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Astrakhan, Khanate of


The Khanate of Astrakhan was a tribal union of Sunni Muslim pastoral nomadic Turkic-speaking peoples, located in the lower Volga region, with the capital of Astrakhan (Citracan) situated at the confluence of the river into the Caspian Sea. Traditionally, it is believed that the khanate of Astrakhan was formed sometime in the mid-1400s (certainly by 1466), when the tribe seceded from the Golden (or Great) Horde, probably under Mahmud Khan (died c. 1466). Many scholars attribute the foundation of the khanate to Qasim I (14661490), perhaps Mahmud Khan's son. However, a recent study argues that the khanate was formed only after 1502. Specifically, from the 1450s to the 1470s, Astrakhan was one of the centers of the Great Horde and after the destruction of Saray (the old capital), not earlier than the 1480s, became its new capital. Astrakhan continued to be the capital of the Great Horde until its collapse in 1502 at the hands of the Crimean Khanate and, thereafter, remained its political heir in the form of the Astrakhan Khanate. There was no change of dynasty, nor was there any internal structural transformation to the state. The only major difference with its predecessor is that its borders were probably smaller.

The peoples of the Astrakhan Khanate mostly retained their nomadic lifestyles as they seasonally migrated in northsouth directions in search of grasslands for their livestock, reaching as far north as the southern borders of Muscovy. Due to the small territory it occupied, the khanate did not have sufficient lands for grazing large numbers of animals and sustaining large human resources. For these reasons, the khanate was relatively weak militarily and prone to political interference in its affairs from its more powerful neighbors, including the successor Mongol khanates and Muscovy. The khanate also offered little by way of natural resources, aside from salt, fish, and hides.

Astrakhan, while a busy, wealthy, and large port city in the early Mongol era, fell into relative neglect after its destruction by Tamerlane in around 1391, as noted by Barbaro (d. 1494). Other Western visitors to Astrakhan, such as Contarini (1473) and Jenkinson (1558), noted the paucity of trade coming through the city, despite the presence of Russian, Tatar, Persian, Transcaucasian, and Central Asian merchants. Both Contarini and Afanasy Nikitin, the latter a Russian merchant from Tver who traveled to India via Astrakhan sometime between 1468 and 1471, noted instability in the steppe near Astrakhan, general danger, and excessive tariffs (more properly, extortion payments) imposed on merchants. However, their travel through the khanate shows that while the trans-Volga-Caspian-Central Asian trade may have declined, because of the ideal location of the city of Astrakhan at key crossroads, international commerce continued to function. Although the volume and frequency of this trade is difficult to determine, Contarini relates that "a great many Tartar merchants" traveled in a caravan to Muscovy along with an annual embassy sent by the Astrakhan khans and brought along with them Iranian silks and fustian that they exchanged for furs, saddles, swords, bridles, and other items. With Ivan IV's (r. 15331584) conquest and incorporation of the Astrakhan Khanate into Muscovy in 1556, coupled with his annexation of the Kazan Khanate in 1552, the entire course of the Volga with its Astrakhan link into the Caspian Sea came under Moscow's direct control. Thereafter, trade via Astrakhan as well as Muscovite commerce with Persia, Central Asia, China, and India flourished.

See also: crimean khanate; golden horde; nogai


Barbaro, Josafa, and Contarini, Ambrogio. (1873). Travels to Tana and Persia, ed. Henry E. J. Stanley; tr. William Thomas and S. A. Roy. Hakluyt Society Series no. 49. London: Hakluyt Society.

Golden, Peter B. (1992). An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

Roman K. Kovalev

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