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Tiele 鐵勒, Tölöš

Feb 9, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald

Tölöš, Chinese rendering Tiele 鐵勒, is a common designation for the various Türkish peoples that lived in the northwestern regions between the 5th and the 9th century. The equation Tiele=Tölöš (or Tölis) is scholarly not finally established, but neverthless commonly used. Other Chinese designations for the early Türkish peoples were Dili 狄歷, Dingling 丁零, or Chile 敕勒. A non-phonetic name was Gaoche 高車 "High carts", which is explained by the large wheels the Türkish wagons disposed of. All these terms, as well as the name for the federation that established the Türkish khanate, Tujue 突厥, do not clearly discern between ethnic groups, so that it is difficult to tell them apart. The designation Toquz oγuz "Nine Oghuz Tribes", later used for the Uyghurs 回紇, was probably an original collective name for the Tölöš.

Traditional Chinese histories say the Tölöš were descendants of the Xiongnus 匈奴 federation that ruled over the northern steppe between 200 BCE and 200 CE, yet whose ethnic stock is far from clear. At the end of the 4th century the most powerful steppe federation was that of the Rourans 柔然, to which the Tölöš did not belong. Chinese sources say that the Türkish Gaoche federation consisted of six tribes, the most important of which where the Hulü 斛律 and the Yuange 袁紇 (i.e. the Uyghurs). The Rouran khan Shelun 社崙 (r. 402-410) attacked the Gaoche, but he was defeated by Beihouli 倍侯利, chieftain of the Hulü.

During their campaigns against the Rourans, the Northern Wei empire 北魏 (386-534) sometimes clashed with Gaoche troops. Yet from the early 5th century on the Gaoche migrated more to the south, some of them became peasants, but the greatest part of them was still pastoral nomads and supplied the Northern Wei empire with horses, camels and cattle. Yet the Gaoche resisted the Northern Wei in their plan to use Gaoche troops as auxiliary forces in the war against the Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420~589), and therefore the Gaoche under the leadership of the Yuange (Uyghurs) withdrew to the north. Half a century later the Gaoche federation consisted of twelve tribes, the strongest of which were the Fufuluo 副伏羅. Their chieftain Afuzhiluo 阿伏至羅 made war with the Rourans and migrated to the west, where he founded a kingdom in Gaochang 高昌 that he called Houloufule 候婁匐勒 (meaning "Grand Son of Heaven"). This was the earliest Türkish state that did not survive for long because it was attacked by the Yeda 嚈噠 ("Hephthalites") from the west and the Rourans from the east.

When Ashina Tumen 阿史那土門 founded the federation of the Türks after the disintegration of the Rouran federation in 555, the Tölöš became part of it, and also separted into two branches when the Türkish federation fell apart into the Eastern and the Western Türkish khanate. Those migrating to the south adopted the name Chile, those remaining in the north were called Tölöš (Tiele). In the early 7th century the Western Tölöš rose weapons against the Western Türks and defeated Nili Khan 泥利可汗. Their insurgence was cruelly suppressed by Nijuechuluo Khan 泥撅處羅可汗, and all tribal leaders of the Tölöš were massacred.

The Tölöš thereupon approached Ge-leng 歌楞, leader of the tribe of the Qibi 契苾, and made him Yi-wu zhen-mo-he Khan 易勿真莫何可汗. They likewise made Yi-shi-bo 乙失鉢, leader of the tribe of the Syr-Tarduš 薛延陀, Yedie Khan 也咥可汗 (Lesser Khan). The Great Khan resided near Mt. Hanhan 貪汗山 (modern Bogdoshan 博格多山, Xinjiang), while the Lesser Khan resided near Mt. Yanmo 燕末山. They were able to force Nijuechuluo Khan into exile, sent an envoy to the court of the Sui empire 隋 (581-618) and suggested making Datou Khan's 達頭 grandson Shegui Khan 射匱可汗 of the Türkish federation. After this had happened, the two khans laid off their titles and the Tölöš were willing to be vassals of the Türks again.

The most important tribes of the Tölöš mentioned in Chinese sources to the early Tang period 唐 (618-907) are the Syr-Tarduš, the Qibi, Huihe 回紇 (Uyghurs), Pugu 僕骨, Bayegu 拔野古 (Dilie 敵烈 ?) Tongluo 同羅, Hun 渾, Sijie 思結, Huxue 斛薛, Xijie 奚結, Adie 阿迭 and Baixi 白霫. The strongest of these were the Syr-Tarduš, whose chieftain Yinan 夷男 was invested as Zhen-zhu-pi-jia Khan 真珠毗伽可汗 by the Tang court. From that time on he was head of the federation of the Tölöš, which was in fact dominated by the Syr-Tarduš. The Tölöš's belligerent activities against Jieli Khan 頡利可汗 of the Eastern Türks critically contributed to their defeat by the Tang empire in 630. They accepted the Tang emperor as the "Heavenly Khan" (tian kehan 天可汗). Yet in 646 Tang troops destroyed the federation of the Syr-Tarduš, and emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649) personally received the embassador of the Tölöš in Lingzhou 靈州. A year later the territory of the Tölöš was divided into area commands (dudufu 都督府) and indirectly administrated prefectures (jimizhou 羈縻州), each of which administrated by a tribal leader.

  • Huihe 回紇: area command of Wohai 濣海都督府
  • Duolange 多濫葛: area command of Yanran 燕然都督府
  • Pugu 僕骨: area command of Jinwei 金微都督府
  • Bayegu 拔野古: area command of Youling 幽陵都督府
  • Tongluo 同羅: area command Guilin 龜林都督府
  • Hun 渾: prefecture of Gaolan 皋蘭州
  • Huxue 斛薛: prefecture of Gaoque 高闕州
  • Adie 阿迭: prefecture of Jitian 雞田州
  • Qibi 契苾: prefecture of Yuxi 楡溪州
  • Xijie 奚結: prefecture of Jilu 雞鹿州
  • Sijie 思結: prefecture of Tilin 蹄林州
  • Baixi 白霫: prefecture of Tianyan 寘顔州

In the 680s the Later Türkish empire was created, and the Tölöš again became part of this federation. This khanate was destroyed by the Uyghurs, who integrated the Tölöš in their own khanate in the 740s. The name Tölöš (Tiele) disappers in Chinese sources from the 10th century on.

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Cheng Shuoluo 程溯洛 (1986). "Tiele 鐵勒", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Minzu 民族 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 422.
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Guo Pingliang 郭平梁 (1992). "Tiele 鐵勒", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Zhongguo lishi 中國歷史 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu), Vol. 2, 1142.
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