The Ashina (Chinese: 阿史那; pinyin: Āshǐnà; Wade–Giles: A-shih-na; Middle Chinese: (Guangyun) [ʔɑʃi̯ə˥nɑ˩]), also known as Asen, Asena, or Açina, were a tribe and the ruling dynasty of the ancient Turkic peoples. It rose to prominence in the mid-6th century when the leader, Bumin Qaghan, revolted against the Rouran Khaganate. The two main branches of the family, one descended from Bumin and the other from his brother Istämi, ruled over the eastern and western parts of the Göktürk confederation, respectively.
Tamga of Ashina - The Raven
|Regions with significant populations|
Researchers such as H. W. Haussig, S. G. Klyashtorny, A. N. Bernstamm, C. V. Findley, D.G. Savinov, S. P. Guschin, Rona-Tas and R. N. Frye have pointed out that the origin of the Ashina is from the Iranian Saka or possibly Wusun. They have put forward this version of the following arguments:
Findley assumes that the name "Ashina" comes from one of the Saka languages of central Asia and means "blue" (gök in Turkic). The color is identified with the east, so that Göktürk, another name for the Turkic empire, meant the "Turks of the East". This idea is seconded by the Hungarian researcher András Róna-Tas, who finds it plausible "that we are dealing with a royal family and clan of Saka origin". "The term bori, used to identify the ruler's retinue as 'wolves', probably also derived from one of the Iranian languages", Carter Vaughin Findley has observed.
H. W. Haussig and S. G. Kljyashtorny suggest an association between the name and the compound "kindred of Ashin" ahşaẽna - Old Persian, which can get quite satisfactory etymological development. This is so even in East Turkestan; then the desired form would be in the Sogdian 'xs' yn' k (-әhšēnē) "blue, dark"; Khotan-Saka (Brahmi) āşşeiņa (-āşşena) "blue", where a long -ā- emerged as development ahş-> āşş-; in Tocharian A āśna- "blue, dark" (from Khotan-Saka and Sogdian). The Saka etymology ashina (<āşşeiņa ~ āşşena) with the value "blue" (the color of the sky) is phonetically and semantically flawless. There is a textual support for this version in the ancient runic inscriptions of the Turks.
In the large Orkhon inscriptions, in the story of the first Kagan, people living in the newly created empire are named "kök türk" (translated as "Celestial Turks"). Without touching the numerous interpretations "kök" may have in this combination, note its perfect semantic match with the reconstructed value of the name "Ashina". An explicit semantic calque suggests knowledge of its original meaning and foreign origin, which is compatible with the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural nature of the First Turkic khanate, which entailed the loss, however, of the popularity of "national character", in the words of L. Bazin, as was the political and cultural environment of the Otyuken regime of the era of Bilgä Qaǧan.
The name "Ashina" was recorded in Ancient Arab chronicles in the form, "Shane".
Analysis of written sources and traditionsEdit
S.G. Klyashtorny studied the legends of the Ashina clan in comparison with historical evidence. The dynastic chronicle Sui Shu carries information that is realistic at its basis, the historiographical value of which now seems undeniable,
- "and offered to share the early history of the tribes Tÿrk of two consecutive periods: Gansu-Gaochan when the ancestors of the Turks Ashina formed from Posthun and local Iranian tribes on the territory of Eastern Turkestan (III c. BC – 460 AD), and the Altai, when the established Turkic ethnic group moved into the territory of the Mongolian Altai (AD 460–552)"
Based on the similarities between the ancestor myths of the Wusun's, the Ashina clan's, and later Turkic peoples, Denis Sinor and Sergei G. Klyashtorny suggested that the Wusun and/or Sogdians could represent an Indo-European and Iranian influence on, or even provided the origin of, the royal Ashina Türks.
Orientalists A. N. Bernstamm and D. G. Savinov also suggested the Saka-Wusun origin of the Ashina clan. They point out that according to the Sui Shu, the Ashina ancestors were some "mixed Hu (northwestern barbarian) ethnos". A. N. Bernshtamm in the preface to Collection of information by N. Bichurin 1950 noted that the Chinese term "Hu" (barbarians, i.e. "not Chinese") had been identified with the name of the Turks. However, according to Bernshtamm, in Chinese, especially in areas of East Turkestan and Central Asia, as a rule (with a few exceptions), this term is understood as not just the Turkic tribes but also the settled, mainly Sogdian population.
Sogdians played a huge role in the political, cultural, economic and trade activities of the Turkish Empire. They have, for example, performed important diplomatic missions with rulers, led embassies to the court of Iranian shahs, controlled trade silk. Sogdian preachers engaged in spreading Manichaeism, Christianity (Nestorianism), and Buddhism among the nomads.
These circumstances lead to the conclusion that the tribe Ashina formed in Pingliang as a loose confederation of "mixed Hu". In this area, during the formation of the tribe (III c. BC – 460 AD), the Indo-European populations, Iranians and Tocharian languages, were predominant. Later on, the Ashina fled to Gaochang, where after 460 AD, they fell under the rule of Juan-Juan and were relocated to the southern spurs of the Altai. Ashina were artisans, and they were mainly engaged in metallurgy.
As suggested by D. G. Savinov, in the new places of settlement, including the territory of their newly created possessions, Ashina faced local tribes, the native proto-cultural substrate. Apparently, this time may include the first acculturation processes, initiating the formation of the ancient Turkic historical and cultural complex. Since the beginning of the active military and political activities the Ashina were joined by a variety of Turkic peoples. The name of the new state was Tÿrk (helmet, based on the geographical features of the Altai), and respectively, the population of the state has adopted the name of the Turks. The word became the name of the Ashina ruling dynasty.
A detailed study of the origin of Ashina is conducted by sinologist S. P. Guschin. He notes that from the legend of the origin of Ashina, we know that "Tukyue ancestors come from a reigning house, who lived to the north of the Huns." The title saki tribes in Chinese sounds like - "Shohei" (索诃), which coincides with the characters about the "reigning house with" (索國).
In the Chinese dictionary, the dialectal reading of character "Shohei" is given in the form of "saak" (索). Also in Chinese phonetic bases character 索 = sāk / sâk, is set in its old reading.
Yu. A. Zuev notes that the presence of crows as the ancient tribal totem of Wusun is doubtful. According to Wusun legend, the ancestors were Wusun raven and the wolf. This fact is reflected in the tamga of Wusun, which depicts the raven. Tamga Ashina also meant a raven. According to Zuev the gold (or Kagan’s) clan of Ashina tribe was called Shar-Duly, "Golden/Red Raven", "Golden bird Duli"(Middle Persian).
Origins and legendsEdit
According to the New Book of Tang, the Ashina were related to the northern tribes of the Xiongnu, in particular they were of Tiele tribe by ancestral lineage. As early as the 7th century, four theories about their mythical origins were recorded by the Book of Zhou, Book of Sui and Youyang Zazu:
- Ashina was one of ten sons born to a grey she-wolf (see: Asena) in the north of Gaochang.
- The ancestor of the Ashina was a man from the Suo nation (north of Xiongnu) whose mother was a wolf, and a season goddess.
- The Ashina were mixture stocks from the Pingliang commandery of eastern Gansu.
- The Ashina descended from a skilled archer named Shemo, who had once fallen in love with a sea goddess west of Ashide cave.
These stories were sometimes pieced together to form a chronologically coherent narrative of early Ashina history. However, as the Book of Zhou, the Book of Sui, and the Youyang Zazu were all written around the same time, during early Tang dynasty, whether they could truly be considered chronological or rather should be considered competing versions of the Ashina's origin is debatable. These stories have parallels in folktales and legends of other Turkic peoples, for instance, the Uyghurs and also Indo-European tribes like the Wusun.
The record of Turks in Zhoushu (written in the first half of the 7th century) describes the usage of gold by Turks around the mid-5th century: "(The Turks) inlaid gold sculpture of wolf head on their flag; their military men were called Fuli, that is, wolf in Chinese. It is because they are descendant of the wolf, and naming so is for not forgetting their ancestors."
The Old Book of Tang describes the funeral rites of the Ashina as follows:
- "The body of the deceased lived in a tent. Sons, grandchildren and relatives of both sexes slaughter horses and sheep, and as they spread around in front of the tent, sacrifice; they ride on horseback seven times around the tent, and then, at the entrance to the tent, slit their own faces with a knife weeping, and spill their blood forward; pouring blood and tears collectively. They do so seven times, and it is over. Later in the chosen day they take the horse on which the deceased used to ride, and the things that he used, and burn them along with the corpse: the ashes are then collected and buried in a certain season into the grave. Those who died in the spring and summer, are buried when the leaves on the trees and plants begin to turn yellow and fall; those who died in the fall or winter are buried when the flowers begin to unfold. On the day of the funeral, as well as on the day of his death, the family offers a sacrifice, rides horses and slit their face. The building, which was built on the grave, is decorated with the portrait of the face of the dead man and with the description of battles in which he was as in the continuation of life. Usually they put one stone for every man he killed, they may have a different number of such stones, up to a hundred or even a thousand. when bringing sheep and horses as a sacrifice to a single, they hang their heads on the milestones."
According to D. G. Savinov, no archaeological monument is fully consistent with the description given by I. Bichurin, neither South Siberia nor Central Asia is known yet, although many of its elements are found already in the early Turkic time. According to D. G. Savinov this may be for several reasons:
- Göktürk burial sites in Central Asia and Southern Siberia are not yet open;
- The source is a compilation in character, and burial rituals and funeral cycle from various sources are listed in a unified description;
- Göktürk funeral rites in the form in which it is recorded in written sources, developed later on the basis of the various components present in some of the archaeological sites of Southern Siberia of early Turkic time.
It is certain that the rite of cremation was adopted among Turkic Hagan and a very narrow ruling stratum of kaganates. Rite of cremation did not spread among the common people of Turkic. This may well be at the origin of the other ethnic groups of the ruling family.
Almost all of the elements of the funeral rites of the Ashina have analogues in the Indo-European rites, in particular the Slavic rites. About individual incision, Al-Bakr can be quoted: "Wives of the same dead cut their hands and faces with knives." Chinese source said that on the day of the funeral, as well as in the day of his death, family used to ride horses. There is likely to have in mind something like a Slavic funeral feast. "The building was built on the grave" is an analogue of the Slavic Domowina. Burial of the ashes of the deceased in the vessel (the tomb of Kul Tigin and his wife) as is recorded by the Slav's "Tale of Bygone Years", for example where it says: "burned, and after collecting the bones, put them in a small container."
The name "Ashina" first appeared in the Chinese records of the 6th century. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia infers that between the years 265 and 460 the Ashina had been part of various late Xiongnu confederations. By about 460 they were subjugated by the Rouran, who ousted them from Xinjiang into the Altay Mountains, where the Ashina gradually emerged as the leaders of the early Turkic confederation, known as the Göktürks. By the 550s, Bumin Khan established the Göktürk Empire, which flourished until the 630s and from 680s until 740s. The Orkhon Valley was the centre of the Ashina power.
Multiple members of the Ashina clan served as generals in the Tang dynasty military. The general Ashina She'er led a campaign against Kucha and against Karasahr in 648. His brother, Ashina Zhong, was also a Tang general. Ashina Mishe and Ashina Buzhen joined Su Dingfang's military expedition against the Western Turkic Khaganate in 657.
After the collapse of the Göktürk empire from the Uyghurs, branches of the Ashina clan moved westward to Europe where they became the kaghans of the Khazars, and possibly other nomadic peoples with Turkic roots. According to Marquart, the Ashina clan constituted a noble caste throughout the steppes. Similarly, the Bashkir historian and Turkolog Zeki Validi Togan described them as a "desert aristocracy" that provided rulers for a number of Eurasian nomadic empires. Accounts of the Göktürk and Khazar khaganates suggest that the Ashina clan was accorded sacred, perhaps quasi-divine status in the shamanic religion practiced by the steppe nomads in the first century CE.
A relevant example of the special status of this wolf clan is demonstrated by Mongolian history. The Chonos, whose name translates as "wolves", were held in such esteem by Mongolian warlords that when Jamukha in the late 12th century took prisoners of war from the wolf-tribe, during the subsequent victory decapitation ritual he executed them by boiling to avoid the taboo of letting wolf blood mingle with the Earth. According to Rashid-al-Din, the Chonos came to Mongolia from Ergenekun.
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