Tonyukuk, 650–716 – a military and statesman of the II Turkic Khaganate (682–745), Tonyukuk, who had the title bilgä “knowing, wise, knowledgeable”, was born in about 650, died in 716 [1, c. 69; 2, c. 921]. He supported the Turkic uprising of 679–682. In the restored Turkic Khaganate, Tonyukuk became an adviser to the first three Khagans of this state (Kutlug Iltes Khagan 682 – 693, Mochur Kapagan Khagan 683 – 716, Bilge Khagan 716 – 734) [3].


Tonyukukduring the reign of KutlugIltes-Khagan (682 – 693).As you know, in the middle of the VI century the I Turkic Khanate was established, which included the vast territories of the Great Steppe. In the early 80s of the VI century, as a result of internal strife and external pressure, the Khaganate weakened, and at the beginning of the VII century it fell into two states – the Western Turkic and East Turkic Khaganates. In 659, the Western Khaganate ceased to exist. The East Turkic Khaganate was occupied by the troops of the Tang empire in 630.

In 679, an uprising of Turks broke out against Chinese rule. During the uprising, the Turks elected the khan Tsarevich Funyan, but the uprising was crushed. The leaders of the uprising were executed on the central square in Chang’an [4, c. 273].

After some time, the revolt of the Turks resumed under the leadership of Kutlug. Kutlug attracted Tonyukuk to his side, who received a Chinese education and knew the weaknesses of the enemy. The Tonyukuk inscription says that he sided with Kutlug: “I myself, the wise Tonyukuk was brought up for the state of Tabgach, since all the Turkic people were subordinate to the state of Tabgach … He told me: “Pester me! I was pestering him – wise Tonyukuk. Since the sky gave me knowledge, then, despite the small abilities of the khan, I wanted him to be a khan. Oh Khan! With the wise Tonyukuk as the boyle of the tarhan [state adviser] I will be a Khagan” [2, c. 100, 102; 4, c. 276–277]. The appearance in the ranks of the rebels of an experienced military leader who knew the Chinese art and culture well increased their chances of success, the memorial inscription on behalf of Tonyukuk says: “I myself, wise Tonyukuk, have been brought up for the state of Tabgach, since the whole Turkic people were subordinate the state of Tabgach” [5, c. 88].

Tonyukuk also explained the reasons for the defeat of the Turk revolt in the first stage: “The Turkic people, having no khan, separated from the Tabgach people. He became a people with his own khan; leaving his khan, he again submitted to the state of Tabgach. Perhaps the sky said so: “I gave you a khan, you, leaving your khan, obeyed others. Because of this submission, Heaven – you might think – has killed you” [4, c. 273–274].

The military-political situation at that time was not in favor of the Turks. According to Tonyukuk, their enemies “were around like birds of prey,” and the Onginsky monument (719) reports that “north of Tabgach (China), seven men became enemies” of the Turkic Khagan [6, c. 148].

With the support of Tonyukuk, Kutlug proclaimed himself a Khagan of independent Turkic ale, and appointed his brothers to the posts of Shad and Yabgu. The Turkic army was divided into two wings – Tolis and Tardush. At the insistence of Tonyukuk, the Eastern Turks crossed the Gobi and occupied Khangai [5, c. 89].

From the point of view of Tonyukuk, the most opponents of the newly created khaganate were the Tang emperor, Khagan of “ten arrows” (turgeshs), Kyrgyz Khagan, Tokuz-oguzes and throwing. For example, according to his calculations, the Turks fought with the Khitan seven times [6, c. 149]. During the reign of Kutlug, Tonyukuk defeated one of the Teles tribes – the Tokuz oguz – led by the Baz Khagan, who intended to make Turks in alliance with China and the Khitan [1, c. 12–13]. In this situation, Tonyukuk, trying to prevent the Allies from acting together, was the first to launch an offensive with his army, which barely numbered 2,000 soldiers against the Tokuz oguzs that were superior in number and armament. The battle took place on the river Tole. The tokuz oguz were defeated and submitted to the Turks. This victory gave Kutlug the opportunity to gain a foothold in Hangai (Otuken), but in 693 he died before he had time to complete this task. After the death of Gudulu, his brother Mochur declared himself a Khagan. He continued successful raids on China [7, c. 62].

Thus, Tonyukuk served as the closest adviser to the Khagan in all his most important affairs, including the military. The Tonyukuk inscription contains a description of several military campaigns and battles with his participation. One – the war with the Oguzes – took place during the reign of Kutlug Iltes-Khagan. The following military campaigns were undertaken during the Kapagan Khagan [8, c. 166].

Tonyukukduring the reign of MochurKapagan-Khagan (693 – 716). The wise Tonyukuk retained the post of khan adviser to the Khagan under Kapagan Khagan, but did not break ties with the disgraced princes. on the contrary, strengthened them by passing off his daughter Pofu as the legitimate heir of Mogilian (Bilge). In 709, Mogilyan defeated the army of Chiks. At this time, he subjugated the entire territory of modern Tuva. But the main enemy – the Kyrgyz – remained invulnerable behind a reliable natural shelter – the Sayan Range [4, c. 298].

Tonyukuk led the campaign against the x Yenisei Kyrgyz, the khan appointed him a chief. Tonyukuk offered to take the initiative into his own hands and attack the Kyrgyz, but the most difficult thing was to cross the Sayan Range in an unusual place, since the pass through Kogman in the Western Sayan Mountains was guarded. It did not make sense to storm the pass, since the Kyrgyz could put up to 80 thousand soldiers and detain the Turkic army before the arrival of the Turges and the Imperials. With respect to mobilization, the Kyrgyz had an advantage: they had irrigated agriculture. This campaign against the Kyrgyz people covered a distance of 1300 km from south to north. It was winter and the usual paths were covered with snow. Tonyukuk found a guide “from the steppes”, who indicated a different path. The conductor lost the road in the mountains and was killed [2, c. 108–109; 4, c. 298–299; 9, c. 318–319].

After stopping and determining the number of those lagging behind and frozen, Tonyukuk proceeded on horseback, moving day and night, north and somewhere in the Abakan valley, defeated the Kyrgyz army, which was not expecting an attack, whose leader had died in the battle. Then Tonyukuk was higher in the valley of the Middle Yenisei and captured all the lands of the Kyrgyz tribal union [7, c. 63]. Tonyukuk reported: “I ordered the army to move; I said: “ride your horses! – Crossing Ak-Termel, I ordered to camp. Having ordered to ride horses, I made my way through the snow. I went up with the others to the top of the mountain, leading the horse around, holding onto wooden poles. With great difficulty we went down and at ten nights we walked to the side of the mountain, bypassing the blockage. We drunk the Kyrgyz during sleep … paved the way with spears … We killed their Khan. The Kyrgyz people became subordinate to the Khagan and obeyed it ” [4, c. 298–299; 9, c. 318–319].

Thus, thanks to Tonyukuk, the Kyrgyz were defeated. The conquest of Kyrgyz land was nominal, since Tonyukuk did not leave garrisons there, but now there was no fear of a blow to the back [4, c. 299–300].

In 711, after defeating the Yenisei Kyrgyz, Tonyukuk was preparing for a big war with the allies of the Kyrgyz Turges. He sent his scouts to the west to ascertain the intentions of the Turgesh khan. His scout reported the following: “Ten tyumen troops (Turgeshs) gathered on the plain of Yarysh”, and three other scouts reported that the entire army of “ten arrows” went on a campaign, and the Turgesh Khagan ordered him to gather on the plain of Yarysh (Kochkor Valley in Kyrgyzstan. – B. S.) ” [10, c. 361].

It should be noted that in the war against the Turghesh, Tonyukuk was instructed to stick exclusively to defense, to collect defectors and information, but Tonyukuk acted in his own way and launched an army on the offensive. He made a march through the Black Irtysh and suddenly hit the Turgeshs [4, c. 300]. The inscription of Tonyukuk in the place telling about the battle between the Turks and the Turgesh at Bolchu informs that the Turghesh had 10 Tumen troops and “compared with us their two wings were half as many” [11, c. 318].  The Türks under the command of the son of Kapagan-Khagan Inel and Tonyukuk as the chief of staff of the Turkic army were defeated on the river. I am in the Dzungaria army of Sakal – the successor to the leader of the tribal union of the Turgesh Uch-Elig (Uzhzhile). For some time (711 – 715), the Turgesh khanate ceased to exist [11, c. 318]. The remnants of the Turgesh troops retreated behind the Syr Darya to Tokharistan. In pursuit of them, in 712 – 713, detachments of the Turkic army commanded by Tonyukuk ended up in Sogd. The Turkic army reached the passage of Buzgal, called the Iron Gate by the Turks. There, the Turks collected a large tribute from the Sogdians. But further advance in 714 was stopped by the Arabs, who were moving to Central Asia from the south [4, c. 300–301; 10, c. 411–412].

Tonyukuk in the reign of Bilge Khagan (716 – 734). After the death of Mochur Kapagan Khan (716), a military coup organized by Kul-tegin took place in the Second Turkic Khaganate. The eldest son of Kapagan Khagan, his successor Kuchuk Khan (“Small Khan”) and the advisers of Kapagan Khagan were killed. Tonyukuk managed to escape the massacre. Kul-tegin elevated his elder brother to the throne with the title “Bilge Khagan”. Of all the nobles, only Tonyukuk, who was the father-in-law of the new khan, survived. For some time Tonyukuk was in disgrace, but “the people respected and feared him,” and in 718 or 719 the khan returned to him the rank of boyla of the tarhana and the position of state adviser. Calling Tonyukuk for service, Bilge Khagan reduced the number of people displeased with him. Thus, the triumvirate rose in power, the principle of which was the struggle against Chinese culture and the political predominance of the Tang empire [4, c. 315–316, 323; 12, c. 84].

At this time, the Turkic Khaganate was at war with China. Bilge Khan decided to raid the Chinese territories, but Tonyukuk dissuaded him, citing the fact that this year the harvest was plentiful, and China’s power was significant. In fact, according to researchers, there was no reason for military operations, not to mention the fact that the newly assembled horde needed rest [12, c. 84]. According to L.N. Gumilyov, this position of Tonyukuk was explained by the fact that while studying in China, Tonyukuk had a mentor of one of the many opponents of Buddhism. In addition, supporting Buddhism persecuted in China meant a challenge to the Tang empire, which, according to Tonyukuk, was untimely [4, c. 317]. Thus, the task of the triumvirate – Kul-tegin, Bilge Khagan and Tonyukuk – was to restore the former power of the Turkic Khaganate, which would turn Tang into the Chinese kingdom. Tonyukuk formulated the principle of the strategy of the Turks in the near future – active defense and opposition to China [4, c. 318].

The war with the Tang empire did not end there. The Imperials were able to win over the Basmal tribe that lived in the southwestern part of Dzungaria. According to the plan that was developed in Chang’an, the Khitan, the Tatabs and Basmals had to reach the Bilge Khagan’s headquarters in different ways and seize it. In the fall of 720, the commander of the expeditionary force of the Imperials, Wan Zun moved the Basmal cavalry to the north. From the east, an offensive of the Khitan and the Tatabs was planned. Tonyukuk advised the khan to move north three days before the arrival of the enemy and wait until the Chinese ran out of food supplies and they turned back. But something else happened. Basmals came first first and, learning that their allies were late, went back. On the advice of Tonyukuk, the Turks left them alone, and they themselves made a march to Baitin-Bishbalyk, which was the base of the Allied offensive, and took it. When the Basmals came to Bishbalik, they found the Turks there. Here the Basmals were surrounded and surrendered [4, c. 319–320; 10, c. 414–415].

The Türks transferred their army to Gansu and here the Tang army was defeated. The winter of 720–721 was extremely unsuccessful for the Tang army. In the same winter, the Turkic army moved to Gansu and East Turkestan. One unit was commanded by Bilge Khagan, and the other by Tonyukuk. After the capture of Bishbalik, the army under the command moved southeast to Chyktym and then through Komul (Hami) to Lanzhou, where both detachments merged. Tang garrisons were defeated here. Regarding this victory, the Bilge Khagan inscription says the following: “On the very first day, I defeated the seventeen-thousand-strong Chinese cavalry. On the second day, I [defeated] their countless infantry. ” Then, in 721–722, the Turks defeated the allies of the Tang Empire of Khitan and Tatabs [4, c. 319–320; 10, c. 414–415]. Tonyukuk took Lanzhou and stole entire herds of horses and numerous herds of sheep. The Chinese ruler offered all possible resistance, but due to severe frosts, his poorly dressed warriors were not able to use their bows [12, c. 86]. 

The Bilge Khagan achieved peace with the Tang Empire (721), after which Tonyukuk in 722 along with Bilge Khagan and Kul-tegin received an invitation to come to China to participate in the solemn ceremony of sacrifice on Mount Taishan, which was performed by the Tang emperor himself [4, c. 324].


Socio-political views of Tonyukuk. Tonyukuk belonged to ruling families, was well aware of government affairs, took part in solving military tasks, had an aesthetic taste, was spiritually developed [13, c. 56]. He was one of the prominent figures of his era, who played a prominent role in the reconstruction of the Turkic Khaganate [1, c. 68].

In the inscription, Tonyukuk highly appreciates his work and focuses his attention on this, constantly supporting the significance of his merits to the Turkic society [13, c. 57]. It uses Tonyukuk dialogue, which gives the text emotionality and expressiveness. According to the researchers, the inscription is an autobiography written in panegyric colors. But they not only describe events, they also give a political assessment [14, c. 8].

Ancient Turkic inscriptions, in particular Kul-Tegin, Bilge-Khagan, Tonyukuk, represent an appeal to wide layers of Turkic society. Moreover, the purpose of these appeals is not disguised in any way: they want to convince people [15, c. 37]. The famous orientalist V.V. Bartold noted “the syllable and expression of the inscriptions make one believe that the state of culture of the people was not as low as might be expected from the situation of nomadic life. The Khan even invites the people to read the inscriptions they have left in order to recall both their successes and the failures caused by their crimes against their khans” [16, c. 27].

The ancient Türks believed that what was written had magical powers. Runes carved on tombstones had a sacred meaning. They reinforced the memorial meaning of the structure. The inscriptions on the eternal stones were made in the style of an obituary. That is, it was a kind word about the deceased and his earthly deeds. Many inscriptions were made from the deceased, which increased their effect on readers [17, c. 237].

Tonyukuk (like Yollig-tegin) was a great connoisseur of both the literary canons and the folklore traditions of his time [18, c. 57]. So, in the inscription there are a number of aphoristic expressions that are not found in other Orkhon monuments: “Tүn udumaty, kүntүz olurmaty, зыyzyl қanym tөkti, әara tәrim yүgүrti” (“Having no sleep at night, no rest at night, shedding its red blood. your black sweat “). In particular, researchers note that Tonyukuk’s speech is full of proverbs. In particular, parallels are drawn between the historical person Tonyukuk and the epic hero Dede Korkut. The latter’s speech is also full of folk wisdom, proverbs and sayings, which later acquired an independent life and as aphoristic works. So, in the ancient collection “Proverbs and Sayings” (“Atalar I Conscious”), preserved in the manuscript of the XVI century, all examples are given on behalf of Dede Korkut [18, c. 58]. Tonyukuk’s views evolved under the influence of their own Turkic culture and traditions, as well as under the influence of Chinese culture. At the same time, Tonyukuk was a supporter of reliance on his traditions. Tonyukuk is not only a military leader and administrator, but also the main ideologist of the “Turkic national revival.” He was a supporter of the rejection of Chinese culture, which, as he believed, only relaxes nomads [5, c. 89]. So, when Tonyukuk learned about the Khagan’s intention to introduce Buddhism to the Türks and build Buddhist temples, he told the Khagan that “Buddhism and Taoism bring people ideas of kindness and weakness and these features will inhibit the conduct of wars and conquests, and the construction of temples will destroy the old ancient Turkic the custom of “being unconnected.” Otherwise, the Tang dynasty would destroy us. ” According to L.P. Potapov, Tonyukuk’s statement, documenting the existence of their own religion among the ancient Turks, also testifies to the understanding of its ideological role in the socio-political role by the ruling elite, which consciously cared for this religion, of course, in its own interests. Understood the ancient Turkic nomadic aristocracy and the connection of religious ideology with economic life, economic reasons [19, c. 17]. L.P. Potapov wrote: “The essence of such a philosophy was fully recognized by the Khagan ruling elite. For the first time (and, it seems, for the only time), it was generalized by the famous Tonyukuk ” [19, c. 89].

At the same time, being the guardian of “national values”, rejecting Buddhism and Taoism as unsuitable for steppe warriors, Tonyukuk remained a reasonable opponent of the Tan empire [20, c. 128]. Some researchers, studying the system of building texts in honor of Kul-tegin and Tonyukuk, talk about the presence of a certain artistic style in the Tonyukuk inscription, which in turn gives them the opportunity to establish some general patterns for ancient Turkic poetry. The structure of the compositions of the inscriptions of Yollig-tegin and Tonyukuk is identical, which speaks of the generally accepted and traditional method of constructing the narrative [21, c. 25–26]. At the same time, it is believed that the solemn and decorated character of the three large inscriptions – in honor of Tonyukuk, Kultegin and Bilge Khagan – was prompted by the existence of Chinese samples of this genre [8, c. 32]. In other words, Tonyukuk did not have an implacable rejection of a foreign culture, in particular Chinese.

The Turks also had their own philosophy of history. Tonyukuk received a Chinese education and is believed to be pragmatic: he believed that he did everything himself, as he strove for the good of the Turkic people and the khan. L. N. Gumilyov believed that Tonyukuk’s Chinese upbringing affected him: in the first place, Tonyukuk had “I” (voluntarism) [4, c. 342]. In particular, one of the quatrains from the Inscription in honor of Tonyukuk contains an allegory in which Tonyukuk allegorically explains that the Khagan does not (and should not) go into the details of cases; his task is his, Tonyukuk [22, c. 16]. Tonyukuk’s inscription mainly lists his services as an adviser: “Ilterish did not acquire (or) if he did not exist, if the wise Tonyukuk himself did not acquire, (or) I would not exist, in the land of Kapagan-Khagan and the people of the Syr Turkic peoples, no organization, no people, no people, no ruler would exist ” [15, c. 49, 51].

At the same time, Tonyukuk also observed a religious moment: “Tengri gave me knowledge!”, But Tonyukuk himself understands the land. L. N. Gumilev writes: “We see almost the same understanding of the mechanics of the historical process in the Chinese inscription against the background of a meaningless struggle between the forces of Yin and Yang” [4, c. 342–343].


Memorial in honor of Tonyukuk. The Tonyukuk memorial was discovered in 1897 in the area of ​​Bain-Zokto in the territory of modern central and northern Mongolia on the right bank of the river Tola in its upper reaches [1, c. 68]. V.V. Radlov wrote: “This year (1897), Mrs. E. N. Klements, on behalf of the Imperial Botanical Garden, made a trip to northern Mongolia. On the way back to Urga, she received a message that not far from the village of Nalaiha, a few miles from the river Tola, there is a large ancient Turkic burial structure … She immediately interrupted the return trip and went to this place, about 20 miles from it. She fully appreciated the importance of the find, but was deprived of the opportunity to make printworks. Therefore, she immediately went to Urga, which was about 60 miles from there. Here she stocked up with necessary tools and materials … and returned to the monument” [cited from: 10, c. 88–89]. 

V. V. Radlov dedicated the Tonyukuk Memorial to the issue of the «Atlas of Antiquities of Mongolia» and the special edition of «Ancient Turkic Inscriptions of Mongolia» [10, c. 46]. In 1899, F. Hirt wrote “An Afterword to the Tonyukuk Inscription” [23, c. 14]. In 1909, Finnish scholars G.I. Ramstedt and I. Pelsi in Northern Mongolia studied and made a plan and copies of the inscriptions on the Tonyukuk monument. In addition, two stone sculptures were published (one was preserved very well, one very poorly) [24, c. 19]. In August 1957, the Institute of History of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences sent an expedition to excavate the Tonyukuk monument in Nalaihe. Scientists N. Sir-Odzhav and C. Dorjsuren found bricks, clay, fragments of vessels made of porcelain, runic inscriptions on building material near the temple [24, c. 24].

The Tonyukuk memorial was a site measuring 40 by 25 m, and inside, in addition to everything else, at the entrance were two granite tetrahedral steles with the texts of the ancient Turkic runic script in the Orkhon alphabet. The texts were located on all sides of the stele. They described the biography of Tonyukuk in the first person, events (mainly victorious wars) and the activities of individuals [3]. On the first stele there are 35 lines of text, on the second – 27. Eight stone figures were also found near the steles with inscriptions [1, c. 99].

General characteristics of the Tonyukuk inscription. After deciphering the inscriptions, it turned out that the monument was erected in honor of the closest associate of the three Turkic Hagans of the late VII – the first quarter of the VIII century. commander and adviser Tonyukuk [10, c. 89]. The inscription on the Tonyukuk memorial was made in the standard Turkic language, in which the texts of the monuments in honor of Bilge Khagan and Kul-tegin were executed. To denote the title of rulers, Tonyukuk uses the terms qaγan and qan, which are equivalent to each other [1, c. 69].

According to L. N. Gumilyov, the inscription of Tonyukuk on the banks of the Selenga was drawn up after 716, since it refers to the “people of Bilge Khagan” even before 720, because not a word is said in the inscription about the merits of the wise Tonyukuk in the fight against the Basmals. The inscription was made when Tonyukuk was in disgrace and, appealing to the people, sought to force the khan to acknowledge his merits and return him to the court. He achieved this in 719. Therefore, the text of the inscription was compiled in 717 – 718 years [4, c. 330, 332].

A. Yu. Tugesheva relates the date of writing to approximately 716–720 years immediately after the death of the Kapagan Khagan when Tonyukuk fell into disgrace. In his speech, he persistently seeks to emphasize his merits in the restoration of the khanate [1, c. 68].

Some researchers do not name a specific time for composing the Tonyukuk inscription, indicating the period after 716, since the monument was written on behalf of Tonyukuk. The text contains the history of the East Turkic Khaganate from Kutlug to the accession to the throne of his younger brother Mojo, that is, from 683 to 693 [23, c. 34]. 

It is believed that the inscription in honor of Tonyukuk was written by himself, in any case, it was done by his direct order: “I ordered this to be written for the people of the Turkic Bilge Khagan, I, the wise Tonyukuk” [18, c. 57].

Small and Large inscriptions in honor of Kul-tegin and the Inscription in honor of Tonyukuk, created in the Eastern Turkic Khaganate in the first half of the 8th century. based on the Orkhon runic version. The inscriptions are historical and heroic poems. Their main goal is to glorify that historical person to whom neither are dedicated [22, c. 14]. It is the text of the Tonyukuk inscription, together with inscriptions in honor of the Bilge Khagan and Kul-tegin, that contains the most complete description of the events associated with the occurrence and initial history of the Second Turkic Khaganate [10, c. 92].

The above material allows us to draw the following conclusions:

– Tonyukuk played a huge role in restoring the independence of the Turkic state, having applied all his intellectual, military and political abilities and talents;

– being a representative of the Turkic intellectual and military-political elite, Tonyukuk created the ideological base of the II Turkic Khaganate, which consists in relying on its own traditions without refusing to borrow the experience of other peoples and states;

– in military operations against states opponents of the II Turkic Khaganate, Tonyukuk formulated the basic principles of warfare, which consists of non-standard military solutions (anticipatory actions, long-distance marching, etc.), resulting in successful military operations of the II Turkic Khaganate against a military coalition within the Tang empire, the Turgesh, Kyrgyz Khaganates and other states and tribes;

– Tonyukuk’s inscriptions were a further stage in the development of the ancient Turkic language, the development of norms and traditions of narration and literary canons.


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Author: Smagulov B.K., Ph.D.