Nomadic empire

Nomadic Empires, sometimes also called Steppe Empires, Central or Inner Asian Empires, are the empires erected by the bow wielding, horse riding, Eurasian nomads, from Classical Antiquity (Scythia) to the Early Modern era (Dzungars).

Not all nomadic cultures were able to erect empires. Warrior peoples like the Avars, Magyars, Pechenegs and Kipchaks have conquered vast areas and founded kingdoms but did not subjugate other nations in order to be considered as empires.

Xiongnu Empire

The Xiongnu were a nomadic people from Central Asia, generally based in present day Mongolia. From the 3rd century BC they controlled a vast steppe empire extending west as far as the Caucasus. They were active in the areas of southern Siberia, western Manchuria and the modern Chinese provinces of Inner Mongolia, Gansu and Xinjiang. Very ancient (perhaps legendary) historic Chinese records say that the Xiongnu descended from a son of the final ruler of China's first dynasty (Xia Dynasty), the remnants of which were believed by the Chinese of the Spring and Autumn Period to be the people of the state of (杞). However, due to internal differences and strife, the Xiongnu fled north and north-west.

Relations between the Han Chinese and the Xiongnu were complicated and included military conflict, exchanges in tribute and trade, as well as marriage treaties.

The overwhelming amount of information on the Xiongnu comes from Chinese sources. What little we know of their titles and names come from Chinese transliterations. There exists about 150 words and a single sentence from Chinese documents.


The original geographic location of Xiongnu is generally placed at the Ordos. According to Sima Qian, the Xiongnu were descendants of Chunwei (淳維), possibly a son of Jie, the final ruler of the Xia Dynasty. However, while there is no direct evidence contradicting this theory, there is no direct evidence supporting it either.

Confederation under Modu (冒顿)

In 209 BC, just three years before the founding of the Han Dynasty, the Xiongnu were brought together in a powerful confederacy under a new chanyu named Modu Shanyu (known as Modu to Chinese and Mete in Turkish). The Xiongnu's political unity transformed them into a much more formidable foe by enabling them to concentrate larger forces and exercise better strategic coordination. The cause of the confederation, however, remains unclear. It has been suggested that the unification of China prompted the nomads to rally around a political centre in order to strengthen their position. Another theory is that the reorganisation was their response to the political crisis that overtook them 215 BC, when Qin armies evicted them from pastures on the Yellow River.

After forging internal unity, Modun expanded the empire on all sides. To the north he conquered a number of nomadic peoples, including the Dingling of southern Siberia. He crushed the power of the Donghu of eastern Mongolia and Manchuria, as well as the Yuezhi in the Gansu corridor. He was able, moreover, to recover all the lands taken by the Qin general Meng Tian. Before the death of Modun in 174 BC, the Xiongnu had driven the Yuezhi from the Gansu corridor completely and asserted their presence in the Western Regions in modern Xinjiang.

Nature of the Xiongnu state

Under Modun, a dualistic system of political organisation was formed. The left and right branches of the Xiongnu were divided on a regional basis. The chanyu or shan-yü — supreme ruler equivalent to the Chinese "Son of Heaven" — exercised direct authority over the central territory. Longcheng (蘢城), near Koshu-Tsaidam in Mongolia, was established as the annual meeting place and de facto capital.

The marriage treaty system

In the winter of 200 BC, following a siege of Taiyuan, Emperor Gao personally led a military campaign against Modun. At the battle of Baideng, he was ambushed reputedly by 300,000 elite Xiongnu cavalry. The emperor was cut off from supplies and reinforcements for seven days, only narrowly escaping capture.

After the defeat at Baideng, the Han emperor abandoned a military solution to the Xiongnu threat. Instead, in 198 BC, the courtier Liu Jing (劉敬) was dispatched for negotiations. The peace settlement eventually reached between the parties included a Han princess given in marriage to the chanyu (called heqin 和親 or "harmonious kinship"); periodic tribute of silk, liquor and rice to the Xiongnu; equal status between the states; and the Great Wall as mutual border.

This first treaty set the pattern for relations between the Han and the Xiongnu for some sixty years. Up to 135 BC, the treaty was renewed no less than nine times, with an increase of "gifts" with each subsequent agreement. In 192 BC, Modun even asked for the hand of the widowed Empress Lü. His son and successor, the energetic Jiyu (稽粥), known as the "Laoshang chanyu" (老上單于), continued his father's expansionist policies. Laoshang succeeded in negotiating with Emperor Wen, terms for the maintenance of a large-scale government-sponsored market system.

While much was gained by the Xiongnu, from the Chinese perspective marriage treaties were costly and ineffective. Laoshang showed that he did not take the peace treaty seriously. On one occasion his scouts penetrated to a point near Chang'an. In 166 BC he personally led 140,000 cavalry to invade Anding, reaching as far as the imperial retreat at Yong. In 158 BC, his successor sent 30,000 cavalry to attack the Shang commandery and another 30,000 to Yunzhong.

War with Han China

Han China was making preparations for a military confrontation from the reign of Emperor Wen. The break came in 133 BC, following an abortive trap to ambush the chanyu at Mayi. By that point the empire was consolidated politically, militarily, and financially, and was led by an adventurous pro-war faction at court. In that year, Emperor Wu reversed the decision he had made the year before to renew the peace treaty.

Full scale war broke out in autumn 129 BC, when 40,000 Chinese cavalry made a surprise attack on the Xiongnu at the border markets. In 127 BC, the Han general Wei Qing (衛青) retook the Ordos. In 121 BC, the Xiongnu suffered another setback when Huo Qubing (霍去病) led a force of light cavalry westward out of Longxi and within six days fought his way through five Xiongnu kingdoms. The Xiongnu Hunye king was forced to surrender with 40,000 men. In 119 BC both Huo and Wei, each leading 50,000 cavalrymen and 100,000 footsoldiers, and advancing along different routes, forced the chanyu and his court to flee north of the Gobi Desert.

Major logistical difficulties limited the duration and long-term continuation of these campaigns. According the analysis of Yan You (嚴尤), the difficulties were twofold. Firstly there was the problem of supplying food across long distances. Secondly, the weather in the northern Xiongnu lands was difficult for Han soldiers, who could never carry enough fuel. According to official reports, Xiongnu's side lost 80,000 to 90,000 men. And out of the 140,000 horses the Han forces had brought into the desert, fewer than 30,000 returned to China.

As a result of these battles, the Chinese controlled the strategic region from the Ordos and Gansu corridor to Lop Nor. They succeeded in separating the Xiongnu from the Qiang peoples to the south, and also gained direct access to the Western Regions.

Leadership struggle among the Xiongnu

As the Xiongnu empire expanded, it became clear that the original leadership structures lacked flexibility and could not maintain effective cohesion. The traditional succession of the eldest son became increasingly ineffective in meeting wartime emergencies in the 1st century BC. To combat the problems of succession, the shanyu Huhanye (58 BC-31 BC) later laid down the rule that his heir apparent must pass the throne on to a younger brother. This pattern of fraternal succession did indeed become the norm.

The growth of regionalism became clear around this period, when local kings refused to attend the annual meetings at the chanyu's court. During this period, chanyu were forced to develop power bases in their own regions to secure the throne.

In the period 114 BC to 60 BC, the Xiongnu produced altogether seven chanyu. Two of them, Chanshilu and Huyanti, assumed the office while still children. In 60 BC, Tuqitang, the "wise king of the right", became chanyu Wuyanjuti. No sooner had he come to the throne, than he began to purge from power those whose base lay in the left group. Thus antagonised, in 58 BC the nobility of the left put forward Huhanye as their own chanyu. The year 57 BC saw a struggle for power among five regional groupings, each with its own chanyu. In 54 BC Huhanye abandoned his capital in the north after being defeated by his brother, the chanyu Zhizhi.

Tributary relations with the Han

In 53 BC Huyanye decided to enter into tributary relations with Han China. The original terms insisted on by the Han court were that, first, the chanyu or his representatives should come to the capital to pay homage; secondly, the chanyu should send a hostage prince; and thirdly, the chanyu should present tribute to the Han emperor. The political status of the Xiongnu in the Chinese world order was reduced from that of a "brotherly state" to that of an "outer vassal" (外臣). During this period, however, the Xiongnu maintained political sovereignty and full territorial integrity. The Great Wall of China continued to serve as the line of demarcation between Han and Xiongnu.

Huyanye sent his son, the "wise king of the right" Shuloujutang, to the Han court as hostage. In 51 BC he personally visited Chang'an to pay homage to the emperor on the Chinese New Year. On the financial side, Huhanye was amply rewarded in large quantities of gold, cash, clothes, silk, horses and grain for his participation. Huhanye made two more homage trips, in 49 BC and 33 BC; with each one the imperial gifts were increased. On the last trip, Huhanye took the opportunity to ask to be allowed to become an imperial son-in-law. As a sign of the decline in the political status of the Xiongnu, Emperor Yuan refused, giving him instead five ladies-in-waiting. One of them was Wang Zhaojun, famed in Chinese folklore as one of the Four Beauties.

When Zhizhi learned of his brother's submission, he also sent a son to the Han court as hostage in 53 BC. Then twice, in 51 BC and 50 BC, he sent envoys to the Han court with tribute. But having failed to pay homage personally, he was never admitted to the tributary system. In 36 BC, a junior officer named Chen Tang, with the help of Gan Yanshou, protector-general of the Western Regions, assembled an expeditionary force that defeated Zhizhi and sent his head as a trophy to Chang'an.

Tributary relations were discontinued during the reign of Huduershi (AD 18-48), corresponding to the political upheavals of the Xin Dynasty in China. The Xiongnu took the opportunity to regain control of the western regions, as well as neighbouring peoples such as the Wuhuan. In AD 24, Hudershi even talked about reversing the tributary system.

Northern and southern Xiongnu

The Xiongnu's new power was met with a policy of appeasement by Emperor Guangwu. At the height of his power, Huduershi even compared himself to his illustrious ancestor, Modu. Due to growing regionalism among the Xiongnu, however, Huduershi was never able to establish unquestioned authority. When he designated his son as heir apparent (in contravention of the principle of fraternal succession established by Huhanye), Bi, the Rizhu king of the right, refused to attend the annual meeting at the chanyu's court.

As the eldest son of the preceding chanyu, Bi had a legitimate claim to the succession. In AD 48, two years after Huduershi's son Punu ascended the throne, eight Xiongnu tribes in Bi's powerbase in the south, with a military force totalling 40,000 to 50,000 men, acclaimed Bi as their own chanyu. Throughout the Eastern Han period, these two groups were called the southern Xiongnu and the northern Xiongnu, respectively.

Hard pressed by the northern Xiongnu and plagued by natural calamities, Bi brought the southern Xiongnu into tributary relations with Han China in AD 50. The tributary system was considerably tightened to keep the southern Xiongnu under Han supervision. The chanyu was ordered to establish his court in the Meiji district of Xihe commandery. The Southern Xiongnu were resettled in eight frontier commanderies. At the same time, large numbers of Chinese were forced to migrate to these commanderies, where mixed settlements began to appear.

Economically, the southern Xiongnu relied almost totally on Han assistance. Tensions were evident between the settled Chinese and practitioners of the nomadic way of life. Thus, in 94 chanyu Anguo joined forces with newly subjugated Xiongnu from the north and started a large scale rebellion against the Han.

Towards the end of the Eastern Han, the southern Xiongnu were drawn into the rebellions then plaguing the Han court. In 188, the chanyu was murdered by some of his own subjects for agreeing to send troops to help the Han suppress a rebellion in Hebei - many of the Xiongnu feared that it would set a precedent for unending military service to the Han court. The murdered chanyu's son succeeded him, but was then overthrown by the same rebellious faction in 189. He travelled to Luoyang (the Han capital) to seek aid from the Han court, but at this time the Han court was in disorder from the clash between Grand General He Jin and the eunuchs, and the intervention of the warlord Dong Zhuo. The chanyu named Yufuluo (於扶羅), but entitled Chizhisizhu (特至尸逐侯), had no choice but to settle down with his followers in Pingyang, a city in Shanxi. In 195, he died and was succeeded by his brother Hucuquan (呼廚泉).

In 216, the warlord-statesman Cao Cao detained Hucuquan in the city of Ye, and divided his followers in Shanxi into five divisions: left, right, south, north, and centre. This was aimed at preventing the exiled Xiongnu in Shanxi from engaging in rebellion, and also allowed Cao Cao to use the Xiongnu as auxiliaries in his cavalry. Eventually, the Xiongnu aristocracy in Shanxi changed their surname from Luanti to Liu for prestige reasons, claiming that they were related to the Han imperial clan through the old intermarriage policy.

The Xiongnu after the Han Dynasty

After Hucuquan (呼廚泉), the Xiongnu were partitioned into 5 local tribes. The complicated ethnic situation of the mixed frontier settlements instituted during the Eastern Han had grave consequences, not fully apprehended by the Chinese government until the end of the 3rd century. By 260 AD Liú Qùbēi (劉去卑) had organized the Tiefu confederacy in the North East, and by 290 AD 刘元海 was leading a splinter group in the South West. At that time, non-Chinese unrest reached alarming proportions along the whole of the Western Jin frontier.

Liu Yuan's Bei Han 304-318 AD

In 304 the sinicised Liu Yuan (劉淵), a grandson of Yufuluo Chizhisizhu stirred up descendants of the southern Xiongnu in rebellion in Shanxi, taking advantage of the War of the Eight Princes then raging around the Western Jin capital Luoyang. Under Liu Yuan's leadership, they were joined by a large number of frontier Chinese and became known as Bei Han. Liu Yuan used 'Han' as the name of his state, hoping to tap into the lingering nostalgia for the glory of the Han dynasty, and established his capital in Pingyang. The Xiongnu use of large numbers of heavy cavalry with iron armour for both rider and horse gave them a decisive advantage over Jin armies already weakened and demoralised by three years of civil war. In 311, they captured Luoyang, and with it the Jin emperor Sima Chi (Emperor Huai). In 316, the next Jin emperor was captured in Chang'an, and the whole of north China came under Xiongnu rule while remnants of the Jin dynasty survived in the south (known to historians as the Eastern Jin dynasty).

Liu Yao's Former Zhou 318-329 AD

In 318, after suppressing a coup by a powerful minister in the Xiongnu-Han court (in which the Xiongnu-Han emperor and a large proportion of the aristocracy were massacred), the Xiongnu prince Liu Yao (劉曜) moved the Xiongnu-Han capital from Pingyang to Chang'an and renamed the dynasty as Zhao 趙 (it is hence known to historians collectively as Han Zhao). However, the eastern part of north China came under the control of a rebel Xiongnu-Han general of Jie 羯 (probably Yeniseian) ancestry named Shi Le 石勒. Liu Yao and Shi Le fought a long war until 329, when Liu Yao was captured in battle and executed. Chang'an fell to Shi Le soon after, and the Xiongnu dynasty was wiped out. North China was ruled by Shi Le's Later Zhao dynasty for the next 20 years.

However, the "Liu" Xiongnu remained active in the north for at least another century.

Tiefu & Xia 260-431 AD

The northern Tiefu 鐵弗 branch of the Xiongnu gained control of the Inner Mongolian region in the 10 years between the conquest of the Tuoba Xianbei state of Dai by the Former Qin empire in 376, and its restoration in 386 as the Northern Wei. After 386, the Tiefu were gradually destroyed by or surrendered to the Tuoba, with the submitting Tiefu becoming known as the Dugu 獨孤. Liu Bobo 劉勃勃, a surviving prince of the Tiefu fled to the Ordos Loop, where he founded a state called the Xia (thus named because of the Xiongnu's supposed ancestry from the Xia dynasty) and changed his surname to Helian 赫連. The Helian-Xia state was conquered by the Northern Wei in 428-431, and the Xiongnu thenceforth effectively ceased to play a major role in Chinese history, assimilating into the Xianbei and Han ethnicities.

Hunnic Empire

The Huns were a confederation of Eurasian tribes from the Steppes of Central Asia. Through a combination of advanced weaponry, amazing mobility and battlefield tactics, they achieved military superiority over many of their largest rivals, subjugating the tribes they conquered. Appearing from beyond the Volga River some years after the middle of the 4th century, they first overran the Alani, who occupied the plains between the Volga and the Don rivers, and then quickly overthrew the empire of the Ostrogoths between the Don and the Dniester. About 376 they defeated the Visigoths living in what is now approximately Romania and thus arrived at the Danubian frontier of the Roman Empire. Their mass migration into Europe brought with it great ethnic and political upheaval.


The origins of the Huns that swept through Europe during the 4th Century remain unclear. However, mainstream historians consider them as a group of nomadic tribes from Central Asia probably ruled by a Turkic-speaking aristocracy. The Huns were probably ethnically diverse, due to the various cultures brought under their subjugation.

Early Campaigns

Ancient accounts suggest that the Huns had settled in the lands north-west of the Caspian Sea as early as the 3rd Century. By the latter half of the century, about 370, the Caspian Huns mobilized, destroying a tribe of Alans to their west. Pushing further westward the Huns ravaged and destroyed an Ostrogothic kingdom. In 395, a Hun raid across the Caucasus mountains devastated Armenia, there they captured Erzurum, besieged Edessa and Antioch, even reaching Tyre in Syria.

In 408, the Hun Uldin invaded the Eastern Roman province of Moesia but his attack was checked and Uldin was forced to retreat.


For all their early exploits, the Huns were still politically too disunited to stage a serious campaign. Rather than an empire the Huns were rather a confederation of kings. Although there was the title of 'High King', very few of those bearing this title managed to rule effectively over all the Hunnic tribes. As a result, the Huns were without clear leadership and lacked any common objectives.

From 420, a chieftain named Octar began to weld the disparate Hunnic tribes under his banner. He was succeeded by his brother, Rugila who became the leader of the Hun confederation, uniting the Huns into a cohesive group with a common purpose. He led them into a campaign in the Western Roman Empire, through an alliance with Roman General Aetius. This gave the Huns even more notoriety and power. He planned a massive invasion of the Eastern Roman Empire in the year 434, but died before his plans could come to fruition. His heirs to the throne were his nephews, Bleda and Attila, who ruled in a dual kingship. They divided the Hunnic lands between them, but still regarded the empire as a single entity.

Under the Dual Kingship

Attila and Bleda were as ambitious as king Ruga. They forced the Eastern Roman Empire to sign the Treaty of Margus, giving the Huns (amongst other things) trade rights and an annual tribute from the Romans. With their southern border protected by the terms of this treaty, the Huns could turn their full attention to the further subjugation of tribes to the east.

However, when the Romans failed to deliver the agreed tribute, and other conditions of the Treaty of Margus were not met, both the Hunnic kings turned their attention back to the Eastern Romans. Reports that the Bishop of Margus had crossed into Hun lands and desecrated royal graves further incensed the kings. War broke out between the two empires, and the Huns capitalized on a weak Roman army to raze the cities of Margus, Singidunum and Viminacium. Although a truce was signed in 441, war resumed two years later with another failure by the Romans to deliver the tribute. In the following campaign, Hun armies came alarmingly close to Constantinople, sacking Sardica, Arcadiopolis and Philippopolis along the way. Suffering a complete defeat at the Battle of Chersonesus, the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II gave in to Hun demands and the Peace of Anatolius was signed in autumn 443. The Huns returned to their lands with a vast train full of plunder.

In 445, Bleda died, leaving Attila the sole ruler of the Hun Empire.

Attila's Empire

With his brother gone and as the only ruler of the united Huns, Attila possessed undisputed control over his subjects. In 447, Attila turned the Huns back toward the Eastern Roman Empire once more. His invasion of the Balkans and Thrace was devastating, with one source citing that the Huns razed 70 cities. The Eastern Roman Empire was already beset from internal problems, such as famine and plague, as well as riots and a series of earthquakes in Constantinople itself. Only a last-minute rebuilding of its walls had protected Constantinople unscathed. Victory over a Roman army had already left the Huns virtually unchallenged in Eastern Roman lands and only disease forced a retreat, after they had conducted raids as far south as Thermopylae.

The war finally came to an end for the Eastern Romans in 449 with the signing of the Third Peace of Anatolius.

Throughout their raids on the Eastern Roman Empire, the Huns had still maintained good relations with the Western Empire, this was due in no small part to a friendship with Aetius, a powerful Roman general (sometimes even referred to as the defacto ruler of the Western Empire) who had spent some time with the Huns. However, this all changed when Honoria, sister of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III, sent Attila a ring and requested for his help to escape her betrothal to a senator. Although it is not known whether Honoria intended this as a proposal of marriage to Attila, that is how the Hun King interpreted it. He claimed half the Western Roman Empire as dowry. To add to the failing relations, a dispute between Attila and Aetius about the rightful heir as king of the Salian Franks also occurred. Finally, the repeated raids on the Eastern Roman Empire had left it with little to plunder.

In 451, Attila's forces entered Gaul, with his army recruiting from the Franks, Goths and Burgundian tribes they passed en route. Once in Gaul, the Huns first attacked Metz, then his armies continued westwards, passed both Paris and Troyes to lay siege to Orleans.

Aetius was given the duty of relieving Orleans by Emperor Valentinian III. Bolstered by Frankish and Visigothic troops (under King Theodoric), Aetius' own Roman army met the Huns at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains. Although inconclusive, the battle thwarted Attila's invasion of Gaul, and forced his retreat back to Hunnic lands.

The following year, Attila renewed his claims to Honoria and territory in the Western Roman Empire. Leading his horde across the Alps and into Northern Italy, he sacked and razed the cities of Aquileia, Vicetia, Verona, Brixia, Bergomum, and Milan. Finally, at the very gates of Rome, he turned his army back. The reason for this is still a mystery. It might have been due to an epidemic in Hun ranks, or perhaps a renewed threat from the Eastern Roman Empire. Whatever the cause, Attila retreated back to Hunnic lands without Honoria or her dowry.

From the Carpathian Basin, Attila mobilised to attack Constantinople, in retaliation for the new Eastern Roman Emperor Marcian halting tribute payments. Before this planned attack he married a German girl named Ildiko. In 453, he died of a nosebleed on his wedding night.

After Attila

Attila was succeeded by his eldest son, Ellak. However, Attila's other sons, Dengizich and Ernakh challenged Ellak for the throne. Taking advantage of the siutation, subjugated tribes rose up in rebellions. The Huns were defeated in the Battle of Nedao. In 469, Dengizik, the last Hunnic King and successor of Ellak, died. This date is seen as the end of the Hunnic Empire. It is believed that some of Attila's Huns in South-East Europe continued ruling over lands there, forming the Bulgarian Empire, which stretched over the Balkans, Pannonia and Scythia.

Rouran Empire

Rouran (literally Soft-like), Juan Juan (literally meaning the Wriggling Insects, a name given by the Toba ruling elites of northern China), or Ruru (literally meaning Fodder) was the name of a confederation of nomadic tribes on the northern borders of China Proper from the late 4th century until the late 6th century. Because one of their member tribes, the Hua (who they placed at the head of the Uyghurs in 460) later appeared in Europe as the Eurasian Avars, the gross oversimplification that they were synonymous with the Avars has become widespread. The term Rouran is a Mandarin Chinese transcription of the pronunciation of the name the confederacy used to refer to itself. Ruanruan and Ruru remained in modern usage despite once being derogatory. They derived from orders given by the Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, who waged war against the Rouran and intended to intimidate the confederacy.

Origin and expansion

The Rouran were a proto-Mongolic peoples who were first noted as having defeated the Gaoche and establishing an empire extending all the way to the Hulun, at the eastern Inner Mongolia. To the west of the Rouran was a horde known in the west as the Hephthalites who originally, until the 5th century, were a vassal horde of the Rouran. The Rouran controlled the area of Mongolia from the Manchurian border to Turpan and, perhaps, the east coast of Lake Balkhash, and from the Orkhon River to the China Proper. Their ancestor Mugulu is said to have been originally a slave of the Toba tribes, situated at the north banks of Yellow River Blend. Mugulu's descendant Shelun is said to be the first chieftain who was able to unify the Rouran tribes and to found the power of the Rouran by defeating the Gaoche and Xianbei. Shelun was also the first of the steppe peoples to adopt the title of khagan (可汗) in 402, which had originally referred to some nobles of the Xianbei tribes.

The Rouran and the Hephthalites had a falling out and problems within their confederation were encouraged by Chinese agents. In 508, the Gaoche, then opereating under the name Tiele, defeated the Rouran in battle. In 516, the Rouran defeated the Tiele. Within the Rouran confederation was a Turkic tribe noted in Chinese annals as the Tujue. After a marriage proposal to the Rouran was rebuffed, the Tujue joined with the Western Wei, successor state to the Northern Wei, and revolted against the Rouran. In 555, they beheaded 3,000 Rourans. Common European history books claim that the Juan Juan then fled west across the steppes, though this is probably a mistake. The remainder of the Rourans fled into China, were absorbed into the border guards, and disappeared forever as an entity. The last Rouran khagan fled to the court of Western Wei, but at the demand of Tujue, Western Wei executed him and the nobles that accompanied him.

Little is known of the Rouran ruling elite, which the Book of Wei cited as an offshoot of the Xianbei. The Rouran subdued modern regions of Xinjiang, Mongolia, Central Asia and parts of Siberia and Manchuria from the late 4th century. Their frequent interventions and invasions profoundly affected neighboring countries. Though they admitted the Ashina of Göktürks into their federation, the power of the Rouran was broken by an alliance of Göktürks, the Chinese Northern Qi and Northern Zhou dynasties and tribes in Central Asia in 552. The Northern Wei, for instance, had established the Six Garrisons of Ordos bordering the Rouran, which later became the foci of native peoples uprising against sinicised peoples in the early 6th century.

Göktürk Empire

The Göktürks or Kök-Türks were a Turkic people of ancient North and Central Asia and northwestern China. Known in medieval Chinese sources as Tujue (突厥 Tū jué), the Göktürks under the leadership of Bumin/Tuman Khan/Khaghan (d. 552) and his sons, established the first known Turkic state around 552 in the general area of territory that had earlier been occupied by the Huns, and expanded rapidly to rule wide territories in Central Asia. The Göktürks originated from the Ashina tribe, an Altaic people who lived in the northern corner of the area presently called the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of China. They were the first Turkic tribe to use the name "Türk" as a political name.

First unified empire

The Turks' rise to power began in 546 when Tumen made a pre-emptive strike against the Tiele tribes who were planning a revolt against their overlords, the Rouran. For this service he expected to be rewared with a Rouran princess, i.e. marry into the royal family. But there was to be no princess. Enraged, Tumem allied with the Wei state against Rouran, their common enemy. In 552, Tuman defeated the last Rouran Khan, Yujiulü Anagui. He was formally recognized by China, and married the Wei princess Changle. Thus proving himself both in battle and diplomacy he declared himself Il-Qaghan (great king of kings) of the new Göktürk empire at Otukan, the old Xiongnu capital. He died one year later; the Göktürk state was really built by his son Mukhan. Tuman's brother Istämi (d. 576) was titled yabghu of the west and collaborated with the Persian Sassanids to defeat and destroy the White Huns, who were allies of the Rouran. This war drove the Avars into Europe. Istämi initiated diplomatic contact with the Byzantine Empire, and together they built an alliance against the Persians. Both rival states in north China paid large tributes to the Göktürks from 581.Finally Turks coming down the steppes to anatolia


The Göktürk Empire continued extremely close ties with the Korean state of Goguryeo in Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. Giving gifts, providing military support, and free trade were some of the benefits of this close mutual alliance. The most significant incident is of the Goguryeo-Sui and Goguryeo-Tang wars, where the Sui and later Tang dynasties of China invaded Goguryeo. The Sui dynasty was annihilated in their invasion by defending Goguryeo troops. The Tang Dynasty was able to overcome Goguryeo with the help of another neighboring Korean state, Shilla, and mark its fall. In this war, the Göktürks opened a second front on the western Chinese border to help ease Goguryeo's plight.

Civil war

This first Göktürk Empire split in two after the death of the fourth Qaghan, Taspar Khan (ca. 584). He had willed the title Qaghan to Mukhan's son Talopien, but the high council appointed Ishbara. Factions formed around both leaders. Soon, four rival khans claimed the title Qaghan. They were successfully played off against each other by Sui and Tang Dynasty China. The most serious contender was the Western Khan, Istämi's son Tardu, a violent and ambitious man who had already declared himself independent of the Qaghan after his father's death. He now titled himself as Qaghan (Khagan) the supreme ruler, and lead an army to the east to claim Otukan. Ishbara, Khan of the Eastern Khanate fearing defeat became formally subordinate to the Chinese Emperor Yangdi for protection. Tardu attacked Changan the Sui capital around 600 as a warning to Emperor Yangdi to end his interference in the civil war. However, Chinese diplomacy incited a revolt of Tardu's Tiele vassal tribes, and Tardu's reign was cut short in 603. Among the dissident tribes were the Uyghur and Syr-Tardush.

Dual empires

The civil war left the empire divided into an east and west. The east retained the name Göktürk as vassals of the Sui Empire, and the newly independent Western Turkic Khaganate was called Onoq (ten arrows). Khan Hsien of the East attacked China at its weakest moment during the transition between Sui and Tang dynasties. He was brought down by a revolt of his Tiele vassal tribes (626-630), allied with Emperor Taizong of Tang. This tribal alliance is recorded as the Huihe (Uyghur). The Khan was taken prisoner and his empire was zoned into protectorates by the Tang dynasty. The Western Khan Tung Sche-hu was murdered in 630 by Persian diplomacy, despite strong support by the Byzantine Empire against the Persians. The Onoq were divided into east and west factions called Tulu and Nushipi respectively. They were conquered by the Tang general Su Ding Fang in 657. By 659 the Tang Emperor of China could claim to rule the entire Silk Road as far as Po-sse (Persia). The Turks now carried Chinese titles and fought by their side in their wars.

Inter-imperial era

The era spanning from 659-681 was characterized by numerous independent rulers weak divided and engaged in constant petty wars. In the east, the Uyghurs defeated their one time allies the Tardush, while in the west, the Turgish emerged as successors to the Onoq.

Second empire

Nonetheless, Ilteriş Şad (Idat) and his brother Bäkçor Qapağan Khan (Mo-ch'o) managed to refound the Khanate which in a series of wars from 681 onward gained control of the steppes beyond the Great Wall of China, extending by 705 to threaten Arab control of Transoxiana. Their power centered at the Khangai Mountains (then: Ötükän). The son of Ilteriş, Bilge, was also a strong leader, but at his death in 734, the empire declined. They ultimately fell to a series of internal crises and renewed Chinese campaigns. After Kutluk (Ko-lo) Khan's military victory in 744, the successors to the Göktürks became their more China-friendly junior partners, known as the Uyghurs.

Uyghur Empire

The Uyghur Empire existed for about a century between the mid 8th and 9th centuries. They were a tribal confederation under the Uyghur nobility, referred to by the Chinese as the Nine Clans (Chiu Hsing).

The Rise of Uyghur Mongolia

A rebellion in 742 against the ruling Göktürk Qaghanate by the Uyghur, Qarluq and Basmyl tribes left an immense power vacuum in Mongolia and Central Asia. The Basmyls captured the Gokturk capital Ötügen and their king Özmish Khan in 744, effectively taking charge of the region. However a Uyghur-Qarluq alliance against the Basmyls was formed later the same year. The coalition marched on and severely defeated the Basmyls, beheading its king. The Basmyl tribe were effectively destroyed, with their people being sold to the Chinese or distributed amongst the victors. The Uyghurs took control of Mongolia, with the Qarluq tribes given lands further West. The Urghur chief Qutlugh bilge köl had himself crowned as the supreme ruler (Qaghan) of all Altaic tribes and built his capital at Ordu Baliq.

In 747, Qutlugh bilge köl died, leaving his youngest son, Bayanchur Khan to reign as Qaghan El etmish bilge. After building a number of trading outposts with the Chinese, Bayanchur Khan used the rise in income to build the capital Ordu Baliq and another city, further upstream of the Selenga River. The new Qaghan then embarked on a series of campaigns to bring all the steppe peoples under his banner. During this time the Empire vastly expanded, with Sekiz Oghuz, Qïrghïz, Qarluqs, Türgish, Toquz Tatars, Chiks and the remnants of the Basmïls coming under Uyghur rule. It was also during this time that Tang China started a process of withdrawal from Central Asia. Bayanchur Khan acted quickly and took over the fertile Tarim Basin.

The Chinese defeat at the Battle of Talas combined with a series of rebellions, the largest being of An Lushan, forced the Chinese emperor to turn to Bayan Chor for assistance. Seeing this as an ideal opportunity to meddle in Chinese affairs, the Qaghan agreed, quelling several rebellions and defeating an invading Tibetan army from the south. As a result, the Uyghurs received tribute from the Chinese and Bayanchur Khan was given the daughter of the Chinese Emperor to marry.

In 756, the Uyghurs turned their attentions to a rival steppe tribe, the Kyrgyz to the north. With a massive army, Bayanchur Khan destroyed several of their trading outposts before slaughtering a Kyrghiz army and executing their Khan.

Finally, in 759, after heavily drinking at a celebration, Bayanchur Khan died. His son Tengri Bögü succeeded him as Qaghan Qutlugh tarqan sengün.

Golden Age

In 762, in alliance with the Tang, Tengri Bögü launched a campaign against the Tibetans. He re-captured the western capital of the Tang, Luoyang. It was during this time that the Qaghan met with some Manichaean priests from Iran. After this encounter, he converted to Manicheism, adopting it as the official religion of the Uyghur Empire.

The uncle of the Qaghan, Tun Bagha Tarkhan led a rebellion against his ruler, beheading him and his closest followers in 779. He ascended the throne as Alp qutlugh bilge and enforced a new set of laws, which he designed to secure the unity of the qaghanate. He also moved against the Kyrgyz once more, finally bringing them under Uyghur control.


In 795 the Qaghan Qutlugh bilge died and the Yaghlakar (Yao-lo-ko) dynasty came to an end. The Uyghur empire started to fragment before a new ruler, a general named Qutlugh declared himself as the new Qaghan under the name Ai tengride ülüg bulmïsh alp qutlugh ulugh bilge, founding a new dynasty, the Ediz (A-tieh). With solid leadership once more, the Qaghanate averted collapse. Qutlugh became renowned for his leadership and management of the Empire. Although, he consolidated the empire, he failed to restore it to its previous power. On his death in 808, the empire began to fragment once again. He was succeeded by his son, who went on to improve trade in inner Asia. The last great Qaghan of the Empire was Kün tengride ülüg bulmïsh alp küchlüg bilge, whose achievements included improved trade, up to the region of Sogdiana and on the battlefield, he repulsed a force of invading Tibetans. This qaghan died in 824 and was succeeded by a brother, Qasar, who was murdered in 832, inaugurating a period of anarchy. In 839 the legitimate qaghan was forced to commit suicide, and a usurping minister named Kürebir seized the throne. In the same year there was a famine that killed much of the livestock the Uyghur economy was based on.


The following spring, in 840, the Kyrgyz tribe invaded from the north with a force of around 80,000 horsemen. They sacked the Urghur capital at Ordu Baliq, razing it to the ground. The Kyrgyz captured the Uyghur Qaghan, Kürebir (Hesa) and promptly beheaded him. The Kyrgyz went on to destroy other Uyghur cities throughout their empire, burning them to the ground. The last legitimate Qaghan, Öge, was assassinated in 847, having spent his 6-year reign in fighting the Kyrgyz and the supporters of his rival Ormïzt, a brother of Kürebir. The Kyrgyz invasion destroyed the Uyghur Empire, causing a diaspora of Uyghur people across central Asia.

After the Empire

The three kingdoms of Gansu, Qarakhanid and Turfan, were formed up Uyghurs who fled (southwest, west and further west respectively) from the Kyrgyz, several years after the fall of the empire. Neither state became as powerful as the Uyghur Empire but did hold artistic, scientific and commercial achievements to their name. The Uyghurs became important civil servants in the later Mongol Empire, which completely adopted a Uyghur dialect as its official language.

Mongol Empire

The Mongol Empire (Mongolian: Их Монгол Улс, meaning "Greater Mongol Nation"; 1206–1405) was the largest contiguous land empire in history, covering over 33 million km² at its peak, with an estimated population of over 100 million people. The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan in 1206, and at its height, it encompassed the majority of the territories from southeast Asia to eastern Europe.

After unifying the MongolTurkic tribes, the Empire expanded through numerous conquests throughout continental Eurasia starting with the conquests of Western Xia in north China and Khwarezmid Empire in Iran. Modern estimates suggest that as many as 30 million people died during the Mongol conquests.

During its existence, the Pax Mongolica facilitated cultural exchange and trade between the East, West, and the Middle East in the period of the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Mongol Empire was ruled by the Khagan. After the death of Möngke Khan, it split into four parts (Yuan Dynasty, Il-Khans, Chagatai Khanate and Golden Horde), each of which was ruled by its own Khan.

Genghis Khan and the formation of the Mongol empire

Genghis Khan, through political manipulation and military might, united the nomadic, previously ever-rivalling Mongol-Turkic tribes under his rule by 1206. He quickly came into conflict with the Jin Dynasty empire of the Jurchen and the Western Xia in northern China. Under the provocation of the Muslim Khwarezmid Empire, he moved into Central Asia as well, devastating Transoxiana and eastern Persia, then raiding into Kievan Rus' (a predecessor state of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) and the Caucasus. While engaged in a final war against the Western Xia, Genghis fell ill and died. Before dying, Genghis Khan divided his empire among his sons and immediate family, but as custom made clear, it remained the joint property of the entire imperial family who, along with the Mongol aristocracy, constituted the ruling class.

Major events in the Early Mongol Empire

  • 1206: By this year, Temüjin from the Orkhon Valley dominated Mongolia and received the title Genghis Khan, thought to mean Oceanic Ruler or Firm, Resolute Ruler
  • 1207: The Mongols began operations against the Western Xia, which comprised much of northwestern China and parts of Tibet. This campaign lasted until 1210 with the Western Xia ruler submitting to Genghis Khan. During this period, the Uyghur Turks also submitted peacefully to the Mongols and became valued administrators throughout the empire.
  • 1211: After a great quriltai or meeting, Genghis Khan led his armies against the Jin Dynasty that ruled northern China.
  • 1218: The Mongols capture Semirechye and the Tarim Basin, occupying Kashgar.
  • 1218: The execution of Mongol envoys by the Khwarezmian Shah Muhammad sets in motion the first Mongol westward thrust.
  • 1219: The Mongols cross the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) and begin their invasion of Transoxiana.
  • 1219–1221: While the campaign in northern China was still in progress, the Mongols waged a war in central Asia and destroyed the Khwarezmid Empire. One notable feature was that the campaign was launched from several directions at once. In addition, it was notable for special units assigned by Ghenghis Khan personally to find and kill Ala al-Din Muhammad II, the Khwarazmshah who fled from them, and ultimately ended up hiding on an island in the Caspian Sea.
  • 1223: The Mongols gain a decisive victory at the Battle of the Kalka River, the first engagement between the Mongols and the East Slavic warriors.
  • 1226: Invasion of the Western Xia, being the second battle with the Western Xia.
  • 1237: Under the leadership of Batu Khan, the Mongols return to the West and begin their campaign to subjugate Kievan Rus'.

After Genghis Khan

At first, the Mongol Empire was ruled by Ögedei Khan, Genghis Khan's third son and designated heir, but after his death in 1241, the fractures which would ultimately crack the Empire began to show. Enmity between the grandchildren of Genghis Khan resulted in a five year regency by Ögedei's widow until she finally got her son Guyuk Khan confirmed as Great Khan. But he only ruled two years, and following his death --he was on his way to confront his cousin Batu Khan, who had never accepted his authority-- another regency followed, until finally a period of stability came with the reign of Monke Khan, from 1251-1259. The last universally accepted Great Khan was his brother Kublai Khan, from 1260-1294. Despite his recognition as Great Khan, he was unable to keep his brother Hulagu and their cousin Berke from open warfare in 1263, and after Kublai's death, there was not an accepted Great Khan, so the Mongol Empire was fragmented for good.

The following Khanates emerged since the regency following Ögedei Khan's death, up to the reign of Kublai Khan, and became formally independent after his death with Great Khan overseeing them and has ultimate reign over as a single entity until after death of Khublai Khan. Genghis Khan divided the empire into four Khanates, sub-rules, but as a single empire under the Great Khan (Khan of Khans).

The empire's expansion continued for a generation or more after Genghis's death in 1227. Under Genghis's successor Ögedei Khan, the speed of expansion reached its peak. Mongol armies pushed into Persia, finished off the Xia and the remnants of the Khwarezmids, and came into conflict with the Song Dynasty of China, starting a war that would last until 1279 concluding with the Mongols' successful conquest of populous China, which constituted then the majority of the world's economic production.

Then, in the late 1230s, the Mongols under Batu Khan invaded Russia and Volga Bulgaria, reducing most of its principalities to vassalage, and pressed on into Eastern Europe. In 1241 the Mongols defeated the Polish-German and Hungarian armies at the Battle of Legnica and the Battle of Mohi. Batu Khan and Subutai were preparing an invasion plan for western Europe. However news of Ögedei's death prevented any invasion as Batu had to turn his attentions to the election of the next great Khan.

During the 1250s, Genghis's grandson Hulegu Khan, operating from the Mongol base in Persia, destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad and destroyed the cult of the Assassins, moving into Israel towards Egypt. The Great Khan Möngke having died, however, he hastened to return for the election, and the force that remained in the Israel was destroyed by the Mamluks under Baibars in 1261 at Ayn Jalut.


When Genghis Khan died, a major potential weakness of the system he had set up manifested itself. It took many months to summon the kurultai, as many of its most important members were leading military campaigns thousands of miles from the Mongol heartland. And then it took months more for the kurultai to come to the decision that had been almost inevitable from the start — that Genghis's choice as successor, his third son Ögedei, should become Great Khan. Ögedei was a rather passive ruler and personally self-indulgent, but he was intelligent, charming and a good decision-maker whose authority was respected throughout his reign by apparently stronger-willed relatives and generals whom he had inherited from Genghis.

On Ögedei's death in 1241, however, the system started falling apart. Pending a kurultai to elect Ögedei's successor, his widow Toregene Khatun assumed power and proceeded to ensure the election of her son Guyuk by the kurultai. Batu was unwilling to accept Guyuk as Great Khan, but lacked the influence in the kurultai to procure his own election. Therefore, while moving no further west, he simultaneously insisted that the situation in Europe was too precarious for him to come east and that he could not accept the result of any kurultai held in his absence. The resulting stalemate lasted four years. In 1246 Batu eventually agreed to send a representative to the kurultai but never acknowledged the resulting election of Guyuk as Great Khan.

Guyuk died in 1248, only two years after his election, on his way west, apparently to force Batu to acknowledge his authority, and his widow Oghul Ghaymish assumed the regency pending the meeting of the kurultai; unfortunately for her, she could not keep the power. Batu remained in the west but this time gave his support to his and Guyuk's cousin, Möngke, who was duly elected Great Khan in 1251.

Möngke Khan unwittingly provided his brother Kublai, or Qubilai, with a chance to become Khan in 1260, assigning Kublai to a province in North China. Kublai expanded the Mongol empire and became a favorite of Möngke. Kublai's conquest of China is estimated by Holworth, based on census figures, to have killed over 18 million people.

Later, though, when Kublai began to adopt many Chinese laws and customs, his brother was persuaded by his advisors that Kublai was becoming too Chinese and would become treasonous. Möngke kept a closer watch on Kublai from then on but died campaigning in the west. After his older brother's death, Kublai placed himself in the running for a new khan against his younger brother, and, although his younger brother won the election, Kublai defeated him in battle, and Kublai became the last true Great Khan.

He proved to be a strong warrior, but his critics still accused him of being too closely tied to Chinese culture. When he moved his headquarters to Beijing, there was an uprising in the old capital that he barely staunched. He focused mostly on foreign alliances, and opened trade routes. He dined with a large court every day, and met with many ambassadors, foreign merchants, and even offered to convert to Christianity if this religion was proved to be correct by 100 priests.

By the reign of Kublai Khan, the empire was already in the process of splitting into a number of smaller khanates. After Kublai died in 1294, his heirs failed to maintain the Pax Mongolica and the Silk Road closed. Inter-family rivalry compounded by the complicated politics of succession, which twice paralyzed military operations as far off as Hungary and the borders of Egypt (crippling their chances of success), and the tendencies of some of the khans to drink themselves to death fairly young (causing the aforementioned succession crises), hastened the disintegration of the empire.

Another factor which contributed to the disintegration was the decline of morale when the capital was moved from Karakorum to modern day Beijing by Kublai Khan, because Kublai Khan associated more with Chinese culture. Kublai concentrated on the war with the Song Dynasty, assuming the mantle of ruler of China, while the more Western khanates gradually drifted away.

The four descendant empires were the Mongol-founded Yuan Dynasty in China, the Chagatai Khanate, the Golden Horde that controlled Central Asia and Russia, and the Ilkhans who ruled Persia from 1256 to 1353. Of the latter, their ruler Ilkhan Ghazan was converted to Islam in 1295 and actively supported the expansion of this religion in his empire.

Timurid Empire

The Timurids (- Tīmūrīyān), self-designated Gurkānī , were a Muslim dynasty of originally Mongolian descent, established by the Central Asian warlord Timur. At its zenith, the Timurid Empire included the whole of Central Asia, Iran and modern Afghanistan, as well as large parts of Mesopotamia and Caucasus.

In the 16th century, Timurid prince Zahir ud-Din Babur, the ruler of Ferghana, invaded India and founded the Mughal Empire - the Timurids of India - who ruled most of the Indian subcontinent for several centuries until the British conquest of India. The Mughal empire is not considered a classic horse archer empire but rather an empire founded by people previously from the horse archer civilization, much like the Parthian empire. A case could be made for saying the same thing about the Timurid Empire.


Timur conquered large parts of Transoxiana (in modern day Central Asia) and Khorasan (in modern day Iran and Afghanistan) from 1363 onwards with various alliances (Samarqand in 1366, and Balkh in 1369), and was recognized as ruler over them in 1370. Acting officially in the name of the Mongolian Chagatai ulus, he subjugated Transoxania and Khwarazm in the years that followed and began a campaign westwards in 1380. By 1389 he had removed the Kartids from Herat and advanced into mainland Persia from 1382 (capture of Isfahan in 1387, removal of the Muzaffarids from Shiraz in 1393, and expulsion of the Jalayirids from Baghdad). In 1394/95 he triumphed over the Golden Horde and enforced his sovereignty in the Caucasus, in 1398 subjugated what is today Pakistan and northern India and occupied Delhi, in 1400/01 conquered Aleppo, Damascus and eastern Anatolia, in 1401 destroyed Baghdad and in 1402 triumphed over the Ottomans at Ankara. In addition, he transformed Samarqand into the Center of the World.

After the end of the Timurid Empire in 1506, the Mughal Empire was later established in India by Babur in 1526, who was a descendant of Timur through his father and possibly a descendant of Genghis Khan through his mother. The dynasty he established is commonly known as the Mughal Dynasty. By the 17th century, the Mughal Empire ruled most of India, but later declined during the 18th century. The Timurid Dynasty came to an end in 1857 after the Mughal Empire was dissolved by the British Empire and Bahadur Shah II was exiled to Burma.

The Timurids made Herat and Samarqand their capitals. It is believed that the period of Timurids resembles to a Renaissance Age for Khorasan.


Dzungar (also Jungar or Zungar; Mongolian: Зүүнгар Züüngar) is the collective identity of several Oirat (West Mongolian) tribes that formed and maintained the last horse archer empire from the early 17th century to the middle 18th century.


The Dzungars were a confederation of several Oirat (or West Mongolian) tribes that emerged suddenly in the early 17th century to fight the Altan Khan of the Khalkha, the Jasaghtu Khan and their Manchu patrons for dominion and control over the Mongolian people and territories. This confederation rose to power in the Altai Mountains and the Ili River Valley. Initially, the confederation consisted of the Olöt, Derbet and Khoit tribes. Later on, elements of the Khoshot and Torghut tribes were forcibly incorporated into the Dzungar military, thus completing the re-unification of the West Mongolian tribes.

According to oral history, the Olöt and Derbet tribes are the successor tribes to the Naiman, a Turco-Mongol tribe that roamed the steppes of Central Asia during the era of Chingis Khan. The Olöt shared the clan name Choros with the Dörbed and their ancestral legend resembles that of the Uyghur royal family.


After the death of Esen Tayishi in 1454, the political and military unity the Oirat (or West Mongolian) tribes achieved as the Dörben Oirat quickly dissolved. The tribes separated in accordance to traditional tribal divisions, e.g., Olöt, Derbet, Torghut, Khoshot, Khoit, etc. For the next 150 years, the Oirats were not able to form a cohesive political and military entity to combat their enemies and to decide internal disputes.

At the beginning of the 17th century, a young leader named Khara Khula emerged to unite the Oirats to fight Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji, the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha. He was a direct descendant of Esen Tayishi and, like Esen, was also the Tayishi of the Olöt tribe. Khara Kula united the Olöt, Derbet and Khoit tribes, thus forming the Dzungar nation. As the leader of three tribes, Khara Khula could only assumed the title Khong Taiji (Supreme Chief). During this era, only the leader of the Khoshot tribe could claim the title of Khan.

Early in his reign in 1606, Khara Khula united the Oirats to fight the Altan Khanate of Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji who years earlier expelled the Oirats from their home in the Kobdo region in present-day northwest Mongolia. By 1609, Khara Khula won a decisive victory over the Altan Khanate, forcing Sholui Ubashi Khong Tayiji to withdraw his East Mongol forces from Oirat territory. But the unity dissolved after the victory, as the Oirat Tayishis resumed their traditional ways, favoring complete freedom of action.

The Oirats were under the dominion of Jasaghtu Khan of the Khalkha. Khara Khula seems to have resisted against the Khalkha. In 1623 the Oirat confederation killed Ubashi Khong Tayiji, the first Altan Khan of the Khalkha and gained independence.

In 1636 his son, Erdeni Baatur, joined the Oirat expeditionary force to Tibet, which was led by Güshi Khan of the Khoshot tribe, and assumed the title Khong Tayiji. After he returned to Dzungaria, the Dzungars rapidly gained strength. He made three expeditions against the Kazakhs.

In 1653 his son Sengge succeeded the Dzungars chief, but an internal strife with his half brother Chechen Tayiji involved the Khoshuud. With the support of Ochirtu Khan of the Khoshuud, this strife ended with Sengge's victory in 1661. In 1667 he captured Erinchin Lobsang Tayiji, the third and last Altan Khan. He was killed by Chechen Tayiji in a coup in 1670.

Sengge's younger brother Galdan immediately returned to lay life and took revenge on Chechen. As a Buddhist priest, Galdan had been to Tibet at the age of thirteen and had trained under the fourth Panchen Lama and then the fifth Dalai Lama. In 1671 The Dalai Lama bestowed the title of Khan on him. He came into conflict with Ochirtu Khan. The victory over Ochirtu in 1677 resulted in the establishment of hegemony over the Oirats. In the next year the Dalai Lama gave the highest title of Boshughtu Khan to Galdan.

References and notes


  • Amitai, Reuven; Biran, Michal (editors). Mongols, Turks, and others: Eurasian nomads and the sedentary world (Brill's Inner Asian Library, 11). Leiden: Brill, 2005 (ISBN 90-04-14096-4).
  • Barthold, W. Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion, T. Minorsky, (tr.), New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1992.
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. Northern frontier: The policies and strategies of the Later Han empire. Asian Studies Monographs, New Series No. 4, Faculty of Asian Studies. Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-86784-410-8. See for chapter 1 The Government and Geography of the Northern Frontier of Later Han. (Internet publication April 2004. This version includes a general map and some summary annotations but no characters or detailed notes).
  • de Crespigny, Rafe. The Division and Destruction of the Xiongnu Confederacy in the first and second centuries AD, [Turkish: "Hun Konfederasyonu'nun Blnmesi ve Yikilmasi"], being a paper published in The Turks [Yeni TrkiyeMedya Hismetleri-Murat Ocak], Ankara 2002, 256-243 & 749-757. (Internet publication April 2004. This version includes a map and notes but no characters).
  • Drews, Robert. Early riders: The beginnings of mounted warfare in Asia and Europe. N.Y.: Routledge, 2004 (ISBN 0-415-32624-9).
  • Fletcher, Joseph F., Studies on Chinese and Islamic Inner Asia, Beatrice Forbes Manz, (ed.), Aldershot, Hampshire: Variorum, 1995, IX.
  • Golden, Peter B.. Nomads and their neighbours in the Russian Steppe: Turks, Khazars and Qipchaqs (Variorum Collected Studies). Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003 (ISBN 0-86078-885-7).
  • Grousset, Rene. The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia, Naomi Walford, (tr.), New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1970.
  • Hildinger, Erik. Warriors of the steppe: A military history of Central Asia, 500 B.C. to A.D. 1700. New York: Sarpedon Publishers, 1997 (hardcover, ISBN 1-885119-43-7); Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 0-306-81065-4).
  • Krader, Lawrence, "Ecology of Central Asian Pastoralism", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 11, No. 4, (1955), pp. 301-326.
  • Kradin, Nikolay. Nomadic Empires in Evolutionary Perspective. In Alternatives of Social Evolution. Ed. by N.N. Kradin, A.V. Korotayev, Dmitri Bondarenko, V. de Munck, and P.K. Wason (p. 274-288). Vladivostok: Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, 2000; reprinted in: The Early State, its Alternatives and Analogues. Ed. by Leonid Grinin et al. (р. 501-524). Volgograd: Uchitel', 2004.
  • Kradin, Nikolay. Nomadism, Evolution, and World-Systems: Pastoral Societies in Theories of Historical Development. Journal of World-System Research 8 (2002): 368-388
  • Kradin, Nikolay. Nomadic Empires: Origins, Rise, Decline. In Nomadic Pathways in Social Evolution. Ed. by N.N. Kradin, Dmitri Bondarenko, and T. Barfield (p. 73-87). Moscow: Center for Civilizational Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2003.
  • Kradin, Nikolay. Cultural Complexity of Pastoral Nomads. World Cultures 15 (2006): 171-189
  • Kradin, Nikolay, Tatiana Skrynnikova. "Why do we call Chinggis Khan's Polity 'an Empire' ". Ab Imperio, Vol. 7, No 1 (2006): 89-118 (ISBN 5-89423-110-8)
  • Lattimore, Owen, "The Geographical Factor in Mongol History", in Owen Lattimore, (ed.), Studies in Frontier History: Collected Papers 1928-1958, London: Oxford University Press, 1962, pp. 241-258.
  • Littauer, Mary A.; Crouwel, Joost H.; Raulwing, Peter (Editor). Selected writings on chariots and other early vehicles, riding and harness (Culture and history of the ancient Near East, 6). Leiden: Brill, 2002 (ISBN 90-04-11799-7).
  • Perdue, Peter C. China Marches West: The Qing Conquest of Central Eurasia. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005.
  • Shippey, Thomas "Tom" A. Goths and Huns: The rediscovery of Northern culture in the nineteenth century, in The Medieval legacy: A symposium. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 1981 (ISBN 87-7492-393-5), pp. 51–69.
  • Sinor, Denis, "The Inner Asian Warrior", in Denis Sinor, (Collected Studies Series), Studies in Medieval Inner Asia, Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, Variorum, 1997, XIII.
  • Sinor, Denis, "Horse and Pasture in Inner Asian History", in Denis Sinor, (Collected Studies Series), Inner Asia and its Contacts with Medieval Europe, London: Variorum, 1977, II.

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