When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

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When is a Qaghan really a Qaghan?

It matters, so let's familiarize ourselves with the meaning of the term right off the bat.  In Chinese Studies, we call this "zhèngmíng 正名" ("rectification of names").

Confucius was asked what he would do if he was a governor. He said he would "rectify the names" to make words correspond to reality. The phrase has now become known as a doctrine of feudal Confucian designations and relationships, behaving accordingly to ensure social harmony. Without such accordance society would essentially crumble and "undertakings would not be completed." Mencius extended the doctrine to include questions of political legitimacy.


So, what is a "qaghan"?

Qaghan or Khagan (Old Turkic: ‬ kaɣan; Mongolian: хаан, khaan;) 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).

(Wikipedia — with a list of eighteen qaghans and khagans in history, from the mid-6th century to the first half of the 8th century;

Khagan or Qaghan (Old Turkic: ‎, romanized: Kaɣan, Mongolian: Xаан, romanized: Khaan, Ottoman Turkish: خواقين‎, romanized: Ḫākan, or خوان Ḫān, Turkish: Kağan, Uyghur: قاغان‎‎, ULY: Qaghan) is a title of imperial rank in the Turkic, Mongolic and some other languages, equal to the status of emperor and someone who rules a khaganate (empire). The female equivalent is Khatun.

It may also be translated as "Khan of Khans", equivalent to King of Kings. In Bulgarian, the title became known as "Kan" (as in the "Nominalia of the Bulgarian Kans"), while in modern Turkic, the title became Khaan with the "g" sound becoming almost silent or non-existent (i.e. a very light voiceless velar fricative); the ğ in modern Turkish Kağan is also silent. Since the division of the Mongol Empire, emperors of the Yuan dynasty held the title of Khagan and their successors in Mongolia continued to have the title. Kağan and Kaan are common Turkish names in Turkey.

The common western rendering as Great Khan (or Grand Khan), notably in the case of the Mongol Empire, is a translation of Yekhe Khagan (Great Emperor or Их Хаан).

The term is of unknown origin and possibly a loanword from the Ruanruan language. Pulleyblank (1962) first suggested that a Xiongnu title, transcribed as 護于 (Old Chinese: *hʷaʔ-hʷaʰ) might have been behind Proto-Turkic *qaɣan ~ *xaɣan. According to Vovin (2007, 2010) the term comes from qaγan (meaning "emperor" or "supreme ruler") and was later used in several languages, especially in Turkic and Mongolic.

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. While Sinor believes qaγan or qapγan is an intensification of qan just as qap-qara is an intensification of qara "black", in Turkic (with the eventual loss of the p), Shiratori rejects a Turkic etymology, instead supporting a Mongolic origin for both qan and the female form qatun.

According to Vovin, the word *qa-qan "great-qan" (*qa- for "great" or "supreme") is of non-Altaic origin, but instead linked to Yeniseian *qεʔ ~ qaʔ "big, 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 Yeniseian words *qʌ:j or *χʌ:j meaning "ruler".

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".

Wikipedia — with a list of the term in a dozen different languages)

Now that we know what a qaghan / khagan is, let us take a look at the Eurasian religious background of what it meant to be such a ruler at a crucial moment in history.

Religious debates at the court of Möngke Khan:  Mongol purges in the mid-thirteenth century

The debates began in the summer of 1254, the annual season of Naadam, the Mongol games. This year in addition to horse racing, archery, and wrestling — the three sports most loved by the Mongols — there would be theological debate, which would be more interesting to the foreign diplomats and envoys in the city. The real audience, however, was far beyond the Mongol capital. Möngke Khan intended that word of the debates would spread throughout his territories and beyond as an illustration of Mongol justice and religious tolerance, helping to win greater support from the Buddhist people throughout the Mongol Empire.

Much to the French envoy's disgust, when it came time to prepare for the debates, the competing Christian sects not only had to debate on the same team, they were lumped together with the Muslims so that there were only three competing factions: Taoists, Buddhists, and Christian-Muslims. No Confucians had been included. The rival teams had a hard time actually debating the issues or comparing beliefs because each team wanted to quote only from its own scriptures, which they believed sufficed as incontrovertible evidence. Reasoning only from their own premises, all three sides talked past one another.

The rules of the debate largely followed the Mongol rules for wrestling. At the end of each round a winner was declared, followed by a round of drinking airag [VHM: fermented mare's milk]. It was not long before the Christian-Muslim team was eliminated. They had not been serious contenders, but their initial presence made it appear that the debate was more robust rather than merely pitting the Taoists against the Buddhists.

The Buddhists emerged victorious from the first set of debates. To seal their victory, they brought criminal charges against the Taoists. These charges were sufficiently strong for Möngke Khan to order a judicial investigation. No sooner had the debate ended than the judicial inquiry began. The Taoists were now defendants, and the Buddhists were their accusers.

After this initial judicial inquiry, Möngke Khan decided that a full criminal trial under Mongol judges, like the ones he had conducted for members of his family, would not be convincing to the public. A Mongol trial might be interpreted as persecution of the Taoists, or even as an attack on Chinese culture. Möngke Khan sought to pit the Taoists against the Buddhists, such that each side would direct its animosity toward the other rather than toward their Mongol rulers.

— Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Quest for God, (Penguin Books, 2016 [paperback]), Chapter 16, "Burning the Books," pp. 309-11.  It gets even better after that, but I don't want to give away surprises.

Pamela Kyle Crossley has also written about this noteworthy event in considerable detail in her Hammer and Anvil: Nomad Rulers at the Forge of the Modern World (New York:  Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), with reading notes that offer more detail.

Greg Pringle comments:  "Hard to believe these were primitive savages…."

Peter Golden remarks:

The tradition of religious debates at the courts of steppe rulers is well known. Such a debate, reported in a number of sources, took place at the court of the Khazar Qaghan and led to the adoption of Judaism (by the upper strata at least and perhaps by larger groups within the Khazar union). A religious debate also took place at the court of Uzbek (Özbeg) Khan (r. 1313-1341), the Chinggisid ruler of the Ulus of Jochi. Devin DeWeese has described this tradition in his classic work, Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde. Baba Tükles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994) with much comparative material.

The Rus’ chronicles report a similar religious debate between representatives of Islam (Volga Bulghars), Judaism (perhaps Khazars or Jews living in Kiev) and Christianity as the preface to Vladimir I's conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 988. Whether such a debate at Vladimir’s court actually took place may be open to question. The Rus’ chroniclers may well have been trying to present the picture that Vladimir was following Khazar practice, i.e., acting like a Qaghan, as the Khazars were the great steppe power until 965/969. Khazar usages are reflected in the title каган used with reference to some Rus’ rulers, etc. after Vladimir. Ilarion, the Metropolitan of Kiev, in his Слово о законе и благодати, a work dealing with the Rus’ conversion to Orthodoxy, terms Vladimir and his son Yaroslav “the Wise” (Мудрый) каган наш Владимир etc.

Peter has also written about the Khazar conversion, set in a larger Turko-Eurasian context, in “The Conversion of the Khazars to Judaism” in The World of the Khazars. New Perspectives, ed. Peter B. Golden, Hagai-Ben-Shammai, and András Róna-Tas (Leiden: Brill, 2007): 123-162. Devin DeWeese’s book (some 638 pp.) remains the master work, in Peter's view, on religious conversion among the Turko-Mongolian peoples in Eurasia.

Ilarion (Hilarion) was the first Rus’ Metropolitan (briefly in the mid 1050s) of Rus’ origin. His predecessors – and the majority of his successors (until after the Mongol conquest) were sent from Constantinople. His Слово о законе и благодати (Sermon on Law and Grace) was in many respects a standard Byzantine-modeled theological treatise, but it has a very interesting conclusion in which he argues that even those who are last summoned (i.e., the Rus’ conversion to Christianity relative to that of Byzantium, et al.) can be number One or at least on a par with Byzantium. The use of the Khazar (Türk) title каган, is also found among the graffiti on the Church of St. Sophia in Kiev: «Спаси, Господи, кагана нашего» probably with reference to Yaroslav’s son, Sviatoslav. who briefly reigned 1073-1076.

Khagan Bek was the title used by the bek (generalissimo) of the Khazars.  In 1965, I was honored by the distinguished Nepalese anthropologist, Dor Bahadur Bista (b. 1924-1926), to receive the Nepali name, Bek Bahadur ("The Brave Generalissimo").  Until today, while doing the research for this post, I never knew what "Bek" meant, though I've known for half a century that Bahadur means "brave".



English transliteration of Hindi बहादुर (bahādur, brave, valiant), from Persian بهادر(bahâdor).


bahadur (plural bahadurs)

  1. (originally) A warrior, especially a Mongol.
  2. (India, historical) A Mughal honorific connoting martial courage and valor, suffixed to name or title, which it raises by half a degree. Commonly bestowed upon loyal princes and victorious military commanders by Mughal emperors, and later by their British successors.

Bahadur is the origin of the English word "bogatyr":

Borrowed from Russian богаты́рь (bogatýrʹ), Old East Slavic богатꙑрь (bogatyrĭ), from a Turkic language, probably Khazar, from Old Turkic baɣatur(baɣatur, hero), from Proto-Turkic *bAgatur (hero). Cognates include Turkish bahadır, Tatar баһадир (bahadir), Chuvash паттӑр (pattăr), Kyrgyz баатыр (baatır), Tuvan маатыр (maatır), Yakut баатыр (baatır), Turkmen batyr, Middle Turkic baɣatur.


The name of the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatr / Ulan Bator, derives from the same source:

From Mongolian Улаанбаатар (Ulaanbaatar), from улаан (ulaan, red) баатар (baatar, hero) (cognate to bogatyr). The name was adopted in 1924; before that, the city was known by a number of more prosaic names, including Их Хүрээ (Ih Hüree, Great Camp), Даа Хүрээ (Daa Hüree, Great Camp) (whence, via Chinese, its English names Kulun and Kuren) and Өргөө (Örgöö, Residence) (whence Urga).


The Chinese transcription of "khan" is kèhán 可汗.

When is a Qaghan truly a Qaghan?  When he bravely and knowledgeably leads his people to the right religion so that he can be victorious over all of his foes.

[Thanks to David Prager Branner]


  1. Bathrobe said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 10:34 pm

    Genghis Khan was actually not a khaan (qaƔan), he was just a khan. I believe khaan started with Mönke Khaan and was given to Chinggis posthumously. Some of your more erudite contributors would be able to give more background.

  2. Pamela said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:03 pm

    batulu was a common Manchu honorific, probably brought directly from Mongolian baghadur. Friedrich Hirth suggested that Modun, the possible name of the great Xiongnu chanyu, was possibly a Han period Chinese rendering of some early version of baghadur, and was either a name or a title.

  3. Pamela said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:10 pm

    yes Chinggis was not a Khagan. I think the first Mongol Khagan was Ogedei? posthumously given to Chinggis, yes.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:23 pm


    Thanks for the great information from Hirth about Modu as a possible Xiongnu forerunner of baghadur. Given how little we know of Xiongnu language, that's exciting to contemplate.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:24 pm

    From Valery:

    The article raises a question about the origin of the word Qaghan, or Khagan.
    Well, I have always been under the impression that the origin of the word is Hebrew. In Hebrew word Kohen means the member of the priestly caste who descended from Aaron, brother of Moses. At some point in the history of Judea Kohens (the priests) also became Kings (Hasmonean Dynasty). I would not be surprised if the origin of the word "King" is Kohen. Look at the parallels here: Kohens, kings, descended from noble birth. Could it travel from judea, through ancient greeks, romans to germanic tribes?

    Russian kings were Tzars, from Hebrew שַׂר (SAR), meaning "ruler".

    Back to "khagan". We have supreme judge Elana Kagan. Could it be Elana Qaghan?

  6. martin schwartz said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:29 pm

    The Wiki article "Khatun" cites Peter Golden (Peter, are you there? Hello!), following Clauson, giving a a Sogdian etymology for qatun.
    In detain, the Sogd, would be xutên 'lady', fem. of xutâu 'lord',
    < early Middle Iranian *xwatâwiya- (as I prefer) or *xwatâwan-, either
    a calque of early Hellenistic Greek autokráto:r; cognates are the Bactrian word behind Eng. khedive (a story in itself) and Persian xodâ 'lord',
    used today for "God' as in the parting greeting Xodâ hafez may God (be)preserv(er)'. I'm not sure the Sogdian etymology of xatun is a shoo-in, but I have no opinion. Btw the Turkic word gives Mod. Turk. KADIN 'woman'. Trivia: Speaking of Genghis, at Columbia U
    in the late 1960s, the Turcologist Karl Menges and his wife sere fêted, with KM being called Menges Xan and his wife Menges Xanum. The 15th cent. Byzantine princess of Trebizond, Theodora Komnene, who married a Türk, was known by the redundant name Despina Khatun, 'Lady Lady'. Most trivial of all, I claim Bahadurship
    thru my wife's maternal genealogy, which traces itsef to the Hungarian (Transylvanian, Polish) king Báthory Istvan (Stephen Bathory), a tolerant and progressive guy who founded universities.
    We visited his tomb and royal crypt at Wawel, Kraków. Hmm, I suspect matters with "khan" and qaghan are a tad more complicated, but that's not my shop.
    Martin Schwartz
    Báthory is < bátor 'bahadur'.

  7. Penglin Wang said,

    November 8, 2020 @ 11:54 pm

    Based on the innovative method of counting military fighters with sheep droppings in Rouran as recorded in Weishu (魏書 103.2290), in a 2017 conference presentation I connected the official title qağan with Sariqul kaǧ ‘sheep droppings’, for counting and calculation with sheep droppings under the contemporaneous sociocultural conditions represented a highest level of human wisdom. Early Mongolic morphology tended to make nominal elements ended with the string -(V)n. This explains why the Sariqul word kaǧ- is suffixed with -an. Coupled with Sariqul kaǧ is Wahon bǝšk ‘sheep droppings’. Due to a lambdacism change in the postvocalic position, Wahon bǝšk was introduced into Old Turkic as bilgä ‘wise’, i.e., the Turkic lateral l corresponds to the Wahon sibilant š. Thus, qağan and bilgä turned to parallel the eastern Iranian kaǧ and bǝšk, respectively. For more information, see the link https://cwu.academia.edu/PenglinWang

  8. Vladimir Belyaev said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 3:04 am

    Bathrobe said,
    November 8, 2020 @ 10:34 pm
    Genghis Khan was actually not a khaan (qaƔan), he was just a khan. I believe khaan started with Mönke Khaan and was given to Chinggis posthumously.
    Actually Chingiz Khan was Qa'an during his lifetime.
    See, for example, gold dinar struck in Ghazna in 618 A.H.:
    On the right side in the field you can read:
    al-Khaqan / al-'adil / al-a'zam / Chingiz Khan [Khaqan the just and the highest Chingiz Khan].

    The Great Khan Ögedey also was entitled Qa'an during his lifetime. Here, for example, gold dinar, struck in Otrar in 630s A.H.:
    On the right side the top line – word "qa'an".

  9. Morris Rossabi said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 3:35 am

    There were religious debates between Daoism and Buddhism in 1258 and 1281. Demieville, Thiel, Kubo, Jagchid, Nogami, and Broeck and Tung had written about them. Weatherford read about them in secondary sources; the 1254 debate from William of Rubruck.
    Hope everyone's safe and healthy!

  10. ~flow said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 4:42 am

    > Ottoman Turkish: خواقين‎, romanized: Ḫākan, or خوان Ḫān

    Ottoman has a peculiar orthography indeed, wouldn't one expect the first to spell something like Ḫwāki:n or Ḫuākayan or something? If I understand خو as a digraph for Ḫ, that still leaves the question why قين is read with a low vowel instead of a high front one. Well English does something similar in words like 'mine' ([main] or even [ma:n] in some dialects) so it's not like it's unheard of, but still.

  11. Andreas Johansson said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 4:48 am

    Is there any actual evidence for an short form *qan or similar preceding the contraction of qaghan?

  12. Hiroshi Kumamoto said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 5:53 am

    >> Russian kings were Tzars, from Hebrew שַׂר (SAR), meaning "ruler".

    This seems to be a “baseless allegation”. The Russian word comes from Lat. caesar via Byzantine Greek. Max Vasmer’s Russisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch, expanded and translated into Russian by Oleg Nikolaevich Trubachev (available for download in DJVU format at: https://archive.org/details/B-001-004-139) shows an Old Russian form цъсаръ (Tom 4, 290). If it were from North-West Semitic (Hebrew, Syriac etc.), shouldn’t we expect ץ rather than ש?

  13. AntC said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 6:51 am


    I would not be surprised if the origin of the word "King" is Kohen. … Could it travel from judea, through ancient greeks, romans to germanic tribes?

    Well could it? Etymonline gives the solid Germanic forms leading to modern English 'king'. Not attested in Gothic, it says. You'd think they'd mention if it could be predated to Greek or older IE forms. Could it travel from Semitic to Indo-European? That would be highly unusual at that time-depth.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 8:07 am

    Mark reminds me that we covered the 1254 debate at the Mongol court in an earlier post, relying on a separate account by the same author, Jack Weatherford, in his Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2005).

  15. Victor Mair said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 11:07 am

    From Anonymous Qaqhan:

    It’s unclear to me if Khan vs Khaqan/Qaghan are actually formal ranks (like in an organized military) or whether they are simply honorifics of relative pomposity. That is, Khan-i Khanan or Shahenshah (“King of Kings”) doesn’t mean you got a promotion above being a king, just that you claim the higher status. In Mongol Iran, you’d have to be pretty close to the administration to know if the “Master of the Falconers” was of higher rank than the “Lord of the Cauldron” and it only gets worse later on. Maybe Qaghan wasn’t used for Genghis because it only grew popular when his descendants put on imperial airs.

    In South Asia, where there are more “khans” than the rest of the world put together, it basically functions as a caste marker among Muslims; rarely does it mean “chief” or “lord” in almost a century. And my understanding is that “Khan Bahadur” (Lord Valiant) was a Mughal title that the British adopted, often as a designation for the younger brothers of a recognized vassal sovereign (mimicking their own system of peerage with Lords and Barons etc).

  16. Chris Button said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 12:02 pm

    The speculations above about its origins remind me of this topic where I contribute some rather wild speculations of my own:


  17. KevinM said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 2:37 pm

    Love the combination religious debate/drinking game. Of course, losing or dropping out might not bespeak the inferiority of your beliefs; it might just mean you can't hold your fermented mare's milk.

  18. Peter B. Golden said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 3:31 pm

    The title Qaghan/qaġan is first encountered in 265 CE among the Xianbei polities, more specifically the 乞 伏 Qīfú people (Andrew Shimunek, Languages of Ancient Southern Mongolia and North China. A Historical-Comparative Study of the Serbi or Xianbei Branch of the Serbi-Mongolic Language Family with an Analysis of Northeastern Frontier Chinese and Old Tibetan Phonology ((Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2017): 54, reconstructs this as NEMC *khɨrbuwk). In time, it supplanted Xiongnu chányú (單于) for which there are a number of theories regarding the title masked by this word: OC dan wa, LH dźan wɑ (Schuessler, MOC: 255[24-21az], 50 [1-23a]) previously usually rendered as Shanyu. For attempts to read into these reconstructions various Inner Asian titles (ǰabğu/yabğu, tarxan), see V.S. Taskin, Materialy po istorii drevnix kočevyx narodov dunxu (M.: Nauka, 1984): 305-306 and his “O titulax šan’juj i kagan” Mongolica (Moscow, 1986):213-218. Christopher Beckwith, Empires of the Silk Road. A History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present (Princeton: PU Press, 2009):387, n.7 suggests that the OC reconstruction rendered “something like” *darġa and then *danġa which he compares with the later Činggisid-era Mongol title daruġači in Yuan China (daruġa elsewhere). W. Baxter and L.Sagart, Old Chinese. A New Reconstruction (Oxford: OUPress 2014): 260 also saw in Han dar-ɦwa “a close match to Written Mongolian daruɣa.” See, however, E. Endicott-West, Mongolian Rule in China (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1989): 2-3, 16-18, who views the term as “purely Mongolian in origin,” and derives it from Mong. daru- “to press, press down…” (F. Lessing et al., Mongolian-English Dictionary, 3rd ed. Bloomington, IND.: The Mongolia Society, 1995). p.233), and correctly compares it with Turkic basqaq (bas- “to press, crush, oppress,” Clauson, Etym. Dict.:370-371) in Činggisid-ruled Rus’. Qaġan also begins to appear in Chinese accounts as used by other Xianbei/Serbi-derived peoples such as the 吐谷渾Tùyùhún. Shèlún (r. 402-410) 社崙: EMC dʑia’ lwǝn (Pulleyblank: 278 [113:3], 202 [46:8]); LH dźaBluǝn MC źjaB lwǝn (Schuessler, 2009: 52 [1-36j], 339 [34-24hij), the Rouran/Asian Avar ruler, began the more consistent employment of this title. The Türks, undoubtedly, adopted/inherited this title from the Rouran, along with other titles and offices of state that had become part of the Inner Asian nomadic state administrative structure.
    The Xianbei/Serbi groupings are associated with Mongolic/Para-Mongolic-speakers. Alexander Vovin, in his “A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions” International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics (2019) I: 162-197, shows that the Brāhmī inscription on the Bugut inscription (dated between ca. 584 and no later than 587, the first monument from the Türks, written, however, in Soghdian) is in a Mongol language, most probably that of the Rouran. It notes qaġan. The connection of Kohen with Qaġan is highly unlikely. Kohen, Kahan, written in Russian (which substitutes a “g” [г] for “h” which it lacks – except in southern dialects) produces коген, каган, which looks like Old Rus’ renderings of Qağan (коганъ, каганъ) but has no relationship to that word. Kohen, Kahan are cognates of Arabic Kāhin ( كاهن) “diviner, soothsayer, priest.” There is nothing to indicate that this well-known Semitic root traveled to the Xianbei-Serbi world of the 3rd century CE. The etymology of Qağan/Qaġan remains open. Sasha Vovin’s Yeniseic etymology is interesting and may well be right, if Yeniseic elements were already present in the Xiongnu peoples. In Old Turkic qan and qağan (xān, xağan) appear to be “practically synonymous” (as Clauson, Etym. Dict.: 630 notes), qan being the preferred form in the Tonyuquq inscription. Clauson maintains that qan was “later used mainly for a subordinate ruler.” Later, in the Činggisid era, Xan undoubtedly comes from qaġan > qa’an > xān.
    Russ. tsar is from tsesar цесарь < Caesar.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 3:47 pm

    In "Empire of Tolerance", a NYT (12/9/16) review of the book by Jack Weatherford featured in this post, Simon Winchester (the celebrated author of The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, originally titled The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words [1998]), concludes:

    Weatherford’s central claim that the Great Khan’s ecumenism has as its legacy the very same rigid separation of church and state that underpins no less than the American idea itself. The United States Constitution’s First Amendment is, at its root, an originally Mongol notion.

    Many might think this eccentric in the extreme, until we learn that a runaway 18th-century best seller in the American colonies was in fact a history of “Genghizcan the Great,” by a Frenchman, Pétis de la Croix, and that it was a book devoured by both Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the quoted rubric of the Mongol and United States laws is uncannily similar: Among other passages, Mongol law forbids anyone to “disturb or molest any person on account of religion,” and Jefferson, after reading its strictures, went on to suggest in his Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor of the First Amendment, that “no man shall . . . suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.”

    The link between Genghis and Jefferson may seem tenuous to the point of absurdity; but Weatherford argues his case very well — and in doing so offers further amplification of the notion that so many of the West’s claimed achievements in fact have their true origins in the East, and that countries like Mongolia, far from being, as those hapless British diplomats once believed, at the utter ends of the earth, are very much more central than most of us nowadays like to imagine. In a sense we are all Mongols; we are all one.

    In another book mentioned in this post, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Weatherford suggests that significant aspects of modern Western democracy and government, and many other facets of modern Western civilization, may have been inspired by the reforms of Genghis Khan.

  20. Matthias Neeracher said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 4:29 pm

    That religious debate / drinking game / trial sounds custom made for a Netflix / HBO series.

    "A Mongol religious debate without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair"

    But including the drinking part seems unfair to team Islamo-Christian.

  21. David Marjanović said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 5:32 pm

    Could it travel from judea, through ancient greeks, romans to germanic tribes?

    In a word, no. King is a contraction of Old English cyning ~ kyning; disyllabic forms survive today elsewhere, e.g. in German König (with the usual confusion of -ig and -ing).

    That is *kun-ing-, with *kun- as in kin and *-ing-, a suffix that appears e.g. in diminutives and patronymics. Originally, it seems, a "king" was just a clan leader – which is only appropriate, because Germanic rulers of larger stature only appeared during Roman times, and even those were called with the Celtic loanword *rīk- as Gothic shows.

    This *kun- goes straight back to Proto-Indo-European, where stressed *gʲénh₁ ~ unstressed *gʲn̩h₁- was a verb root meaning "beget" (as in genesis, Eugene, (pro)genitor and so on and so forth).

  22. Michael Watts said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 7:11 pm

    Russian kings were Tzars, from Hebrew שַׂר (SAR), meaning "ruler".

    This flatly contradicts some pretty well-established etymology.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    November 9, 2020 @ 7:26 pm

    About Russian "Tzar", see the precise, detailed comment of Hiroshi Kumamoto above.

  24. A. Sasportas said,

    November 10, 2020 @ 12:37 am

    >> We have supreme judge Elana Kagan. Could it be Elana Qaghan?

    Russian does have */h/.

    if rusophones borrow non-Russian words (including names) or have to record them in Russian (without borrowing), /h/ is usually represented by (which most often represents /g/ in Russian), for example, the Russian for 'The Hague' is Гаага and the Russian for 'Heinrich Heine' is Генрих Гейне.

    Those Russian spellings induce spelling pronunciations, so that Гаага
    and Генрих Гейне are each pronounced with two /g/s.

    Likewise, when Ashkenazic family names derived from Hebrew כהן /kohen/ 'member of the Jewish priestly caste' and Jewish Aramaic כהנא /kahana/ 'idem' are recorded in Russian, /h/ is represented by , which induces a spelling pronunciation, hence the Eastern Ashkenazic family names (in Belarus and Ukraine, for example), Kagan, Kogan, and Kaganov.

    That is the case of Elana Kagan's family name. It is straightforwardly the result of a spelling pronunciation of the Russian representation of an Eastern Ashkenazic family name of Hebrew or Jewish Aramaic origin which originally did not have /g/.

    With regard to the alleged conversion to Judaism of the Khazar royal family and nobles, I agree with Shaul Stampfer that it is fiction:

    Stampfer, Shaul. 2013. "Did the Khazars Convert to Judaism?" Jewish Social Studies. Vol. 19. No. 3. Spring-Summer. Pp. 1-72.

    It is freely available on line .

  25. A. Sasportas said,

    November 10, 2020 @ 12:42 am

    Slight correction to my post: the Russian letter ge is missing here:

    "is usually represented by " and "represented by , which"

  26. A. Sasportas said,

    November 10, 2020 @ 12:49 am

    Regarding bahadur, etc., see too Polish bohator 'hero'.

  27. A. Sasportas said,

    November 10, 2020 @ 10:27 am

    Another slight correction to my earlier post:

    Russian does have */h/.
    should be

    Russian does not have */h/.

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