Tremors in the Web of Trade: Complexity, Connectivity and Criticality in the Mid-Eighth Century Eurasian World

Tremors in the Web of Trade: Complexity, Connectivity and Criticality in the Mid-Eighth Century Eurasian World

By Robert Cliver

The Middle Ground Journal, No.2 (2011)

Map of Eurasia from 1706

Abstract: Events within a fifteen-year period in mid-eighth century Eurasia included the Abbasid revolution, An Lu-shan’s Rebellion in Tang China, and the collapse or emergence of empires from Frankish Europe to Tibet to the kingdom of Srivajaya. Rather than study these events in isolation, this paper views the interconnected peoples of Afro-Eurasia as a self-organizing, adaptive system similar to ecosystems, economies and other emergent, evolving phenomena perpetually balanced on the edge of criticality and chaos.

Introduction: In the year 742 CE, the Turkish Empire, which had ruled the steppes of Asia for two hundred years, was destroyed from within by a coalition of subject Uighur, Karluk, and Basmil tribes. By 744 the Uighurs had achieved dominance over much of the territory of the former Turkish Empire (534-744) in what today is Mongolia. The following year, the last Turkish ruler or kaghan was killed and his head sent to the Tang emperor in Chang‟an. On the collapse of Turkish rule, Denis Sinor wrote that the “decline of the kaghanate was the result of disintegration, interior turmoil.” But this is merely to say that the Turkish Empire disintegrated because it was in the process of disintegration, taking the symptoms of decline as a proximate cause of collapse.

Other scholars have attributed the decline of the Turkish Empire to tribal conflicts caused by the institution of lateral succession, or to the machinations of the Chinese. While these descriptions of the conditions of the declining Turkish Empire are of great importance for understanding the downfall of the Turks, they do not alone explain why the Turkish Empire fell in 742, and not at some other time. After all, the Turks were plagued by succession disputes and Chinese manipulation throughout their history, but managed to maintain their hegemony until 742.

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