Ashina (clan)

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Ashina (Chinese: 阿史那, Modern Chinese: (Pinyin): āshǐnà, (Wade-Giles): a-shih-na, Middle Chinese: (Guangyun) [ʔɑʃi̯ə˥nɑ˩], Asen, Asena, Açina etc.) was a tribe and the ruling dynasty of the ancient Turks who rose to prominence in the mid-6th century when their leader, Bumin Khan, revolted against the Rouran. The two main branches of the family, one descended from Bumin and the other from his brother Istemi, ruled over the eastern and western parts of the Göktürk empire, respectively. The Ashina clan were considered to be the chosen of the sky god Tengri and the ruler (Khagan) was the incarnation of the favor the sky god bestowed on the Turks. The Turks, like many of their subjects, were believers in Tengri. They venerated their ancestors, annually conducting special ceremonies at the ancestral cave from which they believed the Ashina had sprung.[1] Although the supreme deity of the Turks was Tengri, the sky god, it was the cult of the wolf that was politically far more important.[2] The Ashinas were a foresighted dynasty and named the state they established as Kök-Türk.[3] The wolf symbolizes honour and is also considered the mother of most Turkic peoples. Asena (Ashina Tuwu) is the wolf mother of Bumin, the first Khan of the Göktürks.[4]


The recent re-reading of the Bugut inscription, the oldest inscription of the Ashina dynasty, written in Sogdian, by a Japanese team of philologists has suggested that the name, known only with the Chinese transcription of Ashina, was in fact Ashinas. It is in fact known in later Arabic sources under this form.[citation needed] Likewise the use of an Iranian tongue, such as Sogdian and later Persian in Transoxiana, as the written language, does not mean that everyone was a Sogdian who used it.[5]


Findley assumes that the Ashina probably comes from one of the Saka languages of central Asia and means "blue", gök in Turkic, the color identified with the east, so that Göktürk, another name for the Turk empire, meant the "Turks of the East".[6] This is seconded by the Hungarian researcher András Róna-Tas, who finds it plausible "that we are dealing with a royal family and clan of Saka origin".[7]

Former Dr. Zhu Xueyuan derives the name from the related Manchu word Aisin and the early tribe Wusun (Asin or Osin) pronounced earlier in archaic Chinese, a group of people which he highly considered as a Tungusic people. Zhu asserted that the Xiongnu's tribe Juqu was evidently related to Juji (old pronouncing of Jurchen), and that the Yuezhi was belonged to another Tungusic tribe named Wuzhe, which could all ultimately traced back to the roots of Sushen.[8]

Origins and legends[edit]

According to the New Book of Tang, the Ashina were related to the northern tribes of the Xiongnu, in particular they were of Tiele tribe by ancestral lineage.[9][10] As early as the 7th century, four theories about their mythical origins were recorded by the Book of Zhou, Book of Sui and Youyang Zazu:[11]

  • Ashina was one of ten sons born to a grey she-wolf (see Asena) in the north of Gaochang.[12]
  • The ancestor of the Ashina was a man from the Suo nation (north of Xiongnu) whose mother was a wolf, and a season goddess.[12]
  • The Ashina were mixture stocks from the Pingliang commandery of eastern Gansu.[13]
  • The Ashina descended from a skilled archer named Shemo, who had once fallen in love with a sea goddess west of Ashide cave.[14]

These stories were sometimes pieced together to form a chronologically narrative of early Ashina history. However, as the Book of Zhou, the Book of Sui, and the Youyang Zazu were all written around the same time, during early Tang Dynasty, whether they could truly be considered chronological or rather should be considered competing versions of the Ashina's origin is debatable.[11] These stories also have parallels to folktales and legends of other Turkic peoples, for instance, the Uyghurs and the Wusun.

The record of Turks in Zhoushu (written in the first half of 7th century) describes the usage of gold in Turks around mid-5th century: (The Turks) inlaid gold sculpture of wolf head on their flag; their military men were called Fuli, that is, wolf in Chinese; It is because they are descendant of the wolf, and naming so is for not forgetting their ancestors.[12]


The name Ashina first appeared in the Chinese records of the 6th century, and prior to that no other sources had related their history at all.[11] The Great Soviet Encyclopaedia infers that between the years 265 and 460 the Ashina had been part of various late Xiongnu confederations. About 460 they were subjugated by the Rouran, who ousted them from Xinjiang into the Altay Mountains, where the Ashina gradually emerged as the leaders of the early Turkic confederation, known as the Göktürks.[15] By the 550s, Bumin Khan felt strong enough to throw off the yoke of the Rouran domination and established the Göktürk Empire, which flourished until the 630s and from 680s until 740s. The Orkhon Valley was the centre of the Ashina power.

Multiple members of the Ashina clan served as generals in the Tang Dynasty military. The general Ashina She'er led a Tang military Tang campaign against Kucha and against Karasahr in 648.[16] His brother, Ashina Zhong, was also a Tang general.[17] Ashina Mishe and Ashina Buzhen joined Su Dingfang's military expedition against the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657.[18]

After the collapse of the Göktürk empire under pressure from the resurgent Uyghurs, branches of the Ashina clan moved westward to Europe, where they became the kaghans of the Khazars[19][20] and possibly other nomadic peoples with Turkic roots. According to Marquart, the Ashina clan constituted a noble caste throughout the steppes. Similarly, the Bashkir historian and Turkolog Zeki Validi Togan described them as a "desert aristocracy" that provided rulers for a number of Eurasian nomadic empires. Accounts of the Göktürk and Khazar khaganates suggest that the Ashina clan was accorded sacred, perhaps quasi-divine status in the shamanic religion practiced by the steppe nomads of the first millennium CE.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Peter B. Golden, Central Asia in World History, Oxford University Press, 2011, pp.43-45
  2. ^ David Keys, Catastrophe: an investigation into the origins of the modern world, Ballantine Pub., 2000, p.86. University of Virginia.
  3. ^ Eurasian studies, Vol. 21-23, Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency, 2002, p.149
  4. ^ Mythologies: A Polytheistic View of the World, By Wikipedians, PediaPress, p.406
  5. ^ Turks in Transoxiana, Richard N. Frye
  6. ^ Findley 39.
  7. ^ Róna-Tas 280.
  8. ^ Zhu 68-91.
  9. ^ Rachel Lung, Interpreters in Early Imperial China, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011, p.48
  10. ^ Duan: "Dingling, Gaoju and Tiele", 1988, pp.39-41
  11. ^ a b c Xue 39-85
  12. ^ a b c Zhoushu, vol. 50 [1]
  13. ^ Suishu, vol. 84 [2]
  14. ^ Youyang Zazu, vol. 4 [3]
  15. ^ Klyashtorny passim.
  16. ^ Grousset 1970, p. 99.
  17. ^ Skaff 2009, p. 188.
  18. ^ Skaff 2009, p. 183.
  19. ^ Anatoly Michailovich Khazanov, André Wink, Nomads in the Sedentary World, Routledge, 2001, p.89
  20. ^ Frederik Coene, The Caucasus: An Introduction, Taylor & Francis, 2009, p.109


External links[edit]