How many centuries the Pechenegs and Polovtsians tormented Russia and why did the authorities allow them to do this?

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How many centuries the Pechenegs and Polovtsians tormented Russia and why did the authorities allow them to do this?
How many centuries the Pechenegs and Polovtsians tormented Russia and why did the authorities allow them to do this?

Not so long ago, the head of state mentioned the Polovtsy and Pechenegs in his speech, causing a wave of ironic comments and memes on social networks. But do we really know who these peoples were? We are going to tell you why there was nothing funny in the history of their interaction with Russia - but a lot of interesting things.

Tartar and Cossack

At first glance, nomadic peoples militarily should not pose any special problems for the settled ones. After all, their way of life is based on constant migration, and therefore, in principle, cannot provide a high population density. Take, for example, the Mongols: there are only a million of them today, although they occupy a fairly large territory and practice agriculture in noticeable volumes.

Demographic data on the Kalmyks, Bashkirs, Tatars and other peoples of the Russian Empire also indicate that the typical number of the nomadic people of antiquity is hundreds of thousands of people. Meanwhile, already the population of Kievan Rus numbered 4-5 million. It turns out that she could have fielded more warriors - and the chronicles indicate exactly this. In 1220, only five princes, who ruled a smaller part of Russia, led a hundred thousand people to the battle at Kalka. It would seem: what can nomads against farmers?

Nevertheless, the nomads had certain opportunities. Firstly, nomadic pastoralism requires significantly less labor costs, but at the same time provides better nutrition than typical agriculture of the pre-industrial era. This leaves the nomads a lot more free time, which, frankly, simply has nowhere to do.

In order not to get bored, you can practice driven hunting in the steppe, shooting with a bow at animals. This way of life is a kind of natural training before the war. Finally, the excess of time for men in itself provokes them to war - especially since the nomads on it, as we will see below, could often count on robbing, but fleeing before they have to part with the robbed.

Secondly, nomads have, albeit medium-sized, but hardy, and most importantly - numerous horses. As the sources noted about the same Pechenegs and Polovtsians, they had more than one horse for each warrior - which is why they could change them, constantly moving faster than the equestrian warriors of agricultural states. After all, there are a lot of horses in the steppe: in the same Kievan Rus and Europe, a war horse cost as much as a Mercedes today, and a typical knight or warrior could not have two or three high-quality war horses.

Thirdly, the army of farmers is mainly on foot, because the peasant, unlike the nomad, simply does not have enough free time and funds to have a separate horse for riding, and even exercise with it. This means that the army of the agricultural state is mobilized much longer, and on the march it moves more slowly than the nomads.

Therefore, a typical nomadic invasion looked like a quick raid, devastating villages, stealing cattle and burning those parts of large cities that were behind the fortress wall. Of course, the farmers hastily gathered an army and tried to inflict a counterattack, but by that time the steppe dwellers had already managed to drive off the columns of captured slaves and captured cattle into the distance. The expansion of agricultural states into the steppe in such a scenario became simply impossible. This is exactly what happened with Russia and Russia for a number of centuries - and it is precisely those whom we call the Pechenegs and Polovtsy who are to blame for this.

Pechenegs: gave birth to Hungary, but disappeared themselves

The Pechenegs are a Turkic-speaking people who lived in Central Asia until the 9th century. According to Russian sources, they first appear near Russia in 875. The Nikon Chronicle refers to this date as "Oskold and Dir, many of the Pechenegs,". Askold and Dir are the then Kiev princes-co-rulers, and the first name is Scandinavian, and the origin of the second is less clear, but in any case not Slavic.


"The Tale of Bygone Years", which covers the Doryurik period in Kiev in the 9th century in less detail, refers the first appearance of the Pechenegs near Russia to 915. Five years later, Prince Igor is at war with the Pechenegs, although no one specifies any details - and the reasons for the war - at the same time. However, in fact, the reason for this issue at that time was not particularly needed.

The fact is that the Pechenegs were nomads of the steppe and, like all peoples of this type in that era, experienced a natural urge to plunder sedentary farmers. And not because of their depravity: it was just then not considered reprehensible to attack someone who is weaker in military terms, in order to take something valuable from him. The campaigns of the same Svyatoslav against the Slavic tribes also often had no other reason.

And the Pechenegs themselves came to Europe in the 9th century, as it is believed, due to the fact that their related nomadic Turkic tribes, the Oguzes, wanted to deprive the Pechenegs of the most valuable - the lands on which they lived. It wasn't that hard. Actually, the very word “Pechenegs” is their distorted self-designation “Bejene”, and Bejene is one of the Oguz clans. One of the many Oghuz clans could not resist all the others at once, so they had to rush to the west.

Having got into the interfluve of the Volga and 1 Dniester at the end of the 9th - the beginning of the 10th centuries, the Pechenezh rulers drove out the Magyars who were still roaming there, and they fled to the west, where they settled and formed the state of Hungary. But not all of their opponents were as easy.

Although the "Tale of Bygone Years" does not report how Igor's wars with the new people went in 920, it does record: "In the year 6452 (944). Igor gathered many soldiers: Varangians, Rus, and Polyans, and Slovens, and Krivichi, and Tivertsy, and hired the Pechenegs, and took hostages from them, and went to the Greeks in boats and on horses, trying to take revenge. " As we can see, the Pechenegs preferred to hire themselves to Igor, and not fight with him - this is all the more obvious that there is nothing in the annals for a long time about the campaigns of this people to Russia.

Nevertheless, Igor, to put it mildly, did not trust them too much: not every mercenary nation is demanded hostages, that is, persons who will be killed if the hired Pechenegs suddenly cheat on the Russian prince.

However, after Igor's death, the situation is clearly changing. "The Story …" says: "In the year 6476 (968). The Pechenegs came to the Russian land for the first time. " They laid siege to Kiev "with a great power: there were countless numbers of them around the city, and it was impossible either to leave the city or send a message, and the people were exhausted from hunger and thirst." That time it did not end so badly: Svyatoslav with the army returned from the campaign and the Pechenegs withdrew.

But just four years later, having received information that Svyatoslav was returning to Kiev after taking tribute from the Byzantine emperor, they attacked him on the Dnieper rapids and killed him (with part of the squad). "The Story …" adds that Smoking, the Khan of the Pechenegs, made "a cup from the skull of [Svyatoslav], shackling him."


For a long time, this testimony was treated with doubt, considering it legendary. However, in reality there is nothing unusual about it: this tradition is quite ancient among the Turks, and this is usually done with the skulls of those enemies who made an impression on the winner. Svyatoslav, who managed to destroy the Khazar Kaganate, the largest power in the region, and inflict a series of defeats by Byzantium in 28 years of his life, fully met such requirements.

Apparently, the Pechenegs at that time were quite satisfied with such "small" operations against Russia. The fact is that they received a double benefit from them.On the one hand, they could take trophies from Russians returning from distant lands, or plunder Russian villages while the Kiev prince was fighting in the conditional Byzantium.

On the other hand, the Byzantine emperors actively paid the Pechenegs for this robbery. One of them in his "Treatise on the Administration of the Empire" instructed his descendants:

“While the Vasilevs of the Romans are at peace with the Pacinakites [Pechenegs], neither the dew nor the Turks can attack the power of the Romans … and they also cannot demand great and excessive money and things from the Romans for the world, fearing that the Vasilevs will use the force of this people against them when they perform at the Romans. Pachinakits, connected by friendship with the Basileus and prompted by his letters and gifts, can easily attack the land of the dews and Turks, take their wives and children into slavery and ravage their land."

It is clear that with a generous payment for the Pechenezh lawlessness by the richest empire of the region, it did not make sense for them to take particular risks, engaging in battles with large Russian armies: they went into the steppe with slaves immediately after the blows, without waiting for the princes to have time to mobilize the Slavic farmers into the pedestrian militia.

However, such small raids became more frequent over time and became a big problem for Russia. Since at least 988, the son of Svyatoslav, Prince Vladimir, with rare pauses, fought with the Pechenegs.

The scale of these wars was such that their traces can still be seen with the naked eye: to fight them, many border fortresses were built, which today have become cities. There were ramparts between the fortresses, which German sources ascribe to Vladimir. However, it is more likely that the shafts themselves - today they are known as the "Serpents" - appeared even earlier. Their total length is hundreds of kilometers.


The peak of the Pechenezh "onslaught" against Russia was the campaigns of Svyatopolk the Accursed to Kiev in 1017 and 1019. Left without the Russian component of his army, Svyatopolk decided to fight Yaroslav with the help of the Pechenegs, who loved to support the Russians in their civil strife, especially since all this allowed them to be robbed, and this nomadic people did not have independent success in taking notable Russian cities.


But this time too, luck did not smile at them. In 1017, the Pechenegs were recaptured from Kiev. And on the campaign in 1019, when “In the year 6527 (1019). Svyatopolk came with the Pechenegs in a formidable force, "the battle was generally thwarted thanks to the very unusual sabotage actions of twelve enterprising Scandinavian mercenaries of the Kiev prince. They dealt with Svyatopolk in an extremely unusual way, and the Pechenegs, left without him, fled, since the opportunity to put their ally on the Kiev throne disappeared.

Despite the fact that in 1019 saboteurs thwarted a big battle, Yaroslav still managed to fight the Pechenegs on the battlefield. In 1036, he repelled their last raid, defeating them near Kiev. After that, the Pechenegs literally splashed in all directions - some fled to the Hungarians, the main one to Bulgaria and Byzantium. As ironically describes their fate "Story …": "and the rest of them run around somewhere to this day." In general, the inhabitants of this "somewhere" were not at all funny: Byzantium spent decades to finally destroy the Pechenegs at the cost of a lot of blood.

Polovtsi: six hundred years of wars with Russia

The main thing that should be understood before describing this people is that they themselves called themselves not Polovtsy at all. The last word is their Russian name, and the steppe people themselves said "Kypchak" to themselves. Appearing in Russian chronicles for the first time in 1055, they soon captured a huge region of the Northern Black Sea region, which became part of what the Polovtsians called Desht-i-Kypchak (“Kypchak steppe”, these words sound similar in the current Crimean Tatar and Bashkir) …


However, for the first time the words "Desht-i-Kypchak" were recorded by Khorezm written sources around 1030, at the time when the Polovtsy, having just left the banks of the Irtysh, became the northern neighbors of Khorezm.

Part of the Turkic-speaking tribes that originally lived in Asia, in the Irtysh region, were specifically called the Polovtsians. In 1050, they established control over the steppe between it and the lower Volga, and then appeared to the west of it.

From Russian sources it is not entirely clear how their military capabilities differed from the Pechenegs - both of them mainly operated with light cavalry, preferring quick raids to long battles and protracted sieges. But at the same time, they achieved much greater success than their predecessors and relatives of the Pechenegs.

Their typical style of fighting is described as a long shower of arrows at the enemy (using powerful compound bows) at the beginning, followed by a horse fight with spears at the ready, with the participation of armored riders. Then - in the course of hand-to-hand combat, using small curved sabers, feigned retreats in order to stretch the enemy's battle formations, let him crumble on the ground. At the same time, the steppe inhabitants themselves departed in one wave, without stretching. Then the Polovtsians turned "all of a sudden" on the enemy and the flight suddenly turned into their offensive.


Apparently, these techniques were not characteristic of their predecessors, the Pechenegs, or they did not know how to use them as effectively. At least, circumstances hint at this: if the Pechenegs defeated the Russian forces according to the annals only two times, then the Polovtsians from the very beginning, from the very first battle, and quite a few times defeated large Russian forces. In 1068, the army of Khan Sharukan defeated the combined forces of three leading Russian princes at once on the Alta River, after which an uprising broke out in Russia.


The fact is that after a convincing defeat, the Kiev prince Izyaslav refused to arm the Kiev militia from his arsenals for a second battle with the Polovtsy. The people of Kiev were outraged because the steppe inhabitants who won the field battle were actively plundering the vicinity of Kiev, although they did not try to take it. Therefore, without thinking twice, they announced at the veche that Izyaslav was no longer a prince of Kiev, they took Vseslav of Polotsk from prison (earlier Izyaslav and his brothers had put him there, during the inter-princes' struggle), and Izyaslav was expelled - he could return only with great support from foreign troops.

According to the first Novgorod chronicle, in November 1068, the situation was corrected by the prince of Chernigov Svyatoslav Yaroslavich. Defending his lands from the Polovtsians, he defeated their 120-thousandth detachment and captured Sharukan Khan at the same time. For quite a long time, the Polovtsians then cease large independent campaigns to Russia, and Sharukan - already under the name Sharukan Old - reappears in the annals only in the next century. Apparently, either the captivity in Russia dragged on, or the khan was forced to give hostages or some serious obligations that prevented him from fighting.

But this did not last forever. We do not know how exactly Sharukan departed from his obligations, but it is known that by the 1090s, Monomakh's associates persuaded the latter to kill two Polovtsian khans, with whom he had just made an alliance and gave them his son hostage:

"Prince, there will be no sin on you: the Polovtsians always swear an oath to you, and everyone ruins the Russian land, sheds Christian blood, so you should kill them before they could show treachery."

It seems that when Sharukan left captivity, he nevertheless made an oath, but at some stage he stopped fulfilling it. Without such an oath, he would hardly have been released from there, and with it he would not have been able to attack Russia again in dozens of years.

In the 1090s, the Cumans also had new successful leaders - Tugorkan and Bonyak. These two with their own forces in 1091 helped the Byzantines to destroy the Pechenegs. True, after the victory, an act of genocide took place - according to Byzantine sources, all the remaining Pechenegs, including women and children, were killed. As the Byzantine princess and historiographer Anna Comnenus wrote with an unwavering hand, "a whole people, who were not considered tens of thousands, but exceeded any number, with their wives and children, died entirely on that day."

The Byzantines staged a massacre at night without notifying the Polovtsians.Those, somewhat shocked by the high Byzantine culture and norms of warfare, became somewhat nervous. According to Komnenos, the Polovtsians suspected that they would do the same to them the next night. Therefore, they retreated to the north, where they got involved in a war with the Hungarians, which was not entirely successful. But the enterprising new leaders did not lose heart and decided this time to try their luck in Russia.

In 1092-1093, the Kypchaks again staged a larger campaign, defeated the Russians at Stugna, one of the Rurik princes perished in the battle. A series of defeats forced the Russian princes to temporarily stop civil strife and from 1103 to undertake a series of campaigns against the Polovtsians deep into the steppe - at least to the lower Don.

This task was extremely difficult. The Polovtsi preferred, avoiding major battles, to retreat deep into their territory. The summer sun made the Russians in the steppe need water, the foot armies could not pursue the mounted nomads fast enough, so the average summer march to Desht-i-Kypchak was normally thwarted.

To solve the problem and facilitate the conduct of the war, Prince Vladimir Monomakh decided to start campaigns in late February - early March. Without the summer heat, the march was not so hard, and the Polovtsian horses, who did not know grain fodder (the steppe inhabitants did not have a large amount of their grain), at that moment had the worst physical indicators. The calculation was justified: according to the "Tale …" during the spring campaign of 1103, "their horses did not have speed at their feet."


And in 1103, and subsequently, the traditional tactics of feigned flight or simply retreat without heavy losses began to fail: in the battle of Salnitsa (in the depths of Desht-i-Kypchak), the Polovtsians, after a direct blow from the Russians, to a large part could not escape and were destroyed or captured …

Several such campaigns led the Polovtsians to such an alarming state that more than forty thousand of their soldiers with their families, led by Khan Atrak, the son of Sharukan the Old, migrated all the way to Georgia, where they entered the service of the local king David the Builder. Attempts at new Russian campaigns stumbled upon emptiness - right up to the Don, they could not find any traces of the Polovtsians.

From a military point of view, Monomakh's methods against the steppe turned out to be impeccable: early spring really was the Achilles tendon of the inhabitants of Desht-i-Kypchak, a time when, without permanent large cities and large-scale agriculture, they could not match the Russian army in capabilities.

Kypchaks after Monomakh: forgotten lessons

During this period, the Polovtsians were scared enough to avoid attempts to independently fight Russia. A series of dynastic marriages were concluded with them. And then the Russian princes periodically attracted steppe relatives to clarify relations with their Russian relatives - other Rurikovichs.

This continued until the 1170s, but, naturally, it could not last forever. New generations of khans grew up, who did not sit personally in captivity of the Russians and did not see the terrible campaigns of Monomakh and his brothers deep into the steppes.

Khan Konchak, moreover, found somewhere Muslims who built him huge arrow-throwing machines and a kind of "liquid fire". It is difficult to understand what this is, but it is clearly not about Greek fire. I must say that the Arabs of the 12th century could already know the alembic, and with it the creation of incendiary liquid mixtures of high quality is a completely solvable task.

And nevertheless, despite private successes, such as the defeat of Igor from "The Lay of Igor's Campaign", in general, even with new technologies, the Polovtsians did not succeed: the Russians defeated the same Konchak in a field battle, and he did not have liquid fire on Russian cities came out.


The reasons were probably in the great experience of battles with the Polovtsy and the fact that the Russians already had Polovtsian princes, as well as part of the Pechenegs and other Turkic tribes (in particular, the Berendeys, who were resettled to the lands of Russia, including the Vladimir region).

So it would all have been, if not for the catastrophe. From the east came the Mongols, who applied completely different principles of warfare.Unlike the Kypchaks, they attacked Russia in winter, using the frozen rivers as wide roads for rapid movement in depth. The matter was further complicated by the love of the Mongols for entering the enemy's rear, including with small detachments operating out of touch with the main forces, as well as flank strikes and ambushes.

In addition, they were moving in several groups at once in different operational directions. Having singled out a place where the enemy was not sufficiently prepared for battle, they often pulled forces there from other directions (using their higher mobility) and crushed the Russians.

Another strong point was the extensive import of technology (and expertise) from the newly conquered China. They made stone-throwing machines, which for the first time made it possible for nomads to take cities, which already allowed them to consolidate their power in the conquered regions.

It would seem, what does the Polovtsians have to do with it, the reader will ask? After all, this is already the era of the Mongol-Tatars? Alas, school labels on certain nations often mislead us. The descendants of Batu got only four thousand Mongol warriors, and they completely dissolved in hundreds of thousands of Kypchaks, who made up the main people of the Golden Horde.

Actually, as can be seen from the Codex Kumanikus, the Cumans themselves (Cumans from Western authors) called themselves tatarlar, but, as is clear from the same code, the language of the Kipchaks-Cumans is the language of the Crimean Tatars.

To the great regret for the Russians, the Kipchaks learned from the Mongols new methods of war: movement in several operational directions, a quick maneuver of forces along the front to strike at the weakest link, flank attacks and strikes from the rear.

The Russians did not learn the same from the Horde at once: only by 1380 did they destroy a large army of the Horde, by the way, just by a sudden flank attack, in a purely Mongolian (and now also Kypchak) style.

But this did not completely solve the problem. Even after the collapse of the Horde, reliable means against the rapid raiding operations of the Kypchaks, whom the chronicles stopped calling Polovtsy and began to call Tatars, simply did not exist. Fortunately, the Tatars themselves forgot the lessons of the Mongol invasion and mostly went on raids in the summer, not in the winter.

This allowed the Russian princes not to worry about the river beds and block the path to the north with notches, the passages between which were filled with fortresses. During the time that the steppe inhabitants overcame the notch lines, the farmers mobilized their armies, compensating for the less mobility with defensive lines. But this did not always guarantee success: as early as 1571, the forces of the Crimean Khanate (by the way, its self-name Ulug Orda ve Desht-i Kipchak) were able to burn down the outskirts of Moscow.

Fortunately, the progress of artillery and the construction of fortresses (as well as the technology of their assault) was faster for the Russians than for the nomadic Kypchaks. Therefore, at least large cities and the same Moscow Kremlin, the Tatars themselves could no longer take.

But this did not mean at all that the problem of the Kipchak Tatars - those that before the Mongols were called "Polovtsy", was easy. According to incomplete estimates, only until the end of the 17th century, the Crimean Khanate alone drove almost two million people from the Russian lands as prisoners-slaves. This is approximately equal to the population of central Russia in the same 17th century.


Some will say that ten thousand prisoners annually is not that many. But here it must be remembered that, in addition to prisoners, there were also those killed in villages and small towns, and with them the numbers of losses from the Kypchaks were much higher.

It is difficult to blame the Crimean khans for this policy. According to modern research on the income of their state budget, it was mainly replenished through the trade in these slaves. Without them, the Crimean rulers would be ordinary pastoralists, unable to afford the construction of mosques, khans' palaces and the like. The Crimean state itself, without the mass trade in Russian slaves, was doomed to an economic collapse, could not exist for a long time and successfully, which was clearly manifested in the 18th century, when the Kypcha raids were finally ended.

A legitimate question arises: why did the Russians not put an end to the existence of such a slave-owning-dependent statehood during the long centuries of Kypchak raids?

Perhaps the main reason was the oblivion of the experience of the same Monomakh. The Russians made campaigns to the Crimea in the summer, under the scorching sun and among the wells poisoned by the Crimean Tatars during the retreat. The experience of Monomakh and his brothers, who went on a campaign in winter, transporting infantry on boats along the Dnieper to the maximum southern point in order to avoid both the summer heat and the long march, was forgotten. And this is despite the fact that among the systematic Russians there were people who noted that the forces of the Crimean Khanate after severe winters are extremely small. And this is the best moment to attack. Here is a famous quote from Kurbsky (16th century):

“God allowed a cruel winter on the Nagai Tatars - all their cattle and their herds of horses were lost, and they themselves had to disappear for the summer, because the horde feeds on the herds, but does not know bread; their remains passed to the Perekop horde, and there the hand of the Lord executed them: from the heat of the sun everything dried up, the rivers dried up; three fathoms dug into the depths and did not get to the water, and in the Perekop horde there was a famine and a great pestilence; some samovids testify that in the whole horde there were not even ten thousand horses left.

It was then the time for the Christian kings to take revenge on the Basurmans for the incessantly shed Orthodox Christian blood and to calm themselves and their fatherland forever; after all, they are anointed only for the kingdom, in order to judge fairly and defend the state entrusted to them from God from the barbarians. Then some advisers to our tsar … advised and leaned on him so that he himself … would move with great troops against the Perekop tsar, taking advantage of the time, with an obvious divine desire to give help in order to destroy the enemies of their old-timers and save many prisoners from the long-established bondage. But our king did not care about it …"

What is the reason for the systematic inattention of the Moscow tsars to such advice? For example, the Russian tsars did not read the Tale of Bygone Years, and the experience of Monomakh from this was secret knowledge for them until it was completely inaccessible. In the end, this is the norm; it is a sin to demand that a politician know history. But, as the same Kurbsky notes, there are also advisers.

Those, of course, also did not read the "Story …" and the word "Monomakh" was heard only in the context of the cap, which, to tell the truth, had nothing in common with the historical Monomakh. But they had eyes and ears, that is, they could figure out the rationality of spring hikes after harsh winters. What's the matter?


It is difficult for us to answer this question. The most probable explanation is that tens of thousands of people are taken into slavery every year and the deaths of thousands more people gradually get used to and stop reacting to them.

Take our era: in the United States, 50 thousand people die from exhaust gases a year, and the same number from emissions from power plants. But the States are in no hurry to ban coal or restrict internal combustion engines. Let's look at Russia: we have twenty thousand dying of HIV a year. At the same time, in 2015, the country curtailed clinical trials of an HIV vaccine only because it regretted a few million dollars for such trials.

So why are we smarter or better than Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich? Most likely - nothing. The habit of death and the inflexibility of thought are successfully destroying people, both in the 16th century and in the 21st century. And let the Pechenegs and Polovtsians (even after the latter were renamed Tatars) in fact tormented Russia for centuries - but if it were not for the connivance of ourselves, this could not have happened.

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