The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia – Book Thread

The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia – Book Thread

Prior to their conversion to Buddhism, Tibet once ruled an empire which battled the Chinese & Turks for control over the Silk Road from the 7th to the 9th century AD
Unknown to many, Tibet was long ago a great power in Inner Asia

The wars of the Tibetan Empire were largely fought in the modern Chinese provinces of Gansu, Qinghai and Xinjiang
Their aim was to seize control of trade routes & towns along the Silk Road
Tibet's expansion was geopolitically unique because of the peculiar geography of the region

Despite an enormous land border, China is only truly connected to the rest of Eurasia by a series of thin threads: the Hexi Corridor & a series of oasis cities scattered across the Tarim Basin
Elsewhere formidable deserts and mountains seal off the Chinese heartland from Eurasia

Hexi Corridor is a narrow strip of oases running from Lanzhou on the banks of the Yellow River to the Jade Gate at Dunhuang
Flanking the corridor is the Gobi Desert & Mongolian Plateau to the north and the Qilian Mountains to the south
The deserts & mountains were wastelands…

the abodes of fierce barbarian tribes who would prey on travelers & merchants
Hexi corridor itself is like a long oasis as water from streams coming off the Qilian Mountains make agriculture and urban life possible, creating a line of oases linking China to the Tarim Basin

The Hexi Corridor culminates at the Jade Gate, historically the furthermost frontier of China
From here the road splits into diverging paths through the Tarim Basim & its forbidden Taklamakan Desert
Just as in Hexi Corridor, streams running of the Tianshan & Kunlun Mountains…

create a series of oasis cities along the Tarim Basin's northern and southern rim
Passing through the Jade Gate, caravans would follow one of these routes going from oasis to oasis as if they were ships sailing from island to island in an endless sea of sand

The wars of the Tibetan Empire were primarily over control of the trade routes from China to the Tianshan & Pamir Mountains
If foreign barbarians seized control of these routes & towns, they could tax the trade and use the wealth to amass a force powerful enough to invade China

Thus China always sought to control these trade routes themselves, simply as to deny them to foreign powers
China first expanded into the Tarim Basin in the 1st century AD in order the deprive the Xiongnu from the Silk Road's wealth

Yet when the Han Dynasty collapsed, China lost control over the Silk Road
Only in the 7th century was China reunified by the Sui & Tang Dynasties, who reasserted control over Inner Asia
In the interim centuries other powers rose to fill the vacuum, the Tibetans, Turks and others

The Tibetan Empire at its peak did succeed in controlling most of the distance between China's ancient capital of Chang'an (now Xi'an) to the Ferghana Valley
This thread will retell this great struggle for empire in Inner Asia
(Map archaic name & map with more modern name)

I read "The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia" once before but it mostly went over my head
The region & era are already remote & foreign, but to complicate things further the book only uses archaic names, and often in the old Wades-Giles system for transliteration Chinese

As a result the book is nearly impossible to follow unless you are already highly familiar with the history, or methodically research every name & event mentioned while you read – this I intend to do
This will not be convention book thread with excerpts from the book…

instead I will provide an annotated guide to the book
I will explain all the geopolitics events, the wars, battles and alliances, and add maps & pictures of the landscapes & peoples
My hope is that by reading this thread you will learn more than by simply reading the book itself

Nevertheless if you would like to read the book I encourage you do so
Its available on amazon and its always good to support authors, but it is also on libgen:

The purpose of this thread will be twofold: to create an annotated companion to Christopher Beckwith's work and as research for the book I am currently working on about Eurasia in the early Middle Ages

The book isn't long, but to methodically research everything will be time consuming, so I will slowly update this thread as I read – it'll take a month, likely more
Later I might write the thread up as a substack article, subscribe here:

Let's begin

I have the first dozen pages and will post the information later, stay tuned

Originally tweeted by Alexander's Cartographer (@cartographer_s) on July 19, 2022.

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