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The Crimean Khanate or the Khanate of Crimeamarker ( ; - Krymskoye khanstvo; - Kryms'ke khanstvo; ; ) was a Crimean Tatar state from 1441 to 1783. Its native name was Crimean Yurt ( ) (Ottoman Turkish:خانية القرم). The khanate was by far the longest-lived of the Turkic khanates that succeeded the empire of the Golden Horde.

Early rulers

The Crimean Khanate was founded when certain clans of the Golden Horde Empire ceased their nomadic life in the Desht-i Kipchak (Kypchak Steppes of today's Ukraine and South Russia), decided to make Crimea their yurt (homeland), which at that time was a ulus of the Golden Horde with administrative center in Qirim (Staryi Krymmarker) since 1239. The local separatists invited a Genghisid contender for the Golden Horde throne, Hacı Giray, to be their khan. Hacı Giray accepted this proposal and came from Lithuania, the place to which he had been exiled. He founded his independent state in 1441 after a long-lasting struggle for independence from the Golden Horde since the end of 1420s. Hacı Giray ascended on the throne of the khanate in 1449 after some years of rivalry, after which he moved the capital of his state to Qırq Yer (today it's part of Bakhchisaraymarker). The khanate included the Crimean peninsula (except the south and southwest coast and ports, controlled by the Republic of Genoa) and the steppes of modern southern Ukrainemarker and Russiamarker, also known as Desht-i Kipchak.

Ottoman protectorate
The internal strife among the Hacı's sons followed after his death. The Ottomans interfered and installed Meñli I Giray, a son of Hacı I Giray to the throne. In 1475 the Ottoman forces, under the command of Gedik Ahmet Pasha conquered the Greek Principality of Theodoromarker and Genoese colonies in Cembalomarker, Soldaiamarker, and Caffa. The khanate from then on entered the protection of the Ottoman Empire. While the Crimean coast became an Ottoman Kefe sancak, the khans continued to rule in the rest of the peninsula and the northern steppes. The relationship of the Ottomans and the Crimean Tatars were unique. The sultans treated the khans more as allies than subjects. Though the chosen khan had to receive approval to the Sultan. (Halil İnalcık) The Ottomans also recognized the legitimacy of the khans in the steppes, as descendants of Genghis Khan.

Ottoman-Crimean relationship
The khans continued to have a foreign policy independent from the Ottomans in the steppes of Little Tartary. The relations of the khans and the Ottoman Sultan were governed through diplomatic correspondence. The khans continued to mint coins and use their names in Friday prayers, two important signs of sovereignty. They did not pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire, instead the Ottomans paid them in return for their services of providing skilled outriders and frontline cavalry in their campaigns. (Alexandre Bennigsen)

The alliance of Crimean Tatars and Ottomans was somewhat comparable to Polish-Lithuanian in its importance and durability. The Crimean cavalry became indispensable for the Ottomans' campaigns in Europe (Polandmarker, Hungarymarker) and Asia (Persia).

In 1475 Meñli I Giray was imprisoned for three years by the Ottomans for resistance to the invasion. After returning from Istanbulmarker he accepted the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless the equal relationship existed between the two countries until 1523 crisis which took place at times of Mehmed I Giray, the successor of Meñli. It was then when the relationship of the two cooled off and after Mehmed I the rest of Crimean khans were appointed (1524).

Golden Horde conquest
In 1502 Meñli I Giray defeated the last khan of the Great Horde putting the end to the Horde's claims on Crimea. In the 16th century the Crimean khanate pretended to be the successor authority of the former Golden Horde territory, Great Horde and hence over the Tatar khanates of Caspian-Volga region, particularly the Kazan Khanate and Astrakhan Khanate. This resulted in rivalry with Muscovy for dominance in the region. A successful campaign of Devlet I Giray to Moscow in 1571 finished with the burning of the Russian capital and he was called Taht-Algan (seizer of the throne) after this event. However the Crimean Khanate eventually lost the dispute for access to the Volga due to its catastrophic defeat in the Battle at Molodi just one year later.

The capital of the Khanate was placed initially in Salaçıq near the Qırq Yer fortress, then moved to Bakhchisaraymarker founded in 1532 by Sahib I Giray. Both Salaçıq and the Qırq Yer fortress today are part of the bigger Bakhchisaraymarker city.

Political and economic system

Girays traced their origins to Genghis Khan, and this made them pre-eminent among other noble clans. According to the steppe tradition, the ruler was legitimate only if he was of Genghisid royal descent (i.e. "ak süyek"). Even the Muscovite Tsar claimed Genghisid descent. Instead of the Ottoman ideology of autocracy, the Crimean Khanate followed the Horde tradition. (Schamiloglu) That is, the Giray dynasty was the symbol of government but the khan actually governed with the participation of Qaraçı Beys, the leaders of the noble clans such as Şirin, Barın, Arğın, Qıpçaq, and in the later period, Mansuroğlu and Sicavut. The Nogays, who transferred their allegiance to the Crimean khan when the Astrakhan Khanate collapsed in 1556, were an important element of the Crimean Khanate. Circassians and Cossacks also occasionally played roles in Crimean politics, transferring their allegiance between the khan and the beys.

Internal affairs
Internally, the khanate territory was divided among the beys, and beneath the beys were mirzas from noble families. The relationship of peasants or herdsmen to their mirzas was not feudal. They were free and the Islamic law protected them from losing their rights. Apportioned by village, the land was worked in common and taxes were assigned to the whole village. The tax was one tenth of an agricultural product, one twentieth of a livestock, and a variable amount of unpaid labor. During the reforms by the last khan Şahin Giray, the internal structure was changed following the Turkish pattern: land-ownings of nobility were proclaimed the domain of the khan and reorganized into qadılıqs (provinces governed by representatives of the khan).

Crimean Law
The Crimean law was based on the Tatar law, Islamic law, and, on limited matters, the Ottoman law. The leader of the Muslim establishment was the mufti, who was selected from among the local Muslim clergy. His major duty was neither judicial nor theological, it was financial. The mufti’s administration controlled all of the vakif lands and their enormous revenues. Another Muslim official, appointed not by the clergy but the Ottoman sultan was the kadıasker. He oversaw the khanate’s judicial districts, each under jurisdiction of a kadi. Kadis theoretically depended on kadiasker, but in practice to the clan leaders and the khan. The kadis determined the day to day legal behavior of the Muslims in the khanate.

Non-Muslim Minorities
The non-Muslim minorities (Greeks, Armenians, Crimean Goths, Adyghe (Circassians), Venetiansmarker, Genoesemarker, Crimean Karaites and Qırımçaq Jews) lived in the cities and villages, sometimes having different quarters. They had their own religious and judicial institutions according to the millet system. They controlled the financial occupations and trade, and paid tax in return for which they did not serve in the military. There is no evidence that they faced any discrimination, they lived like Crimean Tatars, and spoke dialects of Crimean Tatar. (Alan Fisher, 1978)

The nomadic part of the Crimean Tatars and all the Nogays were cattle-breeders. Crimea had important trading ports where the goods carried through Silk Road were exported to the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Crimean Khanate had many sizeable, beautiful and lively cities such as Bakhchisaraymarker - the capital, Kezlevmarker (Yevpatoria), Karasubazarmarker (Karasu-market) and Aqmescitmarker (White-mosque) having numerous caravansarais, hans and merchant quarters, leather-manufactures, mills. The settled Crimean Tatars were engaged in trade, agriculture, and artisanry. Crimea was a center of wine and tobacco production, and fruit farming. The Bakhchisaraymarker kilims (oriental rugs) were exported to Polandmarker, and knives made by Crimean Tatar artisans were thought to be best among the Caucasian tribes. Crimean Tatars were famous Silkworm cultivation, and honey production. One of the major sources of income of Crimean Tatar and Nogay nobility came from the lucrative slave trade in captured Christians. In this process, known as harvesting the steppe, raiding parties would go out and capture, and then enslave the local Christian peasants living in the countryside. These raids frequently invaded the neighboring countries. (Brian G. Williams)

Golden Age

The Crimean Khanate was undoubtedly one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the 18th century. As Muslims, Crimean Tatars played an invaluable role in expanding the borders of Islam, especially against the Christian Muscovites and Poles. Crimean Tatars formed slave raiding parties (chambuls), in cooperation with the Nogais, who would fan out through the steppe countryside in order to capture and enslave Christian peasants. The Crimean Tatars engaged in raids into the Danubian principalities, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy.

Harvesting of the steppe
In a process called "harvesting of the steppe" they enslaved many Slavic and Romanian peasants, called booty, from which the khan received a fixed share (savğa) of 10 or 20%. The campaigns by Crimean forces could be divided into "sefers" - officially declared military operations led by the khans themselves - and "çapuls" - raids undertaken by separate groups of noblemen (sometimes illegal and banned because they contravened the treaties concluded by the khans with neighbouring rulers). For a long time, until the early 18th century, the khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Kefemarker was one of the best known and significant trading ports and slave markets.

The Crimean Khanate also made several alliances with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Zaporizhian Sich and the Muscovy against each of them. The region of the dispute was highly valued by Muscovy since it would allow the settlement of Muscovites to fertile areas where the growing season is longer than the more northerly areas which it depended on. In any case the permanent warfare at the borderland and the rapid increase of the boyars' armies contributed to extensive exploitation of peasantry in Muscovy.

Perfecting their raiding tactics, Crimean Tatars forces chose routes along watersheds. The main way to Moscow was by the Murava shliach, going from Crimean Perekopmarker up to Tulamarker between the rivers Dnieper and Seversky Donetsmarker. Having gone deep into the populated area for 100 miles, the Tatars would return looting and capturing slaves on their way back. Annually Moscow mobilized in spring up to 65,000 soldiers for a border service, which was a heavy burden for the state. The defensive Russian lines consisted of the circuit of earthen shafts, fallen trees, trenches and fortresses such as Belev, Odoev, and Tula. The coast of the river Oka near to Moscow served as last line of defense. Cossacks and young noblemen were organized into sentry and patrol services that observed Crimean Tatars on the steppe. (Source: Vasily Klyuchevsky, "The course of Russian History".) About 30 major Tatar raids were recorded into Muscovitemarker territories between 1558-1596.


The decline of the Crimean Khanate was tied to the weakening of the Ottoman empire and a change in the balance of power in Eastern Europe that favoured the Christian kingdoms. Crimean Tatars returned from the Ottoman campaigns empty-handed, while the Tatar cavalry without sufficient guns suffered great loss against European and Russian modern armies. By the late 17th century, Muscovite Russiamarker became too strong a power for Crimea to pillage it. From then on, Crimean Tatars were not able to conduct raids for attaining slaves or booty to Ukraine and Russia and this cut one of the economic sources of the khanate. The support of the khan by noble clans also began to erode as a result of these external failures, and internal conflict for power ensued. The Nogays, who provided a significant portion of the Crimean military forces, also took back their support from the khans towards the end of the empire.

In the first half of 17th century Kalmyks formed the Kalmyk Khanate in the Lower Volga and under Ayuka Khan conducted many military expeditions against the Crimean Khanate and Nogays. By becoming part of Russia and keeping their oath to protect its southeastern borders, Kalmyk Khanate took an active part in all Russian war campaigns in 17th and 18th centuries, providing up to 40 000 fully equipped horsemen.

The united Russian and Ukrainian forces attacked the Khanate during the Chigirin Campaigns and the Crimean Campaigns. It was during the Russo-Turkish War, 1735-1739 that the Russians under command of Field-Marshal Münnich finally managed to penetrate the Crimean Peninsula itself.

More warfare ensued during the reign of Catherine II. The Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 resulted in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, which made the Crimean Khanate independent from the Ottoman Empire, and aligned it with the Russian Empiremarker.

The rule of the last Crimean khan Şahin Giray was marked with increasing Russian influence and outbursts of violence from the side of the khan administration towards internal opposition. On 8 April 1783, in violation of the treaty, Catherine II interfered into the civil war, de facto annexing the whole peninsula into the Russian Empire as Taurida Governorate. In 1787, Şahin Giray took refuge in the Ottoman empire and was eventually executed by the Ottoman authorities for betrayal in Rhodesmarker, although the royal Giray family survives to this day.

The Nogay pastoral nomads north of the Black Seamarker were nominally subject to the Crimean Khan. They were divided into the following groups: Budjak (from the Danube to the Dniester), Yedisan (from the Dniester to the Bug), Jamboyluk (Bug to Crimea), Yedickul (north of Crimea) and Kuban. Through the 1792 Treaty of Jassy (Iaşi) the Russian frontier was extended to the Dniester Rivermarker and the takeover of Yedisan was complete. The 1812 Treaty of Bucharest transferred Budjak to Russianmarker control.

See also


  1. The Tatar Khanate of Crimea
  2. Bakhchisaray history
  3. Crimean Khans were appointed
  4. List of Wars of the Crimean Tatars
  5. Moscow - Historical background
  6. Historical survey > Slave societies
  7. Supply of Slaves

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