Sunday 9 April 2017

Tibetan Empire

The Tibetan Empire existed from the 7th to 9th centuries AD when Tibet was unified as a large and powerful empire, and ruled an area considerably larger than the Tibetan Plateau, stretching to parts of East Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.

Tsaparang, the ruins of the ancient capital

From the 7th to the 9th century a series of emperors ruled Tibet. From the time of the emperor Songtsän Gampo the power of the empire gradually increased over a diverse terrain. By the reign of the emperor Ralpacan, in the opening years of the 9th century, it controlled territories extending from the Tarim basin to the Himalayas and Bengal, and from the Pamirs to what is now Chinese provinces of Gansu and Yunnan.

Namri Songtsen was the leader of a clan which one by one prevailed over all his neighboring clans. He gained control of all the area around what is now Lhasa, before his assassination around 618. This new-born regional state would later become known as the Tibetan Empire. The government of Namri Songtsen sent two embassies to the Chinese Sui Dynasty in 608 and 609, marking the appearance of Tibet on the international scene.

Emperor Songtsen

Songtsän Gampo(c. 604 – 650) was the first great emperor who expanded Tibet's power beyond Lhasa and the Yarlung Valley, and is traditionally credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet. When his father Namri Songtsen died by poisoning Songtsän Gampo took control, after putting down a brief rebellion. 

Songtsan Gampo

Between 665–670 Khotan was defeated by the Tibetans, and a long string of conflicts ensued with the Chinese Tang Dynasty. With troops from Khotan they conquered Aksu, upon which the Chinese abandoned the region, ending two decades of Chinese control. They thus gained control over all of the Chinese Four Garrisons of Anxi in the Tarim Basin in 670 and held them until 692, when the Chinese finally managed to regain these territories. Emperor Mangsong Mangtsen married Thrimalö. The emperor died in the winter of 676–677, and Zhangzhung revolts occurred thereafter. In the same year the emperor's son Tridu Songtsen was born.

Tarim Basin

In 692, the Tibetans lost the Tarim Basin to the Chinese. Gar Thridringtsändrö defeated the Chinese in battle in 696, and sued for peace. From 700 until his death emperor Tridu Songtsen remained on campaign in the north-east, absent from Central Tibet, while his mother Thrimalö administrated in his name. In 704, he stayed briefly at Yoti Chuzang in Madrom on the Yellow River. He then invaded Mywa, which was at least in part Nanzhao but died during the prosecution of that campaign.

Yellow River

Gyältsugru, later to become King Tride Tsuktsän, was born in 704. Upon the death of Tridu Songtsen, his mother Thrimalö ruled as regent for the infant Gyältsugru. He was officially enthroned with the royal name in 712, the year that dowager empress Thrimalö died. By 750 the Tibetans had lost almost all of their central Asian possessions to the Chinese.In 755 Tride Tsuktsän was killed by the ministers Lang and ‘Bal. They were killed soon after.

The Caliphate and Türgesh became increasingly prominent during 710–720. The Tibetans were allied with the Türgesh . Tibet and China fought on and off in the late 720s. At first Tibet (with Türgesh allies) had the upper hand, but then they started losing battles. After a rebellion in southern China and a major Tibetan victory in 730, the Tibetans and Türgesh sued for peace. The Tibetans aided the Türgesh Kaghanate in fighting against the Muslim Arabs during the Muslim conquest of Transoxiana.

Modern Day Transoxiana, Uzbekistan

In 756 prince Song Detsän was crowned Emperor with the name Trisong Detsän at 13 years of age. In 755 China had been greatly weakened by the An Shi Rebellion, which would last until 763. There is a stone pillar, Lhasa Zhol Pillar, in the ancient village of Shöl in front of the Potala in Lhasa, dating to c. 764 CE during Trisong Detsen's reign. It also contains an account of the conquest of large swathes of northwestern China including the capture of Chang'an, the Chinese capital, for a short period in 763 CE, during the reign of Emperor Daizong.

Lhasa Zhol Pillar

Trisong Detsen is said to have had four sons. The eldest, Mutri Tsenpo, apparently died young. When Trisong Detsen retired he handed power to the eldest surviving son, Muné Tsenpo. Most sources say that Muné's reign lasted only about a year and a half. After a short reign, Muné Tsenpo was supposedly poisoned on the orders of his mother. After his death, Mutik Tsenpo was next in line to the throne. However, he had been apparently banished to the Bhutanese border for murdering a senior minister. The youngest brother, Tride Songtsän, was definitely ruling by 804 CE.

King Trisong Detsen

Under Tride Songtsän there was a protracted war with the Abbasid Caliphate. It appears that Tibetans captured a number of Caliphate troops and pressed them into service on the eastern frontier in 801. Tibetans were active as far west as Samarkand and Kabul. Caliphate forces began to gain the upper hand, and the Tibetan governor of Kabul submitted to the Caliphate and became a Muslim about 812 or 815. The Caliphate then struck east from Kashmir, but were held off by the Tibetans. In the meantime, the Uyghur Khaganate attacked Tibet from the northeast.

Monastery in Tibet, built under rule of Tride Songtsan

Tibet continued to be a major Central Asian empire until the mid-9th century. It was under the reign of Ralpacan that the political power of Tibet was at its greatest extent, stretching as far as Mongolia and Bengal, and entering into treaties with China on a mutual basis.A Sino-Tibetan treaty was agreed on in 821/822 under King Ralpacan, which established peace for more than two decades. A bilingual account of this treaty is inscribed on a stone pillar which stands outside the Jokhang temple in Lhasa.

Pillar at Jokhang Temple

The reign of Langdarma, was plagued by external troubles. A civil war that arose over Langdarma's successor led to the collapse of the Tibetan Empire. The period that followed, known traditionally as the Era of Fragmentation, was dominated by rebellions against the remnants of imperial Tibet and the rise of regional warlords.

Mural commemorating victory of General Zhang Yichao over the Tibetan Empire in 848

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