top of page

Irq Bitig :

The Book of Omens


The Irq Bitig, or “Book of Omens,” is a 9th century manuscript on divination, written in a variant of the Old Turkic script. Discovered by M.A. Stein among similar artifacts in the Dunhuang Caves, it is now in the possession of the British Library in London, England (shelfmark Or.8212/161). 

Its text is laid out horizontally from right to left in black ink with the colophon written in red ink, and the punctuation either circled or written in red ink. The pages are 5 ½ ″ in height and 3 ½ ″ in width, and are numbered in Chinese. It is comprised of fifty-eight folded folios, made of Chinese paper, that are glued together in the form of a booklet. The Turkic text begins on folio 5b and ends on folio 57a. The remaining pages, once empty, were filled with Buddhist devotional verses in Chinese by a later hand (Tekin, 1993). 

The book’s title is given on folio 55b as ırq bitig in the verse: amtı amraq oğulanım, ança biliŋlär : bu ırq bitig ädgü ol “now, my dear sons, know this much: this book of omens is auspicious.” This leads to the end of the original Turkic script on folio 56a and the start of the colophon on 56b. The colophon is written by the same hand but is distinguished by the use of red ink. It states that the manuscript was written during the Year of the Tiger, on the fifteenth day of the second month, for a general İt Açuq.  Thus, the intended recipient of the manuscript was not the audience referenced in the preceding verses. So, it may be that the manuscript was a replica, reproduced as a gift to this general İt Açuq. Indeed, as Tekin points out, there are numerous scribal errors and omissions that could be explained as the result of a translation (p. 6). Erdal (1977) suggests that it may have been copied from a text written in the Old Uighur script (p. 106).    

Brief Summary of SOME Literature

The Irq Bitig was first translated by Thomsen in “Dr. M. A. Stein's Manuscripts in Turkish ‘Runic’ Script from Miran and Tun-huang” (1912). His edition includes a transliteration of the Old Turkic script alongside an English translation, both organized by omen. It is followed by Thomsen’s notes and then by a lexical index. A few pages of transcription are also provided. 

A Turkish translation was then published by Orkun in 1936. His edition makes use of Kāshgarī’s Dîvânü lûgati't-Türk in order to identify the words Thomsen could not. He organizes his translation in the same manner as Thomsen.

Clauson discusses various aspects of the manuscript in his 1961 article “Notes on the Irk Bitig,” as well as in his 1972 book An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish. Similarly, Erdal makes several significant observations in “Irk Bitig Üzerine Yeni Notlar” (1977). 

Tekin’s 1993 translation of the manuscript is a crucial step towards the creation of a definitive translation, correcting past transliteration issues and addressing unsolved words. Nonetheless, Erdal brings up several problems with Tekin’s translation in his “Further notes on the Irk Bitig” (1997). His notes are also an excellent source for a more in-depth review of the literature.

Although not a translation, Bayat (2006) provides valuable insights on the structure of the Old Turkic text. Similarly, Rybatzki and Hu make important discoveries regarding the manuscript by studying aspects outside of its Old Turkic text in “The Irq Bitig, the Book of Divination: New Discoveries Concerning its Structure and Content” (2010).


My edition of the manuscript will provide a transcription, transliteration, and translation of the Irq Bitig's text. Omens will be presented chronologically: beginning with transcriptions, and followed by a transliteration and translation. Notes will be provided by omen at the end. A glossary will not be included on this page since it is already within the Lexicon. Remember to look at the Transliteration Table under the resources tab! 

bottom of page