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Tarkhan of the Second Turkic Khaganate681-716 or 717
Full name
Bilge Tuñuquq Boyla Ba?a Tarqan
Native name (in Old Turkic)
Titles and styles
Boyla Baga Tarkan
Apa Tarkan
BornAshide Yuanzhen

c. 646
Yulin, Tang dynasty (modern day Inner Mongolia)[1]
Diedc. 726 (aged 79-80)
Noble familyAshide
Grand vizier
MemorialsBain Tsokto inscriptions

Tonyukuk (Old Turkic: :‎, romanized: Bilgä Tu?uquq, lit. 'Tunyuquq the Wise',[3], Chinese: ; pinyin: Tunyugu, Chinese: ; pinyin: ?sh?dé Yuánzh?n, born c. 646, died c. 726) was the baga-tarkhan (supreme commander) and adviser of four successive Göktürk khagans - Elteri? Qa?an, Qap?an Qa?an, ?näl Qa?an and Bilgä Qa?an. He conducted victorious campaigns against various Turkic and non-Turkic steppe peoples, such as Tôlis, Xueyantuo, Toquz Oguz, Yenisei Kyrgyz, Kurykans, Thirty Tatar, Khitan and Tatabi as well as China.[4] He was described as a kingmaker by historians such as E. P. Thompson[5] and Peter Benjamin Golden.[6]


The name is spelled as t1-o-?-uq1-uq1 (‎) in the Old Turkic script, variously interpreted as Tunuquq, Tonuquq, Tuj-uquq, To? Yuguq, Tujun-oq, Tojuquq, Tu?oqoq with a number of suggestions for its etymology. According to Sertkaya, Tunuk means "clear, pure, abyss, who reached the depth" or "pure, penetrative", and uq or oq means "idea, wise, well-informed". Thus, Tonuquq is the owner of deep and pure idea.[7][8] His title "Bilge" means wise or master.[9] According to Klyashtorny, the element yuquq means "hidden, protected thing, value, treasure, jewelry", which is derived from the verb "yoq/yuq" meaning "to hide, to protect" (used in Uyghur legal documents); meanwhile, the other ton means "first"; thus his Chinese name Yuánzh?n is a calque of his Turkic name Tonyuquq, both meaning "first treasure"[10] René M. Giraud read the name as tonïuquq, from ton "dress, clothes" with I possessive and yuquq (from the verb yuk- "to stick") and meaning "whose dress is blessed with oil"; Likewise, Jean-Paul Roux explained the name as "with oiled dress" while discussing the culinary culture of the Mongols and suggesting that they had dirty and stained clothes. [11]


Early years

He was born around 646, near Tuul River in Ashide tribe. He fled Tang in 679 and joined Elteri? in 681.

I myself, wise Tonyukuk, born in Tabgach [i.e. Tang China] country. (As the whole) Turkic people was under Chinese subjection.[12][13]

Old Turkic: ::::?:?:?:?:?::?:‎, romanized: Bilgä Toñuquq bän özüm Tab?a? eli?ä q?l?nt?m Türk bodun Tab?a?qa körür ärti.

Chinese sources state that Tonyuquq's name was Yuanzhen, and he learned all Chinese traditions and was aware of the gaps in the borders and the Chinese wall. While he was supervising the surrendered clans in Chanyü military governorship, he was dismissed and jailed by the military governor Changshih.[14]

During Elteri?'s reign

Although he lost early wars against Xue Rengui, he was formidable force in establishing Turkic Khaganate. In 687, another invasion of Tang by Elteri? and Ashide Yuanzhen began. Empress Dowager Wu commissioned the ethnically Baekje general Heichi Changzhi, assisted by Li Duozuo, to defend against Turkic attack and they were able to defeat Turk forces at Huanghuadui (modern day Shuozhou, Shanxi) causing Turk forces to flee.

During Qap?an's reign

In 703, he was sent by qa?an for marriage proposal to China. Wu Zetian accepted the proposal, in exchange Wu Yanxiu was released on khagan's order. However, Emperor Zhongzhong's accession changed political climate. Marriage was cancelled.

In 712, he commanded Tujue army during Battle of Bolchu which proved disastrous for Turgesh army.

During Inäl's reign

He was not in active politics during Inäl's reign. Although he accepted him as legitimate ruler.[15]

During Bilgä's reign

In 716 he was appointed to be Master Strategist (Bagha Tarkhan) by his son-in-law Bilgä Qa?an.

Chinese sources state, Bilgä Qa?an wanted to convert to Buddhism, establish cities and temples. However, Tonyukuk discouraged him from this by pointing out that their nomadic lifestyle was what made them a greater military power when compared to Tang dynasty.[16] While Turks' power rested on their mobility, conversion to Buddhism would bring pacifism among population. Therefore sticking to Tengriism was necessary to survive.[17][18][19][20]

In 720 Tang chancellor Wang Jun proposed a plan to attack Bilgä Qa?an along with the Baximi, Xi, and Khitan.[21]Emperor Xuanzong also recruited Qap?an Qa?an's sons Bilgä Tegin and Mo Tegin, Yenisei Kyrgyz Qa?an Qutlu? Bilgä Qa?an and Huoba Guiren to fight against Tujue. Tonyukuk cunningly launched first attack on Baximi in 721 autumn, completely crushing them. Meanwhile Bilgä raided Gansu, taking much of the livestock. Later that year Khitans, next year Xi were also crushed.

He died around 726.


He was father to Eletmi? Bilgä Qatun and a father-in-law to Bilgä Qa?an, thus a grandfather to Yollïg and Te?rï Qa?ans.


His biography, achievements and advice for state administration were carved in the so-called Orkhon-Turkic script on two stele erected around 716 (before his death) at a site known as Bayn Tsokto, in Ulaanbataar's Nalaikh district.[22] He was mentioned and remembered in some Uyghur Manichaean texts later in Qocho.[23]Yuan era Uyghur official Xie Wenzhi (), as well as Korean Gyeongju Seol clan claimed descent from Tonyukuk.[24]

In popular culture


  1. ^ Schlegel, 1892, p. 13
  2. ^ Istanbul University Research Institute of Turkology (1979), I. Milletler Aras? Türkoloji Kongresi: Türk dili ve edebiyat?, p. 381
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Peter B. Golden, (1992), An Introduction to the History of the Turkic People, p. 137
  5. ^ Türkiye Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, (1937), Ülkü, p. 352 (in Turkish)
  6. ^ Peter B. Golden, (2010), Central Asia in World History, p. 42
  7. ^ O. F. Sertkaya (2003, p. 33)
  8. ^ Nadelyaev V.M. "Orhon-Eniseisk mark's reading" and "Etymology of the name of Tonuquq". // Turkology researches M.L. 1963 pp. 197-213; Amanzholov A.C. "Talas, Enisey and Orhon inscriptions' graphics" /Kazakh language and literature, KAz SU, Almaty, 1973. Amanzholov A.C. "Old Turkic inscriptions History and Theory", Almaty, 2003; pp. 56-57.
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ S. G. Klyashtorny 1966, pp. 202-205
  11. ^ Ayd?n, Erhan "On the name and titles of Tonyuquq", Türkbilig, 2019/37: 1-10
  12. ^ Atalay Besim (2006). Divanü Lügati't Türk. Turkish Language Association, ISBN 975-16-0405-2, p. 28, 453, 454
  13. ^ Ayd?n 2017, p. 104
  14. ^ Ta?al 2004, p. 63
  15. ^ Dobrovits,M.:"Textological Structure and Political Message of the Old Turkic Runic Inscriptions", Talât Tekin Arma?an?, Türk Dilleri Ara?t?rmalar? 18 (2008), 149-153.
  16. ^ Denis Sinor (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, vol.1, Cambridge University Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-521-24304-9, 312-313.
  17. ^ Wenxian Tongkao, 2693a
  18. ^ New Book of Tang, vol 215-II
  19. ^ Golden 2002, p. 9
  20. ^ Ercilasun 2016, pp. 295-296
  21. ^ Old Book of Tang, Vol. 194-I
  22. ^ For the site see Sören Stark Die Alttürkenzeit in Mittel- und Zentralasien. Archäologische und historische Studien (Nomaden und Sesshafte, Band 6), Reichert: Wiesbaden 2008, pp. 75-76. Ross (1930): "About 48° N. and a little more 107° W. [sic] of Greenwich, near a place said to have the name of Bain Chokto, between the Nalaikha post-station and the right bank of the upper waters of the Tola."
  23. ^ Marcel Erdal; Chen Hao (2017). "The Khocho Toñukuk Tradition in Runiform, Uyghur and Chinese Sources // ". Central Asiatic Journal. 60 (1-2): 109. doi:10.13173/centasiaj.60.1-2.0109. JSTOR 10.13173/centasiaj.60.1-2.0109.
  24. ^ Brose, Michael C. (2007). Subjects and masters : Uyghurs in the Mongol Empire. Bellingham, WA, USA. pp. 169, 183-185. ISBN 9780914584292. OCLC 235941570.
  • E. Denison Ross, The Tonyukuk Inscription, Being a Translation of Professor Vilhelm Thomsen's final Danish Rendering, Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, 1930.
  • Nathan Light. An 8th Century Turkic Narrative: Pragmatics, Reported Speech and Managing Information. Turkic languages. 10.2, 2006. pp 155-186.

External links

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