BALĀSĀḠŪN, a town of Central Asia, in early Islamic times the main settlement of the region known as Yeti-su or Semirechye “the land of the seven rivers,” now coming mainly within the eastern part of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The exact site of Balāsāḡūn is uncertain. Barthold, followed by subsequent Soviet scholars, suggested that its site is modern Aq-peshin near Frunze on the northern edge of the Kirgiz SSR, whilst O. I. Smirnova places it 15 miles/24 km to the southwest of Toqmaq (see Jovaynī, tr. Boyle, I, p. 58 n. 21). The early Islamic sources clearly locate it in the valley of the Ču river, but only Moqaddasī (Maqdesī), p. 275, gives any description of it; he calls Valāsakūn large, populous, and prosperous. It must have been a Sogdian foundation, and in Maḥmūd Kāšḡarī’s time (second half of the 5th/11th century), Sogdian was still spoken there, together with Turkish; he states that the town also had the Turkish names of Quz-Ordu and Quz-Uluš (Dīvānloḡāt al-Tork, tr. Besim Atalay, Ankara, 1939-41, I, pp. 30, 62, 64).
Balāsāḡūn is first mentioned by Muslim historians towards the end of the Samanid Amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad’s (q.v.) reign, i.e., ca. 330-31/942-43, when it was overrun by infidel Turks and its Muslim inhabitants (probably trading elements operating from there, since Balāsāḡūn at this time lay well outside the Dār al-Eslām) appealed to Bukhara for help (Neẓām-al-Molk, Sīāsat-nāma, chap. 46, ed. H. Darke, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, pp. 290, 295, tr. idem, London, 1960, pp. 220, 224). These Turks were probably the Qarluq founders, some decades later, of the Qarakhanid tribal confederation, who, from a military base at Balāsāḡūn, succeeded to the Samanid heritage in Transoxania; both Balāsāḡūn and the nearby town in Farḡāna of Ūzgand (Özgend) were to be important centers for the Qarakhanids, held by various members of the ruling family, such as Aḥmad Ṭoḡān Khan b. Hārūn Boḡrā Khan, brother of ʿAlītigin, who was in 416/1025 driven out of Balāsāḡūn by his other brother and rival Yūsof Qadïr Khan of Kāšḡar and Ḵotan (Bayhaqī, cited in Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 285, 294), so that henceforth, it seems to have fallen within the eastern Qarakhanid khanate. It was still only just within the boundaries of Islamic lands, and Ebn al-Aṯīr, ed. Tornberg, IX, pp. 355-56, ed. Beirut, IX, 520, records in 435/1043-44 the conversion of 10,000 tents of Turkish nomads who spent the summer in Bolḡār on the Volga and the winter around Balāsāḡūn, and who had been harrying the Muslims in Balāsāḡūn and Kāšḡar. The region played a significant cultural role amongst the Qarakhanids. The lexicographer Maḥmūd Kāšḡarī came from the nearby town of Barsḵān, and the Turkish language which he describes in his dictionary is essentially that of the local Čegel, akin to the Qarluq; and Yūsof Ḵāṣṣ Ḥājeb, author of the pioneer Turkish Mirror for Princes, the Qutaḏgu bilig, was actually a native of Balāsāḡūn and presented his book to the Qarakhanid ruler of Kāšḡar.
In 531/1137 the Gūr Khan of the Qara Khitays (q.v.) conquered Balāsāḡūn from the Qarakhanids and set up his army camp, the Ḵosun-ordu (lit., strong ordu) in the Ču valley near the town (Jovaynī, tr. Boyle, I, p. 355; Barthold, Four Studies on the History of Central Asia, tr. V. and T. Minorsky, Leiden, 1962, I, pp. 102-03). In the fighting between the Qarakhanids and the Ḵᵛārazmšāh Sultan ʿAlāʾ-al-Dīn Moḥammad (q.v.) in the opening years of the 7th/13th century, the Gūr Khan reconquered Balāsāḡūn with great slaughter in 607/1210, according to Jovaynī (tr. Boyle, I, p. 360; Barthold, Turkestan3, pp. 326, 367); but shortly afterwards, it passed into the hands of Jengiz Khan’s Mongols as they advanced against the Nāymān Mongol rival commander Küčlüg, although the sources give no explicit details of the process (pace Barthold, ibid., p. 402, cf. Boyle, “Balāsāghūn,” in EI2). Whether Balāsāḡūn was destroyed at this time or not, it certainly did not flourish under the Mongols, and it now disappears from historical mention.
Given in the text. See also Le Strange, Lands, p. 487.
Ḥodud al-ʿālam, tr. Minorsky, pp. 280, 291.
E. Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources, London, 1910, I, pp. 226-28.
Sir Henry Yule and H. Cordier, Cathay and the Way Thither, London, 1914-15, repr. Taipei, 1966, IV, pp. 163-64.
(C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: December 15, 1988