The Conquest of Russia and Eastern Europe
The White, Blue and Grey Hordes
Batu's Khanate of Qipchaq
Berke Seizes Power
Emir Noghay and Toqta Khan
Özbeg Khan
The Khanate of Qipchaq in the 1330s

The Conquest of Russia and Eastern Europe

In 1229 Ögedey became the new Mongol khaghan or Great Khan, inheriting his father's administration and imperial guard.

Ogodei Khan
Painting of Ögedey Khan.

He located his ordos in the region of the upper Orkhon and the Qaraqorum Mountains, a region that may have been chosen as the location for Chinggis Khan's yurt or main encampment some ten years earlier and was now part of the ulus of Toluy. It was primarily the spring residence of the Khan, the summer being spent in a Kitayan latticed pavilion in the mountains and the winter being spent further south on the Ongiin River. It would be later, in 1235, that Ögedey would use Kitay craftsmen to build a royal palace at Qaraqorum surrounding it with a perimeter wall. Ögedey called it Ordu Baligh, the City of the Ordos, although it has subsequently become known as Qaraqorum.

The successors of Chinggis Khan
The modern setting of Qaraqorum.

Ögedey's first act was to issue a yasa, or decree, that all of Chinggis Khan's previous decisions and orders should be completed without change.

In keeping with this yasa he next despatched an army of 30,000 men under the command of Chormaghun to hunt down Jalal ad-Din in Iran. Jalal ad-Din had returned from India in 1224, building a substantial power base in western Iran that now threatened the house of Jöchi. Chormaghun rallied his troops in Bukhara before crossing the Amu Darya in 1230. It would take Chormaghun until 1231 to finally corner Jalal ad-Din in Armenia, only to see his quarry murdered by Kurdish peasants. Under his leadership the Mongols established a strong presence in north-west Iran over the next decade and increasing domination of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Although he engaged the army of the Caliphate, the city of Baghdad remained unscathed.

At the same time Ögedey ordered Sübetey to prepare for the final annexation of the Chin territories in the east, the Chin having regained much of their lost territory since the death of Chinggis Khan. The campaign was led by Ögedey, with Toluy taking a second army through northern Tibet to attack from the southwest. The Chin capital of Kaifeng fell in May 1233 and final victory was achieved in 1234. Following the success of this campaign the Mongols began their invasion of Korea and the Sung dynasty in the south.

According to Juvaini, Ögedey also fulfilled Chinggis Khan's earlier yarlik and sent an army to "the lands of Qipchaq, Saqsin and Bulghar". Although his translator Boyle assumed that this was under the command of Sübetey, this is not at all clear from Juvaini's text. Of course Sübetey was actually campaigning in northern China at this time.

To make matter worse "The Secret History" is very confused on this matter, suggesting that Sübetey had been sent to these territories after the fall of Gurganj. However it was not Sübetey but Jöchi who had been ordered to go west; Sübetey had been sent from Gurganj to track down the Khorezmshah. The text further implies that following the 1229 qurultai, Sübetey had already crossed the Ural and Volga Rivers and was not only already in the lands of the Qangli, Qipchaq, Bashkirs, Rus, Ossiettes, Sasuds, Magyars, Keshimirs, Circassians, Bulghars and Raral peoples, but was in serious difficulty. Perhaps the author was referring to Sübetey’s ambush by the Bulghars in 1223? The account finally states that as a consequence, Ögedey ordered major reinforcements to be sent west under Batu, something that did not occur until Ögedey's second qurultai in 1234.

It seems likely that no such invasion took place at this early date. The Mongol Empire was already committed on two fronts and it was only after the successful completion of the Iranian and Chin campaigns that Ögedey felt confident enough to commit major military resources to Eastern Europe. It is of course possible that Batu and his sons campaigned against some of the weaker tribes along his western frontier during this period.

The successors of Chinggis Khan
The successors of Chinggis Khan.

In 1235 Ögedey assembled the entire Mongol leadership for a second qurultai at Talan-Daba, where it was decided to subjugate the lands of the Bulghars, Bashkirs, Qipchaqs, Alans, Circassians, Rus and Magyars, as well as the Crimea. The invasion would be under the nominal command of Batu, into whose ulus the captured territories would fall. However it would be planned and executed by the ageing Sübetey, whose intelligence gathered on the terrain during his 1222-23 campaign would be invaluable. The expedition would be well resourced, composed of detachments led by a variety of senior princes, two of whom would be future Great Khans. The participants were ordered to return to their ulus to prepare their forces. They included three of Jöchi's other sons (Orda, Sabagan – later Arabicized to Shiban, and Tangqut), two sons of Toluy (Möngke and Böchek), the eldest and two younger sons of Ögedey (Güyük, Qadan and Qadaghan), and one son and one grandson of Chaghatay (Baidar and Büri).

The separate armies set out in the spring of 1236, converging on the borders of the Bulghar territories that autumn. According to Juvaini: "They came together in the territory of the Bulghar. The earth echoed and reverberated from the multitude of their armies, and at the size and tumult of their forces the very beasts stood amazed". Their first objective was to eliminate any threat from Qipchaq nomads, but not all of the local tribes submitted readily. One Qimek chieftain named Bachman gathered the disaffected clans around him and hounded the Mongols along the banks of the Volga. He was finally cornered by Möngke's forces on an island in the river delta later that winter. In the meantime other Mongol forces destroyed the main city of the Bulghar located on the Volga just south of the mouth of the Kama, along with the towns of Suvar and Biliar. They probably spent much of 1237 subjugating the surrounding Bulghar and Bashkir territories. Juzjani mentions Batu's conquest of the Charkas (Cheremiss, now known as Mari), and it is likely that the Mordvins, who then lived on the middle Volga, were also badly affected. As a result of the campaign there was a massive dislocation of the population. Many of the surviving Bulghars moved north beyond the Kama to settle on the Kazanka and Moksha Rivers.

Mongol battle scene
A Persian miniature painting of a Mongol battle scene.

Russia at this time was not a unified state but a collection of principalities occupied by the Rus, an eastern Slavic people whose leaders did surprisingly little to prepare themselves for the coming onslaught. With the arrival of winter the Mongols advanced north to the city of Ryazan on the edge of the steppes. Its prince refused to surrender and sent north for reinforcements. Batu laid siege to the city and commenced a bombardment, forcing its submission within a week. The wooden city was destroyed by fire in December. Sweeping northwards the Mongols destroyed fourteen more cities in two months, including the small fortified outpost of Moscow, the heavily defended cities of Suzdal and Kolomna, and finally the city of Vladimir, the capital of the northern Rus. In early March 1238 the Mongols turned towards the north-west, taking Pereslavl, Yaroslavl and Tver, with Torzhok falling two weeks later. The next Mongol objective was the commercial city of Novgorod, but a sudden thaw created obstacles for the Mongol cavalry, who were forced to quickly withdraw to the south.

There was now a change of tactics. Berke was tasked with subduing the Qipchaqs in southern Russia (where they were known as Cumans or Qumans), one result of which was that the chieftain Kotony (Kotyan) Khan sought asylum for his 40,000 pagan followers in Hungary. These were the Volga Magyars, a remnant of the original Hungarian people who had been left in the east following the Pecheneg invasion in the very late 9th century. One of the consequences of their return was that Hungary received an early warning of the Mongol threat. Meanwhile Shiban and Büri were sent to the Crimea, where we know that Sudaq was looted in late December. Later Güyük, Möngke, Büri and Qadan were sent to overthrow the nomads in the northern Caucasus. Rashid ad-Din recorded that the Alan capital of Majar capitulated to the Mongols after a six-week-long siege in 1239-40.

The causes of this abrupt change in direction are not fully understood. Sinor quotes a Hungarian source that implied the Mongols were waiting for reinforcements to be made available from Iran. Another reason may have been an argument among the senior command – Güyük and Büri seem to have led a revolt against Batu, possibly initiated by a silly dispute over a lapse of social etiquette at a victory dinner. Batu decided to inform Ögedey about the event, who reacted furiously about this loss of discipline in the field. The letter and Ögedey's response are fully covered in "The Secret History". This dispute would have far-reaching consequences, eventually leading to a schism throughout the whole Mongol Empire.

By the spring of 1240 the Mongol army had been reinforced and reorganized. It now turned its attentions towards the south (in what is today the Ukraine) and the major city of Kiev, at that time the most important in all of Rus. First they destroyed Pereslavl and Chernigoff before approaching Kiev. Möngke, the senior commander, sought to preserve the city by negotiating a voluntary surrender. The defenders refused and Kiev was placed under siege, only to fall suddenly on the 6 December after just nine days of bombardment. Some of that destruction was witnessed six years later by the Italian Franciscan Giovanni del Pian di Carpini as he passed on his way to the Volga. The Mongols continued westward, forcing the submission of the towns of Podolsky, Galich and Volynia.

Batu overwintered his troops and livestock on the nearby steppes. Further west lay Poland and to its south the powerful kingdom of Hungary, which then stretched from the Transylvanian Alps to the Adriatic. Indeed it was to Hungary that many of the Rus royal families had fled. Batu had sent numerous envoys and a letter to King Béla IV of Hungary, demanding his submission, but to no effect. The King was well aware of the situation and had prepared his defences and army for the onslaught. His most valuable military assets were the nomadic Cuman warriors under Khan Kotony, who were skilled in steppe warfare.

The encirclement and conquest of Hungary was a masterpiece of Mongol military strategy, planning and command. It was based on an invasion by three armies, the right wing and the left wing each planning to launch a three-pronged assault while the central army advanced undivided. The campaign began in the spring of 1241.

The battle of Liegnitz
The battle of Liegnitz in Poland in April 1241. Today the town is known as Legnica.

The right wing under the command of Orda advanced from Vladimir with the objective of neutralizing Poland and Silesia before attacking Hungary from the north. Their main objective was to prevent the army of Duke Henry of Silesia from meeting up with, and reinforcing, that of King Béla of Hungary. They crossed the frozen Vistula to take Sandomir, Cracow and Wroclaw before defeating Duke Henry's Polish army at the battle of Liegnitz in early April. They now rode south, planning to rendezvous with Batu close to Pest. The left wing meanwhile swept through the Carpathian Mountains, overwhelming the Transylvanian army at Sibiu. The central army under Batu, Shiban and Sübetey headed directly towards Pest, breaking through the heavily defended Verecke pass (the Gate of Russia) before taking the town of Vác. News that the Mongols had breached the pass reached Pest on 15 March, causing panic. The Hungarian nobles accused the Cumans of being in league with the Mongols. Taking offence Khan Kotony rallied his Cuman warriors and departed for Bulgaria, leaving the conventional Hungarian forces to defend the capital alone.

Mongol invasion of Hungary
Detailed plan of the Mongol invasion of Hungary.

Batu was now phasing his advance so that he could join up with his right and left wings before engaging the main Hungarian army, in line with Sübetey's main battle plan. However King Béla had led his forces out from Pest to intercept Batu before he could make his planned rendezvous. The two opposing armies converged on the river Sajo and struck camp on different sides, the Hungarians choosing an exposed position on the plain of Mohi. Avoiding a conventional battle, Sübetey launched a surprise attack on the Hungarians during the night of 10-11 April. As his main forces crossed the bridge, catapults were used to clear defenders from the far bank. One division had already secretly crossed the river to attack from the rear, so the Hungarians were surrounded and suffered devastating losses. The crafty Mongols had left a deliberate gap in their encirclement to create a trap for the fleeing Hungarians, who were funnelled into marshland before being picked off by Mongol archers. Even so the Mongols also suffered heavy losses.

We understand from Juvaini that Shiban played a major part in this battle, initially commanding the reconnaissance mission to spy out the enemy's strength and positions, and later playing an important role in the main frontal attack. In recognition of his valiant role in the campaign, Batu appointed Shiban the "King of Hungary".

The Mongols now secured the surrounding regions of Eastern Hungary before slowly advancing towards the Danube. One reconnaissance group advanced into Austria, almost reaching Vienna before returning to Hungary. King Béla had first fled into Austria where he was held to ransom by the monarch Duke Frederick. He then headed south to Croatia, seeking refuge on several offshore islands in the Adriatic during February 1242. Batu had already despatched forces under Qadan to track him down. The Mongols crossed the Danube on 25 December 1241, laying siege to Strigonia or Gran. Qadan headed first for Dalmatia where he encountered strong Croatian opposition, then entered Croatia bypassing the heavily defended town of Split before passing into northern Albania.

In the meantime the main Mongol armies prepared their evacuation from Hungary, never to return. Batu followed the south bank of the Danube into Bulgaria, while Orda headed through Transylvania for the same destination. There they persuaded the Bulgarian regents to accept Mongol suzerainty. Despite numerous skirmishes Qadan failed to corner his quarry King Béla, who would later return to rebuild and refortify his country. Qadan passed through Bosnia and Serbia to rejoin the main Mongol army at Walachia.

"The Secret History" notes that before the Mongols returned they appointed resident commanders (darughachins) and garrison commanders (tangmachis). This was certainly not true in the case of the Rus principalities, which became vassal states, their leaders continuing to rule subject to the payment of tribute.

It is likely that by January or February 1242, Batu had received news concerning the death of the Great Khan Ögedey which, according to Juvaini, occurred on 11 December. Ögedey Khan had been a heavy drinker and as his health deteriorated, Chaghatay had appointed a supervisor to try and control his intake. Ögedey's death is frequently quoted as the reason for the cessation of the European campaign. However the real reason may have been the need for sufficient pasturage. Every Mongol warrior travelled with at least three or four horses, often more, and Batu's army would have required an enormous acreage of pastureland for its sustenance. The steppes of Hungary may have been just too inadequate, forcing the Mongols back east into the vast Russian steppes.

In any event as a son of the disgraced Jöchi, Batu was never going to be a candidate for Khagan and as we shall see he made no attempt to return to Mongolia. After entering the southern Russian steppes, Batu spent the winter of 1242-43 with his sons on the Volga. It was only the other princes, Güyük and Möngke included, who continued travelling eastwards back to Mongolia.

Grand Prince Yaroslav of Vladimir was the first Russian leader to visit Batu at his ordos on the Volga in 1243 on his route to Mongolia. Here he received Batu's yarlik or charter - his authority to rule. Other Russian leaders would follow in his wake. The Russians would wear the "Mongol yoke" until the end of the 15th century.

The White, Blue and Grey Hordes

The House of Jöchi had more than doubled in size. Now back at his yurt on the Volga, Batu segmented his enormous ulus into three parts. However we must remember that these were the pasturelands of nomads and their boundaries were never precisely defined:
  • Batu retained the most westerly territories of the Qipchaqs and Bulghars, or the right wing, encompassing south-east Russia and the Ukraine. His territories reached as far west as the Carpathian Mountains, the Transylvanian Alps and the Balkan Mountains. In the south it followed the northern coastline of the Black Sea, including the Crimea, reaching eastward to the Volga and Kama Rivers, the Emba and Ural Rivers, the Mangishlaq and Ustyurt deserts and finally western Khorezm. To the north it reached as far as the edge of the steppe zone. The Bulghars and the principalities of the Rus located in the forest zone remained vassal states.

  • Orda was given the most easterly part of the ulus, the left wing, covering most of present-day central and eastern Kazakhstan. In the south his territory ranged from the mouth of the Syr Darya and the eastern seaboard of the Aral Sea to the city of Sighnaq on the Syr Darya and the foothills of the Qarataw Mountains. In the north it ranged from the Ulutau heights across the basin of the Sarysu to the Irtysh River.

  • Shiban was given the region lying between the domains of Batu and Orda. It was located to the east, south-east and south of the southern Ural Mountains, encompassing parts of eastern Russia and western Kazakhstan. It ranged in the north from the Ilek tributary of the Ural River south of Orenburg, to the headwaters of the Ishim and Tobol Rivers, and in the south to the northern Ustyurt and the Little Aral Sea.
Batu's ulus was called the right flank, aq orda, or White Horde, while Orda's ulus was called the left flank, kök orda, or Blue Horde.

According to the Tarikh-i Dost Sultan written by Ötemish Hajji in Khorezm in the 1550s, Batu's ulus was officially known as the White Horde of the Golden Threshold, Orda's the Blue Horde of the Silver Threshold and Shiban's the Grey Horde of the Steel Threshold.

Unfortunately the terms White and Blue Horde have been much misused causing enormous confusion. In modern secondary sources their meanings are generally reversed, the term White Horde being applied to the ulus of Orda and Blue Horde to the ulus of Batu. To make matters worse, some authors refer to the ulus of Shiban as either the White Horde or the Blue Horde, while others define the White Horde as the combined uluses of Orda and Shiban. Even eminent scholars like Henry Hoyle Howorth were so confused that they assumed that Orda was higher ranking than Batu because the colour White ranked higher than Blue, when in fact Batu's ulus was the dominant half.

Throughout this website we will comply with the original terminology, namely the White Horde of Batu and the Blue Horde of Orda.

The Arabs and Persians commonly referred to Batu's ulus as the Khanate of Qipchaq, given that the overwhelming majority of his direct subjects were of Qipchaq origin and inhabited the Qipchaq steppes. The Masálak al-Absár written in the first half of the 14th century defined the territory of the Qipchaqs as extending in length from the Sea of Istanbul [the Marmaris] to the Irtysh River, and in breadth from Bulghar to the Iron Gate [Temür-Qahalqa or Derbent]. The Persians referred to the Qipchaq steppes as the Dasht-i Qipchaq.

Western envoys like Carpini and Rubruck (see below) who visited Batu's encampment on the Volga only refer to the court of Batu or the "Land of Comania". In 1334 Ibn Battuta referred to the Dasht-i Qipchaq wilderness, six months journey in extent, three of which were in "the territories of Sultan Muhammad Uzbak". The Nikon and Novgorod Chronicles simply referred to Batu's ulus as the Orda or Horde.

In western literature Jöchi's ulus is also frequently and mistakenly referred to as the Golden Horde, a name that was never used during its existence. The first use of this term dates from an account of a visit to Saray by the merchant F. A. Kotov in 1624, where he refers to the city, but not the Khanate, as the Zolotaia Orda. The same term is used again mainly in reference to the city some 15 times in the "History of the Kazan Khanate", dating from the second half of the 16th century or the early 17th century. Today the term Golden Horde usually refers to the combined uluses of Batu and Orda, although most of its history relates solely to the western part, there being far less source material concerning the eastern part.

The Golden Horde
A traditional map of the combined territories of the Golden Horde.
Image courtesy of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 1994.

Batu's Khanate of Qipchaq

The Qipchaq Khanate was essentially organized along nomadic lines. Its social organization was based on tribal and kinship structures and its economy on pastoral livestock-breeding, although the aristocracy benefited from the taxation of the sedentary cities of the Mongol Empire and from a share of the spoils from the newly conquered territories.

Bound by the rules of Chinggis's yasa it was disciplined and religiously tolerant. Batu's court was mobile and located on the east bank of the Volga. He spent the spring and summer on the middle Volga, just south of present-day Saratov, and the winter further south on the Aqtuba, the eastern channel of the lower Volga, towards its southern delta. The Khanate's administrative headquarters were based in the Bulghar trading city of Ibrahim-Bryahimov.

Following the death of Ögedey Khan in Mongolia, Güyük's forceful mother, Töregene Khatun, had immediately seized the throne. Ögedey had initially chosen his third son Köchü to be his successor, but following Köchü's early death he had selected the latter's eldest son Shiremün instead. Keen to secure the candidacy of her eldest son Güyük, Töregene Khatun bided her time by instigating a purge among her senior officials and viziers. In the meantime Güyük finally returned to his yurt on the Emil River and travelled onward to Qaraqorum. The Mongol leadership could finally be summoned to a qurultai to elect the new Khan. However Batu, who had now become a senior figure in the Mongol aristocracy, made his excuses, claiming the onset of paralysis in his legs, possibly rheumatism. Rashid ad-Din implies that Batu was summoned a second time and by refusing to respond delayed the appointment of a Khan for three years. Güyük had been insubordinate to Batu in Rus and Batu had no desire to support his election.

Guyuk Khan
Imaginative painting of the Great Khan Güyük.

The qurultai finally took place at Köko Lake close to Qaraqorum in the spring of 1246, the guests being accommodated in 2,000 felt tents. It was attended by Ordu, Shiban, Berke, Berkecher and Toqa-Temür from Jöch's ulus, Batu remaining on the Volga. It was universally agreed that one of Ögedey's sons should inherit the throne, since Shiremün was still under age. Töregene Khatun favoured Güyük, and as her other sons supported this proposal he was finally raised to the throne that August.

News of Batu's invasion of Eastern Europe had soon spread to the West, which had been engaged in its own intermittent Crusade against the Muslims in the Holy Land. As early as 1238, Syrian envoys had visited England and France to suggest a Christian-Muslim alliance against the Mongol threat. Appeals from Georgia and Galicia soon followed, emphasizing the extent of the threat. Yet some European rulers saw the Mongols as a potential ally against the Muslims. The new Pope Innocent IV was so concerned about a further invasion that in 1245 he despatched four embassies to the Mongol Empire, two led by Dominicans and two by Franciscans. Andrew of Longjumeau visited Syria and Palestine before later journeying to Mongolia with letters and gifts from Louis IX of France. He arrived after the death of the Great Khan Güyük and had a rather fruitless encounter with his widow Oghul-Qaimish (see below) who interpreted Louis's message as submission and sent a reply demanding gold and silver tribute. Ascelinus was sent via Anatolia to Georgia where he visited the camp of Baichu, the Mongol general who had replaced Chormaghun in the Middle East in 1242. As for Lawrence of Portugal's mission, it may never have got off the ground. It was the embassy of the 65-year-old Giovanni del Pian di Carpini to Central Asia and Mongolia that has left us with the most memorable account. Carpini departed from Lyon in 1245 and, thanks to his breakneck ride across Central Asia, we have been left with a detailed historical record of Güyük's election and subsequent enthronement.

Carpini's route
The route of Giovanni del Pian di Carpini to Qaraqorum.
Shown as the upper blue line with crosses.

Carpini turned out to be just one of some 400 envoys who had travelled from all quarters of the Mongol and non-Mongol world, ranging from Russia, Georgia, Iran and Baghdad to Manchuria and China. The election was restricted to the Mongol inner circle and took place in a large white velvet pavilion. The enthronement however was a more public event, staged in a brocade lined tent called the Golden Orda, and was accompanied by extravagant gift giving and feasting. The Pope had sent two rambling messages to the stern Güyük Khan, the first asking him to convert to Christianity, the second asking about his future plans, beseeching him to respect the lands of the Christians and warning him of the prospect of punishment in the afterlife in the event of further Mongol atrocities. The Mongol Khan dictated his reply several months later, noting that the Mongols could not have subjugated so vast a territory without the will of God. He warned the Pope that he would be regarded as an enemy if he failed to submit to Mongol authority at Güyük's court at Qaraqorum.

Güyük Khan's letter
Güyük Khan's letter to Pope Innocent IV dated 3-11 November 1246.
From the Vatican Archive, Rome.

On his way to Qaraqorum, Carpini had briefly visited Batu's encampment on the Volga. Batu was described as living "with considerable magnificence, having door-keepers and all officials just like their Emperor". He occupied an elevated throne in one of several large and beautiful linen tents captured from the King of Hungary. His encampment was on the eastern border of the territories of the Cumans who were divided between various tribal chieftains. The Mordvins lived to the north of the Cumans and the Alans, Circassians and Kazars lived to the south. To the east was the waterless country of the Qangli stretching as far as the lower Syr Darya. The minority of Qangli who had survived the Mongol invasion had been reduced to slavery.

Some have interpreted Güyük Khan's response to Pope Innocent IV as a clear indication that he intended to mount a second and more comprehensive invasion of the Christian West. Certainly one of his priorities seems to have been to oust Batu from the Khanate of Qipchaq. One of his first moves was to despatch an army under Eljigitei to Iran with instructions to take control of Rum, Georgia and Aleppo "in order that no one else might interfere with them and the rulers of those parts might be answerable to him for their tribute". The Mamluk writer Umari suggested that Eljigitei was even authorized to arrest Batu's lieutenants in the Caucasus.

It seems that Güyük Khan was concerned about the increasing autonomy of the major ulus. According to Juvaini, Güyük requested Batu to meet with him and Batu finally set out towards the east. Both Juvaini and Rashid al-Din agree that Güyük Khan also set out with a large army on the pretext of returning to his yurt on the Emil River. Sorqoqtani Beki, the senior wife of Toluy, sent a warning to Batu of Güyük's suspicious advance. Beki was a niece of the Kereit Ong Khan Toghrïl and a sister to one of Jöchi's widows. However in April 1248 when Güyük Khan had only reached Qum-Sengir, one week's journey from the Uyghur capital of Besh-Baliq, he died, thus averting a Mongol civil war. Batu received the news at Ala-Qamaq, not far from Lake Issyk Kul.

Chinggis Khan's chief sons were all dead so Batu was now the most senior of the elder princes. He was a forceful man, determined to prevent the election of another Ögedeyid Khan. While the Great Khan's widow, Oghul-Qaimish, acted as temporary regent, Batu called the Mongol princes together at Ala-Qamaq and persuaded them to support Toluy's eldest son Möngke, arguing that Ögedey's sons had ignored their father's bequest to elect Shiremün while the late Toluy had originally been the rightful heir to Chinggis's throne. Rashid al-Din offers another version with Batu calling the same meeting on the Qipchaq steppe, which the sons of Ögedey, Güyük and Chaghatay declined because it was not in the traditional Mongol yurt. Sorqoqtani Beki instructed Möngke and his brothers to travel to Batu's court instead. Impressed with Möngke's qualities, Batu then sent out messages to all the princes proposing that he should succeed Güyük.

Both authors agree that a qurultai was planned between the Onon and Kelüren Rivers but that it did not convene until the summer of 1251 because of delaying tactics by Ögedey's family. Batu remained on the Volga and was represented by his brothers Berke and Toqa-Temür and his son Sartaq. Möngke was finally enthroned in the absence of the Ögedeyids. The Toluyids had gained control of the Empire. Apart from the shrewd manipulation of Sorqoqtani Bek, we must remember that Möngke benefited from the fact that his family controlled the military might of Mongolia. Shortly after the coronation a plot to oust the new Khan was uncovered. It led to a major purge and the execution of the rebel Ögedeyid princes and their supporters, in addition to Güyük's widow Oghul-Qaimish, all the adult sons and grandsons of Chaghatay, and Eljigidei and his family.

The forceful Batu had effectively staged a coup d'état, placing his friend and ally Möngke on the Mongol throne. With Möngke's approval the Khanate of Qipchaq effectively gained autonomy, Batu reigning in the west and Möngke reigning in the east, the frontier between their domains lying, according to Rubruck, between the Talas and Chu Rivers. As a bonus the Chaghatay ulus became divided, the eastern parts falling under the control of Möngke, and Transoxiana and western Ferghana under the control of the Khanate of Qipchaq.

At the same qurultai in Mongolia Möngke reopened the Mongol offensives in the east and the west, assigning the campaigns to two of his younger brothers. Qubilai was ordered to restart the campaign against the Sung in southern China, while Hulägu was to take control of Iran and Iraq and to extend Mongol rule as far as Eqypt. Hulägu would first need to subjugate the Isma'ili imams in Mazandaran, the Assassins who had attempted to assassinate the Great Khan in Qaraqorum, before destroying the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad and then moving on to Syria and Egypt. His army included contingents provided by Batu and the other Mongol princes and included 1,000 households of Chinese catapult engineers.

Thanks to the Franciscan evangelist William of Rubruck, we have a detailed picture of life in the domains of Batu and Möngke just two years after this important event. Louis IX of France had received envoys from Eljigitei in Cyprus in 1248 while on his way to Palestine. They carried a friendly letter and news of the Mongol plan to attack Baghdad. Carrying a letter from the King of France, Rubruck left Constantinople by sea for the Crimea in May 1253 and then travelled in wagons across the Qipchaq steppes. The whole region was divided up between different tribal chieftains, each "familiar with the limits of his pasturelands and where he ought to graze in summer and winter, and in spring and autumn". Each tribe roamed with wagons loaded with their portable dwellings, accompanied by huge herds of cattle, sheep and horses. However beyond Kazaria the former Qipchaq territories were now deserted. Rubruck crossed the Don and first reached the encampment of Batu's son, Sartaq, before being guided a further three days to the Volga. Batu's yurt was on the eastern side of the lower Volga, while that of his brother Berke was further south on the route from the Iron Gate (Derbent) in the Caucasus. Rubruck reached Batu's encampment in August 1253 and was shocked by its enormity:

"On sighting Batu's camp, I was struck with awe. His own dwellings had the appearance of a large city stretching far out lengthways and with inhabitants scattered around in every direction for a distance of 3 or 4 leagues [10-15 km!]. And just as everyone of the people of Israel knew on which side of the Tabernacle to pitch their tent, so these people know on what side of the residence to station themselves when they are unloading their dwellings. For this reason the court is called in their language orda, meaning "the middle", since it is always situated in the midst of his men, except that nobody takes up his station due south, this being the direction towards which the doors of the residence open. But to the right and left they spread themselves out as far as they like within the limitations imposed by the terrain, provided that they refrain from alighting directly in front of the residence or opposite it."
Batu received them in a large pavilion, seated with his wife on a raised couch of gold, his face covered in red blotches. Rubruck subsequently accompanied the orda for five weeks as it made its way south down the Volga towards its winter quarters. Batu travelled with some 500 households in addition to his own. The encampment was so large that it was followed by a mobile bazaar. Rubruck then set off on the four month journey to the court of Möngke Khan in Mongolia, returning to Batu's camp in September 1254, carrying a letter from Möngke to Louis IX commanding him to submit as a vassal. By then Batu had established a new town called Saray (Persian for "palace") on the middle Aqtuba River, the eastern arm of the Volga, north of modern Astrakhan. The remains are located at the modern saltpetre mine of Selitrennoe-Gorodok, some 170km north of Astrakhan. Until then the only city on the Volga had been Bulghar, the former capital of the Bulghars, just south of the mouth of the Kama. Rubruck noted that Saray was on the east bank of the river and was the location of Batu's palace.

Berke Seizes Power

When Batu died in 1255 or 1256, his eldest son Sartaq, who seems to have had Nestorian Christian leanings, was visiting the Great Khan's court in Mongolia. Although Möngke appointed him as the new Khan of Qipchaq he died very soon afterwards. Möngke's commissioners now appointed prince Ulagchi, who may have been a child and one of Batu's grandsons, with Batu's widow acting as regent. However within months the infant had died, perhaps assassinated. The Khanate now passed to Batu's brother, Berke, who took power in 1258. While we have no historical evidence of a plot, we do known that relations between Sartaq and Berke were hostile. Berke was the first ruler of the Khanate of Qipchaq to have Muslim leanings, having already been converted at the time of Möngke's coronation in 1251. Berke's faith clearly influenced those around him since Rubruck was told two years later that he did not allow pork to be eaten at his encampment. His beliefs seem to have been influenced by the Bukharan Sufi cleric Sayf ad-Din Bakharzi and thanks to Juzjani we know that sometime after his enthronement Berke made a pilgrimage to Bukhara.

Berke was initially occupied by events in the west, his first challenge being to defuse a revolt by King Daniel in Galicia and Volyna. According to the 16th century Polish chronicler Cromerus, Berke's army attacked Lithuania and Poland in 1259 returning to the Volga with much booty. Some indication of his intentions may be gleaned from his attempt to form a military alliance with King Béla IV of Hungary against the western nations. However Berke's focus was soon distracted by events elsewhere, which would ultimately lead to the dissolution of the Mongol Empire and the isolation of the Khanate of Qipchaq.

Hulagu Khan
Hulägu Khan and his Kereit consort, the Dokuz Qatun.
From a copy of Rashid al-Din's "History of the World".

The first divide occurred with Hulägu who was slowly making progress in Iran and Iraq 'Ajami. The Isma'ilis (also known as the Assassins) had surrendered to the Mongols at Alamut in late 1256 and some had fled to the Aral Sea delta in the region of present-day Moynaq. By the start of 1258 Hulägu's army were preparing to surround Baghdad. By late February the city had been overwhelmed, the defenders massacred and the Caliph trampled to death by horses. Now Hulägu directed his army northwards, taking Azerbaijan before attacking Muslim Syria in September 1259. By February 1260 Damascus had been overthrown. In Egypt the Mamluks readied a large army for the threatened Mongol invasion. However the arrival of news of the Great Khan Möngke's death in China in 1259 left Hulägu in an exposed position and he withdrew the bulk of his forces back to Iran, leaving a much reduced force in Syria under Kit-Buqa. In a letter to Louis IX Hulägu indicated the cause to be a shortage of fodder. Kit-Buqa met Qutuz and his Mamluk army at Ayn Jalut in Galilee and the Mongols were defeated and driven from Syria which became Mamluk. Qutuz was rewarded for his victory with a putsch that placed Sultan Baybars, one of his commanders, on the throne.

For Berke, Hulägu's advance into the pasturelands of Azerbaijan was an encroachment upon the territories of the "House of Jöchi", which had already been trodden upon by the "hoof of the Tatar horse", thereby breaking Chinggis Khan's yasa. Although the Caucasus Mountains formed a natural boundary between the Iranian and Qipchaq domains, the Qipchaqs had traditionally pastured on the steppes of Arran and Azerbaijan. We also understand from the Mamluk writer al-Umari that Möngke had previously assigned the northern Iranian cities of Tabriz and Maragheh to Berke's ulus. While Islamic authors have played on Berke's indignation over the murder of the Caliph, the primary reason for the dispute was the challenge to the status and sphere of influence of the Qipchaq Khanate. Berke also knew that the stability provided by Hulägu's new Ilkhan state would open up a competitive trade route between the Mongol east and the west, which at that time was channelled mainly via Khorezm and the Volga.

Berke had originally supplied a contingent of troops to Hulägu's army. It is possible that he subsequently ordered their recall because Hulägu commenced a massacre of the Jöchid forces. At least three Jöchid princes who had participated in the siege of Baghdad were killed at Hulägu's camp, one for sorcery and two supposedly by poison. The surviving Jöchid forces fled, some making their way back to Qipchaq, a small number managing to reach Cairo. Berke responded by sending an army, led by his nephew Prince Noghay (a great grandson of Chinggis), through the Caucasus Mountains into Azerbaijan. Hulägu moved north and defeated Noghay in November 1262, forcing him back through the Derbent pass back onto the Qipchaq steppe. The Ilkhanids then crossed the Terek River, capturing an empty enemy encampment, only to be routed in a surprise attack by Noghay's forces. Many of them were drowned as the ice broke on the frozen Terek River. It was the first encounter between two opposing Mongol armies.

The outbreak of war between Berke and Hulägu had occurred while Niccolo and Maffio Polo were at Saray, having arrived one year earlier by means of Sudaq with jewellery from Constantinople to trade with the Khan . Barred from returning to the Mediterranean through Persia, they decided to travel eastwards to Bukhara, first crossing the Volga at Ukek.

Sultan Baybars saw the Khanate of Qipchaq as a natural ally against the Ilkhanate of Persia and ambassadors were exchanged, communication being facilitated by the Greek recapture of Constantinople under Michael Palaeologus in 1261. The Mamluks were ethnically Qipchaq and obtained many of their soldiers in the form of slaves from the Qipchaq steppes. While Berke and Baybars considered several options, no joint campaign was ever agreed although the increasing power of the Mamluks kept Egypt and Syria away from Ilkhanid control.

Meanwhile the death of the Great Khan Möngke had led to a contest between two of his brothers, Qubilai and the younger Ariq-böke. Ariq-böke, who was responsible for the homeland and was already in Qaraqorum, may have been Möngke's chosen successor. He therefore became the temporary regent and began the preparations for a qurultai. Qubilai meanwhile brought his army north to his summer encampment on the edge of the Gobi Desert, close to modern Duolun and, at a stage-managed qurultai, he declared himself Supreme Khan. This was a clear breach of Chinggisid tradition and the advisors at Möngke's court encouraged Ariq-böke to also take the throne. Berke now threw his support behind Ariq-böke, while Hulägu supported Qubilai, splitting the Mongol ulus down the middle.

A four-year-long civil war ensued in which Qubilai's military forces eventually proved decisive. Qubilai won the first battle in Kansu and then advanced into Mongolia, forcing Ariq-böke into the Upper Yenisei. Ariq-böke then recaptured Qaraqorum and engaged Qubilai close to the Gobi desert. At this point the civil war appeared evenly balanced.

Ariq-böke had earlier placed Chaghatay's grandson Alughu in charge of the former Chaghatay ulus of East Turkestan with the task of preventing reinforcements being sent from Hulägu to Qubilai. Alughu exploited the opportunity to rebuild his ulus and took control of Samarkand and Bukhara, before reneging on Ariq-böke and declaring his support for Qubilai. His defection turned the tide, allowing Qubilai to attack from the east to re-occupy Qaraqorum, while Alughu attacked from the west. Ariq-böke was trapped and forced to surrender in 1264. Alughu then declared war on Berke Khan, seizing Otrar and Khorezm. While left bank Khorezm would eventually be retaken, the Qipchaq Khanate had lost its control over Transoxiana.

In the year of his victory, 1264, Qubilai decided to build a new capital of the empire at Khanbaliq, the City of the Khan, known in the west as Cambalec and better known today as Beijing. Qubilai's victory and his removal of the throne from Qaraqorum further isolated the Khanate of Qipchaq from the other Mongol ulus, increasing its autonomy. Hulägu on the other hand styled himself the Il-Khan, or subservient Khan, indicating his subordination to the new Great Khan in the East.

Hulägu's death in 1266 may have given Berke another opportunity to take control of the Caucasus. In the following year he advanced into Azerbaijan with his general Noghay, but was repulsed by Hulägu's son Abaqa. Berke was killed at a battle at Tiflis in Georgia and Noghay lost an eye.

Berke was succeeded by Batu's grandson Möngke Temür, who was a non-Muslim. Möngke Temür maintained the alliance with Mamluk Egypt and Byzantium and seems to have reached a stalemate with the new Il-Khan Abaqa. However he continued to oppose the rule of the usurper Qubilai Khan and supported the Ögedeyid prince Qaidu's fight against Baraq Khan, the ally of Qubilai, who was now in control of Chaghatay's ulus. To emphasize the Khanate of Qipchaq's independence from Qubilai, Möngke Temür began to issue his own coinage, which bore no reference to the Great Khan.

Mongol trade with Byzantium and the Mediterranean was increasing with goods passing from Saray to Tana to be exported through the Khanate of Qipchaq port of Sudaq in the Crimea. The Genoese had acquired a monopoly on the trading rights across the Black Sea from Michael Palaeologos, who had dislodged the Venetians from Constantinople. Now Möngke Temür granted the Genoese permission to establish a port at Caffa. Berke had been responsible for transforming Saray from a camping ground to a town or city, probably founding a mosque or medresseh and even a bishopric. Indeed the anonymous Arab writer of the Mesalek al-Absar even claimed that Berke was the founder of Saray: "The town stood in a salty plain, and was without walls, though the palace had walls flanked by towers". Apparently the town was large and had markets, medressehs and baths. It became known as Berke Sari, while the Dasht-i Qipchaq became known as Berke's steppe.

When Möngke Temür died in 1280 he left the Khanate in an economically and militarily powerful position. It still remained primarily a nomadic state whose population was overwhelmingly Turkic, the number of Mongols having progressively declined as a result of the continuing demands upon the Qipchaq Khanate for military resources. Now the Mongol leadership was increasingly coming under the cultural, linguistic, and religious influence of its mainly Muslim Turkish population. Its only sedentary centres were located in Saray, the Crimea and in Urgench, but these were all rapidly growing and were the main centres of Muslim teaching. Of course the bulk of the Qipchaq nomads still remained pagan at this time.

The Mongol Empire itself had been permanently fractured into four effectively independent khanates: Qubilai in China, where the Yüan dynasty had been established in 1271; the Chaghatay Khanate in Transoxiana and Ferghana; the Il-Khante in Iran and Iraq; and finally the Khanate of Qipchaq.

These divisions would lead to a halt in the empire's outward expansion as its military resources became increasing redirected towards internal conflicts.

Emir Noghay and Toqta Khan

Emir Noqai or Noghay, the grandson of Berke's younger brother Bo'al, emerged as an increasingly powerful general during the reign of Berke and Möngke Temür. However he lacked the military talents of Batu or his great-grandfather Jöchi. He had led an unsuccessful raid on Hungary in 1261, and commanded two failed campaigns against Hulägu - in 1262 and 1267. In the latter debacle he not only lost an eye but witnessed the death of his sovereign. However he was successful against the Byzantine Empire in 1265 after it had invaded Bulgaria, forcing it into an alliance, the Emperor Michael Palaeologos offering the hand of one of his illegitimate daughters to Emir Noghay. In 1271 he invaded Bulgaria at the request of his father-in-law who was seeking revenge against the King of Bulgaria for a raid against Thrace. Like Berke, Noghay was a Muslim, having been converted at some time prior to 1262. Noghay produced three legitimate sons: Cheke, Teke and Buri.

Noghay does not appear to have inherited his own ulus, and was always described as a commander, suggesting that he may not have been a legitimate son. Instead he seems to have carved out his own fiefdom in the western part of the Qipchaq Khanate. Grousset refers to a Franciscan envoy to the Crimea named Ladislas, who noted that while the Khans of Qipchaq (Töda-Möngke and Töle-Buqa, see below) occupied the region around Saray, Noghay roamed further west in the region of the Don and the Donets. From the 1260s onwards he controlled the westernmost region of the Khanate of Qipchaq, effectively establishing an independent province on the western and northern shores of the Black Sea, ranging from the lower Danube to the lower Don and extending north to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains (in other words a large part of present-day Moldova and the Ukraine). His influence extended into the Balkans and northern Bulgaria. His main encampment was on the River Bug, which enters the Black Sea just west of the Crimea.

After the death of Möngke Temür the Khanate of Qipchaq entered a difficult period with a succession of leaders consumed by infighting and intrigue as the various tribal factions vied for power and control of the valuable trade route. Noghay exploited these weaknesses by building up his own following and extending his control over the running of the Khanate until his death in 1300. Unfortunately this internal division also provided opportunities for the Khanate's rivals and vassal states.

The Qipchaq throne now passed to Möngke Temür's far less competent younger brother, Töda-Möngke. In 1281 the new Khan summoned the Russian princes to Saray to renew their patents, but Dmitry Aleksandrovitch of Vladimir refused to pay homage. Töda-Möngke transferred the Princedom to Dmitry's younger brother Andrei who, with Tatar support, invaded the Principality of Vladimir forcing Dmitry to flee. Dmitry now sought assistance from Noghay who issued his own patent in return for Dmitry's submission and promise of future tribute. Noghay then sent troops to Vladimir to oust Andrei from power.

After becoming a devout Sufi Muslim in 1283, the ineffectual Töda-Möngke was declared insane and deposed by his nephews Töle-Buqa and Könchek (grandsons of Batu's second son Toqoqan) along with two of Möngke Temür's sons. According to Rashid al-Din the two brothers ruled the Khanate jointly.

That same year Noghay briefly supported his father-in-law in Thessaly and in 1284 staged a raid on Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia and Thrace, forcing the submission of the Bulgarian ruler George Terter and the Serbian king Stefan Uros II Milutin. When Terter fled to Byzantium, Noghay placed his own vassal Smiltzos on the throne. In the winter of 1285-86 Noghay waged a joint campaign with Töle-Buqa against Hungary, which was under the rule of Ladislas IV, known as the Cuman because of his Qipchaq mother. The venture was a disaster with atrocious weather causing the Qipchaq army to suffer heavy losses during their advance on the Danube and also on their retreat. A quarrel arose between Noghay and Töle-Buqa with many discontented warriors, including Toqta and several of Möngke Temür's other sons, finding refuge in Noghay's encampment.

In 1287 Noghay and Töle-Buqa set out on another unsuccessful raid, this time on Poland. Ladislas visited the Crimea in the very same year and discovered that Noghay was perceived to have equal rank with Töle-Buqa.

It was Töle-Buqa's insistence on trying to recover the pasturelands of Azerbaijan from the Ilkhans that led to his downfall. His first attempt in 1288 was a failure, as was his second attempt in 1290. With his reputation shattered he was challenged by Toqta, Möngke Temür's capable son. Töle-Buqa attempted to have Toqta arrested but he escaped to find sanctuary at Noghay's encampment. In 1291 the ruthless Noghay hatched a plot to capture Töle-Buqa, handing him over to Toqta to be assassinated, thereby making way for Toqta to be installed on the throne as Noghay's puppet.

However Toqta had a mind of his own and he would eventually restore peace and order to the Khanate. His period of governance, coupled with that of his nephew Özbeg, would go down as the Golden Age of the Khanate of Qipchaq.

Toqta's first challenge came from three Russian princes – Dmitry Aleksandrovitch of Vladimir, Mikhail Yaroslavich of Tver and Daniel Aleksandrovich of Moscow – who refused to pay homage to him in Saray, having allied themselves to Noghay. Exploiting the situation, Andrei and the Rostov princes submitted themselves to Toqta instead, raising their complaints about Dmitry's loyalty. Noghay refused to obey Toqta's summons to Saray. In 1293 Toqta staged his first campaign against Noghay, also sending forces to Vladimir to oust Dmitry and install Andrei. Dmitry fled and died the following year, permitting Andrei to rule as the legitimate prince.

The final showdown between Toqta and Noghay is described in different ways by different sources - Marco Polo picked up part of the story while imprisoned in Genoa in 1299; Rashid al-Din's account dates from 1307, while the Arab author Al-Nuwayri produced his enormous encyclopaedia in 1331. The underlying cause of the dispute was fairly fundamental – by 1296 Noghay had effectively established his own independent Khanate. That year his mint, first established in the fortress of Saqchi in 1286, ceased issuing coins in the name of Toqta in favour of those bearing Noghay's own name and tamga, and some with the name of his son Cheke. Noghay had also assisted the Venetians to break the Genoese monopoly on Black Sea trade, causing the Genoese to complain loudly to Toqta at his court in Saray. However it is also possible that something more mundane sparked the final confrontation. Marco Polo suggests two of Töda-Möngke’s sons approached Toqta seeking vengeance for the death of their father, while Rashid al-Din suggests there had been problems following the marriage of Noghay's daughter to Toqta's brother-in-law. Al-Nuwayri on the other hand suggests that Noghay was providing sanctuary to several tribal chieftains and refused to hand them over to Toqta. Whatever the cause, it seems that Noghay was threatened by Toqta and rose to the challenge.

According to Rashid al-Din, Toqta first attempted to advance on Noghay but was frustrated by his inability to cross the Dnieper for lack of ice. One year later Noghay headed for the Don on the pretext of peacefully resolving his differences with Toqta at a qurultai, while actually hoping to catch the Khan before he had time to rally his forces. Toqta hastily gathered his army and engaged Noghay in battle at Bakhtiyar on the east bank of the Don, but was heavily defeated and forced to retreat to Saray. While the location of the battle may be uncertain, with Marco Polo mentioning the Plain of Nerghi and Al-Nuwayri the alternative site of Yacssi, it must have taken place in the winter of 1296-97 since news of Toqta's major defeat reached Makrizi in Cairo in February-March 1298.

Noghay now sent his grandson to the wealthy Genoese ports of Sudaq and Caffa in the Crimea to collect tribute. After the grandson was assassinated, Noghay led a punitive expedition against the Genoese, taking booty and many prisoners. The Genoese then sought a settlement, which required the return of the captured prisoners. However this caused splits to emerge in Noghay's camp, with some princes proposing to side with Toqta in return for an amnesty, offering to raise Teke as their Khan if only he would join them. When Teke went to negotiate with the dissidents he was captured, forcing Cheke to purge the radicals and decapitate one of their leaders. The incident left a feeling of distrust between the two brothers and when Cheke made a failed attempt to have Teke killed it caused a revolt among some of his military leaders.

When news of these divisions reached Toqta he gathered his reinforcements and crossed the Dnieper with a huge army approaching Noghay's encampment on the River Bug. While Noghay attempted to parley, his son Cheke attempted to outflank the enemy. Informed of the intrigue, Toqta ordered his troops to engage with Noghay's supporters. The battle of Kügenlik resulted in many casualties and Noghay's forces were trounced. Noghay was finally beheaded by a Rus soldier while his sons retreated to the country of the Keler and the Bashkirs (Hungary). Al-Nuwayri dates this final battle to 1299.

Battle between Noghay and Toqta
The battle between Noghay and Toqta in 1298-99.
From a copy of the Jami al-Tavarikh by Rashid al-Din, Indian Society of Oriental Art, Kolkata.

This defeat had profound consequences for Noghay's sons and supporters. Cheke immediately laid claim to his fathers domains but was forced to seek refuge with the As or Alans to avoid being captured by his pursuers. Cheke had earlier married one of George Terter's daughters and decided to head for Bulgaria with his supporters, where he joined forces with his brother-in-law Svetoslav. Marching into Tarnavo in late 1299 Cheke ousted the temporary ruler Ivan II and placed himself on the Emperor's throne with Svetosalv installed his deputy. It was here that he was approached by his mother and brother Teke, who proposed that he make a peace deal with Toqta, an idea that so outraged him that he had them both murdered, creating a further schism through the ranks of Noghay's ruling tribe. Fearing reprisals from Toqta, Svetoslav finally deposed Cheke in 1300 and had him strangled in prison. After receiving Cheke's head, Toqta installed Svetoslav as the new Emperor.

Noghay's former appanage had been divided among Toqta's family, the largest part going to his brother Serai Bugha. Although two of Noghay's sons were dead, Buri was still seeking revenge for the death of his brothers and father. In 1301 Buri persuaded Serai Bugha to rebel against Toqta, but the plot was uncovered and Buri and Serai Bugha were both killed, Serai Bugha's territories now passing to one of Toqta's sons. According to al-Nuwayri one of Cheke's sons, Kara Kesek, had survived the killings and fled with two of his relatives and about 3,000 supporters to "the country of Shishmen", reaching a place called Bdin, which Vásáry interprets as Vidin, a semi-independent Bulgarian state on the southern bank of the Danube. The Tatars formed a military alliance with Shishmen and settled in his territory.

Although Toqta was finally free from Noghay interference, the tribal leadership of his White Horde had been shaken by the internal conflict and its vassal states had gained confidence. Toqta now weakened the White Horde economy by picking a fight with the Genoese colonies in the Crimea. Concerned by the continuing export of Qipchaq slaves for the Mamluk army, Toqta arrested the Genoese residents of Saray in 1307 and then besieged the port of Caffa. The Genoese responded in May 1308 by departing by sea leaving their city in flames. They then established a naval blockade of the Black Sea ports, depriving the Horde of valuable revenues.

Despite the ongoing struggle among the ruling families for power, life within the Khanate of Qipchaq remained orderly. Thanks to the so-called Pax Mongolica, travel remained safe and commerce was buoyant. Ambassadors began to flock to Saray, Qaraqorum and Beijing from all quarters of Eurasia. In return two Mongol ambassadors even turned up in Northampton in 1307 carrying letters for Edward II.

In his final years Toqta turned his attention back to Russia and considered eliminating the special status of the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, placing all the Russian princes on the same level. In 1312 he set off by boat up the Volga to see these territories at first hand but in August he fell ill and died before leaving the boat.

Özbeg Khan

Under the rules of accession the 30-year-old Özbeg, eldest son of Toqta's older brother Togrül, was first in line for the Qipchaq throne. In the earlier conflict between Töle-Buqa and Toqta, Togrül had supported the incumbent Khan and had consequently been eliminated by his ambitious younger brother. The latter clearly desired that Tukel (sometimes called Elbasmu), the eldest of his three surviving sons, would succeed him and as a result had sent the young Özbeg into exile with the Circassians. It seems that the ulus beys were divided over the issue. According to Rashid ad-Din some leaders of the Mongol ruling tribes did not favour Özbeg because of his Islamic leanings and planned to assassinate him at a feast before announcing their decision to install Tukel. However Toqta's former advisor, Qutlugh Timur, who seems to have been the chief of the ulus beys, supported Özbeg and warned him of the plot. Together Qutlugh Timur, Özbeg and Togrül's widow Bayalun conspired against Tukel and his emir, Özbeg killing the former at Serai and Qutlugh Timur killing the latter. Once enthroned in early 1313, Özbeg conducted a major purge of the disloyal tribal leaders and shamen. Almost one hundred princes and tribal aristocrats were massacred.

The imman Badr al-Din al-Ayni recorded that Qutlugh Timur secured Özbeg's prior agreement to adopt Islam before supporting him to become Khan, suggesting that there may have been political reasons behind his conversion. The Mongol rules of inheritance meant that the ulus of every emir was divided among his sons following his death. The Khanate was becoming more and more fragmented into an increasing number of smaller fiefdoms, creating the potential for greater internal conflict. It is possible that Islam was seen as a potential unifying force, especially since many important groups within the Khanate were already believers, from the important Bulghar merchants on the Volga, to the Khorezmian Sarts and some of the senior Qipchaq military, as were its Mamluk allies and southern Ilkhanate neighbours. According to the anonymous 15th to 16th century Shajarat al-atrak, Özbeg Khan was converted by the Sufi shaykh Sayyid Ata of the Sunni order of Kwaja Ahmed Yassawi of Yasi (modern Turkestan), who renamed him Ghiyath ad-Din Muhammad Özbeg. Sayyid Ata had been sent as a missionary from Tashkent to spread Islam in the Qipchaq steppes. Apparently those who subsequently converted and accompanied Sayyid Ata back to Turkestan adopted the name of their recently converted Khan, Özbeg. Of course it is likely that this was no more than a retrospective attempt to provide an explanation of the origin for the ethnonym Özbeg (Uzbek).

Özbeg was to rule for almost 30 years, re-establishing centralized rule from Saray and restoring stability. Qutlugh Timur remained one of Özbeg's closest advisors but was mysteriously assigned the governorship of Khorezm in 1321 in place of Bayalun's brother Bay Timür. Two years later he was reinstated as Özbeg's deputy.

Özbeg maintained the alliance between the Khanate of Qipchaq and Byzantium as well as with the Egyptian Mamluks. One of his sons was married to a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Andronik Paleologus. In 1316 the Mamluk Caliph Nassir sent envoys to Saray requesting a marriage alliance with a Chinggisid princess, a proposal that initially came as a shock to Özbeg's court. It was not until 1319 that Princess Tulunbeg departed for a grand welcome in Cairo, although it seems that the marriage was short-lived, causing consternation in Saray. However after the Mamluks concluded a peace treaty with the Il Khanate in 1323, the influence of the Khanate of Qipchaq in Egypt began to wane. The establishment of the Ottomans in Constantinople in 1354 would lead to the final termination of commercial relations between the Nile and the Volga.

Under Özbeg the Khanate of Qipchaq maintained its hostile stance against Iran. The situation was not helped by Baba Bahadur, a Chinggisid prince who relocated his tribal followers to Khurasan in 1305. In 1315 he invaded and pillaged Khorezm, only being ousted as a result of the intervention of friendly Chaghatay forces based in Khojent. A furious Özbeg sent an ambassador to Iran to complain about the incursion, threatening military action unless the perpetrator was brought to justice. The Il-Khan Öljeytü chose a diplomatic solution and had Baba and his son executed.

After Öljeytü's death (in 1316) and the enthronement of his 13-year-old son Abu Said, Özbeg launched an attack against the Il Khanate, marching south through Derbent in 1318-19. Following the news of Özbeg's invasion, many of Abu Said's forces deserted him, but he was saved by the arrival of his military leader, Emir Choban. In 1325 Özbeg led a second expedition into Iran, which was again repulsed by Choban back onto the Qipchaq steppes. Another major campaign was launched against Azerbaijan in 1334-35. In 1335 Abu Said was in the process of launching a counter attack against the Qipchaq Khanate when he was killed, possibly by poison. He left no male heirs, ending the line of Hulägu and initiating a feud for the succession. In their desperation to find a leader the Il Khanate ulus beys even approached Özbeg, but he declined after consulting with his senior emir, Qutlugh Timur. It was the start of the Il Khanate's fragmentation and decline into chaos.

In Russia, the title of Grand Prince of Vladimir had passed to Mikhail of Tver in 1304, but he encountered difficulties with the important commercial centre of Novgorod, which refused to accept his choice of governors. Although Novgorod acknowledged his position in 1307, it continued to resist the collection of tribute. Finally Mikhail withdrew his governors in 1312 and laid siege to the city. Following Özbeg's succession the following year, Mikhail paid homage to the new Khan, only to find that his absence had been exploited by Yuri, Prince of Moscow, offering to take the Novgorod throne. Mikhail appealed to Özbeg for military assistance and by 1316 had regained control of Novgorod. In the meantime, Yuri had been summoned to the Volga by the Khan, where he managed to convince Özbeg that he could harvest a higher level of tribute from the Rus territories than his rival Mikhail. Özbeg granted patents to Yuri and cemented them by offering one of his sisters in marriage. However after Yuri returned to Moscow he was attacked by Mikhail. Özbeg's sister was captured and eventually died. It was now Yuri's turn to appeal to Özbeg. Mikhail was summoned to Özbeg's encampment close to Derbent in 1319, where he was assassinated.

Mikhail of Tver standing before Özbeg Khan.
A drawing by Vasiliy Vereshchagin.

In 1321 Yuri collected taxes from Dmitri of Tver, the son of the late Mikhail, but instead of delivering it to Saray, kept it for himself. Now Dmitri grabbed the initiative and travelled to Özbeg's court, revealing Yuri's treachery and convincing Özbeg to endow him with his father's patent. Yuri responded by assembling a delegation in Novgorod to travel to the Volga with his treasury, only to be robbed along the way by Dmitri's brother. It took several years for Yuri to accumulate enough wealth to feel confident enough to restart his journey, only to be assassinated by Dmitri after entering the Khanate of Qipchaq.

Dmitri of Tver killing Yuri Daniilovich.
From the Russian "Chronicle of Kings".

When Mongol tax assessors (one of whom was Özbeg's cousin) entered Tver in 1327, they were killed by its inhabitants, responding to a wild rumour that they were about to be forcibly converted to Islam. Ivan Daniilovich of Moscow, Yuri's brother, immediately sent his own governors to Novgorod while setting off himself to Özbeg's encampment. He returned at the head of a Mongol army in order to punish Tver for its uprising and rewarded the Mongol generals and emissaries with a special tribute. In turn Özbeg rewarded Ivan I with the Grand Principality of Vladimir, Novgorod and Moscow. He chose Moscow as his residence and enclosed it with a rampart. He and his successors ruthlessly exploited their reluctant subjects on behalf of the Khanate for the next forty years, gradually building up their power base in northern Russia.

The Khanate of Qipchaq in the 1330s

Many historians claim that the heyday of the Khanate of Qipchaq occurred during the reign of Özbeg Khan. While this was certainly not the case in military terms, it probably was so economically. Of course Özbeg Khan maintained Mongol nomadic traditions, constantly moving his orda, or city on wheels, across the steppes to the north of the Caucasus Mountains and between the Caspian and Azov Seas. Yet he had also established a strong administration at Saray led by a chancellor or vasir with the power to manage the Khanate in the absence of the Khan and resolve issues without consulting the ulus emirs. It seems that, from around the turn of the century, Qipchaq had replaced Mongol as the language of the administration, while during Özbeg's reign Islam gained an increasing hold of the Mongol and Qipchaq aristocracy and administration. The encouragement and development of trade remained a high priority and relations with the Genoese and Venetians remained strong, the latter being allowed to build a colony at Tana, at the mouth of the Don, in 1332. Özbeg's administration unified the monetary and weight systems and introduced a single currency called pools, which was minted in Bulghar, Mukha and Urgench.

According to the 14th century scholar al-Umari, the Khanate of Qipchaq consisted of four parts, the Dasht-i Qipchaq, Saray, the Crimea and Khorezm. In fact it consisted of five parts if one considers the northern Bulghar territories, or six if one includes the vassal Principalities of Russia. Its main cities and towns were located in the following regions:

Ports on the Volga and Don:
  • Bulghar, on the left bank of the Volga some 80km north of modern Simbirsk,

  • Ukek, on the Volga between Bulghar and Saray, 10km south of modern Saratov,

  • Saray, on the right bank of the middle Aqtuba River 170km north of modern Astrakhan,

  • Hajji-Tarkhan, now Astrakhan,

  • Azak, at the mouth of the Don, the location of the new Venetian colony of Tana,
Ports on the Black Sea:
  • Ketch, a port on the eastern tip of the Crimea,

  • Caffa, the rapidly growing Christian colony of the Genoese, now the modern town of Feodosia,

  • Sudaq, the earliest main Mongol port on the Crimea, called Soldaia by the Venetians and sometimes referred to as Krim, 60km west of Feodosia,

  • Cherson, at the mouth of the Dnieper River,

  • Aq Kerman, know to the Italians as Moncastro, at the mouth of the Dniester River, and Kiliya further south.
Steppe Towns:
  • Majar, the former capital of the Alans on the left bank of the Kuma River east of modern Stavropol, between the Black and Caspian Seas, and

  • Saraichik, founded by Batu on the Ural River, 50km from the modern Kazakh city of Atyrau.
Major settlements in Khorezm:
  • Urgench, on the Darya Lyk outlet located on the left bank of the Amu Darya, the remains of which lay close to Konya Urgench in northern Turkmenistan,

  • Mizdahkan, just over the Karakalpak border east of Urgench,

  • Pul'jai, on the edge of the Ustyurt on the west coast of the Aral Sea, and

  • Bograkhan, in the Aral delta close to modern Kungrad.
Bulghar, the centre of the important northern fur trade, was linked to Saray and the ports of the Black Sea, as was the overland trade route that ran from Germany through the Russian Principalities. Goods from the Baltic and Poland were taken overland to Aq Kerman and Kiliya. Genoese vessels imported Western textiles, glass, ceramics, silver and armour into Caffa for distribution through the trade routes of the Khanate of Qipchaq. They then exported Turkish, Russian and Finish slaves, furs and luxuries from the Orient back to the West. The Venetians imported Syrian and French textiles, Greek and Italian metals, dyes, carpets, and other luxury items into Tana, and exported pelts, silk, spices and beeswax. They also maintained an important link to Trebizond.

From the East, goods were transported along the many branches of the ancient Silk Road. Delhi was linked to Multan, Kabul, Herat, Merv, Samarkand and Bukhara. Goods from China passed through Xingjiang into the Ferghana Valley and to Bukhara and Urgench. Another route passed through Almaliq into Kazakhstan and down the Syr Darya to Otrar and finally Khorezm. Italian merchants were not confined to the Black Sea. Many travelled from the Crimea to Saray and Urgench. Some silk textiles were referred to as Urgenchian or Khorezmian because they arrived at Saray from Khorezm. Caravans took 40 to 45 days to travel from Urgench to Saray, first crossing the barren Ustyurt with stone-built caravanserais and wells such as Uchkuduk, Bulak, Kok-Bulak and Beleuli located every 20 to 30km. The remains of Beleuli caravanserai can still be found 300km northwest of Urgench. It consisted of a rectangular walled enclosure with rounded turrets at the corners and a high stone portal decorated with a pair of flat relief lions (now stolen). Italian graffiti has been identified on the walls. Outside were four wells, each surrounded by a walled yard containing a watering trough for animals hewn out of a solid stone block. Excavations have revealed that Beleuli was cleverly designed to be an island of self-sufficiency: underground canals built of fired brick were designed to collect water from the huge shallow lakes that formed every spring from snow melt on the surrounding clay takyrs and to channel it into underground reservoirs. Nearby fields were used to grow wheat and animals were raised to provide meat.

From the Ustyurt the route led to the small city of Saraichik on the Ural River, used as a resort city by the Mongol aristocracy for hunting and fishing. It was only 8 days from here to Saray. The journey from Urgench to Sudaq took 90 days.

Özbeg Khan wanted to rule from a more impressive city than Saray and during his reign he established the new capital of Saray al-Jadid, or Saray the New, some 200km further north on the Volga. The location is at the modern town of Tsarev, near Sarepta, about 55km south of modern Volgograd. Saray al-Jadid eventually had a new mosque and a palace for the Khan, a water distribution system, public baths, bazaars and caravanserais. However the date of its founding remains unclear. Ibn Arabshah wrote that it was constructed 63 years before its destruction by Timur in 1395, in other words in 1332. If Ibn Battuta reached Saray from Hajji Tarkhan in 3 days (see below), Özbeg Khan must have still been residing at nearby Old Saray in 1333. We also know that the minting of coins only began at Saray al-Jadid in the 1340s. The implication is that the new city was still under development in the early 1330s.

We have a very good picture of the settled part of the Khanate of Qipchaq from the intrepid Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta, who travelled through the region in 1333. After embarking on a Greek ship at Sinope (in Turkey) he experienced a stormy passage across the Black Sea en route for Krim (Sudaq). However the ship arrived instead at the port of Kerch in eastern Crimea, and after being advised not to enter the harbour it put Ibn Battuta ashore on the flat and treeless Dasht-i Qipchaq, from where he travelled by horse-drawn wagon to Caffa. Ibn Battuta stayed in a local mosque but found that almost all the inhabitants were infidels, in other words Christians. They were so alarmed by the clanging of church bells that they climbed the minaret to chant the Qu’ran. Battuta described the city of Caffa as one of the world's celebrated ports, with a wonderful harbour containing about two hundred vessels. He continued his journey by wagon from Caffa to the city of Krim, visiting the Mongol governor Qutlugh Timur.

Ibn Battuta's objective was an audience with Özbeg Khan, and since Emir Qutlugh Timur was about to set out for the Khan's encampment, Battuta's party travelled with him, purchasing four-wheeled wagons bearing portable cart tents for the purpose – see Yurts within the Golden Horde. They travelled in the early mornings and afternoons for 21 days to Azaq, continuing on the al-Machar (Majar), "a large town, one of the finest of the cities of the Turks, on a great river, and possessed of gardens and fruits in abundance". From here it took 4 days to reach the Khan's ordu at Bish Dagh, located on the Stavropol Plateau, just north of the Caucasus Mountains. It was "a vast city on the move with its inhabitants, with mosques and bazaars in it, the smoke of the kitchens rising in the air (for they cook while on the march), and horse-drawn wagons transporting the people". Özbeg Khan met Ibn Battuta inside his Golden Pavilion with its wooden rods covered with plaques of gold. The Khan sat on a silver gilt couch with legs of solid silver encrusted with jewels, surrounded by his senior wives.

Transporting a Mongol yurt
Fanciful illustration of the transportation of a Mongol gur by cart.
From the 1871 translation of "The Travels of Marco Polo" by Yule and Cordier.

From Özbeg's encampment Ibn Battuta claims to have travelled 10 days to the city of Bulghar, but left us no description of that city. Perhaps this is not surprising since the journey would have taken him far longer. He says that he had intended to travel further north to the "Land of Darkness", a further 40 days on from Bulghar, but was dissuaded by the high cost of hiring dog sleighs. From Bish Dagh he accompanied the ordu as it travelled to Hajji Tarkhan, where the Khan spent the hardest months of the winter. Hajji Tarkhan was "one of the finest cities, with great bazaars, built on the river Itil [Volga], which is one of the great rivers of the world". As the surface of the river turned to ice it was covered with straw and used as a highway for wagons.

One of the Khan's wives, the Khatun Bayalun, was a daughter of the Greek King of Constantinople and had been given permission to visit her father from Hajji Tarkhan. Ibn Battuta grasped the opportunity to accompany her retinue on the journey to this great city. Surprisingly they travelled overland, crossing the Volga at Ukek, "a city of middling size, with fine buildings and abundant commodities, and extremely cold". From there they journeyed to Baba Saltuq, possibly located on the lower Dnieper or in the Dobruja region of Romania, passing through an uninhabited waste before reaching the territories of the Greeks.

On his return he found the Khan had moved on to Old Saray and he travelled on a 3 day journey up the frozen Volga to meet him. He discovered that the capital was a thriving multi-cultural city:

"The city of al-Sara is one of the finest of cities, of boundless size, situated in a plain, choked with the throng of its inhabitants, and possessing good bazaars and broad streets. We rode out one day with one of its principal men, intending to make a circuit of the city and find out its extent. Our lodging place was at one end of it and we set out from it in the early morning, and it was after midday when we reached the other end. There are various groups of people among its inhabitants; these include the Mughals [Mongols], who are the dwellers in this country and its sultans, and some of whom are Muslims, then the As [Alans], who are Muslims, the Qifjaq, the Jarkas [Circassians], the Rus and the Rum – all these are Christians. Each group lives in a separate quarter with its bazaars. Merchants and strangers from the two Iraqs, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, live in a quarter which is surrounded by a wall for the protection of the properties of the merchants. The sultan's palace is called Altun Tash, altun meaning gold and tash head [actually stone]."
Ibn Battuta travelled from Saray to Urgench via Saraichik, spending 30 days to cross the Ustyurt desert:
"... we arrived at Khorezm [Urgench] which is the largest, greatest, most beautiful and most important city of the Turks. It has fine bazaars and broad streets, a great number of buildings and abundance of commodities; it shakes under the weight of its population, by reason of their multitude, and is agitated by them in a manner resembling the waves of the sea. I rode out one day on horseback and went into the bazaar, but when I got halfway through it and reached the densest pressure of the crowd at a point called al-Shawr [crossroad], I could not advance any further because of the multitude of the press, and when I tried to go back I was unable to do that either, because of the crowd of people. So I remained as I was, in perplexity, and only with great exertions did I manage to return."
The city had a new college (medresseh), recently built by Qutlugh Timur in which Ibn Battuta stayed, a cathedral mosque built by the emir's pious wife, the Khatun Tura beg, a hospital with a Syrian doctor, and a nearby hospice built over the tomb of Najim al-din al-Kubra.

The Franciscan missionary Giovanni de Monte Corvino had been sent to China by Pope Nicholas IV in 1291 and became the Bishop of Khanbaliq in 1307. He died in 1328 leaving a vacuum. In 1336 the Great Khan sent envoys to the Pope requesting the need of clergymen to satisfy the spiritual needs of his 30,000 Christian Alan mercenaries in China. In response the Franciscan theologian Giovanni de Marignolli of Florence led a fifty-man mission, which departed from Avignon in late 1338. It would be the last recorded Christian embassy to visit a Great Khan in the East. The mission sailed from Constantinople to Caffa in 8 days and then travelled on to visit Özbeg Khan and his eldest son Jani Beg, presenting them with letters and Papal gifts including textiles, strong liquor and "a great war horse". Spending the winter of 1339-1340 as guests of the Khan, they continued on to Urgench, overloaded with presents and with horses, continuing through Almaliq to reach China in 1342. His mission spent three years in Khanbaliq, after sensing increasing instability that would soon lead to anti-Mongol violence in 1348 and the eventual overthrow of the Mongol dynasty in China some twenty years later. Sadly Giovanni de Marignolli provided us with no details of the Khanate of Qipchaq through which he travelled.

Another Franciscan, the Spanish Friar Pascal of Vittoria, had followed the first part of Marignolli's journey one or two years before him on his way to the Bishopric of Illi. He sailed first from Constantinople to the Crimea before taking a second ship across the Azov Sea to Tana. From there Greek guides escorted him to Saray by wagon. After spending a year in Saray, during which he learnt the local Cumanian-Qipchaq language, Pascal left by boat along the Volga and then travelled overland to Saraichik. From there he travelled for 50 days by camel cart to Urgench. He finally reached Almaliq in 1338, where he was martyred just two years later.

Our final piece of information about the Khanate of Qipchaq comes from the Pratica della Mercatura, or Merchant's Handbook, written by the Florentine merchant Francesco Balducci Pegolotti around 1340. His travel information indicated that it was 25 days by ox-wagon or 10 to 12 days by horse-drawn wagon from Tana to Astrakhan and then one day by river to (Old) Saray. Saray to Saraichik took another 8 days. By camel wagon it was 20 days from Saraichik to Urgench and a further 35 to 40 days to Otrar, but only 50 days direct from Saraichik to Otrar. Otrar to Almaliq was 45 days by pack ass. Beijing took a further 150 days.

Pegolotti recommended that merchants should not shave, allowing their beard to grow long. He advised that the road from Tana to Cathay was perfectly safe by day and by night, but that one should seek information from other merchants along the road. The roads were generally well-policed by the Mongols. However the road from Tana to Saray was the least safe leg of the journey. Indeed Pascal of Vittoria complained that beyond Urgench the caravans had to stop in all the towns for fear of robbers. Clearly the Pax Mongolica had its limitations. Pegolotti also listed some of the merchandise traded through the port of Tana: iron, tin, and copper; saffron, pepper, ginger, and coarse spices; cloth of silk or gold, canvasses, cotton, silk, flax and madder; wheat, pulses, suet, cheese, oil, honey, wine and caviar; amber, gold and pearls; wax and laudanum; and ermine, fox, sable, wolf skins, deer skins, ox hides, and horse hides.

Of course the Western envoys and missionaries who crossed the Qipchaq steppes to visit the courts of the Mongol Khans made little contact with its nomadic tribal inhabitants. Consequently our knowledge of the nomadic population remains scant.

Firstly we must remember that very few Mongols remained in the Khanate of Qipchaq after its creation. After the conquest of Khorezm the bulk of the Mongol cavalry returned to Mongolia. Only a few regiments were left behind commanding large numbers of Qipchaq and other nomadic mercenaries who had aligned themselves with the Mongol cause. Rashid al-Din recorded that the Mongol army numbered 129,000 men at the time of Chinggis Khan's death in 1227 and that they were divided so that 101,000 remained in Mongolia under the command of Toluy. It is likely that these subsequently came under the control of Ögedey, even though Rashid ad-Din claims that following his death they came under the control of Toluy's wife Sorqoqtani Beki and her sons. Chinggis's other sons, Jöchi, Chaghatay and Ögedey each received just 4,000 troops, the remaining 16,000 being distributed to Chinggis's wife and brothers. Following Jöchi's death his army was divided equally between Batu and Orda. However by 1236, Batu's army was claimed to be of the order of 150,000 men, the bulk of whom were undoubtedly nomadic Qipchaqs and Qanglis, along with immigrant Turks such as the Uyghurs. The political structure of the Mongol state and its nomadic pastoral economy was very much in harmony with that of the Qipchaqs, many of whom realigned themselves with the tribal structures of their Mongol leaders. Of course Batu and Orda were supported with huge reinforcements from Mongolia for the invasion of Bulghar and Russia, and although we do not have any numbers, it is likely that the bulk of these forces returned to Mongolia with Güyük and Möngke. As a result of this campaign Batu's army absorbed other nomadic groups such as the Alans. In time the influence of the Turkic majority led to the increasing Turkicization of the Mongol leadership.

We know from the pioneering work of Uli Schamiloglu that the leaders or emirs of the four major tribes – the so-called ulus emirs - played an important role in the governance of the Khanate. It seems likely that Qutlugh Timur was the most senior of these four emirs and Ibn Battuta refers to several other important individuals who might have been other members of this small ruling elite: Isa ibn Körköz, who acted as Özbeg's deputy for a short period in 1320, Tuluq Temür, Özbeg's representative in Krim, and Muhammad Xoca, the governor of Azaq. However the names of these individuals are of little value since we do not know their tribal associations.

Although the well-travelled historian from Damascus, Ibn Arabshah, mentions in the early 15th century that the vezirs of the Chaghatay ulus were also rulers of the four leading tribes, namely the Arlat, Jalayir, Qavchin and Barlas, we unfortunately have no historical reference about the leading tribes in Jöchi's ulus.

We know that the four leading tribes of the 16th century Great Horde were the Qiyat, Manghyt, Sicivut and Qonqirat. Of course we cannot directly infer that these were the same four tribes that lead the Khanate of Qipchaq in the 14th century, although it is likely that that they were still important tribes at this earlier time. We know from the work of Rashid ad-Din that many Qipchaq Khans and Princes had Qonqirat mothers and wives, following earlier Mongol traditions. Many Onggirats must have migrated westwards into the Irtysh under Jöchi, moving on to the Volga under Batu. Writers such as Juvaini and Rashid ad-Din called them Qonqirats, possibly from the Turkish words qonghur at, meaning chestnut or bay horse. Jöchi Khan's mother, Börte Fujin, was a Qonqirat, as was his chief wife Sorghan (the mother of Orda) and his senior wife Öki Fujin (the mother of Batu). Orda had three chief wives, all from the Qonqirat, but we do not know the tribal identity of the wives of Batu or Berke. We know that one of Möngke Temür's chief wives was Qonqirat (another was Üshin), and was the mother of Toqta Khan. Toqta had two chief wives, one of whom was also Qonqirat. Töde Möngke also had two chief wives, one Qonqirat the other Alchi-Tatar.

By contrast the position of the Mangqut, Manghït or Manghyt tribe in the Khanate of Qipchaq during the 14th century remains unclear. According to the Zafar Nama, written by Sharaf ad-Din Ali Yazdi in Fars in 1424-25, the Manghyt were a tribe belonging to the Khanate of Qipchaq which gave rise to the 15th century ruler Idegu. In the historical sources the Manghyt ulus only emerges later in association with the Noghay Horde located in the lower Volga and Ural Rivers. Likewise we have no historical references to the Qiyat. Obviously the Qipchaq Khans Jöchi, Batu, Berke, Möngke Temür, Töde Möngke, Töle Buqa, Toqta and Özbeg were all members of Chinggis Khan's Qiyat clan, as were their offspring. We can therefore infer that the Qiyat must have been a very important tribe within the Khanate at this time.

Rashid ad-Din mentions the names of a few additional tribes in the Khanate of Qipchaq during the late 13th and the first half of the 14th century. These mainly concern the tribal affiliation of the wives of the various princes and include the Oiyrat, Qoldaq, Söldüs, Üshin, and Tatar tribes. Further information about the Qipchaq steppe tribes is given in the much later Umdet ul-ahbar, written in the 18th century by Abdulgaffar, a Crimean Tatar. This mentions the Qangli, the Sicivut, and especially the Qiyat.

It is also likely that the Şirin were another important tribe within the Khanate of Qipchaq, since we know from later sources that the Şirin were one of the leading tribes in the Crimean and Kazan Khanates. The Umdet ul-ahbar records that the Şirin were descended from a particular branch of the As and had their own specific tamga. The As or Alans were conquered by the Mongols in about 1240, after which many Alan warriors were recruited into the Mongol army, some serving as far away as China.


Akhmedov, B., revised by D. Sinor, Central Asia under the rule of Chinggis Khan's successors, History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4, pages 261 to 268, UNESCO, 1998.

Al-Athir, Ibn, al-Kamil fi'l-Ta'rikh, Dar Al-Kutub Al-'Ilmiyyah, Beirut, 2003.

Alemany, A., Sources on the Alans, A Critical Compilation, Brill, Leiden, 2000.

Allsen, T. T., Commodity and exchange in the Mongol empire, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1997.

Amitai-Preiss, R., Mongols and Mamluks, The Mamluk – Īlkhānid War 1260-1281, Cambridge University Pres, Cambridge, 1995.

Barthold, V. V., Four Studies on the History of Central Asia, Volume 3, A History of the Turkmen People, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1962.

Barthold, V. V., Turkestan down to the Mongol Invasion, E. J. W. Gibb Memorial Trust, London, 1977.

Bira, Sh., The Mongols and their state in the twelfth to the thirteenth century, History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4, pages 243 to 259, UNESCO, 2000.

Bosworth, C. E., The new Islamic dynasties, A chronological and genealogical manual, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2004.

Boyle, J. A., Dynastic and Political History of the Il-Khans, The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 5, The Saljuq and Mongol Periods, edited by J. A. Boyle, pages 303 to 421, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1968.

Bretschneider, E., Medieval Researches from Eastern Asiatic Sources, Volume 1, Barnes and Noble, Reprint of 1888 edition, New York, 1967.

Buryakov, Y. F., Baipakov, K. M., Tashbaeva, Kh., and Yakubov, Y., The Cities and Routes of the Great Silk Road (on Central Asia Documents), International Institute for Central Asian Studies, "Sharq" Publishers, Tashkent, 1999.

Clavijo, R. G. de, Embassy to Tamerlane 1403-1406, translated from the Spanish by Guy Le Strange, George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., London, 1928.

Curtin, J., The Mongols in Russia, Sampson Low, Marston, & Company, London, 1908.

Dawson, C., The Mongol Mission, Sheed and Ward, London, 1955.

De Hartog, Genghis Khan, Conqueror of the World, Tauris Parke Paperbacks, London, 2004.

Desmaisons, P. I., Histoire des Mongols et des Tatares par Aboul-Ghâzi Béhâdour Khân, Philo Press, Amsterdam, 1970.

DeWeese, D., Islamization and Native religion in the Golden Horde, Baba Tükles and Conversion to Islam in Historical and Epic Tradition, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

Eisma, D., Chinggis Qan and the conquest of Eurasia, Lulu Press, Inc., The Hague, 2006.

Engel, P., The Realm of St. Stephen: A History of Medieval Hungary, 895-1526, I. B. Taurus, London, 2005.

Federov-Davydov, G. A., The Silk Road and the Cities of the Golden Horde, Zinat Press, Berkeley, 1991.

Gabriel, R. A., Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan's Greatest General, Praeger/Greenwood, Westport, 2004.

Goncharov, E. Y., translated by D. Elliot, Old and New Saray – Capital of the Golden Horde (a look at new sources), as-Sikka, Online Journal of the Islamic Coins Group, Volume 4, 2002.

Grousset, R., The Empire of the Steppes, A History of Central Asia, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, 1999.

Guzman, G. G., Simon of Saint-Quentin and the Dominican Mission to the Mongol Baiju: A Reappraisal, Speculum, Volume 46, Number 2, pages 232 to 249, April 1971.

Halperin, C. J., The East Slavic Response to the Mongol Conquest, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, Volume 10, pages 98 to 117, 1999.

Houdas, O., translator and editor, Mohammed En-Nesawi, Histoire du Sultan Djelal ed-din Mankobirti, L'école des langues orientale vivantes, Paris, 1895.

Howorth, H. H., History of the Mongols, From the 9th to the 19th Century, Part II, The So-Called Tatars of Russia and Central Asia, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1880.

Huc, L'Abbé, Christianity in China, Tartary and Thibet, Volume 1, Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, London, 1857.

Ibn Battuta, The Travels of Ibn Battuta, translated by H. A. R. Gibb, Volume 2, Hakluyt Society, Cambridge, 1964.

Jackson, P., The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck. His journey to the court of the Great Khan Möngke 1253-1255, The Hakluyt Society, London, 1990.

Jackson, P., From Ulus to Khanate: the Making of the Mongol States c.1220 – c.1290, The Mongol Empire & its Legacy, edited by R. Amitai-Preiss and D. O. Morgan, pages 12 to 38, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 2000.

Juvaini, Ata-Malik, The History of the World Conqueror, Part II, translated by J. A. Boyle, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1997.

Kolbas, J., The Mongols in Iran, Chingiz Khan to Uljaytu 1220-1309, Routledge, London, 2006.

Kosztolnyik, Z. J., Hungary in the Thirteenth Century, Chapter 5, The Tatar Invasion, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, New York, 1996.

Martin, J., Medieval Russia, 980-1584, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995.

May, T., Chormaqan Noyan: The First Mongol Military Governor in the Middle East, Doctoral Thesis, Indiana University, 1996.

Michell, R., and Forbes, N., The Chronicle of Novgorod, 1016-1417, Camden Third Series, Volume 25, The Camden Society, London, 1914.

Miles, Col. W., translator, The Shajrat Ul Atrak, or Genealogical Tree of the Turks and Tatars, William H. Allen & Co., London, 1838.

Morgan, D., The Mongols, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2007.

Moses, L. W., Introduction to Mongolian History and Culture, Uralic and Altaic Series, Volume 149, RoutledgeCurzon, London, 1997.

Nurmukhamedov, M. K., Muminov, I. M., and Dosumov, Y. M., History of the Karakalpak ASSR, Volume 1, Fan Publishing House, Tashkent, 1986.

Nurmukhamedov, M. K., Zhdanko, T. A., and Kamalov, S. K., The Karakalpaks, Tashkent, 1971.

Onon, U., The Secret History of the Mongols, The Life and Times of Chinggis Khan, RoutledgeCurzon, London, 2001.

Pelenski, J., The Contest between Lithuania-Rus' and the Golden Horde in the Fourteenth Century for Supremacy over Eastern Europe, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, Volume 2, pages 303 to 320, Wiesbaden, 1982.

Pugachenkova, G. A., Dani, A. H., and Liu Yingsheng, Urban Development and Architecture, History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 4, pages 507 to 584, UNESCO, 2000.

Rashid al-Din, The Successors of Genghis Khan, translated by J. A. Boyle, Columbia University Press, New York, 1971.

Raverty, Maj. H. G., translator, Tabakat-i-Nasiri, Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1881/1995.

Saunders, J. J., The History of the Mongol Conquests, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1971.

Schamiloglu, U., Tribal Politics and Social Organization in the Golden Horde, Doctoral Thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1986.

Schamiloglu, U., The Qaraçi Beys of the Later Golden Horde: Notes on the Organization of the Mongol World Empire, Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi, Issue IV, pages 283 to 297, Wiesbaden, 1984.

Schamiloglu, U., An Agenda for Research on the Golden Horde, Proceedings of the First Symposium on the Sources for the History of the Golden Horde,

Schamiloglu, U., The Umdet ul-ahbar and the Turkic Narrative Sources for the Golden Horde and the Later Golden Horde, Central Asian Monuments, edited by H. B. Paksoy, Isis Press, Istanbul, 1992.

Sinor, D., The Mongols in the West, Journal of Asian History, Volume 33, Number 1, Bloomington, 1999.

Sinor, D., and Klyashtorny, S. G., The Turk Empire, History of the Civilizations of Central Asia, Volume 3, pages 327 to 347, UNESCO, 1996.

Skrine, F. H. B., and Ross, E. D., The Heart of Asia, Methuen and Co., London, 1899.

Spuler, B., History of the Mongols, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1996.

Tsugitaka, S., State and Rural Society in Medieval Islam, Sultans, Muqta's and Fallahun, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1997.

Yule, H., translator and editor, Cathay and the Way Thither, Medieval Notices of China, Volume 2, The Hakluyt Society, London, 1866.

Yuel, H., and Cordier, H., translators and editors, Cathay and the Way Thither, being a collection of medieval notices of China, Volume 3, The Hakluyt Society, London, 1913-16.

Vásáry, I., "History and Legend" in Berke Khan's Conversion to Islam, Aspects of Altaic Civilization III, edited by D. Sinor, pages 230 to 252, Indiana University, Bloomington, 1990.

Vásáry, I., Cumans and Tatars, Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185-1365, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

Visit our sister site, which uses the correct transliteration, Qaraqalpaq, rather than the Russian transliteration, Karakalpak.

Return to top of page

Home Page