The renowned Arab scientist and compiler of encyclopedias, Abu-el-Fedi,
uses the term "climati" as a term denoting regions of the Tauric
Peninsula. He was borrowing the term from Byzantine historical accounts with
reference to inhabitants of fortresses who turned to the Khazars for assistance
in repulsing Byzantine marauders. There were nine climati which played a role
in the Khazar system of collection of tribute. More pertinent to the subject of
Tatar rule over the Crimea is the letter from the Venetian chronicler, Marino
Sanudo to the French King Philip IV (1344) in which amongst the peoples who
have been brought under the Tartars in Hazaria as the Crimea was known in the
Italian cities, were the Goths and Alans.
Almost all researchers of medieval Crimea attributed Kyrk-or as the main
fortress of the Alans, in which Fedor found refuge. "Kerker or Kerkri...
is located at the edge of the seventh climat in the land of the Assy (Alans)
which in Turkish means forty men. It is a day's journey from Sary-Kermen
Archaeological research on the history of catacombs in and around Chufut-Kale
has led scientists to conclude that they belong to periods later that XI
century. The second gate to Chufut-Kale is known as Kichik-Kapu and is thought
to date from the XI century. It is believed that the Orthodox Church's
missionary activities were greatly curtailed when the city of Chufut-Kale
became the capital of the Crimean Kaganate. It is believed that in the XV-XVI
th centuries the fortress wall from Gate 2 was moved out, resulting in some
catacombs being covered over, when the Southern wall of the city was built.
It is believed that after the invasion of the eastern half of the peninsula by
the Tartars, a gradual infiltration into the western half began with the
customary tribute extortion. In 1253, the Franciscan Minor missionary, William,
ville de Rubruk, an emissary of the French King Louis IX to the Mongol Khan
Mangu described high mountains from Kherson to the river Tanaid, with what some
translate as "forty fortresses" between Kherson and Solday, with a
multitude of languages spoken including German by the Goths. This reference was
possibly referring to the city of the forty men, namely Kyrk-or. If this
interpretation is to be believed then Kyrk-or is an appellation of Turkish
derivation and there-fore constitutes a contradiction. Could a fortress located
in a predominantly Alan locale, carry a Turkic name? In principal this is
possible if one takes into consideration that the Turkic appellation was
introduced into this area of mountainous Crimea in the IX-Xth centuries, as
described in the Jewish-Khazar writings.
In the Xth century, on the once Byzantine Doros, there now appears the Khazar
Mangup, in truth the meaning of both of these appellations is questionable, the
first being not Turkic (in all likelihood Greek), the second, more than likely
Turkic such as Al-ma, Burc, and Kut. Furthermore, there is no reference in the
Khazar writings of a fortress in the area of the present Bakhchisarai. However
the archaeological findings on the plateau are datable to this period and a
middle defensive wall is thought to have existed then. It is possible that this
fortress was not on the border between Hazaria and the Byzantine Chersonese,
but rather was in the Khazar hinterland.
There is however another explanation. When in a given area there occurs an
exodus of the inhabitants, some geographic appellations cease to be used but
others continue in use. Such appellations are translated into the language of
the population and are re-attributed if the name is applicable to the place in
that language and it corresponds to words in the new language. In the case of
appellations of Crimean-Tatar origin, they were adapted to the Russian
Rubruk might have been traveling with a Tatar, and he translated to Rubruk on
request or at his own initiative, the name of the fortress (region),located
between Sudak and Chersonese. Rubruk had not seen any fortresses along the
coast. He was told of them when he left Sudak for his inland voyage to the
Perekop isthmus. In fact Chufut-Kale was in the middle ages on a trade route
connecting the eastern and south-western parts of the peninsula, which
traversed a valley separating the inner and outer ranges of the Crimean
mountains. Even today the fastest road from Sudak to Sevastopol is on a highway
thru Simferopol and not along the coast.
The Venetian traveler, Joseph Barbaro, in the first half of the XVth century,
mentions two neighboring ethnicities. The Goths and Alans. The Alan Kyrk-or was
located close to the boundary with Gothia. However in the same century, the
Genoese believed that territory must have been part of the Feodoro
principality. The Goth language along with the Alan language was still in use
then, even though they were spoken languages and not written, as was Greek.
Rubruk was informed of a fortress inhabited by a minority of Alans, whose name
was the Turkic -- Kyrk-or. In the course of the XIth century to the beginning
of the XIIIth century, when the steppes and valleys of the mountain ranges
where the domain of the Polovtsi or Cumans whom the locals payed tribute to.
The Arab geographer Idris extended the Cumans territorial domain right to the
coast, at a place called Dzhalita (Yalta). Following the incursion of the
Tartars, the Cumans payed the Tatar victors tribute. The question of the
occupation time frame by the Tartars is important. The Turkish historian of the
XVIIIth century, Said Mokhamed Riza, recalls such a legend: In ancient times an
ungrateful people, the Moguls, known as the Ass (Alans), believed that their
fortress was unbreachable, and fought the advances of the Crimean khan. One of
the descendants of Genghis Khan's, was Sheibek-khan, who made all dispositions
to take the fortress. An emir of Khan Yashlau's army, thought of a genial,
military slight-of hand. He ordered that all the khan's musical instruments
play incessantly for three days and nights. The inhabitants of the fortress
thought the repercussions filing their ears were a warning of impending attack
and did not sleep for three days and nights. On the fourth day, the city's
defenders fell asleep from exhaustion. The gate keepers allowed the keys to the
fortress gates to fall in the hands of the Tartars without a struggle.
Historically, there was no such khan as Sheibek, and Mokhamed Bek was killed in
battle against Ismail Shakh in 1510. The ruling khan of the time was
The campaign of Nogai of 1299, is recounted by Ruknedin Beybars, the court
historian of the Egyptian Sultan Kalavun and Ennasara Mokhamed. The Golden
Horde emir Nogai, reigning in Dobrudzh in the lower Danube delta began a war
against the lawful ruler Tokta. In 1299, he sent his nephew Aktazhi to collect
tribute but he was killed by the Genoese in Kaffa. Nogai stormed into the
Crimea and ravaged many villages. This is also recounted by another Arab
historian, Ibn-Khal'dun. Nogai burnt Kaffa to the ground and killed many
Crimeans. His army took many hostages and pillaged cities amongst which was
Kyrk-or. Ibn-Khaldun points to the city of Krim as the object of his vengeance.
Both sources point to the capture of a city, known as Solkhat (now known as Old
Krim). It grew as a trade outpost on an important caravan route, beginning in
Kaffa and ending in China, India and Mongolia. Later the name grew to mean the
entire island and is in use presently.
Nogai's rampage is thought to be evident in the evidence of fires found in
archaeological digs at Chufut-Kale. Of note is the fact that Ibn Batuta in
describing the realm of Khan Uzbek in 1334, does not include Kyrk-or, amongst
the cities of Kaffa, Krim, Madzhar, Sudak, Azov, Khvarezm and his capital
Sarai. It is believed that at the end of Khan Uzbek's reign, Kyrk-or was not
part of the realm.
The first written evidence of the inclusion of Kyrk-or in the realm of the
Tartars' is the account of the battle on the Blue waters between the Lithuanian
prince Vitovt against the khans of the Crimea, Mankop and Kirkel', in which
Vitovt was the victor. Kyrk-or was already under Tatar rule in 1363 and was an
appanage of the Golden Horde. Another source confirming this, was the Yarlyk
granted to Timur-Kutluk of 1397, where reference is made to Crimea (Krim) and
Kyrk-or. These accounts are supported by the traveler Johan Sheiltberger who
describes "Kerker" as located in a plentiful land, known as Gothia
which the pagans call Tat. It is populated by Greek Christians who produce an
excellent wine. The use of the term "Tat" signifies that in the view
of the Tartars the land was a conquered land, for the years 1342 to 1363.
The earliest archaeological find in Chufut-kale, belonging to the Tartars,
dates to the middle of the XIVth century. At this time a mosque was built in
1346. In the 1320s the fortress belonged to the Alan-Christians.
The sources thus point to the capture of Kyrk-or by the Tartars during the
reign of Dzhanibek, the son of Uzbek. Dzhanibek is thought to have been an
aggressive ruler expanding his holdings into Moldavia and conducted a war with
the Genoese in Kaffa. It is possible that his land grabbing campaigns could
have led to Kyrk-or's fall.
In the 1340s, the khan Dzhanibek started a war with the Genoese. He wanted to
strike at the Genoese from the mountainous region. His plans were severely
curtailed when he was defeated and had to content himself with the Kyrk-or
area. Seizing the opportune time to assert itself, the Feodoro principality
formed a third political entity in Crimea.
The first Tatar settlement in the South-west Crimea was known as Eski-yrta. It
is some 4 kilometers from Chufut-Kale and appeared in the second half of the
XIVth century. Its location, some four kilometers from Chufut-Kale, indicates
that its beginning was part and parcel of the process of bringing Chufut-Kale
under Tatar domination.
What led the Tartars to direct their expansion into the South-western Crimea?
Evidently, the answer has two explanations. The first is one which was
engendered by economics. The gradual settling down of nomadic tribesmen,
resulted from the Tatar sages" grab-up of territories in the mountainous
and adjoining regions, long held by an established agrarian populace. Secondly,
it was politically motivated. The beginning of internecine fighting in the
Golden Horde in the second half of the XIVth century, led some Tartars to move
into the South-west Crimea, which unlike the Eastern portion was not so
penetrable from the steppes and had a well-fortified fortress at Kyrk-or.
After Kyrk-or became part of the Golden Horde's territorial holdings, it's
status grew to an administrative entity under Yashlau Bey, which gained a
measure of independence from the Horde. The khan of Kyrk-or is noted in the
midst of other khans, such as Manlop. In Timur-Kutluk' Yarlyk, the Kyrk-or
region is named as is the Crimea region.
Chufut-Kale existed until the middle of XVth century. The inhabitants abandoned
the city. The Crimean Khanate established in the city of Bakhchisarai, forbade
the Karaites to live in their capital. The Karaites took refuge on the hill in
the ancient fortress.