Western Turkic Khaganate

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Western Turkic Khaganate
Old Turkic: 𐰆𐰣:𐰸‎, romanized: On oq
Greatest extent of the Western Turkic Khaganate after the Battle of Bukhara
Greatest extent of the Western Turkic Khaganate after the Battle of Bukhara
CapitalNavekat (summer capital)
Suyab (principal capital)
Common languagesSogdian (coinage, official)[1][2]
Old Turkic[3][4]
Zurvanite Zoroastrianism[5]
Khagan of the Western Khaganate 
• 587-604
Niri Qaghan
Yabgu of the Western Khaganate 
• 553-576
• 576-603
Historical eraEarly Middle Ages
• Göktürk civil war, Western Turkic Khaganate founded
• Conquest by Tang dynasty
630[6]3,500,000 km2 (1,400,000 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
First Turkic Khaganate
Protectorate General to Pacify the West
Oghuz Yabgu State
Khazar Khaganate
Kangar union

The Western Turkic Khaganate (Chinese: 西突厥; pinyin: Xī Tūjué) or Onoq Khaganate (Old Turkic: 𐰆𐰣:𐰸:𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣‎, romanized: On oq budun, lit.'Ten arrow people')[7][8] was a Turkic khaganate in Eurasia, formed as a result of the wars in the beginning of the 7th century (AD 593–603) after the split of the Turkic Khaganate (founded in the 6th century in Mongolia by the Ashina clan) into a western and an eastern Khaganate.

The whole confederation was called Onoq, meaning "ten arrows". According to a Chinese source, the Western Turks were organized into ten divisions.[9]

The khaganate's capitals were Navekat (summer capital) and Suyab (principal capital), both situated in the Chui River valley of Kyrgyzstan, to the east from Bishkek. Tong Yabgu's summer capital was near Tashkent and his winter capital Suyab.

The Western Turkic Khaganate was subjugated by the Tang dynasty in 657. It was succeeded by the Khazars.


Summary: The first Turkic Khaganate was founded by Bumin in 552 in Mongolia and quickly spread west toward the Caspian. Within 35 years the western half and the Eastern Turkic Khaganate were independent. The Western Khaganate reached its peak under Tong Yabghu Qaghan (618–630). After Tong's murder there were conflicts between the Dulu and Nushibi factions, many short-lived Khagans and some territory was lost. From 642 the expanding Chinese Tang dynasty began interfering. The Tang destroyed the Khaganate in 657–659.

552-575: Western expansion: The Gokturks and Mongols were the only two empires to rule both the eastern and central steppe. The Gokturks were the first steppe empire to be in contact with three great urban civilizations: Byzantium, Persia and China. Their expansion west from Mongolia is poorly documented. Gumilyov [10] gives the following. Bumin gave the west to his younger brother Istami (553-75). 1. The campaign probably began in the spring of 554 and apparently met little resistance. They took Semirechye and by 555 had reached the Aral Sea, probably on a line from the lower Oxus, across the Jaxartes, north of Tashkent to the western tip of the Tian Shan. They drove before them various peoples: Xionites, Uar, Oghurs and others.[11] These seem to have merged into the Avars whom the Gokturks drove across the Volga in 558. (These people crossed the western steppe and reached Hungary by 567.) 2. The Turks then turned southeast. At this time the Ephthalites held the Tarim Basin (or had just lost it to the Turks?), Ferghana, Sogd, Bactria and Merv, with the Persians at approximately their present border. Khosrow I made peace with the Byzantines and turned on the Ephthalites. Fighting started in 560 (?dates uncertain[12]) after the Ephthalites murdered a Turk ambassador to the Shah. The Persians won a victory in 562 and the Turks took Tashkent. In 565 the Ephthalites were defeated at Qarshi and withdrew to Bactria where fragments remained until the Arab conquest. The Turks demanded the tribute formerly paid to the Ephthalites and when this was refused, crossed the Oxus, but thought better of it and withdrew. In 571 a border was drawn along the Oxus,[13] the Persians expanding east to Afghanistan, while the Turks gained the Sogdian merchant cities and their control of the silk road. 3. Around 567-576 (sources differ) the Turks took the area between the Caspian and Black Seas. 4. In 568 they took part of Bactria.

575-630: Istami was followed by his son Tardush (575-603). About 581 he intervened in the eastern Gokturk civil war. In 588/89 Turks were defeated by Persians near Herat. In 599-603 he gained the eastern half of the Khaganate, but after his death the two halves were definitely split. Heshana Khagan (603-611) was driven out of Dzungaria and then defeated by Sheguy (610-617), Tardush's grandson, who conquered the Altai, reconquered Tashkent and raided Ishfahan. His brother Tong Yabghu Qaghan (618-630) was the greatest Khaghan. He ruled from the Tarim basin to the Caspian, met Xuanzang (probably), sent men to fight the Persians south of the Caucasus and sent his son Tardush Shad to fight in Afghanistan. In the year of his death the Chinese overthrew the Eastern Khaganate in Mongolia. He was murdered by his uncle Külüg Sibir (630) with Duolu support. The Nushibi put Tong's son Sy Yabgu (631-33) on the throne. However, Nushibi quickly rebelled against Sy and enthroned Ashina Nishu as Duolu Khan (633-34) who was followed by his brother Ishbara Tolis (634-38). There was a Dulu-Nushibi conflict and Yukuk Shad (638-42), son of the final eastern Khagan, was brought in. The factions quarreled and the Nushibi and Emperor Taizong of Tang enthroned Irbis Seguy (642-51). The Chinese demanded part of the Tarim Basin and then seized part of it until the war was stopped by Taizong's death. Irbis was overthrown by (Ashina Helu) Ishbara Qaghan (651-58) who, after about six years of war, was defeated at Battle of Irtysh River and captured by the Chinese. After this there were several puppet Khagans. In 679-719 the old Gokturk capital of Suyab was one of the Four Garrisons of Anxi. The Chinese remained in the area until the time of An Lushan's rebellion (756).

Relations with the Persians and Byzantines

During the late 6th century, the Turks consolidated their geopolitical position in Central Asia, as the lynchpin in trade between East Asia and Western Asia – in which Persia and Byzantium were the dominant powers.[14] For much of this period, Istämi ruled the Khaganate from a winter camp near Karashar. A timeline of the westward expansion of the Turks under Istämi might be reconstructed as follows: 552 Mongolia; 555 Aral Sea (probably); 558 Volga River (by defeating the Avars); 557–565 in alliance with the Persians, the Turks crushed the Hephthalites, after which a Turco-Persian border along the Oxus lasted several decades; 564 Tashkent; 567–571 the North Caucasus; 569–571 the Turks were at war with Persia, and; 576 a major incursion into the Black Sea area, including Crimea.

A first Turk legation (or embassy) to reach Constantinople visited Justin II in 563. A Sogdian merchant named Maniakh [de] led a Turco-Sogdian legation to Constantinople in 568, pursuing trade and an alliance against the Avars and Persians. A Byzantine official named Zemarchus accompanied Maniakh on his return journey; (Zemarchus later left an pioneering account of the Turks.) Maniakh now proposed to bypass the Persians and re-open a direct route north of the Caspian. If trade on this route later increased (uncertain) it would have benefited Khorezm and the Black Sea cities and might have had something to do with the later rise of the Khazars and Rus’.

The Turks' control of the Sogdian merchant cities along the Oxus from the late 6th century gave the Western Turks substantive control of the central part of the Silk Road. A Chinese general complained that the: "Turks themselves are simple-minded and short-sighted and dissention can easily be roused among them. Unfortunately, many Sogdians live among them who are cunning and insidious; they teach and instruct the Turks." Sinor saw the Byzantine alliance as a Sogdian scheme to benefit themselves at the expense of the Turks. A related fact is that the Eastern Turks extracted a large amount of silk as booty from the Chinese which had to be marketed westward. Before 568, Maniakh, a leading merchant, visited the Sassanian Persian court, in a bid to open up trade; this proposal was refused, apparently because the Persians wanted to restrict trade by and with the Byzantines. The members of a second Turk legation to Persia were reportedly poisoned. From 569, the Turks and Persia were at war, until the Turks were defeated near Merv; hostilities ceased in 571.

In 576, Valentinus led a Byzantine mission to a Turxanthos whose camp was west of the Caspian. Valentinus wanted action against the Persians and Turxanthos complained that Byzantium was harboring the Avars. Valentinus then went east to meet Tardu. What caused this hostility is not clear. In 576–77 a Turk general called Bokhan and an Utigur called Anagai captured the Crimean Byzantine town of Panticapaeum and failed at a siege of Chersonesus. This marks the westernmost extent of Turk power.

A major incursion into Bactria by the Turks, in 588–589, was defeated by the Sasanians. The Turk-Byzantine alliance was revived in the 620s during the last great Byzantine-Persian war before the Arab conquests. In 627 Tong Yabghu Qaghan sent out his nephew Böri Shad. The Turks stormed the great fortress of Derbent on the Caspian coast, entered Azerbaijan and Georgia, did a good bit of looting and met Heraclius who was besieging Tiflis. When the siege dragged on, the Turks left and Heraclius went south and won a great victory over the Persians. The Turks returned, captured Tiflis and massacred the garrison. On behalf of the Byzantines, a Turk general named Chorpan Tarkhan then conquered most of Armenia. What the Turks gained from this is not clear.

The Onoq or ten tribes

Tang dynasty military campaigns against the Western Turks

For the origin of the Onoq two contradicting accounts are given:[15][16]

In the beginning [after 552], Shidianmi [Istämi] followed the Shanyu [Qaghan] and commanded the ten great chiefs. Together with their 100,000 soldiers, he marched to the Western Regions and subdued the barbarian statelets. There he declared himself as qaghan, under the title of ten tribes, and ruled them [the western barbarians] for generations.

— Tongdian, 193 and Jiu Tangshu, 194

Soon [after 635], Dielishi Kehan [of the Western Göktürks] divided his state into ten parts, and each was headed by one man, together they made up the ten shads (設 she). Every shad is given an arrow by him, thus they were known as the ten arrows. He also divided the ten arrows into two factions, each consisted of five arrows. The left (east) faction consisted of five Duoliu tribes, headed by five churs (啜 chuo) separately. The right [west] faction consisted of five Nushibi tribes, headed by five irkins (俟斤 sijin) separately. Each took command on one arrow and called themselves as the ten arrows. Thereafter, each arrow was also known as one tribe, and the great arrow head as the great chief. The five Duolu tribes inhabited to east of Suiye [water] (Chu River), and the five Nushibi tribes to the west of it. Since then, they called themselves as the ten tribes.

— Tongdian, 193 and Jiu Tangshu, 194

The first statement dates their origin back to the beginning of the First Turkic Qaghanate with Istämi, younger brother of Tumen (Bumen), who had brought with him the ten tribes probably from the Eastern Qaghanate at Mongolia and left to the west to expand the Qaghanate. The exact date for the event was not recorded, and the shanyu here referred to might be Muhan Khan.

The second statement contributes it to Dielishi, who took over the throne in 635 and began to strengthen the state by further affirming the initial ten tribes and two tribal wings, in contrast with the rotation of rule between the Tumen (through Apa) and Istämi (through Tardu) lineages in the Western Qaghanate. Thereafter, the name "ten tribes" (十姓) became as a shortened address for the Western Turks in Chinese records. Those divisions did not include the five[17] major tribes, who were active further east of the ten tribes.[18][19]

The earlier tribes consisted of eight primary tribes ruled by eight chiefs-in-command: the five[20] Duolu (咄陆) tribes, and the three[21] Nushibi (弩失毕) tribes. Syriac and Greek sources (John of Ephesus, Menander Protector) also confirmed that initially, the Western Turkic Khaganate were divided into eight tribes during Istämi's lifetime and at his death.[22]

The ruling elites were divided into two groups and the relationship between the two groups were tense: the more aristocratic Duolu shads held the title churs,[23] and the lower-ranking Nushibi in west were probably initially made up of Tiele conscripts and their shads held the title irkins.[24][25][26] During the reformation the more powerful Nushibi tribes such as A-Xijie and Geshu were sub-divided into two tribal groups with a greater and lesser title under a fixed tribal name, resulting in the attested On Oq & 十箭 shíjiàn "ten arrows").

Orkhon Inscriptions

Bilge Khagan inscription, main side, 16:

powerful enemies kneel and proud ones to bow. The Turgesh kagan (and his people) was our Turk. Because of their unawareness and foolishness, for their being traitorous, their kagan had died; his buyruqs and lords, had died too. The On-Oq people suffered a great deal. In order the land (lit.: 'earth and water'), which was ruled by our ancestors, not to be left without a ruler, we organized Az people and put them into the order... was Barys bek.[27]

Bilge Khagan inscription, 1st side, 1:

I, Tengri- llike and Tengri born Bilge kagan Turkic. Hear my words. When my father, Bilge kagan Turkic, ruled, you, supreme Turk beks, lower Tardush beks, Shadapyt beks led by Kul Chur, the rest Tyules beks, Apa Tarkhan. Led by Shadapyt beks, Bairuks. Tamgan Tarkhan, Tonyukuk, Boila Baga Tarkhan, Buyruqs…, Inner Buyruqs, led by Sebek Kul Erkin, all Buyruq beks! My father.

Bilge Khagan inscription, 2nd side: 15:

From sons of Ten Arrows to wives, see this. Erected stone inscriptions…[28]

Bain Tsokto inscription[29]

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 19:

I reached my army to Shantung towns and the seas. Twenty three town were destroyed. All of them had left on Usyn-bundatu land.(?). Tabgaches’ kagan (China) was our enemy. The kagan of "Ten Arrows" was our enemy.

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 30:

... he might kill us". "So the Turkic kagan started out" – he said. "All Ten Arrows people started out" – he said. – "(among them) there is also Tabgaches' (China) army". Having heard these words my kagan said: "I will be a kagan .."

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 33:

Three messengers came, their words were similar: "One kagan with his army went on campaign. The army of Ten Arrows people went on campaign too. They told that they would gather in the step of Yarysh". Having heard these words I told them the kagan. What to do?! With the reply (from khan)

Tonyukuk inscription, main side, 42:

Killed there. We took to prison about fifty persons. That night we sent (messengers) to every nation. Having heard these words, beks and people of Ten Arrows all

Tonyukuk inscription, main side: 43:

came and subdued. When I was settling down and gathering the coming beks and people a few people ran away. I led to campaign the army of Ten Arrows people.

Rulers of the Western Turkic Khaganate

Yabgu reign father,
Regnal name

(Chinese reading)

Personal name

(Chinese reading)

Istämi 553–576 Ashina Tuwu,
Shìdiǎn mì Kèhán 室點密
Tardu 576–603 Istämi,
Ashina Tuwu
Dátóu Kèhán 玷厥
Kaghan reign father,
Regnal name

(Chinese reading)

Personal name

(Chinese reading)

Niri Qaghan 587–604 Yangsu Tegin,
Muqan Qaghan
Nílì Kèhán 向氏
Heshana Khagan 604–611 Niri Qaghan
Yansu Tegin
Chùluó Kèhán 達曼
Sheguy 611–618 Tulu Tegin,
Shèguì Kèhán 射匮
Tong Yabghu Qaghan 618–628 Tulu Tegin,
Tǒng yèhù Kèhán 統葉
Tǒng yèhù
Külüg Sibir 628–630 Tardu,
Qūlìqí pí Kèhán 莫贺咄
Irbis Bolun Cabgu 631–632 Tong Yabgu Qaghan,
Tulu Tegin
Yǐpí bōluō sìyèhù Kèhán 阿史那咥力
Āshǐnà xilì
Duolu Qaghan 633–634 Bagha Shad,
Duōlù Kèhán 阿史那泥孰
Āshǐnà Níshú
Ishbara Tolis 634–639 Bagha Shad,
Shābōluō Kèhán 阿史那咥力
Āshǐnà Tóng
Yukuk Shad 639–642 Illig Qaghan,
Yami Qaghan
Yǐpí duōlù Kèhán 阿史那欲谷
Āshǐnà Yùgǔ
Irbis Seguy 642–650 El Kulug Shad,
Ishbara Tolis
Yǐpí shèkuì Kèhán 阿史那莫賀咄
Āshǐnà Mòhèduō
Ashina Helu 651–658 Böri Shad,
Shābōluō Kèhán 阿史那賀魯
Āshǐnà Hèlǔ
Later claimants

Khagans under Tang suzerainty (657–742)

Kunling Protectorate (657–736)
Mengchi Protectorate (657–742)

See also



  1. TURKO-SOGDIAN COINAGE, Larissa Baratova, "Encyclopedia Iranica", (July 20, 2005).
  2. Rezakhani 2017, p. 181.
  3. Peter Roudik, (2007), The History of the Central Asian Republics, p. 24
  4. Peter B. Golden, (2011), Central Asia in World History, p 37
  5. The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3, part 1, ed. William Bayne Fisher and E. Yarshater, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 621.
  6. 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. JSTOR 1170959.
  7. V. Thomsen, Turcica, p. 4-17
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2020-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Christopher I. Beckwith, (1993), The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power Among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs and Chinese During the Early Middle Ages, p. 209
  10. Ch III, IV.
  11. Baumer has defeated Rouran and Ephthalites
  12. The war is variously dated. 560-65 (Gumilyov,1967); 555 (Stark,2008, Altturkenzeit,210); 557 (Iranica,Khosrow ii); 558-61 (Iranica.hephthalites); 557-63 (Baumer, Hist.Cent.Asia,2,174) ; 557-61 (Sinor,1990, Hist Inner Asia,301; 560-563 (UNESCO,Hist.civs.c.a.,iii,143); 562-65 (Christian, hist. russia,mongolia,c.a.,252); ca 565 (Grousset,Empire Steppes, 1970,p82); 567 (Chavannes,1903, Documents, 236+229)
  13. All sources have Oxus border; 571 Treaty is Gumulyov only.
  14. This section from Baumer, Hist. Central Asia, vol. 2, 175–81; Christian, History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, 248–57; Sinor, Hist Early Inner Asia, 301–05
  15. Xue, "A History of Turks", p. 271, 300.
  16. Wang, "Political Relationship Between the Chinese, Tibetan and Arab", p. 28.
  17. 1. Chuyue (处月, later as Shatuo 沙陀) 2. Chumi (处密) 3. Gusu (姑蘇) 4. Bishi (畀失) 5. Geluolu (葛逻禄).
  18. Xue, "A History of Turks", p. 271, 273, 275, 300–301.
  19. Wang, "Political Relationship Between the Chinese, Tibetan and Arab", p. 29.
  20. 1. Chumukun (处木昆) 2. Huluju (胡禄居) 3. Shesheti (摄舍提) 4. Tuqishi-[Heluoshi] (突骑施-[贺罗施]) 5. Shunishi (鼠尼施).
  21. 1. A-Xijie (阿悉结) 2. Geshu (哥舒) 3. Basegan (拔塞干).
  22. Dobrovits, Mihály (2014–2015). "On the Titulature of Western Turkic Chieftains". Archivum Eurasiae Archivi Aevii. Wiesbaden: Otto-Harassowitz Verlag. 21: 79–80.
  23. likely of Iranian origin, from čyaura- "to go out, hunt". See Bailey, H.W. "Khotanese Texts, VII" in Golden, Peter B. (1992). "An Introduction to the History of the Turkic People." Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden.
  24. collected together in one place" from root irk- "to collect or assemble (things Acc.)"; compare Anatolian irkin ~ irkim "a hoard, a buried treasure". See Clauson, Gerard. (1972) An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century Turkish. Oxford University Press. In English. p. 221, 225
  25. Xue, "A History of Turks", p. 272, 314.
  26. Wang, "Political Relationship Between the Chinese, Tibetan and Arab", p. 30–31.
  27. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2020-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  28. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-02-03. Retrieved 2020-01-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  29. Denison Ross, E. (1930). The Tonyukuk Inscription. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 6(1), 37-43.