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stone carving of Sogdian traders wearing fancy belted robes

Sogdian traders in China about 550 AD (Musee Guimet)

Sogdians and the Silk Road

Even after the fall of the Han Dynasty, the Sogdians still controlled Silk Road trade between West Asia and China.

Earlier Sogdians
The Han Dynasty
More about the Silk Road
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The Sogdians and India

By the 300s AD the Sogdians seem to have been the main traders not only between China and West Asia, but also between China and India. Samudragupta, the Guptan king, may have forced the Sogdians to pay taxes to India.

Guptan Empire India
Three Kingdoms China

The White Huns invade

Sogdian trade stopped for a while about 425 AD when the White Huns conquered the Sogdians, but by 557 AD the Sogdians were once again independent and went right back to trading. In the 600s AD, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang went to Sogdiana and described the Sogdians as great traders.

The spread of Buddhism
Who was Xuanzang?
The White Huns

Islam and the Sogdians

After the Arabs conquered the Sassanian Empire in the late 600s AD the Sogdians gradually became more and more Persian and started to speak Persian instead of Sogdian (but the two languages are pretty closely related).

What is Islam?
End of the Sassanian Empire
The Abbasid Empire

An Lushan’s rebellion

But the Sogdians kept on trading between the Islamic Empire and China. Some Sogdians even worked for the government of China. About 750 AD, An Lushan was a Sogdian who became an important general in T’ang Dynasty China. In 755 AD, An Lushan led a rebellion against the T’ang Emperor Hsuan Tsung. An Lushan made Hsuan Tsung retire, and made Hsuan Tsung’s son emperor of China.

T’ang Dynasty China
An Lushan in China
The Uighurs

The T’ang Emperor Suzong, Hsuan Tsung’s son, hired the Uighurs as mercenaries to put down An Lushan’s rebellion. In 757 An Lushan was killed, and from then on the Uighurs were China’s main mercenaries. Suzong didn’t hire any more Sogdians!

The Sogdians become Samanids

The Sogdians had to look elsewhere for support. Although the Sogdians were still traders, they gradually got more and more involved with the Abbasid Empire. The Abbasid caliphs helped the Sogdians to fight off Tibetan attacks from the east.

Medieval Tibet
The Samanids

Slowly many Sogdians converted to Islam. By 819 AD the descendants of the Sogdians became known as the Samanid Empire.

First page about the Sogdians
Samanid Empire

Bibliography and further reading about the Sogdians:

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