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This article is about Tarkhan, an ancient Turkic title. For other uses, see Tarkan (disambiguation)

Tarkhan (Persian: ترخان; Chinese: 達干; Arabic: طرخان‎; alternative spellings Tarkhaan, Tarqan, Tarchan, Tarxan, Tarcan or Targan) is an ancient Central Asian title used by various Altaic (i.e. Turkic and Mongolian) peoples, especially in the medieval era, and prominent among the successors of the Mongol Empire.



The origin of the word is not known. Various historians identify the word as either Iranian (most likely East Iranian Sogdian or Scythian),[1][2][3] Turkic,[4] or Mongolian.

Although R. Frye reports that the word "was probably foreign to Sogdian", hence considered to be a loanword from Turkic, G. Doerfer points out that even in Turkic languages, its plural is not Turkic (sing. tarxan --> plur. tarxat), suggesting a non-Turkic origin.[5] L. Ligeti comes to the same conclusion, saying that "tarxan and tegin [prince] form the wholly un-Turkish plurals tarxat and tegit" and that the word was unknown to medieval western Turkic languages, such as Bulgar.[6] Taking this in consideration, the word is most likely derived from medieval Mongolian darqat (Mongolian plural suffix -at), itself perhaps derived from the earlier Sogdian word *tarxant ("free of taxes").[5] A. Alemany gives the additional elaboration that the related East Iranian Scythian (and Alanic) word *tarxan still survives in Ossetic tærxon ("argument, trial") and tærxon kænyn ("to judge").[3] This thesis is supported by German Turkologist W.-E. Scharlipp as well as Peter B. Golden, explaining that almost all royal and/or military titles of the early Turks were Iranian (i.e. Scythian and/or Sogdian) in origin (for example Khatun or Yabghu).[7][8]

What is certain is that Tarkhan is not related to the Mongolian royal title Khan/Khaqan.[1]


It was used among the various Iranian (Sogdians, Khotanese, and Hephthalites) and Altaic peoples (Turks and Mongols) of Central Asia and other steppe people, and was a high rank in the army of Tamerlane. Tarkhans commanded military contingents (roughly of regimental size under the Khazar khan) and were, roughly speaking, generals. They could also be assigned as military governors of conquered regions.

Like many titles, Tarkhan also occurs as a personal name, independent of a person's rank, which makes some historical references confusing. For example, Arab texts refer to a "Tarkhan, king of the Khazars" as reigning in the mid ninth century. Whether this is a confused reference to a military official or the name of an individual Khazar khagan remains unclear. The name is occasionally used today in Turkish and Arabic speaking countries. A Tarkhan established the Tarkhan Dynasty, ruling Northern India from 1554 to 1591 AD.

In fiction

  • In C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series of novels, the apparent spelling variation Tarkaan is the title of a Calormen nobleman, tarkheena that of a noble woman.
  • Also in Age of Empires II: The Conquerors, the tarkan figurates like the hun`s unique unit with bonification against buildings with the appareance of a horsemen with a torch in place of sword.

Sources and references

  1. ^ a b Qarīb, Badr-az-Zamān. 1995. Sogdian dictionary: Sogdian - Persian - English. Tehran: Farhangan Publ.
  2. ^ Central Asiatic Journal, O. Harrassowitz, 1993, v. 37, University of Michigan
  3. ^ a b Agustí Alemany, Sources on the Alans, Brill Academic Publishers, 2000. Excerpt from page 328: " Abaev considers this word (lacking in a Turco-Mongolian etymology), as well Old Hungarian tarchan “olim judex”, borrowing from Scythians (Alans) *tarxan “judge” -> Ossetian. Taerxon “argument, trial”; cf. the Ossete idioms taerxon kaenyn “to judge” (+ kӕnyn “to do”) and tӕrxon lӕg “judge” (+l ӕg man). Iron ævzag
  4. ^
    • Laufer, Berthold, "Sino-Iranica: Chinese Contributions to the History of Civilization in Ancient Iran, with Special Reference to the History of Cultivated Plants and Products", Harvard University
    • Vámbéry, Ármin, "History of Bokhara from the Earliest Period Down to the Present", H.S. King & Co
    • Frye, Richard N.;"Tarxun-Turxun and Central Asian History", Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1/2 pp. 105-129
    • Han-Woo, Choi; "A Study of the Ancient Turkic TARQAN", Handong University
  5. ^ a b G. Doerfer, Mongolo-Tungusica, O. Harrassowitz, 1985, University of Virginia.
  6. ^ L. Ligeti, Researches in Altaic languages, e. A. Kiadó, 1975, University of Michigan, p. 48
  7. ^ „(...) Über die Ethnogenese dieses Stammes ist viel gerätselt worden. Auffallend ist, dass viele zentrale Begriffe iranischen Ursprungs sind. Dies betrifft fast alle Titel (...)“ - Wolfgang-Ekkehard Scharlipp, Die frühen Türken in Zentralasien (The Early Turks in Central Asia), German original, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft (1992), p. 18
  8. ^ Peter B. Golden, An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, O.Harrassowitz, 1992, p. 121-122

External links

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