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Yabgu (Jabgu, Djabgu, literally, "pioneer", "guide") was a state office in the early Turkic states, roughly equivalent to viceroy. The title carried autonomy in different degrees, and its links with the central authority of Kagan varied from economical and political subordination to superficial political deference.

The position of Yabgu was traditionally given to the second highest member of a ruling clan (Ashina), with the first member being the Kagan himself. Frequently, Yabgu was a younger brother of the ruling Kagan, or a representative of the next generation, called Shad (blood prince). Mahmud Kashgari defined the title Yabgu as "position two steps below Kagan", listing heir apparent Shad a step above Yabgu.[1 ].

As the centralized state disintegrated, the Yabgu was gaining more sovereignty, and historical records name a number of independent states with "Yabgu" being the title of the supreme ruler. One prominent example was the Oguz Yabgu state in Middle Asia, which was formed after the fragmentation of the Second Türkic Kaganate in the 840es. Another prominent example was the Karluk Yabgu, the head of the Karluk confederation which in the 766 occupied Suyab in the Jeti-su area, and eventually grew into a powerful Karakhanid state.[2]


Although believed by some to be a derivation from early Turkic davgu,[3] most scholars believe that that the word Yabgu is of Indo-European origin, and was perhaps borrowed by the Türks from the Kushan political tradition, preserved by the Hephtalites.[4] Peter B. Golden points out that there is also the possibility that the leaders of the Göktürk Empire, the Ashina, were themselves origianlly an Indo-European-speaking (possibly Iranian) clan who later adopted Turkic, but inherited their original Indo-European titles.[5] German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp writes that "a conspicuously large amount" of early Turkic titles are "in fact borrowings from Iranian", including "almost all of their titles".[6] Carter V. Findley also notes that "many elements of Non-Turkic origin became part of Türk statecraft [...] and [are] ever since in common use in Turkish,"[7] while explaning that the name Ashina itself "probably comes from one of the Iranian languages of Central Asia."[8] However, for the moment, the name yabgu defies any analysis as an Indo-European (compounded) form, whether it be Iranian or not.

Friedrich Hirth suggested that the earliest title "Yabgu" was recorded in literary Chinese with regard to Kushan contexts with transliteration Xihou "e-khu (yephou)" [1 ] (Chinese: 翖侯; literally "United/Allied/Confederated Prince"). However, the Chinese does not make clear whether the title was the one bestowed on foreign leaders or rather a descriptive title indicating that they were allied, or united.

The Chinese word sihou (<*xiap-g’u) is a title. The second hieroglyph hou (<g’u) of this transcription in ancient Chinese language meant a title of second hereditary noble of the five upper classes. The transcription sihou (<*xiap-g’u) corresponds to the title yavugo on the Kushan (Ch. Uechji) coins from Kabulistan, and yabgu of the ancient Türkic monuments [Hirth F. "Nachworte zur Inschrift des Tonjukuk" // ATIM, 2. Folge. StPb. 1899, p. 48-50]. This title is first of all a Kushan title, also deemed to be "true Tocharian" title[9]. In the 11 BC the Chinese Han captured a Kushan from the Hunnu state, who was a "chancellor" (Ch. sijan) with the title yabgu (sihou). After 4 years he returned to the Hunnu shanyu, who gave him his former post of a «second [after Shanyu] person in the state", and retained the title yabgu (sihou). The bearer of this high title did not belong to the Hunnu dynastic line, well-known and described in detail in the sources. Probably, he was a member of the numerous Kushan (Uechji) autonomous diasporas in the Hunnu confederation. This history suggests, that in the Usun state Butszü-sihou, who saved the life of a baby Gunmo in the 160es BC, also was an yabgu[10].

According to Turkologist Mark Hubey, the name designated the supreme leader of the pre-Christian-era, or Hunnish (Ch. Xiongnu) confederation centered in the Mongolian steppes, and was rendered in Han Dynasty Chinese as Chanyu, as its Chinese pronunciation of the time was probably closed to "zham-gu".

It remains unclear whether the title indicates an alliance with the Chinese or simply with each other. A few scholars, such as Sims-Williams considered the Turkic "Yabgu" to be originally derived from the Chinese "Xihou".[11] Another theory postulalates a Sogdian origin for both titles, "Yabgu" and "Shad". The rulers of some Sogdian principalities are known to have title "Ikhshid" [12]


  1. ^ a b Golgen P.B., "Khazar studies", Budapest, Vol. 2, 1980, pp. 188-190, ISBN 963-05-1548-2
  2. ^ W. Barthold, "Four Studies In History Of Central Asia", Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1962, Vol.1 p.87
  3. ^ Temporini, Hildegard; Haase, Wolfgang; "Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt", p738, 1976, ISBN 3110071754.
  4. ^ Klyashtorny S.G., Sultanov T.I., "States and peoples of Eurasian steppe", PB, SPb, 2004, ISBN 5-85803-255-9
  5. ^ Peter B. Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, O. Harrassowitz, 1992, p. 121-122
  6. ^ „(...) Über die Ethnogenese dieses Stammes ist viel gerätselt worden. Auffallend ist, dass viele zentrale Begriffe iranischen Ursprungs sind. Dies betrifft fast alle Titel (...). Einige Gelehrte wollen auch die Eigenbezeichnung türk auf einen iranischen Ursprung zurückführen und ihn mit dem Wort „Turan“, der persischen Bezeichnung für das Land jeneseits des Oxus, in Verbindung bringen.“ Wolfgang-Ekkehard Scharlipp in Die frühen Türken in Zentralasien, p. 18
  7. ^ Carter Vaughn Findley, Turks in World History, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 45: "... Many elements of Non-Turkic origin also became part of Türk statecraft [...] for example, as in the case of khatun [...] and beg [...] both terms being of Sogdian origin and ever since in common use in Turkish. ..."
  8. ^ "The linguistically non-Turkic name A-shih-na probably comes from one of the Iranian languages of Central Asia and means blue (...)" Carter Vaughn Findley, Turks in World History, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 39
  9. ^ Zuev Yu.A., "Early Türks: Essays of history and ideology", Almaty, Daik-Press, 2002, p.31, ISBN 9985-441-52-9
  10. ^ Zuev Yu.A., "Early Türks: Essays of history and ideology", Almaty, Daik-Press, 2002, p.32, ISBN 9985-441-52-9
  11. ^ The Western Regions according to the Hou Hanshu, Section 13 Translated by John E. Hill.
  12. ^ W. Barthold, "Four Studies In History Of Central Asia", Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1962, Vol.1 p.10


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