Nayan (Mongol prince)

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Prince of Kwang-ning
Bornc. 1257
DiedJuly 1287

Nayan was a prince of the Borjigin royal family of the Mongol Empire. He raised a noteworthy and serious rebellion against the Mongolian Khagan, Kublai Khan. He was a Nestorian Christian. Much of what is known of Nayan was recorded by the Venetian traveller Marco Polo.


Marco Polo and Kublai Khan, Italian book illustration 14th century

Nayan was a member of a collateral branch of the Mongol royal dynasty, being a descendant of one of the brothers of Genghis Khan. He was either a great-great grandson of Temüge, Genghis Khan's youngest full brother, or of Belgutai his half-brother. More than one prince named Nayan existed and their identity is confused; the historian Pelliot was of the opinion that the Christian prince Nayan was not a descendant of Belgutai.[1] He gives Nayan's father as Ajul, son of Tacar, son of Jibügan, son of Temüge.[2] The close male relatives of Genghis Khan were given control of large appanage domains located in Mongolia and neighbouring lands such as Manchuria. Marco Polo describes Nayan as ruling four great provinces: 'Ciorcia' (possibly meaning Jurchen), 'Cauli' (Korea, probably only a part of Northern Korea), 'Barscol' and 'Sichintingiu'.[3] Located in his domains was a town called Kwang-ning, and because of this Nayan was termed 'Prince of Kwang-ning'.[4] In addition, Nayan was also the foremost leader of the Eastern uluses (tribal groupings and districts ruled by Mongol appanage princes) dominated by the descendants of the brothers of Genghis Khan.[5] Whatever the precise extent of Nayan's appanage, he certainly held sufficient lands within and around Manchuria to give him a power-base from which to launch a rebellion against his kinsman Kublai Khan.[6]


Nayan is represented as embodying a traditional Mongol reaction against the increasing sinicisation shown by Kublai Khan and his administration. Nayan adhered to the ancestral nomadic values of the Mongols and was dismayed at Kublai's estrangement from these ideals.[7] More prosaically Kublai Khan was, possibly on the model of Chinese principles of governance, consolidating power in his own hands and the semi-independent appanage princes were beginning to feel threatened.[8] Nayan conspired with two other descendants of brothers of Genghis Khan, Shiktur and Qada'an, who also held appanages in Eastern Mongolia and Manchuria. He was also in contact with Kublai Khan's 'nephew' and inveterate enemy Kaidu, who ruled much of Central Asia.[9][10]

Nayan broke into open rebellion between 14 May and 12 June, 1287, and the main battle against Kublai took place around 16 July.[11]

Mongol heavy cavalry

Kublai Khan had suspicions, and justifiable fears, of co-operation between Nayan and Kaidu, and sent his leading general Bayan to investigate. One contemporary source relates that Nayan invited Bayan to a feast, but forewarned of a trap, Bayan escaped. Whatever the truth of this incident, Bayan was sent with an army to occupy Karakorum in order to block Kaidu from moving eastward and joining Nayan.[12] Kublai himself, despite his advanced age of 72 years, raised another army and rapidly moved against Nayan in Manchuria. The speed and scale of Kublai's response meant that the various rebels were given very limited opportunities to co-ordinate their movements and concentrate their forces, and left them open to being defeated individually. The imperial fleet moved great quantities of supplies to the mouth of the Liao River to support the campaign. Nayan was himself encamped on the banks of the same river further inland. Kublai directed his forces from a palanquin mounted on, or drawn by, four elephants.[13]

Moving at a rapid pace, and carefully screening his army, Kublai Khan's forces surprised Nayan at his encampment.[14] The camp of Nayan was protected by a wagon laager, a field fortification commonly employed by steppe nomads.[15] The khagan's army was organised in three divisions: first the Mongols, second the Chinese, and third the Guard and Kipchaks, the latter combined under Kublai's direct command. Nayan's army was less disciplined than that of Kublai's, and it is alleged that it was momentarily panicked before the battle began by the discharge, by some of the khagan's troops, of an early variety of explosive device.[16] According to Marco Polo, as a Christian, Nayan's standard bore the insignia of the cross.[17] The armies faced each other with their great kettle drums beating and horns sounding.[18] The battle began with exchanges of arrows but then developed into one of close-combat with lance, sword and iron mace. The battle was hard-fought and lasted from early morning until mid-day, when Nayan's army began to break up. Nayan's soldiers started to flee the field, many were cut down, and Nayan himself was captured.[19]

Aftermath of the rebellion[edit]

Kublai ordered Nayan to be executed immediately and in secret, in order that no petitions for mercy might arise.[20] Nayan was executed in a manner that avoided the spilling of his royal blood; he was rolled in a carpet and smothered or thrown up and down until dead. Though he was unable to effectively support Nayan's rebellion, Kaidu remained a potent threat for the remainder of Kublai Khan's life. Kublai chose not to regard Nayan's Nestorian Christian co-religionists as guilty by association, and refused to allow them to suffer any level of persecution within his lands.[21]

In the wake of the suppression of Nayan's rebellion, Kublai Khan was able to begin to fully incorporate the lands and peoples previously dominated by the appanage princes into his domain.[22]


  1. ^ Pelliot Vol. I, pp. 354-355
  2. ^ Pelliot Vol II, p. 788
  3. ^ Pelliot Vol. I, p. 386
  4. ^ Also called Kuang-Ning, it is situated in Liaoning Province. Once an important settlement, it was captured by the Mongols under Muqali in 1215. Cordier Vol. I, p. 334
  5. ^ Jackson, pp. 32-36
  6. ^ Grousset, p. 293
  7. ^ Rossabbi, p. 222
  8. ^ Jackson, pp. 31-36
  9. ^ Grousset, p. 293
  10. ^ Kaidu is usually termed Kublai's 'nephew' in the literature - in reality he was his first cousin, once removed.
  11. ^ Pelliot Vol II, p. 789
  12. ^ Man, p. 396
  13. ^ Grousset, p. 293
  14. ^ Cordier Vol. I, p. 336-337
  15. ^ Grousset, p. 293
  16. ^ Cordier Vol. I, p. 342
  17. ^ Cordier Vol. I, p. 339
  18. ^ Cordier Vol. I, p. 338
  19. ^ Rossabbi, p. 223
  20. ^ Cordier Vol. I, p. 343
  21. ^ Rossabi, p. 224
  22. ^ Jackson, pp. 32-36


  • Cordier, H. (1920) Ser Marco Polo, Vols. I and II, John Murray, London.
  • Grousset, R. (1970) The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, Rutgers University Press.
  • Jackson, P. (1999) From Ulus to Khanate: The making of the Mongol states c. 1220-c. 1290, in The Mongol Empire and its Legacy, ed. R. Amitai-Preiss and D. O. Morgan, Brill, Leiden.
  • Man, J. (2012) Kublai Khan, Random House, London.
  • Pelliot, P. (1963) Notes on Marco Polo, Vols., I, II and III, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris.
  • Rossabi, M. (1988) Khubilai Khan: His Life and Times, University of California Press.