Taira clan

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  • Japanese: (Heishi) or 平家 (Heike)

The Taira clan was one of the four most prominent families of court aristocracy in the Heian period, along with the Minamoto, Tachibana, and Fujiwara clans; in the 1150s-1180s, under Taira no Kiyomori, they became the most powerful clan in the realm. The Taira were defeated by the Minamoto, however, in the Genpei War of 1180-1185, and all but destroyed. The Taira would never achieve prominence again, but many prominent samurai clans claimed descent from the Taira, whether legitimately, or in order to claim more elite ancestry, and legitimacy as rulers.

The most prominent and powerful lineage or family within the broader clan was the Kammu Heishi, who claimed descent from Emperor Kammu, through four of the eight sons of Takamochi, son of Takami, who in turn was the son of Prince Kazurahara, eldest son of Emperor Kammu.[1] The Kammu Heishi, at that time based chiefly in Ise province, rose to prominence in the 11th century as warriors in the service of certain retired emperors, just at the same time that the Seiwa Genji, the most prominent lineage of the Minamoto clan, similarly rose to prominence defeating enemies of the Court in Tôhoku. The Kammu Heishi, led by Taira no Kiyomori, gained further power in the Hôgen Rebellion of 1156, and the following Heiji Rebellion of 1159, as he led forces in the service of Retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa, alongside some Minamoto leaders, to victory against other Taira and Minamoto forces.[2] The Kammu Heishi gained power especially in maritime trade, dominating the port of Ôwada no tomari (modern-day Kobe), among others throughout the Inland Sea and beyond. Though the Taira were unsuccessful in encouraging a greater volume of Chinese trade at Ôwada, and in seeking greater influence in the port of Hakata, the Taira did seize control of the gold mines of Mutsu province from the Ôshû Fujiwara, and held estates in Ise province which were notable sources of pearls and mercury.[3]

By the late 12th century, the Taira had intermarried with the Imperial family, and effectively dominated Imperial politics. They fell from power, however, following the Genpei War of 1180-1185, after which the Minamoto clan made efforts to systematically hunt down and wipe out the lineage. Though there are folktales and local myths suggesting that members of the Taira fled to locales in Shikoku, Kyushu, or the Ryukyu Islands, the historical veracity of any notable Taira survivals is unclear. The story of the fall of the Taira is related in the eponymous romantic / fictionalized epic, The Tale of the Heike.

Taira Lineage

Other Members of the Taira clan


  • Helen McCullough trans., The Tale of the Heike, Stanford University Press (1990), 3-4.
  1. Karl Friday, Samurai Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan, Routledge (2004), 9.
  2. William de Bary, Sources of Japanese Tradition, vol 1, Columbia University Press (2001), 270.
  3. Richard von Glahn, "The Ningbo-Hakata Merchant Network and the Reorientation of East Asian Maritime Trade, 1150-1350," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 74:2 (2014), 269.