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Wang Khan (King)
Wang Khan "Toghrul" in Le Livre des Merveilles, 15th century. He is depicted with the gown of a Cardinal rather than a King, and with his attendants (right) holding Christian crosses, in relation to his identification with Prester John in the Occident. He is receiving two envoys from Genghis Khan (kneeling).[1]
Reign? - 1203
Tuul River
Died1203 (aged 72–73)
Mongol Empire
SpouseYazad Khatun
IssueOghuul Khan
Full name
Wang Khan
Cryllic MongolТоорил хан
FatherAishan Khan
MotherSiingze Khatun
ReligionChurch of the East (doctrinal Christian)

Toghrul, also known as Wang Khan or Ong Khan (Mongolian: Тоорил хан Tooril han or Ван хан Van han; Chinese: 王汗; pinyin: Wáng Hàn; died 1203) was a khan of the Keraites. He was the anda (blood brother) of the Mongol chief Yesugei and served as an important early patron and ally to Yesugei's son Temüjin, later known as Genghis Khan.

"Wang Khan" was the name given to Toghrul by the Jurchen Jin Dynasty of China; Wang means king or prince. When Temüjin attacked Jamukha for the title of khan, Toghrul, fearing Temüjin's growing power, plotted with Jamukha to have Temüjin assassinated. Toghrul was killed in 1203 by Naiman soldiers who failed to recognize him as the former was fleeing from a defeat by Genghis Khan. Genghis married his son Tolui to one of Toghrul's nieces, the Nestorian Christian Sorghaghtani Bekhi. Tolui and Sorghaghtani Bekhi became the parents of Möngke Khan and Kublai Khan.

During the 13th century, Toghrul was one of several Asian leaders who was identified with the legend of Prester John.[2]


Toghril had a very difficult youth. The Merkit captured him during his childhood and he was reduced to slavery. It is possible that he left the Merkit after being freed by a ransom or simply escaped. However, according to the Secret History, he was again abducted at the age of thirteen by the Tatar, who also took his own mother. When Toghril returned to the Keraits later. His father, Kurchakus, died. Toghril took his place and commanded the Kéraït around 1165. He took advantage of it to kill his three of his five brothers. His brothers were Erke-qara, Jakha-gambu (who became a lifelong associate of Genghis Khan), Tai Timur taishi, Buqa-Timur and Ilqa-Selengun. Erke-qara escaped and fled to the Naiman, who were a neighboring tribe to the west of the Kerait. The two other brothers, Buqa-Timur and Tai-Timur Taïshi were executed. However, Toghril's success was brief because his nominal uncle Gurkhan overthrew him. Toghril fled with his daughter and a handful of faithful. He tried to get the help of the Merkit to overthrow Gurkhan in turn, but their leader, Toqto'a, refused despite the fact that Toghril offered him his daughter because the Kerait were very numerous. Toghril went to see the father of Temujin, Yesugei. He chose to help Toghril because he had previously fought a battle with the Kerait against the Tatar. The Keraits were surprised when Yesugei attacked without having time to prepare. Despite the fact that the Keraits were much more numerous, their forces were dispersed throughout Central Mongolia. Toghril resumed the command of the Keraits, and Gurkhan fled.

Toghril was, like Jamukha, brother by oath with Yesugei. When Yesugei was assassinated by poisoning while the latter visited the Tatar and later learned by Belgutai and Qassar that Borte the wife of Temujin had been abducted by the Merkit, he helped her. It was a good way to avenge himself on the Merkits whose slave he had been, and the Merkits were also fewer in number than the Kerait. The victory seemed surely assured. He asked for assistance from Jamukha, who helped him. Before the coalition led by Toghril, his brother Jakha-gambu, Jamukha and Temujin could arrive where they wanted to attack the Merkit, two of the tribal chiefs, Dair-usun and Toqto'a-beki, fled the camp, probably informed by people who had seen the army move. The coalition easily won the fight that followed and about 300 Merkit perished. The chiefs distributed the booty among themselves and gave the Merkit wives to the warriors. The children became slaves. Borte was found later in the evening. Toghril returned to the camp Kerait with his men, proud of an easy victory.

Temujin, some time after, was named Genghis Khan. He intended to attack the Tatar people who had long caused him problems, including the murder of his father. He asked for help from Toghril, who willingly accepted, still satisfied with the victory he had had before. Toghril's grandfather had also been assassinated by the Tatar, which gave him a similar reason to fight them. He rejoined Genghis Khan with a few thousand Keraits. The Jurkhin, a Mongolic tribe, were also invited, but declined the offer because they were somewhat hostile with the Genghis tribe. They eventually found allies in Wanyan Changxiang, minister of Emperor Zhangzong of the Jurchen Jin dynasty of China. The Tatars were considered by the Jurchen to be harmful and the opportunity was perfect to exterminate them. When the combined forces of Toghril and Genghis Khan attacked the Tatars, they were caught in a vice as the Jurchen warriors behind them easily encircled the enemy tribe. The men were slaughtered, the women given to the most valiant warriors, and the children were adopted or became servants and slaves. Some thousands of Tatar who had resisted and then escaped entrenched themselves. The general of the Jurchen gave the title of Wang Khan to Toghril. The latter, as well as Genghis Khan who received the tite chaut-quri, returned to their original encampments with even more booty.

Then came the year 1194. When he arrived at his home, Toghril was overthrown by his brother Erke-qara, whom he had not been able to assassinate, and who had returned with the Naimans. Many Kerait who were dissatisfied with the command of Toghril probably also helped to drive Toghril out. He fled without even going to seek the help of Genghis Khan. The reasons are unknown. It is possible that he was pursued by his enemies or that he was simply too proud since he had asked Yesugai for help in similar circumstances. He finally ended up in the lands of the Uighur and then went to the king of the Kara-Khitai after having traveled about 2500 kilometers. He stayed there a year according to the Secret History. It was after leaving the Qara-Khitai that he finally decided to join Genghis Khan. According to the writings of Rashid al-Din, he would have reached Genghis Khan's encampment in 1196. This journey was probably very painful because he crossed many mountains and deserts. He had, in the last moments of his journey, pricked his camel day after day to drink blood because the food became more and more rare. He had lost many cattle and subjects. Nearly two years of trying times finally ended for Toghril.

Toghril had never really helped Genghis Khan when he himself had lived his own years of misery until Borte was abducted. Yet Genghis Khan lodged him with the utmost attention. Toghril became his guest for about two years. Toghril was penniless, which is why Genghis Khan undertook to attack the Merkit for a second time and gave a large part of the booty to Toghril who gave to different Kerait chiefs to consolidate allies with his tribe of origin. Genghis Khan then allegedly attacked a Kerait tribe, the Tumen Tubegen, and a large part of the survivors became Toghril's. The Kerait returned fully to Toghril around 1198. The Naiman remained neutral and offered no help to Erke-qara because the Naiman people were then divided between two kings. Kuchu-guden Buiruk took the southern part and Tai Buqa the northern part of the Naiman lands. Erke-qara fled for the second time. To reward the Kerait who had remained faithful to him, Toghril ordered them to plunder the weak Merkit for the third time. Significant Merkits, including two sons of Toqto'a-beki, were captured while another was murdered. Toghril gave no booty to Genghis Khan, who was very patient and generous. Toghril's brother, Jakha-gambu found in Genghis Khan a very good friend and both became brothers of blood by oath.

Around 1199, Toghril wanted to finish once and for all with the Naiman and the dispute between the two kings of this tribe was an unexpected chance to attack. If he attacked one of the brothers, it was almost certain that the other would do nothing and he could destroy them one after the other without having to confront the two tribes together, which could have formed a formidable alliance. He succeeded in bringing together Genghis Khan and Jamukha, chief of the tribe of the Jajirat, and forced them to become allies again, for they had hitherto become enemies. They did so, but with a distrust of one another. When the forces of Toghril, Jamukha and Genghis Khan came together to fight Kuchu-guden's, they quickly realized that the Naimans had an asset; Their lands were conducive to a long pursuit. Indeed, Toghril had a hard time chasing his enemies because they had plenty of ground to escape. After a hike of a few hundred kilometers, Toghril realized that he could never catch them and came back. However, a general Naiman by the name of Kokse'u-sabraq, who was nearby, began to pursue Toghril in his turn. During the night, the Naiman and Kerait camps were face to face, and Toghril, under the guidance of Jamukha, left Genghis Khan to flee. He had previously set campfires to make the enemy (but also Genghis Khan) believe that they were staying there for the night. The next day, Genghis Khan quickly realized the trick and fled by circumventing the Naimans who decided to pursue Toghril. They rejoined him and attacked his rear guard, which was composed of Jakha-gambu and Ilqa, the son of Toghril. They had a hard time fighting the enemy because they were probably still very tired of the pursuit. Toghril sent messengers on horseback to Genghis Khan to help him. He sent his faithful Bo'orchu, Moqali, Boroqul and Chila'un with a few hundred men. During the battle, the two prisoners, Merkit, son of Toqto'a-beki, fled to join their father. Ilqa's horse was bleeding heavily. It was at this moment that the men of Genghis Khan arrived and crushed the Naimans who did not expect them at all. The Kerait had escaped a potential massacre. Toghril thanked Genghis Khan and promised him that he would never forget what he had done for him during this battle.

In 1200, Toghril lent a helping hand to Genghis Khan, who was attacked by an alliance formed by the Tayichi'ut, commanded by Targhutai Kiriltuk, an old enemy of Genghis, and Merkit led by Toqto'a-Beki, who had recovered son. This happened on the banks of the Onon. The combined forces of Genghis Khan's Keraits and Mongols were the winners of this confrontation. However, the Tayitchi'ut had not finished. They found several allies and became twice as numerous as the followers of Genghis Khan. Toghril came once more to his ally near the Onon. According to Rashid Al-Din, during these moments, Toghril realized that Jakha-gambu and other leaders Kerait conspired to provoke his fall. Jakha-gambu and his allies fled to the northern Naimans who had remained totally neutral when the Southern Naimans had been attacked. According to the Secret History, this incident does not happen until later.

In 1201, Jamukha had resumed hostilities against Genghis Khan. An impressive coalition of Jajirad tribes Taichiud, Ikires, Qorolas, Salji'ut, Dorbed, Suldus, Qatagin, Besud, Merkit, Oirat and finally Tatars opposed Genghis Khan naming Jamukha "Khan Universal" (Gur Khan). Toghril decides to rejoin Genghis again. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Secret History replaces Jakha-gambu's betrayal at a later date. In this book, it is said that Jakhagambu was with Toghril in the battle that follows. Toghril and Genghis Khan went into the valley called the Kerulen Valley with fifteen thousand men. When they saw the enemy, they climbed the mountains because they were shorthanded against the enemy. The Nayman from the south, of Kuchuguden, had joined the men of Jamukha. Toghril and Genghis Khan fought a defensive battle which was very difficult and perilous. Torrential rain made the rolling hills and mountains men fell from the top to finish in crevices and ravines. After the enemy had withdrawn his forces, Toghril left to return to Tula river with his warriors. Genghis took advantage of the flight of his enemies to finish several on horseback. Targhutai was reportedly wounded to death as a result of the fight.

The secret history mentions that this battle was fought in one battle, while several other historians claim that two "battles of Köyiten" (frozen country) were delivered to the same place in the Khingan Mountains, one year apart. The following is the second part of the single battle or the second battle in a series of two, depending on the sources.

Jamukha had fared badly during the first attack and Kuchuguden took command of the armies. Genghis Khan took the initiative to make a massacre among the Tatar, which dramatically reduced their demographics. Genghis and Toghril returned to the mountains, but this time in the southern portion and faced the newly-commanding Kuchuguden's men, among them were Merkit, South Naiman, Oirats and tribes Jamukha. Six tribes had left Jamukha and there were only four. Again, steep slopes, trees and various natural obstacles greatly slowed down the enemies of Toghril and Genghis and the fight gradually grew favorable.

Toghril became very old. He was more than 70 years old and did not have the same reflexes as in his youth. In 1203, Ilqa took command of the Kerait and Toghril had a less important role with the tribe. Ilqa was ambitious. Jamukha, Altan and Qutchar persuaded him to eliminate Genghis Khan. Ilqa attempted to assassinate him, failed, and then confronted the hordes of Genghis in a fierce battle in which he was wounded. Toghril was present and assumed command, but he was more or less able to fight himself given his advanced age and withdrew his men from the fight. Kerait joined the forces of Genghis Khan during and after the battle. After this battle, which was called "Battle of the Burning Sands", Genghis received the help of the Qonggirats who had confronted him during the first battle of Kerulen and then fled to Jamukha. Toghril and Ilqa, however, were still more numerous. Genghis Khan sent ambassadors to demand peace, as he wished to renew his friendship with Toghril. Ilqa, now choosing for his father, rejected the request. Other tribes joined Genghis Khan during that year. He was then in possession of eleven tribes, which formed a third of the whole population of Mongolia. As the enemy increased in number, Jamukha, Qutchar and Altan conspired against Toghril, but eventually left the Kerait to take refuge with the Naimans of the north. The Tayitchi'ut, Dorbed, Qatagin and Salji'ut followed them.

On a favorable day, Genghis Khan attacked the Keraits by surprise. 8000 Mongol horsemen, under the command of Genghis Khan, attacked the enemy. Some Kerait left almost immediately, while others, more loyal, faced the Mongolian warriors for three days but eventually surrendered. Toghril, shamed and helpless, fled to the Naiman of the north but was killed by a soldier who did not recognize him. The majority of the Keraits allied themselves with Genghis Khan. Genghis Khan became the most powerful man in the region. He did not want Toghril's luxurious dishes and distributed it to those who had warned him of Ilqa's attack on the Burning Sands.

Wang Khan's character in primary sources[edit]

In Paragraphs 150-151 of the Secret History of the Mongols (written in 1240):

Wang Khan of the Kerait had earlier been a good friend and anda (blood brother) of Yesugei Baatar. The reasons for becoming anda was as follows. Wang Khan, after having killed his brothers the sons of his Khan Father Kurchakus Buyuruk, had hostilities with his uncle Gur Khan and hid in a land called Kara'un Crevice. From there he barely managed to escape with a hundred men and came to Yesugei Khan. Yesugei Khan took care of him and, going at the head of his own army, drove Gur Khan to the Tangut lands, took his subjects and beasts and giving them to Wang Khan became anda blood brothers. After that Erkh Khar the brother of Wang Khan, fearing assassination by his brother Wang Khan, fled to Inancha Khan of the Naiman. When Inancha Khan came with his army Wang Khan fled, wandering through three cities and came to Gur Khan of the Khar-Khyatad (Kara-Kitai). He became hostile with that khan as well and wandered through Uighur and Tangut cities, leading five goats and drinking camel blood and barely made it alive to Lake Guse'ur where Genghis Khan, remembering how he became anda with his father Yesugei Baatar, sent his envoys Dahai Baatar and Sukekei Je'un to receive him and then Genghis Khan personally picked him up at the source of the Kherlen river. Pitying his rough journey of hunger he gave him donation out of his own (Genghis Khan's) subjects, harbored him in his own Khuree (camp) and took care of him. That winter they moved together and Genghis Khan wintered at Khubakhaya.

In Paragraph 152 of the Secret History:

The brothers and nobles of Wang Khan spoke as follows: 'This Khan elder brother of ours is a no-good person who harbors the evil intention of killing us his kin. He killed his precious brothers. He also went to the Kara-Khitai for protection and hid there in subjection. He has not loved his nation but made it suffer cruelly. What do we do with him? When he was seven years old he was taken by the Merkit, wore a black goat skin, went to Buur Steppe of the Selenge and lived pounding grain for the Merkits. His father Kurchakus Buyuruk Khan attacked the Merkit and saved his son. But this Toghril was taken again at the age of thirteen this time by Ajai Khan of the Tatar who took him and his mother. There he herded his camels. From there he escaped with Ajai Khan's shepherd. After that he fled in fear from the Naiman and went to Gur Khan of the Kara-Khitai at the Chui River in Sartuul (Muslim) lands. Staying there one year he fled again and wandered through Uyghur lands, fled through Tangut lands, leading five goats, feeding on camel blood and came to Temujin with one blind brown horse. That good son Temujin gave him tribute (donation) and fed him. But now he forgets what he was and is harboring evil intentions.' Wang Khan had the participants of this discussion, namely Elqudur, Khulbari and Arin Taij his brothers and nobles arrested. The younger brother of Wang Khan Jakha Khambu managed to escape and went to the Naiman. Wang Khan brought his arrested brothers into a ger and said 'What did you say about how I went through the Uyghur lands and Tangut lands? What did you miserables think?" and spat on their faces. Then he made everyone else in the ger rise and spit on their faces. He let loose their horses.

In Paragraph 164 of the Secret History:

Wang Khan spoke saying 'My anda Yesugei Baatar saved and gathered my lost and dying nation. His eldest son Temujin Genghis Khan gathered and sustained my scattered and wandering nation. These two, father and son, in so sustaining my nation: who have they been striving for so earnestly? For what have they been suffering so selflessly? If I, old man that I am, were to lean on a high mountain, were to lay my head on the grass and depart, who will inherit this numerous nation of mine? If I, Khan Toghril, were to leave my walled ger and go to my rock ger, who will take care of this nation that has been gathered under me?...Though there are brothers they cannot carry on state affairs, they do not have good stable characters, they are troublesome and difficult people. Though I have my one son Sengum he does not have a partner. I will make Temujin the elder brother of Sengum, have two sons and live my remaining years in peace.' Then Genghis Khan and Wang Khan became father and son at the Black Forest of the Tuul river. Long ago Wang Khan had become anda with Yesugei Baatar so he looked on Wang Khan as his father and they became father and son. They said the following words: 'When we fight against alien enemies let us fight together. When we hunt game in the rocky mountains let us hunt together.' Again Genghis and Wang Khan said: 'If a poisonous snake's tongue comes between let us not distance ourselves but meet face to face and undo that evil. When a fanged snake's tooth comes between friends breaking unity let us not grow hostile but meet and talk directly and find all reasons.' Thus they made firm their words and walked in friendship.

In Paragraph 178 of the Secret History:

Wang Khan hearing these words (of Genghis) said: 'Alas, I have separated from my good son and shamed my good state. I have split apart from my esteemed son and done a deed of disunity.' Having spoken these words of repentance he made an oath saying 'If I ever think evil of my son Temujin may my blood flow thus' and he pricked his fingertip with a knife, collected the blood in a small container and sent it saying 'Give this to my son.' Genghis Khan then sent the following message to Jamukha: 'With an evil mind you have separated me from my khan father. Whoever rose earlier of us two would drink from the blue cup of our father (Wang Khan). I always woke up earlier and drank from his cup so you must have gotten jealous. Now drink from the khan father's blue cup as much as you can. How can you empty it?'

In Paragraph 189 of the Secret History:

Gurbesu the mother of Tayan Khan of the Naimans said: 'Wang Khan is a great and old khan. Bring his head. If it is truly him we will worship him' and she sent a messenger to Korisu-beki. They cut his head off from the corpse and brought it and it was truly him. So they placed his head on a white cushion, offered food offerings, blew their trumpets, played their horse-head fiddles and worshipped him placing food offerings and raising cups. As they were doing that the head smiled. Tayan Khan got angry because of the smile and had the head stomped on. At that Kugse'u Sabrag said: 'Is it proper to cut and bring a dead khan's head, stomp on it and throw it away? Our dogs have started howling bad (with bad omens).

In Bar Hebraeus' Ecclesiastical History written in the 13th century:

Ong Khan, John, Christian King, ruler of the barbarian Hun people called Krit (Kerait), took a wife from one of the Cathayan people called Karaketa (Kara-Khitai). He abandoned the faith of his fathers and worshipped strange gods.

In the Travels of Marco Polo Book 1, Chapter 47:

Now in the year of Christ 1200 he sent an embassy to Prester John, and desired to have his daughter to wife. But when Prester John heard that Chinghis Kaan demanded his daughter in marriage he waxed very wroth, and said to the Envoys, "What impudence is this, to ask my daughter to wife! Wist he not well that he was my liegeman and serf? Get ye back to him and tell him that I had liever set my daughter in the fire than give her in marriage to him, and that he deserves death at my hand, rebel and traitor that he is!" So he bade the Envoys begone at once, and never come into his presence again. The Envoys, on receiving this reply, departed straightway, and made haste to their master, and related all that Prester John had ordered them to say, keeping nothing back.


  1. ^ Marie Therese Gousset, p.42
  2. ^ Igor de Rachewiltz, Papal Envoys to the Great Khans (Stanford University Press, 1971), p. 114.