The Discovery and History of Olon Süme


Olon Süme is the site of a walled city which stands on the left bank of the Aybugha river, about 30 km north of the town of Bailingmiao (百霊廟) in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China. The earthen wall of the ruined city forms a rectangle measuring about 950-970 meters from east to west and about 560-580 meters from north to south. It was the main castle of the house of Alaqush Tegin Quri and his descendants of the Önggüt people, a Turkic race. They flourished under Mongol rule because Alaqush supported Chinggis Khan in the establishment of the Mongol Empire at the beginning of the 13th century. The castle was destroyed during the collapse of the Yuan (元) dynasty in the 14th century. Later, at the reign of Altan Qaghan in the 16th century, many Buddhist monasteries and pagodas were built on the foundations of these earlier Yuan buildings. This is reflected in the name Olon Süme, which means “many monasteries” in Mongolian. The site was originally named as Olon Süme-yin Tura, a ruin of many monasteries.

Olon Süme was discovered by Huang Wenbi (黄文弼) who was one of the members of the Sino-Swedish Expedition led by Swen A. Hedin in 1929. Based on the Chinese epitaph on a stele found there, he identified the walled city as a site dating from the Yuan period(1260-1368). In 1933 Owen Lattimore found many stones bearing the mark of a cross at the site and identified them as Nestorian relics. Egami Namio surveyed Olon Süme in 1935, 1939 and 1941. After his return from Olon Süme in 1935, based on an examination of the records of the Yuan dynasty, he concluded that the ruin must have been the site of the capital of the Önggüt Nestorians in the Yuan period. His works dealing with Olon Süme and Nestorianism under Mongol rule were revised and published with a complete English translation in the book The Mongol Empire and Christendom in 2000. In addition, a great deal of important knowledge has been gained from surveys of Olon Süme and its surrounding area conducted in 1936 by E. Haenisch and D. Martin and recently by many Chinese researchers.

Egami identified the following five sites inside the walled city; 1) the palace building, 2) the office of the counselor to the king, 3) a Nestorian church 4) a Roman Catholic church 5) either a library or a type of shrine for the ancestors of the Önggüt royal family. He discovered 10 pieces of tombstones marked with the Greek cross. In addition, many tile fragments and shards, objects made of stone, such as blocks for buildings, parts of statues, broken pieces of stele, mortars, querns, and a water tank were discovered on the grounds of the site. As a result of preliminary excavations, many artifacts, notably; fragments of tiles, ceramics, coins, glass beads, bronze, and iron objects and animal bones, were also discovered. Egami also found fragments of Mongolian documents apparently from the site of a Buddhist pagoda.

A tomb remains about 1 km east of Olon Süme, where there were many pieces of stone statues laying on the ground, an indication that the buried person was of high rank. Egami identified the person as an Önggüt king, Georgis; who was famous for his literacy, conversion to Catholicism, and heroic military service.

According to recent research in China, there are also many sites of pavilions and residences outside of the south and east gates of the walled city. And there is a cemetery north-east from Olon Süme where some stelae were found which are written in only Syric, or in a mixture of Syric, Chinese and Mongolian letters. Those stone relics were transferred to and are kept at the former Bailingmiao-shrine in Bailingmiao town.

Thus Olon Süme is significant for the history of the Mongol Empire, the Turkish race, East Asian Christianity, Inner Mongolia, and Mongolian linguistics.

( Osaka International University)