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a fort in snowy mountains

Tash Rabat, Kyrgyzstan – a stop on the Silk Road (thanks Lonely Planet)

Where are the Kyrgyz from?

By about 200 BC, the Kyrgyz people were living north of China, in central Siberia. Like other people of north Asia, they lived in yurts and rode horses. They were not very powerful, and came under the control of first one, then another stronger neighbor.

What are yurts?
Where do horses come from?
Empires timeline 500 BC-1 AD
All our Central Asia articles

They convert to Islam

black and white photo of a coin with a man's head on it

A Gokturk coin, about 576-600 AD (Kyrgyzstan museum)(compare to Sassanian and Byzantine coins of the same time)

In the 300s and 400s AD, the Rouran ruled the Kyrgyz. In the 500s and 600s AD, the Gokturks ruled them. The Kyrgyz converted to the new religion of Islam when enthusiastic Muslim traders came through Kyrgyz land travelling along the Silk Road in the late 600s AD. They sold gold, horses, walnuts, and wool from their sheep east to China and south to India.

Who were the Rouran?
And the Gokturks?
The religion of Islam
Medieval Silk Road

They fight as mercenaries

In the 700s, the Uighurs defeated the Gokturks and took over control of the Kyrgyz people. When the Uighurs converted to Manichaean Christianity in 762 AD, that probably didn’t help them get along with the Muslim Kyrgyz people any better.

Who were the Uighurs?
T’ang Dynasty China
Mercenary soldiers

brightly dressed brown women sitting on the ground spinning with hand spindles

Kyrgyz women spinning (thanks Daniel Waugh)

But in 840 AD, the T’ang Dynasty of China hired the Kyrgyz army to fight with them against the Uighurs. The Kyrgyz, under their leader Jordan, destroyed the Uighur empire and killed the Uighur Khan, Oge.

Foundation of Kyrgyzstan

This time, the Kyrgyz managed to keep their independence, and they set up their own kingdom – Kyrgyzstan – in the Tien Shan mountains north-west of China. They kept Kyrgyzstan an independent Islamic kingdom for 350 years.

The Mongols arrive

About 1200 AD, Genghis Khan and the Mongol empire conquered the Kyrgyz and made them part of the Mongol Empire, along with practically everybody else living in Asia.

Central Asia and the Silk Road
Who is Genghis Khan?
The Black Death

The Kyrgyz continued to maintain their part of the Silk Road through the Middle Ages. Kyrgyzstan may have been where the Black Death – the bubonic plague – first got started in the early 1300s.

After the Kyrgyz – the Mongols

Bibliography and further reading about the Kyrgyz:

Main Central Asia page