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title of the wife of the Khwarazmshah Tekiš b. Il-Arslān (r. 1172-1200) and mother of ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad (r. 1200-20).

TERKEN (or TORKĀN) ḴĀTUN, the title of the wife of the Khwarazmshah Tekiš b. Il-Arslān (r. 1172-1200) and mother of ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad (r. 1200-20).

Terken Ḵātun (cf. Bosworth, “Terken Khātūn”) belonged to the Qanğlı group of Turks, apparently part of the Qıpčaq confederation that at this time controlled the steppes to the north of Khwarazm (see CHORASMIA) and the Aral Sea. More precisely, Nasavi claims that she came from the Bayaʾut clan of the Yemek, the earlier Kimek, (p. 71) and was the daughter of a khan called Jankši (pp. 71, 99; cf. Jovayni, tr., II, p. 465). Her marriage to Tekiš made the Qanğlı allies of the Khwarazmshahs, and thus considerably strengthened their military power. During her husband’s reign, she must have been building up a loyal following among the Qanğlı, because she seized power as queen-mother at the side of her son, ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad, after Tekiš’s death in 1200. She had her own administration (divān), whose staff included seven of the most outstanding masters of contemporary enšāʾ, and issued documents using her title—“The inviolate one of the present world and of religion, Uluğ Terkān, queen of the women of the worlds”—and her own seal (towqiʿ) with her official motto (ʿalāma) “I seek refuge in God alone” (Nasavi, p. 99). At the height of her power, she used the title of “Lord of world” (ḵodāvand-e jahān, Nasavi, p. 99), commanded her own officials, and held fiefs and other sources of personal income (Nasavi, p. 99; Kafesoğlu, pp. 208-10). A local network of Qanğlı commanders, often her kinsmen, held extensive lands within Khwarazm and important governorships. For example, Inālčik Qāyer Ḵān was one of her relatives and governor of Otrār, where Mongol merchants were arrested in 1218 (Jovayni, tr., I, p. 79). She made and unmade ministers. When the vizier Neẓām-al-Molk Moḥammad Ḥeravi was dismissed, the shah appointed her nominee Moḥammad b. Ṣāleḥ, one of her former ḡolāms (Nasavi, pp. 76-77). When her son was planning his succession arrangements, she prevailed upon him to allot Khwarazm, Khorasan and Mazandaran, the heartlands of his empire, to Uzlāḡšāh, one of the younger sons, preferring him over the older sons Jalāl-al-Din Mengübirti and Rokn-al-Din Guršāh. Uzlāḡšāh’s mother was like Terken Ḵātun a member of the Baya’ut clan (Nasavi, p. 71; cf. Barthold, pp. 378-79; Kafesoğlu, p. 210). The shah is said to have sought her advice and to have never contradicted her orders on any matter, great or small. Nasavi (p. 99) characterizes Terken Ḵātun as a woman with sound judgment, administering justice equitably, though bloodthirsty and ready to kill at the slightest provocation (jasur ʿalā’ l-qatl). And yet, the shah is also said to have chafed under his mother’s control of the Khwarazmian Empire whilst he was campaigning elsewhere, unable to impose his own will (Barthold, pp. 378-79).

The geographer Yāqut (1179-1229), who traveled in Khwarazm from 1219 to early 1220, attests that under Terken Ḵātun’s rule, the region enjoyed a last florescence of economic and cultural prosperity (Barthold, pp. 428-29). But the Mongols put an end to her power. ʿAlāʾ-al-Din Moḥammad abandoned Transoxania, and in early 1220 she decided to leave Khwarazm and to withdraw with her entourage to fortresses in Mazandaran. But before her departure, she arranged for the execution of the local princes, who were hostages at the Khwarazmian court, as well as of other important prisoners, including the two sons of Ṭoghrel b. Arslān (r. 1176-94), the last Great Saljuq sultan, and Borhān-al-Din Moḥammad (see ĀL-E BORHĀN), the religious leader (ṣadr) of Bukhara. In 1221, after a four-month siege, Terkun Ḵātun had to surrender to the Mongols. The boys and men of the Khwarazmshah family were killed, while the girls and women were distributed among the Mongol commanders (amir). Terken Ḵātun herself was deported to the Great Khan’s court (ordu) at Qaraqorum, where she died in miserable circumstances between 1232 and 1233 (Nasavi, pp. 94-98; Jovayni, tr. Boyle, II, pp. 465-68; cf. Barthold, pp. 430-31).


W. W. Barthold, Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, tr. by V. Minorsky, ed. by C. E. Bosworth, 3rd ed., London, 1969, index.

C. E. Bosworth, “Ḳanghlı,” EI ² IV, p. 542. Idem, “Khʷārazm-Shāhs,” EI ² IV, pp. 1065-68.

Idem, “Terken Khātūn,” EI ² X, p. 419. Idem, “Tekish,” EI ² X, p. 414.

ʿAlāʾ-al-Din ʿAṭā Malek Jovayni, Tāriḵ-e jahāngošā, ed. by M. Qazvini, 3 vols., Leiden, 1912-37, index, esp. II, pp. 198-201; tr. as History of the World-Conqueror, by J. A. Boyle, 2 vols., Manchester, 1958, index, esp. II, pp. 465-68.

İ. Kafesoğlu, Harezmşahlar devleti tarihi (485-617/1092-1229), Ankara, 1956.

Moḥammad b. Aḥmad Nasavi, Sirat a1-so1ṭān Jalil al-Din Mankuberti, ed. by Ḥāfeẓ A. Ḥamdi, Cairo, 1953.

Cite this page
C. Edmund Bosworth, “TERKEN ḴĀTUN”, in: Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, © Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York. Consulted online on 20 July 2024 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2330-4804_EIRO_COM_746>
First published online: 2020
First print edition: 20090306

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