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Title: Qaghan  
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Subject: Göktürks, Monarch, Title, Second Council of Lyon
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For other uses, see Khan (disambiguation).

Old Turkic
Latin alphabet: kaγan
Latin alphabet: kağan
Cyrillic script: каган
Latin alphabet: kagan
Cyrillic script: хаан
Transliteration: khaan
Mongolian Script: ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ
Transliteration: qagan, khagan
Latin alphabet: kagán
Simplified Chinese: 可汗
Hanyu Pinyin : kèhán
Persian alphabet: خاقان
Revised Romanization: gahan
McCune-Reischauer: kahan

Khagan or Kahn Khan or Qagan (Template:Lang-otk;[1][2] Mongolian: хаан, Khaan, Mongolian Script: ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ, Qaγan; Chinese: 可汗; pinyin: Kè hán or Chinese: 大汗; pinyin: Dà hán; Persian: خاقان‎, Khāqān), alternatively spelled Kağan, Kagan, Khaghan, Kha-khan, Xagahn, Qaghan, Chagan, or Kha'an, is a title of imperial rank in the Mongolian and Turkic languages equal to the status of emperor and someone who rules a khaganate (empire). The words "khagan" and "khan" are distinct today, though historically they were the same.[contradiction]

It may also be translated as Khan of Khans, equivalent to King of Kings. In modern Mongolian, the title became Khaan with the 'g' sound becoming almost silent or non-existent (i.e. a very light voiceless velar fricative); the ğ in modern Turkish Kağan is also silent. Since the civil war of the Mongol Empire, Emperors of the Yuan Dynasty held the title of Khagan and their successors in Mongolia continued to have the title. Kağan is a common Turkish name in Turkey.

The common western rendering as Great Khan (or Grand Khan), notably in the case of the Mongol Empire, is translation of Yekhe Khagan (Great Emperor or Их Хаан).


The title was first seen in a speech between 283 and 289, when the Xianbei chief Murong Tuyuhun tried to escape from his younger stepbrother Murong Hui, and began his route from Liaodong to the areas of Ordos Desert. In the speech one of the Murong's general named Yinalou addressed him as kehan (可寒, later as 可汗), some sources suggests that Tuyuhun might also have used the title after settling at Koko Nor (Qinghai) in the 3rd century.[3]

The Rourans were the first people who used the titles Khagan and Khan for their emperors, replacing the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, whom Grousset and others assume to be Turkic.[4] However, many scholars believe the Rouran were proto-Mongols.[5][6][7]

The Avars, who may have included Rouran elements after the Göktürks crushed the Rouran who ruled Mongolia, also used this title. The Avars invaded Europe, and for over a century ruled the Carpathian region. Westerners Latinized the title "Khagan" into "Gaganus" or Cagan et Iugurro principibus Hunorum.

Mongol Khagans

Main article: List of Mongol Khans

The Secret History of the Mongols, written for that very dynasty, clearly distinguishes Khagan and Khan: only Genghis and his ruling descendants are called Khagan, while other rulers are referred to as Khan. Khagan or Khaan refers to Emperor or King in the Mongolian language, however, Yekhe Khagan means Great Khagan or Grand Emperor.

The Mongol Empire began to politically split with the succession war in 1260-1264 and the death of Kublai Khan in 1294, but the term Ikh Khagan (Great Khan, or Emperor) was still used by the Genghisid rulers of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), who assumed the role of Chinese emperors, and after the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in China (1368) it continued to be used in Mongolia (Northern Yuan).[8] Thus, the Yuan is sometimes referred to as the Empire of the Great Khan, coexisting with the de facto independent Mongol khanates in the west, including the Chagatai Khanate and Golden Horde. Only the Ilkhanate truly recognized the Yuan's overlordship as allies (though it was effectively autonomous). Because Kublai founded the Yuan Dynasty, the members of the other branches of the Borjigin could take part in the election of a new Khagan as the supporters of one or other of the contestants, but they could not enter the contest as candidates themselves.[9] Later Yuan emperors[10] made peace with the three western khanates of the Mongol Empire and were considered as their nominal suzerain.[11] The nominal supremacy, while based on nothing like the same foundations as that of the earlier Khagans (such as the continued border clashes among them), did last for a few decades, until the Yuan Dynasty fell in China (1368).[12]

After the breakdown of Mongol Empire and the fall of the Yuan Dynasty in the 14th century, the Mongols turned into a political turmoil. Dayan Khan (1464-1517/1543) once revived Emperor's authority and recovered its reputation in Mongolia, but with the distribution of his empire among his sons and relatives as fiefs it again caused decentralized rule. The last Khagan Ligdan of Chahar died in 1634 while fighting the Qing Dynasty founded by the Manchus. In contemporary Mongolian language the word "Khaan" and "Khan" have different meanings, while English language usually does not differentiate between them. The title is also used as a generic term for a king or emperor (as эзэн хаан, ezen khaan), as in "Испанийн хаан Хуан Карлос" (Ispaniin khaan Khuan Karlos, "king/khaan of Spain Juan Carlos").

The early Khagans of the Mongol Empire were:

With the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty, the Kublaids became emperors of the Yuan Dynasty, who were considered Khagan for the Mongols and Huangdi (or Chinese emperor) for native Chinese. For the history of late Monarchs please see List of Mongolian monarchs.

Among Turkic peoples

The title became associated with the Ashina rulers of the Göktürks and their dynastic successors among such peoples as the Khazars (cf. the compound military title Khagan Bek). Minor rulers were rather relegated to the lower title of Khan.

Interestingly, both Khakhan as such and the Turkish form Hakan, with the specification in Arabic al-Barrayn wa al-Bahrayn (meaning literally "of both lands and both seas"), or rather fully in Ottoman Turkish Hakan ül-Berreyn vel-Bahreyn, were among the titles in the official full style of the Great Sultan (and later Caliph) of the Ottoman Empire (Sultan Hân N.N., Padishah, Hünkar, Sovereign of the House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe; next followed a series of specifical 'regional' titles, starting with Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem), reflecting the historical legitimation of the dynasty's rule as political successor to various conquered (often Islamised) states.

Chinese Khagans

Emperor Taizong of Tang was crowned Tian Kehan, or "heavenly Khagan" after defeating the Tujue (Göktürks).[13][14] A later letter sent by the Tang court to the Yenisei Kirghiz Qaghan explained that "the peoples of the northwest" had requested Tang Taizong to become the "Heavenly Qaghan".[15] The Tang Dynasty Chinese Emperors were recognized as Khagans of the Turks from 665-705; however, we have two appeal letters from the Turkic hybrid rulers, Ashina Qutluγ Ton Tardu in 727, the Yabgu of Tokharistan, and Yina Tudun Qule in 741, the king of Tashkent, addressing Emperor Xuanzong of Tang as Tian Kehan during the Umayyad expansion.[16][17]

Among the Norsemen and Slavs

Main article: Rus' Khaganate

In the early 10th century, the Rus' people employed the title of kagan (or qaghan), reported by the Persian geographer Ibn Rusta writing between 903 and 913.

It is believed that the tradition endured in the eleventh century, as the metropolitan of Kyiv Hilarion calls both grand prince Vladimir (978–1015) and grand prince Iaroslav (1019–1054) by the title of kagan, while a graffito on the walls of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev gives the same title to the son of Iaroslav, grand prince Sviatoslav II (1073–1076).

The Metropolitan of Kyiv, Hilarion, called the grand princes kagan in his sermons "Sermon on Law and Grace" and "Confessions of faith" (written in 1040s). He called Volodymyr the Grand Kagan of our land and Yaroslav as the Faithful Kagan. There is brief writing on a temple in Kyiv that reads: "Lord, save kagan of ours". Many believe that it is about the son of Yaroslav, grand prince Sviatoslav II (1073–1076).

See also


Sources and references

  • Fairbank, John King. The Cambridge History of China .
  • Grousset, René. (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia. Translated by Naomi Walford. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.A.Third Paperback printing, 1991. ISBN 0-8135-0627-1 (casebound); ISBN 0-8135-1304-9 (pbk).
  • Whittow, Mark. The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1996.
  • Zhou, Weizhou [1985] (2006). A History of Tuyuhun. Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press. ISBN 7-5633-6044-1.
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