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Tarkhan (Old Turkic: 𐱃𐰺𐰴𐰣, romanized: Tarqan,[1] Mongolian: ᠳᠠᠷᠬᠠᠨ Darqan or Darkhan;[2][3] Persian: ترخان; Chinese: 達干/達爾罕/答剌罕; Arabic: طرخان; alternative spellings Tarkan, Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Turxan, Tarcan, Turgan, Tárkány, Tarján) is an ancient Central Asian title used by various Turkic, Hungarian, Mongolic, and even Iranian peoples. Its use was common among the successors of the Mongol Empire and Turkic Khaganate.


The origin of the word is not known. Various historians identify the word as either East Iranian (Sogdian or Khotanese Saka)[4][5][6] or Turkic.[1][7][8]

Although Richard N. Frye reports that the word "was probably foreign to Sogdian", Gerhard Doerfer points out that even in Turkic languages, its plural is not Turkic (sing. tarxan --> plur. tarxat), suggesting a non-Turkic origin.[9] L. Ligeti comes to the same conclusion, saying that "tarxan and tegin [prince] form the wholly un-Turkic plurals tarxat and tegit" and that the word was unknown to medieval western Turkic languages, such as Bulgar.[10] Taking this into consideration, the word may be derived from medieval Mongolian darqat (plural suffix -at), itself perhaps derived from the earlier Sogdian word *tarxant ('free of taxes').[9] A. Alemany gives the additional elaboration that the possibly related East Iranian Scytho-Sarmatian (and Alanic) word *tarxan still survives in Ossetic tærxon ('argument, trial') and tærxon kænyn ('to judge').[6] Harold Walter Bailey also proposes an Iranian (Khotanese Saka) root for the word,[11] L. Rogers and Edwin G. Pulleyblank argue that the Mongolian word may have actually originated among the Xiongnu, as a pronunciation of the word recorded in Old Chinese as chanyu, which Pulleyblank argues may have originally represented a Chinese approximation of dān-ĥwāĥ for *darxan.[12]


Tarkhan was used among the Sogdian,[4] Saka, Hephthalite, Turkic, and proto-Mongol peoples of Central Asia and by other Eurasian nomads. It was a high rank in the army of Timur. Tarkhans commanded military contingents (roughly of regimental size under the Turkic Khazars) and were, roughly speaking, generals. They could also be assigned as military governors of conquered regions.

The Göktürks probably adopted the title darqan from the Rourans or Avars.[13] Oğul Tarqan (𐰆𐰍𐰞𐱃𐰺𐰴𐰣) and other tarqat (𐱃𐰺𐰴𐱃) were mentioned in the Orkhon inscription of Kul Tigin (d. c. 731 CE).[14] They were given high honors such as entering the yurt of the khagan without any prior appointment and shown unusual ninefold pardon to the ninth generation from any crime they committed.[15] Although the etymology of the word is unknown, it is attested under the Khitan people, whose Liao dynasty ruled most of Mongolia and North China from 916 to 1125.[16] G. Clauson argued that Tarqan in Ancient Turkic was considered to be the supreme title and was not even, like Tegin and Shad, peculiar to the royal family, but that it was still a high title, carrying administrative responsibility.[17]

The title has different meanings in different times. In Uyghurs, it meant 'deputy, minister'. By Oghuz Turks, it meant 'head constable'.[18][19]

Like many titles, Tarkhan also occurs as a personal name, independent of a person's rank, which makes some historical references confusing. For example, Arabic 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. It is used as family name in Hungary today.

In the Mongol Empire, the darkhans were exempted from taxation, socage and requisitioning. Genghis Khan made those who helped his rise darkhans in 1206. The families of the darkhans played crucial roles later when the succession crisis occurred in Yuan dynasty and Ilkhanate. Abaqa Khan (1234–82) 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 jarlig of Temür Qutlugh (ca. 1370–1399) authorized rights of the tarkhan of Crimea.[20]

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 Northern Yuan dynasty with the death of Ligdan Khan in 1635, the title of darkhan continued to be bestowed on religious dignitaries, sometimes on persons of low birth. For example, in 1665, Erinchin Lobsang Tayiji, the Altan Khan of the Khalkha, bestowed the title on a Russian interpreter and requested the Tsar of Russia to exempt the interpreter from all tax obligations.[3]

A tarkhan of the Arghun dynasty, Muhammad 'Isa Tarkhan, established the Tarkhan dynasty, which ruled Sindh from 1554 to 1591.

All craftsmen held the status of darkhan and were immune to occasional requisitions levied incessantly by passing imperial envoys.[21] From then on, the word referred to craftsmen or blacksmiths[22] in the Mongolian language now and is still used in Mongolia as privilege.[23] People who served the Khagan's orda were granted the title of darkhan and their descendants are known as the darkhad in Ordos City, Inner Mongolia.

One of the seven Magyar (Hungarian) tribes was called Tarjan (Ταριάνου) according to Constantin VII's De Administrando Imperio, and it is a common geographical name used in many villages and city names.

Notable Tarkans[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia series of novels, the apparent spelling variation Tarkaan is the title of a Calormen nobleman, tarkheena that of a noble woman.
  • In Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, the tarkan is the Huns' unique unit with the appearance of a horseman with a torch and scourge in place of sword. Their strength is destroying buildings.
  • Tarkan in the comic Tarkan is a fictional Hun warrior created by Turkish cartoonist Sezgin Burak.
  • Tarkan: Golden medallion, Turkish film, 1973.
  • "Tarkhan" is a military title used by recruitable allies in the 2021 action-strategy video game HighFleet

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Choi, Han-Woo (Oct 2005), A Study of the Ancient Turkic "TARQAN" (PDF), KR: Handong University
  2. ^ Rogers, Leland Liu, The Golden Summary of Cinggis Qayan: Cinggis Qayan-u Altan Tobci, p. 80
  3. ^ a b Ratchnevsky, Paul, Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p. 82
  4. ^ a b Qarīb, Badr-az-Zamān (1995), Sogdian dictionary: Sogdian – Persian – English, Tehran: Farhangan
  5. ^ Doerfer, Gerhard (1993), "Chaladschica extragottingensia", Central Asiatic Journal, 37 (1–2): 43
  6. ^ a b Alemany, Agustí (2000), Sources on the Alans, Brill, p. 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" (+ kænyn "to do") and tærxon læg "judge" (+l æg man). Iron ævzag
  7. ^ Róna-Tas, András; "Hungarians and Europe in the early Middle Ages", Central European University Press, p 228, 1999, ISBN 9639116483
  8. ^ Frye, Richard N, "Tarxun-Turxun and Central Asian History", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 14 (1/2): 105–29, doi:10.2307/2718297, JSTOR 2718297
  9. ^ a b Doerfer, Gerhard (1985), Harrassowitz, O (ed.), Mongolo-Tungusica, University of Virginia
  10. ^ Ligeti, L (1975), Kiadó, A (ed.), Researches in Altaic languages, University of Michigan, p. 48
  11. ^ Bailey, Harold W (1985), Indo-Scythian Studies: being Khotanese Texts, vol. VII, Cambridge Univ. Press
  12. ^ Universität Bonn. Seminar für Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft Zentralasiens: Zentralasiatische Studien, Vol. 24–26, p.21
  13. ^ Pelliot, Neuf Notes [Nine notes] (in French), p. 250
  14. ^ "Kül Tigin inscription", 2nd side: line 11, 3rd side: line 1. published and translated by Türik Bitig
  15. ^ Eberhard, Conquerors and Rulers, p. 98
  16. ^ Wittfogel; et al., Liao dynasty, p. 433
  17. ^ G. Clauson, (1972) 539
  18. ^ Tekin (1983) 836)
  19. ^ Aydın (2016), p. 19-20
  20. ^ "Ярлики ханів Золотої Орди як джерело права і як джерело з історії права".
  21. ^ Atwood, Christopher, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p. 25
  22. ^ Ratchnevsky, Paul, Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p. 243
  23. ^ Kohn, Michael, Mongolia, p. 126

External links[edit]