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Türük Bodun
Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia (6th to 8th century)
Total population
Ancestral to some Turkic population
Regions with significant populations
Central and Eastern Asia
Old Turkic
Middle Chinese[1]
Related ethnic groups
Türgesh, Toquz Oghuz, Xueyantuo, Shatuo[2]

The Göktürks, Celestial Turks or Blue Turks (Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰:𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣‎, romanized: Türük Bodun, lit. 'Turk people', Chinese: 突厥/تُركِئ; pinyin: Tūjué, Middle Chinese: *duət̚-kʉɐt̚ (türkut), Dungan: Тўҗүә; Khotanese Saka: Ttūrka, Ttrūka;[3] Old Tibetan: Drugu[3], Korean: 돌궐, romanizedDolgwol) were a nomadic confederation of Turkic peoples in medieval Inner Asia. The Göktürks, under the leadership of Bumin Qaghan (d. 552) and his sons, succeeded the Rouran Khaganate 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.


Lineage of the Göktürks

Strictly speaking, the common name Göktürk is the Anatolian Turkish form of the ethnonym. The Old Turkic name variants for Göktürk were Old Turkic: 𐰰𐰼𐰇𐱅‎, romanized: Türük[4][5] Old Turkic: 𐰛𐰇𐰜⁚𐰰𐰼𐰇𐱅‎, romanized: Kök Türük,[4][5] or Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰚‎, romanized: Türk.[6] They were known in Middle Chinese historical sources as the tɦutkyat[3] (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.[7][8][9]

Göktürk means "Celestial Turks",[10] or sometimes "Blue Turks" (i.e. because sky blue is associated with celestial realms). 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.[11] The name of the ruling Ashina clan may derive from the Khotanese Saka term for "deep blue", āššɪna.[12]

Researchers such as Peter B. Golden,[13] H. W. Haussig,[14] S. G. Klyashtorny,[15][16] A. N. Bernstamm,[17] Carter V. Findley,[18] D.G. Savinov,[19] S. P. Guschin,[20] Rona-Tas[21] and R. N. Frye[22] have pointed out that the origin of the Ashina is from the Indo-Iranian Saka or Wusun.[23][dubious ]

According to American Heritage Dictionary the word Türk meant "strong" in Old Turkic.[24]


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,[25][26][27] whence 500 Ashina families fled northwest to the Rouran Khaganate in the vicinity of Gaochang.[8][28]

According to the Book of Zhou and the History of the Northern Dynasties, the Ashina clan was a component of the Xiongnu confederation,[7][9] but this is contested.[29] According to the Book of Sui and the Tongdian, they were "mixed Hu (barbarians)" (雜胡) from Pingliang.[8][30] 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.[31][32]

Chinese sources linked the Hu on their northern borders to the Xiongnu just as Graeco-Roman historiographers called the Pannonian Avars, Huns and Hungarians "Scythians". Such archaizing was a common literary topos, implying similar geographic origins and nomadic lifestyle but not direct filiation.[33][page needed]

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'.[8][34] According to Denis Sinor, the rise to power of the Ashina clan represented an 'internal revolution' in the Rouran Khaganate rather than an external conquest.[35]

According to Charles Holcombe, the early Turk population was rather heterogeneous and many of the names of Türk rulers, including the two founding members, are not even Turkic.[36] This is supported by evidence from the Orkhon inscriptions, which include several non-Turkic lexemes, possibly representing Uralic or Yeniseian words.[37][38] Peter Benjamin Golden points out that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, who were of an undetermined ethnic origin, adopted Iranian and Tokharian (or non-Altaic) titles, he also adds that this hypothesis assumes that they were not themselves lranian or Tokharian in speech.[39] German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp points out that many common terms in Turkic are Iranian in origin.[40] Whatever language the Ashina may have spoken originally, they and those they ruled would all speak Turkic, in a variety of dialects, and create, in a broadly defined sense, a common culture.[39][41] Several historians have pointed out that the origin of the Ashina is from the Indo-Aryan Wusun.[42][dubious ]


The Göktürks reached their peak in late 6th century and began to invade the Sui Dynasty of China. However, the war ended due to the division of Turkic nobles and their civil war for the throne of Khagan. With the support of Emperor Wen of Sui, Yami Qaghan won the competition. However, the Göktürk empire was divided to Eastern and Western empires. Weakened by the civil war, Yami Qaghan declared allegiance to Sui Dynasty.[43] When Sui began to decline, Shibi Khagan began to assault its territory and even surrounded Emperor Yang of Sui in Siege of Yanmen (615 AD) with 100,000 cavalry troops. After the collapse of Sui dynasty, the Göktürks intervened in the ensuing Chinese civil wars, providing support to the northeastern rebel Liu Heita against the rising Tang in 622 and 623. Liu enjoyed a long string of success but was finally routed by Li Shimin and other Tang generals and executed. The Tang dynasty was then established.

Conquest by the Tang[edit]

Göktürk cavalry figurines, Mongolia.
Göktürk cavalry mural

Although Göktürk Khaganate once provided support to the Tang Dynasty in the early period of Chinese civil war, the conflicts between the Göktürks and Tang finally broke out when Tang was gradually reuniting China. Göktürk began to attack and raid the northern border of the Tang Empire and once marched their main force to Chang'an, the capital of Tang. Having not recovered from the civil war, the Tang briefly had to pay tribute to Göktürk nobles.[44] Allied with tribes against the Göktürk Khaganate, the Tang defeated the main force of Göktürk army in Battle of Yinshan four years later and captured Illig Qaghan in 630 AD.[45] With the submission of Turkic tribes, the Tang conquered the Mongolian Plateau.

After hard court debate, Emperor Taizong decided to pardon the Göktürk nobles and offered them the positions of imperial guards.[44] However, the plan ended in an assassination plan of the emperor. On May 19, 639[46] Ashina Jiesheshuai and his tribesmen directly assaulted Emperor Taizong of Tang at Jiucheng Palace (, 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.[47] After the unsuccessful raid of Ashina Jiesheshuai, on August 13, 639[48] Taizong installed Qilibi Khan and ordered the settled Turkic people to follow him north of the Yellow River to settle between the Great Wall of China and the Gobi Desert.[49] However, many Göktürk generals still remained loyal in service to the Tang Empire.

In 679, Ashide Wenfu and Ashide Fengzhi, who were Turkic leaders of the Chanyu Protectorate (單于大都護府), declared Ashina Nishufu as qaghan and revolted against the Tang dynasty.[50] In 680, Pei Xingjian defeated Ashina Nishufu and his army. Ashina Nishufu was killed by his men.[50] Ashide Wenfu made Ashina Funian a qaghan and again revolted against the Tang dynasty.[50] Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian surrendered to Pei Xingjian. On December 5, 681[51] 54 Göktürks including Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian were publicly executed in the Eastern Market of Chang'an.[50] In 682, Ilterish Qaghan and Tonyukuk revolted and occupied Heisha Castle (northwest of present-day Hohhot, Inner Mongolia) with the remnants of Ashina Funian's men.[52] The restored Göktürk Khaganate intervened in the war between Tang and Khitan tribes.[53] However, after the death of Bilge Qaghan, Göktürk could no longer subjugate other Turk tribes in grassland. In 744, allied with Tang Dynasty, the Uyghur Khaganate defeated the last Göktürk Khaganate and controlled the Mongolian Plateau.[54]


See also[edit]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Lirong MA: Sino-Turkish Cultural Ties under the Framework of Silk Road Strategy. In: Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (in Asia). Band 8, Nr. 2, Juni 2014
  2. ^ Xiu Ouyang, (1073), Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, p. 39
  3. ^ a b c Golden 2011, p. 20.
  4. ^ a b Kultegin's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Orkhon inscriptions
  5. ^ a b Bilge Kagan's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig
  6. ^ Tonyukuk's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Bain Tsokto inscriptions
  7. ^ a b Linghu Defen et al., Book of Zhou, Vol. 50. (in Chinese)
  8. ^ a b c d Wei Zheng et al., Book of Sui, Vol. 84. (in Chinese)
  9. ^ a b Li Yanshou (李延寿), History of the Northern Dynasties, Vol. 99. (in Chinese)
  10. ^ Marshall Cavendish Corporation 2006, p. 545.
  11. ^ Wink 64.
  12. ^ Findley 2004, p. 39.
  13. ^ Golden, Peter; Mair, Victor (2006). Contact and Exchange in the Ancient World. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. p. 142. ISBN 0824828844.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Кляшторный С. Г. Проблемы ранней истории племени тÿрк (ашина). // Новое в советской археологии. / МИА № 130. М.: 1965. С. 278–281.
  16. ^ 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. International Institute for Asian Studies. Leiden-Amsterdam, p. 366-369.
  17. ^ Бернштам А. Н. Никита Яковлевич Бичурин (Иакинф) и его труд "Собрание сведений..." М.-Л., Наука, 1950.
  18. ^ Findley, Carter (11 November 2004). The Turks in World History (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-0195177268.
  19. ^ Савинов Д.Г. Владение Цигу древнетюркских генеалогических преданий и таштыкская культура. // Историко-культурные связи народов Южной Сибири. Абакан: 1988. С. 64-74.
  20. ^ Wen S.-Q., Muratov B.A., Suyunov R.R. The haplogroups of the representatives from ancient Turkic clans - Ashina and Ashide // BEHPS. ISSN 2410-1788, Volume 3, No. 2 [1,2]. March 2016. p. 154-157. R.R. Suyunov, Муратов Б.А., Суюнов Р.Р. Саки-динлины, аорсы, Ашина и потомки кланов Дешти-Кипчака по данным ДНК-генеалогии // Вестник Академии ДНК-генеалогии (Бостон, США) → Том 7, №8, Август 2014, стр. 1198-1226., Muratov, 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.
  21. ^ Rona-Tas, Andras (1999). Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History. Central European University Press. ISBN 9639116483.
  22. ^ Frye Richard N. Turks in Transoxiana
  23. ^ Sinor & Klyashtorny 1996, pp. 328–329
  24. ^ American Heritage Dictionary (2000). "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition - "Turk"". bartleby.com. Archived from the original on 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
  25. ^ Wei Shou, Book of Wei, Vol. 4-I. (in Chinese)
  26. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 123. (in Chinese)
  27. ^ 永和七年 (太延五年) 九月丙戌 Academia Sinica (in Chinese) Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Christian, p. 249.
  29. ^ Christian, p. 249
  30. ^ 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. (in Chinese)
  31. ^ Rachel Lung, Interpreters in Early Imperial China, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2011, p.48
  32. ^ Duan: Dingling, Gaoju and Tiele. 1988, pp. 39–41
  33. ^ Sinor 1990.
  34. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 159. (in Chinese)
  35. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 295.
  36. ^ Holcombe 2001, p. 114.
  37. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 291.
  38. ^ Vovin, Alexander. "Did the Xiongnu speak a Yeniseian language?". Central Asiatic Journal 44/1 (2000), pp. 87–104.
  39. ^ a b Golden 1992, p. 126.
  40. ^ „(...) 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
  41. ^ Lev Gumilyov, (1967), Drevnie Turki (Ancient Turks), p. 22-25
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