Ak- and Karakoyunlu as Dynasties?

Can the Ak- and Karakoyunlu be described as Dynasties? [DYNTRAN WORKING PAPER 2, July 2015]

by Georg LEUBE

Can the Ak- and Karakoyunlu be described as dynasties? A dynasty is usually held to be a number of rulers, from Ancient Greek δυνάστης, literally the one who holds power, concatenated in some sort of network formulated in terms of family. Even if we leave aside the metaphorical designation of “familiar” networks of scholars or artists, administrators and others as dynasties, a closer look at the different designations of the Ak- and Karakoyunlu in the sources is certainly worthwhile. In the following paragraphs, I would like to give some preliminary thoughts on this question and finish by introducing a conference on Dynasties and Dynasticism in Oxford next March.

In order as to see how they can be conceptualized as dynasties, I’d like to turn to the designations of the “Turkmen” rulers over Eastern Anatolia and Iran found in contemporary and slightly later sources. The names Ak- and Karakoyunlu etymologically appear to be derived from Turkic ak, white, or kara, black, respectively, followed by koyun, sheep, and the possessive suffix -li. This name appears in different forms in the sources analyzed below.

To start, a far-out observer such as Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes simply about ΚαραϊλούκηςΛευκαμνς, Kara Yülük the White Lamb (Chalkokondyles II, 8), οἱ Λευκάρνες, the White Sheep (Chalkokondyles III, 71, and V, 35), οἱ Λευκάρνες Καραϊλούκεω παῖδες, the White Sheep, the sons of Kara Yülük (Chalkokondyles V, 33), οἱ λευκοὶ Ἀσπροπροβατάντες, the White Whitesheepherders (Chalkokondyles IX, 27), or οἱ μέλανες Μαυροπροβατάντες, the Black Blacksheepherders (Chalkokondyles VII, 69). I do not include the designation of the Karakoyunlu as Armenians sometimes also encountered in Chalkokondyles since this classicizing of contemporary ethnonyms seems to be a peculiarity of Chalkokondyles telling us little about the people in question ‒ compare his consistent appellation of the Serbs as Triballoi, the Bulgarians as Mysoi, the Romanians as Dakoi and the Hungarians as Pannonioi, to say nothing about 15th century French knights astonished to find themselves described as Keltoi.

There is a good degree of uncertainty surrounding the name of the Ak- and Karakoyunlu in Chalkokondyles’ writing. While the last two designations may be interpreted as referring to the Turkmen rulers as herders of sheep, the first three rather unambiguously call the rulers themselves Sheep. In the last two designations there also seems to be some uncertainty whether the sheep or their herders were white or black. Thus the adjectives referring to colour are in both cases duplicated, using both the Classical and the Modern Greek words for black / white respectively for herder and sheep. At least it thus becomes clear that ‒ for Chalkokondyles at least ‒ both herdsmen and sheep were described with the colour giving its name to Ak- or Karakoyunlu.

Arabic and Persian sources, on the other hand, do not usually translate the term Ak- or Karakoyunlu. Thus Qazwīnī heads his chapter on the Ak- and Karakoyunlu as follows: Dar ruzkar-i pādishāhān-i turk-i qarāqūyunlū wa-āqqūyunlū, on the age of the Turkish kings, the Kara- and Akkoyunlu (Qazwīnī, p. 346). This is then split into two parts, the first entitled dar ruzkar-i qarāqūyunlū wa-salāṭīn-i īshān bārānī laqab dārand, on the age of the Karakoyunlu whose Sultans bear the surname of Bārānī (Qazwīnī, p. 346), the second entitled dar ruzkar-i āqqūyunlū wa-īshān-rā bāyandiriyya nīz gūyand, on the age of the Akkoyunlu who are also called Bāyandirīs (Qazwīnī, p. 358).

It should be noted that Qazwīnī uses Ak- and Karakoyunlu in the singular to describe the whole ‒ faute de mieuxdynasty while giving the affiliation to Bārān and Bāyandir, usually understood as eponymous ancestors, as a laqab or in the form of a familiar / tribal nisba shared by the individual rulers respectively. It seems that laqab and nisba, fairly distinct in Classical Arabic culture, could be used interchangeably to describe such an affiliation of the Turkmen rulers. The rule of the Ak- and Karakoyunlu is here described by ruzkar, age, which is rather neutral from the normative point of view of Islamicate theory of just rule.

Al-Ghiyāth, writing in Arabic, entitles his chapter on the Ak- and Karakoyunlu rulers simply faṣl akhbār qarāqūyunlū wa-āqqūyunlū, chapter giving information about the Karakoyunlu and Akkoyunlu (al-Ghiyāth, title page of the Arabic text), followed in the Karakoyunlu’s case by a rather laconic al-ṭā’’ifat al-turkumān: minhum jamā‘’at qarāqūyunlū wa-hum al-bārāniyya, the group of the Turkmens, belonging to which there is the community of the Karakoyunlu who are the Bārānīs (al-Ghiyāth, title page and p. 1 of the Arabic text). There may, however, be some oversight in the edition since the Akkoyunlu are introduced in a slightly different format as al-ṭāyifat [sic] al-sādisa: Al-turkumān al-bayāndiriyya wa-hum āghqūyunlū, the sixth group: The Turkmens of the Bayāndiriyya who are the Akkoyunlu (al-Ghiyāth, p. 49 of the Arabic text).

Al-Ghiyāth’s use of the determination by article and status constructus seems slightly off from a strictly grammatical point of view. If al-bayāndiriyya in the Akkoyunlu heading is a noun in its genitive form reigning over a nominative turkumān, the latter should according to the rules of Classical Arabic grammar be defined by status constructus and accordingly not allowed to have an article of its own. If, on the other hand, al-bayāndiriyya is taken as an adjective nisba to bayāndir, it should not be in the feminine form unless turkumān is taken as an impersonal plural, which in turn is difficult seeing turkumān describes ‒ even if taken as a plural form ‒ precisely a group of persons.

Leaving aside these grammatical difficulties, the Ak- and Karakoyunlu are described as ṭā’’ifas, groups unable to claim regency over the whole dār al-islām, land of Islam. Furthermore, the Karakoyunlu are described as a jamā’‘a, community, possibly expressing an understanding of a loose internal structure necessitating their explicit introduction as a whole that is to be discussed in the subsequent chapter. The precise relation between qarāqūyunlū / āqqūyunlū in relation to al-bārāniyya / al-bayāndiriyya is again not specified. It is interesting to note, however, that the nisba-forms of Bārān and Bayāndir are treated as regular Arabic adjectives turned into nouns by the addition of the definite article al- while the dynastic (?) names Ak- and Karakoyunlu are ‒ again in conformity to the rules of Arabic grammar ‒ treated as non-Arabic proper names defined eo ipso.

The last source to be discussed here in its headings for the period of Ak- and Karakoyunlu dominion is the khuld-i barīn of Wālih. He opens with a rather unsurprising chaman-i awwal, dar dhikr-i salāṭīn-i tarākime, the first meadow, about the Sultans of the Turkmens (Wālih, p. 675). The first of its sections is entitled dar dhikr-i mulūk-i qarāqūyūnlū ke īshān-rā “bārānī” khwānand, about the kings of Karakoyunlu who are called bārānī (Wālih, p. 675), the second bears the heading dar dhikr-i salṭanat-i āqqūyūnlū ke īshān-rā mulūk-i bāyandiriyye nīz gūyand, about the Sultanate of Akkoyunlu who are also called bāyandirī kings (Wālih, p. 717).

While both are described as sulṭāns enjoying a certain standing in the Islamicate theory of just governance in the overall heading, it is interesting to find only the period of Akkoyunlu rule described as a salṭanat, (potentially) just rule, in the title introducing them. The Karakoyunlu are described as mere mulūk, kings, a term bearing almost some hint of injustice when used to describe a ruler from a normative perspective of Islamic history of thought ‒ unless coupled with a legitimizing term, preferably appearing in the qur’ān, such as sulṭān or at least its derivative salṭanat. As to the relationship between Ak- / Karakoyunlu and Bāyandirīs / Bārānīs we merely learn that the former are also called the latter: One might have hoped for more.

Summing up this exemplary survey of sources happening to fall into my hands as I was writing this essay, it seems the mainstream of Islamicate Arabic and Persian sources describes the Ak- and Karakoyunlu as a group of more of less just rulers of Turkman affiliation designated collectively with the names of Ak- and Karakoyunlu. It is unclear ‒ at least in the chapter headings surveyed here ‒ to which extent this name was understood in its literal meaning. References and / or puns referring to the Turkmen rulers as gūsfand or shā’’ / ghanam / na‘’am or comparable terms for sheep are conspicuously absent so far.

This group of Ak- and Karakoyunlu rulers is then connected by a shared nisba to some eponymous ancestors who seem to be more or less well-known in Central Asian Turkic heritage. I have not looked into Maḥmūd al-Kāshgharī’s dīwān lughāt at-turk usually quoted for such matters by Minorsky since starting work on the Ak- and Karakoyunlu, so the best reference I have at hand is the Great Khān Bayındır ruling over the happily Turkic more or less Central Asian warriors assembled in Dede Korkut’s Oğuznameleri for example on p. 35.

While the above argument has been based on a handful of chapter-headings and stray references by a historiographer native to far-away Athens, there do emerge a number of questions pertinent to the ideas of family, authority, rulership and its respective iconographies. Are only ruling members of the Bārānī / Bāyandarī genealogically formulated networks collectively called Black and White Sheep, or is the relationship between eponymous ancestor and the names of Ak- and Karakoyunlu to be described in some other way? Are there any obvious patterns of succession and intra-“familiar” alliance which might help to describe the Ak- and Karakoyunlu as dynasties or in some other coherent way? As far as I see, detailed studies of naming patterns, symbols of potentially “dynastic” authority such as the enigmatic tamghas and the rites de passage accompanying the transfer of authority along Ak- and Karakoyunlu networks promise suitable perspectives on these and other questions.

An excellent occasion to discuss the suitability of the terminology of dynasties from a comparative perspective will be offered by the Oxford conference next March: Please see the call for papers on www.jagiellonians.com/dynastyconference.

Georg Leube (Marburg, July 17th 2015)


Chalkokondyles The Histories, ed. and tr. A. Kaldellis, London 2014.

Dede Korkut Oğuznameleri, edd. S. Tezcan and H. Boeschoeten, Istanbul 2012.

al-Ghiyāth Ta’rīkh, quoted according to Turkmenische Herrscher des 15. Jahrhunderts in Persien und Mesopotamien nach dem Tārīḫ al-Ġiyāṯī, M. Schmidt-Dumont, Freiburg 1970.

Qazwīnī Lubb at-tawārīkh, cop. Muḥammad Bāqir (Fīrūzmand) b. Ismā‘īl b. Āyatallāh al-Ḥājj Shaykh Ja‘far Shushtarī, no place given 1363 / 1985.

Wālih Khuld-i Barīn, ed. Mīrhāshim Muḥaddith, Tehran 2000.

To quote this publication:

Leube, Georg, “Can the Ak- and Karakoyunlu be described as Dynasties?”, DYNTRAN Working Papers, n° 2, online edition, July 2015, available at https://dyntran.hypotheses.org/700

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