Page images

"The circumference of the city of Baghdad measures three miles; the country in which it is situated is rich in palm-trees, gardens, and orchards, so that nothing equals it in Mesopotamia; merchants of all countries resort thither for purposes of trade, and it contains many wise philosophers well skilled in sciences, and magicians proficient in all sorts of witchcraft."




A.D. 1050-1093.

WHEN the Empire of the "Barbarians of the Mountains" to the north of China was broken up, the fragments had been cast all over the northern and central parts of Asia. A part had been absorbed into other tribes, and lost their name and distinguishing characteristics; a part had emigrated westward, penetrating as far as the steppes of the Volga, and displacing there the tribes which overwhelmed the declining Roman Empire; another portion, as we mentioned in a previous chapter, was known to the Greek Empire and the Muhammadans, as the Turkish nation; still another fragment remained in Siberia, where they took or acquired the name of the Hoei-ke. They remained in Siberia until they had become a numerous nation, when they moved southward, towards the northern frontiers of China. During the sixth century they were subjugated by the khans of the western Turks; but the barbarities of their conquerors drove them into rebellion, and after a fierce and protracted struggle, they wrested a large extent of territory from the Turks, and laid the foundation of an empire which

eventually extended over the whole of Eastern Tartary. They were divided into fifteen hordes, each of which was ruled by its own chief. They lived under their tents with countless flocks and herds, and fed upon the milk and flesh of their cattle. In A.D. 646 they placed themselves under the protection of the Chinese Empire. The Emperor sent into their country about a thousand Chinese officers, who divided the country into divisions, allotting one to the chief of each horde. Sixtyeight posts were also established across the country, where provisions were always kept ready for the use of travellers. Though troubled with frequent revolts, the authority of the Chinese Emperor was acknowledged by the Hoei-ke until about the middle of the eighth century. About that time the khan of one of the hordes had succeeded in establishing an unquestioned supremacy over all. He had also greatly extended the limits of his empire, and he wrung from the Chinese government an acknowledgment of his independence. His dominions were bounded on the west by the river Irtisch and the Altai mountains, and on the east by the river Amoor. His son, Kole Khan, was able to render the most brilliant services to the Chinese Emperor. He marched an army into the Northern Provinces, and crushed with fearful slaughter a formidable insurrection. He was rewarded with the hand of an Imperial Princess.

But the alliance of these barbarians was never, at best, more than a broken reed to depend upon. The weight of a feather was sufficient to convert them from friends to enemies. Ten years later we hear of an

immense swarm of Hoei-ke carrying fire and sword through the province of Chausi.

Up to this time the Hoei-ke had lived with the simplicity common to all Tartars. There was no difference between the prince and the people; but intercourse with the Chinese court corrupted this primitive simplicity. The khans abandoned the old customs; they built grand palaces, and caused their wives to be magnificently attired.

Another century (A.D. 856) passed with the old monotonous catalogue of wars and massacres-forays into the Chinese dominions-desperate reprisals; one khan after another dying in battle, or falling beneath the dagger of an assassin. At last the dim outlines of a more than commonly desperate struggle between the two nations come into vision like a landscape seen through driving snow. Among the valleys of the hills which surround Lake Konor, the Chinese troops have hemmed in their retreating and wearied enemy. The Hoei-ke are cut to pieces; their prince is wounded; ten thousand prisoners are beheaded on the battlefield; and their empire is extinguished in the blood of that disastrous struggle.

A remnant, however, of the hordes retired westward, and founded a new kingdom, which extended from Kashgar to the frontiers of the Empire of Islam beyond the Oxus. This neighbourhood made them acquainted with the religion of Unity; and a traveller who visited their country shortly after the death of the khalif al Mutasim, found that the greater part of the people had become Muhammadans. An internal

dispute resulted in a fraction of these hordes separating themselves from the main body, and, under the guidance of a celebrated warrior named Seljuk, emigrating in a mass into the Muhammadan dominions lying beyond the Oxus. The dynasty of the Samanides at this time ruled in Bokhara, and they allotted pasture lands to the wild shepherds, who were known in their new country by the name of "Seljukides.” Here they lived, their numbers increasing with extraordinary rapidity; but preserving, in the midst of luxury and refinement, the simple barbarism which they had brought with them from their distant homes on the banks of the Irtisch. They were loyal and useful subjects of the Samanide princes; and their prowess in battle made good the frontier of Bokhara against the unbelieving hordes beyond it, who were continually striving to break in and plunder the rich and flourishing oasis.

It was after the fall of the Samanides, that Mahmoud of Ghuznee committed the fatal error of compelling these barbarians to cross the Oxus, and settle in the waste lands of Khorasan. His vizier, Arslan, in vain pointed out the disastrous consequence of this fatal measure. The Sultan was inflexible, and the vizier, it is said, actually sickened and died at the thought of the calamities preparing for Asia at the hands of these fierce barbarians. Some conception of their numbers may be formed from an anecdote which is related by Mirkhond. The Sultan Mahmoud inquired of Israil, the son of Seljuk, how many cavalry, in the event of an emergency, they could send to his

« PreviousContinue »