The Uygher Empire

China is huge. There is not doubt about it. It has roughly 20% of the worlds population. Not only that, but because of its size, it is the host to an extraordinary number of individual cultures. The fact is that the ruling elite, and really the cultural face of china, is the Han Ethnic Group. The Uyghers have been thrust into the national stage recently, as over

There empire was this big. I know, its huge.

There empire was this big. I know, its huge.

 150 of them have died in an uprising against the Han elite. They have their own language, they are Muslim, and they have a completely different culture than the fat cats in Beijing. Genetically, they are Turkish. There is really no analogy in the US. It would be like if everyone in Texas was Hispanic, only spoke Spanish, and still only worshipped Mayan gods. Oh wait.

It turns out that the Uyghers used to be a big deal. They had an empire that lasted for 100 years, from 742 AD to 848, and actually made a concerted effort to civilize the region. The script they came up with eventually was used by the Mongolians. Researching this Empire is tough, though, because their titles sound like gobblety gook. Here is an example from “The Rise and Fall of the Uighur Empire” :

“The yabghu of the Uighurs, Etmish Qutlugh Bilge, was a vassal of the Blue Turks when they were at the height of their glory under Kul Tegin and Bilge Kha’Khan.”

Good luck with that.  Anyways, this story starts about 400 years before the Mongols started taking over everything. In Europe, this was about the time when the Germanic tribes were settling down in the North, and the Muslims were just getting started in the South. Over the course of the 100 years, there were 10 Khans, so what I’ll do is show you the rise and fall through the Khans after giving a brief introduction.

Up to 742 the region was dominated by the Blue Turks. The Uighurs, Karluks, and Basmils rebelled, and started a power grab. The Basmils went for it first, and were actually the ones to kill the current leader. The Karluks and the Uighurs allied, and with the backing of the Chinese, crushed the Basmyls. The Karluks got the stuff to the west, and Kutluk, in 744, crowned himself supreme ruler of the area, built an awesome capital, and made a peace treaty with China, which was currently ruled by the Tang Dynasty. He died in 747, and passed his crown onto his son, Myanchur.

Myanchur was clever. He set up trading posts all over his kingdom. Because his realm was technically a bunch of tribes united, this was relatively lucrative, as he had a huge border with China. He made a lot of money, and used it to build another huge city in the north. I will take this time to mention that this entire civilization lived in tents, and the 2 main

This is one of the early Khans

This is one of the early Khans

cities were basically walls with tents in them. He also set up an awesome courier service that was later perfected by the Mongolians. Everyone in the steppes, even the former Basmyls and the Karluks, united under his flag. Fortunately for him, in the early 750’s, China had been overtaken by a renegade general, and turned to Myanchur for assistance.  So in 755, Myanchur swept in and retook the cities, but didn’t leave until China paid him in gold and silk. The emporer relinquished, and said he would pay gold and silk yearly. Just for good measure, Myanchur saw that the Kyrgys and Tibetans were trying to establish trade relationship with other countries, and slaughtered their army of 50,000. Myanchur drank himself to death in 759.

The following period is considered to be the golden age of the Uygher Empire. Myanchur passed on his crown to his son, Tengri, who started off his reign by taking over China. He rolled in, and literally burnt down cities, killed everyone he could find, and pillaged the surrounding land. He wound just find whatever he could take, loaded it up into a caravan, and sent it back to the capitol. This ended when the Chinese emporer gave Tengri exclusive trading rights, at prices that he would decide, in addition to any Chinese trader paying a hefty fee. However, while on campaign, Tengri met some Iranian Manichaeists (a gnostic religion), and was converted. He stopped eating meat, drinking, and resolved to stop fighting. This did not sit well with his constituency, and in 779 while Tengri was listening to a lecture, a disgruntled chief by the name of Kutluk Bilge, ran through the camp and beheaded Tengri, his family, and close friends.

Bilge went on to quash rebellions in both China, and against a Kyrgy-Tibetan alliance in the West. In addition, he kept the adoption of Manichaeism, but made it more suitable to the steppe way of life. In 791, he sent his son, Tolossu, to kill some Tibetans. Over the course of a year and a half, Tolossu with 50,000 horse archers, demolished the 150,000 strong Tibetan army, essentially ending the Tibetans as any sort of entity in the region for a very long time. Bilge died in 795, and his brothers held the throne until 808, until Tolossu took the throne.

Tolossu turned his roving bands into a real civilization. He took the Iranian script, and made it useable for the Mongolian dialect. He distributed the printing press (yes you read that right) throughout the kingdom, which resulted and a vast number of secular and relgious works being distributed. In 820, he heard that an alliance of Iranians and

Modern Uyghers. These are Chinese people.

Modern Uyghers. These are Chinese people.

Karluks were harassing some Manichaeans, so he saddled up 100,000 horses, and they head out westward, and ended up slaughtering everything and everyone, and once again filled up a giant caravan will riches, and rode back into the capital, a national hero. He died in 821.

For about 20 years, things went ok. But then there was a very heavy snow, and backbone of the empire, the horses were malnourished. The Kyrgys, still smarting from their previous treatement, saw this as a time to strike. A disgrunteld Uygher general defected, and created an 80,000 strong horse army, which swept into the capital in 840.  In typical steppe fashion, no-one was spared, and those that fled, had no where to go, as the Uyghers were on bad relations with all of their borders. The managed to rally, and ended up espablishing 3 kingdoms, that maintained the culture of their empire, but never once rose to their former prominence. And that, dear reader, is the story of the Uygher Empire. Life was, and still is, rough on the steppes.

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Published in: on July 13, 2009 at 5:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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