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Tägäräk (Tiele)

The history of the Tägäräk (Chinese: 丁零, 鐵勒, 高車 "High Carts"), an ancient Turkic tribal confederation that inhabited the area west of Lake Bayköl. They ruled as a dominant power in the Steppe for centuries before they were absorbed into the Xuŋa. Following the collapse of the Xuŋa, they reasserted themselves on the Steppe. Even after their dissolution, the individual tribes under their confederation would leave a lasting impact on the Asian continent.


The Tägäräk are transcribed variously as:

狄 LH *dek < *[l]êk - Taishigongshu 110

釘靈 LH *teŋ-leŋ < OC *têŋ-rêŋ - Shan Hai Jing 18
丁靈 LH *teŋ-leŋ < OC *têŋ-rêŋ - Taishigongshu 110
丁零 LH *teŋ-leŋ < OC *têŋ-rêŋ - Taishigongshu 110
赤勒 LH *tśʰak-lək - Jinshu 97
鐵勒 LH *tʰet-lək - Weishu 101
狄歷 LH *dek-lek - Weishu 103
勑勒 LH *ṭʰɨk-lək - Weishu 103
高車 "High Carts" - Weishu 103

Their name was probably, originally, *Täŋäräk, from Turkic *[d]äŋ “round, cyclical.” Via regular sound change: ŋ > g, they became the Tägäräk, a word that may have meant "cart," "wheel," "chariot," and/or "nomad;" hence, the Chinese gloss is 高車 "High Carts." Ultimately, cyclicality is a rather important concept among migrating Steppe people; so, it is not irregular that their earliest self-identifications were based on the concept of it. The term is also found as a semi-early loan in proto-Mongolic as *tögerig "circle or sphere; round, circular, spherical" (Nugteren's (2011) reconstruction).

Cart and Arrow Symbol: Featured in both Altaic petroglyphs and in ancient glyphs, these symbols may have represented the Tägäräk.
Cart and Arrow Symbol: Featured in both Altaic petroglyphs and in ancient glyphs, these symbols may have represented the Tägäräk.

Early History


The Tägäräk are mentioned as early as the 4th-century B.C.E. in the Shan Hai Jing "Classic of Mountains and Seas" :


"There exists the nation of the Tägäräk, where the people have straight hair that stops below the knee. (Their) horse hooves (allow them to) move gracefully."

However, they existed as an entity long before this; hence, the truncated transcription of their name with the character(s) Dí (狄) and Běidí (北狄) or "Northern" Dí. During the early Zhou dynasty, they were described as a seemingly loose tribal confederation that inhabited the lands north of the Central States. At that time, the Tägäräk supposedly comprised of at least three subgroups: the Red Tägäräk (赤狄), the White Tägäräk (白狄), and the Tall Tägäräk (長狄).

Members of the Tägäräk sometimes bore the surname Jī (姬). Notably, the Zhou (周), whose name meant "circle; to circle, encompass," not only had a dynastonym that was cognate to the tägäräk, but also bore the Jī (姬) surname.

Some centuries after the fall of the Zhou dynasty, they are conquered, alongside other Turkic entities such as the Qırğır (鬲昆) and the Sır (薪犁) by the Xuŋa emperor Bağatur Darğa. Although they were largely assimilated under the Xuŋa, they were able to retain enough of their identity to reemerge upon the Xuŋa's collapse.

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