Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Bulgar Calendar

Note--I have revised my interpretation.  See the post titled "The Bulgar Calendar (done to death)"

The Bulgars were a Central Asian people who migrated into the Pontic steppe and the Volga basin.

Three Russian manuscripts have been found which list the reigns of Bulgar kings, and these manuscripts contain a clue about the Bulgar language:  The reign of each king is assigned a two-part year name.  Since 1913, these two-part year names have been understood to be dates in a 12-year cyclic calendar, where the first part is the name of an animal, and the second part is a month.

Wikipedia has a translation of the earliest manuscript in its article on the Nominalia of the Bulgar Khans.  I'll copy just the translation here:

  • Avitohol lived 300 years. His clan was Dulo and his year (of ascending to the throne) dilom tvirem.
  • Irnik lived 150 years. His clan Dulo and his year dilom tverim.
  • Gostun, the regent, 2 years. His clan Ermi and his year dokhs tvirem.
  • Kurt ruled 60 years. His clan Dulo and his year shegor vechem.
  • Bezmer 3 years and his clan Dulo and his year shegor vem (vechem).
These five princes ruled the kingdom over the other side of the Danube for 515 years with shaven heads and after that came to this side of the Danube Asparuh knyaz and until now (rules).
  • Asparuh knyaz 61 years (ruled). His clan Dulo and his year vereni alem.
  • Tervel 21 years. His clan Dulo and his year tekuchitem tvirem.
(An additional ruler is sometimes inserted here, depending on the reading.)
  • Sevar 15 years. His clan Dulo and his year toh altom.
  • Kormisosh 17 years. His clan Vokil and his year shegor tvirem.
  • Vinekh 7 years. His clan Ukil. And his year (imen)shegor alem.
  • Telets 3 years. His clan Ugain and his year somor altem.
  • Umor (ruled) 40 days. His clan Ukil and his year dilom tutom.

What I think is interesting here is that no one who has worked on this apparently understands how the 12-year calendars work.  A date in the cyclical calendar common to most of the Central Asian and Chinese world has two parts, one part chosen from a cycle of 12, and the other part chosen from a cycle of 5 or 10, making a long cycle of 60 years.  In other words, the second part is not a month.

(Note--when only five terms are used, each term is repeated twice, so in the Tibetan calendar you have wood, wood, fire, fire, earth, earth, metal, metal, water, water, for example).

Thus, if two years are separated by a span that is a multiple of 60, then they will have the same year name.  Indeed, notice that Avitohol and Irnik have the same year, and they are separated by 300 years.  Likewise Kurt and Bezmer, who are separated by 60 years, have the same year name (as long as vem = vechem).

Irnik and Gostun are separated by 150 years, which is a multiple of 5 and 10, but not of 12.  Notice that the second part of their year names is the same, but the first part is different, implying that the first part belongs to the cycle of 12, and the second part to the cycle of 5 or 10.

Outside of the Nominalia, there is an inscription called the Chatalar Inscription that gives the same date in the Bulgar calendar and the Byzantine calendar.  Based on this inscription, the year 821 was a sigor elem year.  This was a "white ox" year, "iron ox" year, or 丑辛 year.

We really only have five distinct values for the second part of the year name, so we can work them out as follows. (Note 1/26/2014--I have edited this post, since it contained mistakes that were corrected in a later post that no one ever looks at).

Start with the Chatalar inscription, which has the year 821 in the Byzantine calendar, and sigor elem in the Bulgar calendar:

sigor, ox
elem, metal | white

Telets was defeated by the Byzantines in battle at Anchialus in 763.  If he reigned for three years, then somor altem, when he took the throne, must be on or after 760.  If altem = alem = elem, then that narrows it down to 760 or 761. As it happens, 761 was also an Ox year, and we know Ox was not somor, so we'll say he took power in 760:

somor, rat
altem, metal | white

Umor took the throne after Telets, so 763 or 764.  There are some caveats here: nomadic empires tended to choose their leaders by council (thus explaining why the different kings came from different clans), but also a new leader could not be chosen until the council had a chance to meet.  Not only that, but the first year of a reign was usually recorded as the first new year after taking power.  For now, let's be fuzzy about Umor's year:

dilom, rabbit (33%)  /  dragon (33%)  /  snake (33%)
toutom, water | black (33%)  /  wood | green (66%)

The reigns from Avitohol to Bezmer are partially legendary, so we can probably assume that the years and reigns make sense in the legendary context, even if we can't really tie them to historical events.  If there were two years from Gostun to Kurt, and Kurt took power in an Ox year (šegor večem), then Gostun must have taken power in a Boar year, so:

dohs, boar

Irnik's legendary 150-year rule would have started, then, in a Snake year (dilom tverim).  That settles the question about Umor's reign, which must have started in the Wood Snake year 765, so we can say:

dilom, snake
toutom, wood | green

If we assume Gostun's vtirem is a mistake for tvirem (which it should be based on the legendary reign lengths), then we know that tvirem and večem must be adjacent in the cycle of elements.  The cycle is Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and we've already identified Metal and Wood, so the only adjacent unknowns are Fire and Earth.  That means:

tvirem, fire | red
večem, earth | yellow

And, by process of elimination, the remaining unknown element must be Water.

Tervel is fairly well-documented, being first mentioned in 704, and last mentioned by Theophanes the Confessor in 718 or 719.  If he ruled for 21 years, then there is no way that he could have taken power in a Water year (692-693 or 702-703).  Despite the fact that tvirem looks like a king name based on the format of the list, it seems more likely to be part of Tervel's year, and that the name of the king after Tervel is simply missing.  In that case, Tervel could have taken power in the Fire Rooster year of 697 and ruled for 21 years till 718, so:

tekučitem, rooster

Between Tervel and Telets (718-760) there are around 42 years.  This is best accounted for by assuming that there was no ruler between Tervel and Sevar.  Sevar took power in a Metal year, so either the Monkey or Rooster years of 720-721.  Since we already have Rooster, that leaves:

toh, monkey

Kormisosh must have taken power in the Fire Ox year (šegor tvirem) 737, accommodating the 15 years of the reign of Sevar and a couple years of interregnum.  From 737 till 760 there are 23 years to accommodate the 17-year reign of Kormisosh and the 7-year reign of Vinekh.  There is no way to read Vinekh's year as a šegor alem year, since those fell on 701 and 761.  Reluctantly, we must follow the text, and say that imaše goralem is most likely the Water Dragon year of 752

imaše, dragon
goralem, water | black

This is unsatisfying, because it leaves unexplained the fact that imaše goralem could also be parsed as ima šegor alem, so we should consider this tentative.

That leaves the vereni alem of Asparukh's reign.  Asparukh reached the Danube around 674-678, and Tervel took power in 697.  If we believe the 61-year reign, then this should either be the Tiger or Rabbit years of 630-631.

Some of these words have apparent Turkic reflexes (definitions below taken from Clauson):

altem, alem, elem, metal | white; compare Old Turkic altu:n, gold
dohs, boar; compare Old Turkic toŋuz, 'pig'
dilom, snake; compare Old Turkic yıla:n (< dıla:n), 'snake'
tekučitem, rooster; compare Old Turkic takı:ǧu:, 'domestic fowl'

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