Battle of Talas

Battle of Talas

Infobox Military Conflict

conflict=Battle of Talas
date=May-September, 751 CE [Bai, p. 227]
place=Talas, KyrgyzstanBai, p. 210-219]
result=Abbasid victory
combatant1=Abbasid Caliphate
combatant2=Tang Dynasty
commander1=Ziyad ibn SalihBai, p. 224-225] Bartold, p. 180-196]
commander2= Gao Xianzhi
Li Siye
Duan Xiushi
strength1=The number of troops from Arab protectorates was not recorded by either side. [The strength of Arabs is not recorded for this battle, but the armies to the east of Khorasan controlled by the Arabs later were recorded by the Chinese in 718 with 900,000 troops available to respond (Bai 2003, p. 225-226).]
strength2=30,000 (20,000 troops of Chinese protectorate + Qarluq mercenaries who later defected). All military units either infantry or cavalry was not indicated. [Chinese regular exploited to the area of western protectorate from the Chinese heartland never exceed 30,000 between 692-726. However, the "Tongdian" (801 CE), the earliest narrative for battle itself by either side suggests 70,000 deaths, whereas the "Tangshu" (945 CE) accounted 20,000 (probably included mercenaries already) in this battle (Bai 2003, p. 224-225). 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, p. 256-257) (Bartold 1992, p. 195-196).]
casualties2=Minimal survivors|

The Battle of Talas in 751 CE was a conflict between the Arab Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty for control of the Syr Darya. The Chinese army was defeated following the routing of their troops by the Abbasids on the bank of the Talas River (in present-day Kyrgyzstan).

The defeat was partly a result of the defection of Karluk mercenaries and the retreat of Ferghana allies who originally supported the Chinese. Ferghana forces inadvertently cut the Chinese troops off from the rest of their army and their route of retreat. 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. Despite losing the battle, Li did inflict heavy losses on the pursuing Arab army after being reproached by Duan Xiushi. Though Gao was able to rebuild his forces within months, he never again gained the confidence of the local tribes residing in the area. [Bai, p. 226-228]

The Chinese name Daluosi (怛罗斯, Talas) was first seen in the account of Xuanzang. Du Huan located the city near the western drain of the Chui River. [Bai, p. 211] The exact location of the battle has not been confirmed but is believed to be near Talas in present day Kyrgyzstan.


Prior to the battle, there were other indirect encounters between the combatants. The first occurred in 715 when Alutar, the new king of Ferghana, was installed with the help of the Arabs and Tibetans. The deposed king Ikhshid fled to Kucha (seat of Anxi Protectorate), and sought for Chinese intervention. The Chinese sent 10,000 troops under Zhang Xiaosong to Ferghana. He defeated the Arab-puppet Alutar at Namangan and reinstalled Ikhshid. The inhabitants of three Sogdian cities were massacred as a result of the battle.Bai, p. 235-236] The second encounter occurred in 717, when Arabs and Tibetans were guided by the Turgesh and besieged two cities in the area of Aksu. The Chinese Tang Jiahui responded by sending an army composed of Qarluq mercenaries and Ashina Xin (client qaghan of Onoq) to attack them. The battle resulted in a Tang victory, according to a memorial by Tang Jiahui, one of the two generals who led the battle (the other being Ashina Xin). [Beckwith, p. 88]


Shortly after the battle of Talas, the domestic rebellion of An Lushan (755-763) and subsequent warlordism of the jiedushi (763 onwards), caused the decline of Tang influence in Central Asia by the end of the 700's. The local Tang tributaries then switched to the authority of the Abbasids, Tibetans, or Uighurs and the introduction of Islam was thus facilitated among the Turkic peoples. Well supported by the Ummayads, the Qarluqs established a state that would be absorbed in the late 9th century by the Kara-Khanid Khanate.

With the successful cooperation of Arabs and Turkic peoples, Islam began to exert its influence on the Turkic culture.

Historical significance

Among the earliest historians to proclaim the importance of this battle was the great Russian historian of Muslim Central Asia, Vasily Bartold, 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)."

However, claims that the battle itself was significant are not well-supported by historical evidence. The dry and simplistic recounting of the battle itself in Chinese accounts shows that it may have been no more than a border skirmish. Most of the sources for this battle barely mention the Chinese defeat, leaving a duration of five days undescribed, with exception for the dialogues after the defeat. [Bai, p. 219-223] 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". [Barthold, p. 2-3] It must be noted that in all Arab sources, the events which occurred in the eastern part of the empire are often dealt with briefly. [Barthold, p. 5] Another notable informant of the battle on the Muslim side was Al-Dhahabi (1274-1348). [Barry Hoberman (1982). [ The Battle of Talas] , Saudi Aramco World.]

It is of interest to note that the Battle of Talas is seen as the key event in 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 [Bai, p. 242-243] , and by the year 794 CE, a paper mill could be found in Baghdad, modern-day Iraq.The technology of paper making was thus transmitted to the Islamic world and later to the West.

Other than the transfer of paper, there is no evidence to support a geopolitical or demographic change resulting from this battle. Several of the factors after the battle had been taken note of prior to 751. Firstly, the Qarluq never in any sense remained opposed to the Chinese after the battle. In 753, the Qarluq 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 October 22. [Xue, p. 260-261] Nor did the Chinese expansion 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 Gilgit shortly in the same year. The Chinese influence to the west of the Pamir Mountains certainly did not cease as the result of the battle; the Ferghana, who 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, p. 233-234] 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 vists had overall resulted in 13 diplomatic gifts between 752-798. [Bai, p. 239-242] 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. [ [ "Embassy of Uzbekistan to the United Kingdom Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland"] Retrieved 25 April 2007.]

ee also

*Du Huan
*History of Arabs in Afghanistan
*Islam during the Tang Dynasty
*Muslim conquests



*Bartold, W [1928] (1992). "(Western) Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion". New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. ISBN 81-215-0544-3.
*Bai, Shouyi et al (2003). "A History of Chinese Muslim (Vol.2)". Beijing: Zhonghua Book Company. ISBN 7-101-02890-X.
*Xue, Zongzheng (1998). "Anxi and Beiting Protectorates: A Research on Frontier Policy in Tang Dynasty's Western Boundary". Harbin: Heilongjiang Education Press. ISBN 7-5316-2857-0.

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