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Turk Education Organization in the Pre-Islamic Period

Turk Education Organization in the
Pre-Islamic Period
Enes Kemal KOŞAR
Istanbul Medipol University, 2019
The current term paper covers education and the constructed lifestyles around it in the
Pre-Islamic Turks. Specializing on the first Turk states, despite the shortage of resources about
the interested topic, the Hun Empire, Göktürks and Uighur’s will be taken into consideration.
The concept of education can be perceived as a shadow accompanying humanity in its journey.
Within the journey of the Turks; creating a gist in life in accordance with its interior values,
morals and traditions, and external factors, survival and maintaining life, was strived with so
called education. In the pre-Islamic period, education being emphasized with oral culture lined
up with the characteristics of cultural property. Also, mostly nomad type of living brought a
more non-formal education than a formal one as of today. Developments of art, architecture
and an organized institutional teaching may have been late for these reasons but was not
disregarded. With this logic centuries ago the Turks; Huns starting the teaching of fundamentals
that a state and individual would need, Göktürks paving the way to a more organized and on
topic entities, Uighurs compelling for sophistication with a wise usage of education, embraced
the ancestors a whole new outlook in their period of time. From military tactics to weapon
production, new alphabet to calendar usage, and nation appertaining to sovereign striving
education was playing its affect in many ways. So as referring to education, not only reaching
the endeavors of states, but also embracing the avocations and lifestyles of the ancestors with
their contribution to the period, perceptions and perspectives to education was tried to be
given with slightly found examples. Shortly, when looked at the pre-Islamic period we can
clearly observe the Turks influence in the region and in history by not only being an ‘army
nation’ but also having interspersed wise educational fundamentals.
Within the scope of educational sciences, the brief definition for education as a term is
presented as; “The process of making changes in the behavior of an individual within the
desired direction by means of his own life”1 and also ‘Teaching’, as the fulfilled version of
education, is permanent behavioral changes which are leaded from the slices of life experiences
of oneself. In this case, we can claim that teaching is more organized in a purposeful way, and
moreover seen in organized structures. Teaching is mostly observed in circumstances such as
gaining new behaviors or quitting the previous ones accompanied with maturity.2 However,
basically understanding and referring from the stated terms, we can bring up the idea that
education and teaching has always been shadowing the human kind since its first appearance
on planet Earth. When education and teaching is being discussed for the Pre-Islamic Turks, the
first known Turk societies will come to mind. As drawing deeply back in history, the Turks,
which have played important roles in ancient human history especially in the Asian region, had
a comprehension of education and had gone through changes throughout the process. As a
reflection of the changes done by the Turks, the name ‘Turk’ had been coined and presented in
6th century BC as a result of changing movements.3 So logically, not only the name but also their
meaning and approaches towards education had definitely gone through some change as well.
Well education is mostly done in order to get an individual ready for life, waiting to be lived
with other human beings and endeavors. Moreover we can even come across some scholars
placing education as the life itself. In other words, logic of education can shift from century to
century, society to society. With the closest definition to the interested period, education is
being suitable and compatible to the society’s purpose and the realization of living standards
within a natural environment.4 With these differentiated definitions and outlooks towards
education, specifically the Turks in the Pre-Islamic period educated their individuals towards
their needs, lifestyles and fundamentals. Actually when discussing about a period in which
‘writing’ is as actually a big factor in humankind, it is quite hard to get deep information
reasoning to the lack of sources. However, reading from Chinese and Indian manuscripts’ and
Turk monuments we can slightly come up with inferences about the education of those days.
Leftover stories, poems, tales and proverbs from the first Turk societies give us slight
information about the education of Turks.5 However it is not certain that there were organized,
formal processes of education, similar to how it is conducted today. Generally projecting the
fundamentals of education in the Pre-Islamic Turks; family, social environment, confirmed
traditions and beliefs were placed. In addition to, the statutes and namely Turkish traditional
Ibrahim Ethem Başaran, Eğitime Giriş, Ankara, 1984, p.17
Cavit Binbaşıoğlu, Eğitime Giriş, p.9
Ismail Doğan, Türk Eğitim Tarihinin Ana Evreleri, Ankara, Nobel Publishing 2010
Ismail Doğan, Türk Eğitim Tarihinin Ana Evreleri, Ankara, Nobel Publishing 2010
Bahaeddin Ögel, Türklerin Devlet Anlayışı, Ministry of Culture Publ. Ankara, p.245 1982
law ‘Töre’ can even be seen as a way of education.6 Briefly stating, Töre is rules of law which
regulates the social order between the rules and the ruled ones by compelling the two sides in
act.7 Especially in the Hun Turks, Töre’s affect on education is seen clearly. Moreover, as a
general agreed feature of education within the Pre-Islamic Turks; process being shaped within
the life styles, children growing fast because of living standards and biggest mission seen as
growing up, children ought to be respectful to parents and moral values being effective; are the
observed mutual aspects of education.8 By focusing on the most important three states found
by Turks in the Pre-Islamic period, presenting the Hun Empire, Göktürks and Uighur State’s
organization of education with its affect and acts in construction of civilization is the main aim
of this paper.
Hun Turks (B.C. 220-A.D. 455) are known as the oldest Turk state, which centered around the
Selanga River and Ötüken, being accepted as a holy district for the Turks. Huns, which were
gathered of many societies and also having a written civilization, are a middle Asia community.
Most of the middle Asia communities were living on hunting or ranching, and predominantly
nomadic way of living was seen. Furthermore, exploring the nature, usage of raw material clay
and iron, and also building the tent in a way of architecture were also the distinguished
characteristics of the Huns.9 In accordance with their life, education was shaped fundamentally
on military, animal ranching, tradition and religion. Being warriors and nomad, the education of
war and ruling was a priority for the Huns, also being settled right beside China was an
important factor as well. Their rivals were also nomad communities, so in order to get less
damage at an unexpected attack, the public needed to know; what to do, how to surrender,
who would look after the children and women, so these questions are only to be answered with
education.10 However, more organized features of education were seen as well, for example,
Mete ranging its army’s horses in colorful differences with various tactics in the battlefield
show us that the Huns have gone through a good education of war and military service.11
Understanding from this, dealing with the Chinese have taught and brought unique features to
the Huns compared to its period. But also, a long term organization of education was also being
conducted, for example raising an individual type called ‘alp’, meaning brave, hero and wise.12
Savaş Büyükkaragöz, Hüsnü Livatyalı, İslamiyett’en Önce Türk Eğitim ve Öğretim Sistemi
Muhammet Şahin, Türk Tarihi ve Culturu, Ankara, Okutman Publishing 2012
Ismail Doğan, Türk Eğitim Tarihinin Ana Evreleri, Ankara, Nobel Publishing 2010
Saffet Bilhan, Orta Asya Bilgin Türk Hükümdarları Devletinde Eğitim Bilim Sanat , T Diyanet Found. Publ. Ankara
Bahaeddin Ögel, “Büyük Hun İmparatorluğu”, Tarihte Türk Devletleri, V. I, Ankara, 1987, p. 10
Servet Hali, Selcan Rencüzoğulları, Education of Turks In the Pre-Islamic Period, 21. Yüzyılda Eğitim ve Toplum,
volume 6, number 17, p. 429, 2017
Yahya Akyüz, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, Ankara, Pegem Publishing, 2014
In the Pre-Islam Turks religion was also in the means of education. “Society beliefs” and “state
religion” were quite different from each other, society beliefs were pretty much built around
magic, spell and cure while the state religion was building upon a representative of god which
was the ruler. Intercessors called Şaman were giving out teachings and leading the society in
various topics for cure, so in this case they can be seen as prevalent educators. In addition to,
factors which had shaped Töre were affecting the flow of education. Establishing a world state
and ruling the world with freedom and dominance had always stayed as an ideal for the Turks,
including the Huns these fundamental beliefs were passed on to next generations with Töre. So
in this case, Töre can be given as an example to prevalent education.13 Living between lands
mostly on horse backs with the readiness of war, and also the socio-economic approach of
hunting were not only the reality of the Hun’s lifestyle but also the reality of their education.
Referring from the stated information about the Hun’s war and military knowledge in
accordance with their nomadic lifestyle, we can directly connect to the logic that all these
processes were done by raising animals, especially horses throughout their footsteps in history.
It is often for us to come across such sayings as horses being the wings of the Turks. However,
by referring from their relations with their animals, we can also quite reach to the fact that
Huns also stopped by plants and cultivation. As a reference, Chinese sources have stated Turks
living by tracing plants and irrigation channels.14 In addition to, with studies conducted on the
Huns and the Pre-Islamic period, irrigation channels were found in the Altay region, thought to
be constructed by the Huns, which were shaped with reflection of an educated method to be
worked on. The education in the Hun Turks as in a table can be briefly presented as;
Public Education
-For a dynamic and
ready nomad
-Ideal living for
freedom, braveness
and solidarity.
-Ideating the blessed
land for the new
Military Education
- Ready for external
-Conducting a strong
-Giving every suitable
Turk a military
education, and
getting the society
ready for war.
Religious Education
-Using religious
motivation for the
existence of the
-Aiming to educate
the society with the
hand of religious
Vocational Education
- Processing on
animal products.
-Enriching vocational
processing on
mineral/mine and
fulfilling the need of
the military such as
arrow and swords.
Sıddık Ünalan, Hakan Öztürk, Teaching and Education in the Pre-Islamic Turks, Faculty of Theology Journal, 13(2):
89-109, 2008
Erdoğan Başar, Türkiye’deki Eğitimin Tarihsel Gelişimi, Eğitim Bilimine Giriş, Ankara, 2007, p. 28.
*The shown table has been picked and translated from Hali and Rencüzoğullari’s article named
Education of Turks in the Pre-Islamic Period.
After the collapse of the Hun Empire, Göktürks continued as the continuation and inheritor. The
Göktürks have also inherited Hun’s education organization as well, for this reason quite new
information or differentiated approaches about the Göktürks education is unable to be
projected. We can say that the educational approach of the Hun period has continued on.15
However, having their own 38 lettered alphabet and also placing a written monument until
today, the Orhun monuments, differentiate Göktürk’s placing in education. The Orhun
monuments are the most important residuals coming from the Pre-Islamic period, mentioning
political, economical, administration and community aspects of those days. Today they are in
the border of Mongolia near the river of Orhun. Written by Yolluğ Tigin, the three monuments
were built up for Kül Tigin, Bilge Kağan and Tonyukuk. Coming back to public education of the
Göktürks, they were also given by the Töre. Usage of the Göktürk alphabet and informing about
the steppe life were also in the interests of education and teaching. We can also learn about
the Göktürk teachings and education from the monuments.16 Moreover, the monuments can
even be approved as an education tool, the base of this argument comes from the content
information we have about the monument. In the bargain, mentioning about what the Turk
rulers should do for its society and country, giving information about the Turks desire of
independent living and including information such as Turks needing to live associated with
solidarity; are the bases of wanting to inform, teach the reader ones with messages. Besides the
monuments, many other writings such as tombstones, designed ornaments, small house
materials project their other works. Since dealing with writings, the idea of Göktürks having an
organized formal education for lettering and language come up. However, compared to the
Huns, Göktürks were more practiced on working vocational work and education, for example
having rich gold and iron mines around the Altay Mountains gave them the opportunity to work
on and improve their industry of guns.17 Well since education is shadowing all these actions, the
improved and intense economic life is built with education in its fundamental for an organized
loop. Despite all these stated concrete tittles for education, designing and using the twelve
animal calendar were also done in the Göktürks. They had advanced information about
astronomy. Translating other religious texts showed their interaction with other cultures, this
also stated their interest to other cultures as well. So other than just formal or scholastic
education, the Göktürks had been busy with such interests that even needed professional
Selim Hilmi Ozkan, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, p.7, Istanbul, 2017
Selim Hilmi Ozkan, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, p. 8, Istanbul, 2017
Muhammet ŞAHİN, Türk Tarihi ve Kültürü. Ankara: Okutman Yayınları 2012
After the collapse of the Göktürks in 745 the Uighurs got the power in hand. Almost after a
century later, in 840, with political conflicts, affects of Manichaeism and China’s disruptive
policies the Uighurs lost their freedom.18 Uighur period is the maturation period in Turk
education organization. We can claim this period as the beginning of institutionalization in
education. In its establishing period, the state was using the Göktürk alphabet, however later
on brought up an own alphabet. With usage of own alphabet, with usage of paper and printing
press the Uighurs have a distinguished place in the Turk education organization. Well on the
other side, most importantly we can claim that the Uighurs abandoning the nomadic lifestyle
and settling down had affected them in many ways. Education was one of the most affected
ones within the settlement process by paving the way to institutional education. Right on the
topic, a Uighur proverb: “Give your kid to a teacher, than to the place” indicates us the
importance of education and teaching at that period of time.19 So with these words of the
Uighur’s we can understand that formal and organized education was accepted and believed in
its affect. Also in this period, in which religious clergies were fulfilling as a society educator,
sanctuaries were used as libraries and places of education. Manicheist clergies, just like the
Buddhist clergies, were translating their religious works to Turkish for the propaganda of
religious sakes.20 Besides the propaganda religious movements, just like the other Turks,
educating the children from generation to generation about the ruler and its relationship with
creator was taught. This teaching was in a traditional Turk format of; “the ruler is a human
being and it has duties to get done for the God”. Analyzing the near other cultures have
enriched the Uighur’s approaches towards education as well. For example, getting the Soğdak
alphabet from Transoxania and developing a unique Uighur alphabet from its affect. With this
lettering, many books on literature, art and religion were written by the Uighurs, and had been
duplicated with print techniques. With this growing intellectual trend in the Pre-Islamic period,
clerkship, advisors and delegacy was catching attention within the Uighur features which are
being fed upon education. As the resulting growth of level in knowledge and culture, the
Uighurs had lived upon advisors, delegates, clerks and translators within the Turk and external
states. This made them grow with multi cultures. Briefly, with formal and organized approach of
education, newly meet cultures with presentation of various ways and printings, the highly
lived civilization at that period of time was surely constructed on educational and cultural
proceedings. But however, just like every change noting is for sure perfect. Compared to its
period and previous states, the growing rise in education and culture could be seen as the well
done part of the Uighurs. On the other hand, as given place by professor Ögel, the Arap sources
Bahaeddin Ögel, Uygur Devletinin Teşekkülü ve Yükseliş Devri. Belleten, 19(75): 331-376 1955
Selim Hilmi Ozkan, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, p.9, Istanbul, 2017
Sıddık Ünalan, Hakan Öztürk, Teaching and Education in the Pre-Islamic Turks, Faculty of Theology Journal, 13(2):
89-109, 2008
were naming the change as; “by getting Manichaeism the Turks gained shyness for their
bravery and sacrifice, gained education and art for their management and ruling.”21
In the Pre-Islamic period, leading from the nomadic culture of lifestyle; art, architecture,
economy and education was shaped within these circumstances. But mostly, as a growing and
widespread fundamental factor, education was directly or indirectly laying under every aspect
of movement. When coming to the organization of education, the logic was for getting ready to
the life itself. At this point, a life where survival on mountain and horse tops for hunting and
fighting were the main goal to get educated and ready for. Later on, with the slight usage of
written alphabet and its flow to creating a whole new alphabet brought a wide new outlook for
education in the Turks. Göktürks using lettering and Uighurs developing it more to new levels
just changed the game in the Pre-Islamic period. The new settled lifestyle of the Turks brought
development in art, architecture and so on but took away the warrior identity and left a broken
military education. From the Hun Turks to the Göktürks and Uighurs, the Turks had been
affected by and also affected other cultures in the Pre-Islamic period. And last but not the least,
education was always with the Turks in this ‘affection’ process, an organized formal education
was not always with them, but the logic and ‘why do we teach?’ question was always answered
by them for the power of education.
Bahaeddin Ögel, Uygur Devletinin Teşekkülü ve Yükseliş Devri. Belleten, 19(75): 331-376 1955
AKYÜZ Yahya, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, Ankara, Pegem Publishing, 2014
BAŞAR Erdoğan, Türkiye’deki Eğitimin Tarihsel Gelişimi, Eğitim Bilimine Giriş, Ankara, 2007, p.
BAŞARAN Ibrahim Ethem, Eğitime Giriş, Ankara, 1984, p.17
BİLHAN Saffet, Orta Asya Bilgin Türk Hükümdarları Devletinde Eğitim Bilim Sanat, T Diyanet
Found. Publ. Ankara 1988
BİNBAŞIOĞLU Cavit, Eğitime Giriş, p.9
BÜYÜKKARAGÖZ Savaş, LİVATYALI Hüsnü, İslamiyett’en Önce Türk Eğitim ve Öğretim Sistemi
DOĞAN Ismail, Main Stages of Turk Education History, Ankara, Nobel Publishing 2010
HALİ Servet, RENCÜZOĞULLARI Selcan, Education of Turks In the Pre-Islamic Period, 21. Yüzyılda
Eğitim ve Toplum, volume 6, number 17, p. 429, 2017
ÖGEL Bahaeddin, “Büyük Hun Imparatorluğu”, Turk States in History, V. I, Ankara, 1987, p. 10
ÖGEL Bahaeddin, Türklerin Devlet Anlayışı, Ministry of Culture Publ. Ankara, p.245 1982
ÖGEL Bahaeddin, U Uygur Devletinin Teşekkülü ve Yükseliş Devri, yakalanlar, 19(75): 331-376
ÖZKAN Selim Hilmi, Türk Eğitim Tarihi, p.9, Istanbul, 2017
ŞAHİN Muhammet, Türk Tarihi ve Kültürü, Ankara, Okutman Publishing 2012
ÜNALAN Sıddık, ÖZTÜRK Hakan, The Education and Instruction in the Turks before Islam,
Faculty of Theology Journal, 13(2): 89-109, 2008