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Kaan/Khan/ Kahn / Kagan (Mongolian language: хаан, xaan; ᠬᠠᠭᠠᠨ, qaγan;Turkish language: kağan or hakan; Azerbaijani:xan; Ottoman: han; Old Turkic language: Old Turkic letter N1.svg Old Turkic letter G1.svg Old Turkic letter Q.svg, kaγan; Chinese: 可汗, kèhán Goguryeo : 皆, key; Silla : 干, kan; Baekje : 瑕, ke; Manchu : ᡥᠠᠨ, Persian: خان, Bengali: খান) is an originally Mongol and subsequently Central Asian title for a sovereign or military ruler, widely used by medieval nomadic Turko-Mongol tribes living to the north of China. "Khan" is also seen as a title in the Xianbei confederation[1] for their chief between 283 and 289.[2] The Rourans were the first people who used the titles Khagan and Khan for their emperors, replacing the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, whom Grousset and others assume to be Turkic.[3] It was subsequently adopted by the Ashina before Mongols brought it to the rest of Asia. In the middle of the sixth century it was known as "Kagan – King of the Turks" to the Persians.[1]

It now has many equivalent meanings such as commander, leader, or ruler. Presently Khans exist in South Asia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Turkey. The female alternatives are Khatun and Khanum, These titles or names are sometimes written as Han, Kan, Hakan, Hanum, or Hatun (in Turkey), "xan", "xanım" (in Azerbaijan). Various Mongolic and Turkic peoples from Central Asia had given the title new prominence after the Mongol rule throughout the Old World and later brought the title "Khan" into Northern Asia. which later was adopted by locals in the country as a title. Khagan is rendered as Khan of Khans and was the title of Genghis Khan and the persons who are elected to rule the Mongol Empire. For instance Möngke Khan and Ogedei Khan would be "Khagans," but not Chagatai Khan who was not proclaimed ruler of the Mongol Empire by the kurultai.[4]

Khanate rulers and dynasties[]

Ruling Khans[]

A khan controls a khanate (sometimes spelled chanat. Mongolian: хаант, khaant). In the Mongolian language, "khan" is also pronounced with double "a"s like "Khaan". Khaant means "with Khaan," like "Khaant ulus" or "nation with Khan" or khanate. Whenever appropriate as ruler of a monarchy, Khan is also translated as emperor.[citation needed]

Originally khans only headed relatively minor tribal entities, generally in or near the vast Eurasian steppe, the scene of an almost endless procession of nomadic people riding out into the history of the neighbouring sedentary regions. Some managed to establish principalities of some importance for a while, as their military might repeatedly proved a serious threat to such empires as China and kingdoms in Central Asia.[citation needed]

One of the earliest notable examples of such principalities in Europe was Danube Bulgaria (presumably also Old Great Bulgaria), ruled by a khan or a kan at least from the 7th to the 9th century. It should be noted that the title "khan" is not attested directly in inscriptions and texts referring to Bulgar rulers – the only similar title found so far, Kanasubigi, has been found solely in the inscriptions of three consecutive Bulgarian rulers, namely Krum, Omurtag and Malamir (a grandfather, son and grandson). Starting from the compound, non-ruler titles that were attested among Bulgarian noble class such as kavkhan (vicekhan), tarkhan, and boritarkhan, scholars derive the title khan or kan for the early Bulgarian leader – if there was a vicekhan (kavkhan) there was probably a "full" khan, too. Compare also the rendition of the name of early Bulgarian ruler Pagan as Καμπαγάνος (Kampaganos), likely resulting from a misinterpretation of "Kan Pagan", in Patriarch Nicephorus's so-called Breviarium[5] In general, however, the inscriptions as well as other sources designate the supreme ruler of Danube Bulgaria with titles that exist in the language in which they are written – archontеs, meaning 'commander or magistrate' in Greek, and knyaze, meaning "duke" or "prince" in Slavic. Among the best known Bulgar khans were: Khan Kubrat, founder of Great Bulgaria; Khan Asparukh, founder of Danubian Bulgaria (today's Bulgaria); Khan Tervel, who defeated the Arab invaders in 718 Siege of Constantinople (718), thus "saving Europe"; Khan Krum, "the Terrible". "Khan" was the official title of the ruler until 864 AD, when Kniaz Boris (known also as Tsar Boris I) adopted the Eastern Orthodox faith.[citation needed]

Eurasia on the eve of the Mongol invasions, c. AD 1200.

The title Khan became unprecedently prominent when the Mongol Temüjin created the Mongol empire, the greatest land empire the world has ever seen, which he ruled as Genghis Khan. His title was khagan, or "Khan of Khans", but has often been abbreviated to Khan (rather like the Persian Shahanshah -also meaning "King of Kings"- is usually called Shah, equally incorrect, in most Western languages) or described as "Great Khan" (like the Ottoman Padishah being called "Great Sultan"). The great leader was regarded as a khan in the middle east and Asia. Ming Dynasty Chinese Emperors also used the term Xan to denote brave warriors and rulers. The title Khan was used to designate the greatest rulers of the Jurchens, who, later when known as the Manchus, founded the Mongolian-Manchu Qing dynasty of China. The Mongolian use of the title khan as by Bogd Khan, would later be used by the eighth Jebtsundamba Khutuktu after Mongolia's declaration of independence in 1911.[citation needed]

Once more, there would be numerous khanates in the steppe in and around Central Asia, often more of a people than a territorial state, e.g.:[citation needed]

  • of the Kazakhs (founded 1465; since 1601 divided into three geographical Jüz or Hordes, each under a bey; in 1718 split into three different khanates; eliminated by the Russian Empire by 1847)
  • in present Uzbekistan, the main khanate, named after its capital Buchara, was founded in 1500 and restyled emirate in 1753 (after three Persian governors since 1747); the Ferghana (valley's) khanate broke way from it by 1694 and became known as the Khanate of Kokand after its capital Kokand from its establishment in 1732; the khanate of Khwarezm, dating from c.1500, became the Khanate of Khiva in 1804 but fell soon under Russian protectorate; Karakalpakstan had its own rulers (khans?) since c. 1600.

While most Afghan principalities were styled emirate, there was a khanate of ethnic Uzbeks in Badakhshan since 1697. Khan was the title of the rulers of various break-away states later reintegrated in Iran, e.g. 1747–1808 Khanate of Ardabil (in northwestern Iran east of Sarab and west of the southwest corner of the Caspian Sea), 1747–1813 Khanate of Khoy (northwestern Iran, north of Lake Urmia, between Tabriz and Lake Van), 1747–1829 Khanate of Maku (in extreme northwestern Iran, northwest of Khoy, and 60 miles south of Yerevan, Armenia), 1747–1790s Khanate of Sarab (northwestern Iran east of Tabriz), 1747 – c.1800 Khanate of Tabriz (capital of Iranian Azerbeidjan).[citation needed]

There were various small khanates in and near Transcaucasia. In present Armenia, there was a khanate of Erivan (sole incumbent 1807–1827 Hosein Quli Khan Qajar). Diverse khanates existed in Azerbaijan, including Baku (present capital), Ganja, Jawad, Quba (Kuba), Salyan, Shakki (Sheki, ruler style Bashchi since 1743) and Shirvan=Shamakha (1748–1786 temporarily split into Khoja Shamakha and Yeni Shamakha), Talysh (1747–1814); Nakhichevan and (Nagorno) Karabakh.[citation needed]

As hinted above, the title Khan was also common in some of the polities of the various – generally Islamic – peoples in the territories of the Mongol Golden Horde and its successor states, which, like the Mongols in general, were commonly called Ta(r)tars[6] by Europeans and Russians, and were all eventually subdued by Muscovia which became the Russian Empire. The most important of these states were:[citation needed]

  • Khanate of Kazan (the Mongol term khan became active since Genghizide dynasty was settled in Kazan Duchy in 1430s.
  • Sibir Khanate (giving its name to Siberia as the first significant conquest during Russia's great eastern expansion across the Ural range)
  • Sibirean Khanate (giving its name to Siberia as the first significant conquest during Russia's great eastern expansion across the Ural range)
  • Astrakhan Khanate
  • Crimean Khanate.

Navaanneren, Minister of the Interior, who along with the 23rd Tushiyetu Khan Dorjsurenkhoroljav (1908-1937) was the last Genghisid Khan in Mongolia. He was executed during the great purges of 1937.

Further east, in imperial China's western Turkestan flank:[citation needed]

  • Dörben Oyriad ("Four Confederates") or Dzungar (Kalmyk or Kalmuck people branch) Khanate formed in 1626, covering Xinjiang region of China, Kyrgyzstan, eastern Kazakhstan and western Mongolia; 2 Dec 1717–1720 also styled Protector of Tibet; 1755 tributary to China, 1756 annexed and dissolved in 1757
  • Khanate of Kashgaria founded in 1514 as part of Djagataide Khanate; 17th century divided into several minor khanates without importance, real power going to the so-called Khwaja, Arabic Islamic religious leaders; title changed to Amir Khan in 1873, annexed by China in 1877.

Compound and derived princely titles[]

Mongol Empire's largest extent outlined in red; Timur's empire is shaded

The higher, rather imperial title Khaqan ("Khan of Khans") applies to probably the most famous rulers known as Khan: the Mongol imperial dynasty of Genghis Khan (his name was Temüjin, Genghis Khan a never fully understood unique title), and his successors, especially grandson Kublai Khan: the former founded the Mongol Empire and the latter founded the Yuan Dynasty in China. The ruling descendants of the main branch of Genghis Khan's dynasty are referred to as the Great Khans.[citation needed]

The title Khan of Khans was among numerous titles used by the Sultans of the Ottoman empire as well as the rulers of the Golden Horde and its descendant states. The title Khan was also used in the Seljuk Turk dynasties of the near-east to designate a head of multiple tribes, clans or nations, who was below an Atabeg in rank. Jurchen and Manchu rulers also used the title Khan (Han in Manchu); for example, Nurhaci was called Genggiyen Han. Rulers of the Göktürks, Avars and Khazars used the higher title Kaghan, as rulers of distinct nations.[citation needed]

  • Gur Khan, meaning supreme or universal Khan, was the ruler of the Khitan Kara-Kitai, and has occasionally been used by the Mongols as well
  • Ilkhan, both a generic term for a 'provincial Khan' and traditional royal style for one of the four khanates in Genghis's succession, based in Persia. See the main article for more details.
  • Khan-i-Khanan (Persian: خان خانان‎, "Lord of Lords") was a title given to the commander-in-chief of the army of the Mughals, an example being Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana of the great Mughal emperor, Akbar's (and later his son Jahangir's) army.
  • Khan Sahib Shri Babi was the complex title of the ruler of the South Asia princely state of Bantva-Manavadar (state founded 1760; September 1947 acceded to Pakistan, but 15 February 1948 forced to rescind accession to Pakistan, to accede to India after Khan Sahib's arrest).
  • In southern Korean states, the word Han or Gan, meaning "leader", possibly derived from Khan, was used for various ruling princes, until Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, united them under a now hereditary king, titled Maripgan, meaning the 'head of kings' (e.g. King Naemul Maripgan).
  • Khatun, or Khatan (Persian: خاتون‎) – a title of European Sogdian origin[7][8][9] – is roughly equal to a King's queen in Mongolic and Turkic languages, as by this title a ruling Khan's Queen-consort (wife) is designated with similar respect after their proclamation as Khan and Khatun. Also used in Hazari (instead of Khanum). Famous Khatuns include:
    • Töregene Khatun
    • Habba Khatun
  • Khanum (Turkish language: Hanım, Azerbaijani language: Xanım, Persian: خانم‎) is another female derivation of Khan, notably in Turkic languages, for a Khan's Queen-consort, or in some traditions extended as a courtesy title (a bit like Lady for women not married to a Lord, which is the situation modern Turkish) to the wives of holders of various other (lower) titles; in Afghanistan, for example, it ended up as the common term for 'Miss', any unmarried woman. In the modern Kazakh language, Khatun is a derogatory term for women, while Khanum has a respectful meaning.
    • The compound Galin Khanum – literally, "lady bride" – was the title accorded to the principal noble wife of a Qajar
  • Khanzada (Persian: خانزاده‎)(the Persian suffix -zadeh means son or more generally male descendant; not to be confused with Khannazad: female harem attendant; for analogous titles see Prince of the Blood and links there) is a title conferred to princes of the dynasties of certain princely states, such as
    • Jandala (Muslim Jadoon dynasty, in Pakistan used always before the personal name, but itself preceded by Mir, both being maintained by the ruling Khan (who uses that title after his name)
    • Sardargarh-Bantva (Muslim Babi dynasty, fifth class state in Kathiawar, Gujarat) in front of the personal name, Shri in between; the ruler replaces Khanzada by khan.
  • Khaqan or Khakhan (Persian: خاقان‎) is used as a title in Pakistan.
  • Khandan (Persian: خاندان‎) ('Khan holder') means "Family" in Hindustani (ख़ानदान (Devanagari), خاندان (Nastaleeq)).

Other khans[]

Noble and honorary titles[]

In imperial Persia, Khan (female form Khanum) was the title of a nobleman, higher than Beg (or bey) and usually used after the given name. At the Qajar court, precedence for those not belonging to the dynasty was mainly structured in eight classes, each being granted an honorary rank title, the fourth of which was Khan, or in this context synonymously Amir, granted to commanders of armed forces, provincial tribal leaders; in descending order, they thus ranked below Nawab (for princes), Shakhs-i-Awwal and Janab (both for high officials), but above 'Ali Jah Muqarrab, 'Ali Jah, 'Ali Sha'an (these three for lower military ranks and civil servants) and finally 'Ali Qadir (masters of guilds, etc.)[citation needed]

The titles Khan (the lowest commonly awarded) and Khan Bahadur (Mongolic root baghatur, related to the Mongolian baatar ("brave, hero"); were also bestowed in feudal India by the Mughals (whose protocol was largely Persian-inspired) upon Muslims, and later by the British Raj, as an honor akin to the ranks of nobility, often for loyalty to the crown. Khan Sahib was another title of honour, one degree higher than Khan, conferred on Muslims; again like Khan Bahadur, it was also awarded with a decoration during British rule.[citation needed]

In the major South Asian Muslim state of Hyderabad, Khan was the lowest of the aristocratic titles bestowed by the ruling Nizam upon Muslim retainers, ranking under Khan Bahadur, Nawab (homonymous with a high Muslim ruler's title), Jang, Daula, Mulk, Umara, Jah. The equivalent for the courts Hindu retainers was Rai. In Swat, a Pakistani Frontier State, it was the title of the secular elite, who together with the Mullahs (Muslim clerics), proceeded to elect a new Amir-i-Shariyat in 1914. It seems unclear whether the series of titles known from the Bengal sultanate are merely honorific or perhaps relate to a military hierarchy.[citation needed]

Other uses (surname)[]

Like many titles, the meaning of the term has also extended downwards, until in Persia and Afghanistan it has become an affix to the name of any Muslim gentleman, like Effendi in Osmanli, Esquire in English.[citation needed]

Khan and its female forms occur in many personal names, generally without any nobiliary of political relevance (although it remains a common part of noble names as well). Notably in South Asia it has become a part of many South Asian Muslim names, especially when Pashtun descent is claimed. It is also used by some Muslim Rajputs of India and Pakistan after earlier converts from Hinduism to Islam translated the term Rajput (son of Raja) to Khanzada (son of Khan)in order to claim Muslim nobility rather than their Hindu origin.[10] As used by the Pashtuns the name is claimed to be related to the Hebrew name Cohen or Kohen. The more plausible explanation is the Hun origin of the Pashtuns. Hun in its original pronunciation is Khun and thus Khan. To this day in India a Pashtun is ordinarilly called Khan Sahib regardless of whether his surname contains that word or not.[citation needed]

During the Russian Civil War following the Bolshevik takeover of 1917, White general Roman Ungern von Sternberg, who, admittedly was trying to reconstitute the empire of Genghis Khan, was often styled as "Ungern Khan" between 1919 and his death in 1921.[citation needed]

Khan-related terms[]

  • Khanzadeh (Tatar language: Xanzadä) – a prince, khan's son
  • Khanbikeh (Tatar language: Xanbikä) – a queen, khan's wife
  • Yuruk Khans in Ardemush or Erdemuş Village in Kailar. (see : Ottoman Tapu Archivies)

Other Meaning[]

The title khan influenced Iran and the Muslim countries in Central Asia, but in the Arab World (the origin of Islam), khan is the word for "inn" (its first use was applied to "inn for the caravans").

See also[]

  • Aga Khan
  • Azmatkhan
  • Jirga
  • Khan Khel
  • Khagan
  • Archon
  • King
  • Beg

  • Beg Khan
  • Meo
  • Elteber
  • Tsar
  • Kaiser
  • Crimean Khanate
  • Khong Tayiji
  • List of Mongol Khans


  1. 1.0 1.1 Henning, W. B., 'A Farewell to the Khagan of the Aq-Aqataran',"Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African studies – University of London", Vol 14, No 3, p501–522. ,
  2. Zhou 1985, p. 3–6
  3. René Grousset (1988). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia now. Rutgers University Press. pp. 61, 585, n. 92.. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9. 
  4. Fairbank, John King. The Cambridge History of China . Cambridge University Press, 1978. p. 367
  5. Източници за българската история – Fontes historiae bulgaricae. VI. Fontes graeci historiae Bulgaricae. БАН, София. p.305 (in Byzantine Greek and Bulgarian). Also available online
  6. The spelling with 'r' is due to a confusion with tartaros, the classical Greek hell. Genghis Khan's conquering, ransacking Mongol hordes terrorized Islam and Christianity without precedent, as if the apocalypse had started.
  7. Carter Vaughn Findley, "Turks in World History", Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 45: "... Many elements of Non-Turkic origin also became part of Türk statecraft [...] for example, as in the case of khatun [...] and beg [...] both terms being of Sogdian origin and ever since in common use in Turkish. ..."
  8. Fatima Mernissi, "The Forgotten Queens of Islam", University of Minnesota Press, 1993. pg 21: "... Khatun 'is a title of Sogdian origin borne by the wives and female relatives of the Tu-chueh and subsequent Turkish Rulers ..."
  9. Leslie P. Peirce, "The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire", Oxford University Press, 1993. pg 312: "... On the title Khatun, see Boyle, 'Khatun', 1933, according to whom it was of Soghdian origin and was borne by wives and female relations of various Turkish Rulers. ..."

Sources and references[]

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