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:
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.
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.
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.