Who are the Khitan?
The Khitan are part of the big group of Turkic and Altaic language speakers from Central Asia who gradually got more and more power during the Middle Ages.
Where did the Khitan live?
During the Early Middle Ages, the Khitan lived in between two more powerful groups: first the Gokturks and then (after 742 AD) the Uighurs to their west and China to their south. Khitan soldiers fought as mercenaries for both the Uighurs and the Chinese. But like other mercenaries in other places about the same time, the Khitan slowly learned more about their employers, and began to think about getting some power themselves.
The Liao Dynasty
In 907 AD the Khitan renamed themselves the Liao Dynasty, and they gradually conquered south and west, taking over old Chinese and Uighur land. As the Liao Dynasty, the Khitan forced the Chinese Song Dynasty to pay them lots of gold every year as tribute.
The Khitan got rich and learned to write Chinese (or bought enslaved Chinese people who could write). The Khitan also developed their own writing system, though nobody really knows how to read it anymore. Just like many people in China at the same time, most Khitan people now converted to Buddhism.
The Jurchen defeat the Khitan
Western Liao Dynasty
Women ruled the Khitan
As was usual in Central Asia, and as was common in Song Dynasty China as well, many of the Khitan rulers were women. When the khan Yelu Dashi died in 1143, his wife Xiao Tabuyan ruled as regent for their son. After their son, Yelu Yiliu, died in 1163, his sister Yelu Pusuwan ruled the Khitan.
What is a regent?
Women rulers in Song Dynasty China
More about women in Central Asia
More about women in China
But to the east, the Mongols were already conquering the Jurchen and expanding their empire. By 1220 the Khitan became part of the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. But after Genghis Khan died, the Mongol queen Toregene also ruled the Khitan.
So did you find out what you wanted to know about Khitan history? Let us know in the comments!
Bibiography and further reading about Khitan history: