Turkic Khaganate

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Turkic Khaganate
(Kök) Türk xanlïqï
Göktürk Kağanlığı






The Türk Khaganate (green) in its earliest years.
Capital Ordu-Baliq
Languages Old Turkic language
Religion Tengrism
Political structure Khanate
 •  551–553 Bumin Qaghan
 •  553–576 İstemi Yabghu
 •  682–694 Ilterish Qaghan
 •  742-744 Özmiş Khagan
Legislature Kurultai (Qurultay)
Historical era Post-classical
 •  Bumin Qaghan revolts against Rouran Khaganate 546
 •  Established 552
 •  Göktürk civil war c. 580
 •  Defeat of Eastern Turkic Khaganate 630
 •  Defeat of Western Turkic Khaganate 659
 •  Ilterish Qaghan establishes Second Turkic Khaganate 682
 •  Uyghurs defeat Özmiş Khagan 744
 •  557-630[1][2] 6,000,000 km² (2,316,613 sq mi)
Today part of  Mongolia
History of the Turkic peoples
History of the Turkic peoples
Pre-14th century
Turkic Khaganate 552–744
  Western Turkic
  Eastern Turkic
Avar Khaganate 564–804
Khazar Khaganate 618–1048
Xueyantuo 628–646
Great Bulgaria 632–668
  Danube Bulgaria
  Volga Bulgaria
Kangar union 659–750
Turgesh Khaganate 699–766
Uyghur Khaganate 744–840
Karluk Yabgu State 756–940
Kara-Khanid Khanate 840–1212
  Western Kara-Khanid
  Eastern Kara-Khanid
Gansu Uyghur Kingdom 848–1036
Kingdom of Qocho 856–1335
Pecheneg Khanates
Kimek Khanate
Oghuz Yabgu State
Ghaznavid Empire 963–1186
Seljuk Empire 1037–1194
  Seljuk Sultanate of Rum
Khwarazmian Empire 1077–1231
Delhi Sultanate 1206–1526
  Mamluk dynasty
  Khilji dynasty
  Tughlaq dynasty
Golden Horde | [3][4][5] 1240s–1502
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo) 1250–1517
  Bahri dynasty
  Ottoman Empire 1299-1923
Part of a series on the
History of Xinjiang

The Turkic Khanate (552-744; Old Turkic: Türk xanlïqï, Chinese: 突厥汗国; pinyin: Tūjué hánguó) or Göktürk Khanate was a khanate established by the Ashina clan of the Göktürks in medieval Inner Asia. Under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan (d. 552) and his sons, the Ashina succeeded the Rouran Khaganate as the main power in the Mongolian Plateau and established a stronger empire, which rapidly expanded to rule huge territories in Central Asia. This khaganate interacted extensively with various dynasties based in North China, and for significant periods exercised considerable control over the lucrative Silk Road trade.

The first dynasty collapsed in 581, initiating a series of political conflicts and civil wars which fragmented the khanate in Eastern and Western factions, which were eventually subjugated by the Tang dynasty. A century later, a second, renewed, Turkic Khaganate emerged in 682 and lasted until 744, when it was overthrown by the Uyghurs.

Kızıl city.
Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia (6th to 8th century).

First khaganate[edit]

The origins of the Türk Khanate trace back to 546, when Bumin Qaghan made a preemptive strike against the Uyghur and Tiele groups planning a revolt against their overlords, the Rouran Khanate. For this service he expected to be rewarded with a Rouran princess, thus marrying into the royal family. However, the Rouran khagan, Yujiulü Anagui, sent an emissary to Bumin to rebuke him, saying, "You are my blacksmith slave. How dare you utter these words?" As Anagui's "blacksmith slave" (Chinese: ; pinyin: duànnú) comment was recorded in Chinese chronicles, some claim that the Göktürks were indeed blacksmith servants for the Rouran elite,[6][7][8][9] and that "blacksmith slavery" may have indicated a form of vassalage within Rouran society.[10] According to Denis Sinor, this reference indicates that the Türks specialized in metallurgy, although it is unclear if they were miners or, indeed, blacksmiths.[11][12] Whatever the case, that the Turks were "slaves" need not be taken literally, but probably represented a form of vassalage, or even unequal alliance.[13]

A disappointed Bumin allied with the Western Wei against the Rouran, their common enemy. In 552, Bumin defeated Anagui and his forces north of Huaihuang (modern Zhangjiakou, Hebei).[14]

Having excelled both in battle and diplomacy, Bumin declared himself Illig Khagan of the new khanate at Otukan, but died a year later. His son, Muqan Qaghan, defeated the Hephthalite Empire,[15] Khitan and Kyrgyz.[16] Bumin's brother Istämi (d. 576) bore the title "Yabgu of the West" and collaborated with the Sasanian Empire of Iran to defeat and destroy the Hephthalites, who were allies of the Rouran. This war tightened the Ashina clan's grip on the Silk Road.

The appearance of the Pannonian Avars in the West been interpreted as a nomadic faction fleeing the westward expansion of the Göktürks, although the specifics are a matter of irreconcilable debate given the lack of clear sources and chronology. Rene Grousset links the Avars with the downfall of the Hephthalites rather than the Ruoruan,[17] while Denis Sinor argues that Rouran-Avar identification is "repeated from article to article, from book to book with no shred of evidence to support it".[18]

Istämi's policy of western expansion brought the Göktürks into Europe.[19] In 576 the Göktürks crossed the Kerch Strait into the Crimea. Five years later they laid siege to Chersonesus; their cavalry kept roaming the steppes of Crimea until 590.[20] As for the southern borders, they were drawn south of the Amu Darya, bringing the Ashina into conflict with their former allies, the Sasanian Empire. Much of Bactria (including Balkh) remained a dependency of the Ashina until the end of the century.[20]

Civil war[edit]

Main article: Göktürk civil war
Western and Eastern Turkic Khaganates in 600 AD

The Turkic Khanate split in two after the death of the fourth ruler, Taspar Qaghan, ca. 584. He had willed the title of khagan to Muqan's son Apa Qaghan, but the high council appointed Ishbara Qaghan in his stead. Factions formed around both leaders. Before long, four rivals claimed the title. They were successfully played off against each other by Sui and Tang China.[citation needed]

The most serious contender was the western one, Istämi's son Tardu, a violent and ambitious man who had already declared himself independent from the Qaghan after his father's death. He now seized the title and led an army east to claim the seat of imperial power, Otukan.[citation needed]

In order to buttress his position, Ishbara of the Eastern Khaganate applied to Emperor Yang of Sui for protection. Tardu attacked Chang'an, the Sui capital, around 600, demanding Emperor Yangdi end his interference in the civil war. In retaliation, Chinese diplomacy successfully incited a revolt of Tardu's Tiele vassals, which led to the end of Tardu's reign in 603. Among the dissident tribes were the Uyghurs and Xueyantuo.[citation needed]

Eastern Turkic Khaganate[edit]

Eastern Turkic Khaganates in 700

The civil war left the empire divided into eastern and western parts. The eastern part, still ruled from Otukan, remained in the orbit of the Sui and retained the name Göktürk. The Shibi Khan (609-19) and Illig Qaghan (620-30) attacked China at its weakest moment during the transition between the Sui and Tang. On September 11, 615[21] Shibi's army surrounded Emperor Yang of Sui at Yanmen (modern Dai County, Xinzhou, Shanxi).[22]

In 626, Illig Qaghan took advantage of the Xuanwu Gate Incident and drove on to Chang'an. On September 23, 626[23] Illig Qaghan and his iron cavalries reached the bank of the Wei River at the north of Bian Bridge (in present day Xianyang, Shaanxi). On September 25, 626[24] Li Shimin (later Emperor Taizong of Tang) and Illig Qaghan formed an alliance by sacrificing a white horse on Bian Bridge. Tang paid compensation and promised further tributes, so Illig Qaghan ordered to withdraw their iron cavalries. This is known as the Alliance of the Wei River, (渭水之盟) or the Alliance of Bian Qiao (便橋會盟 / 便桥会盟).[25] All in all, 67 incursions on Chinese territories were recorded.[20]

Before mid-October 627, heavy snows on the Mongolian-Manchurian grassland covered the ground to a depth of several feet, preventing the nomads' livestock from grazing and causing a massive die-off among the animals.[26] According to the New Book of Tang, in 628, Taizong mentioned that "There has been a frost in midsummer. The sun had risen from same place for five days. The moon had had the same light level for three days. The field was filled with red atmosphere (dust storm)."[27]

Illig Qaghan was brought down by a revolt of his Tiele vassal tribes (626-630), allied with Emperor Taizong of Tang. This tribal alliance figures in Chinese records as the Huihe (Uyghur).[citation needed]

On March 27, 630[28] a Tang army under the command of Li Jing defeated the Eastern Turkic Khaganate under the command of Illig Qaghan at the Battle of Yinshan (陰山之戰 / 阴山之战).[29][30][31] Illig Qaghan fled to Ishbara Shad. But on May 2, 630[32] Zhang Baoxiang's army got advance to Ishbara Shad's headquarter. Illig Qaghan was taken prisoner and sent to Chang'an.[31] The Eastern Turkic Khaganate collapsed and was incorporated into the Jimi system of Tang. Emperor Taizong said, "It's enough for me to compensate my dishonor at Wei River."[30]

Western Turkic Khaganate[edit]

The Western kaghan Shegui and Tong Yabghu Qaghan constructed an alliance with the Byzantine Empire against the Sasanian Empire and succeeded in restoring the southern borders along the Tarim and Amu Darya rivers. Their capital was Suyab in the Chu River valley, about 6 km south east of modern Tokmok. In 627 Tung Yabghu, assisted by the Khazars and Emperor Heraclius, launched a massive invasion of Transcaucasia which culminated in the taking of Derbent and Tbilisi (see the Third Perso-Turkic War for details). In April 630 Tung's deputy Böri Shad sent the Göktürk cavalry to invade Armenia, where his general Chorpan Tarkhan succeeded in routing a large Persian force. Tung Yabghu's murder in 630 forced the Göktürks to evacuate Transcaucasia.[citation needed]

The Western Turkic Khaganate was modernized through an administrative reform of Ashina Helu (reigned 634–639) and came to be known as the Onoq.[33] The name refers to the "ten arrows" that were granted by the khagan to five leaders (shads) of its two constituent tribal confederations, Dulo and Nushibi, whose lands were divided by the Chui River.[33] The division fostered the growth of separatist tendencies, and soon the Old Great Bulgaria under the Dulo chieftain Kubrat seceded from the khaganate. Tang campaigns against the Western Turks, against the khaganate and their vassals, the oasis states of the Tarim Basin. The Tang campaign against Karakhoja in 640 led to the retreat of the Western Turks, who were defeated during the Tang campaigns against Karasahr in 644 and the Tang campaign against Kucha in 648, [34][35] leading to the In 657 conquest of the Western Turks by the Tang general Su Dingfang.[36]

Emperor Taizong of Tang was proclaimed Khagan of the Göktürks.

In 659, the emperor of China could claim to rule the entire Silk Road as far as Iran. The Göktürks now carried Chinese titles and fought by their side in their wars. The era spanning from 659-681 was characterized by numerous independent rulers - weak, divided, and engaged in constant petty wars. In the east, the Uyghurs defeated their one-time allies the Syr-Tardush, while in the west the Turgesh emerged as successors to the Onoq.

Second Turkic Khaganate[edit]

Despite all the setbacks, Ashina Kutluk (Ilterish Qaghan) and his brother Qapaghan Qaghan succeeded in reestablishing the Khanate. In 679 they revolted against the Tang Dynasty Chinese domination [37] and, over the following decades, steadily gained control of the steppes beyond the Great Wall of China. By 705, they had expanded as far south as Samarkand and threatened the Arab control of Transoxiana. The Göktürks clashed with the Umayyad Califate in a series of battles (712–713) but the Arabs emerged as victors.

Following the Ashina tradition,[citation needed] the power of the Second Khaganate[38][39][40] was centered on Ötüken (the upper reaches of the Orkhon River). This polity was described by historians as "the joint enterprise of the Ashina clan and the Soghdians, with large numbers of Chinese bureaucrats being involved as well".[41] The son of Ilterish, Bilge, was also a strong leader whose deeds were recorded in the Orkhon inscriptions. After his death in 734 the Second Turkic Khaganate declined. The Göktürks ultimately fell victim to a series of internal crises and renewed Chinese campaigns.

When Kul Bilge Qaghan of the Uyghurs allied himself with the Karluks and Basmyls, the power of the Göktürks was very much on the wane. In 744 Kutluk seized Ötükän and beheaded the last Göktürk khagan Ozmysh Qaghan, whose head was sent to the Tang Dynasty Chinese court.[42] In the space of a few years, the Uyghurs gained mastery of Inner Asia and established the Uyghur Khaganate.

Customs and culture[edit]

Political system

Peter B. Golden points out that there is the possibility that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, were themselves originally an Indo-European-speaking (possibly Iranian) clan who later adopted Turkic, but inherited their original Indo-European titles.[43] German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp writes that many central terms are Iranian in origin.[44]

The Turkic temporary qaghan from the Ashina clan were subordinate to a sovereign authority that was left in the hands of a council of tribal chiefs[citation needed].


The Khaganate received missionaries from the Buddhists religion, which were incorporated into Tengriism. After the fall of the khaganate, many refugees settled in Central Asia, Middle East and Europe adopted the Islamic faith.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rein Taagepera "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D.", Social Science History Vol. 3, 115-138 (1979).
  2. ^ Jonathan M. Adams, Thomas D. Hall and Peter Kurdin (2006). "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires". Journal of World-Systems Research (University of Connecticut). 12 (no. 2): 219–229.
  3. ^ Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2006). Peoples of Western Asia. p. 364. 
  4. ^ Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (2007). Historic Cities of the Islamic World. p. 280. 
  5. ^ Borrero, Mauricio (2009). Russia: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. p. 162. 
  6. ^ 馬長壽, 《突厥人和突厥汗國》, 上海人民出版社, 1957,p. 10-11 (Chinese)
  7. ^ 陳豐祥, 余英時, 《中國通史》, 五南圖書出版股份有限公司, 2002, ISBN 978-957-11-2881-8, p. 155 (Chinese)
  8. ^ Gao Yang, "The Origin of the Turks and the Turkish Khanate", X. Türk Tarih Kongresi: Ankara 22 - 26 Eylül 1986, Kongreye Sunulan Bildiriler, V. Cilt, Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1991, s. 731. (English)
  9. ^ Burhan Oğuz, Türkiye halkının kültür kökenleri: Giriş, beslenme teknikleri, İstanbul Matbaası, 1976, p. 147. «Demirci köle» olmaktan kurtulup reisleri Bumin'e (Turkish)
  10. ^ Larry W. Moses, "Relations with the Inner Asian Barbarian", ed. John Curtis Perry, Bardwell L. Smith, Essays on Tʻang society: the interplay of social, political and economic forces, Brill Archive, 1976, ISBN 978-90-04-04761-7, p. 65. '"Slave" probably meant vassalage to the Juan Juan [=Ruanruan or Rouran] qaghan, whom they [the Türks] served in battle by providing iron weapons, and also marching with the qaghan's armies.' (English)
  11. ^ Denis Sinor, Inner Asia: history-civilization-languages : a syllabus, Routledge, 1997, ISBN 978-0-7007-0380-7, p. 26. Contacts had already begun in 545 A.D. between the so-called "blacksmith-slave" Türk and certain of the kingdoms of north China,
  12. ^ Denis Sinor, ibid, p. 101. 'Beyond A-na-kui's disdainful reference to his "blacksmith slaves" there is ample evidence to show that the Türks were indeed specializing in metallurgy, though it is difficult to establish whether they were miners or rather blacksmiths.' (English)
  13. ^ Nachaeva (2011)
  14. ^ Linghu Defen et al., Book of Zhou, Vol. 50. (Chinese)
  15. ^ Li Yanshou, History of Northern Dynasties, Vol. 99.
  16. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 166.
  17. ^ Grousset (1970, p. 82)
  18. ^ History and historiography of the Nomad Empires of Central Eurasia. D Sinor. Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarum Hung. 58 (1) 3 - 14, 2005
  19. ^ Walter Pohl, Die Awaren: ein Steppenvolk im Mitteleuropa, 567-822 n. Chr, C.H.Beck (2002), ISBN 978-3-406-48969-3, p. 26-29.
  20. ^ a b c Grousset 81.
  21. ^ 大業十一年 八月癸酉 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  22. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 182. (Chinese)
  23. ^ 武德九年 八月癸未 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  24. ^ 武德九年 八月乙酉 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  25. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 191. (Chinese)
  26. ^ David Andrew Graff, Medieval Chinese warfare, 300-900, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 978-0-415-23955-4, p. 186.
  27. ^ Ouyang Xiu, New Book of Tang, Vol. 215-I (Chinese)
  28. ^ 貞觀四年 二月甲辰 Academia Sinica (Chinese)
  29. ^ Old Book of Tang, Vol. 3. (Chinese)
  30. ^ a b Ouyang Xiu et al., New Book of Tang, Vol. 93. (Chinese)
  31. ^ a b Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 193. (Chinese)
  32. ^ 貞觀四年 三月庚辰
  33. ^ a b Gumilev 238.
  34. ^ Grousset 1970, pp. 99-100.
  35. ^ Wechsler 1979, pp. 225-228.
  36. ^ Skaff 2009, p. 183.
  37. ^ Barfield, Thomas J. The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China. Cambridge, Mass.: B. Blackwell, 1989. Print.
  38. ^ Elena Vladimirovna Boĭkova, R. B. Rybakov, Kinship in the Altaic World: Proceedings of the 48th Permanent International Altaistic Conference, Moscow 10–15 July 2005, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2006, ISBN 978-3-447-05416-4, p. 225.
  39. ^ Anatoly Michailovich Khazanov, Nomads and the Outside World, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1984, ISBN 978-0-299-14284-1, p. 256.
  40. ^ András Róna-Tas, An introduction to Turkology, Universitas Szegediensis de Attila József Nominata, 1991, p. 29.
  41. ^ Wink 66.
  42. ^ Grousset 114.
  43. ^ Peter B. Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, O. Harrassowitz, 1992, p. 121-122
  44. ^ „(...) 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