Tong Yabghu Qaghan

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Tong Yabghu Qaghan
Qaghan of the Western Turkic Khaganate
Predecessor Sheguy
Successor Baghatur Qaghan
House Ashina
Religionprobably Buddhism [1] or Tengrism

Tong Yabghu Qaghan (r. 618–628 or 630 [2] ) (also known as T'ung Yabghu, Tong Yabghu Khagan, and Tong Yabğu, Traditional Chinese 統葉護可汗, Simplified Chinese: 统叶护可汗, pinyin Tǒng Yèhù Kěhán, Wade-Giles: T'ung Yeh-hu K'o-han; < Middle Chinese: *t'uong d'źiap-ġuo k'â-ġân [3] ) was khagan of the Western Turkic Khaganate from 618 to 628 AD. Tong Yanghu was the brother of Sheguy (r. 611–618), the previous khagan of the western Göktürks, and was a member of the Ashina clan; [4] his reign is generally regarded as the zenith of the Western Göktürk Khaganate. [5]



His name is transcribed with Chinese character 統, which means "main silk thread > guideline, [6] to unite, to command, to govern". [7] Karakhanid scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari, writing in the 11th century, glossed toŋa in Middle Turkic as basically meaning tiger. [8] Gerard Clauson argues against Kashgari and states that toŋa means vaguely "hero, outstanding warrior". [9]


Gokturk khaganates at their height, c. 600 AD East-Hem 600ad.jpg
Göktürk khaganates at their height, c. 600 AD

Tong Yabghu maintained close relations with the Tang dynasty of China, and may have married into the Imperial family. [10] The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang visited the western Göktürk capital Suyab in modern Kyrgyzstan and left a description of the khagan. Scholars believe the khagan described by Xuanzang was Tong Yabghu. [11] Gao and La Vaissière argue that the khagan Xuanzang met was his son Si Yabghu, rather than Tong Yabghu. [12] [13] Xuanzang described the khagan as follows:

The khan wore a green satin robe; his hair, which was ten feet long, was free. A band of white silk wound round his forehead and hung down behind. The ministers of the presence, [14] numbering two hundred in number, all wearing embroidered robes, stood on his right and left. The rest of his military retinue [was] clothed in fur, serge and fine wool, the spears and standards and bows in order, and the riders of camels and horses stretched far out of [sight]. [15]

According to the Old Book of Tang , Tong Yabghu's reign was once considered as the golden age of Western Göktürk Khaganate:

Tong Yehu Kaghan is a man of bravery and astuteness. He is good at art of war. Thus he controlled Tiele tribes to the north, confronted Persia to the west, connected with Kasmira (nowadays Kashmir) to the south. All countries are subjected to him. He controlled ten thousands of men with arrow and bow, establishing his power over the western region. He occupied the land of Wusun and moved his tent to Qianquan north of Tashkent. All of the princes of western region assumed the Turk office of Jielifa. Tong Yehu Kaghan also sent a Tutun to monitor them for imposition. The power of Western Turks had never reached such a state before". [16]

Campaigns against Persia

Sassanian fortress in Derbent, built to protect against nomads from the north. Derbent played a vital role in Tong Yabghu's campaigns against Persia. Derbent winter.jpg
Sassanian fortress in Derbent, built to protect against nomads from the north. Derbent played a vital role in Tong Yabghu's campaigns against Persia.

Tong Yabghu's empire fought with the Sassanids of Iran. In the early 620's the khagan's nephew Böri Shad led a series of raids across the Caucasus Mountains into Persian territory. Many scholars have identified Tong Yabghu as the Ziebel[ dubious ] mentioned in Byzantine sources as having (as khagan of the Khazars) campaigned with the Emperor Heraclius in the Caucasus against the Sassanid Persian Empire in 627–628. [17] It has long been maintained by some scholars, including Chavannes, Uchida, Gao and Xue Zhongzeng that Tong Yabghu cannot be positively identified with Ziebel (or any Khazar ruler) and may actually have died as early as 626. These scholars point to discrepancies in the dates between Byzantine and Chinese sources and argue that definitively conflating Ziebel with Tong Yabghu is an exaggeration of the extant evidence. [12] [18] The latest research on this topic proves that they were right: if Tong indeed died in 628, Ziebel is to be identified with Sipi khagan, Tong Yabghu's uncle, who murdered him and rose briefly to the throne. [19] Sipi was by then pronounced Zibil and he was a small khagan in charge of the western part of Tong Yabghu's empire, exactly as Ziebel was according to the Byzantine sources. Ziebel is described as the brother of Tong in the Byzantine sources, and as his uncle in the Chinese sources, a discrepancy which long precluded the identification. However uncle and elder brother is the same word in ancient Turkish, äçi, and the Chinese sources could not render this double meaning with their very precise system of kinship names. [20]

The 20-metre-high Gates of Alexander stretched between the Caspian seashore and the Caucasus for forty kilometers; they are still in existence. Derbent wall.jpg
The 20-metre-high Gates of Alexander stretched between the Caspian seashore and the Caucasus for forty kilometers; they are still in existence.


Tong Yabghu appointed governors or tuduns to manage the various tribes and people under his overlordship. [11] In all likelihood Tong Yabghu's nephew Böri Shad, and son of Zibil/Ziebel was the commander of the Khazars, the westernmost of the tribes owing allegiance to the Western Göktürks; this branch of the family may have provided the Khazars with their first khagans in the mid seventh century. [21]


In ca. 630 he was murdered by Külüg Sibir, his uncle and a partisan of the Dulu faction. Following the death of Tong Yabghu, the might of the Western Göktürks largely collapsed. Although the khaganate lingered for a few decades before falling to the Chinese Empire, many of the client tribes became independent and a number of successor states, including the Khazar Khaganate and Great Bulgaria, became independent. [22]


He had at least 2 sons:


  1. Allchin Raymond Allchin (2019). The Archaeology of Afghanistan: From Earliest Times to the Timurid Period: New Edition. pp. 5–96. Tong Yabgu was favourably inclined towards Buddhism...
  2. 628 from Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 193. 630 in Baumer,2,198, Christian, p260, Sinor,309 has alive in 630. Baumer starts the reign c617.
  3. Golden, P.B. An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples. Series: Turcologica, 9. Wiesbaden: Otto-Harrassowitz. p. 135, 71
  4. Christian 260
  5. Golden, Nomads 30.
  6. Zadrapa, L. (2017). Structural Metaphor at the Heart Of Untranslatability in Ancient Chinese and Ancient Chinese Texts: a Preliminary Study Of The Case Of The Lexical Field of 'Norm'" in Philologica. Vol. 4. Charles University: Karolinum Press. p. 42.
  7. Xue 284
  8. Maħmūd al-Kašğari (1982). Robert Dankoff; James Kelly (eds.). Dīwān Luğāt al-Turk. Sources of Oriental Languages and Literature. Vol. 2. p. 337.
  9. Clauson, Gerard (1972). An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth-Century Turkish. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 515.
  10. Golden, Introduction 135. According to Chinese historical sources, the marriage was never carried out because of interference by the Eastern Göktürk Illig Qaghan, whose territory sat between his territory and Tang territory and who felt threatened by the proposed marriage. Zizhi Tongjian , vol. 192.
  11. 1 2 Christian 260.
  12. 1 2 Gao 113.
  13. La Vaissière 2010. If 630 is correct for Xuanzang the son business must be related to the 628 death date.
  14. "ta-Kuan"", probably tarkhan is intended; see Christian 260.
  15. Adapted from Watters I:74,77.
  16. Ying, Lin. Western Turks and Byzantine gold coins found in China - Transoxiana
  17. The campaign is described in detail in the Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor. The identification of Ziebel as "Khagan of the Khazars" rather than of the Western Turks is likely because the Khazars, as Göktürk vassals, made up the largest contingent of the Göktürk army with whom the Greeks had contact. Klyashtorny 96–97; Golden, Introduction 135; Christian 260.
  18. E.g., Xue 286–289.
  19. La Vaissière 2013.
  20. La Vaissière 2010b
  21. Christian 283; Artamanov 170–180.
  22. E.g., Christian 260–285.

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Preceded by Qaghan of the Western Turkic Khaganate
Succeeded by