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For other uses, see Ashina (disambiguation).

Ashina (Chinese: 阿史那; pinyin: Āshǐnà; Wade–Giles: A-shih-na; Middle Chinese: (Guangyun) [ʔɑʃi̯ə˥nɑ˩]), also spelled Asen, Asena, or Açina, 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.


Some researchers, such as H.W. Haussig,[1] S.G. Kljyashtorny,[2][3] A.N. Bernstamm,[4] Yu.A. Zuev,[5] D.G. Savinov,[6] S.P. Guschin,[7] Rona-Tas,[8] R.N. Frye,[9] C. V. Findley[10] and others who point out the origin of the Ashina from Saka-Wusun, put forward in favor of this version of the following arguments:


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 in the Chinese transcription of Ashina, was in fact Ashinas. It is in fact known in later Arabic sources under this form.[citation needed]


Findley assumes that the name 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".[10] 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".[8]

"Ashina" means either "noble wolf" in Turkic languages - wolf being Bure or Kaskyr. In Mongolian languages wolf is - Shono or Chono. "A" - is the prefix of respect in Chinese; other opinions - or roots of the ethnonym "Ashina" are to be found in Saka-Wusun tribal anthroponymes.

H.W. Haussig[1] and S.G. Kljyashtorny[3] suggest an association between the name and the compound "kindred of Ashin" ahşaẽna - Old Persian, which can get quite satisfactory etymological development. This is so even in East Turkestan - then the desired form would be in the Sogdian 'xs' yn' k (-әhšēnē) "blue, dark"; Khotan-Saka (Brahmi) āşşeiņa (-āşşena) "blue", where a long -ā- emerged as development ahş-> āşş-; in Tocharian A āśna- "blue, dark" (from Khotan-Saka and Sogdian). The Saka etymology ashina (<āşşeiņa ~ āşşena) with the value "blue" (the color of the sky) is phonetically and semantically flawless. There is a textual support for this version in the ancient runic inscriptions of the Turks.

In the large Orkhon inscriptions, in the story of the first Kagan, people living in the newly created empire, are named kök türk - translated as "Celestial Turks". Without touching the numerous interpretations kök may have in this combination, we note its perfect semantic match with the reconstructed value of the name Ashina. An explicit semantic calque suggests knowledge of its original meaning and foreign origin, which is compatible with the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nature of the First Turkic khanate, which entailed the loss, however, of the popularity of "national character", in the words of L. Bazin, as was the political and cultural environment of the Otyuken regime of the era of Bilge Kagan.

The name Ashina was recorded in Ancient Arab chronicles in the form - Sha - ne.[11]


Ashina writing system was taken from Sogdian language. The letters used in the construction of the memorial stele describing the heroic exploits of the members of the ruling kagan kind were Sogdian. Thus the main inscription on the stele Bugutskoy set up in honor of one of the rulers of the First Turkic khanate, is written Sogdian letter. A Sogdian inscription is found on the Broadsword discovered in the burial of the ancient Turkic warrior at the monument at Jolene in the Altai Mountains.

During the period of the Second Eastern Turk ancient Turkic runic writing spread, which was also influenced by Sogdian letters. Runes are widespread among the nomadic Turkic peoples in the early Middle Ages.

Funeral rite[edit]

Tanshu describes the funeral rites Ashina as follows: "The body of the deceased be lieved in a tent. Sons, grandchildren and relatives of both sexes slaughter horses and sheep, and as they spread around in front of the tent, sacrifice; they ride on horseback seven times around the tent, and then, at the entrance to the tent slit their own faces with a knife weeping, and spill their blood forward; pouring blood and tears collectively. They do so seven times and it is over. Later in the chosen day they take the horse on which the deceased used to ride, and the things that he used, and burn them along with the corpse: the ashes are then collected and buried in a certain season into the grave. Those who died in the spring and summer, are buried when the leaves on the trees and plants begin to turn yellow and fall; those who died in the fall or winter are buried when the flowers begin to unfold. On the day of the funeral, as well as on the day of his death, the family offers a sacrifice, rides horses and slit their face. The building, which was built on the grave, is decorated with the portrait of the face of the dead man and with the description of battles in which he was as in the continuation of life. Usually they put one stone for every man he killed, they may have a different number of such stones, up to a hundred or even a thousand. when bringing sheep and horses as a sacrifice to a single, they hang their heads on the milestones."

According to D. G. Savinov, no archaeological monument is fully consistent with the description given by I. Bichurin, neither South Siberia nor Central Asia is known yet, although many of its elements are found already in the early Turkic time. According D. G.Savinov this may be for several reasons:

  1. Tukyue burial sites in Central Asia and Southern Siberia are not yet open;
  2. The source is a compilation in character, and burial rituals and funeral cycle from various sources are listed in a unified description;
  3. 'Tukye' funeral rites in the form in which it is recorded in written sources, developed later on the basis of the various components present in some of the archaeological sites of Southern Siberia of early Turkic time.

It is certain that the rite of cremation was adopted among Turkic Hagan and a very narrow ruling stratum of kaganates. Ie it was inherent in it is the "prince of the tribe," Ashin, who had as possible will consider Indo-European origin. Rite of cremation, obviously did not spread among the common people of Turkic, i.e. did not have a mass character. This may well be at the origin of the other ethnic groups of the ruling family.

As a result of the use of the rite described Tanshu, of a very narrow class of people (aristocracy), Savinova' s assumption most likely is true, on the grounds that the Tukyue burial sites in Central Asia and Southern Siberia are not yet open.[12]

The most curious thing is that almost all of the elements of the funeral rite Ashina have analogues in the Indo-European rites, in particular the Slavic rites. About individual incision Al Bakr can be quoted: "Wives of the same dead cut their hands and faces with knives." Chinese source said that on the day of the funeral, as well as in the day of his death, family used to ride horses. There is likely to have in mind something like Slavic funeral feast. "The building was built on the grave" is an analogue of the Slavic Domowina. Burial of the ashes of the deceased in the vessel (the tomb of Kul Tigin and his wife) as is recorded by the Slav's "Tale of Bygone Years", for example where it says: "burned, and after collecting the bones, put them in a small container."

Analysis of written sources, traditions[edit]

S. G. Kljyashtorny studied the legends of the clan Ashina in comparison with historical evidence. The dynastic chronicle "Sui Shu" carries information that is realistic at its basis, the historiographical value of which now seems undeniable, "and offered to share the early history of the tribes Tÿrk of two consecutive periods: Gansu- Gaochan when the ancestors of the Turks Ashina formed from Posthun and local Iranian tribes on the territory of Eastern Turkestan (III c. BC - 460 AD), and the Altai, when the established Turkic ethnic group moved into the territory of the Mongolian Altai (460- 552 AD.)"

Another Orientalist, Yu. A. Zuev, also points out the origin of the Saka-Wusun Ashina.

In particular, he drew attention to the similarity of the legends about the origin of the Saka-Wusun and Ashina.

So in particular Yu. A. Zuev notes:

Wusun Ashina
1 Annals determines the location of the ancient Wusun lived "between the Qilian and Dunhuang". 1 Ashina were to the west of Shihan - Shara-Nora, i.e. in the same area.
2 Wusun constituted "a small principality of the western boundary of the Xiongnu." 2 In all versions of the legend, Ashina is a separate branch from the west sea, west to the Xiongnu.
3 The Wusun were broken by the Yuezhi neighboring tribe, and on their land only a newborn prince survived. 3 Ashina too were broken by their neighbors, and then only one boy survived.
4 To help the baby came the ancestral totems of the Wusun - wolf and raven, which saved him from death. 4. The Ashina boy was saved by a wolf. In the tradition of the crows, but such a gap is filled by the tamgha list, which shows the Ashina tamgha is the Raven.
5. The Wusun boy was carried away to the east, in a bid by the shanyu of the Xiongnu, and was educated there. In the tradition of the Wusun the boy is helped by the gods. 5 The ancestors of the Ashina - a boy and a wolf, were carried away by the gods, and they are in the east of the Shara-Nora in Inner Mongolia.
6 After a few years the fight between Wusun and Yuezhi breaks out again, which ended in the defeat of the last. 6 When he learned that the boy was alive, hostile princes again send an army to destroy the Ashina and with him the totem tribe. However, this hostile plot fails.
7 Wusun migrate north-west from the former place of residence, in the Seven Rivers. 7 The same course of action is followed by an Ashina. Bid Ashina Helu was on the Talas river.
8 The Wusun acquired power and expanded their territory. The first Usun prince had ten sons. 8 The same number of children is found in the Ashina legend. But this version of the ten sons was artificially pegged onto the fact of the existence of the ten tribes (He's OK) of the Western Turkic Khanate.

Yu. A. Zuev notes that the Wusun had a family relationship with the ruling clan Ashina in the First Turkic Empire.[13]

Also Orientalists A. N. Bernstamm, D. G. Savinov and others argue about the Saka-Wusun origin of the Ashina clan.

They point out that according to the "Sui Shu" the Ashina ancestors were some "mixed hu (northwestern barbarian) ethnos". A.N. Bernshtamm in the preface to "Collection of information" by N. Bichurina 1950 noted that the Chinese term "hu" - barbarians, i.e. "Not Chinese", had been identified with the name of the Turks. However, according to Bernshtamm, in Chinese, especially in areas of East Turkestan and Central Asia, as a rule (with a few exceptions), this term is understood as not just the Turkic tribes but also the settled, mainly Sogdian population.[4]

Sogdians played a huge role in the political, cultural, economic and trade activities of the Turkish Empire. They have, for example, performed important diplomatic missions with rulers, led embassies to the court of Iranian shahs, controlled trade silk. Sogdian preachers engaged in spreading Manichaeism, Christianity (Nestorianism), and Buddhism among the nomads.

These circumstances lead to the conclusion that the tribe Ashina formed in Hexi Pinlyane as delivery of various Indo-European ("mixed hu"). In this area, during the formation of the tribe (III c. BC - 460 AD), the Indo-European population was predominant and, consequently, the Iranian and Tocharian languages. In ethnogenesis of Ashina, that which also follows from the testimony of the Chinese sources, also participated the element of Hunnish childbirth. After the defeat of the state Tszyuytsyuyev in Hexi, Ashina fled to Gaochang, where after 460 AD they fell under the rule of Juan-Juan and were relocated to the southern spurs of the Altai. Ashina were artisans, they are mainly engaged in metallurgy.

As suggested D. G. Savinov in the new places of settlement, including the territory of their newly created possessions, Ashina were faced with the local tribes, the native proto-cultural substrate. Apparently, this time may include the first acculturation processes, initiating the formation of the ancient Turkic historical and cultural complex. Since the beginning of the active military and political activities Ashina was joined by a variety of Turkic peoples. The name of the new state was made Tÿrk (helmet, based on the geographical features of the Altai), and respectively, the population of the state has adopted the name of the Turks. The word became the name of the Ashina ruling dynasty.

A detailed study of the origin of Ashina is conducted by sinologist S. P. Guschin. He notes that from the legend of the origin of Ashina, we know that "Tukyue ancestors come from a reigning house, who lived to the north of the Huns." The title saki tribes in Chinese sounds like - "Shohei" 索 诃, which coincides with the characters about the "reigning house with" 索 國.

To check, you can refer to the Chinese dictionary, in which the dialectal reading of character "Shohei" is given in the form of «saak» 索. Also in Chinese phonetic bases character 索 = sāk / sâk, set in its old reading.

Tamga of Ashina - The Raven

Tamga Ashina[edit]

Yu. A. Zuev notes that the presence of crows as the ancient tribal totem of Wusun is doubtful. According to Wusun legend, the ancestors were Wusun raven and the wolf. This fact is reflected in the tamga of Wusun, which depicts the raven. Tamga Ashina also meant a raven.[13]

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.[14][15] 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:[16]

  • Ashina was one of ten sons born to a grey she-wolf (see Asena) in the north of Gaochang.[17]
  • The ancestor of the Ashina was a man from the Suo nation (north of Xiongnu) whose mother was a wolf, and a season goddess.[17]
  • The Ashina were mixture stocks from the Pingliang commandery of eastern Gansu.[18]
  • The Ashina descended from a skilled archer named Shemo, who had once fallen in love with a sea goddess west of Ashide cave.[19]

These stories were sometimes pieced together to form a chronologically coherent 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.[16] These stories also have parallels in 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.[17]


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.[16] 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.[20] 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.[21] His brother, Ashina Zhong, was also a Tang general.[22] Ashina Mishe and Ashina Buzhen joined Su Dingfang's military expedition against the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657.[23]

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[24][25] 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.

A relevant example of the special status of this wolf clan is demonstrated by Mongolian history. The Chonos, whose name translates as "wolves", were held in such esteem by Mongolian warlords that when Jamukha in the late 12th century took prisoners of war from the wolf-tribe, he executed them by boiling during the subsequent victory decapitation ritual to avoid the taboo of letting wolf-blood mingle with the Earth.[citation needed] By the way, according to Rashid-ad-Din, Chonos came to Mongolia from Ergenekun and were blacksmiths.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Haussig Н.W. Byzantinische Qullen über Mittelasien in ihrer historischen Aussage // Prolegomena to the sources on the history of pre-Islamic Central Asia. Budapest, 1979. S. 55-56.
  2. ^ Кляшторный С.Г. Проблемы ранней истории племени тÿрк (ашина). // Новое в советской археологии. / МИА № 130. М.: 1965. С. 278-281.
  3. ^ a b Kjyashtorny S.G. The Royal Clan of the Turks and the Problem of its Designation//Post-Soviet Central Asia. Edited by Touraj Atabaki and John O'Kane. Tauris Academic Studies. London*New York in association with IIAS. The international Institute for Asian Studies. Leiden-Amsterdam, P.366-369.
  4. ^ a b Бернштам А.Н. Никита Яковлевич Бичурин (Иакинф) и его труд "Собрание сведений..." М.-Л., Наука, 1950.
  5. ^ Зуев Ю.А. Тамги лошадей из вассальных княжеств (Перевод из Китайского сочинения 8-10 вв. Танхуйао, том 3, глава (цзюанъ) 72, стр. 1305-1308)
  6. ^ Савинов Д.Г. Владение Цигу древнетюркских генеалогических преданий и таштыкская культура. // Историко-культурные связи народов Южной Сибири. Абакан: 1988. С. 64-74.
  7. ^ Муратов Б.А. ДНК-генеалогия тюркоязычных народов Урала, Волги и Кавказа. Том 4, серия «Этногеномика и ДНК-генеалогия», ЭИ Проект «Суюн». Vila do Conde, Lidergraf, 2014, илл. ISBN 978-5-9904583-2-1.
  8. ^ a b Róna-Tas 280.
  9. ^ Frye Richard N. Turks in Transoxiana
  10. ^ a b C. V. Findley 39.
  11. ^ Гумилёв Л.Н. Древние тюрки. М.-Л., Наука, 1967.
  12. ^ Савинов Д.Г. Народы Южной Сибири в древнетюркскую эпоху Глава II. Раннетюркское время 1. Древнетюркские генеалогические предания и археологические памятники раннетюркского времени (с. 31-40)
  13. ^ a b Зуев Ю.А. К этнической истории усуней. Академия Наук Казахской ССР Труды Института Истории, Археологии и Этнографии Том VIII, Издательство Академии Наук Казахской ССР, Алма-Ата, 1960.
  14. ^ Rachel Lung, Interpreters in Early Imperial China, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011, p.48
  15. ^ Duan: "Dingling, Gaoju and Tiele", 1988, pp.39-41
  16. ^ a b c Xue 39-85
  17. ^ a b c Zhoushu, vol. 50 [1]
  18. ^ Suishu, vol. 84 [2]
  19. ^ Youyang Zazu, vol. 4 [3]
  20. ^ Klyashtorny passim.
  21. ^ Grousset 1970, p. 99.
  22. ^ Skaff 2009, p. 188.
  23. ^ Skaff 2009, p. 183.
  24. ^ Anatoly Michailovich Khazanov, André Wink, Nomads in the Sedentary World, Routledge, 2001, p.89
  25. ^ Frederik Coene, The Caucasus: An Introduction, Taylor & Francis, 2009, p.109


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