VII. TURKS, 1st Wave:

Toba (or T'o-pa or Tabgatch): They originated in the vicinity of what is now southeastern Mongolia. Starting in 396 AD, they conquered the numerous petty Southern Hsiung-nu states in northern China, finishing the job in 439 AD. They became a conquering dynasty, known as the "Northern Wei," ruling over northern China. They inflicted numerous defeats on the Ju-juan Mongols . After persecuting Buddhists at first, they became especially devout Buddhists. They commissioned several great Buddhist works of art in northern China. But the teachings of Buddhism were a poor fit for a warrior culture; Buddhism weakened the battle-ready character of the Toba. The Toba gradually became as soft as the settled Chinese over whom they ruled. They split into Eastern and Western Wei in 534 AD. In alliance with the Gök Turks , the Western Wei inflicted a final, devastating defeat on the Ju-juan in 552 AD. Within a few years of their split, the now fully softened Turkic Toba overlords of the Western and Eastern Wei were supplanted by the indigenous Chinese administrators whom they had employed to help run their states.

Gok Turks
Gök Turks

Gök (or Blue or Heavenly or Celestial) Turks: They emerged from the steppe north of China. The story they told about their own origin claimed that they were descended from a she-wolf. They were originally subordinate to the Ju-juan . Apparently, they mined iron ore and manufactured iron implements for the Ju-juan. The Gök Turks were one of the very few horse nomad tribes who developed the ability to write their own language. They carved the written story of their people on large outdoor rocks in the valley of the Orkhon River in what is now Mongolia. These rock inscriptions still exist and provide historians with insights into the early history of the Turks, insights that are lacking for the majority of horse nomad tribes that were illiterate. The original Turkic script was rune-like. Over the ensuing centuries, the Turkic peoples wrote their languages using Arabic or Cyrillic (Russian) or Latin script depending on the place and time.

The first great leader of the Gök Turks was named Bumin in Turkish which transcribes to T'u-men in Chinese. Led by Bumin, the Gök Turks helped the Ju-juan put down a revolt by a minor vassal tribe of the Ju-juan. But Bumin incorporated the defeated rebels into his own tribe instead of turning them over to the Ju-juan. Then Bumin asked the Ju-juan chieftain for the hand of a Ju-juan princess in marriage. The Ju-juan chieftain rejected the request with contemptuous language, calling Bumin his "blacksmith and slave." So, Bumin asked the Turkic Toba Western Wei for a royal bride. The Western Wei were happy to give him one. Led by Bumin, and in alliance with the Western Wei, the Gök Turks severely defeated the Ju-juan and drove them west in 552 AD. The Ju-juan chieftain committed suicide.

The Gök Turks defeated the Khitai and imposed their rule over the Kirghiz during the reign of their chieftain named Muhan, 553-572 AD. The Gök Turks allied themselves with the Sassanid Persians to defeat and drive west the White Huns in 562-565 AD. But then there was a war between the Gök Turks and the Sassanids in 569-571 AD. The cause of the war was a Gök Turk demand that the Sassanids pay the Gök Turks the same tribute they had previously paid to the White Huns. The war ended in a negotiated stalemate. The Gök Turks made a close alliance with the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire based on their common dislike of the Sassanids and their common interest in opening a trade route across southern Russia that would pass to the north of Sassanid control. However, the Gök Turks and the Byzantines subsequently fell out with each other because the Byzantines came to an accommodation with the Avars who were old enemies of the Gök Turks. As a punitive measure, a force of Gök Turks allied themselves with the Utigers to seize the Byzantine city of Bosporus in the Crimea in 576 AD. By 576 AD, the Gök Turks had extended their power to the shores of the Black Sea. They extorted vast wealth from the Eastern and Western Wei as they played off the two states against each other.

Like the Hsiung-Nu before them, for purposes of administrative efficiency in the vastness of the steppes, the Gök Turks divided their empire into mutually cooperating eastern and western halves. The system worked well for the first couple generations of Gök Turk rulers. But in 584 AD, deviously planted Chinese disinformation helped provoke a civil war between the eastern and western halves of the Gök Turk Empire. (Note that by this time, the Chinese had reunified themselves under the leadership of their native-born Sui Dynasty. The Suis had come to power in 581 AD.) The Gök Turks were defeated by the Sassanids in a second war between them in 588-589 AD. The Chinese continued to cleverly manipulate the internal affairs of the Gök Turk Empire, encouraging more complex civil wars. Chinese army units fought as allies of one Gök Turk faction. The Gök Turks made their final split into distinct Eastern and Western Khanates in 603 AD:

Eastern Khanate: They were centered south of Lake Baikal. They were violently subjugated by China in 630 AD. Under the leadership of their chieftain named Kutlugh (or Qutlugh: "The Happy" or "The Fortunate") (also called Elterish), who reigned 682-691 AD, they broke free of Chinese control. Kutlugh defeated the Türgish in 689 AD. He was succeeded by his brother Mo-ch'o, who ruled 691-716 AD. ("Mo-ch'o" is the Chinese form of this chieftain's name by which he is most commonly known. The Turkish form of his name, which is less frequently used, is "Kapghan.") Mo-ch'o was victorious in war against the Chinese, the Kirghiz and the Khitai . He temporarily imposed his authority on what little was left of the Western Gök Turk Khanate by that time , thereby briefly reuniting the Gök Turk nation. After Mo-ch'o's death in a skirmish with a rebellious minor tribe, the Western Khanate rebelled against the Eastern Khanate and went its own way. (Mo-ch'o's head was presented to the Chinese government as a present.) Nonetheless, another generation of strong personal leadership enabled the Eastern Khanate to continue to successfully defend itself against Chinese aggression. The head chieftain of the Eastern Khanate at this time was named Bilgä. Bilgä had a younger brother named Köl tegin who was acknowledged by all to be a man of superior leadership skill and energy. Remarkably and happily, Bilgä had the good sense to grant his younger brother free rein to help manage affairs of state and Köl tegin was always steadfastly loyal to his elder brother. What is more, both brothers benefited from the excellent service provided to them by their sage old advisor named Tonyukuk. These three men formed a superb team. This generation of Eastern Khanate leaders resisted the spread of Buddhism and Taoism among their people, two religions which threatened to dilute their people's warrior spirit. These leaders likewise strove against the corrupting influence of Chinese luxury goods and the temptations of settled living. But then Köl tegin died in 731 AD and Bilgä was murdered by poison in 734 AD. At this point, the Eastern Khanate Turks started to unravel. They were finally destroyed by a rebellion of the vassal Basmil, Uighur, and Karluk tribes in 742-744 AD. The rebels beheaded the reigning Eastern Khanate chieftain and sent his head to the Chinese as a present. (This seems to have been a standard technique of nomad tribes who rebelled against nomad great chiefs and who wanted to curry favor with the Chinese.) In 745 AD, Queen Po-beg (who was the widow of Bilgä) led some survivors of the Eastern Khanate into China where they surrendered. They agreed to serve as frontier troops for China and were assimilated into the Chinese population.

Western Khanate: The Western Khanate renewed the old alliance of the Gök Turks with the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire. Starting in 627 AD, and in concert with the Byzantines, the Western Khanate Turks made several damaging raids into the lands of their common enemy, the Sassanid Persians . After a civil war within the Western Khanate, the Chinese conquered it in 659 AD. The main surviving fragment of the Western Khanate was comprised of the On Ok tribes. These remnants of the Western Khanate were briefly taken over by Mo-ch'o of the Eastern Khanate , thereby reuniting the Gök Turks. After Mo-ch'o's death in a skirmish with a rebellious minor tribe, the Western Khanate rebelled against the Eastern Khanate and went its own way. There was a brief resurgence of the Western Khanate under the leadership of Su-lu (717-738 AD), who was a member of the Türgish tribe. But he was defeated by the Moslem Arab Umayyads and then assassinated. In 766 AD, the remnants of the Western Khanate tribes submitted to the Karluks . Shortly thereafter, the Arabs and Chinese became dominant over different parts of what had been the Western Khanate.

NOTE: The Turkic tribes that were offshoots from the Western Khanate of the Gök Turks were remarkable for what large and powerful nations a few of them became in their own right. In order to reflect the independent historical importance of these derivatives of the Western Khanate, I have promoted four of them from being marked with a black square to being marked with a solid black circle. The tribes thus promoted are the Türgish, the Khazars, the Pechenegs, and the Oghuz.

Türgish: They were a member tribe of the Gök Turk Western Khanate . They lived around the delta of the Ili River, south of Lake Balkhash. They allied themselves with the Chinese against the Eastern Khanate of the Gök Turks led by Kutlugh but Kutlugh defeated them in 689 AD. They were defeated again by Kutlugh's successor, Mo-ch'o in 711 AD. This action was part of Mo-ch'o's above-mentioned brief reunification of the Eastern and Western Gök Turk Khanates. The Türgish, under the leadership of Su-lu (717-738 AD), at first welcomed the arrival of the Moslem Arab Umayyads as potential allies against the Chinese. But the Arabs proved to be as interested in domination as the Chinese and Su-lu soon led revolts against the Arabs. Su-lu at first defeated the Umayyad Arabs in 720 and 723 AD, but the Arabs ultimately defeated him in 737 AD. After the Arabs put down his revolt, Su-lu was assassinated in 738 AD by one of his own subordinate Türgish chieftains.

Uighurs (or Uigurs or Uyghurs): The Uighurs were coerced vassals of the Eastern Khanate Gök Turks . They rebelled against the Eastern Khanate in concert with the Karluk and Basmil tribes in 742-744 AD. The Basmils killed and beheaded the Eastern Khanate chieftain, but the Uighurs emerged as the new dominant power in the region by turning on, and conquering, their former Basmil and Karluk allies. The Uighurs were the dominant tribe of the Tokuz Oghuz tribes, who, in turn, were members of the T'ieh-le tribes. The Uighur realm corresponded roughly with the borders of the modern nation of Mongolia. They gradually adopted a quasi-settled, partially urbanized culture. They willingly served as a border buffer tribe for the Chinese. Later, Uighur armies helped the Chinese emperor crush an internal Chinese revolt in 755-763 AD. Concurrently, the Uighurs extorted wealth from the same Chinese regime they were supporting militarily. An important result of the Uighurs being exposed to Chinese culture during their involvement in Chinese internal affairs was the Uighur ruling elite embracing the Manichean religion. This was an odd choice of a new religion for the leaders of a warrior culture. The teachings of Manicheanism were the antithesis of maintaining a warrior mentality. The Uighur ruling elite became progressively more urbanized and "civilized," thereby divorcing themselves from their nomad people. The Uighur Empire enjoyed a period of great strength under effective leaders but subsequently went into decline due to internal dissension. Intermittent warfare between the Uighurs and the Kirghiz to their north broke out in 820 AD and continued from then on. In 839 AD, the Uighur Empire was stricken by famine, disease, and a harsh winter that killed many of the livestock. A rebel Uighur chieftain invited the Kirghiz to take sides in an internal Uighur power struggle in 840 AD. The Kirghiz destroyed the Uighur Empire that same year, killing the supreme ruler of the Uighurs in the process. Surviving Uighurs rebuilt prosperous commercial relations with China operating from various Silk Road oasis cities in what is now northwestern China. Many generations later, they served as administrative scribes for the Naiman Mongols and Genghis Khan's Mongols . The Uighurs created a written alphabet for the Mongol language based on the Uighur alphabet. Today in northwestern China, there is strife between the modern Uighur minority community and the dominant Chinese.

Karluks (or Qarluks or Qarluqs): They were unwilling subjects of the Eastern Khanate Gök Turks . They joined with the Uighurs and the Basmils in the revolt that overthrew the Eastern Khanate in 742-744 AD. They were subsequently dispossessed of their lands by the Uighurs. They migrated west. The defection of the Karluks to the Islamic Abbasid Arabs helped the Arabs defeat the Chinese at the Battle of Talas in 751 AD. In 766 AD, the Karluks took control of what was left of the territory of the Gök Turkish Western Khanate . The still-pagan Karluks took a beating from the Islamic Samanid Iranians starting in 893 AD. After the fall of the Samanids, the Karluks lasted for some time as a relatively minor but still bellicose tribe that made trouble for the Karakhanids and for the Seljuk Sultanate of Merv .

Sha-t'o: This tribe, after being attacked by the Tibetans, appealed to the Chinese for protection, which was granted, in 808 AD. Thereafter, they gave loyal military service to the Chinese, helping them to suppress internal Chinese revolts. A few of their chieftains even rose to become, very briefly, emperors of China! The Khitai helped establish one Sha-t'o chieftain on the Chinese throne in 936 AD, but they later turned around and deposed the last Sha-t'o emperor of China in 946 AD.


Kirghiz (or Kyrghyz): They were under Gök Turk rule during the late 500s AD. They suffered a defeat at the hands of the resurgent Eastern Khanate Gök Turks led by Mo-ch'o in the 690s AD. They destroyed the empire of the Uighurs in 840 AD. They were defeated by the Khitai Mongols in 924 AD. Today, they have reemerged with a country of their own in the form of the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Their national legendary warrior hero literary epic is the "Manas."

Khazars: They had a state in the Caucasus and around the northern end of the Caspian Sea starting about 600 AD and lasting until 965 AD. They were originally an element of the old Gök Turk Western Khanate but became independent. As allies of the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire, they raided south through the Caucasus against their common foes. In 628 AD, they made a damaging attack on the Sassanid Persians . They repulsed Moslem Arab Umayyad invasions in 642 and 652 AD. They conquered the Caucasus-dwelling Alans around 650 AD. They made raids against the Arabs south of the Caucasus in the 660s and 680s AD. They broke up the Great Khanate Bulgars around 670 AD, driving them in various directions. They repulsed more Arab invasions in 722 and 730 AD. A huge Arab invasion in 737 AD temporarily overran all the Khazar lands all the way north to the Volga River. However, the combination of long supply lines over the rugged and snowy Caucasus Mountains and the collapse of the Arab Umayyad Dynasty back home in their capital city of Damascus forced the Arabs to withdraw. The Khazars quickly reestablished themselves. By 750 AD, the Khazars had become a great power. They made peace with the Moslem Arab Abbasid Dynasty which was the successor to the Umayyad Dynasty.

The Khazars became a semi-nomadic elite ruling over prosperous settled agricultural and commercial communities of various ethnic groups. They wintered in their cities and spent the months of pleasant weather out on the steppe. Their cities consisted mostly of tents with a few buildings of clay. Only the king's residence was built of brick. The Khazars derived great wealth from their control of the trade routes in their part of the world. An enormous volume of trade traversed their lands and they taxed it efficiently. The Khazar state was one of the great mercantile powers of history. Jewish merchants were active in the Khazar realm. The Khazar ruling elite converted to Judaism in 861 AD. However, the mass of their people followed a wide variety of religions. The Khazar ruling elite became increasingly narrowly based, turning away from their nomad roots in favor of Judaism and commercialism.

The emerging Magyars asserted their independence from the Khazars and made attacks on the Khazars in the 820s and 830s AD. The Pechenegs overran the northernmost Khazar lands in the 890s AD. The Volga Bulgars , who were ostensibly vassals of the Khazars, established lucrative trade networks that competed with those of the Khazars during the 900s AD. The Khazars allowed early (Kieven) Russian armies to transit Khazar lands to attack other nations during the same time. In 965 AD, a combined force of Kieven Russians and Oghuz Turks —led by Prince Sviatoslav I of the Kieven Rus'—invaded and totally overran the Khazar realm, destroying it. The surviving Khazars eventually disappeared as a distinct people. The Russians benefited economically from taking over Khazar infrastructure. The resurgent Alans reestablished their old realm in the Caucasus where the Khazars had been in the interim.

Pechenegs (or Petchenegs or Patzinaks): They were originally members of the Western Gök Turks . They were driven west by the Oghuz Turks . The Pechenegs overran the Ukraine in the early 890s AD, pushing the Khazars south into Caucasus and pushing the Magyars west toward the Danube River. The Pechenegs first came into conflict with the Russians in 915 AD. They made a practice of attacking Russian merchants on the great rivers of Russia, particularly at places where the merchants had to portage their goods around rapids. Even so, a few Pechenegs served as mercenaries for assorted Russian princes. The Pechenegs made continual war on the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire although a few of them served as mercenaries for the Byzantines. In 972 AD, they killed the conquering warlord Prince Sviatoslav I, who was the ruler of the Kieven Rus', in an ambush at Byzantine urging. They made a gold-covered drinking cup out of his skull. The local Pecheneg king and queen drank from it and prayed for a son as brave as Sviatoslav. The Pechenegs were decisively defeated by the Russians in 1036 or 1037 AD. They were driven out of the Ukraine and into the Balkans by the Oghuz in the 1050s. But when a certain group of Oghuz followed the Pechenegs into the Balkans, the Pechenegs joined with the Bulgars to annihilate them in 1065. Once in the Balkans, the Pechenegs continued their pattern of sometimes fighting against the Byzantines and sometimes fighting for them. The Byzantines and the Kipchaks combined to crush the Pechenegs in 1091. In 1122, the Byzantines essentially wiped out the last of the Pechenegs.

Kimaks (or Kimeks): They were a primitive people living east of the Ural Mountains along the Irtysh or Ob Rivers. They eventually became a nomad elite who settled down to rule their lands from fortified towns:


Kipchaks (or Kipchaqs or Cumans): They were derived from the westernmost clans of the Kimaks. They retained their nomad lifestyle after the other Kimaks settled down. Migrating westward in the mid-11th Century AD, they pushed against the Oghuz Turks and occupied what had been Pecheneg lands in the Ukraine. They allied themselves with the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire to inflict a crushing defeat on the Pechenegs in 1091. They were noted for their warrior women. The Kipchaks made their first major attack on the Russians in 1061 or 1062. They made periodic raids on the Russians to obtain loot and slaves and to forestall Russian settlement on steppe grazing lands. Most of the time, a state of war existed between most Russians and most Kipchaks. Still, on occasion, some Kipchaks served as mercenaries for some Russian princes in wars against other Russian princes. The Kipchaks made repeated raids on the Byzantines and Hungarians as well as the Russians during the period 1070-1100. The Russians responded by attacking the Kipchaks in 1103, 1109, 1111, 1113, and 1116, inflicting serious damage on them. Small remnants of the Pechenegs and Oghuz who had been under Kipchak control were thus "liberated" and entered Russian service. Kipchak raids on the Russians picked up again and became annual events by the late 1160s. The Kipchaks sacked the Russian city of Kiev in 1184. The Kipchaks became defensive allies of the Russians against Genghis Khan's invading Mongols in 1223. The allied Russians and Kipchaks were badly defeated by a small advance force of Mongols at the Battle of the Kalka River in that year. The Ukrainian realm of the Kipchaks was obliterated by the Mongols of Ogedei Khan, Genghis's son and successor when the Mongols returned to the Ukraine in full force in 1239-1240. Some Kipchaks served as mercenaries for the Byzantines from the 11th to 14th Centuries. They also served as mercenaries for the Christian kings of Hungary in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The Kipchaks who remained on the Ukrainian steppe as subjects of the Mongols eventually gave a strong ethnic tint to the Mongol Golden Horde . The Russians called the Kipchaks "Polovtsians," as in the "Polovtsian Dances/Stranger in Paradise" music composed by Borodin.

Berendei: They served as mercenaries for Christian Russian princes during the 11th and 12th Centuries. Along with a few Oghuz who served in the same role, they were called by the Russians "Chorni Klobuky" meaning "Black Hoods" or "Black Hats." In this capacity, they fought for the Russians against the Pechenegs and then the Kipchaks . (But that did not stop some Pechenegs from joining the Black Hoods themselves!)

Karakhanids: They were originally based in the region of the Ili River and Lake Issyk Kul in what is now the southeastern corner of Kazakhstan and the northern part of Kyrgyzstan. It is hypothesized that they were derived from the ruling clan of the Karluks but certainty on this point is impossible. The Karakhanids were pagans who converted to Islam, thereby improving their political legitimacy in regional power struggles. In 992 AD, they took sides in an internal dispute of the Samanid Iranians , briefly occupying the Samanid capital city of Bukhara. Led by Arslan Ilek, they took over the northern part of the Samanid realm in 999 AD while the Ghaznavids took the southern part. Next, the Karakhanids and the Ghaznavids fought each other. Karakhanid attacks on the Ghaznavids in 1006, 1008, and 1020 were unsuccessful. Between 1008 and 1020, the Karakhanids fought among themselves. The Karakhanids repulsed an attack by the Khitai Mongols about 1017. They were invaded by the Seljuk Turks in 1072 and 1089. The Seljuks reduced the Karakhanids to vassal status. (Meanwhile, a separate branch of the Karakhanids maintained a small independent state back in the original Karakhanid homeland along the Ili River.) Eventually, the Karakhitai Mongols replaced the Seljuk Turks as masters of the Karakhanids. But in 1207-1210, the Karakhanids joined with their fellow Moslems of the Empire of Khwarizm Shah in a successful war of independence from the Buddhist Karakhitai. The Karakhanids briefly accepted Khwarizm leadership but in 1212 they rebelled against the Khwarizms. That same year, the Khwarizms crushed the Karakhanid rebellion and executed the last Karakhanid leader.

Ghaznavids: The founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty was a man named Alp Tegin. He was a "ghulam" slave soldier in the service of Samanid Iranians . As a trustworthy and talented ghulam, the Samanids appointed him to serve as one of their provincial governors in 961 AD. But they dismissed him the next year. Not content with this situation, Alp Tegin led his little band of soldiers to the town of Ghazni in what is now Afghanistan where they overthrew the local ruler in 962 AD. Alp Tegin then set himself up as the local strongman. His successors secured their position by pledging fealty to the Samanids. The Ghaznavids were pagans who converted to Islam, thereby improving their political legitimacy in regional power struggles. In 992 AD, they took possession of a slice of the Samanid realm in return for helping the Samanid king put down an internal revolt. The great leader of the Ghaznavids was Mahmud of Ghazni who reigned 997-1030 AD. Mahmud's father was a ghulam slave soldier who had been bought by Alp Tegin and who rose through the ranks as a reward for loyal service. Once in power, Mahmud renounced his dynasty's fealty to the Samanids. In 999 AD, Mahmud seized the southern part of the Samanid lands while the Karakhanids took the northern part. He then conquered northwestern India, 1004-1005. He also took land from the Buyid Persians in 1029. After splitting the Samanid realm between them, the Ghaznavids and Karakhanids fought each other. The Ghaznavids repulsed Karakhanid attacks in 1006, 1008, and 1020.

The Ghaznavid army was based on that uniquely Middle Eastern Islamic medieval period type of soldier called a "ghulam" which translates as "boy." Ghulams were slaves purchased in slave markets like any other slaves. They were then trained by their owners to be highly professional soldiers loyal to their masters. The best ghulams could achieve upward mobility in government service. Ghulams were paid largely from the loot acquired in victorious wars of conquest. Therefore, the Ghaznavids were particularly aggressive in their empire building in order to keep their ghulams paid. They conducted frequent booty raids into Hindu India under the guise of holy wars to spread Islam. The masses of common people under Ghaznavid rule felt nothing in the way of patriotic solidarity with their booty-taking, tax-collecting mercenary soldier overlords.

After Mahmud's death, the Ghaznavids were destroyed by the Seljuk Turks at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040. The surviving Ghaznavids retreated into what is now Afghanistan where they were subsequently conquered by the Seljuk Sultanate of Merv in 1117. After the fall of the Seljuks of Merv, the Ghaznavids reestablished themselves as rulers of what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwestern India. But starting in about 1150, a group of people indigenous to Afghanistan, who were called the Ghorids, revolted against the Ghaznavids. In 1173, the Ghorids took the town of Ghazni, thereby driving the Ghaznavids out of the Afghan part of their realm. In 1186, the Ghorids completed their conquest of the Ghaznavid possessions in Pakistan and northwestern India. The Ghaznavids ceased to exist as a political-military entity.

Oghuz (or Ghuzz or Toghuz or Uzes or Torks or Torkils): They originated north of Lake Balkhash. They were an offshoot of the Western Gök Turks. They were a loose grouping of many tribes who frequently warred among themselves. Today, they are called Turkomans. Of the many Oghuz tribes, only a very few have emerged from the murky history of the steppes with distinct fame of their own. The Uighurs were presumably an Oghuz tribe. In any event, the Uighurs were important enough in their own name for me to list them with a solid black circle. The Oghuz helped the Russians destroy the Khazars in 965 AD. The main mass of the Oghuz followed in the wake of the Pechenegs, pushing them out of the Ukraine and into the Balkans during the 1050s AD. After suffering a defeat at the hands of the Russians in 1060, some number of Oghuz entered the Balkans but they were annihilated by the Pechenegs and the Bulgars in 1065. Apparently, either some Oghuz did not go into the Balkans but stayed in the Ukraine, or, some Oghuz who survived the disaster in the Balkans returned to the Ukraine. In any event, some Oghuz served as mercenaries for Christian Russian princes during the 11th and 12th Centuries. Along with the Berendei who served in the same role, they were called by the Russians "Chorni Klobuky" meaning "Black Hoods" or "Black Hats." Whatever number of Oghuz served in this capacity fought for the Russians against the Kipchaks . There was severe strife between those Oghuz who converted to Islam and those who remained pagan. "The Book of Dede Korkut" is the legendary warrior hero literary epic of the Oghuz. This work was written after the Oghuz converted to Islam; but the value system celebrated in its pages is that of a pre-Islamic aristocratic pagan warrior elite. The verbiage reflecting Islamic piety in this work is a thin veneer layered on top of the pagan core as an afterthought. This situation is exactly analogous to the references to Christian piety that form a thin tissue over the pagan warrior values espoused in "Beowulf." The pre-Islamic value system portrayed in "The Book of Dede Korkut" is exemplified by the large number of strong female characters who play important roles in the story, to include three woman warriors.


Seljuks (or Saljuks or Saljuqs): They were the one clan of the Oghuz who rose to make the greatest name for themselves as a distinct group. They are named after their first chief who led them in splitting off from the Oghuz prior to 985 AD. They were pagans who converted to Islam more for political reasons than spiritual. Advancing the Moslem faith was a convenient justification for wars of conquest. They sided with the Karakhanids against the Ghaznavids but did not do well at first. Then came their first great leader, who was named Togrul-beg. Led by Togrul-beg, they crushed the Ghaznavids at the Battle of Dandanaqan in 1040 AD. They conquered Iran, wiping out the Buyid Persian realm in the process. Togrul-beg made intelligent use of existing settled culture bureaucracies to administer his growing empire. He did not kill off the Persians and Arabs; he made them key players in his regime. In 1055, the Seljuks entered Baghdad, capital city of the Moslem Abbasid Arabs . (The Sunni Moslem Arab Abbasids, who had grown tired of having the Shia Moslem Buyid Persians as their protectors, invited the Seljuks to enter Baghdad and depose the last Buyid ruler—which the Seljuks were happy to do.) In 1058, the Abbasid Arab Caliph (the spiritual leader of the Moslem world, analogous to the Pope) recognized Togrul-beg as "The King of East and West." Togrul-beg's nephew and successor was Alp Arslan who reigned 1063-1072. Alp Arslan had to wage war on first his cousin and then his uncle to prevent the Seljuks from fragmenting into petty tribal factions. Led by Alp Arslan, the Seljuks inflicted a crushing defeat on the Greek Christian Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert, in what is now eastern Turkey, in 1071. This catastrophic defeat of the Christian Byzantines at Moslem hands provoked Christian Western European intervention in the Middle East by means of the series of wars against the Moslems known as the Crusades. At Manzikert, the units of Pecheneg and Kipchak mercenaries serving the Byzantines deserted and joined the Seljuks. Horse nomad ethnic solidarity trumped Byzantine gold. The Seljuks attacked the Karakhanids in 1072 and again in 1089, reducing them to vassal status. Alp Arslan was assassinated in 1072 during the first Seljuk invasion of Karakhanid lands. Alp Arslan's son and successor, Malikshah, who reigned 1072-1092, had to make war on a rebellious brother and uncle in order to hold the Seljuk Empire together. It was Malikshah who finally subdued the Karakhanids in 1089.

Malikshah transformed the Seljuks from a nomad tribe into an organized state that functioned in the standard Middle Eastern mode. He employed his unruly Seljuk warlords as his enforcers at the outer edges of his empire. Sometimes, these individuals fought local private wars with each other. After Malikshah died, his son and successor, Barkiyaruk, was immediately faced by revolts of all his kinsman. Barkiyaruk defeated and killed a rebellious uncle in 1095. He fought against his brothers until the Seljuk Empire fragmented. By 1130, the Seljuk Empire had broken up into three major sultanates and several small, autonomous provincial states:

Sultanate of Merv: It was located east of the Aral and Caspian Seas. It was ruled by Sanjar, the youngest son of Malikshah . He was given his realm in 1096 to hold as a fiefdom of the original great Seljuk Empire while the Seljuk Empire was still intact. Upon the breakup of the Seljuk Empire, Sanjar's fiefdom became the independent Sultanate of Merv and Sanjar was on his own. He came to the throne at about the age of twelve and very soon had to fight to defend his realm. The historian René Grousset describes him as "brave, generous, and chivalrous." He first defeated an invasion by a group of Karakhanids in 1102. He reduced this group of Karakhanids to vassalage. He conquered the last of the Ghaznavids in their final refuge in Afghanistan in 1117. In 1138, he defeated a rebellion by vassal Khwarizm Turks but he was merciful to the leader of the revolt. In 1141, he was defeated by invading Karakhitai Mongols who took the northern part of his realm. In 1153, rebellious Oghuz tribes took over the southern part. This rebellion was ironic because the Seljuks of Merv were themselves Oghuz who had become civilized. The Sultanate of Merv vanished and Sanjar died a broken man in 1157.

Sultanate of Hamadan: It was located in Iran, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian Peninsula. By 1173, it had lost most of its territory to the Arab Abbasids and the Turkic Zangids . By 1212, what was left of it had been carved up between the Iranian Ayyubids , and the Turkic Empire of Khwarizm Shah .

Sultanate of Rum: It was located in what is now central Turkey. It fought against the Christian Crusaders of Europe. It was conquered by the Mongols in 1242-1243.

Several other minor fragmentary Seljuk states

Many other miscellaneous Oghuz tribes

Zangids: They were Islamic. They were a dynasty ruling Egypt, Palestine, and the eastern shore of the Red Sea during the time 1169-1174 AD. They took power from the Seljuk Turk Sultanate of Hamadan in Mesopotamia and Arabia and from the Arab Fatimids in Egypt. They fought against the Christian European Crusaders. They were overthrown by Saladin, leader of the Iranian Ayyubid dynasty in 1174.

Tatars: They were located in what is now eastern Mongolia—northwestern Manchuria. The Europeans used the name "Tatar" or "Tartar" as a generic term for all central Asian nomads. In 1202 AD, they were annihilated by a young and rising Mongol warlord named Temujin who was later called Genghis Khan . (When Temujin was nine years old, the Tatars treacherously murdered his father with poison.)

Empire of Khwarizm Shah (or Khorezmshah or simply "Khwarizm"): The Khwarizm dynasty got its start around 1077 AD. They were Moslems. They began as vassals of the Seljuk Sultanate of Merv . While the Seljuks of Merv were falling apart, the Karakhitai Mongols defeated the Khwarizms in 1141 and reduced them to vassal status. But even as vassals of the Karakhitai, the Khwarizms were aggressive in expanding their realm. They conquered the Seljuks of Hamadan in 1194. The greatest leader of the Khwarizms was Shah 'Ala ad-Din Muhammad who reigned 1200-1221. With a great deal of help from their Karakhitai masters, the Khwarizms defeated and took over the lands of the Ghorids of Afghanistan in wars lasting from 1204 to 1215. But, being Moslem, Shah Muhammad of the Khwarizms resented being subservient to the Buddhist Karakhitai despite how they had helped him fight the Ghorids. In 1207, the Khwarizms joined with the Moslem Karakhanids in revolt against the Karakhitai. The Khwarizms and Karakhanids won their independence in 1210 though the Karakhitai retained control of their core area around Lake Balkhash. The Karakhanids briefly accepted Khwarizm leadership. Then they revolted against the Khwarizms. Shah Muhammad of the Khwarizms crushed the revolt and executed the last Karakhanid leader in 1212. In 1217, Shah Muhammad took over much of Iran simply by making a triumphal progress through it. In 1218, there was an indecisive border skirmish between a unit of Khwarizm soldiers and a small force of Genghis Khan's Mongols . But general war did not break out. Instead, Genghis sent ambassadors and merchants on a mission to Khwarizm with a peace proposal. The governor of the Khwarizm city of Otrar executed the delegation as spies. When Genghis sent a second delegation directly to Shah Muhammad to demand compensation, Shah Muhammad endorsed what his governor had done and executed the second delegation. War between the Mongols and the Khwarizms ensued. The Mongols erased the Empire of Khwarizm Shah from the face of the earth and absorbed its lands into their own empire in a war lasting from 1219 to 1221. Shah Muhammad died of natural causes early in 1221 while he was a refugee hiding out on a little island in the Caspian Sea. Shah Muhammad's son, Jalal al-Din, continued the war but he was utterly defeated by the Mongols at the Battle of the Indus River in 1221. Jalal al-din jumped his horse off a cliff into the river and escaped into India where he lived out the rest of his life as a local warlord. Genghis chose not to pursue him.

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