Crimean Khanate

Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate
قريم يورتى
Qırım Yurtu
Vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in 1478-1774

Flag Coat of arms
Capital Bahçeseray (Bakhchisaray)
Language(s) Crimean Tatar language
Ottoman Turkish
Religion Sunni Islam
Government Monarchy
Khan List
 - Established 1441
 - Annexed to Russia 1783
History of Ukraine
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Crimean Tatar soldier fighting with a Polish soldier. Serfdom and slavery institutionalised warfare on Europe's steppe frontier until the 18th century.

Crimean Khanate, or Khanate of Crimea (Crimean Tatar: Qırım Hanlığı, قريم خانلغى‎; Russian: Крымское ханство - Krymskoye khanstvo; Ukrainian: Кримське ханство - Kryms'ke khanstvo; Turkish: Kırım Hanlığı; Polish: Chanat Krymski), was a state ruled by Crimean Tatars from 1441 to 1783. Its native name was Crimean Tatar: Qırım Yurtu, قريم يورتى‎ (Ottoman Turkish and Arabic  :خانية القرم). Its khans were the patrilineal descendants of Toqa Temür, the thirteenth son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan. This khanate was by far the longest-lived of the Turkic khanates that succeeded the empire of the Golden Horde.[1]




The Crimean Khanate was founded when certain clans of the Golden Horde Empire ceased their nomadic life in the Desht-i Kipchak (Kypchak Steppes of today's Ukraine and South Russia) and decided to make Crimea their yurt (homeland), which at that time had been an ulus (district) of the Golden Horde since 1239, with its capital at Qirim (Staryi Krym). The local separatists invited a Genghisid contender for the Golden Horde throne, Hacı Giray, to be their khan. Hacı Giray accepted their invitation and traveled from exile in Lithuania. He warred for independence against the Horde from 1420 to 1441, in the end achieving success. But Hacı Giray then had to fight off internal rivals before he could ascend the throne of the khanate in 1449, after which he moved its capital to Qırq Yer (today part of Bahçeseray).[2] The khanate included the Crimean peninsula (except the south and southwest coast and ports, controlled by the Republic of Genoa) and the steppes of modern southern Ukraine and Russia.

Becoming an Ottoman protectorate

Hacı I Giray's sons contended against each other to succeed him. The Ottomans intervened and installed one of them, Meñli I Giray, on the throne. In 1475 the Ottoman forces, under the command of Gedik Ahmet Pasha, conquered the Greek Principality of Theodoro and the Genoese colonies at Cembalo, Soldaia, and Caffa ("Kefe" in Turkic languages). Thenceforth the khanate was a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sultan enjoyed veto power over the selection of new Crimean khans. The Empire annexed the Crimean coast, but recognized the legitimacy of the khanate rule of the steppes, as the khans were descendants of Genghis Khan.

Ottoman-Crimean relationship

In 1475, the Ottomans imprisoned Meñli I Giray for three years for having resisted the invasion. After returning from captivity in Constantinople, he accepted the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, Ottoman sultans treated the khans more as allies than subjects.[3] The khans continued to have a foreign policy independent from the Ottomans in the steppes of Little Tartary. The khans continued to mint coins and use their names in Friday prayers, two important signs of sovereignty. They did not pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire; instead the Ottomans paid them in return for their services of providing skilled outriders and frontline cavalry in their campaigns.[4] Later on, Crimea lost power in this relationship as the result of a crisis which took place in 1523, during the reign of Meñli's successor, Mehmed I Giray. He died that year and beginning with his successor, from 1524 on, Crimean khans were appointed by the Sultan.[citation needed]

The alliance of the Crimean Tatars and the Ottomans was comparable to Polish-Lithuanian in its importance and durability. The Crimean cavalry became indispensable to the Ottomans' campaigns in Europe (Poland, Hungary) and Asia (Persia).[5]

Victory over the Golden Horde

In 1502 Meñli I Giray defeated the last khan of the Great Horde, which put an end to the Horde's claims on Crimea. The Khanate initially chose as its capital Salaçıq near the Qırq Yer fortress. Later, the capital was moved a short distance to Bahçeseray, founded in 1532 by Sahib I Giray. Both Salaçıq and the Qırq Yer fortress today are part of the expanded city of Bahçeseray.

Golden Age

The Crimean Khanate was undoubtedly one of the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the 18th century. As Muslims, the Crimeans played an invaluable role in expanding the borders of Islam. The Crimeans engaged in raids into the Danubian principalities, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy. For each captive, the khan received a fixed share (savğa) of 10% or 20%. The campaigns by Crimean forces categorize into "sefers", officially declared military operations led by the khans themselves, and çapuls, raids undertaken by groups of noblemen, sometimes illegally because they contravened treaties concluded by the khans with neighbouring rulers). For a long time, until the early 18th century, the khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East. Caffa was one of the best known and significant trading ports and slave markets.[6]


The Crimean Khanate also made alliances with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Zaporizhian Sich and Muscovy. The assistance of İslâm III Giray during the Khmelnytsky Uprising 1648 contributed greatly to the initial momentum of military successes for Cossacks. While relationship with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was also exclusive as the home dynasty of Girays used seek sanctuary in Lithuania in 15th century before establishing on Crimean peninsula.

The northern hinterlands of the khanate were coveted by Muscovy for their agricultural productivity, having longer growing seasons than Muscovy itself. Within Muscovy, the permanent warfare at the borderland and the burgeoning in size of the armies of the nobles (boyars) fomented intense exploitation of the peasantry.

Struggle over Astrakhan

In the middle of the 16th century the Crimean khanate asserted a claim to be the successor to the Golden Horde, which entailed asserting the right of rule over the Tatar khanates of the Caspian-Volga region, particularly the Kazan Khanate and Astrakhan Khanate. This claim pitted it against Muscovy for dominance in the region. A successful campaign of Devlet I Giray upon the Russian capital, Moscow in 1571 culminated in the burning of Moscow, and he thereby gained the sobriquet, Taht-Algan (seizer of the throne).[7] Just the next year, however, the Crimean Khanate eventually lost access to the Volga once and for all due to its catastrophic defeat in the Battle at Molodi.


The decline of the Crimean Khanate was a consequence of the weakening of the Ottoman empire and a change in the balance of power in Eastern Europe that favoured its neighbours. Crimean Tatars often returned from Ottoman campaigns without booty and Ottoman subsidies were less likely for unsuccessful campaigns. Tatar cavalry without sufficient guns suffered great loss against European and Russian armies with modern equipment . By the late 17th century, Muscovite Russia became too strong a power for Crimea to pillage and the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) outlawed further raids. The era of great slave raids in Russia and Ukraine was over, although brigands and Nogay raiders continued their attacks and Russian hatred of the Khanate did not decrease. These polito-economic losses led in turn to erosion of the khan's support among noble clans, and internal conflicts for power ensued. The Nogays, who provided a significant portion of the Crimean military forces, also took back their support from the khans towards the end of the empire.

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

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

The Khanate (yellow) as it existed 1774-83

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

The rule of the last Crimean khan Şahin Giray was marked with increasing Russian influence and outbursts of violence from the khan administration towards internal opposition. On 8 April 1783, in violation of the treaty (some parts of which had been already violated by Crimeans and Ottomans), Catherine II intervened in the civil war, de facto annexing the whole peninsula as the Taurida Governorate. In 1787, Şahin Giray took refuge in the Ottoman empire and was eventually executed, on Rhodes, by the Ottoman authorities for betrayal. The royal Giray family survives to this day.

Through the 1792 Treaty of Jassy (Iaşi) the Russian frontier was extended to the Dniester River and the takeover of Yedisan was complete. The 1812 Treaty of Bucharest transferred Bessarabia to Russian control.


Muscovites at the southern border by Sergey Vasilievich Ivanov.

All Khans were from the Giray clan which traced its origins to Genghis Khan and asserted its right to rule on this basis. According to the tradition of the steppes, the ruler was legitimate only if he was of Genghisid royal descent (i.e. "ak süyek"). Even the Muscovite Tsar claimed Genghisid descent.[8] Although the Giray dynasty was the symbol of government, the khan actually governed with the participation of Qaraçı Beys, the leaders of the noble clans such as Şirin, Barın, Arğın, Qıpçaq, and in the later period, Mansuroğlu and Sicavut. After the collapse of the Astrakhan Khanate in 1556, an important element of the Crimean Khanate were the Nogays, who most of them transferred their allegiance from Astrakhan to Crimea. Circassians (Atteghei) and Cossacks also occasionally played roles in Crimean politics, alternating their allegiance between the khan and the beys. The Nogay pastoral nomads north of the Black Sea were nominally subject to the Crimean Khan. They were divided into the following groups: Budjak (from the Danube to the Dniester), Yedisan (from the Dniester to the Bug), Jamboyluk (Bug to Crimea), Yedickul (north of Crimea) and Kuban.

Internal affairs

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

Crimean law

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

Non-Muslim minorities

Substantial non-Muslim minorities, Greeks, Armenians, Crimean Goths, Adyghe (Circassians), Venetians, Genoese, Crimean Karaites and Qırımçaq Jews, lived principally in the cities, mostly in separate districts or suburbs. Under the millet system, they had their own religious and judicial institutions. They were subject to extra taxes theoretically in exchange for exemption from military service but did not face any other discrimination, living like Crimean Tatars and speaking dialects of Crimean Tatar.[9]

The Jewish population was concentrated in Çufut Kale ('Jewish Fortress'), a separate town near Bahçeseray that was the Khan's original capital. As with other minorities, they spoke a Turkic language. Crimean law granted them special financial and political rights as reward, according to local folklore, for historic services rendered to an uluhane (first wife of a Khan). The capitation tax on Jews in Crimea was levied by the office of the uluhane in Bahçeseray.[9]


Crimean Tatar children. Detail of a portrait of Agha Dedesh at the court of King John II Casimir.

The nomadic part of the Crimean Tatars and all the Nogays were cattle breeders. Crimea had important trading ports where the goods arrived via the Silk Road were exported to the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Crimean Khanate had many large, beautiful, and lively cities such as the capital Bahçeseray, Gözleve (Yevpatoria), Karasu Bazaar (Karasu-market) and Aqmescit (White-mosque) having numerous hans (caravansarais and merchant quarters), tanners, and mills. Many monuments constructed under the Crimean Khanate were destroyed or left in ruins after the Russian invasion.[10] Mosques, in particular were demolished or remade into Orthodox churches.[11] The settled Crimean Tatars were engaged in trade, agriculture, and artisanry. Crimea was a center of wine, tobacco, and fruit cultivation. Bahçeseray kilims (oriental rugs) were exported to Poland, and knives made by Crimean Tatar artisans were deemed the best by the Caucasian tribes. Crimea was also renowned for manufacture of silk and honey.

The slave trade (15th-17th century) in captured Ukrainians and Russians was one of the major sources of income of Crimean Tatar and Nogay nobility. In this process, known as harvesting the steppe, raiding parties would go out and capture, and then enslave the local Christian peasants living in the countryside.[12] In spite of the dangers, Polish and Russian serfs were attracted to the freedom offered by the empty steppes of Ukraine. The slave raids entered Russian and Cossack folklore and many dumy were written elegising the victims' fates. This contributed to a hatred for the Khanate that transcended political or military concerns. But in fact, there were always small raids committed by both Tatars and Cossacks, in both directions.[13] The last recorded major Crimean raid, before those in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) took place during the reign of Peter I(1682–1725)[13]

Regions and administration

Main regions outside of Qirim yurt (the peninsula)

The peninsula itself was divided by the khan's family and several beys. The estates controlled by beys were called beylik. Beys in the khanate were as important as the Polish Magnats. Directly to the khan belonged Cufut-Qale, Bakhchisaray, and Staryi Krym (Eski Qirim). The khan also possessed all the salt lakes and the villages around them, as well as the woods around the rivers Alma, Kacha, and Salgir. Part of his own estate included the wastelands with their newly created settlements.

Part of the main khan's estates were the lands of the Kalga-sultan who was next in the line of succession of the khan's family. He usually administered the eastern portion of the peninsula. Kalga also was Chief Commander of the Crimean Army in the absence of the Khan. The next hereditary administrative position, called Nureddin, was also assigned to the khan's family. He administrated the western region of the peninsula. There also was a specifically assigned position for the khan's mother or sister — Ana-beim — which was similar to the Ottomans' Valide Sultan. The senior wife of the Khan carried a rank of Ulu-beim and was next in importance to the Nureddin.

By the end of the khanate regional offices of the kaimakans, who administered smaller regions of the Crimean Khanate, were created.

  • Kefe, a seat of Ottoman Qirim Beylerbey (a special status)
  • Or Qapı (Perekop) had special status. The fortress was controlled either directly by the khan's family or by the family of Shirin.

See also


  1. ^ The Tatar Khanate of Crimea
  2. ^ Bakhchisaray history (English)
  3. ^ Crimean Khans were appointed
  4. ^ Bennigsen
  5. ^ List of Wars of the Crimean Tatars
  6. ^ Historical survey > Slave societies
  7. ^ Moscow - Historical background
  8. ^ Schamiloglu
  9. ^ a b Fisher, Alan W (1978). The Crimean Tatars. Studies of Nationalities in the USSR. Hoover Press. ISBN 0817966625. 
  10. ^ A history of Ukraine, Paul Robert Magocsi, 347, 1996
  11. ^ A history of Ukraine, Paul Robert Magocsi, 347, 1996
  12. ^ Williams
  13. ^ a b The Russian Annexation of the Crimea 1772-1783, page 26

External links

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