Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria

Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria
Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria
Date 1223 (first), 1229-1230 (second) and 1236 AD


Location Volga Bulgaria
Result Mongol victory
Mongol Empire Volga Bulgaria
Commanders and leaders
Subutai, Jebe
at least 300 000
Casualties and losses
unknown, defeated in their first attack Heavy
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v · Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria lasted from 1223 to 1236.


The Mongol campaigns

In 1223, after defeating Russian and Cuman/Kipchak armies at the Battle of Kalka, a Mongol army under the generals Subutai and Jebe was sent to subdue Volga Bulgaria. At that point in history Genghis Khan's troops were seen as invincible. However, in 1223, the Bulgars defeated the Mongols. An army led by the Bulgar iltäbär (king) Ghabdulla Chelbir and including the armies of Mordvin princes or inäzors Puresh and Purgaz, ambushed and defeated Subutais's forces in 1223 (Battle of Samara Bend), one of the first defeats of the Mongols.

The Mongols returned in 1229 under the command of Kukday and Bubede. This force defeated Bulgar frontier-guards at the Ural River and began the occupation of the upper Ural valley. A few years later, in 1232, the Mongol cavalry subjugated the southeastern part of the Bashkiria, and occupied southern portions of Volga Bulgaria itself. However, the Mongols yet again failed to capture Volga Bulgaria's main cities.[1] At the Great kurultai in Karakorum the Mongols decided to transfer their greatest generals from China and Arabia to lead the efforts for subduing the Bulgar state.

With a force of more than 300,000 soldiers, the Mongols struck again in 1236.[1] Mongol forces led by Batu Khan besieged and seized Bilär, Bolghar, Suar, Cükätaw, and other cities and castles of Volga Bulgaria. The inhabitants were killed or sold into slavery. Volga Bulgaria became a part of the Ulus Jochi, later known as the Golden Horde. It was divided into different "duchies"; later each of them became a vassal of the Golden Horde and received some autonomy.

Population transfer

The surviving agricultural population was forced to leave steppe lands. The majority settled along the Kama river and in adjacent areas further north. The area around Kazan, which was settled by Mari people some years before, became the new center of Bolgar culture and the nucleus of Kazan tatars population. Kazan and Çallı became new major political and trade centers.

Some cities such as Bolghar and Cükätaw were rebuilt, but they were primarily trading centers and the population was not, for the most part, Bolgar.


After the Mongols left Volga Bulgaria to conquer the Russians, the Bulgars rebelled (see Rebellion of Bayan and Cik, Baçman movement), led by the nobility. The Mongols then returned and put down the rebellions.

Impact on the region

According to some historians, over 80% of the country's population was killed during the invasion. The remaining population mostly relocated to the northern areas (territories of modern Chuvashia and Tatarstan). Some autonomous duchies appeared in those areas. The steppe areas of Volga Bulgaria were settled by nomadic Kipchaks and Mongols, and the agricultural development suffered a severe decline.

Over time, the cities of Volga Bulgaria were rebuilt and became trade and craft centers of the Golden Horde. Some Bulgarians, primarily masters and craftsmen, were forcibly moved to Sarai and other southern cities of the Golden Horde. Volga Bulgaria remained a center of agriculture and handicraft.

Ethnolinguistic impact

The population of Volga Bulgaria was mostly Muslim. Under the influence of Bulgarian culture, more and more nomadic Mongols and Kipchaks were converted to Islam. On the other hand, the language used by Muslims of the Golden Horde transformed into the Kipchak language, adopted by all Muslim Volga Bulgars. As a result of a later mixing of the Kipchak and Bolgar languages, the literary language of the Golden Horde became what is now called the Old Tatar language, and eventually evolved into the modern Tatar language. Some of Bulgaria's non-Islamic population kept the Bolgar language, which was influenced by the Mari language, a language commonly used in the territories they relocated to. This led to the development of the modern Chuvash language.

Some historians hypothesize that during the rule of the Mongols, the ethnic makeup of the population of Volga Bulgaria did not change, remaining largely Bolgar and partly Finnic. Alternatively, some hypothesize that some Kipchaks and Russians were forcibly relocated to Bulgaria's land. Undoubtedly, some Bulgars were forcibly relocated to the territory of modern Astrakhan Oblast, the population of which was previously nomadic (but see, e.g., Itil and Saqsin).

Volga Bulgaria's Muslim community preferred to call themselves Muslims (Möselmannar), but used the word Bolghar to distinguish themselves from nomadic Moslem Kipchaks. They did not call themselves Tatars until the 19th century. Russian sources also originally distinguished Volga Bulgars from nomadic Tatars, but later the word "Tatar" became synonymous with "Turkic Muslim". To distinguish between themselves, they started to use names of the khanates: the population of Khanate of Kazan called themselves the people of Kazan (Qazanlı); this name was also used by the steppe Tatars and by the Russians.

Opposite to the words of the Russians, the words of alive Volga Bulgarians today (in Russia), topponyms and rituals tell us that about their origin they not have nothing with Turks, Tatars etc. They аrе successors of Old Great Bulgaria (Ukraine today). After the end of Old Great Bulgaria, Volga Bulgaria was established along the river Volga by Kan Kotrag (son of Kan Kubrat, the Kan of Old Great Bulgaria) and Danube Bulgaria (Bulgaria today) along the Danube by Kan Asparuh, also one of the Kubrat's sons. By following the topponyms and the knowledge of the Bulgarians today near Danube and the Bulgarians located on the Russian map today who are aresuccessors of Volga Bulgaria, all of them knows that the mens who created both Bulgarias in those different areas are brothers. After everything, all countries who were conquered by the Mongols were called by the Russians - Tatars.


In the middle of the 14th century some duchies of Volga Bulgaria became more independent and even coined their own money. The duchies were sometimes ruled by Bulgar nobles. In 1420s, the Kasan Duchy (Kazan Ulus) under the Ghiasetdin's leadership became practically independent from the Golden Horde. In 1440s, all lands with Volga Bulgar population were included into the Khanate of Kazan, which was ruled by Mongol dynasties. The Khanate also included Mari and Chuvash lands, while the rulers of the territories of Bashkirs, Udmurts, and Mordvins were considered vassals of Kazan. These were the peoples that traditionally had been under the economic and cultural influence of Volga Bulgaria.

See also


  1. ^ a b Bukharaev, Ravil'. Islam in Russia: The four seasons. p. 129. Retrieved 11 November 2011. "The Mongols realised that Volga Bulgaria cannot be taken easily: during the all-Mongol kurultai in Karakorum, Volga Bulgaria was given special attention and figured as the first state to be subdued in the process of a major assault on Europe. All the Mongol generals famed for their combats gainst China and the lands of the Caliphate participated in this great expedition. [...] ...numbered up to 300,000 warriors and about a million non-combatant escorts." 

(Tatar) "Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria". Tatar Encyclopedia. Kazan: Tatarstan Republic Academy of Sciences Institution of the Tatar Encyclopaedia. 2002. 

  • Genghis Khan's Greatest General: Subotai the Valiant. Richard A.Gabriel

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