Qapaghankhagan (Mochur, Mochjo, Bogi-Shor) (birth year is unknown – 716) was the khagan of the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate.


The formation of the Turkic-speaking peoples and their early states originates in the era of ancient Turkic khaganates. The Second Turkic Khaganate was one of the most powerful and unique nomadic state formations of its time, which lasted from 683 to 745 CE. This state stubbornly opposed China, thanks to the historical figures who were at its helm. However, to the modern reader, the names of its rulers are hardly familiar. If the names of Bilge Tonyukuk, Bilge kagan (Moyun-chur) and Kultegin are quite well known, the name of Bogi Shor (or Qapaghan khagan), who devoted his life to strengthening the Second Turkic khaganate, remains largely obscure.

When totalitarian ideology dominated historical discourse, not all historical personalities occupied a proper place in the hierarchy of the ancient society. Thus, Qapaghan khagan’s life and activities were not covered in the fundamental scholarly work “The Soviet Historical Encyclopedia” (published in 16 volumes). Qapaghan khagan is only mentioned twice in the article “The Turkic Khaganate” published in the 14th volume of the encyclopedia: “… During Qapaghan khagan’s reign [691-716], the Eastern Turkic Khaganate expanded its borders from Manchuria to the Syr Darya for a short time, and Turkic troops reached Samarkand, where they were defeated by the Arabs (712-713). The uprising of the conquered tribes, in which Qapaghan perished while fighting them, once again made the Altai mountain range the Eastern Turkic Khaganate’s western border” [1]. Meanwhile, more complete information about Qapaghan khagan was for the first time presented in Kazakh in the Kazakh Soviet Encyclopedia [2].

These entries briefly describe his military campaigns aimed at strengthening the Eastern Turkic Khaganate: “Qapaghan (birth year is unknown – d.716) was the Khagan of the Turks (691-716) who came to power after Qutlug Khagan. Qapaghan bolstered the authority and prestige of the Turkic Khaganate and worked to strengthen its military and political forces. In the 8th century, Qapaghan’s fame was widespread. His goal was to expand the territory of the Turkic Khaganate from the Iron Gate to the mountains of Kadyrkhan, and from Tokharistan to the Great Mountains of Khingan. First, Qapaghan rebuffed invasions by the Qytan and Tataby tribes.

In 706-707, he defeated the Toghuz Oghuz army. In 709, he subdued the Yenisei tribes of Az and Chiq. In 711-712, he crossed the Altai mountains and subjugated the On Oq tribes. In 712-713, passing through the Syr Darya, he reached Tokharistan and dealt a crushing blow to the Sogdians. In 714, he attacked the Tabgach six times, with the latter trying to rise again and unite with the tribes of Qytan and Tataby. Since that time, Qapaghan khagan’s army began to weaken. In 716, the Bayirqu tribe suddenly attacked his army. They severed Qapaghan’s head and carried it to the capital of the Chinese Empire” [3]. This excerpt was the first brief description of the famous khagan’s activities intended to strengthen his state.

Contemporary Historiography on Qapaghan’s Political and Organizational Activities.

In the Soviet era, when the class approach prevailed in historical scholarship, studying Qapaghan khagan’s activities was not considered relevant. This problem received due coverage only in the works by Lev Gumilev, a supporter of the concept of Eurasianism who made a great contribution to the study of ancient Turkic history. He was the first Russian scholar to realize that it is impossible to fully uncover the history of the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate without studying Qapaghan’s military and state-related activities. But Gumilev criticized Qapaghan’s policies and labeled him a China henchman, thus failing to appreciate his role in ancient Turkic history [4].

Gumilev describes Qapaghan as a person who only strove for power and who trampled on the Turkic tradition of succession to the throne. In particular, this refers to the time when Moyunchur and Kultegin — the children of Qapaghan’s brother Elterish khagan who founded the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate — were too young to inherit the throne from their father, and the throne was occupied by Qapaghan. In due time, Qapaghan, however, did not return the throne to his brother’s sons but instead left his own son Inel as heir to the throne. That is why a number of Kazakhstani researchers gave Qapaghan khagan a similar assessment [5, с.376-377].

In order to objectively assess Qapaghan’s activities, it is necessary to analyze the political situation in the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate. When Qapaghan turned the khaganate into a major power, his name became known as the unifier of the “forty clans”. The people started to perceive the sons of Elterish — Moyunchur and Kultegin — not as heirs but as valiant and talented warriors, while Qapaghan’s son Inel was considered a future khagan like his father. This is evidenced by the following lines in a source (the text of the monument to Tonyuquq): “… Sungyly commander of the troops: Inel khagan: Tardush Shad: said: to go: Bilge Tonyuquq: to me: [he] said: take these troops [he] said” [6]. Tonyuquq, who was an adviser to three khagans, mentions and recognizes Inel as a khagan [7].

During his reign, Qapaghan incorporated many new tribes into the Khaganate by force. These tribes only recognized the power of the khagan and his family, but they were ready to secede by uniting into tribal alliances at any time. Many of them were old enemies of the Turks, whereas the rest of the khaganate consisted of the Turkic-speaking tribes of Oghuz, Kirghiz, On-oq, Turgesh, and Bayirqu who also strove to create their own state. Qapaghan took all these facts into consideration as he wanted to retain power in his family.

It is further incorrect to describe Qapaghan as a China follower. As historical evidence demonstrates, preserving the Turks’ statehood and building relations with such a great neighbor as China, whose population was much larger and who had many cities protected by high walls, was only possible if the Chinese Empire recognized the Turkic Khaganate. Qapaghan was not the only khagan who had married a Chinese princess. It is known that the policy of dynastic marriages was designed to strengthen the relationship between the two states, which was crucial to the Turks. Later, Turgesh khagans used similar methods of having their power recognized by a stronger neighbor.

A one-sided assessment of Qapaghan’s activities in historical literature is caused, on the one hand, by an insufficient number of sources and, on the other hand, by an incomplete inclusion of known data. Researchers use such names as Mochjo, Bogichor, Bogchor, and Qapaghan. In my opinion, Qapaghan’s name has been distorted. Unfortunately, L. Gumilev also uses the name Bogchor instead of Bogi Shor or Mochjo. In N.Ya. Bichurin’s translation, all the names are completely distorted; for example, the Bayirqu tribe that killed Qapaghan is called “Bayegu,” whereas Bogi Shor is “Mochjo” and Kultegin is “Güy Dele” [8].

However, it is necessary to use Turkic names. In this regard, N. Ya. Bichurin’s [9] and N.V. Kühner’s [10] works create confusion. Today, there are new translations of famous Chinese sources into the Kazakh language completed by scholars at the Urumqi Academy of Social Sciences in 1987-2002. In these works, Qapaghan’s (Qabagan’s) first name is given in Turkic as Bogi Shor.

How did BogiShor become a khagan? The life and activities of Bogi Shor, who was later named Qapaghan khagan, are closely related to the fate of his brother, the founder of the Second Turkic Khaganate. According to established Turkic traditions of power succession, in 691, after the founder Elterish Qutluq khagan’s death, his oldest son Bilge khagan was supposed to take the throne. However, Bilge was only 8 years old. For this reason, the khagan’s throne passed on to Elterish Qutluq’s 27-year-old brother Bogi Shor (Bogchor). Researchers of the Orkhon-Yenisei inscriptions designate his name as Bogu [11]. In those days, leadership positions in the Turkic Khaganate were distributed as follows: “The khagan [was] equal to the ancient Almighty (Tanikut, Tengrikut). His wife [was] called Khatun …  His brothers and sons [were] Tegins, and military leaders of other uluses were called Shad. The greatest of them is Qutly Chor, after him — Aba, the next one is Yelteber, then Tudyn and Irkin. These posts were transferred by inheritance, and the number of ulyqs was unlimited. If a father or a brother died, either the sons or younger brothers would take the position.”

The aforementioned implies that Bogi Shor, i.e. Qapaghan khagan during the time of Yelterish khagan, was “the greatest ulyq,” or “Qutly Chor” in the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. When his brother was still alive, he was infamous for his ferocious anger among the ancient Turks, therefore earning a nickname of Qapaghan, or “evil” (“qabaghan”). During the reign of his brother Yelterish, he was a minor ruler of the ulus and was actually known as a strong military leader among the Turks. That is why, since the first days of being in power, he devoted all his efforts to strengthening the nomadic empire. For the first time, the new khagan tried to incorporate neighboring Turkic tribes into the khaganate. A number of experts of the history of this period believe that Bogi Shor initially wanted to unify the disparate Turkic tribes.

He undertook a great number of campaigns, leading a 400-thousand strong army and reaching the territory of Central Asia where he tried to unify the fragmented Turks. The Chinese chronicles write the following about him: “his lands stretched for ten thousand kilometers. All the conquered peoples accepted his power.” [12]

The struggle for China’s recognition of the Turkic Khaganate. Qapaghan khagan’s idea of uniting all Turks into one state met resistance from the Tang Empire headed by an empress at the time. The khagan first intended to take back six Turkic districts that were part of the Chinese empire and filed a petition with the empire. The Chinese side rejected the request. After that, Qapaghan khagan decided to solve the problem with the use of force, and, in 694, he invaded the Tang empire. Initially, the Turkic forces prevailed over the imperial forces in the battle of Lingzhou. But, unprepared to wage a protracted battle, Qapaghan khagan rushed to come to an agreement with the Chinese empress. Meanwhile, the empress, thinking that the khagan recognized her strength, agreed to make peace and handed over the six Turkic districts to the khagan (literally: “Bek who returned to his homeland”) [13]. Chinese sources tell the following about this event: “At one time, the Turkic uluses subjugated in the years of Shyankhin (670-673) were located in the districts of Fengzhou, Shinzhou, Lingzhou, Shianzhou, Shozhou, and Daizhou and were called vassal lands. Bogi Shor asked for these Turkic subjects, lands of the Tanirkut basqaqdom, a sowing field, and seeds” [14].

According to this information, one can infer that Bogi Shor attached great importance to the return of Turkic-speaking districts that were once annexed by China. These circumstances accelerated the unification process among the frontier Turkic tribes. Moreover, this information also indicates that the Chinese emperor allowed the Turks to retain their territories, only intending to formally annex their lands to the empire.

Simultaneously, Bogi Shor actively pursued a policy of expanding the khaganate’s borders by conquering other lands. In 695, he undertook campaigns and subjugated the Kirghiz and the Az who roamed in the north of the Kem River. Qapaghan khagan’s son Inel, the famous state councilor Tonyuquq, and the sons of the Khaganate’s founder Elterish Kagan (Bilge and Kultegin) took part in these and other military campaigns aimed at unifying Turkic tribes. 

Qapaghan Kagan’s campaigns are described on the monument to Bilge Khagan as follows: “At fourteen, I was a Shad among the Tardush people. Together with my brother the khagan, we went on a campaign to the Green River and the Shandong plain. On the way back, we embarked on a campaign to the Iron Gate. We crossed the Kogmen pass and headed towards the Kyrgyz. In total, we went on twenty campaigns and fought in thirteen of them. We weakened the peoples and pacified the khaganate. We subjugated [them] and forced [them] to bow their heads”[15].

These campaigns deserve a separate description. For example, in 704, Qapaghan embarked on a campaign to subjugate the On Oq people, who later founded the Turgesh Khaganate. Chinese annals describe the outcome of this campaign as follows: “The On Oq ulys was attacked by the Turk Bogi Shor; many of them died and many were scattered” [16]. In 709, Qapaghan khagan once again set out on a campaign against the Turgesh. With his 20 thousand strong army, he attacked the Turgesh’s kagan Sakal, captured him, and killed him [17].

Qapaghan khagan’s policy in regard to fragmented Turkic tribes did not contribute to improving his relations with China. The Chinese empire tried to keep the Turks by force. This is evidenced by the source describing a matchmaking event: “This year Zytyan Uy Khan [the emperor of China] instructed the son of the ruler Uy Chynsyn, the viceroy of Huayan Yanshu, to marry Bogi Shor’s daughter. Yangzhy-Uy was temporarily appointed head of the Zhorelgy category and the junior officer Yang Chizhuang was [appointed] a vizier. [So, he] sent them to the Lulu palace [Türki], carrying a lot of gold and expensive silks. They arrived at the southern palace of Karakum. Bogi Shor (Yan) said the following: ‘I wanted to give my daughter to the Prince of the Li family. You brought the son of the Wu family today. Is he considered a prince? We have been subordinates of the Li family for centuries. As far as I know, in the Li family, the son of Tengi (Kok) has two sons. I will lead my troops and will help them ascend the throne.’ He then ordered the capture and imprisonment of Yanshui in a different place; he gave Zhiuy the title of khagan and, with a hundred thousand strong army, started an invasion of the Jinnan, Pindi, [and] Chin-i districts. The ruler of Jinnan, Murun Zhuangzi, surrendered to him with his five thousand troops. After that, they attacked the districts of Guizhou and Tangzhou. Bogi Shor set off in the direction of Hynyue, attacked Uichzhou and captured the Fihu area. Then he attacked Dingzhou, killed the governor of the county Sun Yangau, set fire to people’s homes, and exterminated everyone. Angered [by this], Zytyan promised the title of khan to anyone who would bring him Bogi Shor’s head and cursed him to become a dead Chor” [18].

Thus, Bogi Shor wanted to give his daughter’s hand to the heir of the Chinese emperor in marriage and establish kindred relations with the emperor himself. But the Chinese ruler did not want that and sent one of his provincial chiefs to marry the khagan’s daughter. Frustrated by the humiliation inflicted on him by the empire, Bogi Shor and his thousands of troops attacked China’s northern regions and defeated them. This, however, does not mean that Bogi Shor was a short-sighted politician. He understood very well that his numerous military campaigns would not help him defeat the powerful empire. He further realized that the only way out of this was through dynastic marriages.

Nonetheless, he continued his incessant incursions into China to keep the empire under pressure. He tried to enter into a military alliance with a great power, if only to return the Turkic districts into his dominion; however, this proposal was received unenthusiastically by the Chinese. Therefore, Bogi Shor continued his attacks against the empire. All this was reflected in the Chinese annals. They describe these events as follows: “Bogi Shor attacked the Jaujou and Dingzhou counties; he took eighty-ninety thousand people and was able to slip through Wuhui. On their way, they killed a lot of people.” Expanding the territory of the Turkic state, Bogi Shor appointed his relatives and trustees to government posts, while continuing his incursions into China[19].

One can say that Bogi Shor’s policy had an effect. The Chinese emperor finally accepted Bogi Shor’s offer of marriage. However, the matchmaking was not done at the will of the parties and it did not satisfy Bogi Shor. He understood very well that the Chinese authorities agreed with the kinship proposal in pursuit of their own goals. This contradicted the ideas that Turks held about establishing true family ties. Therefore, Bogi Shor continued to pursue the policy of force against the empire. According to sources, Chinese rulers referred to the Turkic troops as “robbers” led by Bogi Shor; and they openly showed their animosity towards them. The empire took defensive measures in China’s northern regions. During the battles with the Turks, three new fortresses were built in the north of Saryozen. However, Bogi Shor did not change his policy. He continued to attack China’s border regions, thereby proving that the Turks could compete with a great empire.

The coups d’état that periodically took place in the Chinese empire also interfered with the realization of Bogi Shor’s long-standing goals. It should be borne in mind that Bogi Shor’s policy of seeking an alliance with China was predetermined by the military-monarchical nature of the medieval Turkic state. The khagan concentrated power in his own hands, so the power of local tribal rulers was limited. In fact, the latter [tribal rulers] worked to enrich and strengthen the khagan and his co-rulers – chors – militarily. This, however, contradicted traditions of the steppe democracy in respect to governing a nomadic state.

When the state system puts forward violent mechanisms for governing the country, an internal crisis sets in. This is what happened in the socio-political realm of the Turkic Khaganate. The Khaganate witnessed an intolerable situation, when neither the khagan’s formidable authority, nor the closest neighbors, nor coups d’état, nor support for the empire could save the state. Both Bogi Shor and the subsequent khagans failed to understand the need for reforms which would meet the interests of numerous tribes.

Therefore, it was impossible to keep the conquered peoples in obedience and unify them into a single state. Unfortunately, even Tonyuquq, who was an adviser to the three khagans, could not find a way out of the crisis. “As time went on and Bogi Shor began to age,” the source writes, “the tribes started to depart” [20]. In light of this, Bogi Shor grew even harsher in his policies. His attempts to not only conquer the kindred Turkic tribes but also to gain recognition from the empire, forced the Turks to rebel against him and seek rapprochement with China. Bogi Shor did not forgive failure in military campaigns. Due to the khagan’s endless cruelty, his sister’s husband was also forced to seek refuge in the Chinese palace [21].

Thus, Bogi Shor’s policy based on violent methods of strengthening the khaganate failed. The Turkic-speaking tribes who fled from him were disappointed and afraid of his bloody campaigns, striving for a peaceful life and seeking protection from Chinese rulers. These circumstances put Bogi Shor into open confrontation towards previously conquered Turkic tribes. The unwillingness of the Turkic tribes to obey him and their departure in search of protection from the empire prompted Bogi Shor to ponder and come to a conclusion that the only way out was to enter into a dynastic marriage with China.

It is worth noting that Bogi Shor wanted to become related to the Chinese emperor, who was considered to be “the son of Heaven,” through intermarriage. This would pacify the restive tribes in the Turkic Khaganate, he thought. However, the Chinese side, as indicated above, initially refused intermarriage with Bogi Shor, but then, unable to stop the Turks’ continuous campaigns against China, agreed to form kinship with him. Thus, in order to establish kinship ties, the Chinese ruler offered his relatives’ children — representatives of the lower dynasty — who could not inherit the Chinese throne. This angered Bogi Shor and pushed him to continue military campaigns against China.

Ultimately, Bogi Shor failed to establish stability within the country that he governed, as he was unsure of himself and sought support from the Chinese empire in his attempts to unify the Turkic world. To this end, during the last years of his life (Tang Ruizun period, the 2nd year, or 711 CE), Bogi Shor sent an ambassador to China and asked to establish kinship. It was Hu Fynyau who went to the Turks as a Chinese ambassador. Fynyau told Bogi Shor: “Chumul, Gengunder, Khagan, if they find out that you are related to the Tang Dynasty, everyone will obey you. Why don’t you wear the crown and belt of the Tang Dynasty? Bogi Shor agreed to that. The next day, he put on his official headdress, belt, pink chekmen and bowed twice to show his allegiance” [22]. Yet again, he did not intermarry with the emperor’s family but only with his relatives. These events are not discussed in Chinese sources. Bogi Shor’s campaign four years later proves that just like before, he prioritized the policy of using force against the tribes that opposed him. He did not want to solve problems peacefully, which sealed his own fate.

“In the 4th year (716), Bogi Shor led a military campaign to the north in order to punish the Bayirqu tribe, which was one of the Toghuz Arys. The battle took place on the bank of the Togla River. The Bayirqu were defeated. Satisfied with the victory, Bogi Shor and his troops were ambushed and attacked by the remaining Bayirqu troops led by Kyshlak. During the sudden attack, they chopped off Bogi Shor’s head. The khagan’s severed head was sent to the capital with Ambassador Hau Lingyuang. Then, Kutlug Kultegin’s son united the remaining peoples, killed the younger khagan, Bogi Shor’s son, as well as his brothers and associates. He then planted his brother Beglendy Bilge, known as Bilge Khagan, on the throne” [23].

These sources are particularly important. They describe the events surrounding the death of the Eastern Turks’ khagan at the hands of the Bayirqu led by Kyshlak. They also indicate that the khagan’s head was sent to China through an ambassador. They further state that the heir to the throne, “the younger khagan,” and his relatives were killed by Kultegin. Kultegin’s brother, in the meantime, ascended the throne under the name of Bilge Khagan. It was a sad outcome for the two related families vying for the throne.

It is noteworthy that Bogi Shor’s killing by the Turks was initiated by the empire. This can be inferred from the sources narrating that the Chinese rulers always considered Bogi Shor an enemy and offered the title of khan and gifts to anyone who would bring them his head. As a result, the Chinese ambassador (who could be considered a scout among the Turks) brought Bogi Shor’s severed head along with his killer Kyshlak to China. “China’s rulers were very happy with this news and displayed Bogi Shor’s severed head as an admonition to the people” [24].

In conclusion, it is important to point out the following about Bogi Shor (Qapaghan khagan): 1. Qapaghan khagan tried to restore the Great Turkic Khaganate of the era of his ancestors – Istemi Khagan and Bumyn Khagan. He especially wanted to preserve and strengthen the Second Eastern Turkic Khaganate founded by his brother Qutlug. 2. One of the methods he used in order to strengthen the state was his policy of pursuing dynastic marriages with the Chinese empire. 3. However, the leaders of local Turkic tribes could not understand Qapaghan’s policy. The fragmentary nature of Turkic tribes did not allow for creation of a great state. 4. In this regard, it should be noted that Qapaghan’s activities and policies were not pro-Chinese. The evidence is an excerpt from a Chinese emperor’s letter to Bilge Khagan who became the ruler after Qapaghan: “… The last decades of relations between the two countries were not as before, and all that because of Bogi Shor’s instability. He talked about peace but, in his heart,  he wanted to sow discord. Therefore, he attacked borderland villages several times and took their cattle. In the end, he lost his head, thus receiving punishment from the people and God. Khagan, you see, there is always an answer to malefaction and benefaction, to good and evil …” [25]. 5. Qapaghan’s policy failed to unify the peoples; instead, it divided them. The country lacked an ideology and patriotism that would facilitate state centralization. Qapaghan khagan’s activities demonstrate a historical lesson. At the same time, it is necessary to give a correct assessment to Bogi Shor, or Qapaghan khagan, as a person who contributed to the strengthening of the Turks’ independent state, as a ruler who united the Turks, as a statesman, and as a talented commander.


Qapaghan khagan was eager to restore the glory of the Great Turkic khaganat that was founded by his great ancestors – Bymyn and Ishtemi khagans.  His principal goal was keeping and strengthening of the Second Eastern-Turkic khaganat which was founded by his brother Kutlug. His successful military campaigns against neighboring peoples and Tang empire are described in Chinese chronicles and Ongin monument.  He undertook a great number of campaigns, leading a 400-thousand strong army and reaching the territory of Central Asia where he tried to unify the fragmented Turks. The Chinese chronicles write the following about him: “his lands stretched for ten thousand kilometers. All the conquered peoples accepted his power.” However, when he was able to restore the power of Great Turkic khaganate local tribal chiefs who realized separatists’ policy finally led the whole situation to his death.


In spite the fact that Qapaghan khagan was one of the most prominent political figures of Eastern Turkic khaganate to promote restoration of political authority of the Turks local scholars do not pay enough attention to his activity thus lunching historical studies. 


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13 Sonda [viz.].

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18 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -133 b.

19 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -135 b.

20 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -135 b.

21 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -135 b.

22 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -242 b.

23 Қytaj zhylnamalaryndaғy қazaқ tarihynyң derekterі. [Sources of Kazakh History in Chinese Annals] 2-kіtap. -136, 182 bb.

24 Ұly Tүrіk қaғanaty. Қytaj derekterі men tүsіnіkter. [The Great Turkic Khaganate. Chinese Sources and Commentary] ҚHR Shynzhaң zhastar-өrender baspasy. -Үrіmzhі, 2006.-544 b.

25 Ұly Tүrіk қaғanaty. Қytaj derekterі men tүsіnіkter. [The Great Turkic Khaganate. Chinese Sources and Commentary] ҚHR Shynzhaң zhastar-өrender baspasy. -Үrіmzhі, 2006.-546 b.