A monument to top athletic performance? A Monument to the Uigarjin Mongolian script?


In 1818, G. I. Spasskii, the Russian scientist specialising in Siberian studies, published in the newspaper "Sibirskii Vestnik", the first information about the stone with oriental inscriptions on it, found in a factory of Nerchinsk (Eastern Siberia). This stone stele is the most ancient monument with the Mongolian uigarjin script known as Chingis Khan's stone script. The inscription is dedicated to Esunge, the son of Chingis Khan's brother Khasar, although it begins with the name of Chingis Khan.

The stone stele was discovered in the basin of the river Kharkhiraa which is the left tributary of Urlengui river flowing into the river Erdene (Trans Baykal).

In 1832 the stele was removed from Nerchinsk to St. Petersburg, and it is still in the Hermitage State Museum. There is no certainty about the exact time of building of this monument, but the scientists have reached a common opinion on the basis of the script text meaning that it was written about in 1226.

Recently (June 1996) the Foundation of Protection of Historic and Cultural heritage, under the Ministry of Culture of Mongolia, funded an operation to copy the stone stele, and it was exhibited in the Mongolian National Museum or History.

The stone stele has a great historic and linguistic value as shown by the interest of the many scientists who have carried out various researches and studies of the scripts.

But it is very limited if we will consider the monument important only as the most ancient Uigarjin Mongolian script. We have to investigate the sense of the text thoroughly.

Which event in the life of Khasar's son Esungge the Marksman led to the erection of the stone monument? This question has drawn the attention of many researchers.

One interpretation of this inscription could be as follows: "While Chinggis Khan was holding an assembly of Mongolian dignitaries, after his conquest of Sartaul (East Turkestan), Esungge shot a target at 335 alds" (536m).

The text definitely informs us about sporting life in Mongolia in this period. "While Chingis Khan was holding an assembly of Mongolian dignitaries, after his conquest of Sartaul ...." shows that the Mongolians celebrated their military triumphs by organising traditional festivities (Naadam) called "three manly games" including wrestling matches, archery and horse racing with the participation of most vigorous wrestlers, the most eminent marksmen, the fastest horses. To celebrate the conquest of Sartaul in East Turkestan, Chinggis Khan organised on this occasion a big holiday with a traditional sporting competition. This celebration was marked by a remarkable event as recorded by Esunge the Marksman having "shot a target at 335 alds".

This case illustrates the strength, accuracy and sharpness, physical prowess of the Mongolians who lived more than 700 years ago. We must even consider this inscription as a historic proof of the high archery skills as well as its training methods and techniques in Mongolia in this time.

At the same time, the '335 alds' target distance shot by Esungge, when converted to the modern metric system, reveals an interesting length. Ald is an old Mongolian measure equal to the length between a man's outstretched arms. This length is deemed to match a man (warrior) stature, so we may assume that 160 cm equalled one ald. So, Esunge Mergen (the title given to him for his accuracy) hit the target from a distance of about 536 meters.

1226 was thus the first time in the Mongolian sphere that a man had hit a target from more than 500 m: the inscription is to prove the Mongolian sporting record of the Mongolian marksman.

The event is especially notable in terms of modern archery. We have to recognize the impossibility of hitting a target from 500 meters' distance, though it could be done by accident. However, the most famous Mongolian archers often used to practice it successfully, and there were several historic documents confirming the fact of high performance of archers, who aimed and hit the 500 m targets.

One example is given in the historic novel "Khökh Sudar" written by Injinashi, the Mongolian philosopher, historian and writer: in the 12th chapter of the fourth book the historian described the competition amongst all Mongolian civil military men and that took place in about 1194 -1195. Dzulgetii, a 16-year-old man from Dzurgen Aimag (province), Gölögöön Baatar from Sönöd Aimag, Khuildar from Monguur Aimag, Subeedei Baatar and Togtongo Baatar from Djurchid Aimag each hit the target three times from a distance of 500 bows (1 bow = 1 meter).

Therefore, Esunge's record of shooting into 335 alds (536 m) target wasn't only a lucky case recorded in the Mongolian chronicles. It was one of the main qualities of the best soldiers certifying their perfection and accuracy. Also a length of 536 meters was a feasible, realistic distance for Mongolian archers.

The content of Chinggis Khan's script is worthy of investigation, and many researchers specialising in Mongolian studies have been interested in it since the last century. Besides its historic and linguistic importance, the stone stele gives an explanation of the success of the Mongolian campaigns to China, Middle Asia, Europe etc. in the 13th century through military excellence.

The 770th (1226-1996) anniversary celebration of the erection of the Chinggis Khan's stele should become a part of the national festival, Naadam, which takes place every year in July in the whole Country.

A conference on sport and an extra competition of long distance - "Floating arrow" could be organised by the Mongolian National Olympic Committee, the National Sport Organization. Also badges and booklets should be issued to memory the 770th years anniversary. Moreover, Mongolia should seek to be recognised as the first country to register a sporting record.

This year, the Naadam archery compassion could be renamed as "Esunge Mergen's competition" which will honour and motivate all Mongolian archers with the respect of history and traditions.

Dr Gongor LHAGVASUREN, Rector
P O Box 224, Ulaanbaatar - 13, Mongolia.

Tel.: 321418 (o)