History of Khanate: Definition and decline

History 29 Apr 2021 Nilanjan Hajra
History of Khanate
Photo : Dreamstime

While caliphates and sultanates are widely known in history, the term khanate is relatively less known. History of Khanate in Encyclopaedia Britannica briefly describes a Khanate as a ‘state or jurisdiction ruled by a khan’. Khan of course is a common Muslim surname or title. However, in this context, it has a different meaning. A khan was a medieval military leader or ruler. The title, khan, AKA khagan, was typically used in central Asia. And female leaders used the titles Khatun or Khanum.

The most famous A Khanates, AKA khaganates, were all founded in the Eurasian steppe region. The Eurasian steppe is a vast area that stretches in parts of modern-day Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Western Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang, Mongolia, and Manchuria. The history of Khanates shows that scores of khanates existed in this region chiefly between the early 13th century to the end of the 19th century.

Out of these the three which emerged out of the empire of Genghis Khan (1158 – 1227), following Khan’s death, were particularly important. These three were, the khanate of the Western Kipchaks (the Golden Horde), the khanate of Persia, AKA the Il-khanate, and the Chagatai Khanate. All three in time adopted Islam as their state religion. The other important dynasty, which came out of the remnants of the Mongol empire was the Yuan Dynasty, established by Kublai Khan, which was not really a khanate. Here we will discuss the three major khanates.

Western Kipchak Khanate 

Batu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, founded The Kipchak khanate, AKA Ulug Ulus (meaning the great state in Turkic) and the Golden Horde. He ruled between 1205 and 1255. After Batu Khan’s death over the next 100 years, his dynasty ruled over the khanate, formed out of the north-western sector of the Mongol Empire. His brother Berke Khan (died 1266) succeeded him. Berke had converted to Islam in 1252, and on his becoming the ruler Kipchak Khanate became the first Islamic khanate in history.

The Kipchak khanate began to weaken by 1359. Finally, the invasion of Turco-Mongol conqueror Timur or Tamerlane in 1396 disintegrated it into several smaller Tater khanates.

History of Khanate : Il-Khanate

Halagu Khan (1215-1265), also known as Il-Khan founded the Il-Khanate in 1255, in the south-western sector of the Mongol empire. He was another grandson of Genghis Khan. In modern terms, the core area of the khanate was carved out of portions of Iran, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. By 1295 Il-Khanate adopted Islam as a state religion.

Il-Khanate’s last khan was Abu Sa’id Bahadur Khan, who became the ruler in 1316. Rebellions, invasions, and most importantly an outbreak of bubonic plague ravaged the khanate in the 1330s. Bahadur Khan was himself killed in the disease by 1335. Soon the khanate began to disintegrate. It dissolved in 1357 following an invasion by the Golden Horde ruler Jani Beg.

Chagatai Khanate 

Chagatai Khan, son of Genghis Khan, established this khanate. At the height of its glory in the 13th century, the khanate stretched from the Amu Darya to the Altai mountains. He became a khan in 1227 and died in 1242. He was not a fully independent ruler but presided over what may be termed as an autonomous region. And Ogedei Khan, another son of Genghis, and the second ruler of the Mongol empire was Chagatai’s formal boss.

However, by 1260 Chagatai’s descendants broke free from the empire. In the history of Khanate Mubarak Shah was the first Chagatai khan to make Islam the official religion of his khanate in 1265.

The Chagatai khanate lasted till the middle of the 15th century, after which it disintegrated into smaller insignificant khanates.