This article is about the historical state. For the modern Hungarian region, see Kunság.
Cuman-Kipchak Confederation
Desht-i Qipchaq

Coat of arms

Kipchak–Cuman confederation in Eurasia on the eve of the Mongol invasions, c. 1200.
Capital Not specified
Languages Turkic language
Political structure Khanate
   Established 900
   Disestablished 1220
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Kimek Khanate
Mongol Empire
History of the Turkic peoples
Pre-14th century
Turkic Khaganate 552–744
  Western Turkic
  Eastern Turkic
Khazar Khaganate 618–1048
Xueyantuo 628–646
Great Bulgaria 632–668
  Danube Bulgaria
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Kangar union 659–750
Turgesh Khaganate 699–766
Uyghur Khaganate 744–840
Karluk Yabgu State 756–940
Kara-Khanid Khanate 840–1212
  Western Kara-Khanid
  Eastern Kara-Khanid
Gansu Uyghur Kingdom 848–1036
Kingdom of Qocho 856–1335
Pecheneg Khanates
Kimek Khanate
Oghuz Yabgu State
Ghaznavid Empire 963–1186
Seljuk Empire 1037–1194
  Seljuk Sultanate of Rum
Kerait khanate 11th century–13th century
Khwarazmian Empire 1077–1231
Naiman Khanate –1204
Qarlughid Kingdom 1224–1266
Delhi Sultanate 1206–1526
  Mamluk dynasty
  Khilji dynasty
  Tughlaq dynasty
Golden Horde | [1][2][3] 1240s–1502
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo) 1250–1517
  Bahri dynasty
  Ottoman Empire 1299-1923

The name Cumania originated as the Latin exonym for the Cuman-Kipchak confederation, which was a Turkic confederation in the western part of the Eurasian Steppe, between the 10th and 13th centuries. The confederation was dominated by two Turkic nomadic tribes: the Cumans (also known as the Polovtsians or Folban) and the Kipchaks. Cumania was known in Islamic sources as Desht-i Qipchaq, which means "Steppe of the Kipchaks"; or "foreign land sheltering the Kipchaks", in the Turkic languages.[4] Some Russian sources have referred to Cumania as the "Polovtsian Steppe" (Poloveckaja Step), or the "Polovcian Plain" (Pole Poloveckoe).[5]

The Golden Horde was also referred to as "Comania" by Armenian chronicler Hethum (Hayton) of Korykos.[6] "Cumania" was also the source of names, or alternate names, for several smaller areas some of them unconnected geographically to the area of the federation in which Cumans and/or Kipchaks settled, such as the historic region of Kunság in Hungary, and the former Roman Catholic Diocese of Cumania (in Romania and Hungary). Hethum of Korykos described Cumania as "wholly flat and with no trees".[6] Ibn Batutta said of Cumania, "This wilderness is green and grassy with no trees, nor hills, high or low...there is no means of travelling in this desert except in wagons." Battuta's contemporary, Hamdallah Mustawfi, eloborated, "This is of the Sixth Clime, its plains bear excellent pasturage...but there are here few houses or towns or villages. Most of the inhabitants are nomads of the plain...Most of the lands here are swamps...The pasturage, however, being excellent, horses and cattle are numerous, and the population for the most part subsists on the produce thereof. The climate is cold, and their water comes from springs and wells."[7]


Coat of Arms of Cumania

By the 11th and 12th centuries, the nomadic confederacy of the Cumans and (Eastern) Kipchaks (who were a distinct tribe with whom the Cumans created a confederacy) were the dominant force over the vast territories stretching from the present-day Kazakhstan, southern Russia, Ukraine, to southern Moldavia and western Wallachia. Considering the nomadic way of life of these peoples, these frontiers can be regarded only as approximate; hence there were various definitions over what Cumania meant over the course of time. Depending on their region and their time, different sources each used their own vision to denote different sections of the vast Cuman territory: in Byzantine, Russian, Georgian, Armenian, Persian and Muslim sources, Cumania meant the Pontic steppe, that is the steppelands to the north of the Black Sea and on its eastern side as far as the Caspian Sea, where the lowlands between the Dnipro River, the Volga, the Ural and the Irtysh rivers were favorable to the nomadic lifestyle of the Cumans. Later, for a short time period, in Western sources Cumania also referred to the area in eastern Wallachia and southern Ukraine (centered on the lowlands of Budjak and the Bărăgan Plain), referring to the area where the first contact between the Cumans and the Western Christians took place, and where, later, the Cumans of the region would accept Roman Catholicism.

Using the traditional Turkic assignment of colours to the cardinal points, White Cumania used to be located to the west and may have denoted eastern Wallachia, while Black Cumania was located to its north and may have denoted Moldavia.

As in the case of many other large nomadic Eurasian confederacies, the ethnonym "Cuman" (referring to the inhabitants of Cumania) denoted different ethnic realities. While the main component was probably the Turkic-speaking tribes, the confederacy included other ethnic components as well. Cumania was primarily a political name, referring to the leading, integrating tribe or clan of the confederacy or state. The Cumans, when they first appear in written sources, are members of a confederacy irrespective of their tribal origin. Former tribal names disappeared when the tribe in question became part of a political unit. For instance, when we hear of an incursion of Cumans, it means that certain tribes of the Cuman confederacy took part in a military enterprise. In his "History of the Mongols", the Persian historian Rashid-al-Din Hamadani, referred to Cumania around 1236-1237, during the Mongol invasion of Möngke, the future Great Khan of the Mongol Empire. Among others, he mentions the Kipchaks, the Turkophone Asi (probably the same as the later Jassic tribe) and the "Karaulaghi" (Black, i.e. "from the north", Vlachs).[8]

Cuman/Kipchak statue, 12th century, Luhansk

The vast territory of this Cuman-Kipchak realm, consisting of loosely connected tribal units who were the military dominating force, was never politically united by a strong central power. Cumania was neither a state nor an empire, but different groups under independent rulers, or khans, who acted on their own initiative, meddling in the political life of the surrounding states: the Russian principalities, Bulgaria, Byzantium and the Wallachian states in the Balkans, Armenia and Georgia (see Kipchaks in Georgia) in the Caucasus, and Khwarezm, having reached as far as to create a powerful caste of warriors, the Mamluks, serving the Muslim Arab and Turkish Caliphs and Sultans.

In the Balkans, we find the Cumans in contact with all of the statal entities of that time, fighting with the Kingdom of Hungary, allied with the Bulgarians and Vlachs against the Byzantine Empire, and involved into the politics of the fresh Vlach statal entities. For example, Thocomerius, by name apparently a Cuman warlord (also known as Tihomir, he might have been a Bulgarian noble), was possibly the first one to unite the Vlach states from the west and the east of the Olt River, and his son Basarab I is considered the first ruler of the united and independent Wallachia. This interpretation corresponds with the general view of the situation of the Romanian lands in the 11th century, with the natives living in collections of village communities, united in various small confederacies, with more or less powerful chiefs trying to create little kingdoms, some paying tribute to the various militarily dominant nomadic tribes (see Romania in the Middle Ages).

This pontic Cumania, (and the rest of the Cumanias to the east), ended its existence in the middle of the 13th century, with the Great Mongol Invasion of Europe. In 1223, Genghis Khan defeated the Cumans and their Rus' allies at the Battle of Kalka (in modern Ukraine), and the final blow came in 1241, when the Cuman confederacy ceased to exist as a political entity, with the remaining Cuman tribes being dispersed, either becoming subjects of the Mongol conquerors as part of what was to be known as the Golden Horde, or fleeing to the west, to the Byzantine Empire, the Bulgarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Hungary.

Kunság and the Catholic Diocese of Cumania

Main articles: Kunság and Diocese of Cumania
Hungarian King Ladislaus I of Hungary (left) fighting with a Cuman Warrior (right)

On the Great Hungarian Plain, Cuman settlers gave their name to two regions known as Kunság, the Hungarian word for Cumania: Greater Cumania (Nagykunság) and Little Cumania (Kiskunság), located the Great Hungarian Plain. Here, the Cumans maintained their language and some ethnic customs well into the modern era.

Cumania name was also preserved as part of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical structure with a "Diocese of Cumania" existing until 1523 in what is now Romania, long after the Cumans ceased to be a distinct group in the area. At Milcov, years earlier, in 1227, the Cuman warlord Bortz accepted Catholic Christianity from missionary Dominican monks. Pope Gregory IX heard about the mass conversion of the Cumans, and on 1 July 1227 empowered Robert, Archbishop of Esztergom, to represent him to Cumania and in neighbouring Land of the Brodnici. Teodoric, the bishop of this new diocese, became the guardian of the Dominican Order in the Kingdom of Hungary.[9]

Hence, Cumania diocese became part of the superior archbishopric of Esztergom, determining King Béla IV of Hungary to add "Rex Cumaniae" (King of Cumania)[10] to his titles in 1228, and later to grant asylum to the Cumans in face of the Mongol invasion. The Diocese of Cumania, or of Milcov, had subordinated in Transylvania the abbacy of Sibiu, the dioceses of Burzenland, Brasso and Orbai, and over the Carpathians, in the lands of the "infidel" Orthodox Vlachs (in partibus infidelium), all the Christian Catholics, irrespective of their ethnicity, despite the fact that many believers fell under the influence of the Romanian Orthodox "pseudo" bishops (episcopo Cumanorum, qui loci diocesanus existit, sed a quibusdam pseudoepiscopis Graecorum ritum tenentibus).[11]

So, at that moment, Hungarian and Papal documents use the name Cumania to refer to the land between the eastern border of the lands of Seneslau and the land of the Brodnici (Buzău, southern Vrancea and southern Galaţi): that is Cumania meant, more or less, Muntenia. At that time, the use of the name Cumania should not to be understood as asserting the existence of a Cuman state, nor even a land inhabited by Cuman tribes (as the bulk of them had either fled, or were destroyed by the Mongols, and the rest had been absorbed) but rather to the Diocese of Cumania. From the military point of view, the land comprising the Diocese of Cumania was held either by the Teutonic Order (as early as 1222), or by the Vlachs (Brodnics or the Vlachs of Seneslau). The term Cumania had come to mean any Catholic subordinated to the Milcov Diocese, so much so that in some cases, the terms Cuman and Wallach (more precisely, Roman Catholic Wallach, as the Orthodox Christians were considered schismatic, and the Pope did not officially recognise them) were interchangeable,[12] (as were the terms Wallach and Brodnic).

In a charter from 1247, parts of this earlier Cumania were granted to the Knights Hospitalers, as were the Banate of Severin and the Romanian cnezats of Ioan and Lupu (a fluvio Olth et Alpibus Ultrasylvanis totam Cumaniam …excepta terra Szeneslai Woiavode Olacorum).[13] These, from a juridical point of view, had an inferior status than the states of Seneslau (east of the Olt river) and Litovoi (west of the Olt River), cnezats which continued to belong to the Romanians (quam Olacis relinquimus prout iidem hactenus tenuerant), "like they held them so far".

See also


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  1. Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2006). Peoples of Western Asia. p. 364.
  2. Bosworth, Clifford Edmund (2007). Historic Cities of the Islamic World. p. 280.
  3. Borrero, Mauricio (2009). Russia: A Reference Guide from the Renaissance to the Present. p. 162.
  4. Adjiev M. Eskenderovich, The Kipchaks, An Ancient History of the Turkic People and the Great Steppe, Moscow 2002, p.30
  5. 1 2 Victor Spinei, The Romanians and the Turkic Nomads North of the Danube Delta from the Tenth to the Mid-thirteenth Century, p.38.
  6. Victor Spinei, The Romanians and the Turkic Nomads North of the Danube Delta from the Tenth to the Mid-thirteenth Century, p.40.
  7. Alexandru D. Xenopol in "Histoire des Roumains', Paris, 1896, i, 168 quotes Rashid-od-Din:
    In the middle of spring the princes crossed the mountains in order to enter the country of the Bulares and of the Bashguirds. Orda, who was marching to the right, passed through the country of the Haute, where Bazarambam met him with an army, but was beaten. Boudgek crossed the mountains to enter the Kara-Ulak, and defeated the Ulak people.
  8. The letter of Pope Gregory the IXth:
    Gregorius Episcopus … venerabili fratri … Strigoniensi Archiepiscopo apostolicae sedis legato salutem … Nuper siquidem per litteras tuas nobis transmissas accepimus, quod Jesus Christus … super gentem Cumanorum clementer respiciens, eis salvationis ostium aperuit his diebus. Aliqui enim nobiles gentis illius per te ad baptismi gratiam pervenerunt, et quidam princeps Bortz nomine de terra illorum cum omnibus sibi subditis per ministerium tuum fidem desiderat suscipere christianam; propter quod unicum filium suum una cum fratribus praedicatoribus, messis dominicae operariis in terra praedicta, ad te specialiter destinavit, attentius obsecrans, ut personaliter accedens ad ipsum et suos viam vitae ostenderes ipsis … Unde quamvis pro executione voti tui, quod emiseras pro terrae sanctae succursu, in peregrinationis esses itinere constitutus, confidei exinde pervenire posse, si piis eorum desideriis condescendas, intermisso dictae peregrinationis itinere, dilectum filium … Archidiaconum de Zala ad nos destinare curasti … supplicans ut tibi hoc faciendi, non obstante voto praedicto, licentiam praeberemus, et … in Cumania et Brodnic terra illae vicina, de cuius gentis conversione speratur, legationis officium tibi committere dignaremur … Datum Anagniae II. Kal. Aug. Pontificatus nostri anno I.
  9. The full list of titles was
    • Bela Dei gratia Hungariae
    • Dalmatiae
    • Croatiae
    • Romae
    • Serviae
    • Gallicie
    • Lodomerie
    • Cumanieque Rex
  10. The full text of the letter of Pope Gregory the IXth to King Béla of Hungary (14 November 1234) is:
    In Cumanorum episcopatu, sicut accepimus, quidam populi, qui Walati vocantur, existunt, qui etsi censeantur nomine christiano, sub una tamen fide varios ritos habentes et mores, illa committunt, que huic sunt nomini inimica… Nam Romanam ecclesiam contempnentes, non a venerabili fratre nostro… episcopo Cumanorum,qui loci diocesanus existit, sed a quibusdam pseudoepiscopis, Grecorum ritum tenentibus, universa recipiunt ecclesiastica sacramenta, et nonnulli de regno Ungarie, tam Ungari, quam Theutonici et alii orthodoxi, morandi causa cum ipsis transeunt ad eosdem, et sic cum eis, quia populus unus facti cum eisdem Walathis eo contempto, premissa recipiunt sacramenta, in grave orthodoxorum scandalum et derogationem non modicam fidei christiane. Ne igitur ex diversitate rituum pericula proveniant animarum, nos volentes huiusmodi periculum obviare, ne prefati Walathi materiam habeant pro defectu sacramentorum ad scismathicos episcopos accedendi, eidem episcopo nostris damus litteris in mandatis, ut catholicum eis episcopum illi natione conformem provida deliberatione constituat sibi iuxta generalis statuta concilii vicarium in predictis, qui ei per omnia sit obediens et subiectus
  11. The Diploma of King Andrew of Hungary, 11 March 1291, mentions the 'universities' of Saxon, Siculian and Wallachian nobles at Alba Iulia, yet at the assembly of Buda on 29 July 1292 there is mention of the 'universitas nobilium Ongarorum, Siculorum, Saxonum et Comanorum'; the term Cumans simply replacing that of Wallachs.
  12. The text of the letter is
    Bela dei gratia Hungariae … Rex … Contulimus … a fluvio Olth et Alpibus Ultrasylvanis totam Cumaniam …excepta terra Szeneslai Woiavode Olacorum, quam eisdem relinquimus, prout iidem hactenus tenuerunt … a primo introitu … fratrum usque ad viginti quinque annos omnes reditus Cumaniac terrae integraliter domus percipiat iam praefecta, praeterquam de terre Szeneslay antedicta …; Anno ab incurnatione domini MXXXLVII. IIII. Nonas Junii. Regni autem nostri anno duodecimo.


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