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The organisation of stage stations in Central Asian colonial provinces of the Tibetan Empire according to Pelliot tibétain 1096r

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 May 2021

Humboldt University
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Based on the first English translation of the Old Tibetan document with the shelf mark Pelliot tibétain 1096 recto, the article analyses the internal organisation of a stage station (sluṅs) in the Central Asian colonial provinces of the Tibetan Empire. It examines officials and offices that constituted a stage station, as well as persons who were using its services. By comparing the information contained in the document with later reports of foreign travellers, the article reconstructs the organisation of a stage station. It also brings to light certain traits that were apparently common to the first historically attested relay system of the Tibetan Empire and the succeeding system introduced by the Mongols during the thirteenth century ce.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Royal Asiatic Society

The Old Tibetan (OT) document examined in the following article provides us with an exclusive insight into the organisation of a stage station in Central Asian colonial provinces of the Tibetan Empire. Tibetan post services and the transportation system as such have thus far drawn little attention of Western scholars, of whom only Uebach has devoted a study to the relay system of the imperial period.Footnote 2 To the best of my knowledge, there exists only one detailed study on later developments of and foreign influences on the Tibetan relay system, namely P. Maurer, ‘The Tibetan Governmental Transport and Postal System: Horse Services and Other Taxes from the 13th to the 20th Centuries’, Buddhism, Law & Society 5 (2019), pp. 1–58. Owing to the scarcity of sources, however, Maurer concentrated on the organisation of the relay system as such, leaving aside the functioning of its most basic units—the stage stations.Footnote 3 The present study attempts to fill this gap by analysing the only thus far known OT document that sheds light on the internal organisation of a single stage station.

Pelliot tibétain 1096 recto (hereafter: Pt 1096r) is an original OT document, to be specific a summons concerning a dispute over two lost or stolen horses. Like all texts from the Pelliot tibétain collection, Pt 1096r was discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century in Cave 17 of the Mogao Caves, southeast of Dunhuang, and brought to Paris by Paul Pelliot.Footnote 4 The document is composed in Old Literary Tibetan (OLT).Footnote 5 Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts we still lack clear criteria on which to date single documents of the period.Footnote 6 Accordingly, the date and the place of the composition of Pt 1096r, as well as its ‘authorship’, remain unknown. Since the text is an original judicial document, it was most probably written in a law court by an authorised person. Two arguments speak in favour of the hypothesis that Pt 1096r originated in Central Asian colonies of the imperial Tibet: (1) some of the proper names of persons involved in the case are of non-Tibetan origin (see section entitled Persons below); and (2) the text explicitly mentions Śa-ču (i.e. Dunhuang) as the place of residence of two horse owners. The document is complete, bearing eight seals of persons involved in the case: six seals of guarantors (Qan-hwa-hwa, Den-bun-ɣde, Čaṅ-stag-bźer, Yo-gaṅ Reɣu-skyes, Gñi-ba Lha-mthoṅ, and Śig-śiṅ-śiṅ), a seal of the defendant Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes, and a seal of a witness who was an anonymous judge from aristocracy (źaṅ lon źal čhe pa). The legal aspects pertinent to the document have already been comprehensively discussed by Brandon Dotson and so do not need to be restated here.Footnote 7

The present article concentrates on the organisation of stage stations (sluṅs) in the period of the Tibetan Empire. Namely, Pt 1096r provides some details on a sluṅs, people related to it, as well as services offered by a sluṅs. Therefore, its primary objective is to present the first annotated translation of the document in a Western language, accompanied by a diplomatic transliteration, and a glossary (see Appendix). In the discussion section, the contents will be scrutinised in order to enhance our understanding of the sluṅs-institution.

Historical context

At the turn of the sixth and seventh century ce, by conquering its immediate neighbours, a small polity centred in the Yar-valley (OLT yar luṅs), sometimes referred to as the Yar-luṅs Kingdom, arose to become an important military and political actor on the Tibetan Plateau. In the 630s this polity started its expansion beyond the valleys of Central Tibet, subduing Sum-pa, Źaṅ-źuṅ and Ɣa-źa (Ch. 吐谷渾 Tŭyùhún) over the following thirty years. These conquests mark the emergence of the Tibetan Empire. With varying luck, the Tibetan Empire then continued its expansion through the seventh and eighth centuries, temporarily controlling territories beyond the Tibetan Plateau, including the Central Asian Silk Roads. Its demise started in the 840s, triggered by an unstable internal political situation and the declining economy that mirrored the worsening international economic situation from the 830s onward.Footnote 8

The expanding Tibetan Empire required an efficient administrative system to control—politically and economically—the newly subdued territories and peoples. To this end an extensive relay system had to be established that could support communication between the socio-political centre of the Empire (now located in the valley of the Skyi-čhu river) and its dependent territories and colonies. Our knowledge of this system is still in its infancy, and is largely based on sporadic mentions of sluṅs ‘stage station’—the nodes of the communication network—and messengers, as in the following passages:

ɣdun ma mkhar phrag du / blon khrī sum rǰes bsdus nas / mṅan (222) daṅ / sluṅs stod smad gyī thaṅ khram čhen po btab / (ITJ 750)

The council, convened at castle Phrag by councillor Khri-sum-rǰe-[rcaṅ-bźer], issued great tallies of jurisdiction for mṅan and the upper and lower stage stations (sluṅs).

bod kyi gcug lag bkaɣ grims čhed po daṅ / blon po ɣi rim pa daṅ / čhe čhuṅ (453) gñis kyī dbaṅ thaṅ daṅ / legs pa zin pa ɣī bya dgaɣ daṅ / ñe yo ba ɣi čhad pa daṅ / źiṅ ɣbrog gi thul ka daṅ dor ka daṅ / sluṅs kyi go bar bsñams (454) pa daṅ / bre pul daṅ / sraṅ la scogs pa // bod kyi čhos kyi gźuṅ bzaṅ po kun // bcan po khri sroṅ brcan gyi riṅ las byuṅ ṅo / (Pt 1287)

The Tibetan principles—the great law—successions of councillors, prerogatives for (lit. of) both, great and small ones, rewards for good ones that adhere [to us], punishments for culprits, standardisation of thul ka and dor ka of fields and pastures, and of distances between (lit. of) stage stations (sluṅs), [weight units] bre, phul, and sraṅ, among others, all the good foundations of the Tibetan customs appeared from the reign of bcan po Khri Sroṅ-brcan.

(36) da čhab srīd gčig čīṅ // mǰal (37) dum čhen po ɣdī ltar mȷad pas (38) dbon źaṅ dgyes paɣi bkaɣ phrind (39) sñan pas kyaṅ ɣdrul dgos te // (40) phan chun gyī pho ña ɣdoṅ ba yaṅ // lam (41) rñiṅ par byuṅ nas // sṅa lugs bźin (42) // bod rgya gñis kyī bar // caṅ kun (43) yog du rta brǰes la // (ST Treaty W)

Now, the politics being one, because a great agreement was reached in this way, it being necessary to travel with good messages from [lit. of] the pleased nephew and uncle, travelling messengers of both sides appeared on old roads as well. Hence, according to earlier customs, let horses be changed at Caṅ-kun-yog between Tibet and China!

In this context, Pt 1096r represents an invaluable source of information on the internal organisation of sluṅs that constituted the basic units of the relay system of the Tibetan Empire. Even though due to its concise and highly technical language the text may occasionally be difficult to comprehend and therefore to translate, it delivers unique details on the functioning of a stage station under the Tibetan rule. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that the document is a legal one and so the organisation of the stage station is not its main concern.


In the first half of the last autumn month of the dragon year, the messenger Gźams-khoṅ-khri came to the encampment of Par-kog,Footnote 9 asking for one horse of Qan-bcan-zigs-chan. Upon it was necessary to send [the horse] back,Footnote 10 deputies of the head of the stage station, head of the encampment, among others, said: “Having taken away the horse, [we] placed [it] in the encampment. Thereupon [it] got lost”. After [they] had not given the horse back, having seized Li Qab-sab-ñaṅ, the groom of the stage station, [one] inquired [him].

Thereupon [the groom] said: “It is true that we put the horse in the encampment of the stage station. Upon handing [it] over to Li Źen-ɣdo, the light brown horse got lost”.

“Summon Qab-sab-ñaṅ, as well as Źan-ɣdo, and, having spokenFootnote 11 [to them], swear a sincere oath: ‘Upon putting this horse in the encampment, the lost one was indeed there. We have not taken [it] away. [We] have not stolen [it]!’ If [you] can make the vow, give a replacement! If [you] cannot make the vow, being decided according to the law, [one] will have examined the sincerity (dkar) regarding the very Qab-sab-ñaṅ, among others.”

Upon having said [so] on the eighth day of the first winter month of this year, up to the fourteenth day [of the month] Qab-sab-ñaṅ as well as the worker Źan-ɣdo did not come. Then, having summoned Yo-gaṅFootnote 12 G.yu-la-skyes, the head of the encampment, to the court, [one] inquired [him].

“The messenger Gźams-khoṅ-khri, having asked for one horse of a man from Śa-čuFootnote 13, came to the encampment of Par-kog. Thereupon, as for this horse, both the messenger and the groom Qab-sab-ñaṅ prepared to mount the stallion. There were not many messengers. After some messenger-horsemen had come and the horse of the man from Śa-ču was bound,Footnote 14 I said to the messenger(s) and the groom: ‘[The horses shall] not come across [each other].’ I ordered to the groom ‘Catch the horses whomever [they] belong to, bring [them], [and] bind [them] again!’ Later, the day after the next day, Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir,Footnote 15 having come again to the encampment, asked ‘Where is my horse?’ Qab-sab-ñaṅ said: ‘Both horses of the man from Śa-ču were in the courtyardFootnote 16 [of]Footnote 17 the head of the stage station. Thereupon, Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir, riding a one [and] leading a one, fled away.’ [I] listened to Qab-sab-ñaṅ. Concerning the horse, it was not let free by myself.” [Thus Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes] said.

As for the pleadings [of] the horse owner Hiṅ-ce, [he] was saying: “Once,Footnote 18 my horse was three nights long in the pen; there was no other horse of the stage station. If the head of the encampment must have seen this horse, [I] request [you] to ask: ‘If [he] is despondent about [the horse] being stolen,Footnote 19 where is he?’”

At that time a minion of the stage station appeared. thum čhu ma, having appeared afterwards, said “[I] am coming from J̌u-čaṅ to Lug-luṅ to help”.Footnote 20

Having clarified [the circumstances],Footnote 21 [one] decided: “Concerning the lost horses of Hiṅ-che, among others, the head of the encampment, among others, truly feared [its] stealing”.Footnote 22 [Thus] it was said.

The head of the encampment, upon being inquired, said, “Upon this horse had come to the encampment, I ordered the groom Qab-sab-ñaṅ that [he] must (śig = imp) bind the horse again. [Qab-sab-ñaṅ said:] ‘Once, both horses were in the courtyard of the head of the stage station. Thereupon, Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir, riding a one [and] leading a one, fled away.’ [I] listened to Qab-sab-ñaṅ”.

After [one] had previously set a time for Qab-sab-ñaṅ to [secure] guarantors, [he] did not arrive on time. Neither did Źaṅ-ɣdo arrive.

[Decision:] While initiating (lit. fixing) the dispute [over] the lost horses, it was not feasible to settle (lit. defend) [it]. Therefore, [one] decided that the head of the encampment must provide (lit. give) guarantors, summon Qab-sab-ñaṅ and Źan-ɣdo, and plead on the full moon day of the first winter month.Footnote 23

Sealed for the guarantors of [Yo-gaṅ] G.yu-la-skyes with the guarantor seals of Qan-hwa-hwa, Den-bun-ɣde, Čaṅ-stag-bźer, Yo-gaṅ Reɣu-skyes, Gñi-ba Lha-mthoṅ, and Śig-śiṅ-śiṅ, among others, with the personal seal of the person concerned (i.e. Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes), and with the witness seal of an aristocrat-judge.

Tibetan Text

The text has been transliterated by the author on the basis of scans made available on Gallica.Footnote 24 The document consists of 31 lines of text immediately followed by eight seals in red ink. The seals evince that Pt 1096r is an original document and therefore of greatest historical value. Its orthography uses neither reversed gi gus <> nor double chegs < ː > characteristic of many OT texts. The text was edited, most probably by the scribe himself, for in ll. 20 and 25 some syllables are added below the main line. The first eleven lines are written with approximately the double of the line spacing of the rest of the document. Likewise, the letters of the first part are considerably bigger than in the second part. The letters of the second part are less carefully written, which fact might have resulted from a faster writing. The change occurs in the middle of l. 11. We observe that the hand changes exactly where the statement of the head of the encampment (ll. 11–8) begins. It is therefore conceivable that the statement was written down simultaneously in the court. A thorough paleographical analysis could perhaps reveal more details on the issue.

Critical apparatus

(r1) § // ɣbrug gi lo ɣi ston sla ba čuṅs gyi ṅo la // qan bcan zigs chan gyi rta gčig // pho ña gźams (r2) khoṅ khri ɣcal čiṅ / par kog gi chugsu mčis nas // slar zlogs paɣi rigs pa las // sluṅs gyi dphon (r3) sna chugs phon la scogs pa // rta phrogste // chugsu bźag pa las / / stor čhes mčiste // rta slar ma (r4) scal nas // sluṅs gyi rta rȷi li qab sab ñaṅ / bzuṅste rmas pa las //

sluṅs chugsu rta bdag čhag (r5) gis bźag pa yaṅ mad // li źen ɣdo la gthad pa las // rta snar mo stor čhes mčiste /

(r6) qab sab ñaṅ / źan ɣdo yaṅ khug la // rmos te / rta ɣdi chugsu bźag pa las / stor pa ma lags (r7) re // bdag čhag gis sbyaṅs re brkus re śes bro dkar gis / thob śig / bro phod na skyin ba phob (r8) śig / bro ma phod na // khrims bźin gčhad par bgyis te // kho na qab sab ñaṅ la (r9) scogs pa // dkar drus /

lan ɣdiɣi dgun sla ra ba ches brgyad la bgyis pa las / ches bču bźiɣi (r10) bar du qab sab ñaṅ daṅ / khuṅs po źan ɣdo yaṅ ma mčhis nas // chugs phon / yo gaṅ (r11) g.yu la skyes grar bkugste rmas pa las //

pho ña gźams khoṅ khri / śa ču pa ɣi rta gčhig (r12) ɣcal te // par kog gi chugsu mčhis pa las // rta ɣdi pho ña daṅ / rta rȷi qab sab ñaṅ gñis gyis rta / pho (r13) skyon bar bgyis pa las // pho ñaṅ maṅ po ni ma mčhis // pho ña rkya ɣgaɣ mčhis pa la // śa ču paɣi rta bya bsdam (r14) pa la ma thug śes // pho ña daṅ rta rȷi la bdag gis bgyis // rta ga la mčis pa / loṅ la sky{o}l (r15) slar skris śig par rta rȷi la yaṅ bdag gis bsgos pa las // phyi de naṅ par ȷeɣu hiṅ yir slar chugsu (r16) mčhis te / ṅaɣi rta ga re źes rmas pa las // qab sab ñaṅ gi mčhid nas / śa ču paɣi rta gñi ga sluṅs phon (r17) g.yul thog na mčhis pa las / ȷeɣu hiṅ yir gis gčig źon gčig khrid de bros śes / qab [sab] ñaṅ (r18) la thos // rta ni bdagis ma thoṅ źes mčhiɣ //

rta bdag hiṅ ce mčhid śags rnam čhig la / bdag gi rta chugs (r19) khor na dguṅ gsum mčhis pa / sluṅs gyi rta gźan gčhig kyaṅ ma mčhis la / rta ɣdi chugs phon gyis myi mtho (r20) du yaṅ myi ruṅ na / rku[s] su yaṅ glo ba čhuṅ na // khoṅ ta gar mčhis źes rmar gsol źes mčhi //

de ɣi che sluṅs gyi bu gñer čhags // (r21) thum čhu ma phyi la čhagste // ǰu čhaṅ yan čhad daṅ / lug luṅ man čad du gñer du mčhi źes mčhi nas //

dbyaṅs (r22) te bčhad pa // hiṅ che la scogs paɣi rta stor pa // chugs phon la scogs pa la / brkusu yaṅ dog[s] śes (r23) gsol //

chugs phon rmas pa las / rta ɣdi chugsu mčhis pa las / bdag gis rta slar (r24) skri[s] śig par rta rȷi qab sab ñaṅ la bsgos / rnam čhig la rta gñi ga sluṅs phon gyi g.yul thog (r25) mčhis pa las // ȷeɣu [hiṅ yir] gis gčhig źon gčhig khrid de bro[s] ste soṅ źes // qab sab ñaṅ la thos / (r26) śes mčhiɣ /

qab sab ñaṅ sṅar gñaɣ dus btab pa las kyaṅ / dus su ma mčhis / źan ɣdo (r27) yaṅ ma mčhis //

rta stor pa tha sñad ɣdogs śiṅ bsgyaṅ (read: bskyaṅ) du myi ruṅ gis // chugs phon yaṅ gñaɣ (r28) scol la / qab sab ñaṅ daṅ / źan ɣdo khug la // dgun sla ra ba ña la mčhid śags ɣchol čhig (r29) par bčade //

g.yu la skyes gyi gñaɣ la // qan hwa hwa daṅ / den bun ɣde daṅ / čaṅ stag bźer daṅ / yo (r30) gaṅ reɣu skyes daṅ / gñi ba lha mthoṅ daṅ / śig śiṅ śiṅ la scogs paɣi gñaɣ rgya daṅ / khoṅ taɣi (r31) sug rgya daṅ // źaṅ lon źal čhe paɣi dpaṅ rgyas bthab pha // (eight red seals)


The term sluṅs occurs seven times in the document, sometimes as a simple lexeme, sometimes forming part of a compound (e.g., sluṅs chugs, sluṅs phon). However, its explanation requires examination of at least one more technical term: chugs. To elucidate their meanings, I will first examine persons mentioned in the document who were closely related to the sluṅs and then look at the organisation and services of the latter.


The document mentions several persons related to the sluṅs. The exact nature of the offices they held is not completely clear, but we learn that the institution was hierarchically organised with a sluṅs phon ‘head of the sluṅs’ at its head. The following discussion particularises the functions of the persons involved in the events reported in Pt 1096r.

In ll. 2–3 ‘deputies (sna) of the head (dphon) of the sluṅs’ are mentioned, one of whom is chugs phon, ‘head of the chugs’. The phrase sluṅs gyi dphon can be identified with sluṅs phon recurring in ll. 16 & 24.Footnote 25 The compound dphon sna suggests that a sluṅs had a superior called dphon (specifically, *sluṅs dpon), who had at least a few deputies (sna), one of whom was called chugs phon (< *chugs dpon, lit. ‘head of the chugs’). From this a hierarchy emerges: a sluṅs phon supervised a chugs phon. The sluṅs phon remains anonymous in Pt 1096r and, we may assume, was not conceived of as in any way involved in the case.Footnote 26

The head of the chugs in the sluṅs concerned was Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes (ll. 10–1). The head of the chugs was subject to the head of the sluṅs. He was summoned to the court after the groom Qab-sab-ñaṅ and the worker Li Źaṅ-ɣdo had not arrived. Hence, we can infer that the head of the chugs was directly responsible for the groom; he was in the capacity of giving orders to the groom (ll. 23–4). He also had to take responsibility for groom's misdeeds. In his accusation the horse owner Hiṅ-ce was asking whether looking after horses was not the duty of the head of the chugs (ll. 19–20).

Pt 1096r documents three distinct offices or positions that seem to have been directly involved in taking care of horses: rta rȷi, khuṅs po, and bu gñer. Because rta rȷi apparently had some kind of superiority over khuṅs po, I think it more proper to translate the former as ‘groom’ and the latter as ‘worker’ (see below). I understand groom as denoting a person responsible for the management of horses in all aspects, whereas worker would have been responsible for feeding, cleaning, etc. To judge from the etymology of bu gñer (< *bu gñer ba), the term denoted a minion helping in the sluṅs.

A sluṅs had a groom—sluṅs gyi rta rȷi. In the sluṅs under discussion it was Li Qab-sab-ñaṅ (ll. 4 & 12).Footnote 27 The latter was responsible for horses kept in the sluṅs; he had to bind (skri) them and look that they did not run away (l. 24). Therefore, when the horses got lost he was the first suspect (l. 4). His immediate superior was the head of the chugs (chugs phon), to whose orders the groom had to obey (ll. 23–24).

Li Źen/Źan-ɣdo is once called khuṅs po (l. 10)Footnote 28 but his role in the events is enigmatic. In l. 5 we read that the groom Qab-sab-ñaṅ handed a light brown horse over (gthad) to Źan-ɣdo and the horse got lost. From then on Źan-ɣdo, together with Qab-sab-ñaṅ, was accused of losing the horse. They were summoned to the court but did not appear (l. 10). Consequently, the head of the chugs, Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes, was summoned and obligated to bring the groom and Źan-ɣdo to the court. It follows that Źan-ɣdo was likewise employed at the sluṅs and subject to Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes. Moreover, because he received the horse from the groom Qab-sab-ñaṅ, he must have also been subject to the latter. If khuṅs po denoted an official, he was ranked below rta rȷi.

A third person, apparently helping with horses, was sluṅs gyi bu gñer (l. 20) ‘minion of the sluṅs’. Nothing is known of this official apart from his relation to the sluṅs and the fact that he occurred to help (l. 21). It is also not clear why is he mentioned in the case; the passage (ll. 20–21) seems out of context.

These were the officials working in the sluṅs. Apart from them the document mentions other persons as well. On several occasions an owner of a horse is spoken of:

qan bcan zigs chan gyi rta gčig (l. 1) ‘one horse of Qan-bcan-zigs-chan’

śa ču pa ɣi rta gčhig (ll. 11 and 13) ‘one horse of the man from Śa-ču’

śa ču paɣi rta gñi ga (l. 16) ‘both horses of the men/man from Śa-ču’

rta bdag hiṅ ce (l. 18) ‘horse owner Hiṅ-ce’

hiṅ che la scogs paɣi rta (l. 22) ‘the horses of Hiṅ-che, among others’

We have two proper names: Qan-bcan-zigs-chan and Hiṅ-ce. In addition, from l. 16 we infer that one horse was claimed by a certain Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir. In the next line the same person is said to have fled away with two horses. The circumstances are not completely clear, but it seems that Qan-bcan-zigs-chan and Hiṅ-ce kept their horses in the sluṅs and Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir used the opportunity to steal the horses. Once the text speaks of ‘one horse of the man from Śa-ču’, once of ‘both horses of the men/man from Śa-cu’. The most plausible explanation is that both Qan-bcan-zigs-chan and Hiṅ-ce were from Śa-ču and each kept one horse in the sluṅs. However, contrary to Hiṅ-ce, Qan-bcan-zigs-chan does not seem to have been involved in the case.

Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir seems to be the thief; he came to the chugs claiming that his horses were there (l. 16) but he fled riding on one horse and leading the second one along (l. 17).

Pt 1096r mentions yet another person: messenger (pho ña) Gźams-khoṅ-khri (ll. 1–2 and 11), who came to the chugs, asking for the horse of Qan-bcan-zigs-chan. He was apparently sent by Qan-bcan-zigs-chan to bring the latter's horse back. In this context we may remark that persons who attended the sluṅs and changed their horses there were referred to as pho ña (see l. 13).Footnote 29

The document ends with the (poorly preserved) seals of eight persons involved in the case whose names and positions are given as:

Guarantors: Qan-hwa-hwa



Yo-gaṅ Reɣu-skyesFootnote 30

Gñi-ba Lha-mthoṅ


Defendant: Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes (chugs phon)

Witness: an anonymous aristocrat-judge

Internal organisation of the sluṅs

The internal organisation of the institution as depicted in Pt 1096r can be partly reconstructed on the basis of the offices that formed it. In the preceding section I discussed the following officials:

sluṅs phon ‘head of the sluṅs

sluṅs gyi dphon sna ‘deputies of the head of the sluṅs

chugs phon ‘head of the chugs

rta rȷi ‘groom’

khuṅs po ‘worker’

bu gñer ‘minion’

pho ña ‘messenger’

The institution itself consisted of several distinct compartments. Its most general name was sluṅs. It was managed by the head of the sluṅs. Within the sluṅs there was a sluṅs chugs (l. 4), lit. ‘chugs of sluṅs’, also simply referred to as chugs, in which horses of messengers were put (bźag). The chugs concerned in Pt 1096r is called ‘chugs of Par-kog’ (l. 2). This suggests that a sluṅs could have several chugs and each of them bore its own name. A chugs was overlooked by the head of the chugs. A chugs had a chugs khor (< *chugs ɣkhor), lit. ‘chugs-pen’, where horses stayed overnight (ll. 18–19). Grooms and workers took care of horses that were staying in the chugs. The field of responsibility of minions is difficult to establish. The head of the sluṅs had his private courtyard (g.yul thog) in the sluṅs (ll. 16 and 24), which was used to separate horses of special guests from plain horses.

The picture of the sluṅs that emerges from Pt 1096r reveals its complex and hierarchical organisation. Regarding the meanings of particular terms that recur in the text, the above analysis allows for the following interpretations:

  • sluṅs ‘stage station’, managed by a sluṅs phon ‘head of the stage station’; it included one or more ‘encampments’ (chugs);

  • chugs ‘encampment, camp site, base’ denoted a site within or in the direct proximity of a stage station where horses were held; it was managed by a chugs phon ‘head of the encampment’. chugs most probably also encompassed accommodation sites for humans, like a special building (*chugs khaṅ) or tents;Footnote 31

  • chugs khor ‘pen’ (lit. ‘encampment-pen’) denoted an enclosure in which horses were kept overnight.


Information on the internal organisation of a sluṅs provided by Pt 1096r is scanty. Nevertheless, in this respect, the document discussed in this article is our best source for the period of the Tibetan Empire. Even though travel literature, native as well as foreign, is exceptionally abundant for the post-imperial period, thus far no detailed descriptions of the internal organisation of stage stations have surfaced.Footnote 32 We find occasional pieces of information strewn throughout the literature, as, for instance, the following remarks in the journey report of Montgomerie:

These Tarjums are from 20 to 70 miles apart; at each, shelter is to be had, and efficient arrangements are organised for forwarding officials and messengers. The Tarjums generally consist of a house, or houses, made with sun-dried bricks. The larger Tarjums are capable of holding 150 to 200 men at a time, but some of the smaller can only hold a dozen people; in the latter case, further accommodation is provided by tents. […] Each Tarjum is in [the] charge of an official, called Tarjumpá, who is obliged to have horses, yaks, and coolies in attendance whenever notice is received of the approach of a Lhasa official. From ten to fifteen horses, and as many men, are always in attendance night and day. Horses and beasts of burden (yaks in the higher ground, donkeys in the lower) […] are supplied by the nomadic tribes, whose camps are pitched near the halting houses.Footnote 33

Montgomerie's observations thus concur with the information retrieved from Pt 1096r. A stage station (sluṅs) was a complex institution consisting of several compartments that were called encampments (chugs). Each of these provided accommodation for a distinct group of travellers or messengers (either in houses or in tents).Footnote 34 In addition, each encampment possessed its own pen (chugs khor) where horses (or other pack-animals) were kept separately, most probably so that they did not get mixed up and could be returned to their owners after the tax service has been fulfilled. It is conceivable that the messenger Gźams-khoṅ-khri, who came to the encampment looking for the horse of Qan-bcan-zigs-chan (Pt 1096r: 1–2), was to bring back the horse to its owner.Footnote 35 We can speculate that each chugs was dependent on tax services of one particular community of tax-payers, either a group of households, a village, or a nomadic camp: rta zams of later times were supplied with horses and cattle by the nearby living nomads as part of their tax obligations.Footnote 36 Montgomerie reports that, depending on the topography of the area, either yaks or donkeys were kept. This agrees with the information from the Old Tibetan Annals that one distinguished between stage stations located in the upper and in the lower parts of the country: mṅan daṅ / sluṅs stod smad gyī thaṅ khram čhen po btab / (ITJ 750: 221–2) ‘[The council] issued great tallies of jurisdiction for mṅans and the upper and lower stage stations’.Footnote 37

We find common traces in the organisation of the imperial sluṅs system and the post-imperial rta zam system re-established by the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Our knowledge remains very limited, but it is conceivable that the Mongols did not create the system, but rather reformed the existing one that must have survived the disintegration of the Empire, if not for the sake of information circulating then at least to support regional trade.


reconstructed verb root




Classical Tibetan


R. Bielmeier et al., Comparative Dictionary (2013 draft)


S. C. Das, A Tibetan-English dictionary








H. A. Jäschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary


literary Tibetan






Oriental Collections of the British Library


Old Literary Tibetan


Old Tibetan


Old Tibetan Documents Online


Pelliot tibétain


I. J. Schmidt, Tibetisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch


F. W. Thomas, Tibetan literary texts



v1, v2, v3, v4

verb stems



Appendix: Glossary to Pt 1096r


I would like to acknowledge financial support provided by grant BI 1953/1-1 of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in years 2017–2020. I wish to thank Diana Lange for helping me with the identification of stage stations on the maps of the Wise collection.

The Tibetan script is transliterated according to the principles put forward in J. Bialek, ‘Towards a standardisation of Tibetan transliteration for textual studies’, Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines 56 (2020), pp. 28–46. Tibetan proper names are hyphened in order to enhance their readability in the text flow. Only the first letter is capitalised.


2 Uebach, H., ‘Notes on the Postal System (slungs) in the Tibetan Empire in the 7th–9th Centuries’, in Unearthing Himalayan Treasures: Festschrift for Franz-Karl Ehrhard, (eds.) Caumanns, V., Sernesi, M. and Solmsdorf, N. (Marburg, 2019), pp. 449455Google Scholar.

3 Uebach devoted a part of her article to the internal organisation of a stage station, but her interpretation of Pt 1096r (the backbone of her research) is problematic (see below). In addition, interesting information on the relay system of pre-modern Tibet can be found scattered throughout Lange's meticulous study of the nineteenth-century maps in the Wise collection. See D. Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas by a 19th Century Tibetan Lama. A Journey of Discovery (Leiden, 2020).

4 Pelliot's own account of the “Dunhuang library” can be found in Pelliot, P., ‘Une bibliothèque médiévale retrouvée au Kan-sou’, Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient 8, 3/4 (1908), pp. 501529CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a general description of the Pelliot collection, see Fujieda, A., ‘The Tunhuang Manuscripts: A General Description Part I’, Zinbun 9 (1966), pp. 132Google Scholar.

5 ‘Old Literary Tibetan’, or more commonly ‘Old Tibetan’, is the written language of non-translatory Tibetan documents discovered in Central Asian oases and of the imperial inscriptions from Central Tibet. OLT roughly encompasses the period between the script invention in the 630s or 640s and the formation of analytical verb constructions and phonemic tones in the ninth century. See T. Takeuchi, ‘Formation and Transformation of Old Tibetan’, in Historical Development of the Tibetan Languages, (eds.) T. Takeuchi and N. Hayashi (Kobe, 2012), pp. 3–17; Bialek, J., ‘The Proto-Tibetan clusters sL- and sR- and the periodisation of Old Tibetan’, Himalayan Linguistics 17, 2 (2018), p. 39Google Scholar, fn. 98.

6 Most recent contributions to the topic include: T. Takeuchi, ‘Sociolinguistic Implications of the use of Tibetan in East Turkestan from the end of Tibetan Domination through the Tangut Period (9th–12th c.)’, in Turfan Revisited, (ed.) P. Zieme (Berlin, 2004), pp. 341–348; Dalton, J., Davis, T. and van Schaik, S., ‘Beyond Anonymity: Paleographic Analyses of the Dunhuang Manuscripts’, Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies 3 (2007), pp. 123Google Scholar; H. Uebach, ‘Notes on the Palaeography of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions: Zhol and bSam yas’, in Edition, éditions: l’écrit au Tibet, évolution et devenir, (eds.) A. Chayet, C. Scherrer-Schaub, F. Robin and J.-L. Achard (München, 2010), pp. 411–428; Walter, M. and Beckwith, C. I., ‘The Dating and Interpretation of the Old Tibetan Inscriptions’, Central Asiatic Journal 54, 2 (2010), pp. 291319Google Scholar; Helman-Ważny, A. and van Schaik, S., ‘Witnesses for Tibetan Craftsmanship: Bringing together paper analysis, palaeography and codicology in the examination of the earliest Tibetan manuscripts’, Archaeometry 55, 4 (2013), pp. 707741CrossRefGoogle Scholar; S. van Schaik, ‘Towards a Tibetan palaeography: Developing a typology of writing styles in early Tibet’, in Manuscript Cultures: Mapping the Field, (eds.) D. Bondarev, J. Quenzer and J.-U. Sobisch (Berlin, 2014), pp. 299–337; C. I. Beckwith and M. L. Walter, ‘Dating and characterization of the Old Tibetan Annals and the Chronicle’, in From Bhakti to Bon. Festschrift for Per Kværne, (eds.) H. Havnevik and C. Ramble (Oslo, 2015), pp. 53–88; Dotson, B., ‘Misspelling “Buddha”: The officially commissioned Tibetan Aparimitāyur-nāma mahāyāna-sūtras from Dunhuang and the study of Old Tibetan orthography’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 79, 1 (2016), pp. 129151CrossRefGoogle Scholar; B. Dotson and A. Helman-Ważny, Codicology, paleography, and orthography of early Tibetan documents (Wien, 2016); Zeisler, B., ‘las.stsogs etc. – On internal cues for dating Old Tibetan documents’, Zentralasiatische Studien 45 (2016), pp. 467491Google Scholar; J. Bialek, ‘Kinterms: New potential indicators for dating Old Tibetan documents’, Revue d'Etudes Tibétaines (2021 Forthcoming).

7 B. Dotson, ‘Introducing Early Tibetan Law: Codes and Cases’, in Secular Law and Order in the Tibetan Highland, (ed.) D. Schuh (Andiast, 2015), pp. 285ff.; see also, K. Iwao, ‘Preliminary Study of the Legal Court Proceedings in the Old Tibetan Empire’, in Secular Law and Order in the Tibetan Highland, (ed.) D. Schuh (Andiast, 2015), pp. 315–322. Unfortunately, I did not have access to Wang Yao 王 堯, and Chen Jian 陳 踐, Dunhuang Tufan wenshu lunwenji 敦煌吐蕃文書論文集 (= Selection of the Old Tibetan documents), (Chengdu, 1988) who likewise studied the document under consideration.

8 C. I. Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Princeton, 2009), pp. 158ff.

9 The name Par-kog does not seem to be attested in other OT documents, but Thomas quotes several other place names that begin with the syllable par (F. W. Thomas, Tibetan literary texts and documents concerning Chinese Turkestan [London, 1935–55], vol. 4, p. 60b).

10 The meaning of zlogs is uncertain for rigs required nominalised v1 in genitive (cf. H. A. Jäschke, A Tibetan-English Dictionary [New York, 2003], p. 528a, s.v. rigs). I tentatively identify it with zlog ‘to cause to return’.

11 I identify rmos with CT smos, v2 < smo ‘to say, to speak’; cf. Nangchen mhy “with ɲe to clarify one's kinship relations (e.g. before getting married)” (R. Bielmeier et al., Comparative Dictionary of Tibetan Dialects (CDTD). Volume 2: Verbs [Berlin, 2018], p. 983).

12 Takeuchi interpreted Yo-gaṅ as a name of a people that remains unidentified thus far. See T. Takeuchi, Old Tibetan Contracts from Central Asia (Tokyo 1995), p. 132.

13 Modern Dunhuang; Tib. Śa-ću < Ch. Shāzhōu 沙州.

14 OTDO has bya bsdas but the reading of the last two syllables of l. 13 is uncertain. The first one looks more like čya, whereas the second one begins with a sign that can hardly be identified with any letter of the Tibetan alphabet. Its last letter could be either s or m. Since no such a word as *bsdas seems to be attested in written sources, I read the syllable as bsdam. The meaning and function of bya remain unexplained.

15 A certain Jeɣu-hiṅ is mentioned in Pt 1208/Pt 1221: B1 as surety (see Takeuchi, Old Tibetan Contracts, pp. 252ff.). It is not certain whether this is the same person as Jeɣu-hiṅ-yir of Pt 1096r.

16 Compare Yolmo [jīldo] ‘courtyard’ (CDTD: 7854, s.v. g.yul ɣthag ‘threshing floor’).

17 For this reconstruction compare sluṅs phon gyi g.yul thog in l. r24.

18 The translation of rnam čhig la as ‘once’ is purely contextual.

19 The phrase glo ba čhuṅ is known from only a few OT documents:

dpyas par glo ba čhuṅ (ITJ 737.1: 396) ‘to fear the blame’ (J. W. de Jong, The story of Rāma in Tibet: text and translation of the Tun-huang manuscripts [Stuttgart, 1989], p. 43)

čhab ɣchal du / glo ba čhuṅ (Or.15000/495: 4) ‘[with] little hope of obtaining water’ (TLTD, vol. 2, p. 165)

rgya[-] rkun tu glo ba čuṅ (Or.15000/91: 4; Thomas’ reading: rgya[n] kun tu glo ba čuṅ; Takeuchi's reading: [rgyan rkun] du glo ba čuṅ, (T. Takeuchi, Old Tibetan Manuscripts from East Turkestan in the Stein Collection of the British Library [London, 1998], vol. 2, p. 51) ‘is very stupid’ (TLTD, vol. 2, p. 241)

mčhi bar glo ba čhuṅ (Or.15000/542: 6) ‘glo ba čhuṅ to go/say’ (the text is badly damaged)

mi sloṅs su glo ba čhuṅ (Liɣi yul luṅ bstan pa, D 4202, spriṅ yig, ṅe 177r2) ‘I will be dejected about not having erected them’ (R. E. Emmerick, Tibetan texts concerning Khotan [Oxford, 1967], p. 25)

gnod par glo ba čhuṅ (Liɣi yul luṅ bstan pa, D 4202, spriṅ yig, ṅe 179r1) ‘one is dejected about the harm’ (Emmerick, Tibetan texts, p. 33)

In addition, Or.15000/146: r6 preserves the phrase glo čhuṅ, which might be a mere abbreviation of glo ba čhuṅ. We observe that, with one exception (Or.15000/91: 4), glo ba čhuṅ requires terminative of either a verb stem or a nominalised v1. In the former case the verb stem appears to be v4: sloṅs su and rku su (< *rkus su; in Pt 1096r). It seems that de Jong treated glo ba čhuṅ as a near-synonym of CT sems čhuṅ ‘a timid mind’ (J: 576b). The latter is attested in modern dialects in the meaning ‘caution’ (CDTD: 8812). de Jong's interpretation is supported by another passage from Pt 1096r: rku su yaṅ glo ba čhuṅ na (l. 20) vs brkusu yaṅ dog[s] śes (l. 22). Both clauses concern Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes, the head of the encampment. In the second passage glo ba čhuṅ has been replaced by dog[s] ‘to fear’. On these grounds I propose translating glo ba čhuṅ as ‘to be desponded, disheartened’. For glo ba ‘breast’ and its metaphorical meanings in OLT, see Bialek, J., ‘Stretching the body, stretching the mind. The OT noun ring revisited’, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 168, 2 (2018), p. 408Google Scholar, fn. 34.

20 Due to the unknown meaning and function of thum čhu ma the interpretation of the whole passage remains tentative. J̌u-čhaṅ and Lug-luṅ, presumably toponyms, are otherwise not attested.

21 dbyaṅs seems to have been a technical term frequently used in judicial texts in conjunction with bčad ‘decided’ or źal če ‘sentence’. On the other hand, in Pt 1283 it co-occurs with the verb bslab/bslabs (v1 slob ‘to learn; to teach’) in two forms: dbyaṅ and sbyaṅ(s). On this rather meagre evidence I relate dbyaṅs to CT sbyoṅ ‘to exercise, to practise; to study’ and ɣbyoṅ ‘to be skilled’; all derived from √bjaŋ.

22 DSM glosses dog na as ‘soṅ na’ (Bcan-lha-ṅag-dbaṅ-chul-khrims, Brda dkrol gser gyi me loṅ (Beijing, 1997), p. 333, but the argument structure does not fit well with a verb of going. Therefore, I read *dogs for the attested dog; the final -s might have been elided before the following sibilant: -s > Ø / _+ś-. The reading *dogs is supported by the earlier phrase rku su yaṅ glo ba čhuṅ (l. 20).

23 I.e. on the fifteenth day of the current month. The decision was apparently made on the fourteenth day (l. 9).

25 Compare hereto the CT term rta zam gyi spyi dpon ‘Oberpostmeister’ (I. J. Schmidt, Tibetisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch [St. Petersburg, 1841], p. 210a). The same function was apparently also referred to as rta zam mgo pa ‘Stationsvorsteher’ (O. Corff (ed.), Auf kaiserlichen Befehl erstelltes Wörterbuch des Manjurischen in fünf Sprachen: “Fünfsprachenspiegel”: systematisch angeordneter Wortschatz auf Manjurisch, Tibetisch, Mongolisch, Turki und Chinesisch [Wiesbaden, 2013], vol. 1, p. 96, 0365.3), ‘Postmeister’ (ibid., p. 99, 0379.2). On rta zam, see below.

26 However, it is possible that the sluṅs phon would have been brought to justice in case the chugs phon would not have appeared in the court. In Uebach's words, “[t]he most important task of the chief of the post-station (sluṅs phon), apart from checking the insignia of emissaries, was to check whether the seals of the missives the emissaries carried were intact or had been tampered with. If the missive showed signs of having been opened, the emissary was sent back to the previous station for an investigation. There was a potential death penalty if the emissary was found guilty” (Uebach, ‘Notes on the Postal System’, p. 450f.) This information is based on a passage from Pt 1290 (ll. r10–2; for its discussion see A. Macdonald, Ariane, ‘Une lecture des Pelliot Tibétain 1286, 1287, 1038, 1047 et 1290’. in Études Tibétaines dédiées à la mèmoire de Marcelle Lalou [Paris, 1971], pp. 317–326, and R. A. Stein, ‘Tibetica Antiqua 2. L'usage de métaphores pour des distinctions honorifiques à l’époque des rois tibétains’, Bulletin de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient 73 (1984), pp. 262–264), but the latter document does not put sluṅs phon in charge of messengers; it does not even mention sluṅs phon. Hence, Uebach's conclusions, even though possible, are premature regarding the textual sources at our disposal.

27 Dotson considered the syllable li in Li Qab-sab-ñaṅ and Li Źen-ɣdo (see below) to be a family name (Dotson, ‘Introducing Early Tibetan Law’, p. 285). The latter is a typical transcription of a Chinese name, and so here Li can be identified with the Chinese family name 李. The given name Źen-ɣdo is also attested in Pt 1104: 23 (cf. Takeuchi, Old Tibetan Contracts, p. 227). The name Qab-sab-ñaṅ is more problematic. The given name consists of three syllables. Neither Qab nor Sab-ñaṅ are found separately, but the name Sam-ñaṅ recurs in documents analysed by Takeuchi and was reconstructed by the latter as a Chinese given name (ibid., p. 192). Sam-ñaṅ could have resulted from the assimilation of the original -b to the following nasal: -b > -m / _ñ-. However, in all cases Sam-ñaṅ follows a Chinese family name, but in Pt 1096r it comes after the syllables Li Qab. The problem remains unsolved.

28 Dotson explained the phrase čhags paɣi khuṅs po as ‘borrower’ (Dotson, ‘Divination and law in the Tibetan Empire: the role of dice in the legislation of loans, interest, marital law and troop conscription’, in Contributions to the cultural history of early Tibet, (eds.) M. T. Kapstein and B. Dotson [Leiden, 2007], p. 69) but this meaning does not seem to fit the context of Pt 1096r. It is questionable whether khuṅs po was related to khuṅs ‘origin’, for the latter was an abstract term and the former apparently denoted an official. I think one should rather turn in this context to the modern compound las khuṅs ‘office, department, bureau’ (M. Goldstein, The new Tibetan-English dictionary of modern Tibetan [New Delhi, 2004], p. 1070a; cf. also R. Bielmeier et al., Comparative Dictionary of Tibetan Dialects [2013 draft], 8296). The Pentaglot Dictionary lists the following equivalents of khuṅs ‘(Man.) falgari, (Mon.) balɣad, (Tu.) faš ãyvān, (Ch.) shŭ 署’, translating it as ‘Dienststelle’ (Corff, Auf kaiserlichen Befehl, vol. 2, p. 596a, 2758.2). Accordingly, etymologically the most plausible explanation of khuṅs po would be ‘a male person (-po) affiliated to an office (khuṅs)’. Since the office in question was a sluṅs and the khuṅs po's duties included taking care of horses, I propose translating the term simply as ‘worker’, understood as denoting an employee who does manual or non-executive work.

29 Pt 1096r only mentions messengers in connection with the sluṅs. This however does not mean that nobody else was entitled to use the services of the sluṅs, as asserted by Uebach (Uebach, ‘Notes on the Postal System’, p. 452). Merchants or Buddhist pilgrims are two other groups that must have visited sluṅs on their long journeys. We know from later sources that many of the stage stations were located close to market places as shown on the maps of the Wise collection (Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, p. 273) and, for example, Skra-bdun (Tradün) stage station was even located within Skra-bdun monastery (ibid., pp. 281–283).

30 Possibly a relative of Yo-gaṅ G.yu-la-skyes. In this case, Yo-gaṅ would have been a family name (but compare fn. 12 above).

31 The word chugs was derived by conversion from v4 of the verb ɣȷug (for analogous derivatives in OLT, see Bialek, J., ‘Old Tibetan verb morphology and semantics: An attempt at a reconstruction’, Himalayan Linguistics 19, 1 (2020), pp. 302f.Google Scholar). Its etymological meaning can be reconstructed as *‘sth. that is settled, established’. In the meaning ‘encampment, camp site’ chugs entered into CT lexicon in compounds like chugs khaṅ or chugs sa ‘caravansary, or merely a level, open place near a village, where traveller's (sic) may encamp, or where public business is transacted’ (J: 449a). chugs sa is also attested in modern Balti with the meaning ‘place where one can stay, especially for the raja and his residence’ (CDTD: 6805). Moreover, Schmidt glossed rta zam gyi chugs pa as ‘ein Posthaus, Posteinrichtung’ (Sch: 210a), whereas Das called stage stations on the way from Lhasa to Beijing gya-tsug (S. C. Das, Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet [London, 1902], p. 186), doubtlessly for LT *rgya chugs. Takeuchi, following Thomas (TLTD.2: 172), understood chugs as denoting a group of watchmen that consisted of four men (T. Takeuchi, ‘The Tibetan military system and its activities from Khotan to Lob-nor’, in The Silk Road. Trade, Travel, War and Faith, (ed.) Susan Whitfield [Chicago, 2004], p. 51b). I think that this interpretation is based on a misunderstanding. Neither Thomas nor Takeuchi have quoted any passage that would unanimously show chugs as referring to a group of humans. Thomas also presented an alternative interpretation: ‘camping arrangements’ (ibid). I think that in military contexts chugs denoted a base or a camp site too, whereas members of a group stationed there were called chugs pa (Or.15000/112: r2). Uebach followed Takeuchi in interpreting chugs as ‘a small military unit of four watchmen’ (Uebach, ‘Notes on the Postal System’, p. 451) and was therefore compelled to conclude that the sluṅs of Pt 1096r had a military watch. That this interpretation is flawed is most clearly seen in ll. 1–2 where a messenger comes to a chugs looking for a horse or in ll. 4 and 6 where a horse is put in a chugs. Apart from that, Uebach does not seem to be aware of the semantic shift she had to make in order to reconcile the textual data with Takeuchi's interpretation; a group of people, ‘watchmen’, is taken in her analysis to be identical with the location at which this group served, ‘watch’. Uebach's discussion of watches within stage stations is based on this erroneous reading of Pt 1096r. The passage from Dbaɣ bźed likewise quoted by Uebach, gsas snaṅ […] sluṅs chugs pho braṅ du mčhiste (6r4–5, apud P. Wangdu and H. Diemberger, dBa’ bzhed: the royal narrative concerning the bringing of the Buddha's doctrine to Tibet [Wien, 2000]), should be read ‘[Dbaɣ] Gsas-snaṅ went to the residence [in] an encampment of a stage station.’ As is known from later sources (see below), stage stations provided accommodation to travellers and messengers in either houses or tents. The more important and spacious a postal station, the more ‘luxurious’ its lodgings could have been. For instance, Sa-dgaɣ (Saga) fort (LT rȷoṅ) housed a stage station and is depicted as consisting of several buildings (Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, p. 278, no. 286 on Fig. 10.33, Add.Or.3015 f1) whereas the station in Shigatse is characterised as ‘a large building in the city’ (Montgomerie, T. G. and Pundit, , ‘Report of a Route-Survey Made by Pundit, from Nepal to Lhasa, and Thence Through the Upper Valley of the Brahmaputra to Its Source’, The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 38 (1868), p. 208CrossRefGoogle Scholar). On Skra-bdun (Tradün) Kawaguchi even wrote: “It is in fact not a temple but a town (Tazam), one of the most populous and wealthy in northern Tibet (E. Kawaguchi, Three Years in Tibet [Madras, 1909], p. 217). The stage station mentioned in Dbaɣ bźed might have been located on the border, for earlier the text states that Dbaɣ Gsas-snaṅ was a so blon ‘councillor of the frontier’ in Maṅ-yul (for Mar-yul? 5v2, apud Wangdu and Diemberger, dBa’ bzhed).

32 Following the restitution of the relay system by the Mongols in the thirteenth century (L. Petech, ‘Tibetan relations with Sung China and with the Mongols’, in China among Equals, (ed.) M. Rossabi [Berkeley, 1983], p. 186f.; Maurer, ‘The Tibetan Governmental Transport’, pp. 15f.), the term most commonly used for stage station was rta zam ‘Poststation’ (Sch: 210a), sometimes spelled tarjum in English literature (Montgomerie and Pundit, ‘Report of a Route-Survey’, p. 147) and tazum on a map from the Wise Collection (e.g., nos. 294 & 299 in Add.Or.3015 f1; see also Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, p. 274). The compound rta zam was coined partly as a borrowing, partly as a loan-translation, mirroring Mon. morin jam ‘Pferdepost’ (P. Olbricht, Das Postwesen in China unter der Mongolenherrschaft im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert [Wiesbaden, 1954], p. 45, fn. 101; for this etymology, see also Laufer, B., ‘Loan-words in Tibetan’, T'oung Pao 17, 4/5 (1916), p. 494CrossRefGoogle Scholar, No. 176). Mon. morin = rta, whereas the second syllable, jam (‘road, route, way or pass’, F. D. Lessing, Mongolian-English Dictionary [Berkeley, 1960], p. 1033; concerning its etymology, Kotwicz wrote: “Aussi dans la phase initiale ʓ̌am ~ yam pouvait désigner les distances entre les points fixes où l'on relayait les chevaux, plus tard, ces points même, et, finalement, la ligne de communication tout entière, y compris les points de relais et les intervalles intermédiaires”, W. Kotwicz, ‘Contribution aux études altaïques’, Rocznik Orientalistyczny 16 (1950), p. 336), was independently borrowed into Tibetan as ɣǰam from which ɣǰam mo (also spelled ɣǰaɣ mo, Laufer, ‘Loan-words’, p. 494) ‘Poststation’ (Sch: 175b) was derived. Laufer remarked that “under the Mongols, Tibet was divided into twenty-seven ǰam (‘departments’), a chief officer (ǰam dpon) being appointed in each” (ibid.; Petech likewise mentioned 27 (Petech, ‘Tibetan relations’, p. 187), but Maurer spoke of 28 stage stations, Maurer, ‘The Tibetan Governmental Transport’, p. 16). I assume that the form rta zam resulted from folk etymologisation in which the original -ɣǰam was replaced by a better-connoted zam ‘bridge’: *rta ɣǰam > *rta ǰam > rta zam. Das noted two pronunciations: tazam and tajam (S. C. Das, A Tibetan-English dictionary with Sanskrit synonyms [Delhi, 1902], p. 532b); the latter still reflecting the original *rta ɣǰam and suggesting that the folk etymology rta zam was a local development and had not spread over the whole Tibetan speaking area (n.b., Das’ etymology reading rta zam as ‘horse bridge’ (ibid. and S. C. Journey, p. 185) is obviously mistaken, as already noticed by Laufer, ‘Loan-words’, p. 494). It is feasible that the change *rta ɣǰam > rta zam first occurred around stage stations located in a vicinity of a bridge or a river ferry. Three such stage stations can be identified on the basis of the maps from the Wise collections: Čhu-śul (Chushul; no. 129) near Lčags-zam (Chakzam) ferry station (no. 132; Add.Or.3016 f3 and Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, pp. 251–252, Fig. 10.2 on p. 249); Pa-rnam-rȷoṅ (Panam Dzong; no. 195) near Pa-rnam bridge (no. 197; Add.Or.3016 f2 and Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, pp. 262–265, Fig. 10.11 on p. 261); and Lha-rce-rȷoṅ (Lhatse Dzong; no. 246) near Lha-rce ferry station (no. 248; Add.Or.3016 f1 and Lange, An Atlas of the Himalayas, p. 265, Fig. 10.17 on p. 269). The vowel -u- in tarjum and tazum is an English transcription of the Tibetan short vowel -a- in a closed syllable (cf. Eng. sum [sʌm]). Likewise, the word internal -rj- doubtlessly mirrors the English pronunciation of the compound *rta ɣǰam. Apart from the simple compound rta zam, one also encounters formations like rta zam ɣjaɣ mo ‘Relaispost, Poststation’ (Corff, Auf kaiserlichen Befehl, vol. 1, p. 214, 0880.3). The latter was most probably coined to disambiguate the meaning of rta zam after the origin of zam (< ɣǰam) had already fallen into oblivion.

33 Montgomerie and Pundit, ‘Report of a Route-Survey’, pp. 147f.

34 The list of rta zams provided in ibid., pp. 207f. also contains a short description of each place, indicating what kind of accommodation was available there.

35 This again suggests that the stage station of which the encampment Par-kog formed part was located not far away from Śa-cu.

36 Maurer, ‘The Tibetan Governmental Transport’, pp. 15f.

37 Uebach's translation ‘western and eastern’ (Uebach, ‘Notes on the Postal System’, p. 450) for stod smad is untenable in this context; cf. also Dotson, B., The Old Tibetan Annals. An Annotated Translation of Tibet's First History. With an Annotated Cartographical Documentation by Guntram Hazod (Wien, 2009), p. 112Google Scholar.

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