Study Notes on Karluks!

Karluk means snowman. The Karluks acquired this name because they lived in the snow covered mountains of Altai and Tyanshan. By 766 they had taken possession of the Suyab.

In the latter half of the 8th century the Karluks were dominating the Saptanada. The Karluks called their king Yuvgu and it is to the Karluk ruler that Orkhan refers in his writings when he speaks of the Yuvgu.

After the fall of the Turkish Empire the Chinese and the Arabs were beginning to cast covetous eyes on it, but the eastern part of it was under the control of the Uigurs and to the west it was in the hands of the Karluks.


In 751 A. D. a fierce battle was fought between the Chinese and the Arabs on the banks of the Tuls river for control of Turkish territory. The Chinese were beaten and so could not bring Central Asia under their control and the Arabs suffered too heavily to enable them to go beyond the Tuls.

The Karloks reaped’ the benefit of the quarrel between the two. Although the Arabs succeeded in driving the Karloks out of the Fargana valley, the Sogdhians continued to dominate the trade of that region. From the very beginning they had established control over the entire silk route west of China and established their colonies along it. The Turks, Uigurs and Karluks, were not such religious fanatics as the Arabs; so they tolerated people of all faiths in their territories.

The names of most of the Karluk rulers (Yuvgus) are not known, nor they did have much contact with the Chinese. There was-rivalry between them and the Arabs, but Arabs generally recognised the local ruler as the King of the Karluks.

Like the Karluk Turks and the Sogdhians lived in Karluk territory. The remnants of the Scythians and the Wusuns had merged completely with the Sogdhians. Among the Turks, Buddhists were the most numerous, but Nestorians and followers of Mani were also to be found in fairly large numbers.


Near Issikul lived the Jikiliya nomads among whom were many Christians. Before the advent of Islam, religion and nationality had not become identical among the nomadic tribes of central Asia. There are Muslim writers who claim that the first Karluk Yuvgu to embrace Islam lived during the time of the Caliph Mehdi, 775-85, but this appears doubtful. Certain it is however, that in the 10th century a Jama Musjid existed east of the Tuls river, i. e. in Karluk territory.

In the eleventh century the Karluks were the most powerful of the Takuj Aguz tribes. In the tenth century, Baraksan, the capital of the Karluks was seized by the Karakhanias, another branch of the Takuj Aguz.

It has to be kept in mind that in earlier times the Khirgiz had lived in the upper Anesei valley. Khirgiz caravans passed through Kucha every third year carrying silk. The Khirgiz allied themselves with the Karluks against the Karakhania. By the 10th or 11th century, Islam had spread amongst them and their descendents, the modern Kazaks and Khirgiz, continue to be Mussalmans, but Muslim writers mention the existence of “Kafirs” amongst these people right up to the 16th century.

A large number of towns on the trade route from China to west Asia and Europe fell within their territory and were a source of revenue for the Karluks.


A few of them are mentioned below:

Close to Pisup was Jul (Turkish for desert), situated at a point where the trade route from Taraz and Asikrit reached Karakul. Nevokrit, 90 miles from Jul, was the largest of the trade centres in the Chi valley. Kriminkrit was an important commercial town between Nevokrit and Darra.

It was inhabited by the Lavan clan of the Karluks ruled over by Ku Tegin Lavan. About 70 miles to the south was Yar, where there were three thousand soldiers. Thirty miles from Yar, on the banks of the Ton river stood the town of Ton. Three days’ journey from Ton lay a large town called Baraksan. Between these towns were the tents of the jikil tribe.

The name Baraksan survives even today, in the river called Baraksan. Six thousand soldiers were encamped in Baraksan. Till the 10th century its ruler was a Karluk, but later he went over to the Takuj Aguz. It was an important trading centre linking East and West Turkestan.

Situated at the confluence of the Karakoin and Atwas rivers was the town of Atwas, now known as Koshoi Kurgan. It was a six days’ journey from the borders of Fargana, Baraksan and Eastern Turkestan. There was no habitation between Atwas and Baraksan. Suyab, the most important town in Karluk territory, stood at a distance of eighteen miles from Nevokrit.

It was ruled by the brother of the Karluk Kagan, who had twenty thousand men under him. Punjikat was three miles from Nevokrit on the road to Suyab. Eight thousand soldiers were stationed there.

Baiklig was ruled over by Vadan Sangu, who had three thousand soldiers as his own bodyguard, apart from seven thousand for the defence of the town.

Another commercial town on the borders of Karluk territory was that of Sikul which was probably known in the time of Timur as Issikul.