Sarai (city)

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Sarai (also transcribed as Saraj or Saray, from Persian sarāi, "palace" or "court" [1] ) was the name of two cities, which were successively capital cities of the Golden Horde, the Mongol kingdom which ruled much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Golden Horde Mongol Khanate

The Golden Horde was originally a Mongol and later Turkicized khanate established in the 13th century and originating as the northwestern sector of the Mongol Empire. With the fragmentation of the Mongol Empire after 1259 it became a functionally separate khanate. It is also known as the Kipchak Khanate or as the Ulus of Jochi.

Central Asia core region of the Asian continent

Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".

Eastern Europe eastern part of the European continent

Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent. There is no consensus on the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations. There are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region". A related United Nations paper adds that "every assessment of spatial identities is essentially a social and cultural construct".


Old Sarai

Tilework fragments of a palace in Sarai. Ghengisid's palace tile decor detail.jpg
Tilework fragments of a palace in Sarai.

"Old Sarai", or "Sarai Batu" or "Sarai-al-Maqrus" [2] (al-Maqrus is Arabic for "the blessed") was established by Mongol ruler Batu Khan in the mid-1240s, on a site east of the Akhtuba river, near to the modern village of Selitrennoye. [3]

Arabic Central Semitic language

Arabical-ʻarabiyyah[alʕaraˈbijːa](listen) or ʻarabī[ˈʕarabiː](listen) or Arabic pronunciation: [ʕaraˈbij]) is a Central Semitic language that first emerged in Iron Age northwestern Arabia and is now the lingua franca of the Arab world. It is named after the Arabs, a term initially used to describe peoples living from Mesopotamia in the east to the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the west, in northwestern Arabia, and in the Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is classified as a macrolanguage comprising 30 modern varieties, including its standard form, Modern Standard Arabic, which is derived from Classical Arabic.

Mongol Empire former country in Asia and Europe

The Mongol Empire existed during the 13th and 14th centuries and was the largest contiguous land empire in history. Originating in the steppes of Central Asia, the Mongol Empire eventually stretched from Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe to the Sea of Japan, extending northwards into Siberia, eastwards and southwards into the Indian subcontinent, Indochina and the Iranian Plateau; and westwards as far as the Levant and the Carpathian Mountains.

Batu Khan Mongol Khan

Batu Khan, also known as Sain Khan and Tsar Batu, was a Mongol ruler and founder of the Golden Horde, a division of the Mongol Empire. Batu was a son of Jochi and grandson of Genghis Khan. His ulus was the chief state of the Golden Horde, which ruled Rus', Volga Bulgaria, Cumania, and the Caucasus for around 250 years, after also destroying the armies of Poland and Hungary. "Batu" or "Bat" literally means "firm" in the Mongolian language. After the deaths of Genghis Khan's sons, he became the most respected prince called agha in the Mongol Empire.

This site was most probably located on the Akhtuba River, a channel of the lower Volga River, near the contemporary village of Selitrennoye in Kharabali District, Astrakhan Oblast, Russia, about 120 km north from Astrakhan.

Volga River river in Russia, the longest river in Europe

The Volga is the longest river in Europe. It is also Europe's largest river in terms of discharge and drainage basin. The river flows through central Russia and into the Caspian Sea, and is widely regarded as the national river of Russia.

Astrakhan Oblast First-level administrative division of Russia

Astrakhan Oblast is a federal subject of Russia located in southern Russia. Its administrative center is the city of Astrakhan. As of the 2010 Census, its population was 1,010,073.

Russia transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia

Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country in Eastern Europe and North Asia. At 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world by area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, and the ninth most populous, with about 146.77 million people as of 2019, excluding Crimea. About 77% of the population live in the western, European part of the country. Russia's capital, Moscow, is the largest metropolitan area in Europe proper and one of the largest cities in the world; other major cities include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait. However, Russia recognises two more countries that border it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both of which are internationally recognized as parts of Georgia.

Sarai was the seat of Batu and his successor Berke. Under them Sarai was the capital of a great empire. The various Rus' princes came to Sarai to pledge allegiance to the Khan and receive his patent of authority ( yarlyk ). [4]

Berke Khan was a Mongolian military commander and ruler of the Golden Horde who effectively consolidated the power of the Blue Horde and White Horde from 1257 to 1266. He succeeded his brother Batu Khan of the Blue Horde (West) and was responsible for the first official establishment of Islam in a khanate of the Mongol Empire. He allied with the Egyptian Mamluks against another Mongol khanate based in Persia, the Ilkhanate. Berke supported Ariq Böke in the Toluid Civil War, but did not intervene militarily in the war.

Rus people ethnic group

The Rus' people are generally understood in English-language scholarship as ethnically or ancestrally Scandinavian people trading and raiding on the river-routes between the Baltic and the Black Seas from around the eighth to eleventh centuries CE. Thus they are often referred to in English-language research as "Viking Rus'". The scholarly consensus is that Rus' people originated in what is currently coastal Middle Sweden around the eighth century and that their name has the same origin as Roslagen in Sweden.

New Sarai

The domains of the Golden Horde in 1389. The gold star shows the location of New Sarai. Empty circles represent other major cities. Golden Horde 1389.svg
The domains of the Golden Horde in 1389. The gold star shows the location of New Sarai. Empty circles represent other major cities.

"New Sarai" or "Sarai Berke" (called Sarai-al-Jadid on coins) was at modern Kolobovka, formerly Tsarev, [5] an archeological site also on the Akhtuba channel 85 km east of Volgograd, and about 180 km northwest of Old Sarai; or possibly on the site of Saqsin (which may itself have stood on the site of the Khazar capital, Atil). The bishops of Krutitsy resided in Tsarev from 1261 to 1454. It had probably succeeded Sarai Batu as the capital of the Golden Horde by the mid-14th century.

Volgograd City in Volgograd Oblast, Russia

Volgograd, formerly Tsaritsyn, 1589–1925, and Stalingrad, 1925–1961, is an important industrial city and the administrative centre of Volgograd Oblast, Russia.

Saqsin was a medieval city that flourished from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries. It was situated in the Volga Delta, or in the Lower Volga region, and was known in pre-Mongol times as Saksin-Bolgar, which in Mongol times became Sarai Batu. It was mentioned by the Arab geographer al-Gharnati and the Persian Qazwini, among others, and recorded as "the land of the Saksins" in the report of Friar Benedykt Polak about the 1246 trip of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine through the camp of Mongol prince Batu Khan on the shores of the Volga. S.A. Pletneva locates Saksin between present Volgograd and Akhtubinsk.

Atil, literally meaning "Big River", was the capital of Khazaria from the middle of the 8th century until the end of the 10th century. The word is also a Turkic name for the Volga River.

Sarai was described by the famous traveller Ibn Battuta as "one of the most beautiful cities ... full of people, with the beautiful bazaars and wide streets", and having 13 congregational mosques along with "plenty of lesser mosques". [6] [7] Another contemporary source describes it as "a grand city accommodating markets, baths and religious institutions". [6] An astrolabe was discovered during escavations at the site and the city was home to many poets, most of whom are known only by name. [6] [8]

Ibn Battuta Moroccan explorer

Ibn Battuta was a Muslim Moroccan scholar and explorer who widely travelled the medieval world. Over a period of thirty years, Ibn Battuta visited most of the Islamic world and many non-Muslim lands, including Central Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and China. Near the end of his life, he dictated an account of his journeys, titled A Gift to Those Who Contemplate the Wonders of Cities and the Marvels of Traveling.

Astrolabe astronomical instrument

An astrolabe is an elaborate inclinometer, historically used by astronomers and navigators to measure the altitude above the horizon of a celestial body, day or night. The word astrolabe means "the one that catches the heavenly bodies." It can thus be used to identify stars or planets, to determine local latitude given local time, to survey, or to triangulate. It was used in classical antiquity, the Islamic Golden Age, the European Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery for all these purposes.

Both cities were sacked several times. Timur sacked New Sarai around 1395, and Meñli I Giray of the Crimean Khanate sacked New Sarai around 1502. The forces of Ivan IV of Russia finally destroyed Sarai after conquering the Astrakhan Khanate in 1556.

In 1623-1624, a Russian merchant, Fedot Kotov, travelled to Persia via the lower Volga. He described the site of Sarai:

Here by the river Akhtuba stands the Golden Horde. The khan's court, palaces, and courts, and mosques are all made of stone. But now all these buildings are being dismantled and the stone is being taken to Astrakhan. [9]

Since Old Sarai lies at 120 km from Astrakhan and New Sarai at 300 km, it is difficult to decide to which of these two cities this description applies.

After the destruction of New Sarai, Russia established the fortress city of Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad, now Volgograd) to control the area.

Little Sarai

Sarai Juk (Little Sarai) was a city on the Ural River. It is often conflated with the other Sarais in historical and modern accounts. This town was the main city of the Nogai Horde, one of the successors of the Golden Horde. Although sacked by the Ural Cossacks in 1580, it was later used as the headquarters by some Kazakh khans.

See also

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Jochi Military leader, eldest son of Genghis Khan

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Ukek or Uvek was a city of the Golden Horde, situated on the banks of the Volga River, at the Uvekovka estuary. Ukek marked the half-way distance between Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde, and Bolghar, the former capital of Volga Bulgaria. Ukek was probably established in the 1240s, and it became an important trade center by the early 14th century.

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Akhtuba (river) river in Russia

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Saray-Jük (Сарай-Жүк) / Sarai-Dzhuk (Сарай-Джук), Saraichik or Kishi Saray in the Kazakh language, Saraychyq (Сарайчык) in modern Tatar, and Saray Maly literally "Little Sarai", to distinguish it from Old Sarai, was a medieval city on the border between Europe and Asia. It was located 50 km north Atyrau on the lower Ural River, near the modern village of Sarayshyq, Atyrau Region, Kazakhstan. The city lay on an important trade route between Europe and China and flourished between the 10th and 16th centuries.

According to Rashid-al-Din Hamadani (1247–1318), Genghis Khan's eldest son, Jochi, had nearly 40 sons, of whom he names 14. When he died, they inherited their father's dominions as fiefs under the rule of their brothers, Batu Khan, as supreme khan and Orda Khan, who, although the elder of the two, agreed that Batu enjoyed primacy as the Khan of the Golden Horde. Orda, along with some of his younger brothers, ruled the eastern wing of the Golden Horde while Batu and others ruled the western wing of it. These Hordes are known as the "White", "Blue" and "Grey" (Shaybanid) Hordes in Slavic and Persian historiography. The two main divisions are also known as Batu's Ulus (district) and Orda's Ulus.

Political divisions and vassals of the Mongol Empire

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Kirill III of Kiev was a church figure, and the metropolitan of Kiev, close to the Horde king Mengu-Timur.

Division of the Mongol Empire

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  1. Encyclopedia of Islam, Saray
  2. Atwood, Christopher P. (2004). Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York, NY: Facts on File
  3. VASILIEVITCH, K.V. et al., Atlas Istorii SSSR 1, Glavnoe Upravlenie.., Moskva, 1948, p. 12
  4. MacKenzie, David, Michael W. Curran. (2002). A History of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Beyond. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. ISBN   0-534-58698-8
  5. Possibly near: 48°39′42″N45°22′05″E / 48.6617°N 45.3680°E
  6. 1 2 3 Ravil Bukharaev (2014). Islam in Russia: The Four Seasons. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN   9781136808005.
  7. Battutah, Ibn (2002). The Travels of Ibn Battutah. London: Picador. p. 136. ISBN   9780330418799.
  8. Ravil Bukharaev, David Matthews, eds. (2013). Historical Anthology of Kazan Tatar Verse. Routledge. p. 15. ISBN   9781136814655.CS1 maint: Uses editors parameter (link)
  9. Н. А. Кузнецова (N. A. Kuznetsova), Хождение купца Федота Котова в Персию [Journey of the merchant Fedot Kotov to Persia] (Moscow, U.S.S.R.: 1958), page 30. (in Russian) From p. 30: "Тут по той реки по Ахтубе стоит Золатая Орда. Царской двор, и полаты, и дворы, и мечети — все каменные, а стоят и до Астрахани."