How Was the State Managed in Ancient Turks?

21 mins read
How Was the State Managed in Ancient Turks?

How Was the State Managed in Ancient Turks?

We examine what the administrative codes of the old Turks say about the need for today’s management system, from the concept of Kut to the dual organization, from the ideal of world domination to the toy.

Even though the presidential system debates flare up with the effect of current winds, we turn our face to history, to the old Turks. Here are the projections of the Presidential System in the old Turks in 10 items.

Single President

There is no one who has not heard the Ergenekon legend. The story of the re-emergence of the last elements of the Turkish tribe, who melted the iron mountain, onto the stage of history under the guidance of a wolf… But the scenery does not change much in real history. When the Turks found a leader around whom they would unite in every period, they made an effort to change the course of history. Teoman, the founder of the Asian Hun State, is the first example of these leaders. Afterwards, Mete Han, who had his name written on the pages of history, would appear on the stage and sit on the Hun throne in 209 BC. With the support he received from the people, he would win the wars with China in a short time and tax the country. He also made an innovation that has survived to the present day with the ten system, which broke new ground in the military order.

Whenever a charismatic leader emerged among the Turks, a figure that would affect world history also emerged. During the Gokturks era (552), the Turks, who were united behind Bumin Kagan, soon became strong enough to tax the huge Chinese country.

If we were to list the periods in which Turkish society achieved success, we would see a ‘charismatic’ leader and the people who were devoted to him with their blood. While systems and dynasties come to the fore in the history of other nations, leadership is critical in Turkish history. As a matter of fact, deep-rooted successes in the Seljuks were won by personalities such as Alparslan, Melikşah, Kılıçarslan. The first ones that come to mind from the Ottoman sultans are Fatih, Yavuz Selim, Kanuni and II. Abdulhamid will be The reason for this is the perception of the “mighty” head of state that is engraved in our minds.

Who forced us to switch to the constitutional monarchy 140 years ago? Were all these ‘system’ changes to prevent the Turks from uniting around a leader again? Were those who carried out the May 27 coup and executed Prime Minister Adnan Menderes worried that the people would love this great leader? The answers are in the questions.

State and Kut: God Has Given You This Position

State and Kut: God Has Given You This Position

The Turks called the state ‘il’ (literal meaning: peace). Although it may seem like a contradiction for a community defined as warriors to welcome the state with a word meaning peace, social peace was the most important condition for the survival of the state, as they adopted the principle of living in ‘justice’. Considering that the state is engraved in the minds of the Turks with the figure of “father”, the duty of the nation is loyalty to the father like a good son. For this reason, the heaviest punishments in Turkish custom were applied to those who rebelled against the state.

Their fondness for their independence can be demonstrated with examples from the events that occurred in many periods of history. In the most difficult times, for example, when he was exposed to the persecution of China, Kürşad emerged and gained its independence by hitting China in the heart.

In the international literature, the forms of domination of states are evaluated in 3 types: traditionalist, charismatic, legal dominance. The understanding of kut, on which the Turkish state tradition is based, is at the center of the charismatic theory of legitimacy. ‘Kut’ refers to the power bestowed by God on the ruler. It was believed that this power continued throughout the members of the same family. As long as the success in the administration continues, the khan sits on his throne; However, it was believed that he took back the “kut” given by God from the khan, who had political and economic problems under his rule, and was dethroned according to custom.

Kut belief continued from the old Turks to the Ottomans. For example, the title of the Asian Hun Emperors is “Tanhu, the blessed owner whom the Sky God enthroned”. Not only in the Turkish states in the East, but also in the European Huns led by Atilla, the heads of state bore the title of “God’s sword”. Ottoman sultans also used the title of ‘zillullah-ı fi’l ark’, that is, the shadow of Allah on earth.

The reason why the dynastic changes that we see frequently in Europe are not seen in this geography should be sought in the understanding of kut.

Let’s see how Yusuf Has Hacib gave clues about why Turks could not live without a state for centuries in Kutadgu Bilig:

“The nature of the box is service, its slogan is justice. Virtue and destiny are born from the sacred… The way to the Principality (Sovereignty) passes through it. Everything is under the hand of the box, all wishes come true through it… It is divine. He has tied a full generation of power in the world, the wolf and the lamb lived together. Bey, you did not come to this position with your own power and will, God gave it to you. Rulers derive power from God…”

The Concept of World Domination

Clenched around a charismatic leader, the Turks took steps to establish dominance in the world with the imagination of the vastness they took from the sky. In this system, which is described as the concept of universal domination, it is believed that there should be only one ruler on earth, based on the unity of the sky.

From time to time, as a reflection of this understanding, Turkish states have come face to face on battlefields. Sadi Shirazi’s famous couplet “Forty dervishes fit in a mail, but two rulers are too narrow for one world” is a literary example of this notion. The war between Timur and Yıldırım Bayezid is the embodiment of the same thought.

This imagination is also the point on which the futuwwa movement is based. This understanding is also the reason why Atilla was on the Hungarian plains and Kanuni was in Zigetvar on horseback in his old age. According to the Byzantine historian Priskos (5th century) and the Gothic historian Jordanes (6th century), Atilla, who had the sword of the god Ares, wanted to rule the world. It was not a coincidence that Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Otranto and chose Rome as a target. After the acceptance of Islam, the idea of ​​world domination, blended with the understanding of gas and conquest, became the ‘red apple’ of the Turks.

State Assembly: Toy

Three different meetings, in which state affairs were discussed, are mentioned in the records, starting from the Mete Khan era (209-174 BC) in the old Turkish states. The first was of a religious nature and was held in the palace. The second meeting in Karakum is held with the arrival of spring; economic issues were tried to be settled. The third and final meeting was coincided with the autumn season when the horses were gathering strength.

The general structure of the military forces, which is one of the ancient characteristics of the Turkish states, was discussed, and information about the wars to be waged was reported to the state leadership. These assemblies were called “toys”. Issues discussed at the toys can be included in both the executive and the legislative, if we compare them in modern terms. In these meetings, which are also called congresses, adherence to tradition is essential. In the old Turkish states, although the legislature and the executive belong to the whole country, the ‘real’ owner of the responsibility is the Kağan. As a result of consultations on legal matters, he had the last word.

The most important of the meetings is the second, which takes place in the spring. The new head of state, ‘Tanhu’, was also elected at the end of this meeting. It is a tradition for the leader’s wife, Hatun, to attend the meetings that started under the leadership of Tanhu. The ‘chieftains’ of the military and civil bureaucracy were present at the meetings.

Signs of the Sovereign

Although the terms tanhu, kagan, kan-han, yabgu, il-teber, idi-kut were used for the rulers in the Turkish states until the middle of the 5th century, the most common one is ‘kagan’. Signs representing dominance are also given importance in Turkish culture. Especially the drum and the crest have been regarded as the hallmarks of the independence of the states established in Central Asia for many years. In Central Asia, they used the most valuable ornament of the period, the horse tail, on their crests. With the acceptance of Islam, giving a sermon in his name and printing money were also considered as signs of the rulership.

Dual Organization Single Domination

Former Turkish states generally ruled the country in two parts. For example, the Bulgarians and Hungarians have an administrative organization such as large-small, Oghuz and Karluks internal-external, Asian Huns and Göktürks north-south, Tabgaçs east-west. In this division, one side had to constantly recognize the dominance of the other. Following this administrative structure, members of the dynasty took part in the administration of both sides.

Considering the steppe geography where the old Turkish states were founded, the wisdom of this can be understood. The difficulty of managing the vast steppes from a single hand and the fact that the economic structure of the Turkish states took its strength from the looting of the neighboring countries’ lands along with trade pushed the administrators to make such a disposition. We see that this practice was abandoned after the Turks came to Anatolia. The conclusion to be drawn is that the Turkish states do not have a stable structure and that the organizational structure can be changed over time through experience.

Starting from the dual organization, some researchers have put forward the theory of ‘double kingdom’. However, according to the information we obtained from Chinese sources, the Turkish state organization continued its life in a form that governed from a single center.

Turkish Law: Customs

The most determining factor in the social life of Turks is custom. All of the rules that the people had to obey, especially the presidency, were called töre. Although we know that it contains very strict rules in terms of legal binding, unfortunately we have limited information about the nature of the punishments given at that time. It is certain that no concessions were made in crimes against the state.

Murderers and adulterers were executed. Thieves were also sentenced to death and their properties were confiscated. Rape was one of the biggest crimes. Those who betrayed the country and escaped from military service during the war were definitely not allowed, they would be killed. The state’s giving such precise sentences to criminals has prevented blood feuds. In the old Turks, the judicial organization was headed by the monarch. The authorities responsible for enforcing the rules of custom on behalf of the ruler were left to the lord and his entourage. It is recorded in the records that Atilla personally questioned the people who were preparing to assassinate him.

The Crown Prince: The Essential Merit

The situation is the same in the state mechanism, just as the person who deserves the post in Sufism and the people who are competent. It’s all about merit. The sons of the ruler, who was appointed as the crown prince, would command the army in the wars in which the Kagan did not participate. There were periods when civil wars were experienced, when the heirs who started the struggle for the throne weakened the state, since there was no rule about who would take the throne after the deceased ruler. However, on the contrary, there are cases where the candidate with the highest ability to rule ascends the throne at the end of the wars and raises the prestige of the state.

Diplomacy: Making Politics on the Steppe

If you want to maintain your dominance in a region like Central Asia at the crossroads of commercial roads, your diplomatic abilities should be as high as your military power. With the awareness of this, a very crowded diplomatic delegation who was fluent in foreign languages ​​was employed in the Turkish states established since the Asian Huns. The embassy delegations would visit to inform the friendly and allied states of the new khan’s accession to the throne. In 1283, the embassy delegation of the Golden Horde Khan Tuda Mengü went to Egypt to announce that their khan had accepted Islam and to congratulate the ascension of Qalawun to the Mamluk throne. We reach the activities of the Turkish ambassadors who went to the Chinese palace from the Chinese annuals. In the periods when the state was strong, the Khan would determine the amount of silk tax to be taken from China, and the ambassadors would take this news to the Chinese palace. These delegations, which also carried out official correspondence, had to obtain the approval of the khan in agreements to be made with foreign states.

In those times when communication facilities were weak, espionage activities had a very important place in the fate of states. Rua, the ruler of the Huns, forbade the entry of these people, as he was very distressed by the Byzantines’ entry into his lands to spy on them under the guise of merchants and beggars. As a matter of fact, a series of espionage activities by the Chinese would accelerate the collapse of the I. Göktürk State.

Army: Not Mercenary, Volunteer

“Army-nation” is the motto of Turkish tradition. They don’t know anything about mercenaries. During the war, everyone is a ready soldier (it is a historical fact that Byzantium once employed the Turks as mercenaries to take advantage of their military power). The 10 system, which was the invention of Mete Han, had two important features. The first was to prevent social stratification. No matter what family or social class you come from, the 10 system would be created regardless of any of these. It was desired that the richest and the poorest act together in the same system. Secondly, the consciousness that everyone is a ‘soldier’ ​​was embedded in the subconscious of the society, thus ensuring that all civil and administrative units work within military discipline. In addition, since the steppe is an obstacle to settled life, nomadic Turks used many different activities from entertainment to sports to prepare for wartime. Sports branches such as javelin and wrestling were actually war preparation games.

The most important point that should not be overlooked is that most of the Turkish armies consisted of mounted cavalry. The Chinese cannot finish the skills of the Turks on horses by telling them. The Chinese also wanted to use the cavalry that shoots arrows while on horseback, and they built military schools for this purpose.

As a result, the Turkish states established in the steppe, with a charismatic leader and an army-nation believing in him, appear as one of the most powerful military forces of their era. Every page of Turkish history is full of examples of what the army-millet-khagan understanding has achieved.


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