Kara-Khitan Khanate in Asia, c. 1200.
|-||1124-1143||Dezong (Yelü Dashi)|
|Historical era||Middle Ages|
|-||Fall of Liao Dynasty||1125|
|-||Yelü captures Balasagun||1134|
|-||Kuchlug usurps power||1211|
|-||Kuchlug executed by Mongols||1218|
|-||All former territories fully absorbed into Mongol Empire||1120|
|-||1210 est.||2,500,000 km² (965,255 sq mi)|
|Today part of|| Kazakhstan
The Kara-Khitan or Qara-Khitai Khanate (Mongolian: Хар Хятан; Persian: خانات قراختایی), also known as Western Liao (simplified Chinese: 西辽; traditional Chinese: 西遼; pinyin: Xī Liáo) (1124-1218), was a sinicized Khitan empire in Central Asia. The dynasty was founded by Yelü Dashi, who led the remnants of the Liao Dynasty to Central Asia after fleeing from the Jurchen conquest of their homeland in the north and northeast of modern-day China. The empire was usurped by the Naimans under Kuchlug in 1211; traditional Chinese, Persian, and Arab sources considered the usurpation to be the end of the Kara-Khitan rule. The empire was later taken by the Mongol Empire in 1218.
Kara Khitan (Hala Qidan) was the name used by the Khitans to refer to themselves. The phrase is often translated as the Black Khitans in Turkish, but its original meaning is unclear today. In Mongolian, "Kara-Khitan" literally means "Khar (Хар) Kidan(Хятан). Since no direct records from the empire survive today, the only surviving historical records about the empire come from outside sources. The empire took on trappings of a Chinese state, so Chinese historians generally refer to the empire as the Western Liao Dynasty, emphasizing its continuation from the Liao Dynasty in north and northeast China. The Jurchens referred to the empire as Dashi or Dashi Linya (after its founder), to reduce any claims the empire may have had to the old territories of the Liao Dynasty. Muslim historians initially referred to the state simply as Khitay or Khitai; they may have adopted this form of "Khitan" via the Uyghurs of Kocho in whose language the final -n or -ń became -y. Only after the Mongol conquest did the state begin to be referred to in the Muslim world as the Kara-Khitai or Qara-Khitai.
Founding of the Kara-Khitan Empire
The Kara-Khitai empire was established by Yelü Dashi, who led 100,000 Khitans west by way of Mongolia after the collapse of the Liao Dynasty. The Jurchens, once vassals of the Khitans, had allied with the Song Dynasty and overthrown the Liao. Yelü conquered Balasagun from the Kara-Khanid Khanate in 1134, which marks the start of the empire in Central Asia. The Khitan forces were soon joined by 10,000 Khitans, who had been subjects of the Kara-Khanid Khanate. The Khitans then conquered Kashgar, Khotan, and Beshbalik. The Khitans defeated the Western Kara-Khanid Khanate at Khujand in 1137, eventually leading to their control over the Fergana Valley. They won the Battle of Qatwan against the Western Kara-Khanids and the Seljuk Empire on September 9, 1141, which allowed the Khitans to gain control over Transoxania.
Yelü died in 1143 and was followed by his wife, Xiao Tabuyan, as regent for their son. Their son, Yelü Yiliu, died in 1163 and was succeeded by his sister, Yelü Pusuwan. She sent her husband, Xiao Duolubu, on many military campaigns. She then fell in love with his younger brother, Xiao Fuguzhi. They were executed in 1177 by her father-in-law, Xiao Wolila, who then placed Yelü Zhilugu on the throne in 1178. The empire was weakened by rebellions and internal wars among its vassals, especially during the latter parts of its history.
The Khitans ruled from their capital at Balasagun (in today's Kyrgyzstan), directly controlling the central region of the empire. The rest of their empire consisted of highly-autonomous vassalized states, primarily Khwarezm, the Karluks, the Kara-Khoja Kingdom of the Uyghurs, the Qanglï, and the Western, Eastern, and Fergana Kara-Khanids. The late-arriving Naimans also became vassals, before usurping the empire under Kuchlug.
The Khitan rulers adopted many administrative elements from the Liao Dynasty, including the use of Confucian administration and imperial trappings. The empire also adopted the title of Gurkhan (universal Khan). The Khitans used the Chinese calendar, maintained Chinese imperial and administrative titles, gave its emperors reign names, used Chinese-styled coins, and sent imperial seals to its vassals. Although most of its administrative titles were derived from Chinese, the empire also adopted local administrative titles, such as tayangyu (Turkic) and vizier.
The Khitans maintained their old customs, even in Central Asia. They remained nomads, adhered to their traditional dress, and maintained the religious practices followed by the Liao Dynasty Khitans. The ruling elite tried to maintain the traditional marriages between the Yelü king clan and the Xiao queen clan, and were highly reluctant to allow their princesses to marry outsiders. The Kara-Khitai Khitans followed a mix of Buddhism and traditional Khitan religion, which included fire worship and tribal customs, such as the tradition of sacrificing a gray ox with a white horse. In an innovation unique to the Kara-Khitai, the Khitans paid their soldiers a salary.
The empire ruled over a diverse population that was quite different from its rulers. The majority of the population was sedentary, although the population suddenly became more nomadic during the end of the empire, due to the influx of Naimans. The majority of their subjects were Muslims, although a significant minority practiced Buddhism and Nestorianism. Although Chinese and Khitan were the primary languages of administration, the empire also administered in Persian and Uyghur.
Kuchlug's usurpation and end of the Khanate
In 1208, a Naiman prince, Kuchlug, fled his homeland after being defeated by Mongols. Kuchlug was welcomed into the empire of the Kara-Khitans, and was allowed to marry Zhilugu's daughter. However, in 1211, Kuchlug revolted, and later captured Yelü Zhilugu while the latter was hunting. Zhilugu was allowed to remain as the nominal ruler but died two years later, and many historians regard his death as the end of the Kara-Khitan empire. In 1216, Genghis Khan dispatched his general Jebe to pursue Kuchlug; Kuchlug fled, but in 1218, he was finally captured and decapitated. The Mongols fully conquered the former territories of the Kara-Khitans in 1220.
The Kara-Khitans became absorbed into the Mongol empire; a segment of the Kara-Khitan troops had previously already joined the Mongol army fighting against Kuchlug. Another segment of the Kara-Khitans, in a dynasty founded by Buraq Hajib, survived in Kirman as a vassal of the Mongols, but ceased to exist as an entity during the reign of the Mongol Ilkhanid ruler Öljaitü. The Kara-Khitans were dispersed widely all over Eurasia as part of the Mongol army. In the 14th century, they began to lose their ethnic identity, traces of their presence however may be found as clan names or toponyms from Afghanistan to Moldovia. Today a Khitay tribe still lives in northern Kyrgyzstan.
The most enduring trace of the Kitan's power is the name Cathay, China's medieval Latin appellation, still current in many modern usage and in the Russian, Bulgarian and Mongolian name of the country.
Sovereigns of Kara-Khitan Khanate
|Temple Names ( Miao Hao 廟號 miàohào)||Posthumous Names ( Shi Hao 諡號 shìhào)||Birth Names||Convention||Period of Reign||Era Names (Nian Hao 年號 niánhào) and their according range of years|
|1. Dezong (德宗 Dézōng)||Tianyouwuliedi (天祐武烈帝 Tiānyòuwǔlièdì)||Yelü Dashi (耶律大石 Yēlǜ Dàshí or 耶律達實 Yēlǜ Dáshí) 1||use birth name||1124-1144||Yanqing (延慶 Yánqìng) 1124 or 1125-1134
Kangguo (康國 Kāngguó) 1134-1144
|Did not exist||Gantianhou (感天后 Gǎntiānhòu, regent)||Tabuyan (塔不煙 Tǎbùyān)||"Xi Liao" + posthumous name||1144-1150||Xianqing (咸清 Xiánqīng) 1144-1150
|2. Emperor Renzong of Western Liao (仁宗 Rénzōng)||Too tedious thus not used when referring to this sovereign||Yelü Yilie (耶律夷列 Yēlǜ Yíliè)||"Xi Liao" + temple name||1150-1164||Shaoxing (紹興 Shàoxīng) or Xuxing (Xùxīng 續興)2 1150-1164
|Did not exist||Chengtianhou (承天后 Chéngtiānhòu,regent)||Yelü Pusuwan (耶律普速完 Yēlǜ Pǔsùwán)||"Xi Liao" + posthumous name||1164-1178||Chongfu (崇福 Chóngfú) 1164-1178
|3. Did not exist||Mozhu (末主 Mòzhǔ) or Modi (末帝 Mòdì)||Yelü Zhilugu (耶律直魯古 Yēlǜ Zhílǔgǔ)||use birth name||1178-1211||Tianxi (天禧 Tiānxī) 1178-1218
|4. Did not exist||Did not exist||Kuchlug (Ch. 屈出律 Qūchūlǜ)||use birth name||1211-1218|
|1 "Dashi" might be the Chinese title "Taishi", meaning "vizier"; or, it could mean "Stone" in Turkish, as the Chinese transliteration suggests.
2 Recently discovered Western Liao coins have the era name "Xuxing", suggesting that the era name "Shaoxing" recorded in Chinese sources may be incorrect.
- Buraq Hajib
- History of the Khitans
- Kara-Khanid Khanate
- List of emperors of the Liao Dynasty
- List of Mongolian monarchs
- List of medieval Mongolian tribes and clans
- Rene Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes:A History of Central Asia, (Rutgers University Press, 1991), 165.
- Rene Grousset, 165.
- 1124 is the year in which Yelü Dashi proclaimed himself king, while still in Mongolia
- The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 2
- The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 216-217
- Sinor, D. (1998), "Chapter 11 - The Kitan and the Kara Kitay", in Bosworth, C.E., History of Civilisations of Central Asia, 4 part I, UNESCO Publishing, ISBN 92-3-103467-7
- The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 215-217
- Grousset, Rene, The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia , (Rutgers University Press, 2002), 165.
- Gurkhan was probably a title originating from Central Asian nomads. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 1
- The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 93-131
- The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, pp. 94
- Michal Biran, p. 87
- Belyaev, V.A.; Nastich, V.N.; Sidorovich, S.V. (2012). "The coinage of Qara Khitay: a new evidence (on the reign title of the Western Liao Emperor Yelü Yilie)". Proceedings of the 3rd Simone Assemani Symposium, September 23-24, 2011, Rome.
- Biran, Michal. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World, Cambridge, CUP, 2005 (Cambridge Studies in Islamic Civilization), 298 pp., ISBN 0-521-84226-3