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Kipchaks in Eurasia circa 1200

Kipchaks (also spelled as Kypchaks, Kipczaks, Qipchaqs, Qypchaqs) (Turkic: Kypchak,Kıpçak) were an ancient Turkic people who originally formed part of the group of Kimäks in Siberiamarker along the middle reaches of Irtyshmarker or along the Ob. Around the middle of the eleventh century they split off from the bulk of the Kimaks and departed in the direction of Europe. The western Kipchaks were known as Cumans (Kumans, Kuns) in Western Europe and Polovtsy (Polovtsians) in Ukrainemarker and Russiamarker, or by other names, most of which have the meaning "pale", or "sallow". Their language was also known as Kipchak.


Kipchaks were a confederation of pastoralists and warriors of Turkic origin, known in Russian and Ukrainian as Polovtsy, who lived in yurts (felt tents) and who came from the region of the River Irtyshmarker. Some tribes of the Kipchak confederation probably originated near the Chinesemarker borders and, after having moved into western Siberiamarker by the 9th century, migrated further west into the Trans-Volga.

They occupied a vast, sprawling territory in the Eurasian steppe, stretching from north of the Aral Seamarker westward to the region north of the Black Seamarker (now in Ukrainemarker and southwestern Russiamarker) and founded a nomadic state (Desht-i Qipchaq). They invaded the territory later known as Moldavia, Wallachia, and part of Transylvania in the 11th century. From there they continued their plundering of the Byzantine Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary.

In the late 11th and early 12th centuries they became involved in various conflicts with the Byzantines, Kievan Rus/Kyivan Rus, the Hungarians, and the Pechenegs, allying themselves with one or the other side at different times. In 1089, they were defeated by Ladislaus I of Hungary, again by Knyaz of Kievan Rus/Kyivan Rus Vladimir Monomakh/Volodymyr Monomakh in the 12th century. They sacked Kievmarker in 1203. The Kipchaks were finally crushed by the Mongols in 1241. During the Mongol empire, the Kipchaks constituted majority of the khanate comprising present-day Russiamarker, Ukrainemarker, and Kazakhstanmarker, called the Golden Horde, the westernmost division of the Mongol empire. After the fall of the Mongol Empire, the Golden Horde rulers continued to hold Sarai until 1502.

The Kuman, or western Kipchak tribes, fled to Hungarymarker, and some of their warriors became mercenaries for the Latin crusaders and the Byzantines. Members of the Bahri dynasty, the first dynasty of Mamluks in Egyptmarker, were Kipchaks, one of the most prominent examples being Sultan Baybars, born in Solhatmarker, Crimeamarker. Some of them served in the Yuan dynastymarker and became the Kharchins.

Language and culture

The Kipchak spoke a Turkic language whose most important surviving record is the Codex Cumanicus, a late 13th-century dictionary of words in Kipchak and Latin. The presence in Egyptmarker of Turkic-speaking Mamluks also stimulated the compilation of Kipchak-Arabic dictionaries and grammars that are important in the study of several old Turkic languages.

According to Mahmud Kashgari the Kimeks and the Oghuz differed from the rest of the Turkic nations by the mutation of initial y to j (dj).

The Kipchaks are also known to have converted to Christianity, around the 11th century, at the suggestion of the Georgians as they allied in their conflicts against the Muslims. A great number were baptized at the request of the Georgian king David IV who also married a daughter of the Kipchak khan Otrok. From 1120, there was a Kipchak national Christian church and an important clergy. However, by the 12th and 13th centuries, Islam took firm root amongst the Kipchaks.

Modern times

The modern Northwestern branch of the Turkic languages is often referred to as the Kipchak branch. The languages in this branch are mostly considered to be descendants of the Kipchak language, and the people who speak them may likewise be referred to as Kipchak peoples. Some of the groups traditionally included are the Siberian Tatars, Nogays, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Tatars, Crimean Tatars, Kumyks, Karachays and Balkars.

There is also a village named 'Kipchak' in Crimeamarker.

See also



  • "Kipchak". Encyclopædia Britannica, Academic Edition. 2006.
  • "Polovtsi". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

Further reading

  • Csáki, E. (2006). Middle Mongolian loan words in Volga Kipchak languages. Turcologica, Bd. 67. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. ISBN 344705381X

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