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Mongolian Script: ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ
ʼPhags-pa script: ꡢꡖꡋ
Transliteration: Qagan, Xagan
Cyrillic script: Хаан / Хаган
Transliteration: Khaan / Khagan
Latin alphabet: Qaγan
Devanagari: (Hindi) ख़ागान्
Transliteration: K͟Hāgān
Nasta'liq: (Urdu) خاقان
Transliteration: K͟Hāqān
Bengali: খাকান / খাগান
Transliteration: khākān / khāgān
Gurumukhi: ਖ਼ਾਗਾਨ੍
Transliteration: K͟Hāgān
Shahmukhi: خاقان
Transliteration: K͟Hāqān
Old Turkic
Latin alphabet: Qağan / Kaɣan
Old Turkic: 𐰴𐰍𐰣
Anatolian Turkish language: Kağan
Ottoman Turkish language /
Latin alphabet transliteration:
خاقان / Ḫākan
Latin alphabet: Xaqan
Cyrillic script: Қаған
Latin alphabet: Qağan
Cyrillic script: Каган
Pronunciation: [qɑˈʁɑn]
Cyrillic script: Каган
Latin alphabet: Kagan
Latin alphabet: Kagán
Traditional Chinese: 可汗
Simplified Chinese: 可汗
Hanyu Pinyin: Kèhán
Persian alphabet: خاقان
Latin alphabet: Khāghān
Hangul: 가한
Hanja: 可汗
Revised Romanization: Gahan
McCune-Reischauer: Kahan
Uyghur قاغان
Uyghur latin Qaghan

Khagan or Qaghan (Mongolian:ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ; Khaan or Khagan; Old Turkic: 𐰴𐰍𐰣 Kaɣan)[a] is a title of imperial rank in Turkic, Mongolic, and some other languages, equal to the status of emperor and someone who rules a khaganate (empire).[1] The female equivalent is Khatun.

It may also be translated as "Khan of Khans", equivalent to King of Kings. In Bulgarian, the title became known as Khan,[b] while in modern Turkic, the title became Khaan with the g sound becoming almost silent[c] or non-existent; the ğ in modern Turkish Kağan is also silent. Since the division of the Mongol Empire, monarchs of the Yuan dynasty and the Northern Yuan held the title of Khagan. Kağan, Hakan and Kaan, Turkish equivalents of the title are common Turkish names in Turkey.

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



The term is of unknown origin and possibly a loanword from the Rouran language.[2] Canadian sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank (1962) first suggested that a Xiongnu title, transcribed as 護于 (Old Chinese: *hʷaʔ-hʷaʰ) might have been the original behind Turkic qaɣan ~ xaɣan.[3] According to Vovin (2007, 2010) the term comes from qaγan (meaning "emperor" or "supreme ruler") and was later borrowed and used in several languages, especially in Turkic and Mongolic.

Turkic and Mongolic (or Para-Mongolic) origin has been suggested by a number of scholars including Ramstedt, Shiratori, Pulleyblank, Sinor and Doerfer, and was reportedly first used by the Xianbei, as recorded in Book of Song.[4] While Sinor believes qaγan or qapγan is an intensification of qan just as qap-qara is an intensification of qara "black", in Turkic (with the eventual loss of the p), Shiratori rejects a Turkic etymology, instead supporting a Mongolic origin for both qan and the female form qatun.[5][6]

According to Vovin, the word *qa-qan "great-qan" (*qa- for "great" or "supreme") is of non-Altaic origin, but instead linked to Yeniseian *qεʔ ~ qaʔ "big, great". The origin of qan itself is harder according to Vovin. He says that the origin for the word qan is not found in any reconstructed proto-language and was used widely by Turkic, Mongolic, Chinese and Korean people with variations from kan, qan, han and hwan. A relation exists possibly to the Yeniseian words *qʌ:j or *χʌ:j meaning "ruler".

It may be impossible to prove the ultimate origin of the title, but Vovin says: "Thus, it seems to be quite likely that the ultimate source of both qaγan and qan can be traced back to Xiong-nu and Yeniseian".[3]

Dybo (2007) suggests that the ultimate etymological root of Khagan comes from the Middle Iranian *hva-kama- ‘self-ruler, emperor’, following the view of Benveniste 1966. Savelyev and Jeong 2020 note that both the etymological root for Khagan and its female equivalent Khatun may be derived from Eastern Iranian languages, specifically from "Early Saka *hvatuñ, cf. the attested Soghdian words xwt'w ‘ruler’ (< *hva-tāvya-) and xwt'yn ‘wife of the ruler’ (< *hva-tāvyani)".[7]



The title was first seen in a speech between 283 and 289, when the Xianbei chief Tuyuhun tried to escape from his younger stepbrother Murong Hui, and began his route from the Liaodong Peninsula to the areas of Ordos Desert. In the speech one of Murong's generals, Yinalou, addressed him as kehan (Chinese: 可寒, later Chinese: 可汗); some sources suggests that Tuyuhun might also have used the title after settling at Qinghai Lake in the 3rd century.[4][8]

The Rouran Khaganate (330–555) was the first people to use the titles Khagan and Khan for their emperors, replacing the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, whom Grousset and others assume to be Turkic.[9] The Rourans were stated to be descendants of the Donghu people,[10] who in turn are assumed to be proto-Mongols,[11] Mongolic-speaking,[12] or a "non-Altaic" group.[13][14][15]

The Avar Khaganate (567–804), who may have included Rouran elements after the Göktürks crushed the Rouran ruling 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" (in Historia Francorum), "Cagan" (in the Annales Fuldenses), or "Cacano" (in the Historia Langobardorum).

Mongol khagans

8 of 15 khagans of the Mongol Empire (Yuan-era pictures)

The Secret History of the Mongols, written for that very dynasty, clearly distinguishes Khagan and Khan: only Genghis Khan and his ruling descendants are called Khagan, while other rulers are referred to as Khan.[citation needed] The title "Khagan" or "Khaan" most literally translates to "great/supreme ruler" in the Mongol language, and by extension "sovereign", "monarch", "high king", or "emperor". The title can also be expanded with the addition of "Yekhe" (meaning "great" or "grand") to produce "Yekhe Khagan", meaning "Great Emperor".[citation needed]

The Mongol Empire began to split politically with the Toluid Civil War during 1260–1264 and the death of Kublai Khan in 1294, but the term Ikh Khagan (Great Khan, or Emperor) was still used by the emperors of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), who also took on the title of the Emperor of China. After the fall of the Yuan dynasty, the title continued to be used by monarchs of the Northern Yuan dynasty.[16]

Thus, the Yuan is sometimes referred to as the Empire of the Great Khan, coexisting with the other independent Mongol-ruled khanates in the west, including the Chagatai Khanate and Golden Horde. Only the Ilkhanate truly recognized the Yuan's overlordship as allies (although it was effectively autonomous). Because Kublai founded the Yuan, 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.[17]

Later,[d] Yuan emperors made peace with the three western khanates of the Mongol Empire and were considered as their nominal suzerain.[18] 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 collapsed in 1368.[e]

After the breakdown of Mongol Empire and the fall of the Yuan dynasty in the mid-14th century, the Mongols turned into a political turmoil. Dayan Khan (1464–1517/1543) once revived the Emperor's authority and recovered its reputation on the Mongolian Plateau, but with the distribution of his empire among his sons and relatives as fiefs it again caused decentralized rule. The last Khagan of the Chahars, Ligdan Khan, died in 1634 while fighting the Jurchen-led Later Jin dynasty. In contemporary Mongolian language the words "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").[citation needed]

The early khagans of the Mongol Empire were:

  1. Genghis Khan (1206–1227; 21 years)
  2. Ögedei Khan (1229–1241; 12 years)
  3. Güyük Khan (1246–1248; 2 years)
  4. Möngke Khan (1251–1259; 8 years)

Among Turkic peoples


The title became associated with the Ashina ruling clan 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.

Both Khagan 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, reflecting the historical legitimation of the dynasty's rule as political successor to various conquered (often Islamised) states. (The title began: 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 specifically "regional" titles, starting with Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.)

"Khagan" is the second title of Safavid and Qajar shahs (kings) of Iran. For example, Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar, Fath Ali Shah and other Qajar shahs used this title. The nickname of Shah Ismail and other Safavid shahs is Kagan-i Suleyman shan (Khagan with the glory of Solomon).

Ottoman Empire


Ottoman rulers, after the 14th century, used only two titles "shah" and "khan" until end of the empire.[19] Sultans like Mehmed the Conqueror and Suleiman the Magnificent used the title "Khagan of the two seas".[20][21] Yazıcıoğlu Ali, in early 15th century, traced Osman's genealogy to Oghuz Khagan, the mythical ancestors of Western Turks, through his senior grandson of his senior son, so giving the Ottoman sultans primacy among Turkish monarchs.[22] Though it was not entirely an imitation of Genghis Khanid doctrine, the Oghuz claim to sovereignty followed the same pattern. Bayezid I advanced this claim against Timur, who denigrated the Ottoman lineage.[23]

Chinese khagans


Emperor Taizong of Tang was crowned Tian Kehan, or "heavenly Khagan" after defeating the Tujue (Göktürks).[24][25][26] 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".[27] The Tang dynasty Chinese emperors were recognized as khagans of the Turks at least from 665 to 705; moreover, 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.[28][29]

The name "Chinese khagan" (Khāqān-i Chīn, "Khagan of China") referring to the ruler of China (i.e. Emperor of China) as a symbol of power[30] appeared in medieval Turco-Persian literature works like the great 11th-century epic poem Shahnameh,[31] which were circulated widely in Persia, Central Asia, and Xinjiang. During the Manchu-led Qing dynasty which extended into Inner Asia by the 18th century, their Turkic Muslim subjects (and surrounding Muslim khanates like the Khanate of Kokand) associated the Qing rulers with this name and commonly referred to the Qing emperors as the "Chinese khagan" (Khāqān-i Chīn).[32][33]

Among the Slavs


In the early 10th century, the Rus' people employed the title of kagan (or qaghan), reported by the Persian geographer Ahmad ibn Rustah, who wrote between 903 and 913.

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

See also



  1. ^ Also Ottoman Turkish: خواقين, romanizedḪākan, or خان Ḫān, Turkish: Kağan or Hakan; Uyghur: قاغان, romanizedQaghan, Mongolian Script: ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ; Chinese: 可汗; pinyin: Kèhán or Chinese: 大汗; pinyin: Dàhán; Persian: خاقان Khāqān, alternatively spelled Kağan, Kagan, Khaghan, Kaghan, Khakan, Khakhan, Khaqan, Xagahn, Qaghan, Chagan, Қан, or Kha'an
  2. ^ As in the Nominalia of the Bulgarian Khans, Именник на българските ханове.
  3. ^ i.e. a very light voiceless velar fricative
  4. ^ Beginning in the last years (1304) of Temür Khan, grandson of Kublai; most medieval historians such as Rashid al-Din and Alugh Beg Mirza described him as Grand khaan. See: Universal history and The Shajrat ul Atrak
  5. ^ During this period the Mongol emperors of the Yuan held the (nominal) title of Great Khan of all Mongol Khanates (of the Mongol Empire), of which the three western Mongol khanates still showed their respect in several cases. For example, the Ilkhans' coins carried the Khagan's name up until the early 14th century. It was also once said that Khagan is "the blessing of the creator" at the court of the Golden Horde during the reign of Ozbek Khan (1313–41).




  1. ^ Fairbank 1978, p. 367).
  2. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2010). "Once Again on the Ruan-ruan language." Ötüken'den İstanbul'a Türkçenin 1290 Yılı (720–2010) Sempozyumu / From Ötüken to Istanbul, 1290 Years of Turkish (720–2010). 3–5 Aralık 2010, İstanbul / 3–5 December 2010, İstanbul, pp. 1–10.
  3. ^ a b Vovin, Alexander (2007). "Once again on the etymology of the title qaγan". Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia, vol. 12 (online ressource)
  4. ^ a b Songshu, vol. 96 quote: "樓喜拜曰:「處可寒。」虜言「處可寒」,宋言爾官家也。" translation: "Lou [the envoy of the younger brother to T'u-yü-hun] was glad. He bowed and said: "Chu k'o han 處可寒". The barbarian words ch'u k'o han mean in the language of Song, 'Be it so, sire (爾官家)'." by Pulleyblank, E. G. (1962) "The consonantal system of Old Chinese. Part II" pdf, Asia Major 9; p. 261 of 206‒65.
  5. ^ Shiratori, Kurakichi (1926). "On the Titles KHAN and KAGHAN". Proceedings of the Imperial Academy. 2 (6): 241–244. doi:10.2183/pjab1912.2.241. ISSN 0369-9846.
  6. ^ KRADER, LAWRENCE (1955). "QAN-QAγAN AND THE BEGINNINGS OF MONGOL KINGSHIP". Central Asiatic Journal. 1 (1): 17–35. ISSN 0008-9192. JSTOR 41926298.
  7. ^ Savelyev, Alexander; Jeong, Choongwon (2020). "Early nomads of the Eastern Steppe and their tentative connections in the West". Evolutionary Human Sciences. 2: e20. doi:10.1017/ehs.2020.18. hdl:21.11116/0000-0007-772B-4. ISSN 2513-843X. PMC 7612788. PMID 35663512. S2CID 218935871. but their ultimate origins may lie outside the Turkic family, as is most likely the case for the title of khagan (χαγάνος, chaganus) < ? Middle Iranian *hva-kama- 'self-ruler, emperor' (Dybo, Reference Dybo2007: 119–120). Following Benveniste (Reference Benveniste1966), Dybo (Reference Dybo2007: 106–107) considers Turkic *χatun 'king's wife' a word of ultimate Eastern Iranian origin, borrowed presumably from Early Saka *hvatuñ, cf. the attested Soghdian words xwt'w 'ruler' (< *hva-tāvya-) and xwt'yn 'wife of the ruler' (< *hva-tāvyani).
  8. ^ Zhou 1985, pp. 3–6
  9. ^ Grousset (1970), pp. 61, 585, n. 92.
  10. ^ Wei Shou. Book of Wei. vol. 103 "蠕蠕,東胡之苗裔也,姓郁久閭氏" tr. "Rúrú, offsprings of Dōnghú, surnamed Yùjiŭlǘ"
  11. ^ Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (2000). "Ji 姬 and Jiang 姜: The Role of Exogamic Clans in the Organization of the Zhou Polity", Early China. p. 20
  12. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2019). "A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. 1 (1): 162–197. doi:10.1163/25898833-12340008. ISSN 2589-8825. S2CID 198833565.
  13. ^ Art, Iranian-Bulletin of the Asia Institute, volume 17, p. 122
  14. ^ Nihon Gakushiin-Proceedings of the Japan Academy, volume 2, p. 241
  15. ^ Teikoku Gakushiin (Japan) – Proceedings of the Imperial Academy, volume 2, p. 241
  16. ^ H. Howorth. History of The Mongols, Volume 1; Rene Grousset. The Empire of Steppes; D. Pokotilov. History of the Eastern Mongols during the Ming Dynasty from 1368 to 1631
  17. ^ Ed. Herbert Franke, Denis Twitchett, John King Fairbank. The Cambridge History of China: Alien regimes and border states, 907–1368, p. 493.
  18. ^ The Mongol Empire and Its Legacy, p. 14.
  19. ^ Hüseyin Yılmaz, (2018), Caliphate Redefined: The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought, p. 124
  20. ^ Cihan Yüksel Muslu, (2014), The Ottomans and the Mamluks: Imperial Diplomacy and Warfare in the Islamic World, p. 118
  21. ^ Evliya Çelebi, Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia, and Africa in the Seventeenth Century, p. 19
  22. ^ Colin Imber, (2002), The Ottoman Empire, 1300–1650, p. 95
  23. ^ Douglas Streusand, (2010), Islamic Gunpowder Empires: Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals, p. 66
  24. ^ Liu, pp. 81–83.
  25. ^ Scott Latourette, Kenneth (1964). The Chinese, their history and culture. Vol. 1–2 (4th, reprint ed.). Macmillan. p. 144. Retrieved 2012-02-08. territories within his empire. He took the title "Heavenly Khan," thus designating himself as their ruler. A little later the Western Turks, although then at the height of their power, were badly defeated, and the Uighurs, a Turkish tribe, were detached from them and became sturdy supporters of the T'ang in the Gobi. The Khitan, Mongols in Eastern Mongolia and Southern Manchuria, made their submission (630). In the Tarim basin
  26. ^ Skaff 2012, pp. 120–121.
  27. ^ Drompp, Michael Robert (2005). Tang China and the collapse of the Uighur Empire: a documentary history. illustrated. Vol. 13. Brill. p. 126. ISBN 978-90-04-14129-2. Retrieved 2012-02-08 – via Brill's Inner Asian library. the successes of Tang Taizong and to his taking the title of "Heavenly Qaghan" at the request of "the peoples of the northwest" in 630/631. The letter goes on to describe how Taizong's envoy was sent to pacify the Kirghiz in 632/633 and how in 647/648 a Kirghiz chieftain came to the Tang court where he was granted titles, including commander-in-chief of the Kirghiz (Jian-kun). All of this implied Kirghiz subordination to Tang authority, at least in Chinese eyes. According to the letter, Kirghiz tribute had come to the Tang court "uninterruptedly" until the end of the Tianbao reign period (742–756) when Kirghiz contact with the Tang state was cut off by the rise of Uighur power in Mongolia.
  28. ^ Bai, p. 230.
  29. ^ Xue, pp. 674–675.
  30. ^ "Tendencies of Change of Socio-Political Lexicon in Persian and Azerbaijani Languages". Retrieved September 21, 2023.
  31. ^ Bosworth, C (2017). The Turks in the Early Islamic World. Taylor & Francis. p. 250. ISBN 9781351880879.
  32. ^ Onuma, Takahiro (2014). "The Qing Dynasty and Its Central Asian Neighbors". Saksaha: A Journal of Manchu Studies. 12 (20220303). doi:10.3998/saksaha.13401746.0012.004. Retrieved September 17, 2023.
  33. ^ Schluessel, Eric (2016). The Muslim Emperor of China: Everyday Politics in Colonial Xinjiang, 1877-1933 (PDF). Harvard University. p. 320.


  • Fairbank, John King. The Cambridge History of China . Cambridge University Press, 1978. web page
  • Grousset, René. (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia. Translated by Naomi Walford. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey. 3rd 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.
  • Xue, Zongzheng (1992). A History of Turks. Beijing: Chinese Social Sciences Press. ISBN 7-5004-0432-8.
  • Zhou, Weizhou [1985] (2006). A History of Tuyuhun. Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press. ISBN 7-5633-6044-1.

Further reading