The Battle of Talas,
Battle of Talas
Battle of Talas River, or Battle of Artlakh
(Chinese: 怛羅斯戰役; Arabic: معركة نهر طلاس) was
a military engagement between the Arab
Abbasid Caliphate along with
their ally the
Tibetan Empire against the Chinese Tang dynasty,
governed at the time by Emperor Xuanzong. In July 751 CE, Tang and
Abbasid forces met in the valley of the
Talas River to vie for control
Syr Darya region of central Asia. After several days of
Karluks originally allied to the Tang defected to the
Abbasids and tipped over the balance of power, resulting in a Tang
rout. The defeat marked the end of Tang westward expansion and
resulted in Muslim control of
Transoxiana for the next 400 years.
Control of this region was economically beneficial for the Abbasids
because it was on the Silk Road. Historians debate whether or not
Chinese prisoners captured in the aftermath of the battle brought
paper-making technology to the Middle East, where it eventually spread
4 Aftermath and historical significance
5 Geopolitical aftermath
6 See also
The exact location of the battle has not been confirmed but is
believed to be near
Taraz and Talas on the border of present-day
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The Chinese name Daluosi (怛羅斯, Talas)
was first seen in the account of Xuanzang.
Du Huan located the city
near the western drain of the Chui River. The war was the
Tang dynasty and the
Abbasid Caliphate at the
Tang Dynasty in Inner Asia
Map of the
Tang Dynasty circa 700 CE showing its expanded western
territories at that time, connected to the main part of the empire by
the long and narrow Hexi Corridor.
Before the battle, there were other indirect encounters between some
of the combatants, and the military might of China had been projected
beyond the harsh continental climate and the dry desolate difficult
terrain of the Tarim Basin, much of which consists of the Taklamakan
Desert, as early as the Han Dynasty, when
Emperor Wu of Han
Emperor Wu of Han sent
military expeditions to seize horses, which got as far as the Fergana
Valley. Then, in 715, Alutar, the new king of Fergana, was installed
with the help of the
Arabs of the Umayyad Caliphate. The deposed king
Ikhshid fled to
Kucha (seat of Anxi Protectorate), and sought Chinese
intervention. The Chinese sent 10,000 troops under Zhang Xiaosong to
Ferghana. He defeated the Arab puppet-ruler Alutar at
reinstalled Ikhshid. The inhabitants of three Sogdian cities were
massacred as a result of the battle. The second encounter occurred
in 717, when
Arabs were guided by the
Turgesh and besieged two cities
in the area of Aksu. The commander of the Chinese Protectorate General
to Pacify the West, Tang Jiahui, responded using two armies, one
composed of Karluk mercenaries led by Ashina Xin (client qaghan of
Onoq) and another composed of Tang regulars led by Jiahui himself.
In the year 750,
Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah
Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah (As-Saffah), the founder of
Abbasid Caliphate, launched a massive rebellion (known as the
Abbasid Revolution) against the incumbent
Umayyad Caliphate from the
province of Khurasan. After his decisive victory at the Battle of the
Zab and eliminating those of the Umayyad family who failed to escape
to Al-Andalus, As-Saffah sent his forces to consolidate his caliphate,
including Central Asia, where his forces confronted many regional
powers, including those of China's Tang Dynasty.
The numeric quantities of the combatants involved in the Battle of
Talas are not known with certainty; however, various estimates exist.
Abbasid army (200,000 Muslim troops according to Chinese
estimates, though these numbers may be greatly exaggerated) which
included contingents from their Tibetan ally met the combined army of
10,000 Tang Chinese and 20,000 Karluk mercenaries (Arab records put
the Chinese forces at 100,000 which also may be greatly
In the month of July 751, the
Abbasid forces joined in combat with the
Tang Chinese force (the combined army of Tang Chinese and Karluk
mercenaries) on the banks of the Talas river.
Modern view of Talas River, which starts in the mountains of
Kyrgyzstan and winds down into Kazakhstan. On the right side of the
river is the city of Taraz.
The Tang army was subjected to a devastating defeat. The Tang
dynasty's defeat was due to the defection of Karluk mercenaries and
the retreat of
Ferghana allies who originally supported the Chinese.
The Karluk mercenaries, two-thirds of the Tang army, defected to the
Abbasids during the battle; Karluk troops attacked the Tang army from
close quarters while the main
Abbasid forces attacked from the front.
The Tang troops were unable to hold their positions, and the commander
of the Tang forces, Gao Xianzhi, recognized that defeat was imminent
and managed to escape with some of his Tang regulars with the help of
Li Siye. Out of an estimated 10,000 Tang troops, only 2000 managed to
return from Talas to their territory in Central Asia. Despite losing
the battle, Li did inflict heavy losses on the pursuing Arab army
after being reproached by Duan Xiushi. After the battle, Gao was
prepared to organize another Tang army against the
Arabs when the
An Shi Rebellion
An Shi Rebellion broke out in 755. When the Tang capital
was taken by rebels, all Chinese armies stationed in
Central Asia were
ordered back to
China proper to crush the rebellion.
Aftermath and historical significance
Shortly after the battle of Talas, the domestic rebellion of An Lushan
(755–63) and subsequent warlordism gave the
Arabs the opportunity to
further expand into
Central Asia as Tang influence in the region
retreated. The local Tang tributaries then switched to the
authority of the Abbasids, Tibetans, or Uighurs and the introduction
Islam was thus facilitated among the Turkic peoples.
It was the
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion and not the defeat at Talas that ended
the Tang Chinese presence in
Central Asia and forced them to withdraw
from Xinjiang—Talas was of no strategic importance, because the
Arabs did not advance any further after the battle.
A small minority of
Karluks converted to
Islam after the battle. The
Karluks did not convert to
Islam until the mid 10th
Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan
Sultan Satuq Bughra Khan when they established the
Kara-Khanid Khanate. This was long after the Tang
dynasty was gone from Central Asia.
Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah, whose forces were known to the Chinese as the
Black Robed Ta-Shih, spent his wealth on warfare. He died in the year
752 CE. His brother who succeeded him as the second
Abbasid Caliph Abu
Jafar al-Mansur (r. 754–775 CE) (A-p’uch’a-fo) helped the
Emperor Suzong of Tang
Emperor Suzong of Tang after he appealed for help during the
An-Shi Rebellion in regaining control of his capital
Chang'an from the
treacherous commander, An Lushan, or his successors in the abortive
Yan Dynasty. Abu Jafar al-Mansur responded by sending 4,000 men who
helped the Tang troops in recapturing the city and were well rewarded
by the Chinese Emperor. After the rebellion was repressed they were
allowed to settle down permanently in China which helped in founding
of the earliest Muslim communities in China. Some of them married
local Chinese people and their descendants became native-born Muslims
who retained their religious tradition and unique way of
In 760, a large scale massacre of wealthy Arab and Persian merchants
occurred in China during the Yangzhou massacre (760), at the hands of
Chinese rebels led by Tian Shengong. In 879 during the Guangzhou
massacre, 120,000 to 200,000 Arab Muslim, Persian Zoroastrian, Jewish,
and Christian foreign merchants in Guangzhou were massacred by Chinese
rebels under Huang Chao.
The culture of Central Asia, once a mixture of Persian, Indian, and
Chinese influences, disappeared under the power struggles between the
empires of the Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. Islam
grew as the dominant cultural force of Central Asia.
With the decline of Central Asian Buddhism,
Chinese Buddhism was now
cut off from
Indian Buddhism and developed into an independent
religion with distinct spiritual elements. Indigenous Buddhist
Pure Land Buddhism
Pure Land Buddhism and
Zen emerged in China. China
became the center of East Asian Buddhism, following the Chinese
Buddhist canon, as Buddhism spread to Japan and Korea from China.
Among the earliest historians to proclaim the importance of this
battle was the great Russian historian of Muslim Central Asia, Vasily
Bartold, of 20th century according to whom, "The earlier Arab
historians, occupied with the narrative of events then taking place in
western Asia, do not mention this battle; but it is undoubtedly of
great importance in the history of (Western)
Turkestan as it
determined the question which of the two civilizations, the Chinese or
the Muslim, should predominate in the land (of Turkestan)."
The loss of 8,000 troops to the Tang empire can be compared to a troop
strength of more than 500,000 before the Anshi rebellion.
According to Bartold, for the history of the first three centuries of
Islam, al-Tabari was the chief source (survived in Ibn al Athir's
compilation), which was brought down to 915. (Unfortunately, this
important work was only compiled and published by a group of
Orientalists in 1901.) It is only in Athir that we
find an accurate account of the conflict between the
Arabs and the
Chinese in 751. Neither Tabari nor the early historical works of the
Arabs which have come down to us in general make any mention of this;
however, Athir's statement is completely confirmed by the Chinese
History of the Tang Dynasty. In all Arab sources, the events which
occurred in the eastern part of the empire are often dealt with
briefly. Another notable informant of the battle on the Muslim
Battle of Talas
Battle of Talas did not mark the end of Buddhism or Chinese
influence in the region. The Buddhist
Kara-Khitan Khanate defeated the
Muslim Seljuq Turks and the Muslim Kara-Khanid Turks at the Battle of
Qatwan in 1141, conquering a large part of
Central Asia from the
Kara-Khanid Khanate in the 12th century. The
Kara-Khitans also reintroduced the Chinese system of Imperial
government, since China was still held in respect and esteem in the
region among even the Muslim population, and the Kara-Khitans
used Chinese as their main official language. The Kara-Khitan
rulers were called "the Chinese" by the Muslims.
Denis Sinor said that it was interference in the internal
affairs of the
Western Turkic Khaganate
Western Turkic Khaganate which ended Chinese supremacy
in Central Asia, since the destruction of the Western Khaganate rid
the Muslims of their greatest opponent, and it was not the Battle of
Talas which ended the Chinese presence.
Later during the reign of
Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid, the Arabs
terminated their alliance with the Tibetan Empire, and established
an alliance with China after sending envoys to China in 789.
One of the five major steps in ancient Chinese paper making process.
Battle of Talas
Battle of Talas was a key event in the history of paper—the
technological transmission of the paper-making process. After the
battle of Talas, knowledgeable Chinese prisoners of war were ordered
to produce paper in Samarkand, or so the story goes. In fact, high
quality paper had been known—and made—in
Central Asia for
centuries; a letter on paper survives from the fourth century to a
merchant in Samarkand. But the Islamic conquest of
Central Asia in the
late seventh and early eighth centuries opened up this knowledge for
the first time to what became the Muslim world, and so by the year 794
CE, paper manufacturing could be found in Baghdad, modern-day Iraq.
The technology of paper making was thus transmitted to and
revolutionised the Islamic world, and later the European West. The
paper production was a state secret, and only some places and Buddhist
Monks knew the technology. Of course, the paper was transported many
kilometers as a Chinese luxury product, and as it was traded, the
finding of paper in several places is not proof of production, but of
Other than the transfer of paper, there is no evidence to support a
geopolitical or demographic change resulting from this battle. In fact
it seems that Tang influence over
Central Asia even strengthened after
751 and that by 755, Tang power in
Central Asia was at its zenith.
Several of the factors after the battle had been taken note of prior
to 751. Firstly, the
Karluks never in any sense remained opposed to
the Chinese after the battle. In 753, the Karluk Yabgu Dunpijia
submitted under the column of Cheng Qianli and captured A-Busi, a
betrayed Chinese mercenary of Tongluo (Tiele) chief (who had defected
earlier in 743), and received his title in the court on 22
October. The Chinese Muslim historian
Bai Shouyi wrote that
furthermore, at the same time that Talas took place, the Tang also
sent an army from Shibao city in Qinghai to Suyab and consolidated
Chinese control over the Turgesh. Chinese expansion in Central Asia
did not halt after the battle; the Chinese commander Feng Changqing,
who took over the position from
Gao Xianzhi through Wang Zhengjian,
virtually swept across the
Kashmir region and captured
two years later. Even Tashkent reestablished its vassal status in 753,
when the Tang bestowed a title to its ruler. The Chinese influence to
the west of the
Pamir Mountains certainly did not cease as the result
of the battle; Central Asian states under Muslim control, such as
Samarkand, continued to request aid from the Tang against the
spite of Talas and hence in 754, all nine kingdoms of Western
Turkestan again sent petitions to the Tang to attack the
Arabs and the
Tang continued to turn down such requests as it did for decades.
Ferghana, which participated in the battle earlier, in fact joined
among the central Asian auxiliaries with the Chinese army under a
summons and entered Gansu during An Lushan's revolt in 756. Bai
also noted that neither did the relations between the Chinese and
Arabs worsen, as the Abbasids, like their predecessors (since 652),
continued to send embassies to China uninterruptedly after the battle.
Such visits had overall resulted in 13 diplomatic gifts between 752
and 798. Not all Turkic tribes of the region converted to Islam
after the battle either—the date of their mass-conversion to Islam
was much later, in the 10th century under Musa.
Islam in China
Arabs in Afghanistan
Islam during the Tang Dynasty
Northern Silk Road
War of the Heavenly Horses
^ Bulliet & Crossley & Headrick & Hirsch & Johnson
2010, p. 286.
^ Bulliet 2010, p. 286.
^ a b Wink 2002, p. 68.
^ Wink 1997, p. 68.
^ Chaliand 2004, p. 31.
^ Bai, pp. 210–19.
^ a b Bai, pp. 224–25.
^ a b Bartold, pp. 180–96.
^ a b Chinese regular exploited to the area of western protectorate
from the Chinese heartland never exceed 30,000 between 692–726.
Tongdian (801 CE), the earliest narrative for battle
itself by either side suggests 30,000 deaths, whereas the Tangshu (945
CE) accounted 20,000 (probably included mercenaries already) in this
battle (Bai 2003, pp. 224–25). The earliest Arabic account for the
battle itself from
Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh (1231 CE) suggests 100,000
troops (50,000 deaths and 20,000 prisoners), however Bartold
considered them to be exaggerated (Xue 1998, pp. 256–57; Bartold
1992, pp. 195–96).
^ "The Battle of Talas, In Our Time". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved
^ Bai, p. 211.
^ a b Bai, pp. 235–36
^ The strength of
Arabs is not recorded for this battle, but the
armies to the east of Khorasan controlled by the
Arabs later were
estimated by the Chinese in 718 with 900,000 troops available to
respond according to Bai Shouyi, Bai however never estimate any
Abbasid army figures. (Bai 2003, pp. 225–26).
^ Bai, pp. 226–28.
^ Lewis (2009), p. 158.
^ ed. Starr 2004, p. 39.
^ Millward 2007, p. 36.
^ Lapidus 2012, p. 230.
^ Esposito 1999, p. 351.
^ Lifchez & Algar 1992, p. 28.
^ Soucek 2000, p. 84.
^ A. Acharya; R. Gunaratna; W. Pengxin (21 June 2010), Ethnic Identity
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^ Charles Patrick Fitzgerald (1961). China: a short cultural history
(3 ed.). Praeger. p. 332.
^ Everett Jenkins (1999). The Muslim diaspora: a comprehensive
reference to the spread of
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ISBN 978-0-7864-0431-5. Arab troops were dispatched by Abu
Gia-far to China.
^ Stanley Ghosh (1961). Embers in Cathay. Doubleday. p. 60.
During the reign of Abbassid Caliph Abu Giafar in the middle of the
8th century, many Arab soldiers evidently settled near the garrisons
on the Chinese frontier.
^ a b Lewis (2009), p. 159.
^ Bai, pp. 219–23.
^ Barthold, pp. 2–3.
^ Barthold, p. 5.
^ Barry Hoberman (1982). The Battle of Talas, Saudi Aramco World.
^ Biran 2012, p. 90.
^ Biran 2012, p. 90. Archived 14 April 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Pozzi & Janhunen & Weiers 2006, p. 114.
^ Biran 2005, p. 93.
^ Sinor 1990, p. 344.
^ Chaliand 2004, p. 32.
^ Bloodworth & Bloodworth 1976, p. 214.
^ Giles 1926, p. 138.
^ Bai, pp. 242–43.
^ Bloom, Jonathan (2001). Paper Before Print: The History and Impact
of Paper in the Islamic World. New Haven: Yale University Press.
^ Xue, pp. 260–81.
^ Bai, pp. 233–34.
^ Bai, pp. 239–42.
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Coordinates: 42°31′30″N 72°14′0″E / 42.52500°N
72.23333°E / 42.52500; 72.23333
Tang dynasty topics
Timeline of the Tang dynasty
Transition from Sui to Tang
Xuanwu Gate Incident
Tang–Eastern Turks War
Tang–Western Turks War
Battle of Talas
An Lushan Rebellion
Niu–Li factional strife
Sweet Dew Incident
Huang Chao Rebellion
Society and culture
Three Hundred Tang Poems
Old Book of Tang
New Book of Tang
Islam during the Tang dynasty
Three Departments and Six Ministries
Four Garrisons of Anxi
Protectorate General to Pacify the West
Protectorate General to Pacify the North
Protectorate General to Pacify the East
Protectorate General to Pacify the South
Gyerim Territory Area Command
Tang dynasty in Inner Asia
Science and technology