A tamga or tamgha (from Old Turkic: 𐱃𐰢𐰍𐰀, romanized: tamga, lit. 'stamp, seal'; Ottoman Turkish: طمغا, romanized: damga; Mongolian: тамга) is an abstract seal or stamp used by Eurasian nomads and by cultures influenced by them. The tamga was normally the emblem of a particular tribe, clan or family. They were common among the Eurasian nomads throughout Classical Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
Tamgas in the steppe tradition
Tamgas originate in pre-historic times, but their exact usage and development cannot be continuously traced over time. There are, however, symbols represented in rock art that are referred to as tamgas and that are most likely functionally equivalent with medieval tamgas.
In the later phases of the Bosporan Kingdom, the ruling dynasty applied personal tamgas, composed of a fragment representing the family and a fragment representing the individual king, apparently in continuation of steppe traditions and in an attempt to consolidate seditary and nomadic factions within the kingdom.
"Tamga," or "tamag," literally means a stamp or seal in Mongolian. In the Mongol Empire, a tamgha was a seal placed on taxed items and, by extension, a tax on commerce (see Eastern Europe below). Tamgas are also stamped using hot irons on domesticated animals such as horses in present-day Mongolia and others to identify that the livestock belongs to a certain family, since livestock is allowed to roam during the day. Each family has their own tamga markings for easier identification. Tamga marks are not very elaborate, since they are made from curved pieces of iron by the individual families.
A tamag is also used as the "state seal" of Mongolia, which is handed over by the President of Mongolia as part of the transition to a new president. In the presidential case, the tamag is a little more elaborate and is contained in a wooden box.
The Turks who remained pastoral nomad kings in eastern Anatolia and Iran, however, continued to use their clan tamgas and in fact, they became high-strung nationalistic imagery. The Aq Qoyunlu and Qara Qoyunlu, like many other royal dynasties in Eurasia, put their tamga on their flags and stamped their coinage with it.
For the Turks who never left their homeland of Turkestan in the first place, it has remained what it originally was: a cattle brand and clan identifier.
When Turkish clans took over more urban or rural areas, tamgas dropped out of use as pastoral ways of life became forgotten. That is most evident in the Turkish clans that took over western and eastern Anatolia after the Battle of Manzikert. The Turks who took over western Anatolia founded the Sultanate of Rûm and became Roman-style aristocrats. Most of them adopted the then-Muslim symbol of the Seal of Solomon after the Sultanate disintegrated into a mass of feuding ghazi states (see Isfendiyarids, Karamanids). Only the Ottoman ghazi state (later to become the Ottoman Empire) kept its tamga, which was so highly stylized that the bow was stylized down eventually to a crescent moon.
In Russia, the term tamga (тамга) survived in state institution of border customs, with associated cluster of terms: tamozhnya (таможня, customs), tamozhennik (таможенник, customs officer), rastamozhit' (растаможить, pay customs duties), derived from the use of tamga as a certificate of State. The symbol is recognized as a national symbol in Ukraine, colloquially called tryzub (тризуб).
In the late medieval Turco-Mongol states, the term tamga was used for any kind of official stamp or seal. This usage persisted in the early modern Islamic Empires (Ottoman Empire, Mughal Empire), and in some of their modern successor states.
In the Urdu language (which absorbed Turkic vocabulary), Tamgha is used as medal. Tamgha-i-Jurat is the fourth highest Military medal of Pakistan. It is admissible to all ranks for gallantry and distinguished services in combat. Tamgha-i-Imtiaz or Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Urdu: تمغہ امتیاز), which translates as "medal of excellence", is fourth highest honour given by the Government of Pakistan to both the military and civilians. Tamgha-i-Khidmat or Tamgha-e-Khidmat (تمغۂ خدمت), which translates as "medal of services", is seventh highest honour given by the Government of Pakistan to both the military and civilians. It is admissible to non-commissioned officers and other ranks for long meritorious or distinguished services of a non-operational nature.
In Egypt, the term damgha (Arabic: دمغة) or tamgha (تمغة) is still used in two contexts. One is a tax or fee when dealing with the government. It is normally in the form of stamps that have to be purchased and affixed to government forms, such as a driver license or a registration deed for a contract. The term is derived from the Ottoman damga resmi. Another is a stamp put on every piece of jewelry made from gold or silver to indicate it is genuine, and not made of baser metals.
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Probably not only the strong steppe influence, but also the desire to subjugate the local population can both be seen as reasons for the use of the khagan title by some Rurikids, along with tamga (trident), which had been a typical symbol of power in the steppes and in Middle Asia since ancient times.
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