ḴĀTUN, a title of high-born women in the pre-modern Turkish and Persian worlds. Although the title is first attested in Orkhon Turkish, where qatun/ḵatun in the Kül-tegin and Bilge-qaghan inscriptions denotes “wife of the khan or ruler, queen” (Tekin, pp. 342-43; Kāšḡari, tr. Atalay I, p. 410; tr. Dankoff and Kelly I, p. 311), the word is almost certainly of Sogdian origin (xwtʾy “lord, ruler,” xwt’yn “lord’s wife”; Clauson, p. 602). In the border land between the districts of Šāš and Ilāq on the middle Syr Darya lay a town Ḵātunkat “Lady’s Town” (Barthold, Turkestan, 3rd ed., p. 173).

The term passed into early Islamic usage in the sense of “queen, lady” and is accordingly found in the sources for Ghaznavid and Saljuq history, cf. the Saljuq Sultan Malek-Šāh’s wife Tarḵ-ān/Terken Ḵātun (see TERKEN ḴĀTUN), and Sultan Sanjar’s Qara-ḵānid wife of the same name. It then entered the usage of the Ḵʷārazmšāhs (cf. the queen of the Šāh Tekiš with the same name) and of the Mongols. In Arabic sources it acquired the broken plural ḵawātin. It survived long enough in the Persian world for 17th-century European travellers among the Safavids to render it; cf. Raphaël du Mans, “Chetines (impératrices de Perse)” and Sir John Chardin, “Katun, c’est à dire dame” (Doerfer III, pp. 135, 182). In Ottoman Turkish it became qādïn “lady, wife, a respectful designation for an elderly woman” (Redhouse, p. 1409), surviving into modern Turkish as kadın. In Central Asia, its usage was displaced from Tirmurid times onwards by the term begüm, passing thence into Muslim India as a title for high-ranking ladies such as female rulers of princely states or consorts of ruling princes (see Yule and Burnell, p. 79).



J.A. Boyle, art. “Khātūn” in EI² IV, 1978, p. 1133.

G. Clauson, A Dictionary of Pre-Thirteenth Century Turkish, Oxford, 1972, pp. 602-03.

G. Doerfer, Türkische und mongolische Element im Neupersischen III, Wiesbaden, 1963-75, pp. 132-41, no. 1159.

Maḥmud Kāšḡari, Divān loḡāt al-turk I, Turkish. tr.B Atalay, Ankara, 1940-43, p. 410; Eng. tr. R. Dankoff and J. Kelly, Compendium of the Turkic Dialects, Cambridge, Mass., 1982-84, p. 311.

J. Redhouse, A Turkish and English Lexicon, Constantinople, 1921, p. 1409.

T. Tekin, A Grammar of Orkhon Turkic, Bloomington, 1968, pp. 342-43.

H. Yule and A. C. Burnell, Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Anglo-Indian Colloquial Words and Phrases, 2nd ed., London 1903, p. 79.


March 29, 2006

(C. Edmund Bosworth)

Originally Published: May 31, 2013

Last Updated: November 15, 2006

This article is available in print.
Vol. XVI, Fasc. 2, pp.129-130