Ancient Turk Rock Inscriptions in the Talass Ala-Too
A Sogdian Word in an Old Turk Inscription
Sergey G. Klyashtorny
During the last several decades the fund of ancient Turk runic inscriptions from
the Talass province of Kirgizstan has been considerably expanded due to new
Along with the already known texts on separate rocks
1, several short graffiti
were found, significant both from the point of view of cultural history (because
inscriptions of this kind testify to the relatively widespread use of this kind
of runic script among the Turkish-speaking inhabitants of Tien Shan in the early
medieval period) as well as from the historical-linguistic perspective (for
these incriptions contain lexemes, the semantic range of which is not always
quite clear). Until recent only four Turk runic inscriptions from the Tereksaj
ravine were known2.
Several Sogdian inscriptions were found nearby.
In the autumn of 1981 three more rock inscriptions were found by the
expedition of the Institute of History and the Institute of Language and
Literature of the Kyrgiz Academy of sciences (directed by I. Kozhomberdiev and
Ch. Dzhumagulov) in the ravine of Kuru-Bakajyr (the Talass Ala-Too), 2500 mts.
above the sea level. One inscription was in Sogdian (studied by V.A. Livshits),
two other inscriptions were written in runic script (submitted to the author of
the present article for investigation).
Both inscriptions were carved on a low rock, on its south-east side facing
the Kuru-Bakajyr river (the Suuluu-Bakajyr basin) appoximately 2,5 km above its
mouth. Among the numerous petroglyphs covering the surface of the rock there are
images of humans in mushroom-shaped hats, of archers, ibexes, stags, wolves and
The first inscription is written in one line, 14 cm long, in the upper corner
of the south-east side of the rock. It contains six characters about 3 cm high (fig.
1). It is quite well preserved, so the letters can be easily distinguished.
Its palaeography is the same as of other Talass runic inscriptions; the initial
q in the word qut is reversed, which is a common feature in the
Enisej and Talass runic epigraphy.
The reading: qutčor. The name-title qutčor consists of two
components, each of them often found in Old Turk onomastics and titulature. The
word qut in runic texts probably had a more limited semantic range than
in the Ancient Uighur literature. Its lexical meaning was probably confined to
such notions as "princely charisma", "grace of heaven", "blessing"3.
In Old Turk titulature the derivative form qutluγ was commonly used
along with other titles combined with qut: ïduq qut (the title of
the chief of the Basmyl tribe, later of the Uighur princes of Turfan), qut
tengri xatunï (proper name)4,
bilge qutï (the title of Uighur nobles according to Juwaini)5.
The title čor, apparently of Iranian origin6,
was widespread among the highest nobility of the Western Turkish Qaganate. In
the 7th century it was the traditional title of the ruling dynasty of
the Talass valley (qara čor, qumar čor)7.
The second runic inscription (fig. 2) was carved in the
lower part of the same rock. It is one line of five characters 11 cm long, the
height of the letters is about 6 cm. It is drawn in rather shallow strokes upon
the uneven eroded surface of the stone. Its palaeography makes us date it to a
later period than the first inscription.
The reading: šarγa. It is one of the rare cases when a Sogdian word is
written in Turkish runic script: runic šarγa < Sogdian šaγw,
šrwγ (šarγaw, šaraγ) "lion", with an appropriate loss when adopted
into Turkish of the final billabial w.
Here the word was obviously written as a name or a part of a name, being a
calque (loan-translation) of the name-title arslan so widespread in the
Karluq-Qarahanid environment. Not only the choice of the alphabet but also the
form of linguistic adaptation shows that the author of the graffiti was a Turk,
and that the inscription can not be dated earlier than the late 9th
or 10th century. Sogdian šrγn was in use up to the beginning
of the 11th century. Cf. also Khotano-Saka śśargä (up to the
10th century). Classical Persian šēr appeared in Dari not
earlier than the late 8th or 9th century8.
1 V.A. Kallaur. Novye
arheologicheskie nahodki v Auleatinskom uezde. Protokoly i soobstcheniya
Turkestanskogo kruzhka lyubitelej arheologii. Year 3. Tashkent, 1897-1898;
M.E. Masson. K istorii otkrytiya drevneturetskih nadpisej v Srednej Azii.
Materialy Uzkomstarisa, fasc. 6-7, Moscow-Leningrad, 1936, p. 10-11; Ch.
Dzhumagulov. Epigrafika Kirgizii. Frunze, fasc. 1, 1963, p. 15-34, fasc. 2,
1982, p. 11-21; I.A. Batmanov. Talasskie pamyatniki drevnetyurkskoj
pis'mennosti. Frunze, 1971, p. 4-26.
2 S. Sadykov. Drevnie
nadpisi v ustchelyah Kulan-saj i Terek-saj. Materialy po obstchej tyurkologii i
dunganovedeniyu. Frunze, 1964, p. 103, 106; Ch. Dzumagulov. Epigrafika
Kirgizii, fasc. 2, p. 17-19. Pl. IV, 1, 2.
3 A. Bombači. Qutluγ
bolsun! A contribution to the history of the concept of "fortune" among the
Turks. – UAJ, Bd. 36, 1965, fasc. 3-4, p. 289-290; M. Mori. The T'u-chüeh
concept of Sovereign. – Acta Asiatica, Tokyo, 1981, no. 41, p. 58-74.
4 "Drevnetyurkskij Slovar" (Old
Turk Dictionary), Leningrad, 1969, p. 110.
5 G. Doerfer. Türkische
und Mongolische Elemente in Neupersischen. III. Wiesbaden, 1963-1975, S. 553.
6 P. Aalto. Iranian
contacts of the Turks in pre-Islamic times. "Studia Turcica", Budapest, 1971, p.
7 S.G. Klyashtorny. The
Date of the ancient inscriptions of Semirechie – "Altaica Osloensia".
Proceedings from the 32nd Meeting of the PIAC. Ed. by B. Brendemoen.
Oslo, 1990, p. 219-221.
8 I would like to thank V.A. Livshits and P.B. Lurie for consultation.
© The Author/s
Actualizado el 24/07/2004