:"For other titles related to and uses of Khan, see that article"

Khagan or Great Khan (Old Turkic " _tu. kaɣan" [Fairbank 1978, [ p. 367] ] ; _mn. хаган; zh-cp|c=可汗|p=kèhán; alternatively spelled "Chagan, Khaghan, Kagan, Kağan, Qagan, Qaghan"), is a title of imperial rank in the Turkic and Mongolian languages equal to the status of emperor and someone who rules a Khaganate (empire, greater than an ordinary Khanate, but often referred to as such in western languages). It may also be translated as "Khan of Khans", equivalent to King of Kings. In modern Mongolian, the title became "Khaan" with the 'g' sound becoming almost silent or non-existent ["i.e.," a very light voiceless velar fricative] .

The common western rendering as Great Khan or Grand Khan, notably in the case of the Mongol Empire, is technically not correct, but it has been well established by long-standing convention and is reasonably clear in suggesting paramount status.


The title was first seen in a speech between 283 and 289, when the Xianbei chief Murong Tuyuhun tried to escape from his younger stepbrother Murong Hui, and began his route from Liaodong to the areas of Ordos Desert. In the speech one of the Murong's general named Yinalou addressed him as kehan (可寒, later as 可汗), some sources suggests that Tuyuhun might also have used the title after settling at Koko Nor in the 3rd century. [Zhou 1985, p. 3-6]

The first to adopt the title for the state was the nomadic Juan Juan confederacy (4th–6th century AD) or the Xianbei, on China's northern border.

The Avars, who may have included Juan Juan elements after the Turks crushed the Juan Juan who ruled Mongolia, also used this title. The Avars invaded Europe, and for over a century ruled the Hungarian region. Westerners Latinized the title "Khagan" into "Gaganus" or "Cagan et Iugurro principibus Hunorum".

Mongol Khaghans

The Khaghans of the Mongol Empire were:
* Genghis
* Ögedei
* Güyüg
* Möngke
* Kublai (partially recognized)

"The Secret History of the Mongols", written for that very dynasty, clearly distinguishes "Khaghan" and "Khan": only Genghis and his ruling descendants are called "Khaghan", while other rulers are referred to as "Khan". Over time, though, the distinction became blurred by the large number of rulers who claimed it.

The "gh" sound in "Khaghan" later weakened and disappeared becoming "Khaan" in modern Mongolian.

Among Turkic peoples

The title became associated with the Ashina rulers of the Göktürks and their dynastic successors among such peoples as the Khazars (cf. the compound military title Khagan Bek). Minor rulers were rather relegated to the lower title of Khan.

Interestingly, both "Khakhan" as such and the Turkish form "Hakan", with the specification in Arabic "al-Barrayn wa al-Bahrayn" (meaning literally "of both lands and both seas"), or rather fully in Ottoman Turkish "Hakan ül-Berreyn vel-Bahreyn", were among the titles in the official full style of the Great Sultan (and later Caliph) of the Ottoman Empire (Sultan Hân N.N., Padishah, "Hünkar", Sovereign of the House of Osman, Sultan of Sultans, Khan of Khans, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe; next followed a series of specifical 'regional' titles, starting with Protector of the Holy Cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem), reflecting the historical legitimation of the dynasty's rule as political successor to various conquered (often Islamised) states.

Among the Slavs

In the early 10th century, princes of Eastern Slavs employed the title of "kagan" (or "qaghan"), reported by the Arab geographer Ibn Rusta writing between 903 and 913. This tradition endured in the eleventh century, as the metropolitan of Russia Hilarion calls both grand prince Vladimir (978–1015) and grand prince Iaroslav (1019–1054) by the title of "kagan", while a graffito on the walls of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev gives the same title to the son of Iaroslav, grand prince Sviatoslav II (1073–1076).


ources and references

* Mark Whittow, "The Making of Byzantium, 600–1025", University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1996.
* Zhou, Weizhou [1985] (2006). "A History of Tuyuhun". Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press. ISBN 7-5633-6044-1.
* Fairbank, John King. "The Cambridge History of China ". Cambridge University Press, 1978. [ "web page"]

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