The 751 AD Battle Of Talas Deciding The Fate Of Medieval Central Asia

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Mural of Turkic cavalry, Beshbalik (10th Century)(CC0)

The 751 AD Battle Of Talas Deciding The Fate Of Medieval Central Asia

In the eighth century, as Charlemagne forged his European empire, and the Vikings emerged from the bowels of Scandinavia as the most fearsome raiders of their time, fierce battles raged simultaneously in a landscape, replete with rugged deserts, titanic mountains and endless plains, in a faraway land to the East. The battleground was in Central Asia, an enormous region tucked in between the Middle East and the Far East where the Arabs, Turks, Tibetans, and Chinese fought relentlessly to impose their political authority on each other, and on the diverse and ancient realms they aspired to make their subjects. Amidst the uneasy alliances, violent betrayals, and brutal conflicts, two major players, the Chinese and the Arabs, would meet in pitched battle for the first and last time in 751, in what would be a clash of cultures and arms that would determine the fate of medieval Central Asia. 

Arabs besieging the city of Samarkand, captured in 722 AD. Palace of Devastich (706-722), Penjikent mural (Public Domain)

The Tibetan-Türgish Alliance

In the year 729, the army of the Tibetan kingdom was called upon by its ally, the Türgish, a Turkic confederation, to intervene in the province of Sogdia located in Western Central Asia, at the request of the native Khurasanians. Open conflict had erupted here after an Arab invasion by the Umayyad governor, Asras al-Sulami, and the introduction of a series of repressive policies. The combined regiments of the Türgish, the Khurasanians and the Tibetans proved too much for the Arabs, who lost all their gains in Sogdia with the exception of the ancient city of Samarkand and the fortresses of al-Dabusiyya and Kamarga, which remained in their possession.

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