Crimean Khanate

views updated


One of the surviving political elements of the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate comprised all of the Crimean peninsula, except for the southern and western coast, which was a province of the Ottoman Empire after 1475 (Kefe Eyalet), and survived until 1783 when it was annexed by the Russian Empire. The Khanate's ruling dynasty, the Girays, established its residence and "capital" in the valley of Bahçe Saray, from which it ruled most of the peninsula, and conducted relations with the Ottomans in the south.

Among the early Crimean khans, most important were Mengli Giray I (14671476 and 14781515), who is considered the "founder" of the Khanate; Sahib Giray I (15321551), who competed with Ivan IV for control of Kazan and Astrakhan, and lost; and Devlet Giray I (15511577), who led a campaign against Moscow. It was Mengli Giray who used Italian architects to build the large khan's palace and the important Zincirli Medrese in Bahçe Saray and, through patronizing artists and writers, establishing the khanate as a Sunni Muslim cultural center.

The khanate had a special relationship with the Ottoman Empire. Never Ottoman subjects, the Khanate's Giray dynasty was considered the crucial link between the Ottomans and the Mongols, particularly Ghenghis Khan. Had the Ottoman dynasty died out, the next Ottoman sultan would have been selected from the Giray family. Throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Girays often provided military support for Ottoman campaigns, in Hungary and in Iran. Crimean mounted archers were considered by the Ottomans to be among the most reliable and effective elements of their armies.

So far as the Russians were concerned, the most important feature of the khanate was the latter's dependence on raiding Muscovite lands for economic benefit. Crimean Tatars frequently "harvested the steppe" and brought Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish peasants to Crimea for sale. Slave markets operated in Kefe and Gozleve, where merchants from the Ottoman Empire, Iran, and Egypt purchased Slavic slaves for export. Several raids reached as far as Moscow itself. Slave market tax records indicate that more than a million were sold in Crimea in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Eighteenth-century Russian governments tried to bring an end to these raids. An invasion of Crimea in 1736 succeeded in destroying much of the khanate's capital Bahçesaray, including the palace, though the Russian army soon abandoned that effort. The Girays were able to rebuild much of the city over the next ten years.

It was left to Catherine II to bring an end the khanate, in 1783. Russian victories over the Ottomans resulted in, first, the Treaty of Karasu Bazaar between Russia and the Khanate in November 1772, followed by the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca between Russia and the Ottoman Empire in 1774. Karasu Bazaar established an "alliance and eternal friendship" between the khanate and Russia; the second cut all ties between the khanate and the Ottoman Empire.

For nine years, Catherine II worked with the last Crimean Khan, Šahin Giray, in an experiment in "independence," implementing some of her "enlightened" political ideas in a Muslim, Tatar society. Recognizing failure in this venture, Catherine annexed the khanate and the rest of the Crimean peninsula to the empire in 1783.

See also: catherine ii; crimean tatars; golden horde; nationalism in tsarist empire


Fisher, Alan. (1970). The Russian Annexation of the Crimea, 17721783. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fisher, Alan. (1999). A Precarious Balance: Conflict, Trade, and Diplomacy on the Russian-Ottoman Frontier. Istanbul: Isis Press.

Alan Fisher