Humanities › History & Culture What Is a Kurultai? Share Flipboard Email Print The Mongolian State Honor Guard performs during the opening ceremony for Exercise Khaan Quest. Stocktrek Images Getty Images History & Culture Asian History Central Asia Basics Figures & Events Southeast Asia East Asia South Asia Middle East Asian Wars and Battles American History African American History African History Ancient History and Culture European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By Kallie Szczepanski History Expert Ph.D., History, Boston University J.D., University of Washington School of Law B.A., History, Western Washington University Dr. Kallie Szczepanski is a history teacher specializing in Asian history and culture. She has taught at the high school and university levels in the U.S. and South Korea. our editorial process Kallie Szczepanski Updated March 15, 2019 A kuriltai is an assembly of Mongolian or Turkic clans, sometimes called a "tribal council" in English. Generally, a kurultai (or kuriltai) would meet for the purpose of making a major political or military decision such as the selection of a new khan or the launching of a war. Ordinarily, the nomadic Mongols and Turkic peoples lived scattered across the steppe-lands. Therefore, it was a momentous occasion when a chief called for a kurultai and was generally reserved only for great deliberations, proclamations, or celebrations of victory after a long war. Famous Examples There have been a number of these great meetings through khanate rule of Central and South Asia. In the vast Mongol Empire, each of the ruling Hordes had separate kuriltai since it was generally impractical to gather everyone together from across Eurasia. However, the 1206 assembly that named Temujin as "Genghis Khan," meaning the "Oceanic Ruler" of all the Mongols, for instance, started the largest landmass empire in the history of the world. Later, Genghis's grandsons Kublai and Arik Boke held dueling kuriltai in 1259, in which both were granted the title "Great Khan" by their followers. Of course, Kublai Khan eventually won that contest and went on to carry his grandfather's legacy forward, continuing the spread of the Mongol Empire across much of Southeast Asia. Originally, though, kurultai had a much simpler—if not still culturally important—as the Mongol usage. Oftentimes these gatherings were called to celebrate weddings or large events like feasts for local khanates to celebrate the year, season, or newlywed couple. Modern Kuriltai In modern usage, some Central Asian nations use the world kurultai or variants to describe their parliaments or for conferences. For example, Kyrgyzstan boasts a National Kurultai of Kyrgyz Peoples, which deals with inter-ethnic strife while Mongolia's national congress is called the "Great State Khural." The word "kurultai" comes from the Mongolian root "khur," which means "to gather," and "ild," which means "together." In Turkish, the verb "kurul" has come to mean "to be established." In all of these roots, the modern interpretation of a gathering to determine and establish power would apply. Although the epic kuriltai of the Mongol Empire may long be gone from history, the tradition and the cultural impact of these large gatherings of power echo on throughout the region's history and modern governance. These types of large cultural and political meetings didn't only serve to make huge decisions in the past, though, they also served to inspire such art and writings as J.R.R. Tolkien's about the Entmoot—a gathering of the great sentient tree-people of his epic "Lord of the Rings" trilogy—and even the Council of Elrond in the same series.