Rouran Khaganate

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The Rouran Khaganate (Chinese: 柔然; pinyin: Róurán), Ruru (Chinese: 蠕蠕/茹茹; pinyin: Rúrú), or Tantan[3] (Chinese: 檀檀; pinyin: Tántán) was the name of a state established by proto-Mongols, from the late 4th century until the middle 6th century.[4]

Rouran is a Classical Chinese transcription of the endonym of the confederacy. Ruanruan and Ruru remained in usage despite being derogatory. They derived from orders given by the Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, who waged war against the Rouran and intended to intimidate the confederacy. According to René Grousset, Ju-juan – an alternate Chinese name for the Rouran – was a "disparaging pun" derived from Juan-Juan: "unpleasantly wriggling insects".[5]

The power of the Rouran was broken in 555 by an alliance of Göktürks, the states of Northern Qi and Northern Zhou, and tribes in Central Asia.

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the Rouran are synonymous with the Pannonian Avars – also known by names such as Varchonites and "Pseudo Avars" – who settled in Eastern Europe during the 6th century.[6]

Rouran Khaganate
Location of Rouran
Capital Mumo city, Orkhon River, Mongolia
Languages Mongolian
Religion Shamanism
Political structure Khanate
 •  330 Yùjiǔlǘ Mùgǔlǘ
 •  555 Yujiulü Dengshuzi
Legislature Kurultai
 •  Established 330
 •  Disestablished 555
 •  405[1][2] 4,000,000 km2 (1,500,000 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Xianbei state
Turkic Khaganate
Northern Qi
Northern Zhou
Today part of  Mongolia
Chinese 柔然
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyin Róurán
Wade–Giles Jou2-jan2
IPA [ɻǒu.ɻǎn]
Traditional Chinese 蠕蠕
Simplified Chinese 茹茹
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyin Rúrú
Wade–Giles Ju2-ju2
IPA [ɻǔ.ɻǔ]
Chinese 檀檀
Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyin Tántán
Wade–Giles T'an2-t'an2
IPA [tʰǎn.tʰǎn]

Origin and expansion

Asia 400ad.jpg
Asia in 400, showing the Rouran Khaganate, the Northern Wei, the Tuyuhun, Southern Liang, Later Yan, Yueban and Northern Liang

The Rouran were a confederation led by Xianbei people who remained in the Mongolian steppes after most Xianbei migrated south to Northern China and set up various kingdoms. They considered the Tuoba and Rourans to be descended from common ancestors.[7] Also some contemporary historians studying the history of Northern Wei, like Kwok Kin Poon, proposed that the Rouran descended specifically from Xianbei of Donghu heritage.[8] They were first noted as having defeated the Tiele and establishing an empire extending all the way to the Hulun, an alliance in eastern Inner Mongolia. During the reign of Yujiulü Shelun (402–410), Rouran became a powerful empire. To the west of the Rouran Khaganate was the Hephthalite Empire (408–670), which was a vassal of the Rouran until the beginning of the 5th century.[9][10]

The Hephthalites and Rouran had close contact, although they had different languages and cultures, and the Hephthalites borrowed much of their political organization from the Rouran.[10] In particular, the title “Khan“, which according to McGovern was original to the Rouran, was borrowed by the Hephthalite rulers.[10] The reason for the migration of the Hephthalites southeast was to avoid pressure from the Rouran. Further, the Hephthalites defeated the Yuezhi in Bactria and their leader Kidara led the Yuezhi to the south.[10]

The Rouran controlled the area of Mongolia from the Manchurian border to Turpan and, perhaps, the east coast of Lake Balkhash, and from the Orkhon River to China proper. Their ancestor Mugulu is said to have been originally a slave of the Tuoba tribes, situated at the north banks of Yellow River Bend. Mugulu's descendant Yujiulü Shelun is said to be the first chieftain who was able to unify the Rouran tribes and to found the power of the Rouran by defeating the Tiele and Xianbei. Shelun was also the first of the steppe peoples to adopt the title of khagan (可汗) in 402, originally a title of the Xianbei nobility.

The Rouran Khaganate arranged for one of their princesses, Khagan Yujiulü Anagui's daughter Princess Ruru, to be married to the Han Chinese ruler Gao Huan of the Eastern Wei.[11]

The Rouran and the Hephthalites had a falling out and problems within their confederation were encouraged by Chinese agents. In 508, the Tiele defeated the Rouran in battle. In 516, the Rouran defeated the Tiele. Within the Rouran confederation was a Turkic tribe noted in Chinese annals as the Göktürks (Chinese: 突厥). After a marriage proposal to the Rouran was rebuffed, the Göktürks joined the Western Wei, successor state of the Northern Wei, and revolted against the Rouran. In 555, they beheaded 3,000 Rouran. A better date for their defeat may be 552. Some scholars claim that the Rouran then fled west across the steppes and became the Avars, though many other scholars contest this claim.[4] The remainder of the Rouran fled into China, were absorbed into the border guards, and disappeared forever as an entity. The last khagan fled to the court of the Western Wei, but at the demand of Tujue, Western Wei executed him and the nobles who accompanied him.

The Rouran Khaganate, c. 500
Asia 500ad.jpg
Northern Wei and Tuyuhun, c. 500

Little is known of the Rouran ruling elite, which the Book of Wei cited as an offshoot of the Xianbei. The territory of the Rouran Khaganate comprised Mongolia, Buryatia, Zabaykalsky Krai, southern Irkutsk Oblast, Tuva, Altay Republic, Altay Krai, northern Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, southern Siberia and Northeast China from the late 4th century. Their frequent interventions and invasions profoundly affected neighboring countries. Though they admitted the Ashina of Göktürk into their federation, the power of the Rouran was broken by an alliance of Göktürk, the states of Northern Qi and Northern Zhou, and the Central Asian tribes in 555. The Northern Wei, for instance, established the Six Garrisons bordering the Rouran, which later became the foci of several major mutinies in the early 6th century.

Khaghans of the Rouran

The Rourans were the first people who used the titles Khagan and Khan for their emperors, replacing the Chanyu of the Xiongnu, whom Grousset and others assume to be Turkic.[12]

  1. Yujiulü Mugulü, 4th century
  2. Yujiulü Cheluhui, 4th century
  3. Yujiulü Tunugui, 4th century
  4. Yujiulü Bati, 4th century
  5. Yujiulü Disuyuan, 4th century
  6. Yujiulü Pihouba, 4th century
  7. Venheti, 4th century
  8. Yujiulü Mangeti, 4th century
  9. Yujiulü Heduohan, 4th century
  10. Yujiulü Shelun, 402–410
  11. Yujiulü Hulü, 410–414
  12. Yujiulü Datan, 414–429
  13. Yujiulü Wuti, 429–444
  14. Yujiulü Tuhezhen, 444–450
  15. Yujiulü Yucheng, 450–485
  16. Yujiulü Doulun, 485–492
  17. Yujiulü Nagai, 492–506
  18. Yujiulü Futu, 506–508
  19. Yujiulü Chounu, 508–520
  20. Yujiulü Anagui, 520–552
  21. Yujiulü Poluomen, 521–524
  22. Yujiulü Tiefa, 552–553
  23. Yujiulü Dengzhu, 553
  24. Yujiulü Kangti, 553
  25. Yujiulü Anluochen, 553–554
  26. Yujiulü Dengshuzi, 555

See also


  1. ^ Rein Taagepera "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D.", Social Science History Vol. 3, 115–138 (1979)
  2. ^ Jonathan M. Adams, Thomas D. Hall and Peter Turchin (2006). East-West Orientation of Historical Empires.Journal of World-Systems Research (University of Connecticut). 12 (no. 2): 219–229.
  3. ^ Zhang, Min. "On the Defensive System of Great Wall Military Town of Northern Wei Dynasty" China’s Borderland History and Geography Studies, Jun. 2003 Vol. 13 No. 2. Page 15.
  4. ^ a b West, Barbara A. (2008). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 687. ISBN 978-0-8160-7109-8. Retrieved 26 May 2011.
  5. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  6. ^ Findley (2005), p. 35.
  7. ^ Hyacinth (Bichurin), Collection of information on peoples lived in Central Asia in ancient times, 1950. p.209
  8. ^ "The Northern Wei state and the Juan-juan nomadic tribe". The University of Hong Kong Scholar hub. Retrieved 2015-11-16.
  9. ^ Grousset (1970), p. 67.
  10. ^ a b c d Kurbanov, A. The Hephthalites: Archaeological and historical analysis. PhD dissertation, Free University, Berlin, 2010
  11. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Stefanowska, A. D. Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women: Antiquity Through Sui, 1600 B.C.E.-618 C.E. M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-7656-4182-3. p. 316.
  12. ^ Grousset (1970), pp. 61, 585, n. 91.


  • Findley, Carter Vaughn. (2005). The Turks in World History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516770-8 (cloth); ISBN 0-19-517726-6 (pbk).
  • Grousset, René. (1970). The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia. Translated by Naomi Walford. Rutgers University Press. New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.A.Third Paperback printing, 1991. ISBN 0-8135-0627-1 (casebound); ISBN 0-8135-1304-9 (pbk).
  • Map of their empire
  • Definition
  • information about the Rouran
  • Kradin, Nikolay. "From Tribal Confederation to Empire: the Evolution of the Rouran Society". Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Vol. 58, No 2 (2005): 149–169.

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