The Uyghur Empire

Author: Ihsan

Origins of the Uyghurs

The Uyghurs were originially a member of the Gaoche Turkic peoples with the name Yuanhe. In the 6th-early 7th centuries, they were known with the name Weihe, but their name was changed to Huihe (and later to Huigu) in Chinese. They were also one of the members of the Toquz Oghuz alliance established by the Tiele living in Mongolia in the 620s.

In the early 7th century, the Uyhurs were the subjects of the Eastern Gök Türk (aka Tujue, Kök Türük, Türük) Qaghanate; but when this qaghanate declined, they united with the Xueyantuo Alliance and they rebelled against the Gök Türks. After overthrowing the Xueyantuo, the Uyghurs founded a semi-independent qaghanate in the Selenge Valley from where they could raid as far as Tashkend and Huanghe. This qaghanate was brought under Eastern Gök Türk rule again (which was destroyed by the Tang in 630 but it managed to declare it’s independence in 682) during the reign of Iltirish Qaghan. In 714, the Uyghurs, together  with the other Toquz Oghuz, rebelled but the rebellion was put down by Qapghan Qaghan in 715. However, the Uyghurs became the semi-independent vassals of the qaghanate’s Western half. In 742, the Uyghurs, Qarluqs and Basmïls rebelled, captured the Eastern Gök Türk’s center Ötüken, killed the last Gök Türk rulers in 744 and destroyed the Gök Türk Qaghanate. However, in 745, the Qaghan of Basmïls was killed, the Qarluqs were defeated and they were forced to migrate; thus, the Uyghurs became the supreme rulers of Mongolia.

Rise of the Uyghur Qaghanate:

A small part of the Qara Balghasun Monument, possibly from the reign of Ay Teñride Ülüg Bolmïsh Küchlüg Bilge Qaghan ( taken from http://www.turkleronline.com )

The first qaghan of the Uyghurs was Qutlugh Bilge Köl Qaghan, who founded a new city, Ordu Balïq, also known as Qara Balghasun, and he moved the capital from Ötüken to there. He died in 747, and he was succeded by Bayan Chor (Moyan Chuo in Chinese; his Turkic title was Teñride Bolmïsh Il-Itmish Bilge Qaghan). Bayan Chor’s main aim was to unite all the steppe peoples under the Uyghur banner; and he brought many peoples like the Sekiz Oghuz, Qïrghïz, Qarluqs, Türgish, Basmïls, Toquz Tatars and Chiks under Uyghur rule. As a result of these campaigns, the borders of the Uyghur Qaghanate reached Yenisey in the North, valleys of Chu and Talas in the West and the river Kerülen in the East. At that time, the Tang Dynasty of China began to withdraw from Central Asia. Bayan Chor acted quickly and captured the Tarim Basin, a fertile area full of farms and towns.

In the mid-8th century, China was shaken by a series of rebellions, the biggest being that of An Lushan. The Tang emperor asked Bayan Chor for help, the qaghan helped him to put down the rebellions and expel an invading Tibetan army, and then forced the emperor to pay tributes to the Uyghurs. He married with the daughter of the emperor and died in 759.


Golden Age of the Uyghur Qaghanate:

After Bayan Chor’s death, Bögü Qaghan (his title was Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Il-Tutmush Alp Külüg Bilge Qaghan) became the new ruler. At that time, China fell into a civil war, before the Uyghurs could intervene, the rebellions were put down but the Uyghurs became very influential in Tang China. In 762, Bögü Qaghan launched a campaign against the Tibetans with the Tang and he managed to re-capture Luoyang (the Western capital of Tang) from the Tibetans. During the campaign, Bögü Qaghan met with Manikheist priests and soon, he converted to Manicheism. After this, Manikheism became the official religion of the Uyghur Qaghanate.

Bögü Qaghan later put down the Qïrghïz Rebellion and he decided to invade China again in 779, but his generals warned him about the difficulties and handicaps of such a possible invasion of such a wide area. A bitter arguement broke out between him and his generals, and during a quarrel, he was killed by Tun Bagha Tarqan, a famous Uyghur general.

Bagha Tarqan (titled as Alp Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan) was famous from his laws, which were made to secure the unity of the qaghanate. He defeated the Qïrghïz, married with a Tang princess and improved the Uyghur relationships with China.

 The Uyghur Empire, shown in Green, along with later Turkic Empires
Decline and Collapse of the Uyghur Qaghanate:

Bagha Tarqan was succeded by his son Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Külüg Bilge Qaghan who was succeded by Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan. During the reign of Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan, the Tibetans allied with the “Desert Turks” (Shatuo Tujue) and they raided the borders of the qaghanate. The Uyghurs tried to expel the raiders but they were defeated, which caused chaos in the Uyghur capital. In 795, Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan was killed but before the qaghanate fell into pieces, an Ediz-origined (Ediz were one of the Turkic tribes) general named Qutlugh (titled as Ay Teñride Ülüg Bolmïsh Alp Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan) was declared as the Uyghur qaghan. With Qutlugh, the Uyghur dynasty passed to the Ediz from the Yaghlaqar tribe. During his rule and his son Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Külüg Bilge Qaghan’s reign, the qaghanate lived in peace; especially Ediz Qutlugh was known from his ability in rulership and generalship. His son gave importance to trade and improved it in Inner Asia. After the peaceful reign of Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Alp Bilge Qaghan, Ay Teñride Ülüg Bolmïsh Küchlüg Bilge Qaghan became the last great qaghan of the Uyghurs. He stopped the invading Tibetans, appointed a Yabghu on the Qarluqs and improved commerce relationships up to Soghdiana. However, in 833, the qaghanate fell into anarchy and the qaghan was killed. His succesor and nephew Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Alp Külüg Bilge Qaghan was killed in 839 by a rebellion commanded by one of his ministers. In the winter of 839, a famine broke out and in the spring of 840, the Qïrghïz invaded Mongolia. Qara Balghasun (Ordu Balïq) was captured, it was sacked and it’s residents were massacred, including the last ruler Hesa Qaghan.

Several years after the fall of their capital, the Uyghurs fled towards south and southwest, where they set up two kingdoms in Gansu and Turfan (Gaochang) whereas an important number of them were massacred by their rivals. These states were not great military powers like their ancestors but they gave more importance to trade, arts and science. They also influenced the Mongols on a large scale later, who made Uyghur dialect one their official language of their empire (and the Uyghur script their official writing system).

Ruins of Qara Balghasun ( taken from http://www.turkleronline.com )


Rulers of the Uyghur Empire:

Qutlugh Bilge Köl Qaghan (745 – 747)
Bayan Chor Qaghan (747 – 759)
Bögü Qaghan (759 – 779)
Tun Bagha Tarqan (779 – 789)
Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Külüg Bilge Qaghan (789 – 790)
Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan (790 – 795)
Qutlugh Qaghan (795 – 805)
Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Külüg Bilge Qaghan (805 – 808)
Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Alp Bilge Qaghan (808 – 821)
Ay Teñride Ülüg Bolmïsh Küchlüg Bilge Qaghan (821 – 833)
Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Alp Külüg Bilge Qaghan (833 – 839)
Hesa Qaghan (839 – 840)


Important Events:
745: Qutlugh Bilge Köl Qaghan overthrew the Basmïl qaghan and expelled the Qarluqs; Uyghur Qaghanate founded in Ötüken
747: Sekiz Oghuz, Qïrghïz, Qarluqs, Türgish, Basmïls, Toquz Tatars and Chiks brought under Uyghur rule
751: Bayan Chor Qaghan’s invasion of the Tarim Basin
762: Bögü Qaghan’s Luoyang Campaign; the qaghanate converted to Manikheism
779: Bögü Qaghan killed by Bagha Tarqan in a quarrel
780: Qïrghïz brought under Uyghur rule
795: Qutlugh Bilge Qaghan killed, the qaghanate passed to Ediz Dynasty
833: Anarchy in the qaghanate, Ay Teñride Ülüg Bolmïsh Küchlüg Bilge Qaghan killed
839: Ay Teñride Qut Bolmïsh Alp Külüg Bilge Qaghan killed by his minister and rebels
840: Qïrghïz capture and sack Qara Balghasun; Hesa Qaghan killed, Uyghur Qaghanate collapsed.

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