The Göktürks, Celestial Turks, Blue Turks or Kok Turks (Old Turkic: 𐰜𐰇𐰛:𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰, Kök Türük; Chinese: 突厥/تُركِئ; pinyin: Tūjué, Middle Chinese: *duət̚-kʉɐt̚ (türkut), Dungan: Тўҗүә; Khotanese Saka: Ttūrka, Ttrūka;[1] Old Tibetan: Drugu[1], tatar: kük törek, bashqurt: kük török) 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.

Göktürk petroglyphs from Mongolia (6th to 8th century)
Total population
Ancestral to Turkic population
Regions with significant populations
Central Asia
Old Turkic


Tujue Khanate
Map of the Tujue Khanate (Ashina clan of Göktürks) at its greatest extent in 570
Interior Asia 6th century
Situation of Interior Asia in Late 6th Century with approximate ranges of Eastern and Western Gokturks (Tujue)

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 Old Turkic letter K.svgOld Turkic letter R2.svgOld Turkic letter U.svgOld Turkic letter T2.svg 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]

According to American Heritage Dictionary 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 that the khaghans of the Turkic Khaganate, the Ashina, who were of an undetermined ethnic origin, adopted Iranian and Tokharian titles.[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]


Göktürk reached its peak in late 6th century and began to invade Sui Dynasty of China. However, the war ended due to the division of Turkish nobles and their civil war for the throne of Khagan. With the support of Emperor Wen of Sui, Jami Qayan won the competition. However, the Göktürk empire was divided to Eastern and Western empires. Weakened by the civil war, Jami Qayan declared allegiance to Sui Dynasty. [25] When Sui began to decline, Shibi Khah 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 China's Sui dynasty, the Göktürks intervened in the ensuing civil wars, providing support to the northeastern rebel Liu Heita against the rising Tang in 622 and 623. He enjoyed a long string of success but was finally routed by Li Shimin and other Tang generals and executed.

Fall and restoration

Although Göktürk Khaganate once provided support to the Tang Dynasty in the early period of Chinese civil war, the conflicts between Göktürk and Tang finally broke out when Tang was gradually reuniting China. Göktürk began to attack and raid the northern border of Tang Empire and once marched their main force to Chang'an, the capital of Tang. Having not been recovered from the civil war, Tang Empire had to pay tribute to Göktürk nobles. [26] Allied with tribes against Göktürk Khaganate,Tang Empire defeated the main force of Göktürk army in Battle of Yinshan 4 years later and captured Illig Qaghan in 630 AD. [27] With the submission of Turk tribes, Tang conquered Mongolia Plateau.

After hard court debate, Emperor Taizong decided to pardon the Göktürk Nobles and offered them the positions of imperial guards.[26] However, the plan ended in an assassination of the emperor. On May 19, 639[28] 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.[29] After the unsuccessful raid of Ashina Jiesheshuai, on August 13, 639[30] 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.[31]However, many Göktürk generals still remain loyal service in 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.[32] In 680, Pei Xingjian defeated Ashina Nishufu and his army. Ashina Nishufu was killed by his men.[32] Ashide Wenfu made Ashina Funian a qaghan and again revolted against the Tang dynasty.[32] Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian surrendered to Pei Xingjian. On December 5, 681[33] 54 Göktürks including Ashide Wenfu and Ashina Funian were publicly executed in the Eastern Market of Chang'an.[32] 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.[34]The restored Göktürk Khaganate intervened in the war between Tang and Khitan tribes. [35] However, after the death of Bilge Qaghan, Göktürk could no longer subjugate other turk tribes in grassland. In 744, allied with Tang Dynasty, Uyghur Khaganate defeated the last Göktürk Khaganate and controlled Mongolia Plateau.[36]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Golden 2011, p. 20.
  2. ^ a b Kultegin's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Orkhon inscriptions
  3. ^ a b Bilge Kagan's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig
  4. ^ Tonyukuk's Memorial Complex, Türik Bitig Bain Tsokto inscriptions
  5. ^ a b Linghu Defen et al., Book of Zhou, Vol. 50. (in Chinese)
  6. ^ a b c d Wei Zheng et al., Book of Sui, Vol. 84. (in Chinese)
  7. ^ a b Li Yanshou (李延寿), History of the Northern Dynasties, Vol. 99. (in 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. Archived from the original on 2007-01-16. Retrieved 2006-12-07.
  12. ^ Wei Shou, Book of Wei, Vol. 4-I. (in Chinese)
  13. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 123. (in Chinese)
  14. ^ 永和七年 (太延五年) 九月丙戌 Academia Sinica (in Chinese) Archived 2013-10-16 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Christian, p. 249.
  16. ^ Golden 1992, p. 126.
  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. (in Chinese)
  20. ^ Sinor 1990.
  21. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 159. (in Chinese)
  22. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 295.
  23. ^ Holcombe 2001, p. 114.
  24. ^ Sinor 1990, p. 291.
  25. ^ Wei 魏, Zheng 徵 (656). Book of Sui 隋書 Vol. 2 Vol. 51 & Vol.84.
  26. ^ a b Liu 劉, Xu 昫 (945). Old Book of Tang 舊唐書 Vol.2 & Vol.194.
  27. ^ Liu 劉, Xu 昫 (945). Old book of Tang 舊唐書 Vol.2 & Vol. 67.
  28. ^ 貞觀十三年 四月戊寅 Academia Sinica Archived 2010-05-22 at the Wayback Machine (in Chinese)
  29. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 195. (in Chinese)
  30. ^ 貞觀十三年 七月庚戌 Academia Sinica Archived 2010-05-22 at the Wayback Machine (in Chinese)
  31. ^ Ouyang Xiu et al., New Book of Tang, Vol. 215-I.
  32. ^ a b c d Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 202 (in Chinese)
  33. ^ 開耀元年 十月乙酉 Academia Sinica Archived 2010-05-22 at the Wayback Machine (in Chinese)
  34. ^ Sima Guang, Zizhi Tongjian, Vol. 203 (in Chinese)
  35. ^ Liu 劉, Xu 昫 (945). Old Book of Tang 舊唐書 Vol. 6 & Vol.194.
  36. ^ Liu 劉, Xu 昫 (945). Old Book of Tang 舊唐書 Vol.103,Vol.194 & Vol.195.


  • Christian, David. A history of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, Vol. 1: Inner Eurasia from prehistory to the Mongol Empire. Blackwell, 1998.
  • Findley, Carter Vaughn (2004). The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-988425-4.
  • Golden, Peter (1992). An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples: Ethnogenesis and State-Formation in Medieval and Early Modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. ISBN 9783447032742.
  • Golden, Peter Benjamin (2011). "Ethnogenesis in the tribal zone: The Shaping of the Turks". Studies on the peoples and cultures of the Eurasian steppes. Bucureşti: Ed. Acad. Române. ISBN 978-973-1871-96-7.
  • Great Soviet Encyclopaedia, 3rd ed. Article "Turkic Khaganate" (online).
  • Grousset, René. The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  • Gumilev, Lev (2007) (in Russian) The Göktürks (Древние тюрки ;Drevnie ti︠u︡rki). Moscow: AST, 2007. ISBN 5-17-024793-1.
  • Skaff, Jonathan Karem (2009). Nicola Di Cosmo, ed. Military Culture in Imperial China. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03109-8.
  • Yu. Zuev (I︠U︡. A. Zuev) (2002) (in Russian), "Early Türks: Essays on history and ideology" (Rannie ti︠u︡rki: ocherki istorii i ideologii), Almaty, Daik-Press, p. 233, ISBN 9985-4-4152-9
  • Wechsler, Howard J. (1979). "T'ai-Tsung (Reign 626-49): The Consolidator". In Denis Twitchett; John Fairbank. The Cambridge History of China, Volume 3: Sui and T'ang China Part I. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-21446-9.
  • Wink, André. Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World. Brill Academic Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0-391-04173-8.
  • Zhu, Xueyuan (朱学渊) (2004) (in Chinese) The Origins of the Ethnic Groups of Northern China (中国北方诸族的源流). Beijing: Zhonghua Shuju (中华书局) ISBN 7-101-03336-9
  • Xue, Zongzheng (薛宗正) (1992) (in Chinese) A History of the Turks (突厥史). Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press (中国社会科学出版社) ISBN 7-5004-0432-8
  • Nechaeva, Ekaterina (2011). "The "Runaway" Avars and Late Antique Diplomacy". In Ralph W. Mathisen, Danuta Shanzer. Romans, Barbarians, and the Transformation of the Roman World: Cultural Interaction and the Creation of Identity in Late Antiquity. Ashgate. pp. 175–181. ISBN 9780754668145.
  • Sinor, Denis (1990). The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-24304-9.

Asena is the name of a wolf associated with the Oghuz Turkic foundation myth.


Ashide - one of the dominant general and empress clan of Turkic Khaganate.

Ashina Huseluo

Ashina Huseluo (693-704) — was a puppet khagan set up by Wu Zetian during the Zhou dynasty in China.

Ashina Jiesheshuai

Kurshad or Ashina Jiesheshuai (Chinese: Chinese: 阿史那結社率 / Chinese: 阿史那结社率, Pinyin: Ashǐnà Jiēshèshuai, Wade-Giles: Ashihna Chieh-she-shuai, Middle Chinese (Guangyun) [ʔɑʃi̯ə˥nɑ˩ kiet.ʑi̯a˥ʃi̯ue̯t], b: ? – d. 19 May 639) was a member of the Ashina clan of the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and general (Zhonglangjiang) of the Tang dynasty.

Ashina Mishe

Ashina Mishe (? – 662) – was a puppet khagan set up by Emperor Gaozong to rule over former Western Turkic Qaghanate territories. Xue Zongzheng suggested he and Dulu khagan were same person.

Battle of Bolchu

The Battle of Bolchu was a critical battle in the Turkic Khaganate (Empire) in 711.

Battle of Gol-Zarriun

The Battle of Gol-Zarriun took place in c. 560 when the Sasanian Empire allied with the Turkic Khaganate against the Hephthalite Empire.

Eastern Turkic Khaganate

The Eastern Turkic Khaganate (Chinese: 東突厥; pinyin: Dōng tūjué) was a Turkic khaganate formed as a result of the internecine wars in the beginning of the 7th century (AD 593–603) after the Göktürk Khaganate (founded in the 6th century in Mongolia by the Ashina clan) had splintered into two polities – Eastern and Western. Finally, the Eastern Turkic power was absorbed by the Chinese Tang Empire.


Elteber (Old Turkic: , elteber) was the client king of an autonomous but tributary tribe or polity in the hierarchy of the Turkic khaganates and Khazar Khaganate.

In the case of the Khazar Khaganate, the rulers of such vassal peoples as the Volga Bulgars (only until 969, after that they were independent and created a powerful state), Burtas and North Caucasian Huns were titled elteber or some variant such as Ilutwer, Ilutver (North Caucasian Huns), Yiltawar or İltäbär (Volga Bulgaria) (until 969). An Elteber (Almış) is known to have met the famous Muslim traveller Ibn Fadlan and requested assistance from the Abbasids of Baghdad.

The earliest extant mention of the term is for a ruler of the North Caucasian Huns in the 680s, referred to in Christian sources from Caucasian Albania as Alp Ilutuer. The title was also mentioned in Letter to Kültegin in 732. It was used by rulers of pre-Islamic Volga Bulgaria during the period of their vassalage to the Khazars.

First Perso-Turkic War

The First Perso-Turkic War was fought during 588-589 between the Sasanian Empire and Hephthalite principalities and its lord the Göktürks. The conflict started with the invasion of the Sasanian Empire by the Turks and ended with a decisive Sasanian victory and the reconquest of lost lands.

Göktürk civil war

The Göktürk civil war (or Turkic interregnum) was an important crisis in Central Asia during the 580s, which resulted in the split of the Göktürk Khaganate and the creation of separate western and eastern khaganates.


Ishad was an Old Turkic word used to designate the highest-ranking Göktürk generals (e.g., Buri-sad). It is also used in some Arabic sources to describe the Khagan Bek of the Khazars.

Old Turkic alphabet

The Old Turkic script (also known as variously Göktürk script, Orkhon script, Orkhon-Yenisey script) is the alphabet used by the Göktürks and other early Turkic khanates during the 8th to 10th centuries to record the Old Turkic language.The script is named after the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia where early 8th-century inscriptions were discovered in an 1889 expedition by Nikolai Yadrintsev. These Orkhon inscriptions were published by Vasily Radlov and deciphered by the Danish philologist Vilhelm Thomsen in 1893.

This writing system was later used within the Uyghur Khaganate. Additionally, a Yenisei variant is known from 9th-century Yenisei Kirghiz inscriptions, and it has likely cousins in the Talas Valley of Turkestan and the Old Hungarian alphabet of the 10th century. Words were usually written from right to left.

Orkhon Valley

Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (Mongolian: Орхоны хөндийн соёлын дурсгал, translit. Orhonii höndiin soyoliin dursgal) sprawls along the banks of the Orkhon River in Central Mongolia, some 320 km west from the capital Ulaanbaatar. It was inscribed by UNESCO in the World Heritage List as representing evolution of nomadic pastoral traditions spanning more than two millennia. (See List of World Heritage Sites in Mongolia).

Orkhon inscriptions

The Orkhon inscriptions (Turkish: Orhun Yazıtları, Azerbaijani: Orxon-Yenisey abidəsi, Turkmen: Orhon ýazgylary), also known as Orhon Inscriptions, Orhun Inscriptions, Khöshöö Tsaidam monuments (Mongolian: Хөшөө цайдам, also spelled Khoshoo Tsaidam, Koshu-Tsaidam or Höshöö caidam), or Kul Tigin steles (simplified Chinese: 阙特勤碑; traditional Chinese: 闕特勤碑), are two memorial installations erected by the Göktürks written in Old Turkic alphabet in the early 8th century in the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia. They were erected in honor of two Turkic princes, Kul Tigin and his brother Bilge Khagan.The inscriptions, in both Chinese and Old Turkic, relate the legendary origins of the Turks, the golden age of their history, their subjugation by the Chinese, and their liberation by Ilterish Qaghan. In fact, according to one source, the inscriptions contain "rhythmic and parallelistic passages" that resemble that of epics.

Second Perso-Turkic War

The Second Perso-Turkic War began in 606/607 with an invasion of Sassanid Persia by the Göktürks and Hephthalites. The war ended in 608 with the defeat of the Turks and Hephthalites by the Sasanians under the Armenian general Smbat IV Bagratuni.

Third Perso-Turkic War

The Third Perso-Turkic War was the third and final conflict between the Sassanian Empire and the Western Turkic Khaganate. Unlike the previous two wars, it was not fought in Central Asia, but in Transcaucasia. Hostilities were initiated in 627 AD by Khagan Tong Yabghu of the Western Göktürks and Emperor Heraclius of the Eastern Roman Empire. Opposing them were the Sassanid Persians, allied with the Avars. The war was fought against the background of the last Byzantine-Sassanid War and served as a prelude to the dramatic events that changed the balance of powers in the Middle East for centuries to come (Battle of Nineveh, Islamic conquest of Persia).

Timeline of the Göktürks

This is a timeline of the Göktürks from the origins of the Turkic Khaganate to the end of the Second Turkic Khaganate.

Turkic Khaganate

The Turkic Khaganate (Old Turkic: 𐰜𐰇𐰛:𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰰 Kök Türük; Chinese: 突厥汗国; pinyin: Tūjué hánguó) or Göktürk Khaganate was a khaganate 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 hegemonic power of the Mongolian Plateau and rapidly expanded their territories in Central Asia. Initially the Khaganate would use Sogdian in official and numismatic functions. It was the first Turkic state to use the name Türk politically and is known for the first written record of any Turkic language in history.The first Turkic Khaganate collapsed in 581, after which followed a series of conflicts and civil wars which separated the polity into the Eastern Turkic Khaganate and Western Turkic Khaganate. The Tang Empire conquered the Eastern Turkic Khaganate in 630 and the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657. The Second Turkic Khaganate emerged in 682 and lasted until 744 when it was overthrown by the Uyghurs, a different Turkic group.

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