The Triumphs of Tonyukuk the Wise, Supreme Commander and Kingmaker
Today, the Tonyukuk the Wise Stelae are located on an extremely popular and historic 1,300-year-old memorial site. It is located northwest of Bayantsogt Mountain in Erdene Soum, Mongolia. Tonyukuk the Wise served as an advisor for three successive Khans in the Turkish Khaganate and for this he has been described as a kingmaker by some historians. The Memorial Complex is also known as the “Place of Sacrifice”!
The memorial site has two stelae with inscriptions, and with it there is an engraved stone platform. This engraved stone is called the kurgan stele and is broken at the top. In addition to this, this site also has other small standing stones, bricks, irrigation systems, and pottery.
Researchers have been studying Tonyukuk’s stelae since 1897. The monuments are believed to have been erected between AD 720 and AD 734.
A joint project led by the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and TIKA worked on the restoration and protection of Turkish monuments located in Mongolia. To support this initiative, fences are now being built around the memorial complex. The monuments are also now under the protection of the Mongolian state.
Wedge of Tonyukuk monuments in Mongolia. (Vezirtonyukuk / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
This site has suffered the wrath of the wind and sun damage, which has clouded some functionality and scripture.
About Tonyukuk the Wise
Tonyukuk was said to be the owner of pure and deep ideas. He is also called Bilgä (Bilge) Tuňuquq, with “Bilge” meaning “a master or a sage”. He was born in the Ashid tribe near the Tuul River in AD 646. He was born into a family of noble and powerful aristocrats. Tonyukuk took his last breath in AD 732, at the age of 86. But he accumulated a lot of achievements and recognition before the year 732.
Chinese sources claim that Tonyukuk’s real name was Yuanzhen and that he was familiar with Chinese traditions. Along with this, he was also aware of all the loopholes and loopholes in the Chinese walls and borders. When he was tasked with overseeing all the clans that surrendered to the post of military governor of Chanyu, he was fired and imprisoned by Changshih, a military governor.
During Qapyan’s reign, he served as an advisor for Kutulug Khan and Qapaghan Khan, after which he continued to work for Bilge Khan until his death. During Qapaghan Khan’s reign, he was sent with a marriage proposal to China, where Wu Zetian accepted the proposal. With the acceptance of this proposal, Wu Yanxiu was released on the orders of the Khagan. But in the long run, Emperor Zhongzhong changed the political climate, and the marriage was called off.
Shoroon Bumbagar wall tomb, Göktürk, 7th century, Mongolia. ( Public domain ) Tonyukuk the Wise was a supreme commander and advisor to four successive Göktürk Khagans.
Tonyukuk the Wise lyrics
There are 62 rows of Tonyukuk inscriptions on 8 different sides of the two monuments at the Bayn Tsokto site in Mongolia. To be precise, the first monument is 217 cm high (7.12 feet) and consists of the first 37 rows of the inscription on Tonyukuk the Wise. The second monument is 243 cm high (7.97 feet) and has rows 38 to 62 of the inscription.
The inscriptions were carved when Tonyukuk the Wise was still alive, as evidenced by the writing which reads: “But if a people, ruled by a Khagan in any country, would have only men of no value [at its head] what a misfortune it would not be. For the Turkish people of Bilge Khagan, I had this written. I am sage Tonyukuk.
With this inscription it is confirmed that Tonyukuk was alive when he had these inscriptions written.
Researchers have studied all of the inscriptions and say they say a lot about Tonyukuk’s perspective on the social situation at the time.
The 1st stele has inscriptions discussing:
- The revolt of the Turks in 681 against Tang China on the western side.
- War with the Oghuz Turks on the south side.
- The successful capture of 23 cities, as well as the plan to counterattack against possible neighboring alliances, on the east side.
- The defeat of Yenisei Kirghiz and a campaign in Turgesh on the north side.
Tonyukuk Stele 1. (atalarmirasi.org)
The 2nd stele mentions:
- The Battle of Boichu against the Turgesh and the annexation of Onoq territory of Turkestan on the west side.
- The annexation of 7 campaigns of Ilterish Qaghan for the Khitan people and Temir Kapig on the south side.
- Tonyukuk bragging about the east side.
- The epilogue, after all the victories, is mentioned on the inscription on the north side.
Explanation of Tonyukuk inscriptions
Here is a detailed explanation of all registrations by Tonyukuk the Wise on the first stele. These inscriptions aim to give an accurate description of social interactions and warfare in Tonyukuk’s time.
1st stele, west side
In this entry, Tonyukuk addressed himself as “I, sage Tonyukuk”. He wrote that when he was born he belonged to the Chinese Empire because all the Turkish people were under China at the time. He wondered if he would live to see the Turks get their own Khan.
Soon the Turkish people parted ways and found their own Khan. But they soon deposed their Khan and went to China. As a punishment for this submission, Heaven killed the Turkish people. The Turkish people finally fell into disrepair, languished and perished.
Copy of a plot of the west face of the Tonyukuk inscription. ( Public domain )
1st stele, south side
Tonyukuk addresses a whole community in this listing. He wrote: “We lived here and we fed ourselves”. Their mouths were full of food, but their enemies were all around them like birds of prey. It was their inescapable situation!
A few Turks stood up and demonstrated their bravery, and their Khan would have stood out at that time. The advisor was wise and the Chinese said if this Khan and his advisor survived they would kill them all. So the Chinese decided to attack them from the south and the Kitays from the east. They wanted to ensure that no Turkish people prosper.
They had 2000 men, and Heaven helped them cut up the enemies and throw them into the river, so that they could own the land of Otukan. Now the Turkish Khagan and the Turks have moved to the land of Otukan, and Tonyukuk the Wise has decided to settle in the land of Otukan as well. All the people who wandered West, North, East and South joined them in Otukan Land.
Mongolian Göktürk petroglyphs (6th to 8th century AD). ( Public domain )
1st stele, east side
The 2000 men were divided into 2 armies. These two armies reached the Shantung Plain and the sea but eventually found destruction. 23 towns were devastated and the camp was built at Usin Bundatu. The Chinese Emperor, Khagan of the Ten Arrows and the Kyrgyz were their enemies.
All the khagans gathered the council and asked them to meet in Altun, the mountain forest. And, so, they took the advice and argued by moving against the khagan of the Eastern Turks. They thought that if they didn’t move Tonyukuk the Sage would kill them without fail.
All the enemies united and planned to destroy Tonyukuk together. The khagans agreed and it made Tonyukuk restless. He then decided to march first against the Kyrgyz. The only Kogman road was closed due to snow, for which Tonyukuk decided it was not the right decision to go this route. He then found a man who guided him with a route from Ani. He could take the road, but with one horse at a time. He then decided that things were possible if he went in that direction.
1st stele, north side
Tonyukuk prepared the army for the march! He ordered the army to ride on the backs of their guts. While giving the order, he led the way through the snow. In the complex route, he asked the army to march while marching their horses behind them. Soon, on foot, the army crossed Ibar. And now the difficulty was to come down! They continued to walk on the barriers on the mountainside for ten long days. The walk continued, and when they crossed the river, they decided to tie the horses to the trees and walk forward.
After driving day and night, they came across the sleeping Kyrgyz people. The Khan and his army came together to fight the Kyrgyz and won. Their Khan was killed and the people submitted to Khagan and gave up. After that, they returned again by the side of the Kogan mountain forest to turn their backs on the Kyrgyz people.
Tonyukuk had a lot of willpower and he gave the army permission to march through the Altun mountain forest. There was no road and they had to cross the Irtish River. They walked all night and arrived in Bolshu in the morning.
Preserve and protect the memorial
This is a brief narration of Tonyukuk’s memorial and the inscriptions he left behind his war and important social interactions.
Tonyukuk Memorial Complex. ( atalarmirasi.org)
Researchers are still working to extract more historical information from these inscriptions. To aid in this pursuit, the Tonyukuk stelae are kept and under state protection.
By Bipin Dimri