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Kuchlug (also spelled Küchlüg, Küçlüg, Güčülüg) was a member of the Naiman tribe of western Mongolia. He was defeated by Genghis Khan and fled westward to the Kara-Khitan Khanate, where he became an advisor. He later rebelled, usurped the throne and took control of the khanate. He was killed by the Mongols when they conquered the region in 1218.

Naiman Origins and Westward Flight[edit]

Kuchlug was the son of Taibuqa, the Tayang Khan (leader) of the Naimans, a Mongol-speaking tribe. In 1204, Jamuqa, the chief Mongol rival of Temüjin (later known as Genghis Khan), fled to the Naimans. Temüjin followed and launched an assault upon the tribe. Taibuqa at first hesitated, considering it better to fall back to the Altai Mountains and attack the Mongols from there. Kuchlug, however, favored a direct assault on the Mongols on open ground. He went so far as to dismiss his father's plan as cowardly. Taibuqa relented and allowed Kuchlug to carry out his attack.

The battle was a disaster for the Naiman. Jamuqa abandoned them and fled. Taibuqa was mortally injured, and his main commander was killed. The rest of the tribe surrendered to Temüjin and were absorbed into his ranks. Kuchlug managed to escape and with a few Naiman soldiers fled westward towards the Kara Irtish.

Afterwards Genghis Khan was wary of the threat Kuchlug still posed. In 1208, they again met in battle, and Kuchlug was pushed further west into Semirechye. Reeling from a second defeat at the hands of the Mongols, Kuchlug turned to the Kara Khitai in Balasaghun for protection.

Kara-Khitan Empire[edit]

Kuchlug was welcomed by Zhilugu, the Gur-khan (meaning Universal Khan), ruler of the Kara-Khitans. Once he was accepted into the Kara-Khitan Empire, Kuchlug quickly gained a strong foothold. He found service as an advisor for Gur-khan, and was allowed to marry one of the Gur-khan's daughters, Qûngû. He was later given the title of Khan, and was allowed to reorganized his fellow Naimans into a military unit under his command.[1]

Usurpation of the throne[edit]

Around that time, the Kara-Khitans were dealing with rebellions in the east, as well as engaging in a struggle against Muhammad II of the Khwarezmian Empire in the west. The Khwarezm-Shah took Bukhara in 1207, but was defeated by the Kara-Khitans at Samarkand. Kuchlug, however, apparently had formed an alliance with the Khwarezm-Shah. In 1210, while the Gur-khan was dealing with a revolt by the Karakhanids at Samarkand, Kuchlug took the chance to rebel against his father-in-law, seizing the Kara-Khitan's treasury at Uzgen. The Gur-khan left Samarkand to deal with Kuchlug, but the Khwarezm-Shah Muhammad used the opportunity to seize Samarkand, then defeated the Kara-Khitans near Talas and gained control of Transoxiana.[1]

The Gur-khan pulled back to his capital of Balasagun, and defeated Kuchlug who retreated eastward to his Naiman realm. However, in 1211, while the Gur-khan was out hunting, he was ambushed and captured by Kuchlug. The Khwarezm-Shah then joined Kuchlug in capturing the Kara-Khitan Empire. The Gur-khan was allowed to remain ruler of the Kara-Khitais, at least in name, but Kuchlug retained the real power.[2] When the Gur-khan died in 1213, Kuchlug took direct control of the khanate. While Kuchlug likely only intended to usurp the throne of the Kara-Khitans, many historians considered the death of the Gur-khan the end of the Kara-Khitan Empire.[3]

Kuchlug's rule[edit]

Khwarezmid Empire

Struggle against Muhammad II[edit]

Once Kuchlug had established himself as ruler, Muhammad demanded the Kara-Khiatai Gur-khan to be handed over and a princess as a reward for his previous support. Kuchlug tried to stall, but eventually Muhammad became more aggressive. However, when Kuchlug threatened to resolve the rivalry by direct combat, Muhammad chose to evacuate the region of upper Jaxartes (Syr-Darya), demolished the settlements there in an attempt to form a buffer zone between his empire and Kuchlug's,[4] and the Syr-Darya eventually came to be the de facto border between the two rulers.

Religious policy[edit]

Kuchlug was from the Naiman tribe, which were Nestorians. His wife, daughter of the Gur-khan, was a Buddhist, and convinced him to adopt Buddhism. However, in contrast to the policy of religious tolerance of the previous Kara-Khitan Gur-khans, once Kuchlug assumed power, he was reported to have instituted anti-Muslim policies. According to Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvayni, he would demand that a town’s Muslim population make a choice between either converting to Nestorianism or Buddhism, or donning Khitan garment, of which the population would choose to wear Khitan clothing.[5] He was also reported to have crucified the imam of Hotan onto the door of his madrassa.[6] His anti-Muslim policies and struggle against Muhammad may have served to inspire the legend of another incarnation of the Christian king of the Far East Prester John.

Downfall and Death[edit]

Kuchlug attacked the city of Almaliq, and the Karlugs there appealed to Genghis Khan for help.[7] In 1216, Genghis Khan dispatched his general Jebe to pursue Kuchlug. The Mongol first went to Almaliq, then proceed on to the capital city of Balasaghun near which they defeated a Kara-Khitan force of 30,000 men. Kuchlug fled southwards to Kashgar, however, his previous acts of pillaging and burning harvests in Kashgar when he first captured the town, his anti-Muslim policies, as well as the billeting of his troops on local households, had antagonized the people of Kashgar.[8] When the Mongols approached Kashgar, Kuchlug, unable to find support in Kashgar, fled again. According to Ata-Malik Juvayni, the people of Kashgar, then killed his soldiers. He continued south across the Pamirs, eventually reaching the border between Badakhshan and Wakhan in 1218.[9] There, a group of hunters caught him and handed him over to the Mongols.[10] Kuchlug was beheaded, and according to the Chinese historical work Yuan Shi, his head was displayed across his former realm.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

In Age of Empires II: Age of Kings, Kuchlug appears (under the name Kushluk) in the second level of the Genghis Khan campaign, leading the Kara-Khitai against Genghis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Biran, Michal. (2005). "Chapter 3 - The Fall: between the Khwarazm Shah and the Mongols". The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 60–90. ISBN 0521842263. 
  2. ^ Peter Golden (2011). "Chapter 6 - The Mongol Whirlwind". Central Asia in World History. Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0195338197. 
  3. ^ Biran, Michal. (2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 79–81. ISBN 0521842263. 
  4. ^ Biran, Michal. (2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. p. 82. ISBN 0521842263. 
  5. ^ Ata-Malik Juvayni. The History of The World Conqueror. From here Küchlüg proceeded to Khotan, and seized that country ; whereupon he compelled the inhabitants to abjure the religion of Mohammed, giving them the choice between two alternatives, either to adopt the Christian or idolatrous creed or to don the garb of the Khitayans. And since it was impossible to go over to another religion, by reason of hard necessity they clad themselves in the dress of the Khitayans. 
  6. ^ Ata-Malik Juvayni. The History of The World Conqueror. One day, in Khotan, he drove the great imams out on to the plain and began to discuss religion with them. One of their number, the imam ff Ala-ad-Din Muhammad of Khotan, ventured to dispute with him : After undergoing torture he was crucified upon the door of his college, as will be hereinafter described. 
  7. ^ Svatopluk Soucek (2000). "Chapter 6 - Seljukids and Ghazvanids". A history of Inner Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521657040. 
  8. ^ Biran, Michal. (2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 195–196. ISBN 0521842263. 
  9. ^ Biran, Michal. (2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. p. 83. ISBN 0521842263. 
  10. ^ Ata-Malik Juvayni. The History of The World Conqueror. When he drew near to Sarigh-Chopan, he mistook the road (as it was right that he should do) and entered a valley which had no egress. Some Badakhshani huntsmen were hunting in the neighbouring mountains. They caught sight of Küchlüg and his men and turned towards them ; while the Mongols came up from the other side. As the valley was of a rugged nature and the going was difficult, the Mongols came to an agreement with the hunters. "These men", they said, "are Küchlüg and his followers, who have escaped from our grasp. If you capture Küchlüg and deliver him up to us, we shall ask nothing more of you." These men accordingly surrounded Küchlüg and his followers, took him prisoner and handed him over to the Mongols; who cut off his head and bore it away with them. 
  11. ^ Yuan Shi Chapter 120

Further reading[edit]

  • Ata-Malik Juvayni. The History of The World Conqueror. 
  • Christian, David. A History of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia. (1998)
  • de Hartog, Leo. Genghis Khan: Conqueror of the World. (1989)
  • Biran, Michal. The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World (2005) Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521842263