Tatar and their neighbours in the 13th century.
|Common languages||Common Mongolic, Turkic|
|Historical era||High Middle Ages|
|Today part of||Mongolia|
Tatar (Chinese: 塔塔兒;[a] Old Turkic: 𐱃𐱃𐰺, romanized: Tatar; Middle Mongol: ᠲᠠᠲᠠᠷ) was one of the five major tribal confederations (khanlig) in the Mongolian Plateau in the 12th century.
The name "Tatar" was first transliterated in Book of Song as 大檀 Dàtán (MC: *daH-dan) and 檀檀 Tántán (MC: *dan-dan) as other names of the Rourans, who were of Proto-Mongolic Donghu ancestry. The Book of Song and Book of Liang connected Rourans to the earlier Xiongnu while the Book of Wei traced the Rouran's origins back to the Donghu. Xu proposed that "the main body of the Rouran were of Xiongnu origin" and Rourans' descendants, namely Da Shiwei (aka Tatars), contained Turkic elements to a great extent. Even so, the Xiongnu's language is still unknown, and Chinese historians routinely ascribed Xiongnu origins to various nomadic groups, yet such ascriptions do not necessarily indicate the subjects' exact origins: for examples, Xiongnu ancestry was ascribed to Turkic-speaking Göktürks and Tiele as well as Para-Mongolic-speaking Kumo Xi and Khitans.
The Tatars' Rouran ancestors roamed modern-day Mongolia in summer and crossed the Gobi desert southwards in winter in search of pastures. Rourans founded their Khaganate in the 5th century, around 402 CE. Among the Rourans' subjects were the Ashina tribe, who overthrew their Rouran overlords in 552 and annihilated the Rourans in 555. One branch of the dispersed Rourans migrated to Greater Khingan mountain range where they renamed themselves after Tantan, a historical Khagan, and gradually incorporated themselves into the Shiwei tribal complex and emerged as 大室韋 Da (Great) Shiwei.
The first precise transcription of the Tatar ethnonym was written in Turkic on the Orkhon inscriptions, specifically, the Kul Tigin (CE 732) and Bilge Khagan (CE 735) monuments as 𐰆𐱃𐰔⁚𐱃𐱃𐰺⁚𐰉𐰆𐰑𐰣, Otuz Tatar Bodun, ''Thirty Tatar' clan' and 𐱃𐰸𐰔⁚𐱃𐱃𐰺, Tuquz Tatar, 'Nine Tatar' referring to the Tatar confederation. In historiography, the Proto-Mongolian Shiwei tribes are usually identified with Dada or Thirty Tatars. Whereas the sources often refer to the actual Tatars as Nine Tatars, in which nine large clans are traditionally distinguished.
The Toquz-Tatars and Otuz-Tatars were often proposed to be Mongolic speakers. In contrast, Soviet and Russian orientalist Leonid Kyzlasov, the Toquz Tatars and Otuz Tatars were instead Turkic-speaking, as the Persian-authored 10th century geographical treatise Hudud al-Alam stated that Tatars were part of the Toghuzghuz, whom Minorsky identified with the Qocho kingdom in eastern Tianshan, founded by Uyghur refugees following the collapse of the Uyghur Khaganate, whose founders belonged to the Toquz Oghuz confederation.[b] At the same time, Kyzlasov is against the identification of the Tatars of the Orkhon inscriptions with Dada from Chinese sources.
Persian historian Gardizi listed Tatars as one of seven founding tribes of the Turkic Kimek confederation. The Shine Usu inscription mentioned that the Toquz Tatars, in alliance with the Sekiz-Oghuz,[c] unsuccessfully revolted against Uyghur Khagan Bayanchur, who was consolidating power between 744-750 CE. After being defeated three times, half of the Oghuz-Tatar rebels rejoined the Uyghurs, while the other half fled to an unknown people, who were identified as Khitans or Karluks. According to Senga and Klyashtorny, part of the Toquz-Tatar rebels fled westwards from the Uyghurs to the Irtysh river basin, where they later organized the Kipchaks and other tribal groupings (either already there or also newly arrived) into the Kimek tribal union. According to the Russian orientalist Vasily Ushnitsky, reports of medieval Muslim sources about the Tatar origin of the Kimak dynastic clan are the argument of the supporters of the Mongolian origin of the Kimaks and Kipchaks. The news about the Tatars, from whom the Kimaks separated, according to Josef Markwart, confirms the fact of the movement to the west of the Turkified Mongolian elements.
Writing in the 11th century, Kara-khanid scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari included Tatars among the Turkic peoples. He located the Tatars west of the Kyrgyzes.
The Turks are, in origin, twenty tribes. They all trace back to Turk, son of Japheth, son of Noah, God’s blessings be upon them — they correspond to the children of Rūm, son of Esau, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, God’s blessings be upon them. [...] 
[In the following list] I outline the geographical position of each of their tribes in the eastern world. They are listed in order [from West] to East, both pagan and Muslim, beginning with those closest to Rūm. First is: BAJANAK' bäčänäk, then: QIFJA'Q Qipčāq, then: UΓUZ oγuz, then: YAM'K yemǟk, then: BAŠΓIRT bašγirt, then: YASMIL basmil, then: QA'Y qāy, then: YABA'QUV yabāqu, then: TATA'R tatār, then: QIRQIZ qirqiz. The last one is closest to Sin. All of these tribes are opposite Rum, extending toward the East.
Then: JIKIL čigil, then: TUXSY tuxsi, then: YAΓM' Yaγma, then: 'ΓRA'Q oγrāq, then: JARUQ čaruq, then: JUMUL čömül, then: 'UYΓUR uyγur, then: TANKUT taŋut, then: XITA'Y xitāy which is Ṣīn, then: TAWΓA'J Tawγač which is Maṣīn. These tribes are middling between South and North.
When listing the 20 Turkic tribes, Kashgari also included non-Turks such as Kumo Xi, Khitans, Tanguts, and Chinese (the last one rendered as Arabic: Tawġāj < Karakhanid *Tawğaç). However, the world-map in extant manuscript shows that the Tatars were located west of Ili river and west of the Bashkirs, whom Kashagari already located west of Tatars. Claus Schönig attributed such contradictions to errors made when the text and the map were copied. Kashgari addionally noted that Tatars were bilingual, speaking Turkic alongside their own languages; the same for the Yabaqus, Basmïls, and Chömüls. Yet available evidence suggested that the Yabaqus, Basmïls, and Chömüls were all Turkic speakers; therefore, Mehmet Fuat Köprülü concludes that in the 11th century, the Yabaqus, Basmïls, Chömüls, Qays and Tatars -the last two of whom Köprülü considers to be Turkified Mongols- could speak Kashgari's Karakhanid dialect as well as their own Turkic dialects, yet those peoples' own dialects differed from Karakhanid so substantially that Kashgari considered them other languages.[d]
The Otuken region, constantly mentioned in the Orkhon inscriptions as the place of residence of the Turks, according to Mahmud Kashgar, was once in the country of the Tatars. According to Vasily Bartold, this message suggests that the Mongols already then reached the west to the area where their neighbors from different sides were Turkic tribes.
According to Klyashtorny, the name of the Tatars was the Turkic designation of the Mongols. As Ushnitsky writes, the ethnonym "Tatars" was used by the Turks only to designate "strangers", that is, peoples who do not speak Turkic. The Turkic tribes of their Mongol-speaking neighbors also called "tat" or "tat-ar". According to Bartold, obviously, the peoples of Mongolian origin who spoke the Mongolian language have always called themselves Tatars. Subsequently, this word was completely supplanted by the word "Mongol".
As for the division of Tatars who remained east, by the 10th century, they became subjects of the Khitan-led Liao dynasty. After the fall of the Liao, the Tatars experienced pressure from the Jurchen-led Jin dynasty and were urged to fight against the other Mongol tribes. The Tatars lived on the fertile pastures around Hulun Nuur and Buir Nuur and occupied a trade route to China proper in the 12th century. Southern Song ambassador Zhao Hong wrote in 1221 that in Genghis Khan's Mongol empire, there were three divisions based on their distance from the Jurchen Jin-ruled China: the White Tatars (白韃靼 Bai Dada), the Black Tatars (黑韃靼 Hei Dada), and the Wild Tatars (生韃靼 Sheng Dada), who were identified, by Kyzlasov, with the Turkic-speakers - including the Öngüds (of Turkic Shatuo origin), Mongolic speakers -to whom belonged Genghis Khan and his companions-, and the Tungusic speakers,[e] respectively.
The Common Mongolic of this time might be connected with two ethnic groups called Otuz Tatar or Toquz Tatar in the Old Turkic inscriptions
It is not known which language the Xiongnu spoke.
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