Astrakhan Khanate

Summary

The Khanate of Astrakhan or Khanate of Khazar Khanate was a nomadic Tatar state in Eastern Europe, which was established as a part of the Golden Horde in 1466 and became fully independent in 1502. Its territory was located on the north-western shore of the Caspian Sea, between the Volga estuary and the Terek River. Its centre was the present Astrakhan. Its rulers were descended from Genghis Khan”s grandson, Tuka Temur (it should be noted that the legitimate parentage of Temur”s father Dzhochi has always been doubted).

The founder and first Khan of the Khanate is Muhammad Kuchuk. For more than three and a half decades, the Khanate recognised the Grand Khan of the Golden Horde as its supreme ruler. The Khanate was conquered by the Russian Tsar Ivan the Terrible in 1556.

The Khanate included most of the present Astrakhan area, the Lower Volga valley and the Volga delta, and part of the steppe on the right bank of the river in present-day Kalmykia. It was bordered to the southeast by the Caspian Sea, to the east by the Nogay Horde, and to the west by the Nogay Tatar Khanate, part of the Crimean Tatar Khanate. Its southern border was the Terek River.

The region played an important role even before the Khanate came into being. Its land has always been fertile and the ideal pasture for livestock. It was located at the intersection of north-south and east-west trade routes, trading between Persia and the Volga region.

Turkic-speaking peoples appeared in the region as early as the 6th century. First the Bulgars of the Volga, then the Khazars, and probably also the Hungarians. The Mongol conquest reached the area in the first half of the 13th century, during the reign of Genghis Khan. After the partition of the Mongol Empire, the Golden Horde ruled the region until the mid-15th century. From the 1430s onwards, new Khanates were established in the place of the Golden Horde, such as Kazan (1438), Crimea (1441), Astrakhan (1466) and Siberia (1468).

Russia shook off Tatar dependence in 1480. Although the successor states of the Golden Horde continued to harass the Grand Duchy of Moscow, they could no longer conquer it.

There are few and inaccurate written sources on the history of the Khanate. The dates of the reign of the reigning khans are also often vague and unclear. Most of the historical data is limited to records of individual wars, voyages and diplomatic missions. In addition, the Khanate”s capital Astrakhan, which the Tatars originally called Hashitarhan, was located some 12 km from the present city (the original city was destroyed by the Russians).

The first decades of the Khanate are also completely uncertain. The Golden Horde officially existed until 1502, so it is not known when the Khanate of Astrakhan became de facto independent, what the influence of the first khans was, with whom power was shared, etc. However, it is very likely that the Khanate was the main slave market in the region during the period.

The first foreign mention of Canaanism comes from the Venetian diplomat Ambrogio Contarini in 1476. The Khanate was closely related to the Nogai, the Crimean Tatars and the Caucasian Circassians and Kabards. They entered into diplomatic relations with the Russians around 1532.

During the reign of Ivan the Terrible, a more and more determined expansionist policy was pursued towards the east and south at the expense of the Tatar principalities. The Russian successes prompted Khan Yamgurtsy of Astrakhan to move towards Moscow. He finally changed his mind and broke with this policy. Instead, he sought closer alliances with the Crimean Khanate and the Nogaj Horde, and in the case of the former he also tried to establish contact with the Ottoman Empire, since the Crimean Khan was a vassal of the Turkish Sultan.

Ivan the Terrified then launched a campaign against Astrakhan with an army of 30,000 men and installed Dervis Ali in Jamgurcsi”s place. Ali, on the other hand, tried to ally himself with the Crimeans (and the Turks) (or was only led to suspect so by his opponents), when the tsarist troops returned and ousted him from the throne. The city was razed, the Khanate was destroyed and the slave trade was abolished.

The conquest of Astrakhan had already begun to damage the interests of the Ottoman Empire, especially as Russia moved closer to the Black Sea. In 1569, the Ottoman Sultan Selim II sent an army into the old Khanate to expel the Russians and build a canal linking the Don River with the Volga, so that the Ottoman Empire could extend its rule to the Caspian Sea. But the Russo-Turkish war ended in a disastrous defeat for Selim.

Prior to the Russian conquest, the Khanate was inhabited by Volga Tatars and Nogays. Although both groups are of Kipchak-Turkic ethnicity, they speak different languages. The Nogay language is strongly influenced by some Caucasian languages.

The Khanate benefited greatly from the slave trade and other commercial sectors. The local merchants used transit traffic between Moscow, Kazan, Crimea, Central Asia, the Caucasus and Persia (modern Iran). In the early days of its existence, trade was a very important pull sector, as the state”s advantageous location meant that it had no major competitors in the region, and old trade routes to Khwarezm, Bukhara and Kazan were restored.

The Khanate was half nomadic, half feudal. The country was headed by the Khan, with provincial lords (the sultans) below him. The smaller regions were ruled by the bols (bey) and the murzas, who also controlled the military units. The rest of society was made up of ordinary commoners.

The state religion of the Khanate was Sunni Islam. After the Russian conquest and the arrival of Russian settlers, Orthodox Christianity became the dominant religion, and Islam the religion of the minorities. Later, Buddhism was introduced through the Kalmyks.

Sources

  1. Asztrahányi Kánság
  2. Astrakhan Khanate
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