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This article is about the medieval Mongol khanate. For the modern tribe, see Qaraei. For the Turkish Karaylar, see Crimean Karaites. For the Jewish religious movement, see Karaite Judaism.


10th century–1203
Khereid and their neighbours.
Capital centered on the site of nowadays city Ulaanbaatar in during Wang Khan
Religion Nestorianism
Government Monarchy
 -  11th century Markus Buyruk Khan
 -  12th century Saryk Khan (2nd)
 -  12th century Kurchakus Buyruk Khan (3rd)
 -  12th century-1203 Wang Khan (last)
Historical era High Middle Ages
 -  Established 10th century
 -  Markus Khan was first recorded khan. 11th century.
 -  Genghis Khan unified the Kereit and then established the Great Mongol State. 1203
Today part of  Mongolia

Khereid (Хэрэйд) are the modern Mongolian descendants of Nestorianized Black Tatars, who joined the Mongol confederacy in the latter 12th century. The ancestors of the modern Mongolian Khereid distinguished themselves from other Black Tatars in 1007AD when they joined the Nestorian Church who designated them by the Syriac name Karait (ܟܹܪܝܼܬ) noted for being first permitted what later became the Molokan rules of Christian fasting. Descended from Alangoa,[1] the Black Tatars (Kerait) roamed the steppes in the Altai divided from what the Chinese sources called "Wild Tatars" by the Mongols who soon absorbed both groups [2] -except for a branch under Hulagu in the Ilkhanate, and a branch under Batu in the Middle jüz of the Golden Horde from whom the Giray dynasty descended. They were the most dominant tribe of the five major tribal confederations (khanlig) in the Mongolian plateau during the 12th century. As allies of Genghis Khan, the Khereid were influential in the rise of the Mongol Empire. In the 11th century, they converted to Nestorian Christianity and were a key example of prominent Christians among the Mongols.

The Kereid were located between the mountain ranges of Khangai and Khentii and were centered on the site of the present day city of Ulaanbaatar and in the willow groves of the Tuul River, to the west of the Khamag Mongol and to the east of the Naiman.

The last ruler, Toghrul, gained fame as far away as Europe for his battles with Muslims, and several women from the Kereit clan became influential women in the Mongol court. Sorghaghtani Bekhi, the younger daughter of Toghrul's brother Jakha Khambu, married a son of Genghis Khan, and their four sons, including Great Khans Kublai Khan and Möngke Khan, became prominent leaders of the Empire.


At the height of its power, the Khereid nation was organized along the same lines as the Naimans and other powerful steppe tribes of the day. The nation was divided into a "central" faction and an "outer" faction. The central faction served as the Khan's personal army and was composed of warriors from many different tribes with no loyalties to anyone but the Khan. This made the central faction more of a quasi-feudal state than a genuine tribe. The "outer" faction was composed of tribes that pledged obedience to the Khan, but lived on their own tribal pastures and functioned semi-autonomously. The "capital" of the Khereid Khanate was a place called Orta Balagasun, which was probably located in an old Uighur or Khitan fortress. The Khereid Khans, like many steppe rulers of that day, practiced a sort of apprenticeship program in which young male relatives of lesser chieftains (euphemistically known as "hostages") would serve in the Khan's court. Temujin, the future Genghis Khan, was himself a "hostage" of the Khereid Khan Toghrul, who owed Temujin's father an old debt. Much of what Temujin knew about war and governing was undoubtedly learned in the Khereid court.


According to Mongol legend there was once an ancient Khan who had seven sons. These seven sons had unusually dark faces. That is why the tribal confederation they founded was called Khereed or 'Crows'. 'Kheree' means 'crow' in Mongolian. Others claim that the Khereids were named so because they originally lived at a place called 'Khereet' meaning 'crow-with' or 'place with crows'. Yet another theory maintains that the name 'Khereed' derives from the Mongolian word 'Kherees' meaning 'cross' and is connected to their Christian religion.


The Khereids first enter into history as the ruling faction of the Zubu confederacy, a large alliance of tribes that dominated Mongolia during the 11th and 12th centuries and often fought with the Liao Dynasty of northern China, which controlled much of Mongolia at the time. After the Zubu confederacy broke up, the Keraits retained their dominance on the steppe right up until they were absorbed into Genghis Khan's Mongolian state. They consisted of eight tribes, including the Khereit, Jirkhin, Khonkhoid, Sukhait, Albat, Tumaut, Dunghaid and the Khirkh.

Before Wang Khan[edit]

Markus Buyruk Khan, was a Kerait leader who also led the Zubu confederacy. In 1100, he was killed by the Liao Dynasty. Kurchakus Buyruk Khan was a son and successor of Bayruk Markus, among whose wives was Toreqaimish Khatun, daughter of Korchi Buiruk Khan of the Naiman. Kurchakus's younger brother was Gur Khan. Kurchakus Buyruk Khan had many sons. Notable sons was Toghrul, Yula-Mangus, Tai-Timur, Bukha-Timur.

After Kurchakus Buyruk Khan died, Ilma's servant — Eljidai from Tatar — became the de facto regent. This upset Toghrul who had his younger brothers killed and then claimed the throne. After this, Gur Khan raided Toghrul. Yesugei Baghatur helped Toghrul.

By 13th century, there was a significant Mongolization process among the Kerait people (Khereyid in Mongolian). Although, the ruling aristocracy was of Turkic stock, the general population of the khanate was Mongol.[3]

Khereids who joined western khanates became more Turkicized forming Tatars, Kazakhs and Khirgizs while there currently exists Kerayid clan of Mongols in present-day Mongolia.

Wang Khan and Khereids in Mongol Empire[edit]

Depiction of Wang Khan as "Prester John" in Le Livre des Merveilles, 15th century.

Toghrul (Van Khan), who was the son of Kurchakus by Ilma Khatun, reigned from 1160s to 1204. His palace was located at present-day Ulaanbaatar and he became blood-brother to Yesugei. Genghis Khan called him khan etseg ('khan father').

The Tatars rebelled against the Jin Dynasty in 1195. The Jin commander sent an emissary to Temujin. A fight with the Tatars broke-out and the Kereit-Mongol alliance defeated them. In 1196, the Jin Dynasty awarded Toghrul the title of "Wang" (king), to Toghrul Khan's pleasure. After this, Toghrul was recorded under the title Wang Khan.

In 1203, Temüjin defeated the Kerait, who were distracted by the collapse of their own coalition. Toghrul tried to escape to the Naimans, but was killed by a Naiman warrior who did not recognize him. The remaining Kerait submitted to Temüjin's rule, but out of distrust, Temüjin dispersed them among the other Mongol tribes.

Toghrul's younger brother was Jakha Khambu, a lifelong ally of Genghis Khan, and the father of Sorghaghtani Bekhi. Toghrul's son was Nilkha Sengum. Sorghaghtani Beki, daughter of Jakha Khambu, became Tolui's khatun. She was mother of Great Khans Kublai Khan, Möngke Khan, and Ilkhanate-founder Hulagu Khan.[4] Rinchin protected Christians when Ghazan began to persecute them. But he was executed by Abu Said when fighting against his custodian Chupan of the Suldus clan in 1319.


The Kereit tribe is called both Mongolian and Turkic by different accounts, but names and titles of Kereit rulers were primarily Turkic.[4][5][6][7][8]

Rashid Al-Din Hamadani (1247–1318) says in the Jami-at-tawarikh (Section Three, Kerait Tribe):

At that time they had more power and strength than other tribes. The call of Jesus - peace be upon him - reached them and they entered his faith. They belong to the Mongol ethnicity. They reside along the Onon and Kerulen rivers, the land of the Mongols. That land is close to the country of the Khitai.[9]


The Kereit were converted to Nestorianism, a sect of Christianity, early in the 11th century.[4][10][11] Other tribes evangelized entirely or to a great extent during the 10th and 11th centuries were the Naiman and the Ongud but still not found enough archaeological evidences to prove it.[12]

An account of the conversion of the Kerait is given by the 13th century Jacobite historian Gregory Bar Hebraeus and also in Mari ibn Suleiman's "Book of the Tower" (Kitab al-Majdal) written in 1145-1150. According to Bar Hebraeus and Mari ibn Suleiman, in 1007 or 1012, a Kereit king lost his way during a snowstorm while hunting in the high mountains of his land. When he had abandoned all hope, a saint (Mar Sergius or Saint Sergius) appeared in a vision and said, "If you will believe in Christ, I will lead you lest you perish." The king promised to "become a lamb in the Christian sheepfold" (join the Church). The saint told him to close his eyes and he found himself back home (Bar Hebraeus' version says the saint led him to the open valley where his home was) . When he met Christian merchants, he remembered the vision and asked them about the Christian religion, prayer and the book of canon laws. They taught him "the Lord's Prayer, Lakhu Mara, and Qadisha Alaha." The Lakhu Mara is the Syriac of the hymn Te deum, and the Qadisha Alaha is the Trisagion. At their suggestion, he sent a message to Abdisho, the Metropolitan of Merv, for priests and deacons to baptize him and his tribe. Abdisho (whose name means Servant or Abd of Jesus) sent a letter to Yohannan VI, the Catholicos or Patriarch of the Church of the East in Baghdad (63rd Patriarch after Saint Thomas). Abdisho informed Yohannan VI that the Kerait Khan asked him about fasting, whether they could be exempted from the usual Christian way of fasting, since their diet was mainly meat and milk. Abdisho also related that the Kerait Khan had already "set up a pavilion to take the place of an altar, in which was a cross and a Gospel, and named it after Mar Sergius, and he tethered a mare there and he takes her milk and lays it on the Gospel and the cross, and recites over it the prayers which he has learned, and makes the sign of the cross over it, and he and his people after him take a draft from it." Yohannan (John) replied to Abdisho telling him one presbyter (priest) and one deacon was to be sent with altar paraments to baptize the king and his people. Yohannan also approved the exemption of the Keraits from strict church law, stating that while they had to abstain from meat during the annual Lenten fast like other Christians, they could still drink milk during that period, although they should switch from "sour milk" (fermented mare's milk) to "sweet milk" (normal milk) to remember the suffering of Christ during the Lenten fast. The Catholicos also told Abdisho to endeavor to find wheat and wine for them, so they can celebrate the Paschal Eucharist. As a result of the mission that followed, the king and 200,000 of his people were baptized (both Bar Hebraeus and Mari ibn Suleiman give the same number).[6][13] Rashid al-Din, the official historian of the Mongol court in Persia, says in the Jami al-Tawarikh that the Kerait were Christians. William of Rubruck, who encountered many Nestorians during his stay at Mongke Khan's court and at Karakorum in 1254-1255, notes that Nestorianism in Mongolia was tainted by shamanism and Manicheism and very confused in terms of liturgy, not following the usual norms of Christian churches elsewhere in the world. He attributes this to the lack of teachers of the faith, power struggles among the clergy and a willingness to make doctrinal concessions in order to win the favour of the Khans. Contact with the Catholicos was lost after the Turco-Mongol ruler Timur (reigned 1370-1405) effectively destroyed the Church of the East (leaving only a small remnant) in a violent Islamic jihad. The Nestorian Church in Karakorum was destroyed by the invading Ming dynasty army in 1380.

The legend of Prester John, otherwise set in India or Ethiopia, was also brought in connection with the Nestorian rulers of the Kerait. In some versions of the legend, Prester John was explicitly identified with Toghrul.[4] But Mongolian sources say nothing about his religion.[14] The Chinese series "Genghis Khan" depicts Wang Khan Toghrul as a devout Christian, with a cross mounted on top of his royal yurt which has a Christian altar inside and shows him regularly making the sign of the cross. A scene of this critically acclaimed Chinese "Genghis Khan" series on YouTube shows Genghis Khan presenting a gift to Wang Khan (his father's sworn brother) and asking for military assistance (starting from 09:08)[1]). The Japanese-Mongolian film "Genghis Khan: To the Ends of the Earth and Sea" also depicts Wang Khan Toghrul of the Kerait as Christian, with a church bell behind his royal yurt and Christian cross signs on his flag, his throne as well as covering his yurt. This can be seen starting from "3:00" minutes on this YouTube video of the film (dubbed Thai) which shows a young Genghis Khan presenting a gift to Wang Khan Toghrul ([2][dead link]).

Descendants in modern times[edit]

People with clan name Khereid (also spelled Khereid) are still found among the Ordos and the Baarin in Inner Mongolia as well as among northern Khalkha and Torguud people in Mongolia.

Other descendants of Kerait are the Karaylar or Kerey tribe within the Middle Juz of the Kazakhs.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kozin, S.A., Sokrovennoe skazanie, M.-L., 1941. p.83-4
  2. ^ Gumilev, L.N., Searcing for an Imaginary Kingdom: the legend of the kingdom of Prester John, 1987. p.86-100
  3. ^ The Kerait Khanate and Chinggis Khaan, p.122
  4. ^ a b c d Li, Tang (2006). Sorkaktani Beki: A prominent Nestorian woman at the Mongol Court. In Malek, Roman; Hofrichter, Peter. "Jingjiao: the Church of the East in China and Central Asia". Monumenta Serica Institute (Steyler Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH). ISBN 978-3-8050-0534-0. 
  5. ^ The Mongol Century, Department of Asian Pacific Studies, San Diego State University.
  6. ^ a b R. Grousset, The Empire of the Steppes, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1970, p191.
  7. ^ Kereys, Files about origins of Kirgiz-Kaisak(Kazak) people, Muhamedzhan Tynyshbaev.
  8. ^ Kereys, Genealogy of türks, kirgizes, kazakhs and ruling dynasties, Shakarim Qudayberdy-uly
  9. ^ Compendium , Paris, 1866, p.362
  10. ^ Erica C. D. Hunter, “The Conversion of the Kerait to Christianity in A.D. 1007”, Zentralasiatische Studien, 22 (1989-1991), pp.143-163.
  11. ^ Silverberg, Robert (1972). The Realm of Prester John. Doubleday. p. 12. 
  12. ^ "Tooril", Mongolian documentary film
  13. ^ Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia pp. 400-401.
  14. ^ Atwood, Christopher P. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. ISBN 0816046719. 


  • Khoyt S.K. Kereits in enthnogenesis of peoples of Euroasia: historigraphia of the problem. Elista, 2008. 82 p.  ISBN 978-5-91458-044-2 in Russian
  • Хойт С. К. Кереиты в этногенезе народов Евразии: историография проблемы. Элиста, 2008. 82 с. ISBN 978-5-91458-044-2