Turkic Khaganate

Turkic Khaganate
(Kök) Türk xanlïqï
Göktürk Kağanlığı


The Göktürk Khaganate at its greatest extent, in 576.
Capital Ordu-Baliq
Languages Turkic
Religion Tengrism
Political structure Khaganate
   551–553 Bumin Khagan
  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 542
   Established 552
  Göktürk civil war c. 582
  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[1][2] 6,000,000 km² (2,316,613 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Rouran Khaganate
Hephthalite Empire
Kimek Khanate
Uyghur Khaganate
Oghuz Yabgu State
Today part of  Mongolia
History of the Turkic peoples
Pre-14th century
Turkic Khaganate 552–744
  Western Turkic
  Eastern Turkic
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
Kerait khanate 11th century–13th century
Khwarazmian Empire 1077–1231
Naiman Khanate –1204
Qarlughid Kingdom 1224–1266
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: , Chinese: 突厥汗国; pinyin: Tūjué hánguó), Skyturks 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 Göktürk and Western Göktürk 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, themselves a Turkic group.

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

First khaganate

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 Sassanid 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 Rouran,[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

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.

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.

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.

Eastern Turkic Khaganate

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 cavalry reached the bank of the Wei River 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. The Tang paid compensation and promised further tribute, so Illig Qaghan ordered his iron cavalry to withdraw. 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).

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 advanced to Ishbara Shad's headquarters. 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

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.

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 657, the emperor of China could impose indirect rule in the entire Silk Road as far as Iran. They installed 2 khagans to rule the ten arrows (tribes) of Göktürks. Five arrows of Tulu (咄陆) were ruled by khagan bearing title of Xingxiwang (興昔亡可汗) while five arrows of Nushipi (弩失畢可汗) ruled by Jiwangjue (繼往絕可汗). Five Tulu corresponded to area east of Lake Balkash while five arrows of Nushipi corresponded to the land east of Aral Sea. Göktürks now carried Chinese titles and fought by their side in their wars. The era spanning from 657–699 in the steppes was characterized by numerous rulers – weak, divided, and engaged in constant petty wars under Anxi Protectorate until the rise of Turgesh.

Second Turkic Khaganate

Despite all the setbacks, Ashina Kutluk (Ilterish Qaghan) and his brother Qapaghan Qaghan succeeded in reestablishing the Khanate. From 679 they revolted against the Tang Dynasty Chinese domination for several times and finally succeeded in 682 [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 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, 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

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 clan who later adopted Turkic, but inherited their original Indo-European titles.[43]

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.


The Khaganate received missionaries from the Buddhist religion, which was 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


  1. Turchin, Peter; Adams, Jonathan M.; Hall, Thomas D (December 2006). "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires". Journal of world-systems research. 12 (2): 222. ISSN 1076-156X. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  2. Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D.". Social Science History. 3 (3/4): 129. doi:10.2307/1170959. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  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 Turks 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 (李延寿), 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. 1 2 3 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. 1 2 Ouyang Xiu et al., New Book of Tang, Vol. 93. (Chinese)
  31. 1 2 Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 193. (Chinese)
  32. 貞觀四年 三月庚辰
  33. 1 2 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

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