Gesar and Fulin.

Victor Mair has a Log post focusing on a trivial example of misspeaking (or misreading) by Xi Jinping, but what interested me was a section on the etymology of the name “Gesar” (quoted from the same Wikipedia article recently mentioned at LH by David Eddyshaw):

It has been proposed on the basis of phonetic similarities that the name Gesar reflects the Roman title Caesar, and that the intermediary for the transmission of this imperial title from Rome to Tibet may have been a Turkic language, since kaiser (emperor) entered Turkish through contact with the Byzantine Empire, where Caesar (Καῖσαρ) was an imperial title. Some think the medium for this transmission may have been via Mongolian Kesar. The Mongols were allied with the Byzantines, whose emperor still used the title. Numismatic evidence and some accounts speak of a Bactrian ruler Phrom-kesar, specifically the Kabul Shahi of Gandhara, which was ruled by a Turkish From Kesar (“Caesar of Rome”), who was father-in-law of the king of the Kingdom of Khotan around the middle of the 8th century CE. In early Bon sources, From Kesar is always a place name, and never refers, as it does later, to a ruler. In some Tibetan versions of the epic, a king named Phrom Ge-sar or Khrom Ge-sar figures as one of the kings of the four directions – the name is attested in the 10th century and this Phrom/Khrom preserves an Iranian form (*frōm-hrōm) for Rūm/Rome. This eastern Iranian word lies behind the Middle Chinese word for (Eastern) Rome (拂菻:Fúlǐn), namely Byzantium (phrōm-from<*phywət-lyəm).

In the comment thread, martin schwartz says (I’ve made minor fixes to spelling and punctuation for readability):

For all it matters, one may be more precise as to “Iranian” Frôm: It starts with West Middle Iranian–Middle Persian and Parthian, where Hrôm represents the Greek (early Byzantine) form for Rome, with the obligatory pre-aspirated initial R- (usually quasi-transcribed as Rh-). Within colloquial Parthian, fr- was frequently pronounced as hr-, e.g. hraman alongside framân ‘command’. By hypercorrection, other Parthian forms in hr- which are not from *fr, such as the hero-namr Hrêdôn, whose Old Iranian antecedent began with theta followed by r, then became fr- (thus Frêdôn, reflected in Classical Persian as Firêdôn). So too Hrôm became Frôm (for both the Eastern and Western Roman Empires), > Sogdian Frôm and eastward.

And Peter Golden adds:

On 拂菻 Fulin (phrōm-from< *phywət-lyəm>), cf. Old Turkic purum (Kül Tegin Inscription East,4, Bilge Qağan Inscription, East, 5) denoting Byzantium/Constantinople and/or Rome. I am sure that others will have more to say on this.

I find all this extremely interesting, and wonder if Hatters have more to say about it.


  1. David Marjanović says:

    Sounds good to me…

  2. January First-of-May says:

    A thread on Coin Community Forum discussed one of the supposed “Phrom-kesar” coins recently (the way they spelled it was “Phromo Kesaro”).

    I should probably link this post there so that the CCF people would know the origin of that title… do you think I should link to this post, or to the LL post directly?

  3. Probably the LL post, since this is just some quotes from it.

  4. ə de vivre says:

    Also on display in the linked article: the English Wikipedia’s tendency to provide a Turkish equivalent for phrases in any Turkic language. There must be some group of Pan-Turkic nationalists who comb the wiki for this stuff. It’s too silly for me to get seriously annoyed at, but what possible value could there be to anyone in knowing that “Manas Destanı” is Turkish for the “Epic of Manas”?

  5. Eli Nelson says:

    @ə de vivre, I’m not sure I understand what you mean. Can you give an example from that article?

  6. It’s in the head of the Wikipedia article on the Epic of Manas. And indeed it’s hard to see why the Turkish name should be hugely relevant to an Anglophone reader, especially since it’s almost identical to the Kyrgyz and Azerbaijani ones.

  7. Alex Fink says:

    In my experience it’s not just Turkish — the natural tendency of any translation given in a Wikipedia article is to multiply. I assume that casual reader-editors think “oh, a translation is given, so it’s fair game to add translations, so I’ll contribute by adding one in my own language”.

  8. ə de vivre says:

    Or to any non-Turkish speaking reader. It’s like if the French article about “Beaucoup de bruit pour rien” helpfully added that “Much Ado About Nothing” is “Viel Lärm um nichts” in German.

  9. There are various kinds of political narratives involved, some valid, some silly. For instance, the names of the Manchu emperors should by rights be given in Manchu and Mongolian as well as Chinese. Because that makes for very messy leads, the names have been banished to the information box for some emperors.

    I’ve seen articles where readings from all or most of the Sinoxenic languages are given (can’t locate them at the moment), which is overkill.

    The Turkish case is a kind of pan-Turkism, where Turkey sees itself as the leading light or big brother among the Turkic peoples.

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