A Tugra (or tughra) is an outstanding calligraphic imperial
design, monogram or a kind of signature of the Ottoman Sultans. It bears the
names of the sultan and his father and the prayer “ever victorious” in most
of them. For example: the tugra content of Suleyman the Magnificient is
“Suleyman shah bin Selim shah han el-muzaffer daima”. A tugra hasn’t been
written by the sultans personally, but nisanci, tughrakesh or tughranuvis
called charged personnels were doing this work. Also tugras were carved on
sultan’s seal. The earliest Ottoman tugra belongs to 2nd Ottoman Sultan
Orhan Gazi. A tugra belonging to first Ottoman Sultan Osman Gazi, it is like
is not encountered in anywhere else to this date. So there are 36 Ottoman
Sultans but 35 sultan tugras. The tugras were used in various places and
objects from beginning to end of Ottoman Empire. It became a form of Ottoman-Arabic
calligraphy and after completing its official role, became the possession of
history (1). Today it is kept alive by calligraphers for artistic purposes.
Initially tugras were used on official documents (e.g.
fermans: order of sultan) to give formality, but later on they are seen on
coins, flags, stamps, official monuments, official buildings, ships, mosques
and palaces as a symbol of sovereignty.
The tugra, on it’s own,
represents Ottoman culture, art and sovereignity. It’s peculiar to the Turks.
It’s the seal of a millenium lasting Turkish sovereignity in Middle East.
Especially among foreigners tugra comes to mind when Ottomans are recalled.
The form of the tugra is peculiar to itself. Neither is anything similar to
the tugra, nor is the tugra similar to anything else... While preserving the
form of the familiar tugra; to reconcile the name of the sultan with this
form is a difficult art. To view the evolution of tugras with repeating and
changing parts from Orhan Gazi’s to Sultan Vahideddin is very interesting.
As a symbol of force and sovereignity the tugras are seen at the top of
documents not at the end... (2).
Although the word “tugra” comes from earlier times than
Ottomans, and similars were used in previous Turkish states, Ottoman tugras
has no common sites with formers other than name similarity. The writing
style of the words “Orhan” and “Osman” in the tugra of the second Ottoman
Sultan Orhan Gazi formed the skeleton for subsequent tugras.
After the tugras evolved as a monogram, the calligraphers
entered the artistic dimension and tried to write better and better tugras.
Other than tugras for sultans, verses from the Holy Quran, hadiths, prayers
and the names of individuals etc. were written in the form of artistic tugra
After acceptance of the tugra of a sultan, its content and
form was static throughout his sultanate. Of course there were small
differences between tugras from one hand to another. Finding the owner of
the tugra on an official Ottoman document is very helpful in determining the
approximate date of the document. So much so that nuances within a sultan’s
own tugra over time can often provide a date within a particular reign.
Reading Ottoman sultan
tugras became possible with gathering all tugras available. By the way,
extensive work by Suha Umur is worth of appreciation and was an excellent
guide in our work. Hereby, we mention him with our best wishes.
PARTS of a TUGRA
1-Stand: The base of the tugra that includes the main text.
(Beyze; Arabic: egg): Two ellipsoid curves on the left side of tugra.
3-Tughs: Three extensions at the upper part, like the letter “elif” in Arabic.
They are not always the letter “elif”. Sometimes they are not a letter.
Pennant like curves beside the tughs are called “zulfe” (Arabic: fringe).
two parallel arms starting from the eggs and running to the right side of
In some tugras the pseudonym of the sultan may be seen at the
upper right area.
Anonymously three tughs represents the sovereignity of Ottoman Empire over
three continents and small and big eggs represent sovereignity over Black
and Mediterranean sea.
Two eggs (Beyze) and three tughs are found in an evolved
tugra. If the text content of the tugra does not provide these needs,
additional unrelated figures may be included in some tugras. These are used
to keep the classical form of the tugra and to provide similarity with
earlier examples. They have no meaning but are for artistic effect to
complete the form.
1-Umur S. Osmanlı
Padişah Tuğraları. Cem Yayınevi. İstanbul,1980.
Osmanlı Tuğralarına Eleştiri Açısından Bir Bakış.
www.tugra.org & www.tugra.sergisi.com 2002