Mongol invasions of Durdzuketia

During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols launched two long, massive invasions of the territory of modern Chechnya and Ingushetia, which included the lands of Alania in the West, Simsir in the Northeast, and the Georgian-allied kingdom of Durdzuketia in the South. They caused massive destruction and human death for the Dzurdzuks, but also greatly shaped the people they became afterward. The ancestors of the Chechens and Ingush bear the distinction of being one of the few peoples who have managed to fight the Mongols and win, not once, but twice. But this came at great cost to them, and the states they had set up were utterly destroyed as was their previous organized systems. These invasions are among the most significant occurrences in Chechen and Ingush history, and have had long-ranging effects on Chechnya, Ingushetia and their peoples.

Mongol invasions of Dzurdzuketia
Part of the Mongol invasions of Georgia, Toluid Civil War, Berke–Hulagu war, Kaidu–Kublai war
DateThroughout the 13th century
Result Mongols conquer the lowlands of Durdzuketia but are eventually driven away by Durdzuk resistance
Mongol Empire briefly gains control of North Caucasus


During what was the late Middle Ages of Western Europe, the Caucasus was invaded by Mongols and their Turkic vassals. The first appearance of Mongol troops in the Caucasus was an arrival of scouts in 1220-1222.[1] Kypchak Turkic peoples - some of which becoming future affiliates of Genghis Khan - had been invading and settling areas further and further South and West (a process that had was continuing since the fall of the Khazars), including the fertile river valleys of the Terek and the Kuban. In the 1230s, the Mongols gained rule over the Kypchaks, and turned them into vassals.

The Mongol invasion of Georgia had commenced a year earlier to the invasion of the Vainakh kingdom of Dzurdzuketia. The Kingdom of Georgia was traditionally strong ally of Dzurdzuketia, but it was unable to help the Durdzuks when it was under invasion itself.

First Mongol Invasion

In 1237, the assault on the North Caucasus began.[1] Mongols launched the first attacks: against the Circassians and the Alans (note that at this time, the Alan kingdom was actually highly multiethnic and was partially Dzurdzuk[2]). Alanian villages in what is now northern Ingushetia, a part of northwestern Chechnya and North Ossetia were completely destroyed.[1][3] Having consolidated their rule over the western parts of the Terek, the Mongols then moved East along the river to attack the Durdzuk states of Durdzuketia and Simsir (which was less than modern Chechen and Ingush republican control of the Terek, due to the previously superior position of the Alans).[1] Durdzuketia and Simsir were also attacked from the south and east, by the Mongol troops which had recently conquered Derbent, capital of the Lezghins, in modern Dagestan.[3]

The attack on Durdzuketia, already having been commenced, intensified, and the Mongols went as far as the highlands in their attacks. Here, too, the Dzurdzuk proved no match for the arrows and flames of the Mongols, and their villages were totally destroyed. Jaimoukha states that a majority of the Dzurdzuk people were probably killed or enslaved by the Mongols.[3] Within a few years of the invasion, Dzurdzuketia was history, but its resistant people survived up in the mountains. Adding to the misfortune of the Durdzuks, the Mongols successfully established control over much of the Sunzha river, which was an existential threat to the Chechen people due to their need for the Sunzha's (as well as the Terek's) agriculture to support their population. Those remaining joined their mountainous brethren in the highlands (lowland Circassians fled to the Circassian highlands, Alans, to southern parts of Alania, and Dzurdzuks to southern Dzurdzuk territory), fleeing out of lack of an alternative. They regrouped in the mountains and reorganized themselves, planning a counterattack on the Turkic and Mongol invaders. Their goal was to survive both biologically and culturally.[3]

The Dzurdzuks had both the forests and the mountains on their side, and waged a successful guerrilla war.[1] Three hordes fell in the attempted assault of the densely forested Dzurdzuketia. The Mongols managed to gain control over large areas at times, but there were pockets of resistance which they could not conquer, which soon expanded and reconnected with each other.

Jaimoukha cites a writing of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, a Papal Ambassador to the Mongols, in 1245-1247. He apparently asserted that the Khan's armies had failed to take the mountainous parts of the eastern part of Alania, to which they had been laying siege for 12 years already, because of the persistence of the defenders (who were, according to Jaimoukha, almost certainly Dzurdzuks given their geographical location).[3] William of Rubruck, the emissary of the Kingdom of France to Sartaq Khan (son of Batu) travelled to the Caucasus in 1253.[3] He wrote that the Circassians (used here to refer not to Adyghe specifically, but rather to all North Caucasians from Anapa to Avaria) had never "bowed to Mongol rule", despite the fact that whole fifth of the Mongol armies were at that time devoted to the task of crushing North Caucasian resistance.[4]

In 1239-1240, the Mongols deployed Chinese weapons such as catapults with gunpowder were used, as they had earlier done under Genghis Khan in Transoxania in 1219 and 1220.[5]

Second Mongol Invasion

In order to avoid future conflicts with the Mongols and give the Dzurdzuks time to recover, the ruler of the Princedom of Simsir (also known by the shorter name of "Simsim"; it was a small Dzurdzuk-run feudal principality separate from Alania and Dzurdzuketia, located between the two rivers[6]), known to the Mongols as Gayur Khan (though this probably was not what his own subjects called him), allied itself with the Golden Horde.[7] To underline Simsim's loyalty to the Horde, Gayur even adopted Sunni Islam as a state religion, although this move was purely symbolic (as the bulk of the Chechens were still pagan and those that were Muslim or Christian were highly syncretic in their practice).[6]

However, ultimately this proved to be a mistake. In the second half of the 14th century, the Golden Horde began to weaken. Timurlane (Tamerlan/Timur) dealt a major defeat to the Golden Horde, from which it would never recover.[8] But Timurlane did not intend on stopping with the Horde, and the Caucasus was one of the many conquests he planned. He then used Simsir's alliance with the Horde as pretext for war against Simsir.[7] He did not stop with Simsir, and continued on, attacking all Dzurdzuk lands. This meant that the Dzurdzuks, still recovering from the damage done by the first Mongol invasion, would have to deal with a second.

Timurlane first sent his Turkic imperial warriors to attack the Caucasus in 1390, and greatly stepped up the invasion in 1395-1396. The second Mongol invasion was just as brutal as the first, and many Dzurdzuks were completely annihilated, as were various churches and pagan sanctuaries.[8] However, although initially successful in the lowlands, they were confronted with, and defeated by, the same set of problems the first Mongol invaders faced. Unlike the previous Mongol invaders, Timurlane eventually made peace with the Chechens rather than waste huge amounts of his strength on trying to conquer them. Traditional folk history remembers that in order to give peace, he gave the Chechens his sabre as a gift.[9]

When the battle of the day was over, Timur asked his commanders: "Have you taken away their Phondar’" (musical string instrument). The answer was negative. And then he said: "If you haven’t taken away the ‘pondar’, you only destroyed their army, but you didn’t subjugate them. So we must make them our allies. I welcome them, and I wish as a sign of my respect to their steadfastness and for their edification, to grant them my sabre, which I haven’t given to anyone yet." His men didn’t find the fighting men; they were all killed. They brought the storyteller, who was prohibited from taking part in the battle and had to observe from a distance, so that he could tell the story to the future generation. The storyteller, Illancha, took the sabre of the Iron Lame and gave it to nine pregnant women, who passed it on to nine young boys. Later, Timur ordered freedom for all the Chechen prisoners. The Chechen elders told that this sabre, together with other presents and many Chechen relics were saved up until February 1944, when the Chechen people were robbed of all their possessions during deportation; the main part of the Chechen treasures were taken to Moscow.[9]

Long-term effects of the Mongol invasions

Themes in folklore

The struggled against much more numerous and well-armed invaders cost much hardship on the part of ordinary people, and these struggles and hardships became an important part of the folklore of the modern Chechen and Ingush.[10] One particular tale recounts how the former inhabitants of Argun, during the first invasion and the surrounding area held a successful defense (waged by men, women and children) of the slopes of Mount Tebulosmta, before returning after that to reconquer their home region. Jaimoukha notes that many of the tales are, in fact, coincident with historical accounts by Western travelers.[3]

End of Dzurdzuk statehood and of the feudal system

However, fierce resistance did not prevent the utter destruction of the state apparatus of Dzurdzuketia. Historical and state documents (mainly written in Georgian script) were also destroyed in mass amounts. As Jaimoukha puts it "the historical link of times and cultures was broken".[11] The feudal system of vassals and lords also fell into shambles. The contribution of men, women and children of all classes paired with the destruction of the feudal system during the war, rich and poor also helped the Vainakh to develop a strong sense of egalitarianism, which was one of the major causes for the revolt against their new lords after the end of the Mongol invasions.

Religious implications

Pagan sanctuaries as well as the Orthodox Christian churches in the south were utterly destroyed. Under the conditions of the invasion, Christianity was unable to sustain itself in Chechnya, and as its sanctuaries and priests fell, those who had converted reverted to paganism for spiritual needs. As a result, "neo-paganism" gained in ascendance, as many new pagan temples were built, while Orthodox Christian churches were converted[12]. The Malkhi, Lam-Aekkhii, and Kist clans, which reside in southern areas, however, remained Orthodox Christian [13].

Cultural effects

The utter destruction of the Dzurdzuks' statehood, their lifestyle (and in the south, their religion), and much of their knowledge of history caused them to rebuild their culture in many ways. The population developed various methods of resistance and much of their later lifestyle during the resistance to the Mongols and in between the two wars. The clan system mapped onto battlefield organization. Guerrilla tactics using mountains and forests were perfected. It was during the Mongol invasions that the military defense towers that one associates today with the Vainakh population (see Nakh Architecture) came into being.[3][8] Many served simultaneously as homes, as sentry posts, and as fortresses from which one could launch spears, arrows, etc. The overcrowding and lack of arable land caused the Chechens to devise new agricultural methods for the highlands including terracing plots and introducing soil.[7]

During the period after the invasions, due to contacts between the Durdzuks and Mongol and Turkic populations, there was a low degree of Mongolian cultural influences dating back to the period. The period where the Durdzuk state of Simsir was a tribute to the Golden Horde (during the fourteenth century and ending in 1390 when Simsir was destroyed by Timurlane because of this alliance [14]) is thought by Amjad Jaimoukha to be the origin of the custom of `amanat, whereby the children of nobles were given as pledged hostages. Such children were sent to the Khanate's court, where they learned the Mongol language, and they could be put to death or enslaved if the Golden Horde desired. This custom later became associated with the giving of hostages to cement pledges across the North Caucasus. [15]

The concept of mythical beast known as the "almaz" or "hun-sag", an evil forest creature with enchanted hair, also dates to Mongol influence (the same is true for the Circassian almesti)[16] with the word almaz being a loan from Mongolian where it originally meant "forest-man"; Jaimoukha also proposes that the Mongol name may have become used in the place of a native name during the sojourn of the Golden Horde over Simsir[17][18].

Land conflicts with the Nogai over the rivers

After defending the highlands, the Vainakh attacked Mongol control of the lowlands (after both Mongol invasions this occurred). Much of this area still had nominal Vainakh owners (as per the clan system which acknowledges the ownership of a piece of land by a certain teip), even after generations upon generations of not living there. Much was retaken, only to be lost again due to the second invasion. After that, the Vainakh managed to take most (but not all) of their former holdings on the Sunzha, but most of the Terek remained in Kypchak hands.

The conflicts did not stop however, as there were clans that had ownership of lands now inhabited by Turkic peoples, meaning that if they did not retake the lands, they would lack their own territory and be forever reliant on the laws of hospitality of other clans (doing great damage to their honor). Conflicts between Vainakh and Turkic peoples originating from the Mongol invasion when Dzurdzuks were driven out of the Terek and Sunzha rivers by Turco-Mongolian invaders (the Nogais) continued as late as the 1750s and 1770s.[1] After that, the conflict was with newer arrivals in Northern Chechnya: the Cossacks.

End of the Chechen-Georgian alliance and later replacement

As the Georgian-allied state of Dzurdzuketia was destroyed, so was the alliance the Dzurdzuks had with the Georgians - the 13th century saw the end of it.[19] This meant that when invaded from the north, they found help from other sources. The Chechen feudal state of Simsir, after the First Mongol Invasion (which its monarchy somehow miraculously survived), allied itself not to Georgia, but to the Golden Horde,[6] and even nominally converted to Islam, when faced with the threat of invasion. This underlines the causes for the later conversion of the Chechens to Islam in the 16th to 19th centuries, in order to secure the sympathy of the Ottoman Empire and the rest of the Muslim world in their conflict with the Christian state of Russia.[20][21]

See also


  1. Anchalabze, George. The Vainakhs. Page 24
  2. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 28
  3. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 34-5
  4. G Rubruquis. 1753. Cited in Jaimoukha's The Chechens, page 35
  5. Kenneth Warren Chase (2003). Firearms: a global history to 1700 (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 58. ISBN 0-521-82274-2. Retrieved 2011-11-28. Chinggis Khan organized a unit of Chinese catapult specialists in 1214, and these men formed part of the first Mongol army to invade Transoania in 1219. This was not too early for true firearms, and it was nearly two centuries after catapult-thrown gunpowder bombs had been added to the Chinese arsenal. Chinese siege equipment saw action in Transoxania in 1220 and in the north Caucasus in 1239-40.
  6. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 34, section Simsim.
  7. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 35, Timurlane section
  8. Anchabadze, George. The Vainakhs. Page 25.
  10. Anchabadze, George. The Vainakh. Pages 24-25
  11. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 35
  12. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Pages 122-123
  13. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Page 123
  14. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Pages 34-36
  15. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Page 137
  16. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Page 246
  17. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens: A Handbook. Page 157, 281
  18. Colarusso, John. ‘Ethnographic Information on a Wild Man of the Caucasus’, in M.Halpin and M.Ames (eds), Manlike Monsters on Trial, Vancouver and London: University of British Columbia Press, 1980.
  19. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 270
  20. Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes. Mariel Tsaroïeva ISBN 2-7068-1792-5
  21. Lecha Ilyasov. The Diversity of the Chechen Culture: From Historical Roots to the Present. ISBN 978-5-904549-02-2
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