Khan (title)

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Safavid and qajar dynasty it was the title of an army general high noble rank who ruling a province, and in Mughal India it was a high noble rank restricted to courtiers. After the downfall of the Mughals it was used promiscuously and became a surname.[2]
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.


The origin of the term is disputed and unknown, possibly a loanword from the Rouran language.[3][4] According to Vovin (2007, 2010) the term comes from qaγan (meaning emperor or supreme ruler) and was later borrowed and used in several languages, especially in Mongolic and Turkic.

A Turkic and

Para-Mongolic origin has been suggested by a number of scholars including Ramstedt, Shiratori, Sinor and Doerfer, and was reportedly first used by the Xianbei.[5][6]

According to Vovin, the word *qa-qan "great-qan" (*qa- for "great" or "supreme") is of non-

Altaic origin, but instead linked to Proto-Yeniseian *qεʔ "big" or "great". The origin of qan itself is harder according to Vovin. He says that the origin for the word qan is not found in any reconstructed proto-language and was used widely by Turkic, Mongolic, Chinese and Korean people with variations from kan, qan, han and hwan. A relation exists possibly to the Proto-Yeniseian words *qij or *qaj meaning "ruler".[4]

It may be impossible to prove the ultimate origin of the title, but Vovin says: "Thus, it seems to be quite likely that the ultimate source of both qaγan and qan can be traced back to Xiong-nu and Yeniseian".[4]

Dybo (2007) suggests that the ultimate etymological root of Khagan/Khan comes from the Middle Iranian *hva-kama- 'self-ruler, emperor', following the view of Benveniste 1966. Savelyev and Jeong 2020 note that both the etymological root for Khagan/Khan and its female equivalent "khatun" may be derived from Eastern Iranian languages, specifically from "Early Saka *hvatuñ, cf. the attested Soghdian words xwt'w 'ruler' (< *hva-tāvya-) and xwt'yn 'wife of the ruler' (< *hva-tāvyani)".[7]


"Khan" is first encountered as a title in the

Rourans may have been the first people who used the titles khagan and khan for their emperors.[10] However, Russian linguist Alexander Vovin (2007)[4] believes that the term qaγan originated among the Xiongnu people, who were Yeniseian-speaking (according to Vovin), and then it diffused across language families. Subsequently, the Göktürks adopted the title and brought it to the rest of Asia. In the middle of the sixth century the Iranians knew of a "Kagan – King of the Turks".[8]

Various Mongolic and Turkic peoples from Central Asia gave the title new prominence after period of the

Ogedei Khan (reigned 1229–1241) would be "Khagans" but not Chagatai Khan, who was not proclaimed ruler of the Mongol Empire by the Kurultai

Khanate rulers and dynasties

Ruling khans

Originally khans headed only relatively minor tribal entities, generally in or near the vast Mongolian and North Chinese 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 empires in the Central Plain and Central Asia.[citation needed][tone]

One of the earliest notable examples of such principalities in Europe was

Eastern Orthodox faith.[citation needed

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

The title Khan rose to unprecedented prominence with the Mongol Temüjin's creation of the Mongol empire, the largest contiguous empire in history, which he ruled as Genghis Khan. Before 1229 the title was used to designate leaders of important tribes as well as tribal confederations (the Mongol Empire considered the largest one), and rulers of non-Mongol countries.[12] Shortly before the death of the Genghis Khan, his sons became khans in different dominions (ulus) and the title apparently became unsuitable for the supreme ruler of the empire, needing a more exalted one. Being under Uighur cultural influence, Mongols adopted the title of khagan starting with Ögedei Khan in 1229.[12]

Emperors of the

Manchus, founded the Qing dynasty

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]

While most Afghan principalities were styled emirate, there was a khanate of ethnic Uzbeks in Badakhshan since 1697.

Khan was also the title of the rulers of various break-away states and principalities later in

Persia, e.g. 1747–1808 Khanate of Ardabil (in northwestern Iran east of Sarab and west of the southwest corner of the Caspian Sea-Mazandaran and Gorgan provinces), 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 Azerbaijan).[citation needed

There were


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

Ta(r)tars[c] 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

Further east, in Xinjiang flank:[citation needed]

  • Khanate of
    Khan in 1873, annexed by the Qing dynasty in 1877.

Compound and derived princely titles

Mongol Empire's largest extent outlined in red; the Timurid Empire is shaded.

The higher, rather imperial title

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

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

Other khans

Two Khans in Turkoman Tribal Costume, One of 274 Vintage Photographs. Brooklyn Museum.

Noble and honorary titles

In imperial

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. In neighboring
(lit translated; lady of the master), is also a derivative of this.

The titles Khan and Khan Bahadur (from the Altaic root baghatur), related to the Turkic batyr or batur and Mongolian baatar ("brave, hero"); were also bestowed in feudal India by the Mughals, who although Muslims were of Turkic origin upon Muslims and awarded this title to Hindus generals in army particularly in Gaud or Bengal region during Muslim rulers, 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.

In the major

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

Like many titles, the meaning of the term has also extended southwards into South Asian countries,[19] and Central Asian nations, where it has become a common surname.

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

Turkic Mughals for their bravery.[21]
and it's widely used by Baloch and Awan tribes.

Khan-related terms

See also


  1. Old Turkic: 𐰴𐰣kan; Chinese: 汗 hán; Goguryeo: 皆 key; Buyeo
    : 加 ka;
    Arabic: خان; Bengali
    : খান or খাঁ)
  2. ^ Khagan itself was borrowed by the Turks from the unclassified Rouran language.[1]
  3. tartaros
    , the classical Greek hell. Genghis Khan's conquering, ransacking Mongol hordes terrorized Islam and Christianity without precedent, as if the apocalypse had started.



  1. OCLC 758278456
  2. .
  3. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2010. Once Again on the Ruan-ruan Language. Ötüken’den İstanbul’a Türkçenin 1290 Yılı (720–2010) Sempozyumu From Ötüken to Istanbul, 1290 Years of Turkish (720–2010). 3–5 Aralık 2010, İstanbul / 3–5 December 2010, İstanbul: 1–10.
  4. ^ a b c d "ONCE AGAIN ON THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE TITLE qaγan" Alexander Vovin, Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia vol. 12 Kraków 2007 (
  5. ISSN 0369-9846
  6. .
  7. . but their ultimate origins may lie outside the Turkic family, as is most likely the case for the title of khagan (χαγάνος, chaganus) < ? Middle Iranian *hva-kama- 'self-ruler, emperor' (Dybo, Reference Dybo2007: 119–120). Following Benveniste (Reference Benveniste1966), Dybo (Reference Dybo2007: 106–107) considers Turkic *χatun 'king's wife' a word of ultimate Eastern Iranian origin, borrowed presumably from Early Saka *hvatuñ, cf. the attested Soghdian words xwt'w 'ruler' (< *hva-tāvya-) and xwt'yn 'wife of the ruler' (< *hva-tāvyani).
  8. ^ a b 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, pp. 501–522
  9. ^ Zhou 1985, pp. 3–6
  10. .
  11. ^ Fairbank, John King. The Cambridge History of China. Cambridge University Press, 1978. p. 367
  12. ^ a b c Documenta Barbarorum
  13. Byzantine Greek and Bulgarian). Also available online
  14. ^ 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. ..."
  15. ^ 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 ..."
  16. ^ 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. ..."
  17. ^ "V. Beshevliev - Prabylgarski epigrafski pametnici - 5". Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  18. , c. 156
  19. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Khan" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 771.
  20. ^ "About the Great Rajput's - Welcome 2 Wajahat's World".
  21. ^ "Study of the Pathan Communities in Four States of India :: Khyber.ORG". Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 7 June 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)


External links

  • Garthwaite, Gene R. (2017). "KHAN". Encyclopaedia Iranica.