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For empires established by the Göktürks, see Turkic Khaganate.
Picture of Göktürks
Total population
Ancestral to Uyghurs, Yugurs, and other Turkic population
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia
Old Turkic

The Türks or the Kök Türks (Old Turkic: Old Turkic letter UK.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg Old Turkic letter K.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter UK.svg Chinese: 突厥; pinyin: Tūjué) and sometimes as its Anatolian Turkish version Göktürks (Celestial/Blue Turks), were a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia. The kök Türks, under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan (d. 552) and his sons, succeeded the Rouran as the main power in the region and established the Turkic Khaganate, one of several nomadic dynasties which would shape the future geolocation, culture, and dominant beliefs of Turkic peoples.


Kül Tigin

The Old Turkic name was Old Turkic letter UK.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg Türük,[1][2] Old Turkic letter UK.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg Old Turkic letter K.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter UK.svg Kök Türük,[1][2] or Old Turkic letter K.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg Türk.[3]

They were known in Middle Chinese historical sources as the tʰwot-küot (Chinese: ; pinyin: Tūjué). According to Chinese sources, the meaning of the word Tujue was "combat helmet" (Chinese: ; pinyin: Dōumóu; Wade–Giles: Tou1-mou2), reportedly because the shape of the Altai Mountains, where they lived, was similar to a combat helmet.[4][5][6]

The name Göktürk is said to mean "Celestial Turks".[7] This is consistent with "the cult of heavenly ordained rule" which was a recurrent element of Altaic political culture and as such may have been imbibed by the Göktürks from their predecessors in Mongolia.[8] Similarly, the name of the ruling Ashina clan may derive from the Khotanese Sakā term for "deep blue", āššɪna.[9] The name might also derive from a Tungusic tribe related to Aisin.[10]

The word Türk meant "strong" in Old Turkic.[11]


The Göktürk rulers originated from the Ashina clan, who were first attested to 439. The Book of Sui reports that in that year, on October 18, the Tuoba ruler Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei overthrew Juqu Mujian of the Northern Liang in eastern Gansu,[12][13][14] whence 500 Ashina families fled northwest to the Rouran Khaganate in the vicinity of Gaochang.[5][15] Peter B. Golden points out the possibility that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, were themselves originally an Indo-European (possibly Iranian) clan who later adopted the Turkic language, but retained their tradition of inherited Indo-European titles.[16] German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp points out that many common terms in Turkic are Iranian in origin.[17]

According to the Book of Zhou and the History of the Northern Dynasties, the Ashina clan was a component of the Xiongnu confederation,[4][6] but this connection is disputed,[18] and according to the Book of Sui and the Tongdian, they were "mixed barbarians" ( / 杂胡, Pinyin: zá hú, Wade–Giles: tsa hu) from Pingliang.[5][19] Indeed, Chinese sources link many barbarians (hu) on their northern borders to the Xiongnu, just as Graeco-Roman historiographers called Avars, Huns and Magyars "Scythians". Such archaizing was a common literary topos, and implied similar geographic origins and nomadic lifestyle but not direct filiation.[20]

As part of the heterogeneous Rouran Khaganate, the Türks lived for generations north of the Altai Mountains, where they 'engaged in metal working for the Rouran'.[5][21] According to Denis Sinor, the rise to power of the Ashina clan represented an 'internal revolution' in the Rouran confederacy, rather than an external conquest.[22] According to Charles Holcombe, the early Tujue population was rather heterogeneous and many of the names of Türk rulers, including the two founding members, are not even Turkic.[23] This is supported by evidence from the Orkhon inscriptions, which include several non-Turkic lexemes, possibly representing Ungric or Samoyed words.[24]

Eastern Turks under the Jimi system[edit]

On May 19, 639[25] Ashina Jiesheshuai and his tribesmen assaulted Tai zong at Jiucheng Palace (九成宮, in present day Linyou County, Baoji, Shaanxi). However, they did not succeed and fled to the north, but were caught by pursuers near the Wei River and were killed. Ashina Hexiangu was exiled to Lingbiao.[26] After the unsuccessful raid of Ashina Jiesheshuai, on August 13, 639[27] Taizong instated Ashina Simo as the Yiminishuqilibi Khan and ordered the settled Turkic people to follow Ashina Simo north of the Yellow River to settle between the Great Wall and the Gobi Desert.[28]

In 679, Ashide Wenfu and Ashide Fengzhi, who were Turkic leaders of Shanyu Protectorate (單于大都護府), declared Ashina Nishufu as qaghan and revolted against the Tang dynasty.[29] In 680, Pei Xingjian defeated Ashina Nishufu and his army. Ashina Nishufu was killed by his men.[29] Ashide Wenfu made Ashina Funian a qaghan and again revolted against the Tang dynasty.[29] Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian surrendered to Pei Xingjian. On December 5, 681[30] 54 Göktürks including Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian were publicly executed in the Eastern Market of Chang'an.[29] In 682, Ashina Kutlug and Ashide Yuanzhen revolted and occupied Heisha Castle (northwest of present day Hohhot, Inner Mongolia) with the remnants of Ashina Funian's men.[31]

Customs and culture[edit]

Origin of Achinas or Ashinas

In 439 in Central Asia a distinctive clan called “Achina” or “Ashina” lived in the territory now located in north-west China, Xinjiang province or Eastern Turkistan. They spoke either a Turkic or Mongolic language and they were the remnants of the aristocracy of the steppes’ former Xiongnu Empire which had been destroyed by the China Han dynasty in circa 100. Their name, according to the prominent historian, Lev Gumilev, is derived from the Mongolian word for wolf “chono”, “china” or “shina” with a Chinese prefix of “A” which means the respectful, elder, important. In combination it means Noble Wolf or simply “The” Wolf.

Language and character

The Türks were the first Turkic people known to write their language in the Old Turkic script. Life stories of Kul Tigin and Bilge Qaghan, as well as the chancellor Tonyukuk were recorded in the Orkhon inscriptions.


Tengriism was the traditional religion of the Türks.[32] After the fall of the khaganate some of Türk descendants followed the Uyghur Khaganate and received missionaries from the Manichaeism religion. Eventually part of them were Buddhists and parts were Muslim, depending upon the region in which they settled down.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kultegin's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Khöshöö Tsaidam Monuments (English)
  2. ^ a b Bilge Kagan's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Khöshöö Tsaidam Monuments (English)
  3. ^ Tonyukuk's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Bain Tsokto Monument (English)
  4. ^ a b Linghu Defen et al., Book of Zhou, Vol. 50. (Chinese)
  5. ^ a b c d Wei Zheng et al., Book of Sui, Vol. 84. (Chinese)
  6. ^ a b Li Yanshou, History of the Northern Dynasties, Vol. 99. (Chinese)
  7. ^ Macdonald, et al, Peoples of Western Asia, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7614-7677-1, p. 545. (English)
  8. ^ Wink 64.
  9. ^ Findley 39.
  10. ^ Zhu 68-91.
  11. ^ American Heritage Dictionary (2000). "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition - "Turk"". bartleby.com. Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  12. ^ Wei Shou, Book of Wei, Vol. 4-I. (Chinese)
  13. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 123. (Chinese)
  14. ^ 永和七年 (太延五年) 九月丙戌 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  15. ^ Christian, p. 249.
  16. ^ Peter B. Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, O. Harrassowitz, 1992, p. 121-122
  17. ^ „(...) Über die Ethnogenese dieses Stammes ist viel gerätselt worden. Auffallend ist, dass viele zentrale Begriffe iranischen Ursprungs sind. Dies betrifft fast alle Titel (...). Einige Gelehrte wollen auch die Eigenbezeichnung türk auf einen iranischen Ursprung zurückführen und ihn mit dem Wort „Turan“, der persischen Bezeichnung für das Land jeneseits des Oxus, in Verbindung bringen.“ Wolfgang-Ekkehard Scharlipp in Die frühen Türken in Zentralasien, p. 18
  18. ^ Christian, p. 249
  19. ^ 杜佑, 《通典》, 北京: 中華書局出版, (Du You, Tongdian, Vol.197), 辺防13 北狄4 突厥上, 1988, ISBN 7-101-00258-7, p. 5401. (Chinese)
  20. ^ Sinor (1990)
  21. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 159. (Chinese)
  22. ^ Denis Sinor, "The Establishment and Dissolution of the Turk Empire", The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, Page 295. (English)
  23. ^ Charles Holcombe, The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907, University of Hawaii Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8248-2465-5, p. 114.
  24. ^ Sinor (1990, p. 282)
  25. ^ 貞觀十三年 四月戊寅 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  26. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 195. (Chinese)
  27. ^ 貞觀十三年 七月庚戌 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  28. ^ Ouyang Xiu et al., New Book of Tang, Vol. 215-I.
  29. ^ a b c d Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 202 (Chinese)
  30. ^ 開耀元年 十月乙酉 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  31. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 203 (Chinese)
  32. ^ Ivelik, Sonia. "Dünya Dinleri 2: Animist Dinle" (in Turkish). p. 18. 


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