Kara Khitai

CKM 2019-20 / Aziz Yardımlı



Kara Khitai

  Kara Khitai 1124-1218

📹 What is Qara Khitai? (VİDEO)

📹 What is Qara Khitai? (LINK)

Description: The Qara Khitai , also known as the Kara Khitan Khanate or Western Liao , officially the Great Liao , was a sinicized Khitan empire in Central Asia. The dynasty was founded by Yelü Dashi, who led the remnants of the Liao dynasty to Central Asia after fleeing from the Jurchen conquest of their homeland in the north and northeast of modern-day China. The empire was usurped by the Naimans under Kuchlug in 1211; traditional Chinese, Persian, and Arab sources considered the usurpation to be the end of the Qara Khitai rule. The empire was later conquered by the Mongol Empire in 1218.


Qara Khitai Empire (Western Liao) as of 1160 AD when it was at the greatest extent.

Pre-Mongol World..

📹 Khitan Music / Daur People Folk Song (VİDEO)

📹 Khitan Music / Daur People Folk Song (LINK)


📹 History of Mongolia: The Xianbei and Khitans (VİDEO)

📹 History of Mongolia: The Xianbei and Khitans (LINK)

The Xianbei and Khitans were nomadic proto-Mongolic peoples that inhabited Mongolia, Manchuria, Northern China, and Central Asia in ancient and medieval times.


📹 History of East Asia Every Year (VİDEO)

📹 History of East Asia Every Year (LINK)

The history of all Chinese, Tungusic, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian, Turkic, Vietnamese and European states within the boundaries of political and cultural East Asia.


Qara Khitai

Qara Khitai 1124-1218 (W)



Qara Khitai circa 1200.

Khitan or Liao Dynasty AD1000.
Status Sinicized Khitan empire in Central Asia
Capital Balasagun
Common languages
Demonym(s) Kara Khitan
Government Monarchy
• 1124–1143
Emperor Dezong
• 1144–1150
Empress Gantian (regent)
• 1150–1164
Emperor Renzong
• 1164–1178
Empress Dowager Chengtian (regent)
• 1178–1211
Yelü Zhilugu
• 1211–1218
Historical era Middle Ages
• Fall of Liao dynasty
Yelü Dashi proclaims himself king
• Yelü Dashi adopts the title of Gurkhan
• Yelü Dashi captures Balasagun and establishes capital
Kuchlug usurps power
• Kuchlug executed by Mongols
• All former territories fully absorbed into Mongol Empire
1130 est. 1,000,000 km2 (390,000 sq mi)
1210 est. 1,500,000 km2 (580,000 sq mi)
Currency cash coins
Preceded by Succeeded by
Liao dynasty
Kara-Khanid Khanate
Qocho Kingdom
Mongol Empire
Today part of China


The Qara Khitai or Kara Khitai (alternatively known as "Black Khitan" or "Black Cathay," Mongolian: Хар Хятан; 1124-1218), also known as the Western Liao (traditional Chinese: 西遼; simplified Chinese: 西辽; pinyin: Xī Liáo) dynasty of China, officially the Great Liao (大遼; 大辽; Dà Liáo), was a sinicized empire in Central Asia, ruled by the Khitan Yelü clan. The dynasty was founded by Yelü Dashi (Emperor Dezong of Liao), who led the remnants of the Liao dynasty to Central Asia after fleeing from the Jurchen conquest of their homeland in the north and northeast of modern-day China. The empire was usurped by the Naimans under Kuchlug in 1211; traditional Chinese, Persian, and Arab sources consider the usurpation to be the end of the dynasty, even though the empire would not fall until the Mongol conquest in 1218. The Qara Khitai is considered by Chinese historians to be a legitimate dynasty of China, as is the case for the preceding Liao dynasty.


Kara Khitan (Hala Qidan) was the name used by the Khitans to refer to themselves. The phrase is often translated as the Black Khitans in Turkish, but its original meaning is unclear today. In Mongolian, "Kara-Khitan" is rendered "Хар Хятан" (Khar Kidan).

Since no direct records from the empire survive today, the only surviving historical records about the empire come from outside sources. The empire took on trappings of a Chinese state, so Chinese historians generally refer to the empire as the Western Liao dynasty, emphasizing its continuation from the Liao dynasty in north and northeast China.

Black Khitans (黑契丹) has also been seen used in Chinese. "Qara," which literally means "black," corresponds with the Liao's dynastic color black and its dynastic element Metal, according to the theory of Five Elements (wuxing). The Jurchens referred to the empire as Dashi or Dashi Linya (after its founder), to reduce any claims the empire may have had to the old territories of the Liao Dynasty.

Muslim historians initially referred to the state simply as Khitay or Khitai; they may have adopted this form of "Khitan" via the Uyghurs of Kocho in whose language the final -n or -ń became -y. Only after the Mongol conquest did the state begin to be referred to in the Muslim world as the Kara-Khitai or Qara-Khitai. Qara Khitai or Khitan is the origin of “Cathay,” an old name for China.

History of the Khitans (W)

East Asia and Central Asia in AD 1142. The Qara Khitai (Western Liao) is highlighted in lime green in the northwest; the Jin dynasty in grey in the northeast; the Western Xia in turquoise; the Southern Song in orange; and the Dali Kingdom in dark green.


Founding of the Qara Khitai

The Qara Khitai empire was established by Yelü Dashi, who led nomadic Khitans west by way of Mongolia after the collapse of the Liao dynasty. The Jurchens, once vassals of the Khitans, had allied with the Song dynasty and overthrown the Liao. Yelü recruited Khitans and other tribes to form an army, and in 1134 captured Balasagun from the Kara-Khanid Khanate, which marks the start of the Qara Khitai empire in Central Asia. The Khitan forces were soon joined by 10,000 Khitans, who had been subjects of the Kara-Khanid Khanate. The Khitans then conquered Kashgar, Khotan, and Beshbalik. The Khitans defeated the Western Kara-Khanid Khanate at Khujand in 1137, eventually leading to their control over the Fergana Valley. They won the Battle of Qatwan against the Western Kara-Khanids and the Seljuk Empire on September 9, 1141, which allowed the Khitans to gain control over Transoxiana.

Yelü Dashi had originally hoped to recapture northern China from the Jin dynasty and restore the territories once held by the Liao dynasty. However, he soon discovered the relative weakness of his empire vis-a-vis the Jin dynasty and gave up the idea.

Yelü Dashi’s successors

When Yelü Dashi died his wife, Xiao Tabuyan (1143-1150) became regent for their son. The son, Yelü Yilie, ruled from 1150 to 1163, to be succeeded by his sister, Yelü Pusuwan (1164-1177). She then fell in love with her husband's younger brother, Xiao Fuguzhi. They were executed in 1177 by her husband's father, Xiao Wolila, who then placed his son Yelü Zhilugu (1178-1211) on the throne. The empire was weakened by rebellions and internal wars among its vassals, especially during the latter parts of its history.

During this period the empire contracted in the northeast when in 1175 the Naimans east of the Altai and the Qangli north of Lake Balkhash made a partial submission to the Jurchens. In the west there were many conflicts with Khwarezm involving non-payment of tribute and rival claimants to the throne. Late in the period it expanded far to the south as the Khwarezmian Empire until it was conquered by the Mongols in 1220, two years after the Qara Kitai. In the south the Kara-Khanid vassals were lightly held and engaged in various conflicts with each other, the Qara Kitai, Khwarezm and the Gurids.

Kuchlug’s usurpation and end of the Khanate

In 1208, a Naiman prince, Kuchlug, fled his homeland after being defeated by Mongols. Kuchlug was welcomed into the empire of the Qara-Khitans, and was allowed to marry Zhilugu's daughter. However, in 1211, Kuchlug revolted, and later captured Yelü Zhilugu while the latter was hunting. Zhilugu was allowed to remain as the nominal ruler but died two years later, and many historians regarded his death as the end of the Qara-Khitan empire. In 1216, Genghis Khan dispatched his general Jebe to pursue Kuchlug; Kuchlug fled, but in 1218, he was finally captured and decapitated. The Mongols fully conquered the former territories of the Qara-Khitans in 1220.



The Qara Khitais became absorbed into the Mongol Empire; a segment of the Qara-Khitan troops had previously already joined the Mongol army fighting against Kuchlug. Another segment of the Qara-Khitans, in a dynasty founded by Buraq Hajib, survived in Kirman as a vassal of the Mongols, but ceased to exist as an entity during the reign of Öljaitü of the Ilkhanate. The Qara-Khitans were dispersed widely all over Eurasia as part of the Mongol army. In the 14th century, they began to lose their ethnic identity, traces of their presence however may be found as clan names or toponyms from Afghanistan to Moldova. Today a Khitay tribe still lives in northern Kyrgyzstan.




📘 15 An Historical Atlas of Central Asia (2003) 44 THE SELJUKS, QARAKHANIDS, KHOREZMSHAHS, QARA-KHITAYS (TEXT)


🗺️ Qara-Khitay invasions (c.1130-40) / New Muslim Dynasties in Iran, Central Asia and India c.1092–c.1206 (MAP)


📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part One — Rise, 1115-1143 (VİDEO)

📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part One — Rise, 1115-1143 (LINK)

This the first of two parts on the History of the Qara Khitai before the Mongol Conquests, the second will be uploaded shortly after this.

As soon we will be discussing the Mongol Conquests across Central Asia, it useful to first establish the situation in Central Asia before their onset. And that involves discussing the unique Qara-Khitai, and their interactions with their more famous neighbours and former vassals, the Khwarezmian Empire. Here, we look at the RIse of the Qara-Khitai and life of their founder, Yelu Dashi.


Biran, Michal. "'Like a Mighty Wall:' The Armies of the Qara Khitai (1124-1218)." Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 45 (2001): 44-91.

Biran, Michal. The Empire of Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: between China and the Islamic World. NEw York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Links to more of Dr. Biran's great work: http://mongol.huji.ac.il/publications...

May, Timothy. The Mongol Empire. Edinburgh History of the Islamic Empires Series. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

McLynn, Frank. Genghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered the World. London: The Bodley Head, 2015.


📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part Two — Decline, 1143-1211 (VİDEO)

📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part Two — Decline, 1143-1211 (LINK)

The second of two parts in my series on the History of the Qara-Khitai before the Mongol Conquests. As soon we will be discussing the Mongol Conquests across Central Asia, it useful to first establish the situation in Central Asia before their onset. And that involves discussing the unique Qara-Khitai, and their interactions with their more famous neighbours and former vassals, the Khwarezmian Empire. Here, we look at the Decline of the Empire after the death of its founder, Yelu Dashi.


Biran, Michal. "'Like a Mighty Wall:' The Armies of the Qara Khitai (1124-1218)." Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 45 (2001): 44-91.

Biran, Michal. The Empire of Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: between China and the Islamic World. NEw York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.


📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part 3 — The Mongol Conquest, 1211-1218 (VİDEO)

📹 The Qara-Khitai, Part 3 — The Mongol Conquest, 1211-1218 (LINK)

Mongol-Jin War 1214-1216: The Fall of Zhongdu https://youtu.be/wxHKwEHv79I

The Mongol Conquest of Siberia and First Battle with the Khwarezmians, 1216-1218 https://youtu.be/1FJTnCCBcsE

Part three of my series on the Qara-Khitai empire, this time dealing with the brief reign of the Naiman Prince, Kuchlug, and the Mongol conquest by Chinggis Khan's great general, Jebe Noyan. A fascinating, if little known episode in the Mongol march westwards.


‘Ala-ad-Din ‘Ata-Malik Juvaini, The History of the World-Conqueror. Vol. I. Translated by John Andrew Boyle. Harvard: harvard University Press, 1958. https://archive.org/stream/historyoft...

Barthold, W. Turkestan Down to the Mongol Invasion. Translated by H.A.R. Gibb. London: Oxford University Press, 1928. https://archive.org/details/Barthold1...

Barthold, W. Four Studies on the History of Central Asia. Translated by V. Minorsky and T. Minorsky. Vol I. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1962. https://books.google.ca/books?id=McYU...

Biran, The Empire of Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Biran, Michal. “‘Like a Mighty Wall:’ The Armies of the Qara Khitai (1124-1218).” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 45 (2001): 44-91. http://mongol.huji.ac.il/publications...

May, Timothy. The Mongol Empire. Edinburgh History of the Islamic Empires Series. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

McLynn, Genghis Khan: The Man Who Conquered the World. London: The Bodley Head, 2015.

Sinor, Denis. “Western Information on the Kitans and some related questions.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 115 no. 2 (1995): 262-269.

Sinor, Denis. “The Mongols in the West.” Journal of Asian History, 33 no. 1 (1999): 1-44.


📹 Kara-Khitan Khaganate preview (VİDEO)

📹 Kara-Khitan Khaganate preview (LINK)



Where Kuchlug’s capital of Balasagun once stood there are now only ruins, most popular are the remains of a 82 ft. tall (originally 148 ft. tall) minaret known as the Burana Tower.

  Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai 1216-1218

Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai

Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai 1216-1218 (W)



Date 1216–1218
Result Decisive Mongol victory, dissolution of the Qara Khitai
Territories of the Qara Khitai added to Mongol Empire

Mongol Empire


Qara Khitai
Commanders and leaders
Jebe Kuchlug
Units involved
Two tumens unknown
20,000 total unknown, over 30,000
Casualties and losses
minimal unknown


Mongol conquest of the Qara Khitai 1216-1218 (W)

Mongol conquest of Qara Khitai (Western Liao) and Chinese regimes.

The Mongol Empire conquered the Qara Khitai in the years 1216-1218 AD. Prior to the invasion, war with the Khwarazmian dynasty and the usurpation of power by the Naiman prince Kuchlug had weakened the Qara Khitai. When Kuchlug besieged Almaliq, a city belonging to the Karluks, vassals of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan dispatched a force under command of Jebe to pursue Kuchlug. After his force of 30,000 was defeated by Jebe at the Khitan capital Balasagun, Kuchlug faced rebellions over his unpopular rule, forcing him to flee to modern Afghanistan, where he was captured by hunters in 1218. The hunters turned Kuchlug over to the Mongols, who beheaded him. Upon defeating the Qara Khitai, the Mongols now had a direct border with the Khwarazmian Empire, which they would soon invade in 1219.


After Genghis Khan defeated the Naimans in 1204, Naiman prince Kuchlug fled his homeland to take refuge among the Qara Khitai. The Gurkhan Yelü Zhilugu welcomed Kuchlug into his empire, and Kuchlug became an advisor and military commander, eventually marrying one of the daughters of Zhilugu. However, during a war with the bordering Khawarzmian dynasty, Kuchlug initiated a coup d'état against Zhilegu. After Kuchlug took power, he allowed Zhilegu to rule the Qara Khitai in name only. When the Gurkhan died in 1213, Kuchlug took direct control of the khanate. Originally a Nestorian, once among the Khitai Kuchlug converted to Buddhism and began persecuting the Muslim majority, forcing them to convert to either Buddhism or Christianity, a move which alienated Kuchlug from most of the population. When Kuchlug besieged the Karluk city of Almaliq, the Karluks, vassals of the Mongol Empire, requested aid from Genghis Khan.


In 1216, after requesting Muhammad II of Khwarazm not to aid Kuchlug, Genghis Khan dispatched general Jebe with two tumens (20,000 soldiers) to deal with the Qara Khitai threat, while sending Subutai with another two tumens on a simultaneous campaign against the Merkits. The two armies traveled alongside each other through the Altai and Tarbagatai Mountains until arriving at Almaliq. At that point, Subutai turned southwest, destroying the Merkits and protecting Jebe's flank against any sudden attacks from Khwarazm. Jebe relieved Almaliq, then moved south of Lake Balkash into the lands of the Qara Khitai, where he besieged the capital of Balasagun. There, Jebe defeated an army of 30,000 troops and Kuchlug fled to Kashgar. Taking advantage of the unrest fomenting under Kuchlug's rule, Jebe gained support from the Muslim populace by announcing that Kuchlug's policy of religious persecution had ended. When Jebe's army arrived at Kashgar in 1217, the populace revolted and turned on Kuchlug, forcing him to flee for his life. Jebe pursued Kuchlug across the Pamir Mountains into Badakhshan in modern Afghanistan. According to Ata-Malik Juvayni, a group of hunters caught Kuchlug and handed him over to the Mongols, who promptly beheaded him.


With the death of Kuchlug, the Mongol Empire secured control over the Qara Khitai. Another segment of the Qara Khitai, from a dynasty founded by Buraq Hajib, survived in Kirman as vassals of the Mongols, but ceased to exist as an entity during the reign of the Mongol Ilkhanid ruler Öljaitü. The Mongols now had a firm outpost in Central Asia directly bordering the Khwarazm Empire. Relations with the Khwarazms would quickly break down, leading to the Mongol invasion of that territory.


  Khitan people

Lineage of the Khitans.

📹 Khitais, Chinese people of Crimea (VİDEO)

📹 Khitais, Chinese people of Crimea (LINK)

Ethnogenesis of Crimean Tatars includes many peoples. Khitan people (Qara Khitai) were a nomadic people from northeast Asia. Conquered by Genghis Khan, they became a part of Mongolian army and came to Crimea.


Khitan people

Khitan people (W)

Depiction of Khitans by Hugui (胡瓌, 9th/10th century), hunting with eagles. The Khitans in the 10th century, forebears of the Kara-Khitans.

The Khitan people (Chinese: 契丹; pinyin: Qìdān) were a nomadic people from Northeast Asia who, from the 4th century, inhabited an area corresponding to parts of modern Mongolia, Northeast China and the Russian Far East.

They spoke the Khitan language, which appears to be related to the Mongolic languages. As the Liao dynasty, they dominated a vast area north of and including parts of China. After the fall of the Liao dynasty in 1125 following the Jurchen invasion, many Khitans followed Yelü Dashi's group westward to establish the Qara Khitai, or Western Liao dynasty, in Central Asia, which lasted several decades before falling to the Mongol Empire in 1218.


There is no consensus on the etymology of the name of Khitan. There are basically three speculations. Feng Jiasheng argues that it comes from the Yuwen chieftains' names. Zhao Zhenji thinks that the term originated from Xianbei and means "a place where Xianbei had resided". Japanese scholar Otagi Matsuo believes that Khitan's original name was "Xidan", which means "the people who are similar to the Xi people" or "the people who inhabit among the Xi people".



Due to the dominance of the Khitans during the Liao dynasty in northern China and later the Qara Khitai in Central Asia where they were seen as Chinese, the term “Khitai” came to mean “China” to people near them in Central Asia and northwestern China. The name was then introduced to medieval Europe via Islamic and Russian sources, and became “Cathay.” In the modern era, words related to Khitay are still used by Turkic peoples, such as the Uyghurs in China's Xinjiang region and the Kazakhs of Kazakhstan and areas adjoining it, as a name for China. The Han Chinese consider the ethnonym derived from Khitay (as applied to them by the Uyghurs) to be pejorative and the Chinese government has tried to ban its use.


Origin myth

According to an official history compiled in the 14th century, a "sacred man" (shen-ren) on a white horse had eight sons with a "heavenly woman" (tiannü) who rode in a cart pulled by a grey ox. The man came from the T'u River (Lao Ha river in modern-day Jilin, Manchuria) and the woman from the Huang River (modern day Xar Moron river in Inner Mongolia). The pair met where the two rivers join, and the eight sons born of their union became eight tribes.



The earliest written reference to the Khitan is from an official history of the Xianbei Northern Wei Dynasty dating to the period of the Six Dynasties. Most scholars believe the Khitan tribe splintered from the Xianbei, and some scholars believe they may have been a mixed group who also included former members of the Xiongnu tribal confederation.

During their early history the Khitan were composed of eight tribes. Their territory was between the present-day Xar Moron River and Chaoyang, Liaoning. The Khitan's territory bordered Goguryeo, China and the lands of the Eastern Turks.

Between the 6th and 9th centuries, they were successively dominated by the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, the Uyghur Khaganate, and the Chinese Tang dynasty. The Khitan were less politically united than the Turkic tribes, but often found themselves involved in the power games between the Turks and the Chinese dynasties of Sui and Tang. It is estimated the Khitan had only around 43,000 soldiers — a fraction of the Turkic Khaganates. In 605, the Khitan raided China, but the Emperor Yangdi of the Sui dynasty was able to convince the Turks to send 20,000 horsemen to aid China against the Khitan. In 628, under the leadership of tribal chief Dahe Moui, the Khitan submitted to the Tang dynasty, as they had earlier submitted to the Eastern Turks. The Khagan of the Eastern Turks, Jiali Khan, offered to exchange the Chinese rebel Liang Shi Du for the Khitan, but Emperor Taizong would not agree to the exchange.

During the reign of Empress Wu, nearly one century later, the Second Turkic Khaganate raided along the Northern China's borderlands. The Tang Empress, in what scholars consider a major strategic error, formed an ill-fated alliance with the Turkic leader Qapaghan Qaghan to punish the Khitan for raiding Hebei province. Khitan territory was much closer to Northern China than Turkic lands, and the Turks used it to launch their own raids into Hebei.

Like the Tuyuhun and Tangut, the Khitan remained an intermediate power along the borderlands through the 7th and 8th centuries. The Khitans rose to prominence in a power vacuum that developed in the wake of the Kyrgyz takeover of the Uyghur Khaganate, and the collapse of the Tang Dynasty.


Liao dynasty

Location of Liao, Song, and Western Xia in 1111 AD.
Abaoji, who had been successful in uniting the Khitan tribes, founded the Liao dynasty in 907. The Liao territory included Manchuria, Mongolia and parts of China. Although transition to an imperial social and political organization was a significant change for the Khitans, the Khitan language, origin myth, shamanic religion and nomadic lifestyle endured.

China was in chaos after the fall of the Tang dynasty in 907. Known as the Wudai Shiguo period, Five Dynasties ruled northern China in rapid succession with only nominal support from the Ten Kingdoms of southern China. The Tang dynasty had been supported by Shatuo Turks until Zhu Wen murdered the last Tang emperor and founded the Later Liang dynasty. The Shatuo Turks, who had been allied with the Khitans since 905, defeated the Later Liang and founded the Later Tang dynasty in 923, but by 926 the former allies had grown apart. In 934 Yelü Bei, Abaoji's son, wrote to his brother Emperor Taizong of Liao from the Later Tang court: "Li Cong Ke has slain his liege-lord, why not attack him?" In 936, the Khitans supported Shi Jing Tang's rebellion against the Later Tang Emperor Li Cong Ke. Shi Jing Tang became emperor of the Later Jin dynasty and, in exchange for their support, the Khitans gained sixteen new prefectures.

The Later Jin dynasty remained a vassal of the Khitans until the death of Shi Jing Tang in 942, but when the new emperor ascended, he indicated that he would not honor his predecessor's arrangement. The Khitans launched a military invasion against the Later Jin in 944. In January 947, the Emperor of the Later Jin dynasty surrendered to the Khitans. The Khitan emperor left the conquered city of Kaifeng and unexpectedly died from an illness while travelling in May 947.

Relations between Goryeo and the Khitans were hostile after the Khitans destroyed Balhae. Goryeo would not recognize the Liao dynasty and supported the fledgling Song dynasty, which had formed south of the Khitans' territory. Though the Khitans would have preferred to attack China, they invaded Goryeo in 993. Khitan forces failed to advance beyond the Chongchon River and were persuaded to withdraw, though Khitan dissatisfaction with Goryeo's conquest of the Jurchen prompted a second invasion in 1010. This time the Khitans, led by their emperor, sacked the capital city Kaesong. A third and final invasion in 1018 was repelled by Goryeo's forces, bringing an end to 30 years of war between the rivals.

The Liao dynasty proved to be a significant power north of the Chinese plain, continuously moving south and west, gaining control over former Chinese and Turk-Uyghur territories. In 1005 Chanyuan Treaty was signed, and peace remained between the Liao dynasty and the Song dynasty for the next 120 years. During the reign of the Emperor Daozong of Liao, corruption was a major problem and prompted dissatisfaction among many people, including the Jurchens. The Liao dynasty eventually fell to the Jin dynasty of the Jurchen in 1125, who defeated and absorbed the Khitans to their military benefit. The Khitans considered the Khamag Mongols as their last hope when the Liao dynasty was invaded by the Jin, Song dynasty and Western Xia Empires.

To defend against the Jurchens and Khitans, a Long Wall was built by Goryeo in 1033–1034, along with many border forts.

Following the fall of the Liao dynasty, a number of the Khitan nobility escaped the area westwards towards Western Regions, establishing the short-lived Qara Khitai or Western Liao dynasty. After its fall, a small part under Buraq Hajib established a local dynasty in the southern Persian province of Kirman. These Khitans were absorbed by the local Turkic and Iranian populations, Islamized and left no influence behind them. As the Khitan language is still almost completely illegible, it is difficult to create a detailed history of their movements.

During the 13th century, the Mongol invasions and conquests had a large impact on shifting ethnic identities in the region. Most people of the Eurasian Steppe did not retain their pre-Mongol identities after the conquests. The Khitans were scattered across Eurasia and assimilated into the Mongol Empire in the early 13th century.

Fleeing from the Mongols, in 1216 the Khitans invaded Goryeo and defeated the Goryeo armies several times, even reaching the gates of the capital and raiding deep into the south, but were defeated by Goryeo General Kim Chwi-ryeo who pushed them back north to Pyongan, where the remaining Khitans were finished off by allied Mongol-Goryeo forces in 1219.

Language and writing systems


Khitan inscription dated 1058 (清寧四年) found in Dornogovi. Written in Khitan large script.

The Khitan language is now extinct. Some scholars believe that Khitan is Proto-Mongolic, while others have suggested that it is a Para-Mongolic language. Khitan has loanwords borrowed from the Turkic Uyghur language and Koreanic languages.

There were two writing systems for the Khitan language, known as the large script and the small script. These were functionally independent and appear to have been used simultaneously in the Liao dynasty. They were in use for some time after the fall of that dynasty. Examples of the scripts appeared most often on epitaphs and monuments, although other fragments sometimes surface. The Khitan scripts have not been fully deciphered and more research and discoveries will be necessary for a proficient understanding of them.


As nomadic Khitans originally engaged in stockbreeding, fishing, and hunting. Looting Chinese villages and towns as well as neighboring tribes was also a helpful source of slaves, Chinese handcraft, and food, especially in times of famine. Under the influence of China, and following the administrative need for a sedentary administration, the Khitans began to engage in farming, crop cultivation and the building of cities. Different from the Chinese and Balhae farmers, who cultivated wheat and sorghum millet, the Khitan farmers cultivated panicled millet. The ruling class of the Liao dynasty still undertook hunting campaigns in late summer in the tradition of their ancestors. After the fall of the Liao dynasty, the Khitans returned to a more nomadic life.


The Khitans practiced shamanism in which animals played an important role. Hunters would offer a sacrifice to the spirit of the animal they were hunting and wore a pelt from the same animal during the hunt. There were festivals to mark the catching of the first fish and wild goose, and annual sacrifices of animals to the sky, earth, ancestors, mountains, rivers, and others. Every male member of the Khitan would sacrifice a white horse, white sheep, and white goose during the Winter solstice.

When a Khitan nobleman died, burnt offerings were sacrificed at the full and new moons. The body was exposed for three years in the mountains, after which the bones would be cremated. The Khitan believed that the souls of the dead rested at a place called the Black Mountain, near Rehe Province.

Khitan tents always faced east, and they revered the sun, but the moon did not have a large role in their religion. They also practiced a form of divination where they went to war if the shoulder blade of a white sheep cracked while being heated (scapulimancy).


Khitan women hunted, rode horses and practiced archery. They did not practice foot binding, which started becoming popular among the Han during the Song dynasty. The Khitan practiced polygamy and generally preferred marriage within the tribe, but it was not unknown for an Emperor to take wives from other groups, such as Han, Korean, and Turkic.






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