Genoese Colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore

Genoese Colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore


fortified commercial centers of Genoese merchants that existed from the 13th to 15th centuries.

In 1266 the Genoese obtained from Mangu Khan, the henchman of the Golden Horde in the Crimea, the property rights to Kaffa (present-day Feodosiia), which later became the center of their colonies. In 1357 the Genoese seized Cembalo (Balaklava); in 1365, Soldaia (Sudak). Other Genoese colonies were founded at Bosporo (on the site of present-day Kerch’) and Tana (at the mouth of the Don). Greeks, Italians, Armenians, Tatars, Russians, and other peoples lived in these colonies. Toward the end of the 14th century, the colonies began to play a decisive part in commerce on the Black Sea. Genoese merchants carried on extensive trade as middlemen. They sold grain, salt, leather, furs, wax, honey, wood, fish, and caviar from the Black Sea region; cloth from Italy and Germany; oil and wine from Greece; spices, precious stones, and musk from the countries of Asia; and ivory from Africa. There was also an important trade in captives purchased from the Tatar khans and Turkish sultans. Genoese merchants conducted trading operations on Russian soil as well. Settlers from the Genoese colonies, who were referred to as friagi, lived in Moscow where, during the 14th and 15th centuries, there was an association of merchants, the “Surozhites,” who specialized in trade with the Genoese colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore.

The Genoese colonies were well fortified, and there were garrisons in the fortresses. The Genoese maintained an alliance with the Mongol-Tatar khans, who formally were the overlords of the colonies but gave the Genoese control over administration, preserving jurisdiction there only over the khans’ subjects. In 1380 the Genoese infantry took part in the Kulikovo battle on the side of Mamai. Nonetheless, the Genoese colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore were repeatedly attacked and plundered by the Tatar khans, for example, in 1299, 1308, 1344-47, and 1396-97. The commercial activity of the Genoese merchants was combined with pillage and exploitation of the local population. Within the colonies themselves a marked social stratification took place, and there were acute national and religious differences. The main colony was at Kaffa, which was a well-developed center of handicrafts. At the top of the leadership in Kaffa was a rich merchant class that subjugated and enslaved the mass of poor people. In 1433 there was a major uprising of the local population against the Genoese in Cembalo. In 1454 there was a large-scale uprising of the urban poor in Kaffa. A further intensification of the class struggle led to new uprisings in Kaffa in 1456, 1463, 1471, 1472, and 1475. The deepening of social, national, and religious contradictions foreordained the decline of the Genoese colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore in the 15th century. After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the international position of the colonies worsened. In 1475 the Genoese colonies on the Northern Black Sea Shore were seized and devastated by Turkey and its vassal, the Crimean Khanate.

Parts of the fortress walls, the towers, and the palaces built by slaves under the direction of Italian architects have been preserved in Kaffa, Cembalo, and Soldaia. The fortress and the consul’s castle at Soldaia (14th century) are noteworthy examples of Italian architecture; moreover, whole sections of frescoes have been found intact there. Archaeological excavations carried out in Kaffa in 1951-52 have provided valuable material for studying the history of the city, its crafts, and commerce.


Zevakin, E. S., and N. A. Penchko. “Ocherki po istorii genuezskikh kolonii na Zapadnom Kavkaze v XIII i XV vv.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 3. [Moscow] 1938. (Contains a bibliography.)
Zevakin, E. S., and N. A. Penchko. “Iz istorii sotsial’nykh otnoshenii v genuezskikh koloniiakh Severnogo Prichernomor’ia v XV v.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 7. [Moscow] 1940.
Sekirinskii, S. Ocherki istorii Surozha XI-XV vv. Simferopol’, 1955.