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Turco-Mongol tradition

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Asia in 1335

Turco-Mongol or the Turko-Mongol tradition was an ethnocultural synthesis that arose in Asia during the 14th century, among the ruling elites of Mongol Empire's successor states. These elites adopted Islam (from previous religions like Tengrism) while retaining Mongol political and legal institutions.[1]



The Mongols under Genghis Khan (1162-1227) created in 1206 one of the largest land-based empires in history, permanently joining much Eurasia into one political system. Since then, there has existed a portion of Mongolian society that adopted Turkic languages. For example, from the modern Mongolian ethnic group, the Uriankhai, who live in the Xinjiang (Western China) and in the western part of Mongolia, speak the Tuvan language (one of the Turkic languages) as their native language. Nations of Turkic nomadic people such as the Göktürks and Uighurs and ethnic groups that spoke Turkic languages such as Naimans and Ongud lived in the Mongolian Plateau during the time of Genghis Khan.

Subsequently, the Mongol Empire's domain was split between the Ilkhanate in western Asia, Chagatai Khanate in south-central Asia, and the Golden Horde in the northwestern sector. Since the Mongolians who emigrated towards these west areas were the minorities, and included some people who spoke Turkic languages, they assimilated into the native Turkic groups, soon adopting Turkic languages and Islam to their culture.

In Iran, which used to be a part of Ilkhanate, the native Iranians became civil officials, the Turkic nomads became soldiers, and the Mongolians are thought to have assimilated with the Turkic soldiers. People in the northwestern region of Iran (such as the regions of Azerbaijan) also become Turkic. Most of the native Turkic nomads in the Golden Horde were not Muslims, but converted to Islam, and the Kipchak language (one of the Turkic languages) became common in the Caucasus region.[2]



Tengrism is an ancient religion, especially with people in Central Asia including the Huns and Mongolians. Tengrism's primary deity is called Tengri. However, there are no clerics in the religion, so it is not known for having distinct doctrines. Tengrism emphasizes harmony with the surrounding environment and considers natural resources to be sacred. In particular, water was more valuable in the Central Asian prairies where there were many followers of Tengrism. The Tengrism faith is still ongoing, though the exact number of practitioners is unknown.

The early Mongol rulers, though followers of Tengri, were tolerant of other religions. One of the unique features of Tengriism is its non-dogmatism. It does not force its dogma on other religious. The Mongol rulers believed that they were the sons of Tengri and they could rule as long as they were upright and followed the laws of Tengri. If they became wayward, Tengri would withdraw his grace and support, and the ruler would fall.[3]


Before the time of Genghis Khan, Turkic peoples and Mongols exchanged words between each other, with Turkic languages being more active than Mongolian.[4] A much earlier Turco-Mongol tradition existed in, as evidenced by the extensive lexical borrowings from Proto-Turkic in the Proto-Mongolic language from around at least the first millennium BCE. Turkic and Mongolic languages share extensive borrowed similarities in their personal pronouns, among other lexical similarities, which seem to date to before this era and already existed before the breakup of the Turkic people around 500 BCE.[4]

A still more ancient period of prolonged language contact between Turkic and Mongol languages is indicated by further and more fundamental phonotactic, grammatical, and typological similarities (e.g. synchronic vowel harmony, lack of grammatical gender, extensive agglutination, highly similar phonotactic rules and phonology).[4] In the past, such similarities were attributed to a genetic relationship and led to the widespread acceptance of an Altaic language family. More recently, due to the lack of a definitive demonstration of genetic relationship, these similarities have been divided into at these three known periods of language contact. The similarities have led to the proposal of a Northeast Asian sprachbund instead, which also includes the Tungusic, Korean, and Japonic language families, although Turkic and Mongolic display the most extensive similarities.

According to recent aggregation and research, there are doublets, which are considered to be the same in terms of their roots, found in the vocabulary in Mongolian language and Turkic loanwords. Also, inside the Mongolian vocabulary that are derived from other languages, Turkic is the most common.[5]


Turco-Mongols lived and many continue to live a pastoral nomadic lifestyle, and migrated according to season. This was to ensure that grass was always available for the animals while avoiding overgrazing. They grazed livestock such as sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and horses. All of these were sources of food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and fuel.[6] Khan of Khitai used the skins of dogs for clothing and food sources. However, in the 12th century, Turco-Mongol tribes consisted of two main groups: the pastoralists and forest hunter-fishers. Forest hunters lived around Lake Baikal, the source of River Yenisey, and the upper reaches of River Irtysh. Both groups tended and raised livestock, grew crops, and cultivated land.[7]

Turco-Mongol society was patriarchal. Clans were divided into sub clans that were exogamous meaning a potential spouse had to be from a different clan.[7] Marriage was often arranged; however, some were forced marriages. For example, when brides were not offered willingly, tribes abducted brides. This was a cause of disputes between different clans, and it was the basis of cross-generational feuds including the Borjigid and Temüjin clans.[7] However, in cases where marriages were agreed, it was usually between clan elders and were often a political or commercial agreement. In Turco-Mongol society, polygyny was practiced by those who could afford it. Under the polygynic society, the first wife always maintained her status as chief wife. However, these traditions were later broken by Dokuz Khatun.[7]

In Turco-Mongolian history, when marrying a woman from a superior family, men used to be required to make a payment to the bride's family because the groom had to prove himself to his in-laws. Turco-Mongolian society also tended to rely on matrilineality rather than patrilineality. However, the Ottoman Empire later abolished this system.[7]


Turco-Mongols had a great influence on many empires and dynasties. During the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and the Tang Dynasty (618-907) many Turco-Mongols were part of the political elite. In Turco-Mongol society, kinship was another major method used to maintain power.[8] Turko-Mongols were often patrimonial rulers meaning all powers flowed directly from the ruler. However, many Turco-Mongol leaders viewed their kingdom as a family. They often had three types of clients: personal retainers, guard corps members, and chief of tribes and tribal unions.[9]

Personal retainers living within the rulers boundaries were provided with food, drink, and clothing by the rulers themselves. The second group were important for maintaining control and militaristic power. They took up roles as bodyguards and also were part of military of individual tribes or larger khanates. The latter group played an important role in Turco-Mongol society as allegiances within these groups were necessary in order to build and maintain power. For Turco-Mongol leaders it was crucial for them to place loyal clients into positions with high authority in order to strengthen their rule on the steppe. One political strategy used to gain and maintain power was through diplomatic marriage or heqin. The Turco-Mongols would send family members to marry emperors from the Sui and Tang Dynasty. This was to provide economic and political alliances.[10]

Many dynasties established between 1000 and 1500 BCE were founded by Turco-Mongol elites who had come from Inner Asia.[11] The model of imperial confederacy was implemented by the Turco-Mongols. They implemented policies of extortion which were successful in Inner Asia.[11] This facilitated imperial control over tribes and provinces.[11] However, less successfully implemented policies included the Turco-Mongol tradition of increasing revenue by raiding or extortion. However, although these worked in Inner Asia, these policies was a threat for regional economic life.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Beatrice Forbes Manz (1989). The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge University Press. pp. 6–9. ISBN 978-0-521-34595-8.
  2. ^ Komatsu Hisao (author and editor),『テュルクを知るための61章』,明石書店, 2016.
  3. ^ Dalai (October 7, 2015). "The Ancient Religion of Tengriism". Discover Mongolia. Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c Janhunen, Juha (2013). "Personal pronouns in Core Altaic". In Martine Irma Robbeets; Hubert Cuyckens (eds.). Shared Grammaticalization: With Special Focus on the Transeurasian Languages. p. 221.
  5. ^ Nakashima, Y. (n.d.). 語彙借用に見るモンゴル語とチュルク語の言語接触: 特にカザフ語及びトゥヴァ語との比較を中心として(Rep.). Retrieved from論文.pdf
  6. ^ Skaff, J. K. (2012). Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power, and Connections, 580-800 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ,p.33
  7. ^ a b c d e Lane, G. (2018). A Short History of the Mongols. London: I.B. Tauris.
  8. ^ Skaff, J. K. (2012). Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power, and Connections, 580-800 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ,p.15
  9. ^ Skaff, J. K. (2012). Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power, and Connections, 580-800 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ,p.77
  10. ^ Skaff, J. K. (2012). Sui-Tang China and Its Turko-Mongol Neighbors: Culture, Power, and Connections, 580-800 (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. ,p.238
  11. ^ a b c Khoury, S.; Kostiner, J. (1991). Tribes and State formation in the Middle East. London: I.B.Tauris.