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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 (khersones).
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 language.
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 Mengli-girei.
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.