddhism and Zen emerged in China. China became the center of East Asian Buddhism, following the Chinese Buddhist canon, as Buddhism spread to Japan and Korea from China.
Among the earliest historians to proclaim the importance of this battle was the great Russian historian of Muslim Central Asia, Vasily Bartold, of 20th century according to whom, "The earlier Arab historians, occupied with the narrative of events then taking place in western Asia, do not mention this battle; but it is undoubtedly of great importance in the history of (Western) Turkestan as it determined the question which of the two civilizations, the Chinese or the Muslim, should predominate in the land (of Turkestan)."
The loss of 8,000 troops to the Tang empire can be compared to a troop strength of more than 500,000 before the Anshi rebellion. According to Bartold, for the history of the first three centuries of Islam, al-Tabari was the chief source (survived in Ibn al Athir's compilation), which was brought down to 915. (Unfortunately, this important work was only compiled and published by a group of Orientalists in 1901.) It is only in Athir that we find an accurate account of the conflict between the Arabs and the Chinese in 751. Neither Tabari nor the early historical works of the Arabs which have come down to us in general make any mention of this; however, Athir's statement is completely confirmed by the Chinese History of the Tang Dynasty. In all Arab sources, the events which occurred in the eastern part of the empire are often dealt with briefly. Another notable informant of the battle on the Muslim side was Al-Dhahabi (1274–1348).
The Battle of Talas did not mark the end of Buddhism or Chinese influence in the region. The Buddhist Kara-Khitan Khanate defeated the Muslim Seljuq Turks and the Muslim Kara-Khanid Turks at the Battle of Qatwan in 1141, conquering a large part of Central Asia from the Muslim Karluk Kara-Khanid Khanate in the 12th century. The Kara-Khitans also reintroduced the Chinese system of Imperial government, since China was still held in respect and esteem in the region among even the Muslim population, and the Kara-Khitans used Chinese as their main official language. The Kara-Khitan rulers were called "the Chinese" by the Muslims.
Professor Denis Sinor said that it was interference in the internal affairs of the Western Turkic Khaganate which ended Chinese supremacy in Central Asia, since the destruction of the Western Khaganate rid the Muslims of their greatest opponent, and it was not the Battle of Talas which ended the Chinese presence.
Later during the reign of Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, the Arabs terminated their alliance with the Tibetan Empire, and established an alliance with China after sending envoys to China in 789.
The Battle of Talas was a key event in the history of paper—the technological transmission of the paper-making process. After the battle of Talas, knowledgeable Chinese prisoners of war were ordered to produce paper in Samarkand, or so the story goes. In fact, high quality paper had been known—and made—in Central Asia for centuries; a letter on paper survives from the fourth century to a merchant in Samarkand. But the Islamic conquest of Central Asia in the late seventh and early eighth centuries opened up this knowledge for the first time to what became the Muslim world, and so by the year 794 AD, paper manufacturing could be found in Baghdad, modern-day Iraq. The technology of paper making was thus transmitted to and revolutionised the Islamic world, and later the European West. The paper production was a state secret, and only some places and Buddhist Monks knew the technology. Of course, the paper was transported many kilometers as a Chinese luxury product, and as it was traded, the finding of paper in several places is not proof of production, but of use.
Other than the transfer of paper, there is no evidence to support a geopolitical or demographic change resulting from this battle. In fact it seems that Tang influence over Central Asia even strengthened after 751 and that by 755, Tang power in Central Asia was at its zenith. Several of the factors after the battle had been taken note of prior to 751. Firstly, the Karluks never in any sense remained opposed to the Chinese after the battle. In 753, the Karluk Yabgu Dunpijia submitted under the column of Cheng Qianli and captured A-Busi, a betrayed Chinese mercenary of Tongluo (Tiele) chief (who had defected earlier in 743), and received his title in the court on 22 October. The Chinese Muslim historian Bai Shouyi wrote that furthermore, at the same time that Talas took place, the Tang also sent an army from Shibao city in Qinghai to Suyab and consolidated Chinese control over the Turgesh. Chinese expansion in Central Asia did not halt after the battle; the Chinese commander Feng Changqing, who took over the position from Gao Xianzhi through Wang Zhengjian, virtually swept across the Kashmir region and captured Gilgit shortly two years later. Even Tashkent reestablished its vassal status in 753, when the Tang bestowed a title to its ruler. The Chinese influence to the west of the Pamir Mountains certainly did not cease as the result of the battle; Central Asian states under Muslim control, such as Samarkand, continued to request aid from the Tang against the Arabs in spite of Talas and hence in 754, all nine kingdoms of Western Turkestan again sent petitions to the Tang to attack the Arabs and the Tang continued to turn down such requests as it did for decades. Ferghana, which participated in the battle earlier, in fact joined among the central Asian auxiliaries with the Chinese army under a summons and entered Gansu during An Lushan's revolt in 756. Bai also noted that neither did the relations between the Chinese and Arabs worsen, as the Abbasids, like their predecessors (since 652), continued to send embassies to China uninterruptedly after the battle. Such visits had overall resulted in 13 diplomatic gifts between 752 and 798. Not all Turkic tribes of the region converted to Islam after the battle either—the date of their mass-conversion to Islam was much later, in the 10th century under Musa.
The military victories of the Tang in the western regions and Central Asia have been offered as explanations as to why western peoples referred to China by the name "House of Tang" (Tangjia) and another theory was suggested that China was called "Han" because of the Han dynasty military victories against peoples in the north, and the Turkic word for China, "Tamghaj" has been possibly derived from Tangjia instead of Tabgatch (Tuoba).
In the Chu valley in Central Asia Tang dynasty era Chinese coins continued to be copied and minted after the Chinese left the area after Talas.
An indelible impression was left on eastern Xinjiang's administration and culture in Turfan by the Chinese Tang rule which consisted of settlements, and military farms in addition to the spread of Chinese influence such as the sancai three colour glaze in Central Asia and Western Eurasia, in Xinjiang there was continued circulation of Chinese coins.
Turkic Empires after the Tang gained prestige by connecting themselves with north Chinese states with the Qara-Khitay and Qara-Khanid khans using the title of "Chinese emperor", Khitay was used by the Qara-Khitay and Tabghach was used by the Qarakhanids. The entry into the previously Indo-European Soghdian and Tokharian speaking Central Eurasia and Xinjiang of tribes of Turkic speaking origin and the started of Turkicisation originate in the 7th century with the disintegration of the Turkic Khaganate, resulting in Eurasia being populated by many peoples who consider themselves Turks..
Two different branches, the junior Bughra (bull camel) and the Arslan (lion) formed the Qarakhanid royal family. The title "Khan of China" (Tamghaj Khan) (تمغاج خان) was used by the Qarakhanid rulers. The Qarakhanids were the ones who are responsible for the modern Uyghur population being Muslim and the Qarakhanids were converted when Satuq Bughra Khan converted to Islam after contacts with the Muslim Samanids.
Bughra Khan was overthrown by his nephew Satuq when Satuq converted to Islam, the Arslan Khans were also toppled and Balasaghun taken by Satuq, with the conversion of the Qarakhanid Turk population to Islam following Satuq's accession to power and the spread of Islam among the Qarakhanid Turks led to the conquest of Transoxiana and the Samanids by the Qarakhanids and the Qarakhanids were the people who bequeathed the Islamic religion to the modern Uyghurs while the modern Uyghurs adopted the modern name of their ethnic group from the Uyghur Qocho Kingdom and Uyghur Empire.
The Turkic Qarakhanid and Uyghur Qocho Kingdoms were both states founded by invaders while the native populations of the region were Iranic and Tocharian peoples along with some Chinese in Qocho and Indians, who married and mixed with the Turkic invaders, and prominent Qarakhanid people such as Mahmud Kashghari hold a high position among modern Uyghurs.
Kashghari viewed the least Persian mixed Turkic dialects as the "purest" and "the most elegant".
Persian, Arab and other western Asian writers called China by the name "Tamghaj".
The Qarakhanid ruler of Kashgar was called Tamghaj Khan, while the Khitan ruler was called the Khan of Chīn, some Khitans migrated into western areas like the Qarakhanid state even before the establishment of the Kara-Khitan state.
In 1124 the migration of the Khitan under Yelü Dashi included a big part of the Kedun population, which consisted of Han Chinese, Bohai, Jurchen, Mongol tribes, Khitan, in addition to the Xiao consort clan and the Yelü royal family on the march to establish the Qara-Khitan.
The Khitan Qara-Khitai empire in Central Asia kept Chinese characteristics in their state since the Chinese characteristics appealed to the Muslim Central Asians and helped validate Qara Khita rule over them, despite the fact that Han Chinese were to be found among the population of the Qara Khitan because it was comparatively small so it is clear that the Chinese characteristics were not kept to appease them, the Mongols later moved more Han Chinese into Besh Baliq, Almaliq and Samarqand in Central Asia to work as aristans and farmers.
The Qara Khitai used the "image of China" to legitimize their ruler to the Central Asian Muslims since China had a good reputation at the time among Central Asian Muslims before the Mongol invasions, it was viewed as extremely civilized, known for its unique script, its expert artisans were well known, justice and religious tolerance were among the virtues attributed to Chinese despite their idol worship and the Turk, Arab, Byzantium, Indian rulers, and the Chinese emperor were known as the world's "five great kings", the memory of Tang China was engraved into the Muslim perception so their continued to view China through the lens of the Tang dynasty and anachronisms appeared in Muslim writings due to this even after the end of the Tang, China was known as chīn (چين) in Persian and as ṣīn (صين) in Arabic while the Tang dynasty capital Changan was known as Ḥumdān (حمدان).
Muslim writers like Marwazī and Mahmud Kashghārī had more up to date information about China in their writings, Kashgari viewed Kashgar as part of China. Ṣīn [i.e., China] is originally three fold; Upper, in the east which is called Tawjāch; middle which is Khitāy, lower which is Barkhān in the vicinity of Kashgar. But know Tawjāch is known as Maṣīn and Khitai as Ṣīn" China was called after the Toba rulers of the Northern Wei by the Turks, pronounced by them as Tamghāj, Tabghāj, Tafghāj or Tawjāch. India introduced the name Maha Chin (greater China) which caused the two different names for China in Persian as chīn and māchīn (چين ماچين) and Arabic ṣīn and māṣīn (صين ماصين), Southern China at Canton was known as Chin while Northern China's Changan was known as Machin, but the definition switched and the south was referred to as Machin and the north as Chin after the Tang dynasty, Tang China had controlled Kashgar since of the Tang's Anxi protectorate's "Four Garrisons" seats, Kashgar was among them, and this was what led writers like Kashghārī to place Kashgar within the definition of China, Ṣīn, whose emperor was titled as Tafghāj or Tamghāj, Yugur (yellow Uighurs or Western Yugur) and Khitai or Qitai were all classified as "China" by Marwazī while he wrote that Ṣīnwas bordered by placed SNQU and Maṣīn. Machin, Mahachin, Chin, and Sin were all names of China.
Muslim writers like Marwazī wrote that Transoxania was a former part of China, retaining the legacy of Tang Chinese rule over Transoxania in Muslim writings, In ancient times all the districts of Transoxania had belonged to the kingdom of China [Ṣīn], with the district of Samarqand as its centre. When Islam appeared and God delivered the said district to the Muslims, the Chinese migrated to their [original] centers, but there remained in Samarqand, as a vestige of them, the art of making paper of high quality. And when they migrated to Eastern parts their lands became disjoined and their provinces divided, and there was a king in China and a king in Qitai and a king in Yugur., Muslim writers viewed the Khitai, the Gansu Uighur Kingdom and Kashgar as all part of "China" culturally and geographically with the Muslim Central Asians retaining the legacy of Chinese rule in Central Asia by using titles such as "Khan of China" (تمغاج خان) (Tamghaj Khan or Tawgach) in Turkic and "the King of the East in China" (ملك المشرق (أو الشرق) والصين) (malik al-mashriq (or al-sharq) wa'l-ṣīn) in Arabic which were titles of the Muslim Qarakhanid rulers and their Qarluq ancestors.
The title Malik al-Mashriq wa'l-Ṣīn was bestowed by the 'Abbāsid Caliph upon the Tamghaj Khan, the Samarqand Khaqan Yūsuf b. Ḥasan and after that coins and literature had the title Tamghaj Khan appear on them and were continued to be used by the Qarakhanids and the Transoxania-based Western Qarakhanids and some Eastern Qarakhanid monarchs, so therefore the Kara-Khitan (Western Liao)'s usage of Chinese things such as Chinese coins, the Chinese writing system, tablets, seals, Chinese art products like porcelein, mirrors, jade and other Chinese customs were designed to appearl to the local Central Asian Muslim population since the Muslims in the area regarded Central Asia as former Chinese territories and viewed links with China as prestigious and Western Liao's rule over Muslim Central Asia caused the view that Central Asia was a Chinese territory to reinforce upon the Muslims; "Turkestan" and Chīn (China) were identified with each other by Fakhr al-Dīn Mubārak Shāh with China being identified as the country where the cities of Balāsāghūn and Kashghar were located.
The Liao Chinese traditions and the Qara Khitai's clinging helped the Qara Khitai avoid Islamization and conversion to Islam, the Qara Khitai used Chinese and Inner Asian features in their administrative system.
Muslim writers wrote that "Tamghājī silver coins" (sawmhā-yi ṭamghājī) were present in Balkh while tafghājī was used by the writer Ḥabībī, the Qarakhānid leader Böri Tigin (Ibrāhīm Tamghāj Khān) was possibly the one who minted the coins.
The relationship to China was used by the Qara-Khanids to enhace their standing since Central Asian Muslims associated prestige and grandeur with China so the Arabic title "the king of the East and China" (malek al-mašreq wa’l-Ṣin) and the Turkic title "Khan of China" Ṭamḡāj Khan was extensively employed by Khans of the Qara-khanids.
Although in modern Urdu Chin means China, Chin referred to Central Asia in Muhammad Iqbal's time, which is why Iqbal wrote that "Chin is ours" (referring to the Muslims) in his song Tarana-e-Milli.
The Tang Chinese reign over Qocho and Turfan and the Buddhist religion left a lasting legacy upon the Buddhist Uyghur Kingdom of Qocho with the Tang presented names remaining on the more than 50 Buddhist temples with Emperor Tang Taizong's edicts stored in the "Imperial Writings Tower " and Chinese dictionaries like Jingyun, Yuian, Tang yun, and da zang jing (Buddhist scriptures) stored inside the Buddhist temples and Persian monks also maintained a Manichaean temple in the Kingdom., the Persian Hudud al-'Alam uses the name "Chinese town" to called Qocho, the capital of the Uyghur kingdom.
The Turfan Buddhist Uighurs of the Kingdom of Qocho continued to produce the Chinese Qieyun rime dictionary and developed their own pronunciations of Chinese characters, left over from the Tang influence over the area.
The modern Uyghur linguist Abdurishid Yakup pointed out that the Turfan Uyghur Buddhists studied the Chinese language and used Chinese books like Qianziwen (the thousand character classic) and Qieyun *(a rime dictionary) and it was written that "In Qocho city were more than fifty monasteries, all titles of which are granted by the emperors of the Tang dynasty, which keep many Buddhist texts as Tripitaka, Tangyun, Yupuan, Jingyin etc." 
In Central Asia the Uighurs viewed the Chinese script as "very prestigious" so when they developed the Old Uyghur alphabet, based on the Syriac script, they deliberately switched it to vertical like Chinese writing from its original horizontal position in Syriac.
- Guangzhou massacre
- Yangzhou massacre (760)
- Du Huan
- Sino-Arab relations
- Islam in China
- History of Arabs in Afghanistan
- Islam during the Tang Dynasty
- Muslim conquests
- Northern Silk Road
- Talas River
- War of the Heavenly Horses
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