4. CULTURAL & HISTORICAL HERITAGES

MONGOLIAN HISTORY: THE UYGHUR KHAGANATE (MID-8TH TO MID 9TH CENTURIES)

In 741, the Uyghur tribe from the Orhon and Selenge River valleys, who had been part if the Turkic Khanate confederation, took over. Also Turks, they set up their capital at Har Balgas or Ordu Baliq further up the Orhon Valley. They brought a period of peace by actively allying themselves with the Chinese Tang Dynasty and contributed further to the region’s cultural development by refining the Turko-Sogdian alphabet.



They translated numerous Chinese texts and also created the first indigenous Mongolian literature. (The Uyghur script was later adopted by Genghis Khan’s Empire and survives today as Old Mongolian.) While Buddhism had already made strong inroads, Manichaeism  a third century Gnostic religion positing that Man is both good and evil- became the official state religion, introducing a strong Persian element into the culture. The Uyghurs also staged a campaign of lopping the heads off stone statues left behind by the Turks.

The Uyghur Khaganate controlled roughly the territory as today’s Mongolia. But during this same period, burgeoning Tibetan Empire, which already controlled much if southeastern China, was pushing northwards and threatening China’s western flank, including control of the Silk Road, its riches crucial to both the Chinese and Uyghurs who had jointly established trading post along the route.

In an ironic turn of history – in view of Mongolia’s later extremely close religious and political links with the mountain kingdom – Uyghurs agreed early on to help the Chinese defeat and Tibetans. They also put down several rebellions against the nascent Tang Dynasty inside China. In return, the Chinese paid to the uyghurs, including the gift of a princess to the ruling khan.

Emboldened, the Uyghurs then launched a vicious military campaign against a rival steppe tribe in the Yenisei River Basin to the northwest, the Kyrgyz. Through the late 700s and early 800s, the Khahanate prospered and built its capital, today 46 kilometers (28, 5 miles) northwest of Harhorin, into a mighty trading centre with a fortress surrounded by walls and a canal. They also continued military campaigns against the Tibetans and Kyrgyz. But in 840, the Kyrgyz wrought their revenge by invading with a force of 80,000 horsemen, sacking and burning down the Uyghur capital and executing the khan. Other cities were also destroyed.

The defeated Uyghurs fled into Central Asia, including today’s Xinjiang region in western China – eventually this area was given the name Turkestan. When Arab armies to the west defeated the Tibetans, Islam became the new religion of the Uyghurs. With their strong commercial and literary expertise, the Uyghurs would later become crucial to the administration of the Mongol Empire, especially because of their written language.

 

Resource: Carl Robinson "Mongolia Nomad Empire of Eternal Blue Sky"