For empires established by the Göktürks, see Turkic Khaganate.

Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia (6th to 8th century)
Total population
Ancestral to Uyghurs, Yugurs, and other Turkic population
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia
Old Turkic
Tengrism, Buddhism

The Göktürks, Celestial Turks, Blue Turks or Kok Turks (Old Turkic: 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰:𐰜𐰇𐰛 Kök Türük Chinese: 突厥/تُكِئ; pinyin: Tūjué, Khotanese Saka Ttūrka, Ttrūka,[1] Old Tibetan Drugu[1]), 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.


Strictly speaking, the common name Göktürk is the Anatolian Turkish form of the ethnonym. The Old Turkic name for the Göktürks was 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰 Türük,[2][3] 𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰:𐰜𐰇𐰛 Kök Türük,[2][3] or Türk.[4] They were known in Middle Chinese historical sources as the tɦutkyat[1] (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.[5][6][7]

Göktürk means "Celestial Turks",[8] 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.[9] The name of the ruling Ashina clan may derive from the Khotanese Saka term for "deep blue", āššɪna.[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.[6][15] Peter Benjamin Golden points out the possibility that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, were themselves originally Indo-Europeans (possibly Iranian peoples) who later adopted the Turkic language but continued to use titles from their earlier Indo-European languages.[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,[5][7] but this connection is disputed,[18] and according to the Book of Sui and the Tongdian, they were "mixed Hu (barbarians)" (雜胡) from Pingliang.[6][19] Indeed, 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, 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'.[6][21] 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.[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 Finno-Ugric or Samoyedic words.[24]

Eastern Turks under the Jimi system

On May 19, 639[25] Ashina Jiesheshuai and his tribesmen 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.[26] After the unsuccessful raid of Ashina Jiesheshuai, on August 13, 639[27] 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.[28]

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.[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, Ilterish Qaghan and Tonyukuk revolted and occupied Heisha Castle (northwest of present-day Hohhot, Inner Mongolia) with the remnants of Ashina Funian's men.[31]


See also

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  1. 1 2 3 Golden 2011, p. 20.
  2. 1 2 Kultegin's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Orkhon inscriptions
  3. 1 2 Bilge Kagan's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig
  4. Tonyukuk's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Bain Tsokto inscriptions
  5. 1 2 Linghu Defen et al., Book of Zhou, Vol. 50. (Chinese)
  6. 1 2 3 4 Wei Zheng et al., Book of Sui, Vol. 84. (Chinese)
  7. 1 2 Li Yanshou (李延寿), History of the Northern Dynasties, Vol. 99. (Chinese)
  8. Marshall Cavendish Corporation 2006, p. 545.
  9. Wink 64.
  10. Findley 2004, p. 39.
  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. Sinor 1990, p. 295.
  23. Holcombe 2001, 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. 1 2 3 4 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)


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