Tughra of Sultan Abdul Hamid  II (1842-1918) Tughra of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918)

A tughra is a calligraphic cipher (signature) of an Ottoman sultan. At its height the Ottoman Empire covered a vast area that stretched from the Balkans to Anatolia and the Caspian Sea, and covered much of North Africa and continued along both sides of the Red Sea. The Ottoman court was based at Istanbul, Turkey.

A tughra was placed at the beginning of an important, Ottoman document to guarantee its authenticity. Sultans would choose their own tughra from a range of ciphers created by a court calligrapher on the day of the sultan’s accession. Every Ottoman sultan had his own, personal tughra. Tughras are intentionally complex in order to make them difficult to falsify.

A tughra is basically made up of four elements: (a) the sere, the lower portion with a series of stacked letters representing the name of the sultan, (b) the tuğ, three vertical lines, joined at the top by s-shaped strokes, (c) the beyze, two concentric circular forms that extend outwards to the left. The inner one is called a küçük (small) beyze and an outer one known as a büyük (large) beyze, finally, there is (d) the kol, a curved stroke extending from the sere into the beyze.

The earliest known tughra belongs to Orhan I (1284-1359), the second ruler of the Ottoman Empire. The tughra developed into its classical form during the reign of Sultan Sulaiman the Magnificent (1494-1566).

Tughra style motifs also appeared in other forms of Ottoman culture, including illuminated manuscripts; glass, metal and wooden items, as well as part of textile designs, including embroideries. The embroidered forms for the Ottoman court were sometimes worked in gold thread techniques, while ‘lesser’ forms may be worked in satin stitch in white or coloured floss silks, with some metal thread embroidery.


  • ATIL, Esin (1987). The Age of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent, Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, pp. 36-43.
  • ZINN, Malissa Maley (2005). 'Written in a woman’s hand: Turkish domestic embroidery,' in: Ronald MARCHESE (ed). The Fabric of Life: Cultural Transformations in Turkish Society, New York: Global Academic Publishing, Binghamton University, pp. 73-84.
  • http://www.turkishculture.org/traditional-arts/tugra-sultanic-cipher-116.htm (retrieved 21 March 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 25 June 2016).


Last modified on Saturday, 22 April 2017 19:38