Rouran Khaganate

The Rouran Khaganate, also Juan-Juan Khaganate (Chinese: 柔然; pinyin: Róurán),[3][4] was a tribal confederation and later state founded by a people of Proto-Mongolic Donghu origin.[5] The Rouran supreme rulers are noted for being the first to use the title of "khagan", having borrowed this popular title from the Xianbei.[6] The Rouran Khaganate lasted from the late 4th century until the middle 6th century, when they were defeated by a Göktürk rebellion which subsequently led to the rise of the Turks in world history.

Rouran Khaganate

330 AD–555 AD
Rouran Khaganate in Central Asia
Rouran Khaganate in Central Asia
CapitalMumo city, Orkhon River, Mongolia
Common languagesRouran
Old Turkic
• 330 AD
Yujiulü Mugulü
• 555 AD
Yujiulü Dengshuzi
• Established
330 AD
• Disestablished
555 AD
405[1][2]2,800,000 km2 (1,100,000 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Xianbei state
First Turkic Khaganate
Northern Qi
Northern Zhou
Today part ofChina
Ruru or Ruanruan
Rouru or Rouruan

Their Khaganate overthrown, some Rouran remnants possibly became Tatars[7][8] while others migrated west and became the Pannonian Avars (known by such names as Varchonites or Pseudo Avars), who settled in Pannonia (centred on modern Hungary) during the 6th century.[9] However, this Rouran-Avars link remains a controversial theory. The Avars were pursued into the Byzantine Empire by the Göktürks, who referred to the Avars as a slave or vassal people, and requested that the Byzantines expel them. Other theories instead link the origins of the Pannonian Avars to peoples such as the Uar.



Róurán 柔然 is a Classical Chinese transcription of the endonym of the confederacy;[10] 蠕蠕 Ruǎnruǎn ~ Rúrú (Weishu), however, was used in Tuoba-Xianbei sources such as orders given by Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei.[11] It meant something akin to "wriggling worm" and was used in a derogatory sense.[12] Other transcriptions are 蝚蠕 Róurú ~ Róuruǎn (Jinshu); 茹茹 Rúrú (Beiqishu, Zhoushu, Suishu); 芮芮 Ruìruì (Nanqishu, Liangshu, Songshu), 大檀 Dàtán and 檀檀 Tántán (Songshu).

Mongolian Sinologist Sühe Baatar suggests Nirun Нирун as the modern Mongolian term for the Rouran, as Нирун superficially resembles reconstructed Chinese forms beginning with *ń- or *ŋ-. Rashid-al-Din Hamadani recorded Niru'un and Dürlükin as two divisions of the Mongols.[13]


Klyastorny reconstructed the ethnonym behind the Chinese transcription 柔然 Róurán (LHC: *ńu-ńan; EMC: *ɲuw-ɲian > LMC: *riw-rian) as *nönör and compares it to Mongolic нөкүр nökür "friend, comrade, companion" (Khalkha нөхөр nöhör). According to Klyashtorny, *nönör denotes "stepnaja vol'nica" "a free, roving band in the steppe, the 'companions' of the early Rouran leaders." In early Mongol society, a nökür was someone who had left his clan or tribe to pledge loyalty to and serve a charismatic warlord; if this derivation were correct, Róurán 柔然 was originally not an ethnonym, but a social term referring the dynastic founder's origins or the core circle of companions who helped him build his state.[14]

However, Golden identifies philological problems: the ethnonym should have been *nöŋör to be cognate to nökür, & possible assimilation of -/k/- to -/n/- in Chinese transcription needs further linguistic proofs. Even if 柔然 somehow transmitted nökür, it more likely denoted the Rouran's status as the subjects of the Tuoba. Before being used as an ethnonym, Rouran had originally been the byname of chief Cheluhui (车鹿会), possibly denoting his status "as a Wei servitor".[15]


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


Primary Chinese-language sources Songshu and Liangshu connected Rourans to the earlier Xiongnu (of unknown ethnolinguistic affiliation) while Weishu traced the Rouran's origins back to the Donghu,[16] generally agreed to be Proto-Mongols.[17] Xu proposed that "the main body of the Rouran were of Xiongnu origin" and Rourans' descendants, namely Da Shiwei (aka Tatars), contained Turkic elements, besides Mongolic Xianbei.[7] Even so, the Xiongnu's language is still unknown[18] and Chinese historians routinely ascribed Xiongnu origins to various nomadic groups, yet such ascriptions do not necessarity indicate the subjects' exact origins: for examples, Xiongnu ancestry was ascribed to Turkic-speaking Göktürks and Tiele as well as Para-Mongolic-speaking Kumo Xi and Khitans.[19]

Kwok Kin Poon additionally proposes that the Rouran were descended specifically from Donghu's Xianbei lineage,[20] i.e. from Xianbei who remained in the eastern Eurasian Steppe after most Xianbei had migrated south and settled in Northern China.[21] Genetic testings on Rourans' remains suggested Donghu-Xianbei paternal genetic contribution to Rourans.[22]


Man from the Ruoran (Ruiruiguo 芮芮國) in The Gathering of Kings (王会图), circa 650 CE.

The founder of the Rouran Khaganate, Yujiulu Shelun, was descended from slaves of the Xianbei whose women were commonly taken as wives or concubines. The endonym Rouran itself was distorted by the Xianbei into exonyms Ruru or Ruanruan, meaning something akin to "wriggling worms". After the Xianbei migrated south and settled in Chinese lands during the late 3rd century AD, the Rouran made a name for themselves as fierce warriors. However they remained politically fragmented until 402 AD when Shelun gained support of all the Rouran chieftains and united the Rouran under one banner. Immediately after uniting, the Rouran entered a perpetual conflict with Northern Wei, beginning with a Wei offensive that drove the Rouran from the Ordos region. The Rouran expanded westward and defeated the neighboring Tiele people and expanded their territory over the Silk Roads, even vassalizing the Hephthalites which remained so until the beginning of the 5th century.[23][24] The Hepthalites migrated southeast due to pressure from the Rouran and displaced the Yuezhi in Bactria, forcing them to migrate further south. Despite the conflict between the Hephthalites and Rouran, the Hephthalites borrowed much from their eastern overlords, in particular the title of "Khan" which was first used by the Rouran as a title for their rulers.[24]

In 424, the Rouran invaded Northern Wei but were repulsed.[25]

In 429, Northern Wei launched a major offensive against the Rouran and killed a large number of people.[23]

The Chinese are foot soldiers and we are horsemen. What can a herd of colts and heifers do against tigers or a pack of wolves? As for the Rouran, they graze in the north during the summer; in autumn, they come south and in winter raid our frontiers. We have only to attack them in summer in their pasture lands. At that time their horses are useless: the stallions are busy with the fillies, and the mares with their foals. If we but come upon them there and cut them off from their grazing and their water, within a few days they will be either taken or destroyed.[23]

In 434, the Rouran entered a marriage alliance with Northern Wei.[26]

In 443, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[23]

In 449, the Rouran were defeated in battle by Northern Wei.[27]

In 456, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[23]

In 458, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[23]

In 460, the Rouran subjugated the Ashina tribe residing around modern Turpan and resettled them in the Altai Mountains.[28] The Rouran also ousted the previous dynasty of Gaochang and installed Kan Bozhou as its king.[23]

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.[29]


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.

In 551, Bumin of the Ashina Göktürks quelled a Tiele revolt for the Rouran and asked for a Rouran princess for his service. The Rouran refused and in response Bumin declared independence.[30] Bumin entered a marriage alliance with Western Wei, a successor state of Northern Wei, and attacked the Rouran in 552, killing Yujiulü Anagui. Bumin declared himself Illig Khagan of the Turkic Khaganate after conquering Otuken; Bumin died soon after and his son Issik Qaghan succeeded him. Issik continued attacking the Rouran but died a year later in 553.

In 555, Turks invaded and occupied the Rouran and Yujiulü Dengshuzi led 3000 soldiers in retreat to Western Wei.[31] He was later delivered to Turks by Emperor Gong with his soldiers under pressure from Muqan Qaghan.[32] Same year, Muqan annihilated the Rouran.[30][33]

Possible descendantsEdit


According to Xu (2005), some Rouran remnants fled to the northwest of the Greater Khingan mountain range, and renamed themselves 大檀 Dàtán (MC: *daH-dan) or 檀檀 Tántán (MC: *dan-dan) after Tantan, personal name of a historical Rouran Khagan. Tantan were gradually incorporated into the Shiwei tribal complex and later emerged as Great-Da Shiwei (大室韋) in Suishu.[7] Klyashtorny, apud Golden (2013), reconstructed 大檀 / 檀檀 as *tatar / dadar, "the people who, [Klyashtorny] concludes, assisted Datan in the 420s in his internal struggles and who later are noted as the Otuz Tatar ("Thirty Tatars") who were among the mourners at the funeral of Bumın Qağan (see the inscriptions of Kül Tegin, E4 and Bilge Qağan, E5)".[34]


Some scholars claim that the Rouran then fled west across the steppes and became the Avars, though many other scholars contest this claim.[35] However, it's unlikely that Rouran would have migrated to Europe in any sufficient strength to establish themselves there, due to the desperate resistances, military disasters, and massacres.[32] 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 the Göktürks, Western Wei executed him and the nobles who accompanied him.[citation needed]

The Rouran Khaganate, c. 500
Northern Wei and Tuyuhun, c. 500


Li et al. 2018 examined the remains of a Rouran male buried at the Khermen Tal site in Mongolia. He was found to be a carrier of the paternal haplogroup C2b1a1b and the maternal haplogroup D4b1a2a1. Haplogroup C2b1a1b has also been detected among the Xianbei.[36]

Several genetic studies have shown that early Pannonian Avar elites carried a large amount of East Asian ancestry, and some have suggested this as evidence for a connection between the Pannonian Avars and the Rouran.[37] However, Savelyev & Jeong 2020 notes that there is still little genetic data on the Rouran themselves, and that their genetic relationship with the Pannonian Avars therefore still remains inconclusive.[38]


The received view is that the relationships of the language remain a puzzle and that it may be an isolate.[39] Alexander Vovin (2004, 2010)[40][41] considers the Ruan-ruan language to be an extinct non-Altaic language that is not related to any modern-day language (i.e., a language isolate) and is hence unrelated to Mongolic. Vovin (2004) notes that Old Turkic had borrowed some words from an unknown non-Altaic language that may have been Ruan-ruan. In 2018 Vovin changed his opinion after new evidence was found through the analysis of the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi inscriptions and suggests that the Ruanruan language was in fact a Mongolic language, close but not identical to Middle Mongolian.[42]

Rulers of the RouranEdit

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.[43]

Tribal chiefsEdit

  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. Yujiulü Wenheti, 4th century
  8. Yujiulü Heduohan, 4th century


Personal name Regnal name Reign Era names
Yujiulü Shelun Qiudoufa Khagan (丘豆伐可汗) 402–410
Yujiulü Hulü Aikugai Khagan (藹苦蓋可汗) 410–414
Yujiulü Buluzhen 414
Yujiulü Datan Mouhanheshenggai Khagan (牟汗紇升蓋可汗) 414–429
Yujiulü Wuti Chilian Khagan (敕連可汗) 429–444
Yujiulü Tuhezhen Chu Khagan (處可汗) 444–464
Yujiulü Yucheng Shouluobuzhen Khagan (受羅部真可汗) 464–485 Yongkang (永康)
Yujiulü Doulun Fumingdun Khagan (伏名敦可汗) 485–492 Taiping (太平)
Yujiulü Nagai Houqifudaikezhe Khagan (侯其伏代庫者可汗) 492–506 Taian (太安)
Yujiulü Futu Tuohan Khagan (佗汗可汗) 506–508 Shiping (始平)
Yujiulü Chounu Douluofubadoufa Khagan (豆羅伏跋豆伐可汗) 508–520 Jianchang (建昌)
Yujiulü Anagui Chiliantoubingdoufa Khagan (敕連頭兵豆伐可汗) 520–521
Yujiulü Poluomen Mioukesheju Khagan (彌偶可社句可汗) 521–524
Yujiulü Anagui Chiliantoubingdoufa Khagan (敕連頭兵豆伐可汗) 522–552

Khagans of WestEdit

  1. Yujiulü Dengshuzi, 555

Khagans of EastEdit

  1. Yujiulü Tiefa, 552–553
  2. Yujiulü Dengzhu, 553
  3. Yujiulü Kangti, 553
  4. Yujiulü Anluochen, 553–554

Rulers family treeEdit

See also



  1. ^ Taagepera, Rein (1979). "Size and Duration of Empires: Growth-Decline Curves, 600 B.C. to 600 A.D.". Social Science History. 3 (3/4): 129. doi:10.2307/1170959. JSTOR 170959.
  2. ^ Turchin, Peter; Adams, Jonathan M.; Hall, Thomas D (December 2006). "East-West Orientation of Historical Empires". Journal of World-Systems Research. 12 (2): 222. ISSN 1076-156X. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  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. ^ Kradin, Nikolay N. (2016). Rouran (Juan Juan) Khaganate in "The Encyclopedia of Empire". John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. pp. 1–2.
  5. ^ Wei Shou. Book of Wei. vol. 103 "蠕蠕,東胡之苗裔也,姓郁久閭氏" tr. "Rúrú, offsprings of Dōnghú, surnamed Yùjiŭlǘ"
  6. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2007). "Once again on the etymology of the title qaγan". Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia, vol. 12 (online resource)
  7. ^ a b c Xu Elina-Qian, Historical Development of the Pre-Dynastic Khitan, University of Helsinki, 2005. pp. 179–180
  8. ^ Golden, Peter B. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran", in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Maleon. Iași (2013). pp. 54–56.
  9. ^ Findley (2005), p. 35.
  10. ^ Weishu Vol. 103 "木骨閭死,子車鹿會雄健,始有部眾,自號柔然" "Mugulü died; [his] son Cheluhui, fierce and vigorous, began to gather the tribal multitude, [his/their] self-appellation Rouran"
  11. ^ Weishu Vol. 103 "而役屬於國。後世祖以其無知,狀類於蟲,故改其號為蠕蠕。" tr. "yet [Cheluhui/Rouran] [was/were] vassal(s) of (our) state. Later, (Emperor) Shizu took him/them as ignorant and [his/their] appearance worm-like, so [the Emperor] changed his/their appellation to Ruanruan ~ Ruru"
  12. ^ Grousset, Rene (1970). The Empire of the Steppes. Rutgers University Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-8135-1304-9.
  13. ^ Golden, Peter B. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran", in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Maleon. Iași (2013). p. 54.
  14. ^ Golden, Peter B. (2016) "Turks and Iranians: Aspects of Türk and Khazaro-Iranian Interaction" in Turcologica 105. p. 5
  15. ^ Golden, Peter B. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran", in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Maleon. Iași (2013). p. 58.
  16. ^ Golden, Peter B. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran", in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Maleon. Iași (2013). pp. 54–55.
  17. ^ *Pulleyblank, Edwin G. (2000). "Ji 姬 and Jiang 姜: The Role of Exogamic Clans in the Organization of the Zhou Polity", Early China. p. 20
  18. ^ Lee, Joo-Yup (2016). "The Historical Meaning of the Term Turk and the Nature of the Turkic Identity of the Chinggisid and Timurid Elites in Post-Mongol Central Asia". Central Asiatic Journal. 59 (1–2): 116. It is not known which language the Xiongnu spoke.
  19. ^ Lee, Joo-Yup (2016). "The Historical Meaning of the Term Turk and the Nature of the Turkic Identity of the Chinggisid and Timurid Elites in Post-Mongol Central Asia". Central Asiatic Journal. 59 (1–2): 105.
  20. ^ "The Northern Wei state and the Juan-juan nomadic tribe". The University of Hong Kong Scholar hub. Retrieved 16 November 2015.
  21. ^ Hyacinth (Bichurin), Collection of information on peoples lived in Central Asia in ancient times, 1950. p. 209
  22. ^ Li, Jiawei; et al. (August 2018). "The genome of an ancient Rouran individual reveals an important paternal lineage in the Donghu population". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. American Association of Physical Anthropologists. 166 (4): 895–905. doi:10.1002/ajpa.23491. PMID 29681138. We conclude that F3889 downstream of F3830 is an important paternal lineage of the ancient Donghu nomads. The Donghu‐Xianbei branch is expected to have made an important paternal genetic contribution to Rouran. This component of gene flow ultimately entered the gene pool of modern Mongolic‐ and Manchu‐speaking populations.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g Grousset (1970), p. 67.
  24. ^ a b Kurbanov, A. The Hephthalites: Archaeological and historical analysis. PhD dissertation, Free University, Berlin, 2010
  25. ^ Grousset 1970, p. 61.
  26. ^ Xiong 2009, p. xcix.
  27. ^ Xiong 2009, p. c.
  28. ^ Bregel 2003, p. 14.
  29. ^ Lee, Lily Xiao Hong; Stefanowska, A. D. (2007). 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.
  30. ^ a b Barfield 1989, p. 132.
  31. ^ Kuwayama, S. (2002). Across the Hindukush of the First Millennium: a collection of the papers. Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University. p. 123.
  32. ^ a b Pohl, Walter (15 December 2018). The Avars: A Steppe Empire in Central Europe, 567–822. Cornell University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9781501729409.
  33. ^ Xiong 2009, p. 103.
  34. ^ Golden, Peter B. "Some Notes on the Avars and Rouran", in The Steppe Lands and the World beyond Them. Ed. Curta, Maleon. Iași (2013). p. 54-56.
  35. ^ "Avars". Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  36. ^ Li et al. 2018, pp. 1, 8–9.
  37. ^ Neparáczki et al. 2019, pp. 5–6, 9. "The Avar group carried predominantly East Eurasian lineages in accordance with their known Inner Asian origin inferred from archaeological and anthropological parallels as well as historical sources. However, the unanticipated prevalence of their Siberian N1a Hg-s, sheds new light on their prehistory. Accepting their presumed Rouran origin would implicate a ruling class with Siberian ancestry in Inner Asia before Turkic take-over. The surprisingly high frequency of N1a1a1a1a3 Hg reveals that ancestors of contemporary eastern Siberians and Buryats could give a considerable part the Rouran and Avar elite..."; Csáky et al. 2020, pp. 1, 9. "A recent manuscript described 23 mitogenomes from the 7th–8th century Avar elite group5 and found that 64% of the lineages belong to East Asian haplogroups (C, D, F, M, R, Y and Z) with affinities to ancient and modern Inner Asian populations corroborating their Rouran origin."
  38. ^ Savelyev & Jeong 2020, p. 17. "Population genetics in the current state of research is neutral as regards the question of continuity between the Rourans and the Avars. What it is supported is that at least some European Avar individuals were of Eastern Asian ancestry, be it Rouran-related or not."
  39. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle (2019). Hammer and Anvil: Nomad Rulers at the Forge of the Modern World. p. 49.
  40. ^ Vovin, Alexander 2004. 'Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Old Turkic 12-Year Animal Cycle.' Central Asiatic Journal 48/1: 118–32.
  41. ^ Vovin, Alexander. 2010. Once Again on the Ruan-ruan Language. Ötüken’den İstanbul’a Türkçenin 1290 Yılı (720–2010) Sempozyumu From Ötüken to Istanbul, 1290 Years of Turkish (720–2010). 3–5 Aralık 2010, İstanbul / 3–5 December 2010, İstanbul: 1–10.
  42. ^ Vovin, Alexander (2019). "A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. 1 (1): 162–197. doi:10.1163/25898833-12340008. ISSN 2589-8825.
  43. ^ Grousset (1970), pp. 61, 585, n. 91.
  44. ^ "隋代《郁久闾伏仁墓志》考释-中国文物网-文博收藏艺术专业门户网站" [An Interpretation of the Epitaph of Yujiulü Furen]. Retrieved 9 November 2019.


External linksEdit