When I was but a lowly undergrad studying in Brussels, I first encountered the Ottoman Tuğra in the summer of 1988. That chance meeting took place at the Türk-İslam Eserleri Müzesi in İstanbul.1 In fact, I became so enamoured with these samples of Ottoman calligraphy that I wanted to write my undergraduate thesis on them. Alas, due to lack of a qualified supervisor in the neighbourhood, that desire of mine remained unfulfilled. Needless to say, I have ever since always had a great love for Ottoman Tuğra‘s, but have in my academic career not been able to do anything about that. And, by sheer happenstance, nearly 31 years after my first exposure to the Tuğra, I just now stumbled across this quite wonderful Twitter feed, explaining nearly everything anyone would like to know about the delicate caligraphic flowers. The one doing the tweeting was Maryland-based historian who also happens to be a PhD student Jonathan Parkes Allen, and here is a rendition. Dr Allen-to-be begins by saying these humble words: “And now a super-thread on the winding & complicated (pun intended) history of the tuǧra, a textual feature often defined as a ‘calligraphic emblem’ for ‘Turkic’ rulers, though that definition doesn’t capture the whole story. Let’s start with a ‘classic’ Ottoman tuǧra: That of Süleyman the Great. Here’s the entirety of the tuǧra I showed in detail view yesterday (LACMA M.85.237.17); it’s a good example of where the tuǧra would go under the Ottomans, with a fairly set form, lots of floral flourish, and a range of uses”.
Continuing like this: “Use of the tuǧra goes back to at least the Great Seljuks. Exact origins are fuzzy (including the word’s etymology), but it seems like that the bow and arrow emblem visible on this gold dinar of Tughril Beg (d. 1063) represents an early tuǧra, or what would become the tuǧra”.
Going on, “Our earliest textual attestation is from the Dīwān lughāt al-turk of Maḥmūd al-Kāshgarī (d. 1102), who gives this definition: ‘The tughra is the seal (ṭābiʿ) and signature (tawqīʿ) of the king; Oghuz dialect and not known to the [Western] Turks; I do not know its origin. The historian Bar Hebraeus (d. 1286) gives more context: ‘And from this time Sultan Tughril Beg began to inscribe the figure of a bow at the top of his seal, and inside it were these titles. And that sign was called ‘tughra’, and he who wrote [it] being commanded, ‘tughrai. No Seljuk tuǧras proper have survived, but Mamluk examples have, such as this one recorded by al-Qalqashandī (d. 1418) in his Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá. The basic form of the tuǧra is evident: soaring verticals (originally arrows?) with the rest of the letters interlacing (like bows)”.
Moving along, “Al-Qalqashandī also discusses the administrative uses of and scribal practices associated with Mamluk tuǧras, which eventually fell out of fashion among the Mamluk rulers. From the Mamluks the tuǧra would go in two different directions: the Ottoman one and the Indian one. n India-especially in late medieval & early modern Bengal- Turkic Muslim rulers would employ the tuǧra style in spectacular fashion in inscriptions on architecture, such as this c. 1500 example from a west Bengal mosque built by Shahzade Daniyal (Met. 1981.320)”.
And, “Or this one from 1487 from a mosque built by the Bengal Sultanate ruler Jalal al-Din Fath Shah (d. 1487), which beautifully displays the evolution from Mamluk tuǧra-as-calligraphic-signature to tuǧra-as-monumental-calligraphy (BM OA+.2299)”.
“The tuǧra would also continue, sporadically at least, to develop in India into its better known usage among the Ottomans as the calligraphic emblem of the ruler, culminating in Mughal tuǧras, such as this one of Shah Jahan embedded in a illumined rosette (Met. 184.108.40.206)”.
Dr Allen-to-be then says that the “Mughals would also use a blockier (to use the technical language) form of the tuǧra affixed to official documents, such as this c. 1645 instance, also from Shah Jahan, w/ that of his son Dara Shikoh, on a fermān responding to a request for aid (Met. 1997.205)”.
Finally getting down to the nitty-gritty he says: “Now for the Ottomans: one of our earliest surviving tuǧra, on a coin minted by a şehzade (prince), Süleyman Çelebi (d. 1411), shows what would become the typical features of the O. tuǧra: three verticals going up & two ellipticals going left, name & titles inside”.
Explaining then that the “tuǧra would become an emblem used especially by sultans but also by other members of the elite; with a few exceptions, calligraphers from the inner hierarchy would draft, write, & illumine the reigning sultan’s tuǧra, the process governed by an array of officials & steps. Besides fermâns, the tuǧra was affixed to deeds, endowed books, to coins, (eventually) architectural inscriptions, and various other substrates, such as this book of Islamic jurisprudence with Bayezid II’s gorgeous gold and floral bedecked tuǧra (Khalili Collections MSS 83)”.
“Or this set-on-its-side tuǧra of Selim III, added in 1802 to a book of fatwas (Khalili Collections MS 84)”.
“Coins continued to feature sultanic tuǧras, such as this lovely instance minted in 1703 under Ahmed III (BM 1947,0606.1567)”.
Going into some more detail, Dr Allen-to-be explains that the “tuǧra made its way into other contexts, too, such as in the following analogy made by the sufi şeyh Ismail Hakkı (d. 1725) in his Kenz-i maḫfî: ‘All of the prophets with the divine books in their hands are like a fermân of the exalted Sultan, while the Messenger of God, with the Qur’an in his hand, is like the fermân’s ṭuǧrâ. Just as if a sultanic fermân is not marked with a ṭuǧrâ it is not in force, if all of the prophets [& their books] had not been revealed & made manifest within the Muhammadan form…they would not be in circulation’. Ahmed III helped usher in new developments in the tuǧra, by drafting a hadith (‘My intercession is for those in my community, who commit greater sins’) in tuǧra form, which would become extremely popular in coming years, like other material forms of devotion”.
And on, “[m]any, many copies of this hadith-tuǧra, to use Philippe Bora Keskiner’s term for it, exist, such as this elegant 18th c. copy, which would have been mounted by itself, similar to a hily-i şerîf. Going to stop for now- other tasks call- but I’ll pick this thread up later with 19th and 20th century permutations of the tuǧra, and of course others’ contributions and/or questions are welcome!”. . . And you can tweet him at @Mar_Musa.
1Osmanlı Padişah Fermanları (Kültür Bakanlığı Yayınları Ankara 1986 ).