The Kul Tigin monument is 1 of 2 memorial stele erected by the ancient Turks (called Gokturks) in the early 8th centure in the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia. It was erected in honour of the Turkish Prince and General Kul Tigin.
Description and Translation
The Kul Tigin monument is a memorial stele, honouring the life of Kul Tigin. It is inscribed in both ancient Turkic script as well as Chinese. It describes Kul Tigin’s life and accomplishments, but also the legendary origins of the Turks, the golden ages of their history, the subjugation by the Chinese and their subsequent liberations from the Chinese by both Bilge Kagan (Kul Tigin’s brother) and Kul Tigin himself.
The monument is engraved on all four of its side, like of the Code of Hammurabi. But unlike the code
Of Hammurabi, the text actually wraps around the stone from side to side, meaning you would essentially have to walk circles around the monument if you were to read it properly.
Before the discovery of the stones, very little was known of Turkic script, and the steles are the oldest form of the script to ever have been preserved, making them a veritable treasure trove of information about the language and were a stepping stone to translating a variety of other old Turkic writings. The script appears very runic in its design, but is alphabetical in its form and grammar.
If interested in seeing the script and reading the inscriptions themselves, the Kul Tigin Memorial Complex website has done an excellent job of translating the work from old Turkic Script to modern Turkish to English.
As mentioned, Kul Tigin was not just a prince, but a general of the Second Turkic Kaganate. Kul Tigin and his older brother Mojilian (Bilge) Kagan (who was also a Prince and General with his own monument) were reknowned for their military prowess, particularly after a slew of battles that both expanded the Kaganate borders and subjugated the Tokuz Oguz tribes (a political alliance formed of nine smaller tribes that opposed the Kaganate’s expanasion).
Kul Tigin and his brother gained further prominence after stopping a coup d’etats by their former king’s son. The two raised an army and killed the son and all his followers. Kul Tigin then installed his brother Mojilian as the new and rightful king, according to the traditions of Lateral Succession. Mojilian took the name “Bilge” meaning “The Wise” and Kul Tigin became his commander in chief.
Kul Tigin’s death is somewhat of a mystery. On the Bilge Kagan stele it claims Kul Tegin died in battle, but on Kul Tigin’s in claims he died of illness. One could suppose the misspelling of his own brother’s name on the Bilge Kagan stele wasn’t deliberate, and that it actually referred to a different person altogether, but that seems unlikely, as Kul Tigin and Kul Tegin are often used interchangeably to refer to the same person, even on Kul Tigin’s own memorial stele.