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Searches for an Imaginary Kingdom

The trefoil of the Bird's Eye View

Lev Gumilev


sik01 1. Tribes of the Great Steppe from Eighth to Tenth Centuries (176 KB)

4. The Dark Century (861-960)

End of a Century

The history of Middle Asia is clear and understandable only up to 861. [+1] Then, as a result of a fierce war, all the states and powers of East Asia were obliged to restrict themselves to their own territories. The Tibetans returned to their plateau; the Chinese retreated behind their Wall, the Uighurs established themselves firmly in the oases of the Western Territory, [+2] the Khitan [+3] ensured their independence by an eight tribe union in Western Manchuria and the remnants of the Turkut settled in the Mountain Altai. The Great Steppe became deserted and for half a century was the theatre of war between Uighurs and Yenisei Kirghiz who had not managed to establish themselves there. Or rather, they evidently did not particularly seek this. Used to a settled life in the bountiful Minusinsk basin, the Kirghiz saw the Mongol steppes simply as a place for military feats the aim of which was the spoils of war. When the desert lay between the Kirghiz troops and the Uighur camps, the Uighur women and children hid in the fortresses inherited from the Chinese military settlers, the war became profitless to the Kirghiz and gradually died down, although it did not officially cease.

The Uighurs quickly accustomed themselves to their new homeland, where they mingled with the local population of the rich oases of Turf an, Karashar and Kucha and transmitted their famous name to their descendants. From the end of the ninth century it was the settled inhabitants of the Tianshan foothills, essentially a new people, consisting of merchants, craftsmen and cultivators, who {48} came to be called Uighurs; this people in no way recalls the warlike nomads whose name it had acquired and bore. The new state was officially recognised by China in 874, [+4] despite the defeat inflicted by the Tangut on the Uighurs.

Tianshan Uighuria stretched southwards to Lobnor, westwards to the Manas and the Kucha oasis. [+5]

Uighur legal documents published by S.E. Maslov show that leasing, credit, the slave trade and debt slavery, taxes and dues, usury and interest, formal deals and witnessed signatures existed in tenth- to thirteenth-century Turfan. [+6] Uighur literature of this period is rich only in translations. The Uighurs translated from Syriac, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Tibetan, but left almost nothing themselves. Evidently there was such great intermingling that a hybrid culture was formed in Turf an. The historical tradition of ancient Uighuria was broken.

The political history of the Uighurs at the end of the ninth and beginning of the tenth century is obscure and unknown. There is vague mention that the Uighurs took the towns of Aksu and Barskhan from the Karluk; in the latter the ruler was a Karluk, but the inhabitants sided with the Dokuz-Oguz, [+7] i.e. the Uighurs. But soon the Kirghiz took Aksu, as a continuation of the war with the Uighurs, one must suppose, and Uighur aggression to the west ceased.

Probably there was also an attempt to expand eastwards, since Ganzhou again belonged to the Uighurs in 924.

Briefly, the Uighurs inherited the Chinese possessions of the Western Territory and converted the forepost of Chinese penetration to the west into a bulwark of Middle Asia both against the Muslim and against the Chinese, both of whom grew steadily weaker.

The defeat of the Tibetan army in 861 was the last triumph of the Tang Empire. [+8] From that time it decayed more or less rapidly, but steadily. The Tabghach, the warlike frontier landholders who set their own protege on the throne in 618, fused with the mass of the {49} people over three hundred years, but the traditional Chinese never sympathised with the Tang dynasty despite its advances to all classes of the population. Ethnic psychology alone played no small part in that. Since the fall of the Tang dynasty has been analysed economically, socially and politically more than once and in detail, [+9] we shall dwell only on the ethnopsychological factor which has been noted only by one author, N.I. Konrad, who called this phenomenon "the Chinese Renaissance" or "humanism". [+10]

Let us remember that the Tang emperors, seeking to create a general Asiatic Empire, readily supported religions coming from the west: Buddhism, Christianity and sometimes even Manichaeism. In the imperial theatre at the Court Indian and Sogdian dancers, performing half-naked, achieved success; to the true Chinese this seemed monstrously unseemly. One might think, what importance could this have for officials who had a Confucian education if, in its leisure time, the court diverted itself with exotic ideas and aesthetics; but let us only recall our eighteenth-century Old Believers and their attitude to decolletage. At different periods people feel and behave differently, and imperial caprice shocked even loyal officials, pushing them towards acts of opposition. Let us take just one case as an example: [+11] in 819 a bone supposed to be from the Buddha's finger was brought from India to Chang'an, the luxurious capital of China. The Emperor himself took part in a solemn ceremony to meet the relic and then the Confucian philosopher Han Yu submitted a note in which he wrote: "He, the Buddha, is dead, you know, and long ago. This is only a rotten bone. How can it be in the palace? How can the Son of Heaven worship dust?" The philosopher fell into disgrace, but he wrote knowing what was in store. The impulse of ethnic self-definition, a sort of medieval chauvinism was stronger than good sense and the desire for a career.

It was not philosophy and ballet, but military reform which {50} impressed wider sections of the population Turkish clothing and weapons were introduced into the army and, consequently, the soldier's training was changed, i.e. his whole everyday style of life was violated and reorganised. This was useful and even essential for war and politics, but for the Chinese people, from the simple peasant to the grandee official, it was foreign and offensive. Everything "barbarian" was so odious for the ultra-patriots that even Taoism and eclectic Confucianism, which showed patience with and interest in the world surrounding China, were also unacceptable to them. For example, the founder of "Chinese humanism" Han Yu writes "What are we to do? I answer: If we do not hinder the teachings of Lao Zi and the Buddha, our teaching will not spread. If we do not put an end to the teachings of Lao Zi and the Buddha, we will achieve nothing. If we turn their monks into lay persons, if we burn their books, if we convert their temples and shrines into dwellings, if we explain the Way of the ancient kings and thus take the people with us, if we care about lonely widows and widowers, about orphans, about the incurably sick and cripples, this will be close to what is needed " [+12]

In his treatise Han Yu bitterly complains that he is "only a professor" [+13]and has no access to power. Yet he is not quite right He succeeded in teaching a whole generation of officials who, after his death, applied his principles in practice. [+14] The results were not long delayed.

As soon as the imperial government welcomed this tendency, it found itself to be in a vice so terrible that it could not escape. Warlike generals were replaced by eunuch officials, they concentrated in their hands the whole administrative power in the capital, as well as enormous wealth. In the provinces military governors achieved the right to transmit their office to their heirs and this made them independent of the central authority. Officials received their posts after taking the examinations, but it was impossible to sit for them without bribery or influential support. Parties struggling with one another were formed, while taxes were exacted from the peasants as payment for all these illegal activities. Everyone became dissatisfied and blood flowed.

In 859-60 in Zhejiang province the peasants, tormented by {51} demands and punishments, rose in a revolt in which up to 30,000 took part It was only put down thanks to the fact that Uighurs and Tibetans, seeking refuge in China from their steppe enemies, were mobilised into the government forces In 868 soldiers in Guizhou rose in revolt and were joined by many peasants, the insurgents seized part of the province of Anhui. The government called out the forces of the Shato and Togon tribes and were again victorious In 874 a new rising overwhelmed the whole of China Its leader, Huang Chao, came from the family of a salt-trader who was too poor to enable his son to take the examinations for office. The details of this rising relate entirely to the history of China, but it is important for our subject that in 881 Huang Chao took Chang'an and proclaimed himself Emperor. With the title he accepted a heavy inheritance - the deep moral decay of the officials, the limitations of the poor peasantry, the treachery of the military commanders In 882 one of his associates, Zhu Wan, betrayed the cause of the rising and accepted from the hands of the Tang emperor the rank of jiedushi, military governor. This gave the government forces a breathing space during which a turning point occurred, the nomads entered the war.

The Shato Turks, the last descendants of the Hun, lived for a long time in Dzungaria, participating in the Tibetan-Uighur wars until, because of differences with the Tibetans, they entered the possessions of the Middle Empire. From 878 they settled in Ordos. Not understanding too much about the deep causes for the Tang Empire's degeneration, they recalled that this dynasty for three centuries, despite the will of its officials, had been well-disposed to the steppe peoples and saw them as people, not as wild animals. [+15] Therefore, at a critical moment, without thinking, they came to its aid. The Tangut, with whom we shall deal below, did the same.

Li Keyong, the young leader of the Shato, [+16] proved to be a talented general In the spring of 883 his troops, supported by the Tangut, defeated the rebels at the river Wei, drove them from the capital and pursued them, cutting down the fugitives Seventeen thousand Shato were enough to break the main forces of Huang Chao In 884 he committed suicide, his force was dispersed and became partisan detachments which resisted the government forces {52} till 901. But the strength and attraction of the Tang dynasty was not restored. As soon as the eunuch officials attempted to renew the old system two military governors carried out a coup d'etat. In 907 the last Tang monarch, the minor, Ai-di, was overthrown, the eunuchs killed and the double traitor Zhu Wen seized power, declaring himself emperor of a new dynasty, the Late Liang. A new period in China's history started from this point; this bears the title of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms.

New Rhythms

In describing the period which started in 907, the historian Andre Cordier writes: "it has to be acknowledged that this period in the history of China is of only middling interest. These leaders who thirsted for the imperial title, having no right to it other than the seizure of their neighbours" lands, moved merely by pride, advantage and military prowess without a common idea, coarse, uneducated, superstitious people, fearing nothing other than witchcraft and sorcery, they recall the barons of our feudalism, real predators tracking down their prey to throw themselves on it at the opportune moment, robbing town and country for the booty they accumulated in their castles. Not a single social idea, nor a single moral one, nothing noble, only brute force was the means and plunder and murder the aim of their actions. If they refrained from brutality, it was not from true religious feelings, but from terror of the supernatural forces they did not understand, but whose influence they greatly feared". [+17]

In this description something has been caught faithfully, but the author also failed to note something, looking at events too closely to catch the general pattern. It is scarcely helpful to observe the starry firmament in a microscope. Therefore, we shall deliberately omit a whole series of details which hide the perspective and concentrate attention on the intertwining threads of historical fortunes which condemned China to an unheard of humiliation and the Great Steppe to neglect and conversion into desert, while new states, menacing but ephemeral, arose on both its eastern and western borders; for it was this distribution of forces that was characteristic of the "dark" period of Asia's history.

{53} From the 890s regions of the Yangzi basin began to fall away from the central government, and when the dynasty changed the whole of southern China refused obedience to the new authority. Nine sovereign states were formed in the south, since the rulers of nine regions took the title of wang (king) and di (emperor). On the other hand, in the north the new emperor impressed many influential people. Treacherous and dissolute, deprived both of high intellect and of administrative talent, cowardly on the field of battle, he completely suited his associates, they did not differ from him at all and hoped that, with such a ruler, they too might give rein to their foul instincts. Therefore, no one stood up for the Tang dynasty apart from the Shato whose leader, the "one-eyed dragon" Li Keyong, declared war on the usurper.

Li Keyong relied on the help of the Khitan leader, Ye-lu Ambagan (Ye-lu A-bao-ji), with whom he had concluded an alliance in 905, but he betrayed him and proposed an alliance to Zhu Wen which the emperor proudly refused, deciding that he would suppress the rebellion even without the help of a savage. He then moved two huge armies against the small Ordos, these were scattered by Li Keyong. The Shato went onto the offensive and, despite the death of their leader in 908, were again victorious Li Congke, the son of the "one-eyed dragon" and who was of no less prowess than his father, finished the war successfully by 923 and restored the Tang empire Since he himself took the throne the dynasty is known as the Later Tang. [+18]

Again we see that it was not only the military leaders" ambition and greed that was the cause of war and the rum of China. No, the struggle between the Chinese nationalists who had supported the Liang dynasty and the nomads who had been Sinicized, though not completely so, who went into battle for the idea of the Tang dynasty continued. The line of this struggle passes like a red thread through the whole history of China in the period of the Five Dynasties.

Only by this can one explain the bitterness shown during the war, and even during its last days. One of the Liang commanders, wounded and taken prisoner, rejected the offer by his victor of mercy and high office if he sided with the Later Tang He preferred execution. [+19] One can hardly explain such conduct as egoism Evidently the Chinese had something to fight against, but Cordier is {54} right on another point: there also has to be something to fight for, and this was what was missing. At that time "the soldiers, as if out of mischief, killed one commander and put forward another". [+20] The positive programme of the Chinese chauvinists was the Utopia of the disciples of the "humanist" Han Yu, but although the Shato had no treatises in literary form they had the nomad traditions inherited even from the Hun. Apart from that, not yet having lost their links with the steppe, they attracted the Tatab, Khitan, Tatar and Togon to their banner. [+21] All these tribes had, in their time, been offended by the Chinese. They took no prisoners and themselves did not surrender. That was why they won.

Even the Khitan diversion undertaken by Ye-lu Ambagan in 921 could not change the situation at the front. Ambagan was routed and scarcely retained his own possessions, particularly since far from all his fellow tribesmen agreed with him. Of course, here too we see lust for power and greed, stubbornness and vanity, but these emotions noted by Cordier found their expression somewhat differently in China, Manchuria, Ordos and Tibet. People are not pawns on a chess board; they struggle better or worse according to certain nuances they do not themselves perceive, but the historian has no right not to perceive them. Indomitability became the banner of the age, and so the war continued.


A Third Force

The Khitan were a warlike, though not numerous, people. They belonged to the south-east branch of the Mongol-speaking tribes -the descendants of the Xian-bi - and occupied the steppe part of western Manchuria from the river Nonni in the north to the Liao He in the south. At first they were hunters and fishers, but in the seventh to ninth centuries they acquired the skills of cattle-herding from the Turks and borrowed those of agriculture from the Chinese. Without the resources for an independent policy, they were sometimes subject to the Turks and Uighurs, sometimes passed under the authority of the Tang empire only, a few years later, to secede again. However, in the second half of the ninth century, when steppe Uighuria fell and then the rising of Huang Chao bled the {55} Tang power white, the Khitan turned out to be the strongest and most united people of East Asia. The Khitan power was a union of eight tribes ruled by a common leader chosen for three years. History shows that, in fact, this term was not observed. Energetic leaders either perished sooner than it, or continued to make war after it. Nevertheless, such a law existed in principle.

The numerous hunting tribes of the Shivei, ancestors of the Tatars, bordered the Khitan on the north. The Tatab, whom the Chinese called Kumokhi or Xi (Chinese Si), lived in the west, bordering the steppes of present day Mongolia up to lake Dalai-Nur. The Shivei and Tatab were Mongol-speaking people and formed a single ethnic mass with the Khitan. The hunting tribes of the Jurchen (Manchur) dwelt to the east of the Khitan. Here, too, was the Bokhai kingdom which included a mixture of various Korean and Manchurian tribes amalgamated by a civilisation of Korean type. [+22] In the south the Khitan bordered China and, with varying success, continually carried on a small but bloody war with the Chinese on the frontier.

At the start of the tenth century, one of the eight leaders, Yelu Ambagan, was particularly active. After becoming chief leader in his turn, in 903 he made successful raids on the Jurchen and China's north-east frontier, strengthening his forces with Tatab who had joined him. In 904 he repeated his incursion into China, attacking the You region of Hebei and the Amur Shivei. From 905 Ye-lu Ambagan, bought by Zhu Wen, involved himself in the Chinese civil war, at first on the side of the Turkic Shato, then, in 907, on the side of the Liang dynasty.

After accepting luxurious gifts, however, Ambagan did not hasten to the aid of his ally. He preferred the easier war with his Manchurian neighbours, the Tatab and Jurchen. In 906 he struck them a powerful blow, at the same time plundering the Chinese You region. Thanks to this he achieved popularity with the troops and was enable to carry out a coup d'etat in 907 which Machiavelli himself would have approved for its method. The point was that, according to custom. Ye-lu Ambagan had served as leader for three years and should be replaced.

He then gathered the other leaders in a council and cut off their heads which were then set on the frontier. He declared himself {56} "Heavenly Emperor", his wife "Heavenly Empress" [+23] and continued his conquests, subduing the Shivei and Wuwan tribes in Northern Manchuria and the Jurchen in the Maritime region.

Ambagan's further activities amounted to subordinating neighbouring tribes. The Tatab submitted in 911, the Amur Ugi in 915, but final victory over the forest people was only achieved at the end of 919. In 912 Ambagan attempted to take Hebei where the military commander Liu Shou-kuang took it into his head to declare himself emperor. This attempt failed only because his own brothers rose against Ambagan. A year later they were seized, but the campaign did not succeed and meanwhile the Shato claimant, Li Congke, conquered Hebei and captured the usurper Liu Shou-kuang.

Gathering his forces, Ye-lu Ambagan undertook in 916 an attempt to pacify the west - the Turks (Shato), Duhun` (evidently the Uighur Hun tribe who had settled in Chinese possessions after the defeat of Uighuria) and the Dansyan (of whom we shall have much to say later). According to a Khitan court history, the Liao-shi, he succeeded, but in fact he suffered defeat by the Shato and took himself off to Manchuria. [+24] Afterwards the Khitan actively waged war against the Shato, but in a somewhat strange fashion: they plundered and drove into slavery the population of Hebei which consisted not of Shato, but of Chinese. The Shato, standing out against the Khitan, stood as defenders of the Chinese peasants against fierce barbarians. Thus, Ambagan, without wishing it, helped the triumph of the Shato forces and the restoration of the Tang Empire in the form of the Later Tang which took place in 923.

Unsuccessful in the south, Ambagan decided to compensate himself in the steppe. In 924 with a strong force he marched west against the Togon, Dansyan and Zubu. [+25] We may suppose that he sought to seize the possessions of his antagonist - the Later Tang Empire - {57} from the north and press the Shato to strictly Chinese territory. The description of the campaign in the Liao dynasty history is scarcely intelligible. We are told there was a battle by Sukum mountain, but it is unclear where this mountain was and with whom the battle was; a separate detachment was sent against the Zubu commanded by a prince of the blood. The prince and his troop plundered the whole region occupied by the Zubu and conquered the tribes on the Khomushe (the Humusi) (?!) and Feotutshan peaks. [+26]

If we hypothetically suppose that Khomushe is Qamar-daban, it turns out that the Khitan forces devastated the whole of Eastern Mongolia before they reached the ruins of the Uighur capital, Karabalgasun. Ye-lu Ambagan ordered an inscription to be carved in stone there commemorating his feat and returned without even leaving a garrison in the devastated steppe. There was no one to guard it against and no reason to do so. No one wanted it. So Ambagan's forces penetrated to the south of the steppe to Cuanzhou where they captured the tutuk (official) of the town, the Uighur Bilge. The prisoner was released to the Uighur idykut (title of a ruler) with a letter in which Ambagan proposed that the Uighurs should return to their homeland, i.e. the Orkhon valley, since he did not mind whether these lands belonged to the Khitan or the Uighurs. The ruler of Uighuria refused, referring to the fact that his people were accustomed to the new homeland and satisfied with what they had. [+27] The Kirghiz likewise had no claim on the steppe. They had long ago left it and departed to the bountiful Minusinsk basin where they were able to lead a settled life, engage in agriculture and livestock farming, but were not nomadic.

Is it not strange that the steppe, an apple of discord between powerful peoples until the ninth century, suddenly ceased to interest neighbouring powers in the tenth? This question is so important that we shall pay particular attention to it. [+28]

The conquest of the Bokhai kingdom was Ye-lu Ambagan's last {58} success. [+29] Early in 926 the government put itself at the mercy of the conqueror, and in the autumn a rising by the population was put down. The Khitan exterminated the royal house, took the aristocracy to their capital and sent the ordinary people in masses to the uninhabited regions, uprooting them from their homes. Ye-lu Ambagan died at the beginning of 927 leaving his heir, Deguang, not the illusory authority of a leader over a tribal union, but the throne of a large kingdom which had called itself an empire from 916. This newborn empire had much strength and not a few enemies.

The Shato were still the most dangerous opponents of the Khitan. After the defeat of the Liang dynasty, all the south China rulers of regions transferred their allegiance to the renewed Tang dynasty, with the exception of the Shu kingdom (in Sichuan). There were 30,000 troops in Shu, but when the Tang forces arrived in 925 they gave in without fighting. The southern Chinese had forgotten how to fight. But they had not forgotten how to slander and the Tang emperor Li Congke, on the basis of the slanders of those around him, executed his most faithful companions. Only the military leader Li Siyuan escaped. He raised a rebellion against the court eunuchs and favourites. In 926 the troops went over to his side and his own favourites killed the emperor; on entering the capital, Li Siyuan transferred them elsewhere, thus establishing order. Ambagan wanted to make use of his neighbour's troubles and retained the Shato emissary, demanding the concession of Hebei from the Later Tang Empire, but he was refused. [+30] It became clear from this time that a clash between the two Sinicized barbarian empires was inevitable, but Ambagan's death delayed the conflict.

Now, after looking around, we have the right to pose an important question: how are we to regard the Khitan state (in the full sense of this word) - as the heir of the nomad powers of Central Asia, or as a peripheral variant of the Chinese empire? The Chinese themselves considered the Khitan barbarians. Wittfogel, in the work already cited, considers them so Sinicized that he combined them in a single cultural circle with China as a provincial empire of which there were then ten. The only distinguishing feature of the Khitan empire, which received the Chinese name of Liao, was that it {59} remained an independent state to the end, while all the others were swallowed up by the national Chinese Song empire in the second half of the tenth century. Was this so?

First of all, we must reject the idea that the Khitan kingdom continued, or tried to continue, the traditions of the kaganates. From a primitive tribal union Khitan became, not a military democratic elem, [+31] but a feudal empire. Not cattle raising, but agriculture became the basic occupation of the population. Writing was borrowed from China, i.e. hieroglyphs were adapted to the agglutinative Mongol language. [+32] To the traditional rejection of Chinese ideology and system of education, a feature of all the steppe dwellers, the Khitan counterposed the acquisition of Chinese culture, winning the services of learned Chinese, and they reinforced this process by the accretion of Bokhai and part of Northern China (Youzhou, now Beijing). It seems that K. Wittfogel is right. But this is not yet all.

The Khitan government carried out a policy of enforced Siniciz-ation and strove to eliminate the remnants of the clan and tribal system and break the power of the tribal aristocracy. Wide sections of Khitan society opposed this policy - aristocrats, people and the tribes included in the state. They either rose with weapons in hand, or simply refused to wear Chinese style dress and learn Chinese characters. It reached the point where, alongside the Emperor's Chinese palace, there was the empress's court at which Khitan custom was observed. [+33] A gulf appeared between the authorities and the people in Khitan. The authorities held the initiative in policy, but the people managed to remain themselves. Both Chinese and steppe Turks were equally foreign to the Khitan people.

The moist but cold climate of Manchuria and the Maritime region determined a particular landscape in these lands, known to the Russian reader from V. K. Arsenev's splendid descriptions. The Mongol, Manchurian and Korean tribes adapted themselves wonderfully to their moist forests and full rivers, as well as to the valleys between the mountains and volcanoes which afforded people a livelihood. In the tenth century the economy of the Far {60} East peoples as we shall call them, as distinct from Chinese and steppe dwellers, was on the rise. Then the possibility of conquest arose, for those remaining at home could easily feed those in the forces.

There were those to be fought, and for some reason! The Tang Middle Empire had seized Liaodong and Korea and envisaged further schemes, for Central Manchuria. All the tribes from the Sungari to the Amur were threatened with enslavement that could only be avoided by combining. Ye-lu Ambagan simply guessed, or, perhaps, understood, where events were leading and seized the initiative.

So, in our opinion, the Khitan state was the van of a particular Far East ethno-cultural complex. It was a fantastic interweaving of the traditions of various tribes and peoples: agricultural (Bokhai), hunting (Jurchen and Shivei), cattle raising (Tatab), and fishing (Ugi), more or less influenced by the Chinese and the nomad Turks. But we should regard this complex not as a periphery of China or the Great Steppe, but as a "third force" for the first time appearing on the stage of world history in the tenth century. China resisted the Khitan as far as it was able, but the Great Steppe was silent. Why?

The Rains Intervene in History

Anticipating the investigation, we have given a brief geographical description of the territory lying between the Great Wall and the huge green barrier of the Siberian taiga which borders the steppes on the north. In the "dark" period with which we are concerned both these barriers were broken. On the one hand, the Central Asian nomads, the Khitan, penetrated into China and settled there, leaving their native steppes; and on the other, the ancestors of the Yakuts, the Kurykan, moved into Siberia.

While the migration of the Khitan fails to evoke the immediate question: why? (after all, the majority of historians do not know the delight of the steppes), the transfer to Siberia demanded an explanation. At first glance it seems that here is a violation of the principle in accordance with which a people seeks to settle in a landscape similar to that in which it was formed. But no, the Kurykan migration took place along the great river Lena on rafts borne by the current and the Kurykan settled on the bordering meadows and in the valleys fringing the clear lakes. However, all the beauties of {61} northern nature failed to make good the loss of the fragrant steppes of the Baikal region conceded by the Kurykan to the Buryats who, in their turn, had left the even drier Trans-Baikal area. [+34]

Let us recall that it was then, too, that the Pechenegs left the Aral steppes and the Karluk the Balkhash ones. It looks as if we have here no simple coincidence, but a regular phenomenon characteristic of Central Asia in the tenth century.

So, we see the consequences, but the causes are obscure. Of course, the simplest thing is to declare that development occurred and the peoples began to behave differently. Yet it is true and indisputable that social development depends on economic progress, on technical improvements, and what improvements can there be in a herding economy? There is no reason to change the form of the whip or the lasso. So what, then - stagnation?

Nevertheless, changes took place, and their scale was not less, but greater than those in settled agricultural lands, provided, of course, we compare equal time spans; for example, century with century. That is the method in the natural sciences when comparing functional dependence and there is no reason to forego this fruitful method in relation to series of historical events united in a causal sequence. This is the basis on which we shall try to solve the problem.

In East Asia the Pacific monsoons are the analogue of the Atlantic cyclones and change their track in just the same way. Sometimes they carry moisture to Mongolia; then, the Gobi is restricted, the slopes of Hentei are covered with trees and Baikal is full of water. Sometimes, moving to the north, they precipitate their moisture on the Yablonovoi range and it flows back through the Amur; and, in the third case, they water Kamchatka. The periods of the passage of the monsoons coincide chronologically with the tracking of the cyclones through the western steppes. The level of Baikal which is 50% supplied from the steppes through the Selenga is proof of this. It is found in opposition to the Caspian and coinciding with the Aral and Balkhash. [+35] Despite the fact that archaeological work around Baikal has not aimed at establishing the historical {62} fluctuations in its level, we are able, nevertheless, to define more precisely the periods of steppe desiccation because the history of the Caspian is well known. Thanks to the regularities noted, it is easy to conclude that a period of increased moisture in the steppes in the ninth century was succeeded by a dry period ending early in the eleventh century. At this time there took place the emigration of the Turkic peoples from the steppes to its borders and the contrary settlement of the steppe by the Amur peoples, the ancestors of the Mongols and the Mongol-speaking Tatars, who acquired a rich, new region, multiplied and grew in strength.

A review of the historical facts in this regard shows that the geographical setting, determining the natural circumstances, had a colossal part to play in the historical development of the peoples in the forest-steppe zone in Eurasia and was sometimes a decisive factor in the fate of mighty states. At times the talents and feats of rulers were unable to save their peoples from destruction, while in other cases mediocre khans were in a position to maintain the might of their hordes. Of course, the talent and might of leaders, other things being equal, were very significant, but the fate of the peoples in the forest-steppe zone in Eurasia was decided by rain and green grass.

Apart from the similarity of geographic conditions in the western and eastern borders of the Eurasian steppe which we have noted, a real difference of cardinal importance for us is also to be seen: the seasonality of moisture.

In the west, as far as the Altai and the Tianshan, an almost complete absence of summer precipitation and the winter influence of the Atlantic cyclones is a feature. This means that the steppe burns up in summer, but in winter is covered with such a thick layer of snow that livestock cannot get through it. Moreover, frequent warm spells are associated with the cyclones; these cause bare ice to form and then the animals perish wholesale. Therefore, the nomads use the steppes for a spring bite, but herd the animals into the hills for the summer; there there are luxuriant alpine meadows in the valleys between the ranges. For winter they prepare hay.

Each of the mountain valleys belongs to a particular clan, so the local nomads spend the greater part of the year in their own circle. Thus, the custom of extensive social exchange does not arise among them. They always avoided combining into large hordes, preferring unions of tribes or clans; consequently their part in world history has {63} amounted to a defence against external enemies, and this has rarely been successful. [+36]

Moreover, the presence of mountains, in places crowned with glaciers, of slopes, sometimes covered with dense woods, sometimes scorched by the burning sun (depending on whether it was a northward or southward facing slope), numerous mountain springs and streams created exceedingly favourable conditions for the Sayan-Altai and Tianshan nomads compared with the severely continental conditions of Mongolia. Yet the pulse of history beat in the east of the steppe, not here.

In Mongolia the monsoons bring moisture in summer; the centre of an enormous anti-cyclone hangs over the steppe in winter. In winter there are clear, sunny days and quiet, windless weather. Light winds only occur at the edges of the anti-cyclone. So little snow falls that livestock can be on pasture the year round, and on the borders of the Gobi the snow fallen during the night does not melt, but evaporates (owing to insulation) with the dawn.

In summer Central Asia is heated by the sun and a continental, tropical air results, but there is enough rain to maintain the vegetational cover and livestock find themselves enough to eat even in the valleys. The herds and herdsmen are on the pastures the year round and encounter one another. Therefore, the custom of constant exchanges with one another on a wide scale arises among the eastern nomads; this makes it possible for them to combine and actively repel the pressure of their sedentary neighbours, of whom the most dangerous was the Chinese empire. Chinese strength exceeded that of the Hun twenty times and that of the Turkut fifty times, but the nomads" cohesion and ability to organise, evoked by their daily life, afforded them victory over their terrible enemy.

If this is so, the absence of a powerful military power in the steppe meant either a complete lack of population or its extreme paucity. As has been shown above, the number of people in the steppe is limited by the amount of water. So, the fact that the written sources mention no state on the territory of Mongolia in the tenth century is evidence of the formation here of desert, and as soon as the monsoons returned to their southern track new peoples and new powers {64} began to arise in the steppe whose history was immediately noted by their neighbours [+37]. This occurred in the eleventh century.

We have closed the chain of analysis, doing it in two ways, and reached the same conclusion. This means it is reliable Our task now is to show how this conclusion can be used.


While prior to the tenth century the key to understanding the history of Central Asia was the struggle we have outlined between China and the Great Steppe, now the situation had changed radically. Chinese society had fallen a victim of social crisis and was so demoralised that it was unable to repulse the attack of the Shato tribe, few in numbers, foreign to the Chinese in blood, language and culture. The Great Steppe was turned into a desert. The southern nomads added to the forces of the Shato prince, the northern ones took shelter on the borders of the Siberian taiga, while the former Turkic and Hun nomad lands were pastured by wild camels and Przhewalsky horses able to cover hundreds of kilometres merely to quench their thirst at springs which had not yet dried up.

The strength of the peoples of Manchuria appeared against this background, for them the reduction in precipitation was a benefit since their climate was moist enough and fewer floods and less luxuriant vegetation was only of advantage to agriculture. This increase in strength should not be regarded as absolute. No, the strength of the Manchunan tribes united by the Khitan empire remained as it had been, but their competitors and enemies grew weaker so that the Khitan had the chance to claim hegemony in East Asia.

The greatest hindrance to the Khitan empire was its own failure to overcome the past - its tribal existence. Not only the Amur and Maritime area tribes of hunters and fishers (Shivei, Tile, Ugi, Jurchen), not only the agricultural population of Central Manchuria (Bokhai), but also many members of the eight tribe Khitan union failed to understand the need to sacrifice life and freedom for the greatness of Ye-lu's dynasty Even in the king's family unity was lacking After Ambagan's death the empress, using her influence {65} over the troops (women occupied an exceedingly high position among the Khitan and had a deciding voice in all matters other than military), placed on the throne her favourite, Deguan's youngest son. [+38] The legal heir, the eldest, Duyu, was forced to flee to the Shato, to the Later Tang Empire, i.e. to seek help from his country's enemy. But what else could he do? Perhaps commit suicide?

The Turkic Shato were in quite a different situation. They won a brilliant victory in 923 using the remaining strength of the nomads from the desiccating Great Steppe. With this, though, the steppe reserves failed, and to keep the multi-million people in obedience the Chinese themselves had to be brought into the administration. We have seen that Li Congke, the founder of the dynasty, paid with his life for his predilection for the Chinese theatre (actors became the emperor's favourites and received state posts) and his trust in the eunuch officials Li Siyuan, the new emperor, an illiterate, but brave and intelligent. Turk of noble character, clashed both with this problem and with a new one, still more complex, insoluble even. The Shato officers appointed by the rulers of the southern regions willy-nilly found themselves in a Chinese environment and imperceptibly, gradually started to behave like Chinese officials, the only difference being that they did not have even simple literacy. To win the battle was easier than to realise that success.

The domination of Southern China by central authority was purely nominal, but it was impossible to achieve even that. Thus, in 927 an inspector sent to Shu (Sichuan) to carry out a census was executed by the region's ruler, then regional administrations began to be acquired by military force, as under feudalism Making use of the confusion, the ruler of Wu (south-east China) declared himself emperor. A rising in the north-east was still more dangerous, here the ruler, Wang Du, fearing that he would be deposed, seceded and appealed to Khitan for help This evoked open war between the Shato and Khitan, or between the empires of the Later Tang and Liao.

The Shato were victorious The rebel and his allies were besieged in the fortress of Dingzhou. Some townsman opened the gates and the fortress fell Wang Du was burnt in his house which had been fired by the conquerors, the Khitan leader surrendered, was taken in chains to the capital and executed {66} In 929 the Khitan replied to their defeat by an incursion into Shanxi (Shansi), but retreated as a result of many losses in killed and captured. The Shato were unable to build on their success, since Shu again seceded and the officers of their own army rose in revolt there. An attempt to put them down ended in defeat for the government forces and the war only died out in 931 when the cause of the rising, a minister unacceptable to the troops was executed.

The Shato were supplied with enough money and people for defence, but not for attack, and they sought peace with the Khitan. So, in 931 they returned all their prisoners, retaining only their most famous officer, Zhe La. The Khitan, though, seizing the opportunity, devastated the north-eastern regions of China. The emperor then appointed as ruler of Hedong (the territory east of the Huang He bend) the most able Shato commander, Shi Jintang, but this displeased the governor of You (Beijing) and he surrendered the town and region to the Khitan in 932.

Two misfortunes occurred in 933: Shu again seceded and its ruler proclaimed himself emperor; the ruler of the town of Xiazhou in Gansu died leaving a son who was a minor. The emperor wished to appoint a new ruler for Xiazhou, but the town did not accept him and withstood a siege by the regular army. Ten thousand Dansyan [+39] arrived from the steppe to help the rebels; they devastated the country, smashed the Tang Army and, cutting down the fugitives, drove it to complete destruction. The emperor was compelled to recognise the rebel ruler. It is difficult to say to what such an unbelievable defeat might not have led, had not the Khitan, disturbed by the growth in Dansyan strength, sent a powerful army against them; [+40] although this did not achieve the desired results, it deflected the Dansyan troops into the steppe to defend their settlements. The Later Tang empire was saved, but, alas, by its mortal enemy.

Even the iron constitution of Li Siyuan could not withstand this, {67} but as soon as he fell ill his eldest son introduced troops into the palace to assure himself of the throne. The sick emperor's grandson, Li Congke, came to his defence and was driving the claimant from the palace with the help of loyal troops. During the skirmish the rebel prince was killed and the emperor expired.

Coming to the throne, Li Congke attempted to set the administration in good order and, to do this, to transfer several governors to other posts. They were accustomed to their familiar places and refused to obey. An adopted son of the dead emperor headed the rising, a Chinese named Wang who, on being adopted, was called Li Congke. He ruled on the western frontier where there were many troops guarding against Dansyan and Tibetan attacks. Li Congke moved with these troops against Loyang without meeting resistance. How could this happen?

There is no direct answer or analysis of these events in the history of China, but let us recall that the best, Shato, troops were concentrated on the north-east frontier commanded by the Shato Shi Jintang, withstanding the thrust of the Khitan. The Chinese forces, though, saw in the pretender their fellow countryman. That is all. In 934 the legal emperor was taken prisoner and strangled, and the rebel Wang took the throne. Finally, a Chinese appeared at the head of the Chinese empire and the whole country submitted to him, including Shi Jintang and his Shato troops.

The first thing the new emperor did was to establish a system for shadowing the regional rulers. The Chinese governors put up with this, because each of them knew that, had he been emperor, he would have done the same. But for a Turk such a system seemed unnatural and unbearable. Shi Jintang informed Wang that he did not consider adoption a real relationship and proposed to hand power to the legal heir, the son of the strangled Li Conghou. In answer to this ultimatum Wang executed two sons of Shi Jintang who were at the court and moved his forces against Hedong. Then Shi Jintang opened the frontier and invited Khitan aid, recognising the Khitan emperor as his "father" which, in the terminology of the time, indicated the relationship of a subject to his sovereign. Fifty thousand Khitan passed through the fortified passage of Yaimen without loosing a single arrow and in 936 on the valleys of Shanxi they turned the Chinese army to flight.

After this, Deguan detached sixteen areas from China, including Yu (Beijing), left Shi Jintang five thousand horsemen and allowed {68} him to finish the war, which he did The Shato and Khitan invested Loyang, where the usurper had hidden In order not to fall into enemy hands the latter burnt himself in his house along with his family, this ended the war.

The new dynasty was called the Later Jin, named after the first principality founded by the Shato after the defeat of Huang Chao's rising The princes of Jin had been the famous "One-eyed Dragon" Li Keyong and his son, Li Congke, before he became, to his misfortune, emperor. The choice of the name tells of a return to Turkic traditions, among which was union with the Khitan against China Yet, nevertheless, this was not a Turkic empire The greater part of the non-Sinicized Turkic Shato continued to engage in nomadism north of the Great Wall, and the overwhelming majority of the subjects of the Later Jin were Chinese. One can only ignore one's own subjects if one has great strength Shi Jintang acquired that by the alliance with the Khitan whose vassal his empire became.

Thus, Khitan became the leader of Eastern Asia, but not so much thanks to its prowess as to the demoralisation of its southern, the scarcity of its western and the disorganisation of its north-eastern neighbours. But the most significant event of this period was that part of the ancient Chinese lands, though an insignificant one, came under the power of foreigners. This determined the course of history for many centuries ahead.


The Liao Empire

Shi Jintang had saved his life by going over to the enemy, but no more than that. He was a vassal to the Khitan Deguang, despite the splendid imperial title he had acquired. Part of the regional rulers refused to acknowledge him, others observed external obedience but engaged in a network of conspiracies. The population of the towns handed over to the Khitan rose in revolt, but were savagely put down. However, this rising predetermined the threatening disturbances. In 937 South-eastern China seceded and its ruler took the title of Emperor of the Southern Tang. The Chinese then used this famous name as their banner.

Complete disorder reigned in the Later Jin Empire and this was useful only to the Khitan who, in 937, occupied Liaodong and ten years later gave their empire the Chinese name of (Iron) Liao. [+41]

{69} This was in truth an iron empire, so merciless to conquered peoples that nomads and Chinese combined to struggle against the oppressors. In 941 several border tribes [+42] proposed to Shi Jintang to post 100,000 troops to attack the Khitan, but were refused. This demoralised the rebels; some tribes fled, and the rest were defeated in 942. However, the wave of dissatisfaction continued to swell and after Shi Jintang's death, despite his testament, his son was kept from the throne which was occupied by his nephew Shi Zhonggui [+43] who immediately tried to liberate his country. He arrested a Khitan official and Khitan merchants and confiscated their goods. This meant war.

The first Khitan offensive in 944 was rebuffed, but in 946 Deguang, making use of the venality of the Chinese commanders, took the capital of China, Kaifeng, and seized the emperor. Without thinking long, he took the throne, and all the governors but two submitted to him. Returning home in 947, he took with him an enormous number of Chinese prisoners who later settled in Manchuria and intermingled with the Khitan. Chavannes and Wittfogel assert that "this monarch founded the truly Chinese dynasty of Liao". [+44] On the way home he died.

From this time the dynasty became as it were Chinese. Deguang changed his costume for Chinese dress robes and surrounded himself with Chinese officials; [+45] he established customs in his country closer to early feudalism than to the old tribal system [+46] and, even before the victory, in 944 he refused a dynastic alliance with the Uighur Arslan-khan. How different is this from the time when the founder of the empire, Ambagan, declared his goodwill towards Buddhism in 916 and justified this to his fellow tribesmen as follows: "Buddhism is not a Chinese religion". [+47] Thirty years had passed and Khitan had left the nomad world, more than that, it had become hostile to it.

Did this not suit the Liao Empire, not to mention the Khitan people? As soon as the corpse of the conqueror had been taken to {70} Manchuria, China rose. On this occasion the Shato and Chinese united and the regent of Hedong, Li Zhiyuan, with the active help of the population, slaughtered the Khitan officials posted to Chinese towns, drove out the foreigners and founded a new dynasty, the Later Han. But the alliance of Turks and Chinese turned out to be unstable. In 951 a Chinese, Guo Wei, overthrew the son of the liberator, who had begun to execute his father's generals, and founded a purely Chinese empire, the Later Zhou, which was very hostile to everything foreign. The remnants of the Shato attempted to organise resistance in Shaanxi where they created the Northern Han kingdom which, thanks to an alliance with the Khitan, survived until 969; but this epic, like the wars between the Liao and the Song Empire, which replaced the Zhou in 960, are part of Chinese history, while we are concerned with the steppe world independent of Chinese influence.

Let us note certain features which are important to us. First, the transposition of forces. In the early tenth century the Chinese were opposed to the Tang traditions which defended the Turkic Shato. Then they were victorious, but a quarter of a century later Chinese came to power who were the ideological descendants of Huang Chao and the Shato returned to their old lands. The vector of history had shifted through 180╟.

Second, the sharp decline in Shato strength and even their degeneration over two generations. As long as they were a Turkic tribe with the fighting skills of the steppe dwellers they were victorious. Mixing with the Chinese they did not fuse with them. The Shato emperors were obliged to supplement their troops and administration with representatives of the local people and as a result a conglomerate was formed where a few Turks ruled and a mixed stratum administered the Chinese population. Tribal traditions, of course, disappeared and the nationality, dispersed, was converted into a pro-nomad party, unpopular, of course, among the mass of the people and no longer a fighting force.

Third, and most important, the Chinese reaction to foreign domination. Let us adduce a few characteristic facts. Guo Wei, despite his stormy period, patronised the study of classical literature although himself illiterate. But he also desecrated and plundered eighteen tombs of the Tang emperors. [+48] The direction of policy is {71} clear. Chai Rong, Guo Wei's ancestor, closed 30,000 Buddhist monasteries, leaving only 2,694 for very old monks and nuns, [+49] and melted the bronze images of the Buddha down into coin. [+50] A typical secularisation achieved by the founder of "Chinese humanism", Han Yu! [+51] Then, under the Song dynasty these traditions were strengthened and excluded from China the whole peaceful culture accepted under the Tang dynasty. [+52] Then, at the end of the tenth century the Buddhists found refuge in the oases of the Nanshan foothills and on the shores of Liao He, and the Nestorians in the Great Steppe. The hearts of those driven out were hardened. Instead of subjects who were freethinking dreamers, China now had tireless and implacable foes. Such was history's price for achieving like-mindedness.

Food and Spice

Our brief exposition of events has had only one aim: to follow the mechanism of the split between the Chinese, Khitan and Turkic Shato. Now we can return to the main thread of our investigation and see how this episode appears in the presentation of a twentieth-century Chinese historian. The victory of the Khitan, of course, is ascribed to the treachery of the commander, unfortunately not a Turkic Shato, but a Chinese, who "shamelessly deceived the soldiers and compelled them to be disarmed. The doleful cries of the soldiers shook the whole valley". [+53] Well, but what sort of an army is this which allegedly wants to fight, but then, in tears, surrenders to an enemy small in numbers?

Well, all right, but it gets stronger. "The mighty movement of popular forces [who killed isolated officials - L.G.] gave rise to terror and confusion in the heart of Ye-lu Deguang who, turning to his suite, said: 'I did not know it would be so difficult to subordinate the people of China!' In a panic, he fled to the North taking with him a great number of the population and much property..." We must begin with the fact that the chronology of events is confused. At first {72} Deguang set off for home and died on the way, then the rising flared up when few Khitan troops remained. [+54] Next, what sort of a panic is it when the conqueror is returning with huge booty? And he went to war solely for this. Finally, why did he "flee" when he left a regent in Kaifeng? It was this regent that Li Zhiyuan, a Shato, the true saviour of the Chinese people, drove out. But the only mention of him is that "at this time the former jiedushi (military governor) of Hedong proclaimed himself emperor in Taiyuan". The Chinese rewarded their defender, you see! Guo Wei, a soldier who had become a general betrayed and killed Li Zhiyuan's son, but it is said that "he was well acquainted with the people's sufferings", followed by a panegyric to his virtues. That he pushed the Turkic Shato into the embraces of the Khitan, thanks to which China was obliged to wage war for thirty years, merely to return Shaanxi, of this the reader may guess, although the author has done everything to confuse the matter. But the whole text is built up on quotations from the sources. So what? Not bad, is it?

And then there is another extreme: the arid extraction of information from the same sources. Such are the books by H. Cordier and R. Grousset. They are useful as reference works, but the need for reference absolutely demands an interest in the subject, and this is lost in a kaleidoscope of names, dates and facts. It is as difficult to read these books as the technical handbook by Hutte, and there is no need. No aesthetic delight results, the memory is fruitlessly exhausted and rejects information not related to any central core. But the latter has only to appear and the information falls into beautiful ranks.

By the core I understand a perspective. One may regard the history of the heroic Shato tribe from various points of view. The history of their victories and destruction is a problem of the failure of various cultures to fuse from the humanitarian perspective; a problem of an obligatory change of landscape by ail ethnos and an impossibility of secondary adaptation from the perspective of historical geography; a problem of inter-breeding with incongruous psychological attitudes from the biological perspective; and, finally, a problem of regression from the perspective of the philosophy of history. In any event, it results in an interface between sciences. But there is also a purely historical perspective - the logic of the events {73} themselves - for example, an enemy invasion evokes resistance or flight; a threat to the life of a regent, a rising or betrayal; the plundering of a people, the poverty of the state; the protection of others, the dissatisfaction of one's own people, and so on. The ninth- to tenth-century events we are investigating here were a consequence of that variety of causal link which, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Pushkin called "the force of circumstances", and which now Porshnev proposes to call a "chain reaction". This is a second order regularity. Imposed on the first order regularity - the development of productive forces and relations of production - and summarising, these patterns form that groundwork of events which is the starting point for historical analysis. The surface of an event displays merely the consequences of deeply hidden causes. Wars and treaties, laws and reforms arranged in synchronic tables permit the historian, by complex analysis, first to elucidate the motives for events, and then to synthesise the course of the process; and this is the crown of historical investigation.

An Attempt at Spatial Analysis

The brief information adduced about the Shato and Khitan may seem excessive, because specialists in Far Eastern history possess, and can even simply recall, much more information; but, then, other specialists, historians of the Near East, archaeologists, Turcologists, and even historians of Central Asia, are as a rule educated readers, and no more, of the history of the Far East, and the other way round, too. In making sense of the history of Asia and Europe as a unity it is more useful to select and adduce the necessary data, rather than send the reader to rare, heavy works which he will not always be able to find and read. Equally, one should not make him undertake the selection from kaleidoscopic events; professional skills are needed for this, and they vary with different specialists. Therefore, although a brief sketch of the formation of the Khitan Empire is, of itself, not research, in the general plan of our theme this is one of the cornerstones of the building we are constructing.

The second essential support is the western frontier of the nomad world. Here our task is simpler, for the reader will encounter names known, accustomed places and events of which he could not have failed to hear from childhood. We only have to recall them and {74} arrange them in the order needed to restrict the historical "gap" to a minimum. For a start, let us recall that the chief enemy of the nomads was the so-called "world of Islam", their involuntary ally was Byzantium, and the object of their incursions was Latin-German Western Europe, and that heathen Russia occupied a special place. Let us try to make sense of this kaleidoscope by applying the panoramic method.

While Huang Chao was shaking the foundations of the Tang dynasty, and the Dansyan, Shato and Khitan were still timidly sheltering along the borders of the once terrible empire, the might of the "Abbasid caliphate collapsed. Turkish guards in Baghdad changed the caliphs at their will, the leader of a brigand band, Yakub ibn Saffar, seized the eastern regions of Iran and dictated conditions to the vice-regent of the Prophet; in lower Mesopotamia slaves (zindji) brought from the bazaars of Zanzibar rebelled, and the Greeks went over from defence to the offensive and took Asia Minor from the Muslims. At the same time the Karluk moved south from the region of the Seven Streams and took Kashgar in 861. In the West the empire of Charlemagne collapsed, at first into three kingdoms: France, Lotharingia and Germany, and then into ten, and it continued to fragment. Papal authority increased against this background and opposed itself to the Byzantine emperor; Pope Nicholas I excommunicated Patriarch Photius from the church and thus initiated the Schism between the West and the Christian East.

Twenty years passed. The Tang Empire fell, the eight Khitan tribes united. At this time in the Near East the zindji had been defeated, but the Bedouin of Bahrein had advanced against the caliphate - the Qarmatians who took control of the whole of Arabia and Syria. In Central Asia in place of the Saffarid brigands the mighty power of Ismail Samani was created, loyal to the caliph, but essentially independent. It was able to halt the onslaught of the "faithless Turks" on Central Asia, though the Europeans were unable to do this. The Magyars penetrated into Pannonia (895) and soon converted it into Hungary. The Pechenegs, after losing the war with the Guz, made their way into the Black Sea steppes (889) and reached the mouth of the Danube (900). Byzantium heroically repelled the onslaught of the Bolgars, and Western Europe became the object of attacks by Normans and Hungarians, the latter twice reaching Spain. Then the undistinguished Carolingians were deprived of power and feudal lords took over the matter of defence {75} with Eudes, Count of Pans, showing an example and defending the town from the Normans (886)

In the years when the Khitan Deguang was creating the Liao empire and set his minion on the throne of China (936), at the western edge of the steppe, around the Black Sea, a brutal war developed between the declining califate and a Byzantium growing in strength The Greeks made systematic advances on the Arabs and took from them Samosata, Malatia and Western Armenia But the Muslim were able to give blow for blow they acquired new allies The Volga Bolgars converted to Islam (922) and the Jewish government of Khazaria, linked to the Hither East by trade, supplied the Muslim with a flow of income in the form of valuable furs from the forests of Biarmia, or Great Perm About 932 Khazaria entered the war and compelled the Alans to renounce Orthodoxy The Byzantine emperor Romanus Lecapenus in response began to persecute the Jews in Byzantium and they left in masses for Khazana Rus', where Igor was ruling from 912, took Byzantium's side, but in 915 the Khazars had set the Pechenegs on Rus' and about 940 the Rus' military leader, Khel'gu, attempting to seize the fortress of Samkerts (Taman'), was obliged to capitulate to the superior forces of the Khazar ruler, Pesakh. The Russians were released on condition of concluding a military alliance against the Greeks, [+55] and the Khazars compelled the Pechenegs to do the same. Yet in 941 Igor's attack on Constantinople ended in complete defeat, and a second misfired, despite Pecheneg help.

We have to think that in Rus' at that time there was no single foreign policy, since simultaneously with Igor's attacks some Rus' force passed through Khazaria along the Volga and plundered the town of Berdaa in Azerbaijan. This campaign also brought the Rus' neither wealth, nor fame Epidemics claimed many victims, and those who survived were driven out by the Muslim forces. The Rus', however, could only pass to the Caspian with Khazar permission. Therefore, one should recognise that in the 940s the leadership in Eastern Europe belonged to the government of Khazana.

The interpretation we have proposed does not agree with the generally accepted one put forward by S.M. Solov'ev which is based on the chronicler's silence about clashes between the Khazar kaganate and Oleg's Rus' principality. The sensitive historian paid {76} special attention to this gap in the chain of events, but, lacking adequate facts, he supposed that the Pecheneg threat tied down the Khazar forces. [+56] Now, in the light of M.I. Artamonov's general survey, it has become clear that the Rus' lost the first war with the Khazars. [+57] That was why the members of Igor's retinue began to complain to the prince of their poverty and compelled him to undertake the suicidal campaign against the Drevlyane in 946.

The difficult situation of the young principality of Kiev only improved in 957, when Ol'ga restored the alliance with Byzantium, accepting baptism and becoming the god-daughter of the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus himself. After this, Rus' detachments appeared in the Byzantine army, fighting in Crete and Syria in 960-62, and Rus' itself gathered its forces for a struggle with the Khazar kaganate. But fortune smiled on the Rus' warriors only in the 960s; before this there had been a difficult period about which the chronicler preferred to speak evasively.

The disposition of forces changed throughout the whole world. The increase in the strength of Western Europe began. The German king, Otto I, defeated the Hungarians on the Lechfeld (955) after which the advance of the Europeans on the rest of the world began.

And the nomads? As before, they sought the borders of the steppes, whatever it might cost them, for the steppe was drying up. Not having the strength to break the defensive lines built by the Samanids in Central Asia, they began to accept Islam in order to be allowed into regions where there was still some water. At first these were the Turkmen-Seljuks, then the Karluk (960) and, finally, the Yagma tribe (about 1000). In just the same way the Pechenegs strove for the great rivers Dnepr and Danube, because the great, silent desert was extending at their backs, swallowing up the steppe grass and filling the streams with sand.

That is why the tenth-century chroniclers are silent about events in the centre of the continent. For a long time no events took place {77} there, and when they began again, they immediately appeared in the chronicles and geographical treatises. But this is a new period which will be dealt with later.


[+1] L.N. Gumilev, Drevnie Tyurki, 434-5.

[+2] In antiquity the Tarim basin, the southern part of the present province of Xinjiang, was called this.

[+3] A Mongol-speaking people, descendants of the ancient Xianbi.

[+4] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, I, 339.

[+5] G.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo, Zapadanaya Mongoliya, II, 362.

[+6] S.E. Malov, Pamyatniki drevne-tyurkskoi pis'mennosti, 200-20.

[+7] V.V. Bartol'd, Ocherk istorii Semirech'ya, 17-18.

[+8] N.Ya. Bichurin, Sobranie svedenii o narodakh, I, 339.

[+9] H. Cordier, Histoire generate de la Chine, I, Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, L.V. Simonovskaya, G.B. Erenburg, M.F. Yur'ev, Ocherki istorii Kitaya

[+10] N.I. Konrad, Zapad i Vostok, 119-51.

[+11] Now I wish to abandon the academic rule and, instead of giving references to a source, ask the reader to look at the account of this tragic episode in V Istrin's fine book, The Willow Branch (Moscow, 1957, in Russian), where the psychology of the period is reconstructed in truly artistic fashion We should not neglect the possibilities of elegant literature when accompanied by erudition and talent.

[+12] N.I. Konrad, Zapad i Vostok, 127, 140.

[+13] Ibid., 147-8.

[+14] Ibid., 149.

[+15] The Chinese called the Shato "black crows" and their leader a One-eyed Dragon.

[+16] He was 28 years old.

[+17] Histoire generale de la Chine, II, 5.

[+18] Ibid., 8.

[+19] Ibid., 17.

[+20] Shan Yue, Ocherki istoru Kitaya, 259

[+21] H Cordier, Histoire generate de la Chine, n, 14.

[+22] E.V. Shavkunov, Gosudarstvo Bokhai, 51.

[+23] K.A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, History, 398, 574 Wittfogel adduces an enormous bibliography which, over the last twenty years, has been supplemented by Japanese archaeological works, as well as by Russian and European research Since a special study of Khitan history is not part of our task, we shall limit ourselves to a brief exposition essential to explain our problem - the dynamics of political and ideological forces in the period before Chinggiskhan Therefore, the material is adduced selectively and in a way we have adopted for the period.

[+24] Ibid , 528, 575, H Cordier, Histoire generate de la Chine, II.

[+25] Zubu signifies the nomad pastoralists A general tribal name which indicates the Tatar tribes (see below) They are mentioned for the first time under this year.

[+26] H Conon von der Gabelentz, Geschichte der Grossen Liao, 25.

[+27] G.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo, Zapadnaya Mongoliya, 371.

[+28] The supposition that the Khitan forced the Enisei Kirghiz out of the steppe has not been confirmed either directly by the sources, or by a reconstruction of the events The Kirghiz are not named among Ambagan's enemies and there are no mentions of battles which must have taken place if two mighty powers contended with one another for a territory important to them War between Khitan and Kirghiz is an invention of twentieth-century historians trying to fill a gap in chronology and the factual account.

[+29] A.P. Okladnikov, Dalekoe proshloe Primor'ya, 179f.

[+30] H. Cordier, Historie generale de la Chine, II, 24.

[+31] L.N. Gumilev, Drevnie Tyurki, 101-2.

[+32] Preliminary communication on the decipherment of Khitan writing.

[+33] V.P. Vasil'ev, Istoriya i drevnosti vostochnoi chasti Srednei Azii ot X do XIII veka, 183.

[+34] A.P. Okladnikov, Yakutiya do pnsoedineniya k Russkomu gosudarstvu, 365.

[+35] A.N. Afanas'ev, Kolebaniya gidrometeorologicheskogo rezhima na territorii SSSR, v osobennosti v basseine Baikala (author's abstract of doctoral dissertation), 38.

[+36] L. N Gurailev, "Po povodu predmeta istoncheskoi geografii. Landshaft i etnos, III", Vestnik LGU, 1965, No. 18, 119.

[+37] On droughts at that time see L.N. Gumilev, 'Istoki ritma kochevoi kul'tury", Narody Azii i Afriki, 1966, No 4, also his Otkrytie Khazaru, 92.

[+38] His Khitan name was Okiji (V.P. Vasil'ev, Istoriya i Drevnosti, 16).

[+39] The Dansyan were one of the Tibetan tribes who in antiquity lived south of Koko Nor, but in the seventh century moved to the foothills of the Nanshan (Western Gansu) and there intermingled with the remnants of the Huns, Turks and Togon (the southern branch of the Mongols), thanks to this they formed a particular people, quite powerful, speaking a Tibetan language G.E. Grumm-Grzhimailo (Materialy po etnologii Amdo i oblasti Kuku-nora, 16-19) considers that the Di people, who once occupied Western China and were exterminated by the Chinese, were among their ancestors.

[+40] K.A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, History, 577.

[+41] H. Cordier Histoire generale de la Chine II 36.

[+42] Togon, Dansyan, Turks, Hun, Kibi, Shato (Ibid , 37).

[+43] To avoid complicating the text, only the names of emperors are given, not their posthumous titles.

[+44] K.A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, History, 4.

[+45] V.P. Vasil'ev, Istoriya i drevnosti, 181.

[+46] L.I. Diman, "K istorii gosudarstva Toba Vei i Lyao i ikh svyazei s Kitaem", Uchenye zapiski Instituta vostokovedeniya, 28.

[+47] K.A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-Sheng, Jfetory, 291,293, 579.

[+48] H. Cordier, Histoire generate de la Chine, II, 48-9.

[+49] Ibid , 50.

[+50] Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, 269.

[+51] N.I. Konrad, Zapad i Vostok, 119f.

[+52] L.N. Gumilev, Drevnie Tyurki, 175-7.

[+53] Shan Yue, Ocherki istorii Kitaya, 267 (and this page only). What if we were to analyse the whole book.

[+54] Cp. V.P. Vasil'ev, Istoriya i drevnosti, 19.

[+55] M.I. Artamonov lstoriya khazar 373-7.

[+56] S.M. Solov'ev, Istoriya Rossii, I, 149-50.

[+57] M.I. Artamonov (Istoriya khazar) himself does not draw this conclusion (see pp. 382-3), but comparison of his own data with the general situation in the mid-tenth century shows that Joseph, king of Khazana, was right when he wrote that only his stubborn and successful war with Rus' had saved all the Muslim lands as far as Baghdad from being plundered (P.K. Kokovtsov, Evreisko-khazarskaya perepiska v X v, 83-4, 102), and this is confirmed by the existence of an alliance with the Muslim rulers in the Near East.


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