Tarkhan (Old Turkic Tarqan; Mongolian: Darqan or Darkhan; Persian: ترخان; Chinese: 達干; Arabic: طرخان; alternative spellings Tarkan, Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Turxan, Tarcan or Turgan) is an ancient Central Asian title used by various Indo-Europeans (i.e. Iranian and Tokharian), Turkic peoples, and by the proto-Mongols and Mongols. Its use was common among the successors of the Mongol Empire.
Although Richard N. 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 into consideration, the word is most likely derived from medieval Mongolian darqat (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, L. Rogers bears in mind that the word may have originated among the Xiongnu and Huns where it was associated with a title for nobility. Edwin G. Pulleyblank also suggests that both, Turkic tarqan and Mongolian darxan/daruyu, may preserve an original Hunnic word.
Tarkhan was used among the various Iranian (Sogdian, Saka and Hephthalites), 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 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 proto-Mongol Rourans or Avars. The Tarkhan were cited in the Orkhon inscription of Kul Tigin (d. c. 731 CE). 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. 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 916-1125.
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.
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.
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.
All craftsmen held the status of darkhan and were immune to occasional requisitions levied incessantly by passing imperial envoys. From then on, the word referred to craftsmen or blacksmiths in the Mongolian language now and is still used in Mongolia as privilege. 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.
- 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.
- Choi, Han-Woo (Oct 2005), A Study of the Ancient Turkic "TARQAN" (PDF), KR: Handong University
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- Qarīb, Badr-az-Zamān (1995), Sogdian dictionary: Sogdian – Persian – English, Tehran: Farhangan
- Doerfer, Gerhard (1993), "Chaladschica extragottingensia", Central Asiatic Journal 37 (1–2): 43
- 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” (+ kӕnyn “to do”) and tӕrxon lӕg “judge” (+l ӕg man). Iron ævzag
- Róna-Tas, András; "Hungarians and Europe in the early Middle Ages", Central European University Press, p 228, 1999, ISBN 9639116483
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- Bailey, Harold W (1985), Indo-Scythian Studies: being Khotanese Texts VII, Cambridge Univ. Press
- Universität Bonn. Seminar für Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft Zentralasiens: Zentralasiatische Studien, Vol. 24-26, p.21
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- Eberhard, Conquerors and Rulers, p. 98
- Wittfogel; et al., Liao dynasty, p. 433
- Atwood, Christopher, Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p. 25
- Ratchnevsky, Paul, Genghis Khan: his life and legacy, p. 243
- Kohn, Michael, Mongolia, p. 126