Türgesh Kaganate
Capital Balasagun
Political structure Kaganate
Türgesh Kagans
   699-706 Yuzlik
Historical era 7th - 8th centuries
   Established 699
   Disestablished 766
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Western Turkic Kaganate
Second Turkic Khaganate
Uyghur Kaganate
History of the Turkic peoples
Pre-14th century
Turkic Khaganate 552–744
  Western Turkic
  Eastern Turkic
Khazar Khaganate 618–1048
Xueyantuo 628–646
Great Bulgaria 632–668
  Danube Bulgaria
  Volga Bulgaria
Kangar union 659–750
Turgesh Khaganate 699–766
Uyghur Khaganate 744–840
Karluk Yabgu State 756–940
Kara-Khanid Khanate 840–1212
  Western Kara-Khanid
  Eastern Kara-Khanid
Gansu Uyghur Kingdom 848–1036
Kingdom of Qocho 856–1335
Pecheneg Khanates
Kimek Khanate
Oghuz Yabgu State
Ghaznavid Empire 963–1186
Seljuk Empire 1037–1194
  Seljuk Sultanate of Rum
Kerait khanate 11th century–13th century
Khwarazmian Empire 1077–1231
Naiman Khanate –1204
Qarlughid Kingdom 1224–1266
Delhi Sultanate 1206–1526
  Mamluk dynasty
  Khilji dynasty
  Tughlaq dynasty
Golden Horde | [1][2][3] 1240s–1502
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo) 1250–1517
  Bahri dynasty
  Ottoman Empire 1299-1923

The Türgesh, Turgish or Türgish (Old Turkic: Türügesh,[4] 突騎施/突骑施, Pinyin: tūqíshī, Wade-Giles: t'u-ch'i-shih) were a Turkic tribal confederation that emerged from the ruins of the Western Turkic Kaganate. In time, the Turgesh, themselves a branch of the greater Tardush (Tulu, Dulo) subdivision of the On Okh (Onoq, Ten Arrows) or Western Turks, managed to build up a considerable if short-lived Kaganate (699-766), attested by minting of Türgesh coins. Presently, the ethnonym Türgesh survived in the name of seok (modern tribe) Tirgesh among Altaians.[5]


The Turgesh were a group of Duolu tribes believed to have originated from the Turuhe tribe, who had appeared earlier on the banks of the Tuul River.

Among them were the Chebishi (车鼻施), who were related to the Qibi tribe. The Qibi were dispersed shortly after the defeat of chief Gelang. In the east they were put under the rule of a tudun (吐屯) named Ashina Hubo (阿史那斛勃), who became known as the Chebi Kagan.

According to the epigraphy of Qibi Song (契苾嵩), a Tiele mercenary in Chinese service (730), The origin of the Qibi can be traced to the Khangai Mountains prior to their presence at the Bogda Mountains in the 6th century. They were related to the Jiepi (解批) of Gaoche, who were situated east of the Fufuluo.[6]

In 610, Shekui subdued Tashkent, a vassal territory of Chuluo, and installed his tigin (特勤). He also formed a political marriage with Samarkand and subdued its surrounding cities. In the following year, he defeated Chuluo and established his capital over the Khan Tengri (三弥山).[7] After his death, his younger brother Tong Yabgu Qaghan took over. During his reign, the Western Kaganate reached its height of power, reaching to Sassanid Persia to the west and Bagram in the south. The capital was moved further west to the springs (千泉) north of Tashkent, to secure the area beyond.

Tong attacked and occupied Tokharistan (吐火罗), and a royal personage from the Ashina clan was sent over to command the region. Xuanzang, a contemporary pilgrim who visited the area, related how the Turks had overlorded the country. A later pilgrim, Hyecho, commented that both the ruling elite and troops in the region were the Tujue, whereas the natives were the Hu. Most of the local kings who came under the rule of the Turks at this time were converted to ilteber (颉利发), and supervised by the tudun. According to Chinese sources, under Tong the Turks advanced into the Sassanid empire and killed Khosrau II. His son ascended to the throne but died a year later, and the Turks killed Khosrau II's daughter. These accounts are highly exaggerated and fabricated by the Turks, since they were in alliance with Eastern Roman empire which was in war with Persia. Roman emperor who advanced to Persian capital, scared the Persian noble family and crown prince who murdered Persian king to ask for the peace. Turks only attacked the border towns in Caucasus region to open a new front while the main Persian armies were fighting Romans in Asia minor. When one of the Persian armies moved toward Caucasus region, Turks withdrew in a hurry, and drove back to their territory.

Tong seems to have been known as the Djeboukha-Khan by the Armenian author Moses (of Kaghankatouts).[8]

In 621 he proposed a marriage alliance with the Chinese and planned an attack on the Eastern Kaganate in the next winter, but the plan was obstructed by Illig. Another proposal was made in 625, when the Chinese state was under heavy attack.

Due to his failure to expand eastwards, his reputation among the Duolu tribes diminished. Many tribes including the Qarluq defected to the Eastern Kaganate. In 630, he was murdered by his uncle Sipi, and for decades the Turks struggled among themselves for the throne.[9]

Foundation of the Turgesh Kaganate

The foundation of the Türgesh Kaganate was precipitated by anti-Ashina Türgesh rebellion. The counter-Ashina movement of Türgeshes ended in 699 with a capture of Suyab. The founder of the first dynasty of the Türgesh state before the enthronization was a Tutuk (commander) of the Talas district and a town Balu, which name symbolizes some sacred relation to a divine or heavenly sphere. The first Türgesh Kagan was called Yuzlik (Chinese transcription means "black substance"), he was a leader of the Manichaean consortium yüz er "hundred men". In 706 his son Sakal inherited him. Both first Kagans had a church rank of Yuzlik. Their residence (Great horde) was in the city Suyab in the valley of the river Chu. Sakal younger brother Chjenu dissented, but unable to take the throne in Suyab asked for military support from the Eastern Türkic Kapagan-Kagan, starting a cruel Eastern Türkic campaign against Türgeshes in 708 that ended with the death of Chjenu.[10]

Türük (singular form of Türküt) rule was shaky at best, since the entire Onoq quadrant teemed with rebellion. Despite defeating the rebels again in 714, the Göktürks/Türküt couldn't subdue them. Three years later the Kara Turgesh elected Suluk as their Kagan. The new ruler moved his capital to Balasagun in the Chu valley, receiving the homage of several chieftains formerly bond to the service of Bilge Kagan of the Türküt. Suluk acted as a bulwark against further Umayyad encroachment from the south: the Arabs had indeed become a major player in recent times, though Islam hadn't made many converts in central Asia at the time (majority conversion would take another two to three centuries).

Tang China

In Chinese sources the Türgesh name first appeared in 651, by that time they dwelt in Ili Valley, and disappears after 766. The Turgesh Kaganate seems to have come into existence towards the end of the 7th century, after a massive revolt against the Western Turkic khan, a Chinese puppet. The Turgesh leader was Ushyly (Wushile), who titled himself Baga Tarkhan and led a strong army to victory, putting the puppet khan to full speed flight.

Ushyly Kagan then decided to ally with Tang China and the Kyrgyz people to stem the rise of the Second Göktürk Empire, ruled by Khapghan Kagan. Turgesh and Göktürks/Türküts clashed in 698 in a battle fought at Bolchu (in modern Dzungaria) where the latter side, led by Bilge Tonyukuk, prevailed: the Yabgu (Ruler of West) and Shad (Ruler of East) of the Turgesh were killed and Ushyly Kagan himself was taken prisoner and had to concede vassalage.

Eight years after this burning defeat, Ushyly died and was replaced by his son, Soko, who fought to retain independence from the Göktürks/Türküts. He was defeated in 701 in Transoxiana, southeast of Samarkand, again by Tonyukuk, and finally in 711, when he was killed at Bolchu against Kül Tigin and Bilge Shad as he was trying to strike an alliance with Tang China. The Turgesh were put under the rule of Bars Bek; as we know from the Orkhon Inscriptions in those years the main subdivision in Kara (Black) and Sary (Yellow) Turgesh was established. Maybe sensing the impending disaster, Soko's brother Chenu had revolted even before the battle and fled to the court of Kapagan Kagan.

Umayyad Caliphate

Map of Transoxiana in the 8th century

Part of Transoxiana was conquered by Qutayba ibn Muslim between 706 and 715 and loosely held by the Umayyads from 715.

Suluk's aim was to reconquer all of Transoxiana from the Arab invaders, his war being paralleled, much more westwards, by the Khazar empire. In 721 Turgesh forces, led by Kül Chor, defeated the Caliphal army commanded by Sa'id ibn Abdu'l-Aziz near Samarkand. Sa'id's successor, Al-Kharashi, massacred Turks and Sogdian refugees in Khujand, causing an influx of refugees towards the Turgesh. In 724 Caliph Hisham sent a new governor to Khorasan, Muslim ibn Sa'id, with orders to crush the "Turks" once and for all, but, confronted by Suluk in the so-called "Day of Thirst", Muslim hardly managed to reach Samarkand with a handful of survivors, as the Turgesh raided freely.

A string of subsequent appointees of Hisham were soundly defeated by Suluk, who in 728 took Bukhara and later on still inflicted defeats such as the Battle of the Defile upon the Arabs, discrediting Umayyad rule and perhaps putting the foundations for the Abbasid Revolt. The Turgesh state was at its apex, controlling Sogdiana, the Ferghana Valley. In 732 two large Arab expeditions to Samarkand managed, if with heavy losses, to reestablish Caliphal authority in the area; Suluk renounced his ambitions over Samarkand and abandoned Bukhara, withdrawing north.

In 734 an early Abbasid follower, al-Harith ibn Surayj, rose in revolt against Umayyad rule and took Balkh and Marv before defecting to the Turgesh three years later, defeated. In winter 737 Suluk, along with his allies al-Harith, Gurak (a Turco-Sogdian leader) and men from Usrushana, Tashkent and Khuttal to launch a final offensive. He entered Jowzjan but was defeated by the Umayyad governor Asad at the Battle of Kharistan.

Decline and internecine strife

The defeat meant death for Suluk - as soon as he was back in Balasaghun he was murdered at the hands of Baqa Dagan, leader of the Sary (Yellow) Turgesh. This, in turn, laid the foundations for the early demise of the Turgesh empire, as other nobles installed Suluk's son Kül-chor as khagan. When Suluk was killed the Kara and Sary (Black and Yellow) Turgesh began a civil war. Kül-chor of the Sary Turgesh vanquished his rival Tumoche of the Kara Turgesh and ascended to khanship. Baqa Dagan asked Chinese for help. In 739 Chinese general Gai Jiayun (蓋家運) captured Kül-chor and tens of thousands Turgesh remnants were sent to Farghana, Chinese reasserted control in the steppes. In 742 Baqa Dagan killed the Turgesh puppet sent by Chinese court and declared himself khagan. He was then killed by Chinese in 744. The last ruler declared himself a vassal of Moyun Chor, the ruling Kagan of the recently born Orkhon Uyghur empire. The Turgesh civil war came to a sudden end only in 766, when annals record that the Karluks smashed the Turgesh Kaganate. Their name simply disappears from history.


  1. Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2006). Peoples of Western Asia. p. 364.
  2. Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (2007). Historic Cities of the Islamic World. p. 280.
  3. Borrero, Mauricio (2009). Russia: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. p. 162.
  4. Bilge kagan’s Memorial Complex, TÜRIK BITIK
  5. Baskakov N.A., "Dialects of Taiga Tatars, Taba-kishi. Texts and translations", Moscow, 1965, p.9
  6. Xue, "A History of Turks", p. 641-642.
  7. Xue, A History of Turks, p. 282-284.
  8. Xue, A History of Turks, p. 284-287.
  9. Xue, "A History of Turks", p. 288-289.
  10. Yu. Zuev, "Early Türks: Essays on history and ideology", Almaty, Daik-Press, 2002, p. 207, 209, 239, ISBN 9985-4-4152-9
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