The power of the network |  news of history

The power of the network | news of history

The world is just beginning to learn what happened in Izyum during the Russian occupation. Prisoners were killed, civilians were tortured, schools and residential buildings were destroyed… Even the stone sculptures of the Polovtsian era on Mount Kremenets, which rises above the city, suffered at the hands of the occupiers. A false “flag of victory” was tied to one by the occupier with wire. Another one was simply gutted…

Traces of the occupiers’ presence on Mount Kremenets

These sculptures were installed here already in the times of independence – as a symbol of the endurance of the history of Slobozhanshchyna. Which, before becoming a Cossack region, was a Polovtsian region. Izyum, Kharkiv, Chuguiiv, Zmiiv stand on the sites of the former cities of the steppe people. And even in the names of the city and the mountain, it is difficult not to hear the Turkic roots – in the language of the present-day Crimeans, for example, “yuzyum” means grapes, and “kermen” means a fortress.

Most of the “Polovtsian women” from Kremenets, however, persevered. And they became silent witnesses to the liberation of Izyum by the Ukrainian army. The victory won thanks to the precise planning of the command, the training and courage of our soldiers, the ability to self-organize the entire Ukrainian people. Qualities that the Polovtsy people were distinguished by at one time. And this reminds once again that modern Ukraine is the product of all those who created its history.

In Russia, the Kipchaks were called Polovtsians, tribes that separated from the Kymatsky Kaganate in the 11th century – at that time the main power in the Trans-Ural steppes. In search of new pastures, the Kipchaks moved westward. Over time, they not only moved their western neighbors – the Pechenegs and Turks, but also absorbed the Kimaks themselves. Having mastered the entire vast space from Altai to the Danube. Since then, the neighbors began to call it Desht-i Kipchak – “Kipchak field”, or “Kipchak steppe”. It is interesting that the current Ukrainian steppes were also called “Polovtsian field” in Russia. In Byzantium, and with the light hand of the Greeks in Western Europe, Kipchaks were called Cumans, in Hungary – Kuns.

Desht-i Kipchak

Kipchaks are usually considered Turks, but in fact it was a general name for a large conglomerate of tribes, among which there were Mongols and Finno-Ugric. and even late Sarmatian (Alan). The Turks were only its “core”, and the Kipchak language – the dialect of one of the tribes that were part of this community, became the “lingua franca”, that is, the language of communication within the community – which gradually supplanted all others, in particular the Ugur and Oguzki (only the relics of the latter remained in the Danube and on the southern coast of Crimea).

Kipchak stone statues in the Berlin museum

Unlike the Kimaks or Khazars, whose khaganates were, if not full-fledged states, then at least proto-state formations, and even the Pechenegs, who nurtured an internal hierarchy, the Kipchak community rather resembled a decentralized network. Its basis was not even a tribe, but a clan – kurin. The tribe consisted of several families that farmed independently, but used common pastures and other lands – they were called kish. Clans were united into tribes, and tribes into unions – usually unstable and quite conditional. Among the total number of families, nobles stood out – headed by beks and khans. If the khan had enough charisma, strength and zeal, he could unite his kind of close and distant neighbors to arrange a peaceful life in a certain territory and organize military campaigns. When fate turned away from the khan, the union quickly disintegrated into its components – tribes and individual clans, which, however, soon – like “Lego” bricks – could consolidate around another leader.

Kipchak camp

This provided the system with unusual flexibility and adaptability. Thanks to this flexibility, the Kipchak “field network” was able to include not only individual foreign-speaking tribes (which later dissolved in the Kipchak environment), but also the settled population and even cities. Among them were the steppe towns of Sharukan (perhaps on the site of modern Kharkiv) and Suhrov (identified with Zmiyev), and settlements on the Crimean coast, such as Yalta and Sugdeya (Sudak). It was enough for the townspeople to pay tribute to the local khan on time – and their community was left alone, it maintained its self-government, and could count on the protection of the Kipchaks in the event of an attack by external enemies.

Kipchak “tents on wheels”

At the same time, most Kipchaks remained nomadic pastoralists who grazed huge herds of horses, cows, sheep and even camels. In order to provide livestock with pasture, in the summer they migrated to the north, closer to the forest-steppe, and in the winter to the south, near the sea coast. Kipchaks lived in yurts – large tents, but they also had smaller tents (they were called “kibit”), which were placed on carts, and thus they could quickly transport their families together with a simple treasure. It was the pastures that were the main value for the steppe people, and for them they were ready to fight with all their neighbors – both with Russia and with the Turkic tribes related to the Kipchaks, to whom the Russian princes gave their border lands for settlement, primarily in Porossia. The Kipchaks considered these territories their own and tried to win them back. But they also occasionally took booty from local residents, mostly peasants, because the Kipchaks never learned how to capture cities (and they hardly needed it).

Kipchaks under the walls of Kyiv

This, in fact, was the difference between the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, who for a long time maintained friendly relations with the Russians, and the war came only after Kyiv refused to pay them an indemnity for the passage of their ships through the Dnieper rapids. The Kipchaks started the war almost immediately, and only later began to conclude agreements with the princes, and even to be related to them. On the other hand, the princes were happy to use the military assistance of the steppe people when clarifying the relations between themselves (and they had enough reasons for this – as, after all, in the midst of many large families). The representatives of the Chernihiv branch of the Rurikov family – the Svyatoslavichs – were most distinguished by this. The founder of this dynasty in Kyiv (perhaps undeservedly – it was, after all, about rivals) was generally given the nickname Horeslavych.

Battle of the Russian princes with the Kipchaks on the Alta (1068)

Thanks to the “Word about Igor’s Campaign” Prince Igor of the North became perhaps the most famous of the Svyatoslavichs. Which, at the same time, was not at all an implacable enemy of the steppe people. If only because his mother was most likely the daughter of the Kipchak Khan Aepa. And he himself took part in several wars with his relatives, together with the Khans Gzoi and Konchak – the very ones against whom he later went on his infamous campaign and by whom he was eventually captured.

Monument to Prince Igor in Novgorod-Siverskyi

And the campaigns organized by Volodymyr Monomakh at the very beginning of the 12th century are considered the most famous victorious war of Russia against the steppe. They were organized according to the example of the crusades, because a few decades before that, the crusaders captured Jerusalem. The Polovtsian field, of course, is difficult to compare with the Holy Land, and the Kipchaks themselves were not Muslims, but mainly pagan-Tengrians (that is, they worshiped the Big Sky), but the princes at least managed to capture the already mentioned steppe towns in the present-day Slobozhanshchyna, and Khan Sharukan with his entourage hastened to retreat all the way to the Caucasus.

Monument to Volodymyr Monomakh in Boryspil

However, Monomakh’s successes were temporary. Because it was possible to defeat an opponent organized according to the principle of a network only in a few battles, but he maintained his resistance every time and recovered in a matter of years. Princes could not be constantly present in the steppes. Perhaps in the end they decided that it is better to have Kipchaks as allies and not as enemies. In addition, there is no truth, children – in Russia there was no such first-class cavalry as the neighboring khans. In addition, a light one, equipped with bows and sabers, and heavily armed, dressed in chain mail and helmets with a visor on the face, with which the Kipchaks terrorized their enemies. The training of steppe riders continued constantly – if not in war, then during hunting. The main bet was on a quick and unexpected strike, after which the Kipchaks tried to chase and destroy the enemy, preventing him from recovering.

Kipchak-type helmet with a visor

The Kipchaks ruled the steppes undividedly for several centuries. Until they met a force that belonged to the same nomadic culture, but combined it with iron discipline and the power of the state apparatus. The first lesson was given to them by the Seljuk Turks, who in 1222 recaptured Sugday from the Kipchaks. And a year later, the Mongols appeared from across the Caucasus, led by Genghis Khan’s generals Jebe and Subedei. The Kipchaks turned for help to their main allies, the princes of Russia. And together with them, they were defeated on Kalka – the river that flowed through the terrain of modern Donetsk region.

The winners after the battle at Kalka

It is significant that the Mongols limited themselves to this defeat and destruction of Kipchak camps. Dzebe and Subedey did not go to Russia. This business was left to the grandson of Genghis Khan, Batu. During his campaign to Europe, he not only burned Kyiv and other cities of Russia, but also demonstrated that he also considered the Black Sea steppes and the Crimea, from which he expelled the Seljuks, to be his own. It is not surprising that even before the Mongols came again, almost all Kipchak khans with some of their tribesmen hurried to migrate further west, to Galicia and Hungary. Khan Kotian even married his daughter to the Hungarian king, and Tigak became the brother-in-law of Prince Danylo Romanovych. But many ordinary Kipchaks remained where they were, in the Black Sea region, only now they were forced to pay tribute to the Mongols, as before it was paid to the Kipchaks themselves. In addition, the conquerors needed administrators familiar with the customs of local residents. It is not surprising, let’s say, that even the first Mongol governor of the Crimea was appointed a Kipchak.

Kipchaks are asking for asylum in Hungary

On the other hand, Batu could not fail to notice the outflow of potential subjects of the Golden Horde created by him. That is why he wanted the fugitives to return. In a few decades it really happened. Even some khans returned. The burials of the Golden Horde times on Ukrainian territory are at least identified with the names of Tigak and other Kipchak leaders. Of course, according to the rules introduced by Genghis Khan, only his direct descendants could be rulers in the lands conquered by the Mongols. Therefore, Chingizids and the noble families of the conquerors essentially replaced the Kipchak elite, partially interbreeding with it. But the absolute majority of the subjects of the Golden Horde in the Black Sea region were still Kipchaks, who by that time had finally dissolved the tribes of their predecessors – both Turkic and non-Turkic speaking.

Khan’s helmet from Chingul Mound (which probably belonged to Khan Tigak)

The field “network”, which the princes of Russia were never able to overcome, here allowed its creators to win – if not politically, then culturally and linguistically. Even the famous dictionary, compiled in the 13th century, but already after the Mongol conquest of the Crimea, has the name Codex Kumanikus, that is, “Kipchak”, although the dialect of the inhabitants of the Black Sea region is called “Tatar” in it. The western uluses of the Horde were essentially Cuman. The Crimean Khanate, which grew out of them, also became Kipchak. Even more, the official title of the khans from the Chingizid Heraiv dynasty was supposed to emphasize that they are the masters not only of the Crimea and the Horde, but also of Desht-i Kipchak, i.e. the “Kipchak steppe”. Let even its inhabitants no longer use the old tribal name, calling themselves Nogai, Crimean or Crimean Tatars.

Khan Palace in Bakhchisarai

Of course, the Kipchak heritage went not only to the Crimeans and Nogai, but also to the Ukrainian Cossacks. Starting with the fact that the very word “Cossack” is Kipchak in origin and meant a person outside society, free and at the same time one who can be hired for service. It is quite possible that the Cossacks were the first to start, if not the Kipchaks, then their direct descendants – the same Crimeans or Nogai. And even then Ukrainians picked up their experience and creatively developed it. And not only Ukrainians were at the same Sich. And there are familiar from the history of Zaporozhye kish, kuren, bunchuks, sharovars… And some features of Cossack social life – the same tendency to self-organize and rally around charismatic leaders – chieftains (some researchers also see here the Turkic root “ata”, i.e. “father “), isn’t it reminiscent of the former owners of the “Field of Polovtsy”? So is it worth giving up a legacy that is useful even today. And it will definitely be useful for Ukraine in the future.


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