Muslim conquest of Transoxiana

The Muslim conquest of Transoxiana or Arab conquest of Transoxiana were the 7th and 8th century conquests, by Umayyad and Abbasid Arabs, of Transoxiana; the land between the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers, a part of Central Asia that today includes all or parts of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Muslim conquest of Transoxiana
Part of the Muslim conquests

Muslim victory

Umayyad Caliphate (until 748)
Abbasid Caliphate (from 748)
Principalities of Tokharistan
Sogdian principalities
Türgesh Kaghanate
Tang Dynasty
Commanders and leaders
Qutayba ibn Muslim
Muslim ibn Sa'id  
Junayd ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Murri
Sawra ibn al-Hurr al-Abani
Sa'id ibn Amr al-Harashi
Asad ibn Abd Allah al-Qasri
Nasr ibn Sayyar
Suluk Khagan
al-Harith ibn Surayj
Kapagan Khan
Bilge Qaghan
Kul Tigin
Gao Xianzhi


The Arabs had reached Central Asia in the decade after their decisive victory in the Battle of Nihavend in 642, when they completed their conquest of the former Sassanid Empire by seizing Sistan and Khurasan. Marw, the capital of Khurasan, fell in 651 to Abdallah ibn Amir, and with it the borders of the nascent Caliphate reached the river Oxus (modern Amu Darya).[1][2] The lands beyond the Oxus—Transoxiana or Transoxania, known simply as "the land beyond the river" (mā wara al-nahr) to the Arabs[3]—were different to what the Arabs had encountered before: not only did they encompass a varied topography, ranging from the remote mountains of the Hindu Kush to fertile river valleys and deserts with oasis cities, it was also settled by a variety of peoples, both sedentary and nomadic, and instead of the imperial administration of the Persians, the region was divided into many small independent principalities.[4]

Geographically, politically, and socially, Transoxiana was divided into four regions: Tokharistan on the upper Oxus, surrounded by the Hissar Mountains to the north and the Hindu Kush to the east and south; Sogdia or Sogdiana, to the east of the middle Oxus and around the Zarafshan river; Khwarezm or Chorasmia, on the lower Oxus and its confluence into the Aral Sea; and the lands north of the Hissar Mountains and along the Jaxartes river (modern Syr Darya), including the Fergana Valley.[5] As today, the population belonged to two broad linguistic groups: the speakers of Iranian languages, who in the 7th century tended to be urbanized, and the Turkic peoples, who at the time were still mostly nomadic.[3] Indeed, the history of Transoxiana had been dominated by the invasions of nomadic peoples from Central Asia. In the 2nd century BC the Yuezhi destroyed the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom and supplanted it with the Kushan Empire, under which Buddhism entered the area. The Kushans were succeeded by the Hephthalites in the early 5th century, whose dominance lasted until the rise of the Turkic Khaganate in the mid-6th century. After the great Khaganate became divided in two, the Western Turkic Khaganate retained its position of overlordship over the various principalities of Transoxiana, on occasion even launching raids as far as Balkh.[6]

Transoxiana 8th century
Map of Transoxiana and Khurasan in the 8th century

When the Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzang visited Tokharistan in 630, he found no less than 27 different principalities, under the overall authority of a Turkish prince (Shad) at Qunduz, who was the eldest son of the Western Turkic Jabghu. Following the collapse of the Western Turkic Khaganate in the 650s, this viceroy became an independent ruler, claiming the title of Jabghu for himself. The Jabghus maintained some sort of suzerainty over the other principalities of Tokharistan, but this authority was largely nominal, and the local princes—many of whom were Turkish chieftains and local governors who had likewise seized authority in the wake of the Khaganate's collapse—were effectively independent.[7] North of the Oxus, in Upper Tokharistan, the most important principalities from east to west were Badakhshan, Khuttal, Kubadhiyan, and Saghaniyan. South of the Oxus, in Lower Tokharistan, was Balkh, the ancient capital of the entire region, which remained the most important settlement of Tokharistan and its main religious centre, with the famous Buddhist stupa of Nawbahar attracting pilgrims from far and wide. Important principalities were those of Juzjan, Badghis, Herat, and Bamiyan. Behind these, over the Hindu Kish, lay Kabul.[8][9]

North and west of the Hissar range, along the river Zarafshan, lay the region of Sogdia. This was an ancient Iranian land, with its own culture, language, and script, which are well documented through archaeological discoveries and literary references. Sogdia was likewise split into several small principalities, but the two major centres of Bukhara and Samarkand dominated the rest. The Sogdians were particularly active as merchants in the so-called "Silk Road".[10][11] Chinese records seem to suggest that most of the local princes belonged to branches of the same ruling house, and that the head of this house, the ruler of Samarkand, was allied by marriage to the Turkic khagans. Most of these rulers used Persian titles (khudah, shah) but some also had Turkish titles, and the ruler of Samarkand, as the pre-eminent among them, used the title of ikhshid (as did the kings of Fargana).[12] Rulership was hereditary, but an important role was played also by the landed gentry (dihqans) and wealthy merchants, who possessed, according to H. A. R. Gibb, "not only a large measure of independence but also on occasion the power to depose the ruling prince and elect his successor".[13]

To the north and east of Sogdia stretched the so-called "Hungry Steppe", an expanse of ca. 160 km, which gave way to the fertile regions around the river Jaxartes. The Jaxartes was smaller than the Oxus and easily fordable. The region encompassed the principality of Shash (modern Tashkent) in the northwest, and the Fergana Valley to the east, bordering the Tien Shan Mountains, behind which lay Kashgar, the westernmost outpost of the Chinese Empire.[14] To the west of Sogdia, likewise isolated amidst the desert, lay Khwarezm. It was inhabited by a sedentary, urbanized Iranian people. The history of the area between the late 3rd century and the onset of the Muslim conquest is often unclear due to the lack of adequate literary and archaeological sources. Modern scholars dispute whether the area came under Kushan rule, notably due to the absence of any traces of Buddhism in the area and the continued prevalence of Zoroastrianism; al-Tabari reports that the area was conquered by the Sasanians under Ardashir I (r. 224–242), and although later Sasanian province lists don't include Khwarezm, the area probably remained in some kind of dependence from Sasanian Persia. From the early 4th century, Khwarezm was ruled by the native Afrighid dynasty, which is known through coins and the narrative of the 11th-century Khwarezmian scholar al-Biruni. It is equally unclear whether Khwarezm came under Turkic dominion in the 6th–7th centuries.[15][16]

Transoxiana, as Hugh N. Kennedy remarks, "was a rich land, full of opportunities and wealth but defended by warlike men who valued their independence very highly", and indeed its subjugation would prove to be the longest and hardest-fought of the early Muslim conquests, not being completed until the Battle of Talas secured Muslim dominance over the region in 751.[2]

First Muslim incursions

Although the Arab sources give the impression that the Arabs began their conquest of the region in the 650s, in reality most of the early warfare in the area were little more than raids aiming at seizing booty and extracting tribute. Indeed, Arab presence was limited to a small garrison at Marw, and armies were sent by the governors of Iraq every year to raid and plunder the native principalities.[17] The first expedition, under Ahnaf ibn Qays, in 652, was repulsed by the united forces of Lower Tokharistan, and returned to Marw al-Rudh. A second expedition under al-Aqra ibn Habis however was able to defeat the prince of Juzjan, and occupy Juzjan, Faryab, Talaqan, and Balkh. Detachments of Arabs plundered far and wide, some reaching as far as Khwarazm. In 654, the town of Mayamurgh in Sogdia was raided.[18] Shortly after, however, the local population, led by Qarin (possibly a member of the House of Karen) rose in revolt. The Arabs evacuated all of Khurasan, and according to Chinese sources, the princes of Tokharistan restored Yazdegerd III's son Peroz as titular king of Persia for a time. Preoccupied with the First Fitna (656–661), the Arabs were unable to react, although raiding expeditions continue to be recorded in 655–658.[19]

After the end of the civil war, Abdallah ibn Amir was again entrusted with restoring Muslim control over Khurasan. The exact events of the next few years are unclear as the historical traditions confuse them with Ibn Amir's original conquest of the area, but what information there is, mostly from tribal accounts, suggests occasional fierce resistance and rebellions, leading to acts like the destruction of the Nawbahar stupa by Ibn Amir's deputy Qays ibn al-Hatham.[20] It was not until the appointment of Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan to the government of Iraq and the eastern Caliphate that the Arabs undertook a systematic pacification campaign in Khurasan. From 667 until his death in 670, Ziyad's deputy in Khurasan, al-Hakam ibn Amr al-Ghifari, led a series of campaigns in Tokharistan, which saw Arab armies crossing the Oxus into Saghaniyan in the process. Peroz was evicted and once again fled to China. Al-Hakam's death was followed by another large-scale uprising, but his successor, Rabi ibn Ziyad al-Harithi, took Balkh and defeated the rebels at Quhistan, before crossing the Oxus to invade Saghaniyan. Other Arab forces secured the crossing-points of Zamm and Amul further west, while the Arab sources mention a conquest of Khwarazm at the same time.[21] More importantly for the future of Muslim presence in the region, in 671 Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan settled 50,000 warriors, mostly drawn from Basra and to a lesser degree from Kufa, with their families in Marw. This move not only bolstered the Muslim element in Khurasan, but also provided the forces necessary for future expansion into Transoxiana.[22][23]

When Ziyad died, his policies were continued by his son, Ubayd Allah, who was appointed governor of Khurasan and arrived at Marw in autumn 673. In the next spring, Ubayd Allah crossed the Oxus and invaded the principality of Bukhara, which at the time was led by the queen-mother, known simply as Khatun (a Turkish title meaning "lady"), as regent for her infant son. The Arabs achieved a first success near the town of Baykand, before marching on to Bukhara itself. The local historical tradition records that the Arabs besieged Bukhara, and that the Turks were called for help, although this is missing in the Arab sources, which simply state that the Arabs won a great victory over the Bukharans. Following a practice that was apparently common at the time, Ubayd Allah recruited 2,000 captives, all "skillful archers", as his personal guard. The fate of Bukhara is left unclear, but according to Gibb this arrangement suggests that it acknowledged some form of Arab suzerainty and became a tributary state.[24]

Ubayd Allah's success was not followed up by his successors, Aslam ibn Zur'a and Abd al-Rahman ibn Ziyad, apart from launching summer raids across the Oxus. Only during the brief governorship of Sa'id ibn Uthman in 676 did the Arabs launch a major expedition into Sogdia. According to al-Baladhuri and Narshakhi, Sa'id defeated a local coalition comprising the cities of Kish, Nasaf, Bukhara, and the Turks, compelled the Khatun to re-affirm Bukhara's allegiance to the Caliphate, and then marched onto Samarkand, which he besieged an captured. He then took 50 young nobles as hostages, who were later executed at Medina, and on his return journey captured Tirmidh on the Oxus and received the surrender of the prince of Khuttal.[25]

The first Arab attacks across the Oxus ranged as far as Shash and Khwarazm, and were interrupted by the intertribal warfare that broke out in Khurasan during the Second Islamic Civil War (683–692). Subsequent governors, most notably Sa'id ibn Uthman and al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra, made attempts to conquer territory across the river, but they failed.[26] The native princes, for their part, tried to exploit the Arabs' rivalries, and with the aid of the Arab renegade Musa ibn Abdallah ibn Khazim, who in 689 seized the fortress of Tirmidh for his own domain, they managed to eject the Arabs from their holdings.[27] Nevertheless, the Transoxianian princes remained riven by their own feuds, and failed to unite in the face of the Arab conquest, a fact which would be suitably exploited by Qutayba after 705.[28]

Umayyad–Turgesh Wars

The larger part of Transoxiana was finally conquered by the Umayyad leader Qutayba ibn Muslim in the reign of al-Walid I (r. 705–715).[29][30] The loyalties of Transoxiana's native Iranian and Turkic populations and those of their autonomous local sovereigns remained questionable, as demonstrated in 719, when the Transoxianian sovereigns sent a petition to the Chinese and their Turgesh overlords for military aid against the Caliphate's governors.[31]

Qutayba's campaigns have been mixed up with a diplomatic mission they sent to China in chronicles written by Arabs. Documents in Chinese give 713 as the year the Arab diplomatic delegation was sent. China was asked for help by Shah's Prince against Qutayba.[32]

The Turgesh responded by launching a series of attacks against the Muslims in Transoxiana, beginning in 720. These incursions were coupled with uprisings against the Caliphate among the local Sogdians. The Umayyad governor of Khurasan, Sa'id ibn Amr al-Harashi, harshly suppressed the unrest and restored the Muslim position almost to what it had been during the time of Qutayba, except for the Ferghana Valley, control over which was lost.[33][34]

The Chinese and Turks were reported to have come to aid the Sogdians in their war against the Arabs which raised the hopes of Divashtich. After the Arabs seized Penjikent, the rebel leader Divastich retreated to his fortress on Mount Mugh. Archives in the Sogdian language found at Divashtich's fortress reveal his precarious position and the events leading up to his capture. After Divashtich's capture, the governor of Khurasan, Said al-Harashi, ordered his crucifixion on a na'us (burial mound).[35]

Kashgar, Samarkand, Bukhara and Paikent fell to Qutayba bin Muslims.[36] In response, the Arabs were almost beaten back by the Turgesh, who were partners with the Sogdians.[37] Sulaiman most likely executed Qutayba, who, after seizing Samarkand and Bukhara, had crushed Sassanian remnants and had Khorezmian scholars slaughtered. Template:By when?, Ferghana, Khojand and Chach had fallen to Qutayba.

In 721 Turgesh forces, led by Kül Chor, defeated the Caliphal army commanded by Sa'id ibn Abdu'l-Aziz near Samarkand. Sa'id's successor, Al-Kharashi, massacred Turks and Sogdian refugees in Khujand, causing an influx of refugees towards the Turgesh. In 724 Caliph Hisham sent a new governor to Khurasan, Muslim ibn Sa'id, with orders to crush the "Turks" once and for all, but, confronted by Suluk, Muslim hardly managed to reach Samarkand with a handful of survivors after the so-called "Day of Thirst".

In 724, the Muslims were defeated by the Turks of the Turgesh as the Sogdians and Turks fought against the Umayyads. The Sogdians were pacified by Nasr ibn Sayyar after Sulu, Khagan of the Turgesh, died.[38]

Islam did not widely spread until Abbasid rule.[39]

Samarkand was taken by Qutayba after they achieved victory over the army of the Eastern Turks under Kul Tegin Qapaghan Qaghan came to assist against the Arabs after his vassal, the Tashkent King, received plea from the Samarkand Prince Ghurak against the Arab attack by Qutayba bin Muslim.[40]

Qutayba's Muslims obliterated and triumphed over the union of several Ferghana staet as fierce fighting took place in Sogdian Samarkand and Khorezm against Qutayba ibn Muslim. An easier time was had in the conquest of Bukhara.[41] Under Ghurak, Sogdian Samarkand was forced to capitulate to the joint Arab-Kharazmian and Bukharan forces of Qutayba. The obliteration of idols was ordered by Qutayba along with the construction of a Mosque, 30,000 slaves and 2,200,000 dirhams.[42] Dewashtich's uprising was an example of anti Islamification sentiment felt after the conquest of the region by the Arabs.[43]

A string of subsequent appointees of Hisham were defeated by Suluk, who in 728 took Bukhara and later on still inflicted tactical defeats such as the Battle of the Defile upon the Arabs. The Turgesh state was at its apex, controlling Sogdiana and the Ferghana Valley. By 732, two large Arab expeditions to Samarkand managed, if with heavy losses, to reestablish Caliphal authority in the area; Suluk renounced his ambitions over Samarkand and abandoned Bukhara, withdrawing north.

In 734 an early Abbasid follower, al-Harith ibn Surayj, rose in revolt against Umayyad rule and took Balkh and Marv before defecting to the Turgesh three years later, defeated. In winter 737 Suluk, along with his allies al-Harith, Gurak (a Turco-Sogdian leader) and men from Usrushana, Tashkent and Khuttal launched a final offensive. He entered Jowzjan but was defeated by the Umayyad governor Asad at the Battle of Kharistan. Next year, Suluk was murdered by his general with Chinese support. Then in 739 the general himself was killed by the Chinese and the Chinese power returned to Transoxiana.

Much of the culture and heritage of the Sogdians was lost due to the war.[44] Geographic names used by Muslims contained reminders of the Sogdians.[45] The role of lingua franca that Sogdian originally played was succeeded by Persian after the arrival of Islam.[46]

Umayyad-Tang dynasty China wars

Arab sources claim Qutayba ibn Muslim briefly took Kashgar from China and withdrew after an agreement[47] but modern historians entirely dismiss this claim.[48][49][50]

The Arab Umayyad Caliphate in 715 AD desposed Ikhshid, the king the Fergana Valley, and installed a new king Alutar on the throne. The deposed king fled to Kucha (seat of Anxi Protectorate), and sought Chinese intervention. The Chinese sent 10,000 troops under Zhang Xiaosong to Ferghana. He defeated Alutar and the Arab occupation force at Namangan and reinstalled Ikhshid on the throne.[51]

General Tang Jiahui led the Chinese to defeat the following Arab-Tibetan attack in the Battle of Aksu (717).[52] The attack on Aksu was joined by Turgesh Khan Suluk.[53][54] Both Uch Turfan and Aksu were attacked by the Turgesh, Arab, and Tibetan force on 15 August 717. Qarluqs serving under Chinese command, under Arsila Xian, a Western Turkic Qaghan serving under the Chinese Assistant Grand Protector General Tang Jiahui defeated the attack. Al-Yashkuri, the Arab commander and his army fled to Tashkent after they were defeated.[55][56]

Last battles

Samarra, Baghdad, Nishapur and Merv were destinations for Sogdians who worked for the Abbasids and became Muslims.[36] The coming to power of the Abbasids resulted in the local Sogdian rulers being relocated from the area to become the Caliph's officers.[57]

The last major victory of Arabs in Central Asia occurred at the Battle of Talas (751). The Tibetan Empire was allied to the Arabs during the battle against the Chinese Tang dynasty.[58][59] Because the Arabs did not proceed to Xinjiang at all, the battle was of no importance strategically, and it was An Lushan's rebellion which ended up by forcing the Tang out of Central Asia.[60][61] Despite the conversion of some Karluk Turks after the Battle of Talas, the majority of Karluks did not convert to Islam until the mid-10th century, when they established the Kara-Khanid Khanate.[59][62][63][64][65]

Turks had to wait two and a half centuries before reconquering Transoxiana, when the Karakhanids reconquered the city of Bukhara in 999. Denis Sinor said that it was interference in the internal affairs of the Western Turkic Khaganate which ended Chinese supremacy in Central Asia, since the destruction of the Western Khaganate rid the Muslims of their greatest opponent, and it was not the Battle of Talas which ended the Chinese presence.[66]

Arab views of the Turks

Medieval Arabs recorded that contemporary Turks looked strange from their perspective and were extremely physically different, calling them "broad faced people with small eyes".[67]

Medieval Muslim writers noted that Tibetans and Turks resembled each other and often were not able to tell the difference between Turks and Tibetans.[68]


The process of islamization of local peoples was slow during the Umayyad Caliphate period, but it became more intensive during the following Abbasid period. The Umayyads treated non-Arab peoples as second class citizens and did not encourage conversions,[69] therefore only few Soghdian commoners converted to Islam during their rule.[70] However, during the Abbasid period non-Arabs gained an equal status and as a result, Islam began spreading across Central Asia.

However, the Arab conquest did not mark the end of Buddhism or Chinese influence in the region. The Buddhist Qara Khitai Khanate conquered a large part of Central Asia from the Muslim Kara-Khanid Khanate in the 12th century. The Qara Khitai also reintroduced the Chinese system of Imperial government, since China was still held in respect and esteem in the region among even the Muslim population,[71][72] and the Kara-Khitans used Chinese as their main official language.[73] The Kara-Khitan rulers were called "the Chinese" by Muslim authors.[74]

Writings about China

Muslim writers like Marwazī and Mahmud Kashghārī had more up to date information about China in their writings. China was called by the Turks after the Toba rulers of the Northern Wei, and was pronounced by them as Tamghāj, Tabghāj, Tafghāj or Tawjāch. India introduced the name "Maha Chin" (greater China) which caused the two different names for China in Persian as "chīn" and "māchīn" (چين ,ماچين), corresponding to Arabic ṣīn and māṣīn (صين ماصين). The two terms originally referred to, respectively, Southern and Northern China, but later the definition switched and the south was referred to as "Machin" and the north as "Chin". Tang China had controlled Kashgar since the Anxi protectorate's "Four Garrisons", and this led writers like Kashghārī to place Kashgar within the definition of China (Ṣīn). Yugur (yellow Uighurs or Western Yugur) and Khitai or Qitai were all classified as "China" by Marwazī while he wrote that Ṣīnwas was bordered by Maṣīn.[75] Another spelling was "Mahachin".[76]

Muslim writers like Marwazī wrote that Transoxania was a former part of China, retaining the legacy of Tang Chinese rule over this area. Muslim writers viewed the Khitai, the Gansu Uyghur Kingdom and Kashgar as all part of "China" culturally and geographically with the Muslim Central Asians retaining the legacy of Chinese rule in Central Asia by using titles such as "Khan of China" (تمغاج خان) (Tamghaj Khan or Tawgach) in Turkic and "the King of the East in China" (ملك المشرق (أو الشرق) والصين) (malik al-mashriq (or al-sharq) wa'l-ṣīn) in Arabic for the Muslim Kara-Khanid rulers and their Karluk ancestors.[77][78]

The title "Malik al-Mashriq wa'l-Ṣīn" was bestowed by the Abbasid Caliph upon the Tamghaj Khan, the Samarkand Khaqan Yūsuf b. Ḥasan. Thenceforth, the title Tamghaj Khan appeared in coins and writings, continuing to be used by the Eastern and Western Kara-Khanid rulers: the Kara-Khitan's usage of Chinese items such as coins, writing system, tablets, seals, art products like porcelein, mirrors, jade and other Chinese customs aimed to appeal to the local Central Asian Muslim population, who regarded Central Asia as former Chinese territories and viewed links with China as prestigious.

"Turkestan" and "Chīn" (China) were identified with each other by Fakhr al-Dīn Mubārak Shāh with China being identified as the country where the cities of Balāsāghūn and Kashghar were located.[79]

Although in modern Urdu "Chin" means China, this term referred to Central Asia in Muhammad Iqbal's time, which is why Iqbal wrote that "Chin is ours" (referring to the Muslims) in his song "Tarana-e-Milli".[80]

Aladdin, an Arabic Islamic story which is set in China, may have been referring to Central Asia.[81]

In the Persian epic Shahnameh Chin and Turkestan are regarded as the same entity, and the Khan of Turkestan is called the Khan of Chin.[82][83][84]



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Al-Harith ibn Surayj

Abu Hatim al-Harith ibn Surayj ibn Yazid ibn Sawa ibn Ward ibn Murra ibn Sufyan ibn Mujashi (Arabic: أبو حاتم الحارث بن سريج‎) was an Arab leader of a large-scale social rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate in Khurasan and Transoxiana. Harith's rebellion began in 734 and represented the grievances of both the local Arab settlers as well as the native Iranian converts (mawali), who were not recognized as equal to the Arab Muslims, against the Umayyad regime. Harith based his revolt on religious grounds and won over a large part of both the Arab settlers and the native population, but failed twice to capture the provincial capital of Marw. The rebellion was finally suppressed by Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri in 736. Along with a few supporters, Harith escaped capture and allied himself with the heathen Türgesh. Harith accompanied the Türgesh khagan Suluk in his invasion deep into Arab territory, which was decisively beaten back in the Battle of Kharistan in 737. With Türgesh power collapsing thereafter, Harith remained in Transoxiana supported by the native princes. Asad's successor, Nasr ibn Sayyar, campaigned against Harith and his native supporters, but eventually, hoping to use him to bolster his position in the Arab intertribal rivalries, Nasr secured for Harith a pardon from the Caliph. Harith returned to Marw in 745. Soon however he raised a sizeable armed force and challenged Nasr's authority, until he was killed in a clash with his ally Juday' al-Kirmani in 746. His revolt weakened Arab power in Central Asia and facilitated the beginning of the Abbasid Revolution that would overthrow the Umayyads.

Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri

Asad ibn Abdallah ibn Asad al-Qasri (died 738) was a prominent official of the Umayyad Caliphate, serving twice as governor of Khurasan under the Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik. The descendant of a prominent Arab family, he was the brother of Khalid al-Qasri, the powerful governor of Iraq for most of Hisham's reign. Asad's first tenure as governor in 724–727 came in the wake of the "Day of Thirst", a severe defeat at the hands of the Türgesh Turks in Transoxiana. Asad tried to reconcile the local Soghdians to Muslim rule, initiated tax reforms to address the grievances of the native converts to Islam (mawali), and enjoyed good relations with many local nobles, who began to convert to Islam under his influence. His military expeditions during his first tenure were targeted mainly against restive local princes, avoiding a direct confrontation with the Türgesh.

After his dismissal, his successors reversed his policy of reconciliation, resulting in a large-scale anti-Arab rebellion among the Soghdians. Another major defeat against the Türgesh in the Battle of the Defile was followed by the almost complete collapse of the Arab position in Trasoxiana and the outbreak of a major rebellion in Khurasan itself, led by al-Harith ibn Surayj. Appointed for a second time to govern Khurasan in late 734, Asad brought fresh troops into the province and managed to suppress Harith's uprising in 735–736, although the rebel leader himself escaped capture. An expedition in Khuttal in 737 brought about the intervention of the Türgesh khagan at the head of an army. Despite initial Arab setbacks and the Türgesh invasion of Khurasan, Asad succeeded in inflicting a defeat upon the khagan in person at the Battle of Kharistan, turning back the Türgesh army. Despite Asad's death a few months later, this success was instrumental in preserving Muslim rule in Central Asia, as the blow to the khagan's prestige led to his murder soon after and the collapse of Türgesh power. At the same time, Asad's conciliatory policy towards the native population laid the foundations for its eventual acceptance of Muslim rule and the Islamization of Central Asia.

Battle of Baykand

The Battle of Baykand was fought in 729 between the Turkic Türgesh khaganate and its Soghdian allies and the Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate at Baykand, a town near Bukhara in Transoxiana (in modern Uzbekistan). The Arab army, under the governor of Khurasan Ashras ibn Abdallah al-Sulami, campaigned across the Oxus River to suppress a large-scale rebellion of the subject Soghdian princes, that had broken out the previous year and received Türgesh support. As the Arab army advanced on Bukhara, it was encircled by the Türgesh and cut off from water. A series of engagements followed that almost ended in a disaster for the Arabs like the "Day of Thirst" five years earlier, but in the end, through the inspirational bravery of a few Arab leaders and the actions of the vanguard under al-Harith ibn Surayj and Qatan ibn Qutayba, the Arabs broke through and reached Bukhara, which they laid siege to.

Battle of Kharistan

The Battle of Kharistan was fought between the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Turkic Türgesh in December 737 near the town of Kharistan in Juzjan, eastern Khurasan (modern northern Afghanistan). The Umayyads, under the governor of Khurasan, Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri, managed to surprise and defeat the Türgesh khagan, Suluk, and his ally, the Arab renegade al-Harith ibn Surayj.

The Arab armies of the Umayyad Caliphate had conquered most of Transoxiana in the early years of the 8th century, as part of the Muslim conquests. From c. 720, Umayyad rule was increasingly challenged by attacks from the Turkic Türgesh nomads from the north, and revolts of the native princes of Transoxiana. After a major defeat in the Battle of the Defile in 731, the Umayyads lost control over most of Transoxiana, while in 734–736 al-Harith ibn Surayj led a major rebellion against the Caliphate's governors in Khurasan itself. The appointment of the veteran Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri brought about the defeat of Ibn Surayj, but in 737 Asad's attempt to restore Umayyad control over Khuttal ended in a debacle when the Türgesh attacked his army. Although Asad managed to save most of his force, he suffered heavy losses, and lost his most of his army's baggage train and its escort in the Battle of the Baggage on 30 September. Asad withdrew to Balkh, leaving the field to the Türgesh.

While the Arab army demobilized and returned to their homes for winter, the Türgesh ruler Suluk, now advised by Ibn Surayj, launched an invasion of Lower Tokharistan. This left Asad with far fewer men to confront the Türgesh invasion, but when the Türgesh ruler dispersed his army to raid and gather forage, Asad seized the opportunity to confront him. With 7,000 men he surprised Suluk, who had only about 4,000 troops with him, and defeated him near Kharistan. The Türgesh ruler and Ibn Surayj managed to flee, but his camp fell into Arab hands, and most of the roaming bands of the Türgesh army were destroyed. This unexpected victory shored up the threatened Umayyad position in Khurasan, while diminishing the prestige of Suluk, who fell victim to inter-Türgesh rivalries in early 738. Asad's successor Nasr ibn Sayyar was able to use the collapse of Türgesh power, and by c. 743 had restored the Arab position in Transoxiana almost to what it had been before the Türgesh intervention.

Battle of Talas

The Battle of Talas, Battle of Talas River, or Battle of Artlakh (Chinese: 怛羅斯戰役; Arabic: معركة نهر طلاس‎) was a military engagement between the Abbasid Caliphate along with their ally the Tibetan Empire against the Chinese Tang dynasty, governed at the time by Emperor Xuanzong. In July 751 CE, Tang and Abbasid forces met in the valley of the Talas River to vie for control over the Syr Darya region of central Asia. After several days of stalemate, the Karluks originally allied to the Tang defected to the Abbasids and tipped over the balance of power, resulting in a Tang rout.

The defeat marked the end of Tang westward expansion and resulted in Muslim control of Transoxiana for the next 400 years. Control of this region was economically beneficial for the Abbasids because it was on the Silk Road. Historians debate whether or not Chinese prisoners captured in the aftermath of the battle brought paper-making technology to the Middle East, where it eventually spread to Europe.

Battle of the Baggage

The Battle of the Baggage (Arabic: ﻳﻮﻡ ﺍلاﺛﻘﺎﻝ‎, romanized: Yawm al-athqāl) was fought between the forces of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Turkic Türgesh tribes in September/October 737. The Umayyads under the governor of Khurasan, Asad ibn Abdallah al-Qasri, had invaded the principality of Khuttal in Transoxiana, and the local ruler called upon the Türgesh for aid. The Umayyad army retreated in haste before the Türgesh arrived, managing to cross the Oxus river just in time, while their rearguard engaged the pursuing Türgesh. The Türgesh crossed immediately after, and attacked the exposed Muslim baggage train, which had been sent ahead, and captured it. The main Umayyad army came to the rescue of the baggage train's escort, which suffered heavy casualties. The failure of the Umayyad campaign meant the complete collapse of the Arab control in the Upper Oxus valley, and opened Khurasan itself to the Türgesh.

Battle of the Defile

The Battle of the Defile or Battle of the Pass (Arabic: وقعة الشعب‎, romanized: Waqʿat al-Shʿib) was fought in the Tashtakaracha Pass (in modern Uzbekistan) between a large Arab army of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Turkic Türgesh khaganate over three days in July 731 CE. The Türgesh had been besieging Samarkand, and its commander, Sawra ibn al-Hurr al-Abani, sent a request for relief to the newly appointed governor of Khurasan, Junayd ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Murri. Junayd's army was attacked by the Türgesh in the pass, and although the Umayyad army managed to extricate itself from the pass and reach Samarkand, it suffered enormous casualties (some 25,000–30,000 men), while Sawra's 12,000 men, who had been commanded to attack the Türgesh in the rear in a relief effort, were almost annihilated. The battle, for which one of the most detailed accounts of the entire Umayyad era survives in the History of al-Tabari, halted and even reversed Muslim expansion into Central Asia for a decade.

Bindu of Bukhara

Bindu of Bukhara was Bukhar Khudah (king of Bukhara) from an unknown date to 681. Several rulers of Bukhara are known before him, however, it is not known if they were from the same dynasty. Bindu had a wife who is only known by her title of Khatun, who bore him a son named Tughshada. In 681, during the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana, Bindu was killed by the Umayyad general Salm ibn Ziyad. He was succeeded by his few months old son Tughshada.

Day of Thirst

The "Day of Thirst" (Arabic: ﻳﻮﻢ ﺍلعطش‎, Yawm al-aṭash) is the name traditionally given in Arabic historiography to a battle fought in 724 between the Turkic Türgesh khaganate and the Umayyad Caliphate on the banks of the river Jaxartes, in Transoxiana (in modern Tajikistan, Central Asia). The Umayyad army, under Muslim ibn Sa'id al-Kilabi, was campaigning in the Ferghana Valley when it learned of the Türgesh advance. Immediately, the Arabs began a hasty retreat to the Jaxartes, pursued and harassed by the Türgesh cavalry. Finally, after 11 days, the Umayyad army reached the Jaxartes, where it was caught between the Türgesh and the forces of the native Transoxianian principalities. Nevertheless, the Arabs managed to break through and cross the river to Khujand. The Umayyad defeat led to the collapse of Muslim rule over much of the region, which until ca. 740 remained disputed territory, with both the Arabs and the Türgesh fighting for control over it.


Divashtich (also spelled Devashtich, Dewashtich, and Divasti), was a medieval Sogdian ruler in Transoxiana during the period of the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana. He was the ruler of Panjikant and its surroundings from ca. 706 until his downfall and execution in the autumn of 722.


Gurak or Ghurak was a medieval Sogdian ruler in Central Asia during the period of the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana. In 710, he was installed as king (Sogdian: ikhshid) of Samarkand after the populace overthrew his predecessor, Tarkhun, due to his pro-Muslim stance. The Umayyad governor, Qutayba ibn Muslim, campaigned against Samarkand but in the end confirmed Gurak as its ruler. Gurak was a cautious and intelligent ruler, and managed, through shifting alliance between the Muslims and the Turgesh, to remain on his throne. Some time after the Muslim pyrrhic victory Battle of the Defile in 731, he managed to recover his capital, Samarkand, and achieve a quasi-independence which he maintained until his death in 737 or 738. His realm was then divided among his relatives (known from Chinese sources): Tu-ho, formerly prince of Kabudhan, received Samarkand, Me-chu'o was king of Mayamurgh, while a certain Ko-lopu-lo who was king of Ishtikhan in 742 may perhaps be identified with Gurak's brother Afarun.


Ikhshid (Soghdian xšyδ, xšēδ) was the princely title of the Iranian rulers of Soghdia and the Ferghana Valley in Transoxiana during the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods.The title is of Iranian origin; scholars have derived it variously from the Old Iranian root khshaeta, "shining, brilliant", or from khshāyathiya, "ruler, king" (which is also the origin of the title shah). The Ikhshids of Soghdia, with their capital at Samarkand, are well attested during and after the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana. The line survived into Abbasid times, although by then its seat was in Istikhan. Among the most notable and energetic of the Soghdian kings was Gurak, who in 710 overthrew his predecessor Tarkhun and for almost thirty years, through shifting alliances, managed to preserve a precarious autonomy between the expanding Umayyad Caliphate and the Türgesh khaganate. The Arab authors report that the title was also used by the ruler of Ferghana during the same period: Ibn al-Athir reports that it was the ikhshid of Ferghana who called upon the Chinese for aid against the Arabs, resulting in the Battle of Talas.The title's prestige in Central Asia remained high as late as the 10th century, when it was adopted by the Turkic commander and ruler of Egypt Muhammad ibn Tughj, whose grandfather had come from Ferghana. After his title the short-lived dynasty founded by Muhammad al-Ikhshid is known as the Ikhshidid dynasty.


Khuttal, frequently also in the plural form Khuttalan (and variants such as Khutlan, Khatlan, in Chinese sources K'o-tut-lo) was a medieval region and principality on the north bank of the river Oxus (modern Amu Darya, lying between its tributaries Vakhsh and Panj. It corresponds roughly to the modern Khatlon Province of Tajikistan.

The pre-Islamic Principality of Khuttal played an active role, sometimes as an ally, sometimes as an enemy, of the Umayyads during the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana, and it was not until 750/1 that the Abbasids finally established direct control over it. A branch of the Banijurids of Tokharistan ruled over the area under the Abbasids, and acknowledged the suzerainty of the Samanids in the 10th century. The area apparently retained an autonomous line of rulers in the 11th–12th centuries, when it came first under the loose control of the Ghaznavids, and after the middle of the 11th century of the Seljuq Empire. With the decline of Seljuq power, Khuttal passed to the control of the Ghurids and the Khwarazmshahs, under whom no native princely line is known. In the 13th century Khuttal became a part of the Mongol Empire and of its successor, the Chagatai Khanate, emerging once again as an autonomous principality following the latter's disintegration in the mid-14th century. In the 16th century, the Shaybanids took over Khuttal, and the name itself ceases to be used, being replaced by Kulob.


Kül-chor, known in Arabic sources as Kūrṣūl (كورصول) and identified with the Baga Tarkhan (Chinese: 莫贺达干; pinyin: Mòhè Dágān) of the Chinese records, was one of the main Turgesh leaders under the khagan Suluk. He is chiefly known for his role in the Turgesh wars against the Umayyad Caliphate in Transoxiana, and for being responsible for the murder of Suluk in 738, precipitating the collapse of Turgesh power. After eliminating his rivals, he rose to become khagan himself, but soon fell out with his Chinese backers and was defeated and executed in 744. Some Arabic sources, however, record that he was killed by the Arabs in 739.

Nasr ibn Sayyar

Naṣr ibn Sayyār al-Lāythi al-Kināni (Arabic: نصر بن سيار الليثي الكناني‎; 663–748) was an Arab general and the last Umayyad governor of Khurasan in 738–748. Nasr played a distinguished role in the wars against the Turgesh, although he failed to decisively confront the rebellion of al-Harith ibn Surayj in its early stages. Although respected as a soldier and a statesman, he owed his appointment as governor more to his obscure tribal background, which rendered him dependent on the Caliph. His tenure was nevertheless successful, as Nasr introduced long-overdue tax reforms that alleviated social tension and largely restored and stabilized Umayyad control in Transoxiana, which had been greatly reduced under the Turgesh onslaught. His last years were occupied by intertribal rivalries and uprisings, however, as the Caliphate itself descended into a period of civil war. In 746 Nasr was driven from his capital by Ibn Surayj and Juday' al-Kirmani, but returned after the latter fell out among themselves, resulting in Ibn Surayj's death. Preoccupied with this conflict, Nasr was unable to stop the outbreak and spread of the Abbasid Revolution, whose leader, Abu Muslim, exploited the situation to his advantage. Evicted from his province in early 748, he fled to Iran pursued by the Abbasid forces, where he died on 9 December 748.

Principality of Khuttal

The Principality of Khuttal, (also spelled Khatlan and Khotlan), was a local Iranian dynasty, which ruled the Khuttal region from the early 7th century to 750. The rulers of the region were known by their titles of “Khuttalan Shah” (king of Khuttal), “Khuttalan Khudah” (lord of Khuttal), and “Shir-i Khutallan” (lion of Khuttal). The capital and residence of the rulers was in Hulbuk, close to the city of Kulob.

Relief of Qasr al-Bahili

The Relief of Qasr al-Bahili was the successful relief of the Arab garrison of the small fortress of Qasr al-Bahili from the siege by the Turkic Türgesh Khaganate. Sent by the Umayyad governor of Khurasan, an Arab relief force under al-Musayyab ibn Bishr al-Riyahi managed to break the siege and escort the garrison to safety in Samarkand.

The siege marked the beginning of the Türgesh invasion of Transoxiana, which the Arabs had only recently subdued, and which became a battleground between the two empires for the following two decades.

Siege of Kamarja

The Siege of Kamarja was fought in 729 between the Arab Muslims of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Türgesh khaganate, along with its Soghdian allies. The Umayyad conquest of Transoxiana had been undone in the 720s by the uprisings of the local Soghdian princes and the Türgesh invasions. By 729, the small fortress of Kamarja near Samarkand (in modern Uzbekistan) was one of the last remaining Arab strongholds in Transoxiana, when it was attacked by the Türgesh under the personal direction of their ruler, Suluk. The subsequent siege, for which a detailed account survives in the history of al-Tabari, lasted for 58 days and ended with the negotiated withdrawal of its garrison to Samarkand. The stubborn defence of Kamarja was celebrated in Arabic literature, but the Arab hold over the region was broken after the Battle of the Defile two years later. It was only following the collapse of the Türgesh khaganate after 738 that the Arabs re-established their rule over Transoxiana.

Suluk (Türgesh khagan)

Suluk, Sul-lu or Sulu was a Turkic tribe leader and a warlord who defended Transoxiana against Umayyad Arab armies in the early 8th century (?-738).

Muslim conquestof Transoxiana


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