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This blog presents my different wargames armies, after action reports, campaigns which I have run, some scenarios and a presentation of some of the different rules I play. The pages at the top of the blog contain historical information on the periods that interest me. They are an aid to my poor memory, and not in any way exhaustive nor necessarily correct. As I am an Englishman living in France, some pages are in English and others in French...sorry, I am too lazy to translate...

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Early Medieval Asia


Central Asian history, in which nomadism plays an essential role, is best approached through its cultural groups rather than its political entities. I have chosen a linguistical approach so as to identify the different peoples.


The Turkic languages belong to the Altaic language group, along with Mongol.
The early Turkish speakers were nomads. Their social groups are difficult to classify. At a historical level, they are generally tribal confederations, in which one (or more) tribes / clans have a predominant role. These groups are changing and unstable, generally imploding when the dominant group loses control.

The most appropriate approach is the one used by the Turks themselves to define the political unit : the Horde, that is the ordo, "the chief's fortified camp". The Horde is thus first and foremost the army but seeing as the army regroups all valid men from 12 to 99 years of age, th Horde is also the 'people'.
An ordo (people, political unit) is often immense : that of the Karakhanids, for example, numbered 200,000 tents (over a million persons), herding 20 to 30 million beasts. The disturbance created by such movements can easily be imagined.

Tokuz Oghuz
c. 550-600, a tribal confederation called the "Nine Tribes" (Arab Ghuzz) coalesce amongst the peoples of the Balkach-Aral region that the Chinese sources name Tegrek or Tchie-Lo ("The Tall Chariots"). 
Although the Arab appellation of Ghuzz for this group givezs an impression of historical durability, in reality, its frontiers and composants shifted as different tribal groups took and lost their domination. Nonetheless, for ease of narrative, I will speak of "Ghuzz" tribes.
The first such to have a role in history were the Turuk (the T'ou-kiue of Chinese sources). In 552, they destroyed the Juan-Juan and founded an empire centred on Mount Otuken, in northern Mongolia. The extension of the Turuk Empire allowed the various Ghuzz tribes to migrate westwards, settle around Lake Balkach, and begin to filter into the Transoxus. Iranian culture in the Transoxus begins at this date its long decline; Central Asia will be Turkish and not Indo-European.

In 744, the Turuk are massacred by the Uighurs, a non-Ghuzz tribe. Uighur domination was brutally interrupted around 840 by the Kirghiz. The Ghuzz - the western Turks - become once more independant of Mongolian-centred empires. c.900 it is the Yaghma that take the lead of the Ghuzz confederation. The Yaghma reorganise the Ghuzz into 24 clans, that now nomadise from Lake Balkach as far as the Bulgar kingdoms.
Among these 24 clans are the karakhanids, who convert to Islam in 960 and overthrow the Samanids in 999; and the Kinik, whose chieftain was a certain Seldjuk. Chamanist converted to Islam, Seldjuk leaves it to his grandson to dominate the whole of Iran, and bring the "Ghuzz", become Turkmenes or Turcomans, into the Middle East, wherever local conditions suit their lifestyle - the Zagros, the Fars, Azerbaijan, Anatolia.

The On Oygur ("Ten Allies") brought down the Turuk Empire in 744 and inherited their eastern realms. Weakened by their defeat at the hands of the Abbasids (Talas, 751), the Chinese were unable to intervene. Indeed, they were even obliged to call on the Uighurs to put down An-Lushan's great rebellion (755). An-Lushan, a Turkish mercenary from a noble family of Sogdia, who took and burned the twin capitals of his Tang employers, disaster which ultimately led to their collapse in 907.
The Uighur capital was on the Orkhon river in Mongolia. Adopting Sogdian as their second language, they gained access to Iranian culture. They abandoned their chamanism for Manecheism. The brilliant Uighur civilisation was brought low in 840 by the Kirghiz. Those Uighur that fled to China were massacred, but other tribes migrated to the Sinkiang region and the Tarim basin. 
Chasing off the Tibetans, the Uighur slowly took control of the oases and, in 890, founded the stable Kingdom of Kotcho, which lasted until 1330. During this period, the Uighurs adopted Buddhism, Turkicised the whole Tarim basin and gave birth to a unique and particularly tolerant culture.

The Kirghiz are, ethnically speaking, Indo-Europeans, with blond or red hair and light-coloured eyes; they were possible Slavs. Established in the Ienessei valley, they were culturally and linguistically Turk, however. In 840, one hundred thousand Kirghiz horsemen crush the Uighurs and take control of Mongolia until 924, when the Khitan push them back to their original homeland. Despite a certain level of civilisation in the Ienessei, the Kirghiz bring little to Mongolia.

Originally part of the Toghuz Oghuz, the Petchenegs left their confederation to migrate westwards. c. 750 they are installed around the Aral Sea, but the pressure from other Ghuzz drive them to the Volga and Don regions. It is the arrival en masse of the Petchenegs that forces the Magyars westwards, with tragic consequences for Carolingian Italy...
By the year 900, the Petchenegs and their immense herds dominate the immense steppe north of the Black Sea, from the Don to Moldavia. In 934, they push into Thracia, from whence they begin a series of attacks against Byzance.

During the 5th century, a fusion of Uighurs, Sabirs (a Finno-Ugric people) and Barsiles (sedentary Indo-Iranians living around the Caspian) gives rise to the Khazar confederation. They form an important and long-lasting state in the Transcaucasian region, to which the Rus put an end in 965. The last Khazars are assimilated by the Khwarezm in the 11th century.

Following the fall of the T'ou-kiue, a Turkish khagan established "Great Bulgaria" around 630. Twenty years later, the Bulgars begin a two decade long war with the Khazars, which breaks them up into three Hordes. The first flees westwards, to rule over Slav peoples to whom they are quickly assimilated (linguistically and culturally). The second Horde, the Black Bulgars remain to serve the Khazars. 
The last group move northwards, where they form the kingdom of the Volga Bulgars. Converted to Islam in the 10th century, the Volga Bulgars resist both Khazars and then Rus, before falling to the Mongols in the 1220s.

Known also as Cumans, this Horde could be found around the Ob and Irtych rivers in 850. Ethincally Indo-European, they are, like the Kirghiz, of Turkish culture and language. Around the year 1000, the Cumans suddenly leave their homeland and migrate westwards. They settle around the Black Sea in 1064 and occupy Ukraine. As of this date, they furnish the Islamic states with the majority of their mamluks.

The white areas on this modern-day map help illustrate the uninhabitable zones of Central Asia (deserts and mountain chains).

Until 924, the tribes that will ultimately give their name to Mongolia dwell, in fact, much further north, close to the Siberian forests. Influenced to diverse degrees by Uighur culture and - strangely enough - by Nestorian Christianism - Naimans, Keraits and Onguts inflitrate into Mongolia after the Khitan defeat of the Kirghiz. There they are joined by Turkish-speaking Tatars, whose name becomes intimately associated with their great and universal imperial adventure of the 13th century.

Residing in Mandchuria, the Khitan unite under one leader in 907, enter into Mongolia and throw out the Kirghiz. 
They then abandon this region and penetrate into China, where the Tang have recently collapsed. In 936, they found the Liao dynasty and rule over northern China.
In 1125, they succumb to the Djurchen and return back to their nomadic lifestyle. Crossing the whole of Central Asia - and causing enough havoc amongst the Muslim states there to give rise to the legend of Prester Jean - the Khitan found a Buddhist state in north-east Turkestan, known to posterity as the Karakhitai.


The principal Iranian language in this region was Persian. Old Persian died out c. 300 along with cuneiform script. The pahlavi tongue of the Sassanid Empire was its direct descendant. With the Arab invasions, pahlavi was relegated to the literary sphere, preserved by the strong attraction of the Turkish peoples to Persian culture.

With the Samanid dynasty (874-999), Persian re-emerged as parsi, heavily influenced by Arab grammar and loan-words. Modern-day Iranian farsi is the descendant of this tongue.
The Ghaznevids exported parsi to Afghanistan and India, and it is to Mahmud of Ghazni that Firdawsi dedicated the Persian 'national' epic, the Shah-nameh. Nonetheless, the Persian language was still only timidly present in the Transoxus region : the Karakhanids of the 11th century, for example, used Turkish as their court and literary idiom.
The Seldjuks of Iran, however, speak parsi. So do those Turkmènes that take the throne of Ispahan in the 14th century and found the first 'national' Persian dynasty, the Safavids.
Persian was not the only Iranian tongue, however, and Sogdian, Khwarezm and Kurdish were used on and beyond the frontiers of the Sassanid state.

Sogdians are Iranian speakers settled in the Transoxus, depositaries of a brilliant Sassanid culture influenced by Buddhist thought and intense cultural exchanges with the East. Sogdian was the lingua franca of the Tarim basin from the fall of the Sassanids until the appearance of Uighur kingdoms.

This is the name given to Sogdian peoples settled in the Tarim, in cities such as Khotan. Buddhists, they come under Chinese cultural influence from c.650, and Uighur domination as of c. 900.

The denomination of Tajiks applies to all those sedentary Persian-speakers settled in Turkestan and in northern Afghanistan (Bactria).

Settled since time immemorial around the Oxus delta, the Khwarezm held to their ancestral beliefs and to Mazdeism despite heavy Arab colonisation as of c.650. The arrival of Muslim Turks in the Oxus Delta c. 950 begins the slow process of conversion to Islam. Islam is the state religion of the brief Khwarezm Empire of the 13th century, crushed by the Mongols.

The Khurasanians are of Arabo-Persian culture. Integrated into the Samanid Persian Empire, they are beyond the scope of this section.

The earliest waves of nomads - Scythians, Cimmerians - were Iranian-speakers. The Alans, descendants of the Sarmatians, followed on their heels. One branch settled in Spain, another in Caucasia. Coalising around an Alan kingdom that controlled the strategic Daryal Pass, the Alains quickly came under Khazar suzerainty. Sensitive to Christianity, they converted around 900, and were one of Byzance's most reliable allies.

Redoubtable mercenaries, the Daylami had a constellation of kingdoms in the mountains of western Iran.


Khazar vassals, the Burtas dwelt just south of the Volga Bulgars, and could furnish up to 10,000 horsemen to their overlords.

A Finno-Ugrian people (doubtlessly intermingled with Turks), the Magyars found the kingdom of Atelkousou in the Dneipr-Danube region. They are dynastically linked to the Khazars. The Petcheneg migration overruns Atelkousou in 895, forcing the Magyars westwards into Pannonia (modern-day Hungary).


These soldier-slaves are an essential phenomenon in Turkish history.
As of the 8th century, either through a lack of soldiers, or a lack of trust in the various families surrounding the throne, the Abbassid Califat began to recruit a corps of slaves, bought as young men on the Sogdian markets, and trained as warriors. The Arabs called these mamlûks (Arab : "White slaves"), as opposed to Sudanese slaves who, although they sometimes fought, were generally domestics.
By the reign of Mansur and al-Mu'tasim (837-842), Turkish mamlûks were omnipresent in the army and the administration. In 861, they rebelled, put the caliph al-Mutawakkil to death and nominated his successor. As of that day, it was the mamlûks who ruled in reality in Baghdad. Three other Caliphs perished in the 10th century at their hands. 
The mamlûks of the Califat no longer appear to have been devoted Muslims. Unlike the later Egyptian mamlûks, or the Ottoman janissaries, they were purchased as adults and not as young children bought up in the faith. They remained isolated from the local population, and married Turkish women purchased for them by their ruler.
Most importantly for the regions that interest us here, many Persian and Turkish kingdoms copied Arab practice and built their royal armies around a core of slave-soldiers. They called them by the Persian equivalent of mamlûk, which is ghulam.
Drawing on the Asian steppe, Sogdia remained the main recruiting area until the 11th century, when Kiptchaks and Georgians became common.

Sogdia / Transoxus

The Transoxus region was under Kushan domination until the 6th century. This heavily urbanised region controlled the western end of the two "Silk Roads".
Turkish dynasties were founded here under the T'ou-kiue; when their protectors fell, they came under Chinese and then, after Talas (751), Arab domination.
In 900, the Samanids install their capital in Boukhara. Sogdia was in many ways the preserver of Persian culture, and it has been suggested that Sogdian mamlûks brought Persian culture into the heart of the Abbassid Caliphate, and transmitted it to the Safarid Samanid and Ghaznevid dynasties. It is certain, in any case, that all the Turks of this region were influenced by Persian language, culture, thought and military practice.

The Tarim Basin

From the mountain passes of Samarkand and Kashgar, the Tarim basin stretches east, a constellation of oasis in a harsh desert, culminating 2500km away, beyond terrible Gobi Desert, in the ancient Chinese capital of Xian.
The Tarim basin is a refuge from the unstable nomadic peoples to the north of its impenetrable mountains. If caravans of 5,000 men and 3,000 beasts can follow the Tchou and Ili valleys, smaller and less well-protected convoys - 4-5 donkeys or camels, 20 or so men - can follow the Silk Road of the Tarim.
It is via this region that Buddhism (in its mahayana version) was transmitted from India to China, arriving in the Far East around 100 AD. The Tarim basin was doubtless one of the great centre of Buddhist thought in the medieval period. Nestorianism was also enthusiatically welcomed, and no doubt transmitted to the Mongols.

Under T'ang suzerainty from 650, the Tarim was subjugated by the Tibetans. The Chinese were permanently eliminated from the region in 751, after the battle of Talas. Chinese culture ran deep however in the region : the most striking example is a city such as Khotan.
With the Arabs keeping west of the mountains, it was the Uighurs that next moved into the Tarim basin, and founded the Kingdom of Kotcho. The Indo-European (Sogdian and Serindian) population was gradually replaced by Turkish-speakers, the Uighurs arriving en masse, especially after the collapse of the centralised Tibetan state in 842.
In the mid-tenth century, the Karakhanids moved into the western Tarim and founded a dynasty at Kashgar; their conversion in 960 began the islamisation of the western cities and the eastern oases.

The Khazar state

Freed from the T'ou-kiue yoke, the Khazars founded their own state c. 650. After a long war with the Bulgars, they dominated the Transcaucasian (Alains,...), the northern shores of the Black Sea, the Crimea, and the Ukrainian steppe.
The Khazars were ruled by a khagan, a semi-magical figure whose powers were feared even by neighbouring people, and who could be put to death in times of great suffering for the people. Defeat at the hands of the Arabs in 737, which removed Khazar control of the southern Caucasus, seriously damaged the prestige of the khagan. The beg, the holder of executive power, issued from another clan, gained in power and became the focal point of a great revolt in the mid-9th century.

Both sides in the civil war relied on external allies. The khagan paid Magyar mercenaries; the victorious beg relied on Ghuzz and on Petchenegues, who now took over key roles in the state, and notably in the royal army.
Seriously weakened by this long war, the Khazars were unable to contain nomadic pressure from the east. The Petchenegs spilled into the steppeland between the Dnepir and the Danube. If the Khazars were able to trouble Byzance throughout the 10th century, they proved unable to resist the onslaught of the Rus. Their capital fell in 965.

The Khazar elite drew much of its power from the control of key commercial routes : that linking Asia and Europe via the steppe; and the Volga route that brought Baltic amber and furs to the Arab and Persian world. 
The kingdom included several major towns, which assured customs and police duties. The capital, Atil, harboured Rus, Slav and Muslim merchants. The great fortress of Sarkel, founded in 834 and attributed a permanent garrison of 300 Ghuzz and Petchenegs, watched over a commercial crossroads in the north Caucasus.
Atil was essentially a city of tents, even if it did include clay and opulent brick palaces. Nonetheless, the Khazars, like their subject peoples, increasingly adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle. Only the Petchenegs kept to a purely nomadic existence.
The Khazar conversion to Judaism some time in the 8th century has obviously led to lot of spilt ink. Whatever their motivations, Judaism was just one of the many religions accepted in Khazarie. Atil for example counted 30 mosques, and Byzance exerted a powerful cultural attraction.

After the Arab invasion, the Khazars had to compose with other powers in the Transcaucasian region. Unfortunately, the implosion of the Abbasid Califat coincided with the civil war, and the beg was unable to block the formation of strong Muslim emirates (Arabs, Kurds and Daylami). In the meantime, they had to face with persistent Byzantine support of the nascent Christian kingdoms (Georgia, Armenia, Abkharia,...).

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