Tonyukuk (Old Turkic: 𐰋𐰃𐰠𐰏𐰀:𐱃𐰆𐰪𐰸𐰸, romanized: Bilgä Tuňuquq, lit.'Tunyuquq the Wise',[3] Chinese: 暾欲谷; pinyin: Tunyugu, Chinese: 阿史德元珍; pinyin: Āshǐdé Yuánzhēn, born c. 646, died c. 726) was the baga-tarkhan (supreme commander) and adviser of four successive Göktürk khagansIlterish Qaghan, Qapaghan Qaghan, Inel Qaghan and Bilge Qaghan. He conducted victorious campaigns against various Turkic and non-Turkic steppe peoples, such as Tölis, Xueyantuo, Toquz Oguz, Yenisei Kyrgyz, Kurykans, Thirty Tatar, Khitan and Tatabi as well as the Tang dynasty.[4] He was described as a kingmaker by historians such as E. P. Thompson[5] and Peter Benjamin Golden.[6]

Tarkhan of the Second Turkic Khaganate
Reign681–716 or 717
Full name
Bilge Tuñuquq Boyla Baga Tarkan
Native name𐰋𐰃𐰠𐰏𐰀 𐱃𐰆𐰪𐰸𐰸 𐰉𐰆𐰖𐰞𐰀 𐰉𐰍𐰀 𐱃𐰺𐰴𐰣 (in Old Turkic)
Other titlesApa Tarkan
BornAshide Yuanzhen

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


The name is spelled as t1-o-ɲ-uq1-uq1 (𐱃𐰆𐰪𐰸𐰸‎) in the Old Turkic script, variously interpreted as Tunuquq, Tonuquq, Tuj-uquq, Toɲ Yuguq, Tujun-oq, Tojuquq, Tuɲoqoq 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 元珍 Yuánzhēn 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 yearsEdit

Gold belt ornaments, Tonyukuk ritual place, Tov, Erdene.[12]

He was born around 646, near Tuul River in Ashide tribe. He fled the Tang dynasty in 679 and joined Elteriš in 681.

I myself, wise Tonyukuk, born in Tabgach [i.e. Tang China] country. (As the whole) Turk people was under Chinese subjection.[13][14]

Old Turkic: 𐰋𐰃𐰠𐰏𐰀:𐱃𐰆𐰪𐰸𐰸:𐰋𐰤:𐰇𐰕𐰢:𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲:𐰃𐰠𐰭𐰀:𐰶𐰠𐰦𐰢:𐱅𐰇𐰼𐰚:𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣:𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲𐰴𐰀:𐰝𐰇𐰼𐰼:𐰼𐱅𐰃, romanized: Bilgä Toñuquq bän özüm Tabγač eliŋä qılıntım Türk bodun Tabγačqa 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.[15]

During Elteriš's reignEdit

Although he lost early wars against Xue Rengui, he was formidable force in establishing Turkic Khaganate. In 687, another invasion of Tang by Elteriš 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 Qapγan's reignEdit

In 703, he was sent by qaγan for marriage proposal to the Wu Zhou dynasty. 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 reignEdit

He was not in active politics during Inäl's reign and accepted him as a legitimate ruler.[16] Although this did not cost him his life and was spared, perhaps because of his great authority and his age. Another reason would the fact that he was Bilge Qaghan's father-in-law.[17]

During Bilgä's reignEdit

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

Chinese sources state that Bilgä Qaγan 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.[18] While Turks' power rested on their mobility, conversion to Buddhism would bring pacifism among population. Therefore sticking to Tengriism was necessary to survive.[19][20][21][22]

In 720 Tang chancellor Wang Jun proposed a plan to attack Bilgä Qaγan along with the Baximi, Xi, and Khitan.[23] Emperor Xuanzong also recruited Qapγan Qaγan's sons Bilgä Tegin and Mo Tegin, Yenisei Kyrgyz Qaγan Qutluğ Bilgä Qaγan 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 Eletmiš Bilgä Qatun and a father-in-law to Bilgä Qaγan, thus a grandfather to Yollïg and Teŋrï Qaγans.


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.[24] Yuan era Uyghur official Xie Wenzhi (楔文質), as well as Korean Gyeongju Seol clan claimed descent from Tonyukuk.[25]

He was mentioned and remembered in some Uyghur Manichaean texts later in Qocho.[26]

The Berlin Manichaean manuscript found in Qocho read as follows:[26]

Then the wise Toñuk(uk) spoke as follows: The Turk (nation) is ruined and has lost its chance of (salvation).

In popular cultureEdit


  1. ^ Schlegel, 1892, p. 13
  2. ^ Istanbul University Research Institute of Turkology (1979), I. Milletler Arası Türkoloji Kongresi: Türk dili ve edebiyatı, p. 381
  3. ^ İlhami DURMUŞ. "BİLGE TONYUKUK Tonyuquq the Wise" (in Turkish). 3 (1). Asya Araştırmaları Dergis. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ Peter B. Golden, (1992), An Introduction to the History of the Turkic People, p. 137
  5. ^ Ülkü (in Turkish). Türkiye Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi. 1937. p. 352.
  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. ^[bare URL PDF]
  10. ^ S. G. Klyashtorny 1966, pp. 202–205
  11. ^ Aydın, Erhan "On the name and titles of Tonyuquq", Türkbilig, 2019/37: 1–10
  12. ^ "National History Museum of Mongolia". 7 September 2019.
  13. ^ Atalay Besim (2006). Divanü Lügati't Türk. Turkish Language Association, ISBN 975-16-0405-2, p. 28, 453, 454
  14. ^ Aydın 2017, p. 104
  15. ^ Taşağıl 2004, p. 63
  16. ^ Dobrovits,M.:“Textological Structure and Political Message of the Old Turkic Runic Inscriptions”, Talât Tekin Armağanı, Türk Dilleri Araştırmaları 18 (2008), 149–153.
  17. ^ Denis Sinor (1990). The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia. Vol. 1. p. 312.
  18. ^ Denis Sinor (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Inner Asia, vol.1, Cambridge University Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-521-24304-9, 312–313.
  19. ^ Wenxian Tongkao, 2693a
  20. ^ New Book of Tang, vol 215-II
  21. ^ Golden 2002, p. 9
  22. ^ Ercilasun 2016, pp. 295–296
  23. ^ Old Book of Tang, Vol. 194-I
  24. ^ 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."
  25. ^ Brose, Michael C. (2007). Subjects and masters : Uyghurs in the Mongol Empire. Bellingham, WA, USA. pp. 169, 183–185. ISBN 9780914584292. OCLC 235941570.
  26. ^ a b Marcel Erdal; Chen Hao 陳浩 (2017). "The Khocho Toñukuk Tradition in Runiform, Uyghur and Chinese Sources // 探討高昌突厥石碑和維吾爾語、中文文獻上的暾欲谷記". Central Asiatic Journal. 60 (1–2): 109. doi:10.13173/centasiaj.60.1-2.0109. JSTOR 10.13173/centasiaj.60.1-2.0109.
  • 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 linksEdit