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Khan (sometimes spelled Han, Xan, Ke-Han, Turkic: khān, , Chinese: 可汗 or 汗, kehan or han, where Chinese adjective 可 /kě/ stands for "great") is an originally Central Asian title for a sovereign or military ruler, first used by medieval Altaic-speaking nomadic tribes living to the north of China and the center of Rumelia Kailar yoruks are mentioned as yorukkhans in Ottoman arvhives. 'Khan' is first seen as a title in the Xianbei confederation for their chief between 283 - 289. The Rourans were the first people who used the titles Khagan and Khan for their emperors (which are, therefore, assumed to be Mongolic in origin), replacing the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, whom Grousset and others assume to be Turkic.It was subsequently adopted by the Göktürks before Turkic peoples and the 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.

It now has many equivalent meanings such as commander, leader, or ruler. Presently Khans exist mostly in South Asia and Central Asia. The female alternatives are Khatun and Khanum. Various Mongolic and Turkic peoples from Central Asia had given the title new prominence after the Mongol invasion and later brought the title "Khan" into Northern Asia. which later was adopted by locals in the country as a name. 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 will be "Khagans," but not Chagatai Khan who was not proclaimed rule of the Mongol Empire by kurultai.

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, albeit incorrectly, as king or prince.

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, mainly Europe and the Far East.

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, Rome and Byzantium.

One of the earliest notable examples of such principalities in Europe was Danube Bulgariamarker (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 (Kampaganos), likely resulting from a misinterpretation of "Kan Pagan", in Patriarch Nicephorus's so-called Breviarium 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 Slav. Among the best known Bulgar khans were: Khan Kubrat, founder of Great Bulgaria; Khan Asparukh, founder of Danubian Bulgaria (today's Bulgariamarker); Khan Tervel, sometimes credited for having defeated the Arab invaders, thus "saving Europe"; Khan Krum, "the Terrible". "Khan" was the official title of the ruler until 864 CE, when Kniaz Boris (known also as Tsar Boris I) adopted the Eastern Orthodox faith.

The title Khan became unprecedently prominent when the tribal Mongol Temüjin proved himself a military genius by creating the Mongol empire, the greatest land empire the world ever saw, which he ruled as Genghis Khan. His title was khagan 'Khan of Khans', see below, but is often 'shortened' 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').

After Genghis' death, the empire would soon start a process of gradual disintegration, with his successors initially preserving the title "khan". Soon the Mongol element waned nearly everywhere, except in desolate regions like its native Outer Mongolia (even in China's 'Inner Mongolia') by sedentary people, and mainly Turkic, nomadic tribes that entered the scene rather like the Mongols had done before, conquering on horseback, to be in turn either sedentarized or overrun. Still, Genghis' prestige was such that a claim to descent from him was as prized as would be descent from Caesar in the West.

Ming Dynasty Chinese Emperors were also known as Khans by Mongols and Jurchens.

The title Khan was also used to designate the rulers of the Jurchens, who, later when known as the Manchus, founded the Qing dynastymarker of China. The Mongolian title of the Qingmarker emperors, Bogd Khan, would later be used by the eighth Jebtsundamba Khutuktu after Mongoliamarker's declaration of independence in 1911.

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.:
  • 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 Empiremarker by 1847)
  • in present Uzbekistanmarker, the main khanate, named after its capital Bucharamarker, was founded in 1500 and restyled emirate in 1753 (after three Persian governors since 1747); the Ferghanamarker (valley's) khanate broke way from it by 1694 and became known as the Khanate of Kokandmarker after its capital Kokandmarker from its establishment in 1732; the khanate of Khwarezm, dating from c.1500, became the Khanate of Khivamarker in 1804 but fell soon under Russian protectorate; Karakalpakstanmarker 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 Iranmarker, e.g. 1747 - 1808 Khanate of Ardabilmarker (in northwestern Iran east of Sarab and west of the southwest corner of the Caspian Sea), 1747 - 1813 Khanate of Khoymarker (northwestern Iran, north of Lake Urmia, between Tabriz and Lake Van), 1747 - 1829 Khanate of Makumarker (in extreme northwestern Iran, northwest of Khoy, and 60 miles south of Yerevan, Armenia), 1747 - 1790s Khanate of Sarabmarker (northwestern Iran east of Tabrizlol), 1747 - c.1800 Khanate of Tabrizmarker (capital of Iranian Azerbeidjan).

There were various small khanates in and near Transcaucasia. In present Armeniamarker, there was a khanate of Erivan (sole incumbent 1807 - 1827 Hosein Quli Khan Qajar). Diverse khanates existed in Azerbaijanmarker, including Baku (present capital), Ganja, Jawadmarker, 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.

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 Tatars by Europeans and Russians, and were all eventually subdued by Muscovia which became the Russian Empire. The most important of these states were:
  • Khanate of Kazan (the Mongol term khan became active since Genghizide dynasty was settled in Kazan Duchy in 1430s; imperial Russian added to its titles the former Kazan khanate with the royal style tsar.
  • 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.

Examples of other, humbler Tatar khanate dynasties made vassals of Muscovy/ Russia are:
  • the Qasim Khanate (hence modern Kasimov), named after its founder, a vassal of Moscovia/Russia
  • the nomadic state founded in 1801 as the Inner Horde (also called Buqei Horde, under Russian suzerainty) between Volga and Yaik (Ural) rivers by 5,000 families of Kazakhs from Younger Kazakh Zhuz tribe under a Sultan was restyled by the same in 1812 as Khanate of the Inner Horde; in 1845 the post of Khan was abolished);
  • the Kalmyk khanate (established c.1632 by the Torghut branch of the Mongolian Oirats, settled along the lower Volga River (in modern Russia and Kazakhstan)
  • Nogai Khanate
  • the khanate of Tuvamarker near Outer Mongolia.

Further east, in imperial China's western Turkestan flank:
  • 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 Kashgariamarker 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

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 Dynastymarker in Chinamarker. The ruling descendants of the main branch of Genghis Khan's dynasty are referred to as the Great Khans.

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.

  • Gur Khan, meaning supreme or universal Khan, was the ruler of the Turkic 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 ('Lord of Lords') was a title given to the commander-in-chief of the army of the Mughals, an example being Abdur Rahim, Khan-i-Khanan of the great Mughal emperor Akbar's (and later his son Jahangir's) army.

  • In southern Koreanmarker 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 ( ) - a title of Indo-European Sogdian origin - 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:
  • Khanum ( ) (( ) ( ) ( ) 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 ( )(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
  • Khaqan or Khakhan ( )(is used as a title in Pakistanmarker.

Other khans

Military ranks

The title "khan" was also used as a military officer rank in certain armies, especially following the decimal organisation (already known from Achaemenid Persia) of Genghis Khan's armies.

Nobiliar and honorary titles

In imperial Persiamarker, 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.)

The titles Khan (the lowest commonly awarded) and Khan Bahadur (Altaic root baghatur, related to the Mongolic baatar 'brave, hero'; but in India meaning simply 'one class higher') were also bestowed in feudal India by the Great mughal (whose protocol was largely Persian-inspired) upon Muslims and Parsis, 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 and Parsis; again like Khan Bahadur, it was also awarded with a decoration during British rule.

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 Swatmarker, 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, including Khan, Khan ul Muazzam, Khan-ul-Azam, Khan-ul-Azam-ul-Muazzam etc. and Khaqan, Khaqan-ul-Muazzam, Khaqan-ul-Azam, Khaqan-ul-Azam-ul-Muazzam etc., are merely honorific or perhaps relate to a military hierarchy.

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.

See jirga for local mediators called Khan.

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 on the South Asia it has become a part of many South Asian Muslim names, especially when Pashtun descent is claimed.

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.

Khan-related terms

  • Khanzadeh ( ) - a prince, khan's son
  • Khanbikeh ( ) - 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 Arab World (the origin of Islam), khan is the word for “inn” (its first use was applied to “inn for the caravans”).

See also


Sources and references

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