The Rouran Khaganate (Chinese: 柔然; pinyin: Róurán), Ruanruan (Chinese: 蠕蠕; pinyin: Ruǎnruǎn/Rúrú; Wade–Giles: Juan-juan/Ju-ju), Ruru (Chinese: 茹茹; pinyin: Rúrú; Wade–Giles: Ju-ju), or Tantan[3] (Chinese: 檀檀; pinyin: Tántán) was the name of a state of uncertain origin (proto-Mongols, Turkic, or non-Altaic),[4][better source needed] although it is commonly believed that its people were descended from the Xianbei. The Rouran are noted for being the first people to use the title of "khan" or "khagan". 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 languagesRuanruan
• 330 AD
Yùjiǔlǘ Mùgǔlǘ
• 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
Turkic Khaganate
Northern Qi
Northern Zhou
Today part ofChina
Traditional Chinese蠕蠕
Simplified Chinese茹茹

Rouran is a Classical Chinese transcription of the endonym of the confederacy. However, according to Xianbei sources derived from orders given by Emperor Taiwu of Northern Wei, Ruanruan and Ruru means something akin to "wriggling worm" and was used in a derogatory sense.[5]

Some of the Rouran may have migrated west subsequently and became the Pannonian Avars (who are also known by names such as Varchonites and "Pseudo Avars"), who settled in Pannonia (centred on modern Hungary) during the 6th century.[6] However, this remains a controversial theory. The Avars were pursued into the Byzantine Empire by the Göktürks, who referred to the Avars as an 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.


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


The Rouran were a nomadic people commonly believed to be a splinter group of the Xianbei who remained in the eastern Eurasian Steppe after most Xianbei had migrated south and settled in Northern China.[7] Kwok Kin Poon proposes that the Rouran were descended specifically from Xianbei of Donghu heritage.[8]


The founder of the Rouran Khaganate, Yujiulu Shelun, was descended from slaves of the Xianbei whose women were commonly taken as wives or concubines. In fact the name Rouran itself as used by the Xianbei means 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.[9][10] The Hepthalites migrated southeast due to pressure from the Rouran and displaced the Yuezhi in Bactria, forcing the 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.[10]

In 424, the Rouran invaded Northern Wei but were repulsed.[11]

In 429, Northern Wei launched a major offensive against the Rouran and killed a large number of people.[9]

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.[9]

In 434, the Rouran entered a marriage alliance with Northern Wei.[12]

In 443, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[9]

In 449, the Rouran were defeated in battle by Northern Wei.[13]

In 456, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[9]

In 458, Northern Wei attacked the Rouran.[9]

In 460, the Rouran subjugated the Ashina tribe residing around modern Turpan and resettled them in the Altai Mountains.[14] The Rouran also ousted the previous dynasty of Gaochang and installed Kan Bozhou as its king.[9]

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.[15]


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 (Chinese: 突厥) 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.[16] 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. His brother Muqan Qaghan finished the job and annihilated the Rouran in 555.[16][17]


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[who?], Western Wei executed him and the nobles who accompanied him.

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


Alexander Vovin (2004, 2010)[18][19] 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.[20] Pamela Kyle Crossley (2019) The Rouran language itself has remained a puzzle, and leading linguists consider it a possible isolate.[21]

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.[22]

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 Mangeti, 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 Aykugai 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 alsoEdit



  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. ^ 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 16 November 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Grousset (1970), p. 67.
  10. ^ a b Kurbanov, A. The Hephthalites: Archaeological and historical analysis. PhD dissertation, Free University, Berlin, 2010
  11. ^ Grousset 1970, p. 61.
  12. ^ Xiong 2009, p. xcix.
  13. ^ Xiong 2009, p. c.
  14. ^ Bregel 2003, p. 14.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ a b Barfield 1989, p. 132.
  17. ^ Xiong 2009, p. ciii.
  18. ^ Vovin, Alexander 2004. 'Some Thoughts on the Origins of the Old Turkic 12-Year Animal Cycle.' Central Asiatic Journal 48/1: 118–32.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Vovin, Alexander. "A Sketch of the Earliest Mongolic Language: the Brāhmī Bugut and Khüis Tolgoi Inscriptions". International Journal of Eurasian Linguistics. 1 (1): 162–197. ISSN 2589-8825.
  21. ^ Crossley, Pamela Kyle (2019). Hammer and Anvil: Nomad Rulers at the Forge of the Modern World. p. 49.
  22. ^ Grousset (1970), pp. 61, 585, n. 91.


  • Barfield, Thomas (1989), The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China, Basil Blackwell
  • Bregel, Yuri (2003), An Historical Atlas of Central Asia, Brill
  • 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.
  • Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2000), Sui-Tang Chang'an: A Study in the Urban History of Late Medieval China (Michigan Monographs in Chinese Studies), U OF M CENTER FOR CHINESE STUDIES, ISBN 0892641371
  • Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2009), Historical Dictionary of Medieval China, United States of America: Scarecrow Press, Inc., ISBN 0810860538

External linksEdit