Tarkhan (Old Turkic Tarqan; Mongolian: Darkhan; Persian: ترخان; Chinese: 達干; Arabic: طرخان; alternative spellings Tarkan, Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Tarxan, Tarcan or Targan) is an ancient Central Asian title used by various Indo-European (i.e. Iranian and Tokharian) and Turco-Mongol peoples, especially in the medieval era, and prominent among the successors of the Mongol Empire.
Although R. Frye reports that the word "was probably foreign to Sogdian", hence considered to be a loanword from Turkic, Gerhard Doerfer points out that even in Turkic languages, its plural is not Turkic (sing. tarxan --> plur. tarxat), suggesting a non-Turkic origin. L. Ligeti comes to the same conclusion, saying that "tarxan and tegin [prince] form the wholly un-Turkish plurals tarxat and tegit" and that the word was unknown to medieval western Turkic languages, such as Bulgar. Taking this in consideration, the word is most likely derived from medieval Mongolian darqat (Mongolian plural suffix -at), itself perhaps derived from the earlier Sogdian word *tarxant ("free of taxes"). A. Alemany gives the additional elaboration that the related East Iranian Scythian (and Alanic) word *tarxan still survives in Ossetic tærxon ("argument, trial") and tærxon kænyn ("to judge"). Harold Walter Bailey also proposes an Iranian (Khotanese Saka) root for the word.
It was used among the various Iranian (Sogdians, Khotanese, and Hephthalites) and Turco-Mongol peoples of Central Asia and other steppe people, and was a high rank in the army of Tamerlane. Tarkhans commanded military contingents (roughly of regimental size under the Khazar khan) and were, roughly speaking, generals. They could also be assigned as military governors of conquered regions.
The Göktürks probably adopted the title of Darqan (Mongolian spelling) from the Mongol-speaking Rourans or Avars. The Tarkhan were cited in inscription of Kul Tigin (d. c.731 CE). They were given high honors such as entering the ger of Khagan without any prior appointment and shown unusual ninefold pardon to the 9th generation from any crime they committed. Although, the etymology of the word is unknown, it is attested under the Khitans who ruled most of Mongolia and North China between 916 and 1125.
Like many titles, Tarkhan (Turkic spelling) also occurs as a personal name, independent of a person's rank, which makes some historical references confusing. For example, Arab texts refer to a "Tarkhan, king of the Khazars" as reigning in the mid ninth century. Whether this is a confused reference to a military official or the name of an individual Khazar khagan remains unclear. The name is occasionally used today in Turkish and Arabic speaking countries.
In the Mongol Empire, the Darkhan were exempted from taxation, socage and requisitioning. Genghis Khan made those who helped his rise Darkhans in 1206. The families of the Darkhan played crucial roles later when the succession crisis occurred in Yuan Dynasty and Ilkhanate. Abaqa Khan (1234–1282) made an Indian Darkhan after he had led his mother and her team all the way from Central Asia to Persia safely. A wealthy merchant of Persia was made of Darkhan by Ghazan (1271–1304) for his service during the early defeat of the Ilkhan. In Russia, the Khans of the Golden Horde assigned important tasks to the Darkhan. A jarliq of Temur Qutlugh (ca. 1370–1399) which authorized rights of the Tarkhan found in Crimea.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), the title was bestowed mainly on the late Darkhans' families and the government officials.
After suppressing the rebellion of the right three tumens in Mongolia, Dayan Khan exempted his soldiers, who participated the battle of Dalan-Terqin, from imposts and made them Darkhan in 1513. Even after the collapse of the Northern Yuan with the death of Ligdan Khan, the title of Darkhan was bestowed on religious dignitaries, sometimes on persons of low-birth. For example, in 1665, the Khotgoid Altan Khan Lubsan bestowed the title on a Russian interpreter and requested the Russian Tsar to exempt the interpreter from all tax obligations.
- In C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series of novels, the apparent spelling variation Tarkaan is the title of a Calormen nobleman, tarkheena that of a noble woman.
- Also in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, the tarkan is the Hun's unique unit with the appearance of a horseman with a torch in place of sword.
- A Study of the Ancient Turkic "TARQAN", Han-Woo Choi, Handong University
- Leland Liu Rogers – The Golden Summary of Cinggis Qayan: Cinggis Qayan-u Altan Tobci, p.80
- Paul Ratchnevsky – Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p.82
- Qarīb, Badr-az-Zamān. 1995. Sogdian dictionary: Sogdian – Persian – English. Tehran: Farhangan Publ.
- Doerfer, G. 1993 "Chaladschica extragottingensia", Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1-2, pp. 33-81. Excerpt from page 43
- Agustí Alemany, Sources on the Alans, Brill Academic Publishers, 2000. Excerpt from page 328: " Abaev considers this word (lacking in a Turco-Mongolian etymology), as well Old Hungarian tarchan “olim judex”, borrowing from Scythians (Alans) *tarxan “judge” -> Ossetian. Taerxon “argument, trial”; cf. the Ossete idioms taerxon kaenyn “to judge” (+ kӕnyn “to do”) and tӕrxon lӕg “judge” (+l ӕg man). Iron ævzag
- Frye, Richard N., "Tarxun-Turxun and Central Asian History", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1/2 pp. 105–129
- G. Doerfer, Mongolo-Tungusica, O. Harrassowitz, 1985, University of Virginia.
- L. Ligeti, Researches in Altaic languages, e. A. Kiadó, 1975, University of Michigan, p. 48
- Bailey, H[arold] W. 1985. Indo-Scythian Studies: being Khotanese Texts, VII. Cambridge Univ. Press. (Reviewed here)
- Pelliot – Neuf Notes, p.250
- Eberhard – Conquerors and Rulers, p.98
- Wittfogel et al – Liao dynasty, p.433
- Paul Ratchnevsky – Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p.243
- Michael Kohn – Mongolia, p.126