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During the time of the Sixteen Kingdoms, Li Gao established the Western Liang here in 400 AD.In 405 the capital of the Western Liang was moved from Dunhuang to Jiuquan.In 421 the Western Liang was conquered by the Northern Liang.As a frontier town, Dunhuang was fought over and occupied at various times by non-Han people.Dunhuang commands a strategic position at the crossroads of the ancient Southern Silk Route and the main road leading from India via Lhasa to Mongolia and Southern Siberia, There is evidence of habitation in the area as early as 2,000 BC, possibly by people recorded as the Qiang in Chinese history.Its name was also mentioned in relation to the homeland of the Yuezhi in the Records of the Grand Historian.From the West also came early Buddhist monks who had arrived in China by the first century AD, and a sizable Buddhist community eventually developed in Dunhuang.The caves carved out by the monks, originally used for meditation, developed into a place of worship and pilgrimage called the Mogao Caves or "Caves of a Thousand Buddhas." A number of Christian, Jewish, and Manichaean artifacts have also been found in the caves (see for example Jesus Sutras), testimony to the wide variety of people who made their way along the Silk Road.
Their documents in Chinese characters were written horizontally from left to right, the same way the Sogdian alphabet is read, instead of vertical line (or right to left if horizontal) that Chinese was normally written at the time.
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By the second century AD Dunhuang had a population of more than 76,000 and was a key supply base for caravans that passed through the city: those setting out for the arduous trek across the desert loaded up with water and food supplies, and others arriving from the west gratefully looked upon the mirage-like sight of Dunhuang's walls, which signified safety and comfort. The first Buddhist caves in the Dunhuang area were hewn in 353." During the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, it was the main stop of communication between ancient China and the rest of the world and a major hub of commerce of the Silk Road.
Dunhuang was the intersection city of all three main silk routes(north, central, south) during this time.