The Umdet ul-ahbar and the Turkic Narrative Sources for the Golden Horde and the Later Golden Horde

Uli Schamiloglu

In memory of Tibor Halasi-Kun (1914-1991)

A series of Turkic narrative sources have come down to us from the Later Golden Horde, the period of the successor states to the Golden Horde including the xanates of the Crimea, Kasimov, Kazan, and other political units in the 15th-18th centuries. These narrative sources, mostly chronicles, are of fundamental importance for the study of the history of Western Eurasia in the 13th-18th centuries. As most of these works are still available only in the original Turkic, they remain inaccessible and sometimes even unknown to the mainstream of modern scholarship. It seems appropriate, therefore, to briefly survey these historical writings together with a closer examination of one particular work, the Umdet ul-ahbar. It is hoped that such a survey will encourage the integration of Turkic sources into the study of the history of the states of Western Eurasia.

If we consider the various factors which might be seen as contributing towards the development of a major tradition of court historiography in this period, the Golden Horde did, in fact, incorporate some of these. One may argue (contrary to the view of Schurmann) that a strong centralized state power did develop. Numerous urban centers, including over time several capitals, also existed. Finally, we know from the famous traveler Ibn Batutta and other sources that these urban centers served as home to religious institutions and the learned groups usually associated with them. At the same time, certain factors worked against the florescence of a literary culture and its preservation. The Black Death, which struck the territories of the Golden Horde late in the 1340s, must have included a very high proportion of the learned groups in its heavy human toll. The attacks on urban centers in the second half of the 14th century, the final Russian conquest of many cities, and the later history of fires in cities such as Kazan were also devastating in terms of the survival of a literary heritage. This may help explain why much of what survives of the literary culture of the cities of the Golden Horde has come down to us from outside the territories of the Golden Horde.

When enumerating the products of the Turkic literary culture in Western Eurasia in this period, the best-known examples are the edicts and diplomatic correspondence collectively known as yarliqs. These are not strictly speaking narrative sources and survive in original Turkic versions only from the end of the 14th century. This does not mean, however, that there were no internal documents written before the end of the 14th century. Yarliqs issued as early as the 13th century are preserved in translations into Russian and other languages from the original "Mongolian" (which could also mean Turkic in the Mongolian script which the Mongols borrowed from the Uygurs). These translated documents offer the best evidence of an earlier literary culture which has not survived in the original.

A small number of bellettristic and religious works are also connected by various scholars with Old Saray or New Saray (the successive capitals of the Golden Horde) or with some of its other cities. These include Qutb's reworked Turkic translation of the romantic poem Xusrev u Sirin (dedicated to the Golden Horde xan Tinibeg, r. 1341-2); Xwarezmi's romantic poem Mahabbetname; and the religious treatise Nehc ul-feradis (generally considered to have been written in 1358 or 1360 by one Mahmud b. Ali). Seyf-i Serayi's Gulistan bi-t-turki (a reworking of the Persian work by Sa`di) falls into a somewhat different category as a work written in Mamluk Egypt in 1391 by a native of Saray. There is also the oral literary work (destan) Cumcume sultan (also known as the Cumcumename) whose relationship to the Kesikbai bey of the Calayir "ruling tribe" in that xanate, and one can therefore be sure that some of the information in the source is cast from the perspective of the tribal establishment of the state (the "land"), rather than from the opposing perspective of the ruling ingisid line.

In sharp contrast to Kasimov, the only Turkic narrative source to be connected with the xanate of Kazan is a brief account relating to its conquest discovered by Zeki Velidi Togan. Given the active relations between the various xanates of the Later Golden Horde (one only need recall the many figures that served as ruler in more than one xanate), it is likely they shared many of the same traditions regarding the period up to the foundation of the individual xanates. Written works could also have been shared. Usmanov speculates, for example, that the work of Rasid ad-Din might have found its way to Kasimov through the xanate of Kazan. It has also been suggested that Cumcume sultan, which the Crimean xan Sahib Giray ordered translated into Turkish, may have found its way to the Crimea from Kazan.

Given the limited number of narrative sources available for the xanates of Kasimov and Kazan, historians interested in these states should pay special attention to the Crimean xanate. The most dramatic reason for this is the rather large number of Turkic narrative sources which survive from this xanate. In addition to the Umdet ul-ahbar, which will be described in greater detail below, there is a series of other important works which have also been published:

The Es-seb us-seyyar was written by Seyyid Muhammed Riza (a member of the Crimean aristocracy, d. 1756). It was edited by Mirza Kazembek in the first half of the 19th century and used by V.D. Smirnov in his history of the Crimean xanate. The Gulbun-i hanan was composed in 1811 by Halim Giray Sultan (d. 1823), a Cingisid descended from Mengli Giray.

The Tarih-i Islam Giray Han was written by Haci Mehmed Senai, who flourished in the 1640s. This work was edited and translated into Polish by Z. Abrahamowicz as the History of Islam Giray Han III.

The Tarih-i Sahib Giray Han was written by Remmal Hoca, a physician to Sahib Giray who later entered the service of Sultan Selim II. This work, which has been made available by I. Gokbilgin in a transcription accompanied by a French translation, pays particular attention to the upheaval in the system of "ruling tribes" in the early Crimean xanate.

The Tarih-i Said Giray Han, a work from the 17th century which has been studied by B. Kellner-Heinkele.

The Tevarih-i Dest-i Kipcak, composed ca. 1638, includes a brief survey of the earlier Golden Horde as well as the later period until the early 17th century. It has been made available by A. Zajaczkowski together with its 18th-century French translation.

Other sources include the Telhis ul-beyan fi kavanin al-i Osman, which was utilized by Smirnov in his history of the Crimean xanate, and the Tarih-i Muhammed Giray Han, which covers the period 1684-1703. Although this listing is not exhaustive, it is clear that the Crimean xanate offers a wealth of narrative historical sources to a degree simply not available for the other states of the Later Golden Horde.

Let us turn now to a closer look at one of these sources, the Umdet ul-ahbar, and some examples of the kind of information it can offer. This work, which covers the rise of the Mongol empire and the history of the Crimean xanate, was written in Ottoman Turkish (but with some Crimean Tatar elements) by Abdulgaffar b. el-Hac Hasan b. el-Hac Mahmud b. el-Hac Abdulvehhab el-Kirimi, a member of the Crimean ulema banished from his home in A.H. 1157/1744-5 A.D. One partial edition of this work, published by Necib Asim earlier this century under the title Umdet ut-tevarih (Istanbul, A.H. 1343/1924-5 A.D.), appeared as a supplement to the Turk tarih encumeni mecmuasi. This edition was prepared on the basis of the manuscript of about 166 folia preserved in Istanbul in the Suleymaniye Library (Esad Efendi no. 2331). Though the manuscript begins with a substantial section surveying the history of the earlier Islamic states, the printed edition includes only the final portion of the original work covering in detail the rise of the Mongol world empire, the Golden Horde, and the Crimean xanate. The work has not been made available in any other language.

The Umdet ul-ahbar is based on a wide range of Arabic, Persian, and Turkic sources for the different periods it covers. One of Abdulgaffar Kirimi's most important sources for the 13th-14th centuries was the Tarih-i Dost Sultan. This work, supposed to have been written in Xwarezm in the 16th century, survives in the library of Zeki Velidi Togan. (Another copy of this work is the incomplete Tashkent manuscript known as the Otemis Haci tarihi or as the Cingizname of Otemis Haci b. Mevlana Muhammed Dosti). For the later periods, Abdulgaffar Kirimi draws on various Crimean and Ottoman sources as well as on his own first-hand knowledge.

The Umdet ul-ahbar has been utilized as a historical source by only a handful of scholars. For the earlier period, Berthold Spuler made use of the edition by Necib Asim in his history of the Golden Horde, though he concludes that many of the accounts in this work pertaining to the 13th-14th centuries are legendary. More recently, Mustafa Kafali has relied on the data contained in the the Umdet ul-ahbar as the basis of his recent work on the the Golden Horde. (Both Spuler and Mustafa Kafali were also able to consult the Togan manuscript of the Tarih-i Dost Sultan.) Coming to the later period, the foremost modern scholar of the various Turkic chronicles for the history of the Crimean xanate has been Halil Inalcik. He has incorporated the Umdet ul-ahbar and other Crimean sources in his now-classic articles on the history of the Crimean xanate, which may serve as a model for research based on the Turkic narrative histories and diplomatic correspondence preserved for this period. Otherwise, the Umdet ul-ahbar has been neglected in most studies of the Golden Horde and the Later Golden Horde.

In its survey of the history of the 13th-14th centuries, the Umdet ul-ahbar offers accounts of the reign of each of the rulers of the Golden Horde, sometimes in great detail. It includes descriptions of the role of the tribal nobility in the selection and elevation of the various Cingisid xans of the Golden Horde. For example, it refers to negotiations of the Golden Horde emirs with Hulegu prior to the accession of Berke Xan (r. 1255- 1266):

His two princes [the sons of Batu] Saritak and Togan were left, but Saritak then died. Since Togan was a small child, the consultation of the celebrated emirs decided at this point to inform Hulegu, one of the sons of Toluy from the party of the xan (zumre-i kaan). They sent him according to the habit of Mongol custom a lock of hair and a sword without a scabbard, and a shirt without a collar as though the ulus of Coci had no ruler.

At the beginning of the reign of Tude Mengu (r. 1280-1287), it is described that the emirs of the Dest-i Qipcaq had to swear an oath of fealty to him, after which they participated in the installation ceremony of ritual elevation. Similar statements are made for other rulers as well, including the accession to the throne of Ozbek Xan (r. 1313-1341):

Then two notable emirs seated the xan on a (rug of) white felt according to cingisid custom and, raising him, installed him on the throne. All the tribes came and gave the oath of fealty in groups one after the other.

The Umdet ul-ahbar relates other information on the rulers as well, including major source traditions on the piety of Berke and the conversions to Islam of Ozbek Xan and Canibek.

The Umdet ul-ahbar is notable for offering information on individuals connected with the major socio-political units ("ruling tribes") of the Golden Horde on which the traditional sources for the earlier period are usually silent. One account relating to the first half of the 13th century describes how Batu sent siban with 30,000 soldiers and Bor Altay of the Taraqli Qiyat as his ataliq against Mankup in the Crimea:

In the province of the Crimea there were all sorts of different peoples, but most of them were Genoese infidels, and from among the Tatars there were also some people called the As. These soldiers attacked the fortress called Mankup, but the aforementioned fortress was very strong. Since it was (situated) on very steep mountains and its conquest was not an easy matter, they entered it by ruse. He ordered that each of the soldiers should take two stirrups in his hands apiece and begin beating them together. Such a frightful clamor issued forth that those who heard it were amazed. They did not cease this tumult for a whole month and they refrained from fighting. The infidels of the fortress heard this melodic noise and they were ready to neglect the defense and protection of the ramparts of the fortress. Following this manner of deception, with the rest of his troops not stopping their clamor, he selected four-five thousand brave and courageous young men and appointed Bor Altay bey as commander-in-chief. In the middle of the night they advanced well concealed. The As infidels were surprised and did not find a place of refuge, and the fortress was captured, they say.

This is just one example in which an individual is described as having a specific tribal affiliation, and there are other references to individuals connected with the Qangli, the Sicivut, and especially the Qiyat. In another example, the 14th-century figure Mamay is called the nephew of Qiyat Astay bey of the right flank.

The most important of the socio-political units functioning as a "ruling tribe" in the various xanates of the Later Golden Horde was the Sirin. The Sirin remained throughout the history of the Crimea the dominant among the four (later five) "ruling tribes" of the xanate up until the Russian annexation of the Crimea at the end of the 18th century. Even when Sahin Giray intended to streamline and centralize his administration in the 1770s by downgrading the role of the qarai beys (whose role in electing the Cingisid xan is identical with that of the quriltays in the earlier period) by usurping for himself the power of designating his successor, he could not fully ignore the importance of the Sirin and the Mansurs (earlier known as the Mangits). Abdulgaffar Kirimi, who was a strong partisan of the Sirin "ruling tribe", depicts the Sirin "ruling tribe" defending the interests of the "land" against the interests of the Cingisid Giray dynasty throughout the history of the Crimean xanate. As such, the Umdet ul-ahbar is the history of the Sirin in the Crimea, offering information which is particularly valuable for the origins and later history of the leadership of the Sirin "ruling tribe". It states, for example, that the Sirin are descended from a particular branch of the As with a brand or tamga. This is a unique statement in the sources regarding the origin of this most important socio-political unit in the states of the Later Golden Horde. By the expression As kabilesi it is not clear, however, whether it is meant that they are therefore descended from the Iranian Alans of the medieval Pontic steppe (there is certainly no other "ruling tribe" with a similar origin) or that the name has a geographical connotation.

The Umdet ul-ahbar describes the leaders of the Sirin, Barin, Arcin and Qipcaq as joining Toqtamis as his has nokers or "special companions". From this period on it is a rich source for following the earliest leaders of the Sirin in the Crimea. The first Sirin leader to cooperate with Toqtamis was orek Temir b. Dangi bey, whose son Tegine was just as important in the Dest- i Qipcaq (or Kipchak steppe) as his rival, the Mangit leader Edigu. Beyond the genealogical information contained in the narrative itself, there is a separate genealogical appendix at the end of this work. Thus, the Umdet ul-ahbar is indispensable for understanding the greater socio-political and cultural unity beginning with the Golden Horde itself and continuing through the time of the component states constituting the Later Golden Horde.

It is only with the help of the Umdet ul-ahbar that it is possible to understand that these later states continued certain earlier Cingisid traditions, the most outstanding of which was the Cingisid system of state organization. In this pattern of state organization which I have termed the "four-bey system", four socio-political units shared fully in the governing of the state. The leaders of these four "ruling tribes" were collectively known as the four qaraci beys; their direct predecessors in the earlier Golden Horde were known as the ulus beys. Another well-known passage in the Umdet ul-ahbar describes the functioning of this system of government. I have published a translation of this passage elsewhere and have argued that this description is, in fact, the key which allows us to piece together and reinterpret partial accounts of state organization found in diverse sources for the 13th-14th centuries as well.

There are many questions regarding the history of both the earlier Golden Horde, the Crimean xanate itself, and even the other xanates of the Later Golden Horde to whose discussion the Umdet ul-ahbar makes a contribution beyond these few illustrative examples. Of course, I do not insist that all of the information in this work is to be corroborated by information in other sources. Nevertheless, this work and the other Turkic narrative sources from the later period represent a contribution to the preservation of historical traditions from the 13th-14th centuries about which sometimes very little else is known. Some of these traditions survive exclusively through works written in Xwarezm, others survive through works written in the xanates of the Later Golden Horde, and some survive as oral traditions, a topic which I have not even considered in this essay. Taken together, however, they represent what survives of the indigenous historical traditions of the Golden Horde. It may be premature to offer a bold new hypothesis on the state of historiography in the Golden Horde. It is not too soon, however, to insist that the study of the Turkic narrative sources mentioned in this essay is essential for any study of the history of Western Eurasia in the period of the Golden Horde as well as in the period of the Later Golden Horde.