Tabğaç (Tuoba)

The Tabğaç (Chinese: 拓拔; Old Turkic: 𐱃𐰉𐰍𐰲) were initially a Xuŋa tribe, descending from the daughter of Ju-di-hou Darğa (且鞮侯), that defected to the Särbi following the collapse of the Xuŋa empire. Their descendants would establish the Wei dynasty (魏), commonly known as Northern Wei (北魏). 

The earliest Tabğaç ancestor that had a posthumous name was Tabğaç Mao (毛) LH *mɑu, known as Emperor Cheng (成皇帝). Interestingly, the Taiping Yulan has Tun (屯) LH *duən instead of Mao. There is a chance that Tun was an abbreviation of Mao-tun (毛屯) LH *mɑu-duən, identical to the Xuŋa founder, Mao-dun (冒頓) LH *mək-tuən or Turkic Bağatur. The connection to Bağatur, however, goes beyond transcriptional reconstructions. For instance, the following Weishu narrative attributed to Tabğaç Mao is clearly describing the historical actions of Bağatur:

聰明武略,遠近所推,統國三十六,大姓九十九,威振北方,莫不率服。
"Wise and martial, promoted by those near and far, he united the thirty-six states and the ninety-nine great tribes. His strength dominated the North and there was no one who did not submit to his rule."

Tabğaç Mao is thought to have lived somewhere in between 200 B.C.E. and 130 B.C.E. (Duthie, 2015). Thus, his legend must have been based on Bağatur, given that the Särbi tribes were under Xuŋa rule during those times. Accordingly, Tabğaç Mao was likely the historical Bağatur Darğa. The emperors listed as his successors; however, were likely made up, explaining why there were no Chinese emperors or darğas known by those names.

Nonetheless, the four emperors that ruled after Tabğaç Mao, or Bağatur Darğa, were as follows:

  1. The Jie Emperor (節皇帝), Dai (貸) LH *tʰə,

  2. The Zhuang Emperor (莊皇帝), Guan (觀) LH *kuɑn,

  3. The Ming Emperor (明皇帝), Lou (樓) LH *l(i)o, and

  4. The An Emperor (安皇帝), Yue (越) LH *wɑt.


The fifth emperor, posthumously known as the Xuan Emperor (宣皇帝), had the personal name Tui-yin (推寅) LH *tʰuəi-jɨn. If the name is genuine, it likely contains the Mongolic suffix -çin. Thus, it may be that the tribe was Mongolized by this point (assuming these names were not made up at a later date). However, it seems more likely that Xiao Zixian’s (蕭子顯) claim in his Qishu (齊書), regarding the mixed origin of the Tabğaç, may be closer to the truth than was previously thought. In the Qishu, it is claimed that Li Ling (李陵), the grandson of the Han general Li Guang (李廣), defected to the Xuŋa. There, he is said to have married a Xuŋa girl, the daughter of Ju-di-hou Darğa (且鞮侯), by the name of Tuoba (托跋) LH *tʰɑk-bɑt or Tabğaç. Thus, their descendants were referred to as the Tabğaç. Li Ling and his wife were then sent further north in order to escape the fury of the Darğa’s mother, who carried animosity for the former Han general.

One would assume that the Tabğaç were sent, not only to the north, but to the northeast, territory that was inhabited by the various Särbi tribes. It is there that they likely began a gradual process of Mongolization. However, it should be noted that they likely continued to speak a Turkic language as an emperor of the Tabğaç (拓拔) of Northern Wei (北魏) is recorded with the Turkic name, Büri (佛貍) LH *but-liə or “wolf,” rather than the Mongolic word for “wolf” that was transcribed as çina (叱奴) LH *tśʰit-nɑ in the Weishu.

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