The Date of Construction of the Walled City “ Olon Süme ”


The study of the Önggüt, who wielded considerable influence in the power centers of the Mongol empire and the Yuan (元) dynasty, is an important topic for elucidating the empire's history. The walled city of Olon Süme, stronghold of the Önggüt chiefs, is an enormous structure nearly a kilometer long that must have required significant political, economic, and cultural backing to build. The answer to when and why the Olon Süme was constructed is believed to hold the key to solving the riddle of the rise and fall of the Önggüt. In this paper I will attempt to examine these questions from an archaeological perspective.

Surveys the author has made of many city sites in the Mongolian steppes have revealed that they were built using Chinese standards of measurement and that these standards changed with the passage of time. It should be possible to deduce the period in which Olon Süme was built by determining the standard of measurement used in its construction.

To state my conclusions: A scale of one unit (1 chi 尺 ) = 31.6 cm was used in the design of Olon Süme, with 1,200 chi = 1 li 里. The outer wall is 2.5 li long and 1.5 li wide; the inner wall is 0.5 li long. This standard of measurement was in use between the 1260s and the 1340s. In addition, part of the city was found to have been built using an older standard of measurement of 1,800 chi = 1 li, which was characteristic of the period prior to 1275. Hence, there is a strong likelihood that the city was built sometime between the 1260s and the mid-1270s. Since artifacts from the Jin (金) period were found inside the city, the hypothesis can be made that the city was an enlargement of a smaller one that existed in the Jin period.

(Niigata University)