The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Kipchaks, Cuman), the Russian designation for the primarily Mongoloid and Turkic-speaking people who migrated from the Trans-Volga Region to the steppe area north of the Black Sea in approximately the 11th century. Originally nomadic herdsmen, the Polovtsy in the 12th century turned to various crafts, such as blacksmithing, furriery, shoemaking, sad-dlemaking, bow-making, and clothes-making. They lived in yurts (movable tents) and spent their winters along rivers. They believed in the existence of good and evil spirits and erected stone statues in memory of their dead.

By the 11th century, the primitive tribal structure of the Polovtsy was already evolving into a class (feudal) society. The Polovtsy were divided into families, each headed by a bey. These families banded into clans, which were governed by beks. The clans were grouped into hordes, which were ruled by sultans. Several hordes constituted a tribe, which was governed by a khan. The law of blood vengeance prevailed among the Polovtsy. As in most nomadic societies, predatory wars played an important role in the existence of the Polovtsy. The army consisted of highly mobile light and heavy cavalry; both men and women took part in battle.

The first clash between the Polovtsy and the Russians took place in 1054. The Polovtsy repeatedly attacked Russian territory, inflicting strong defeats upon the princes of Kiev in 1068, 1092, 1093, and 1096. They also waged campaigns against Hungary (1070, 1091, 1094) and Byzantium (1087, 1095). In 1091 they helped Emperor Alexius I Comnenus defeat the Pechenegs in the valley of the Hebrus River. The Kievan princes Sviatopolk Iziaslavich and Vladimir Monomakh succeeded in organizing a series of victorious campaigns against the Polovtsy in 1103, 1106, 1107, 1109, 1111, and 1116; as a result, only the relatively small horde of Khan Sarchak remained encamped along the Don River. Otrok, Sarchak’s brother, led 40,000 Polovtsy into the Caucasus, where they were used by the Georgian emperor David the Builder in lys struggle against the Seljuk Turks. The Polovtsy waged an unsuccessful campaign against Bulgaria on the Volga in 1117.

The unification of the Don Polovtsy began after the death of Vladimir Monomakh in 1125. Many Russian princes married highborn women from among the Polovtsy, settled the Polovtsy within Rus’ borders, allowed them to control certain cities, and used them as an armed force. The Polovtsy renewed their attacks against Rus’ in the late 1170’s and 1180’s, but their forces were greatly undermined by repeated Russian campaigns. In 1223 the Mongols defeated the Polovtsy in the Northern Caucasus and at a battle on the Kalka River, where the Polovtsy were allied with the Russian princes. As a result of the Mongol invasion, some Polovtsy were incorporated into the Golden Horde, while other moved to Hungary, where they were allowed to settle and were hired for military service.

The struggle of the Russian people against the Polovtsy is described in various chronicles and in The Tale of Igor’s Campaign.


Pletneva, S. A. “Pechenegi, torki i polovtsy v iuzhnorusskikh stepiakh.” In the collection Materialy i issledovaniia po arkheologii SSSR, no. 62. Moscow, 1958.
Pashuto, V. T. Vneshniaia politika Drevnei Rusi. Moscow, 1968.
Fedorov-Davydov, G. A. Kurgany, idoly, monety. Moscow, 1968.
Kotliar, N. F. “Polovtsy v Gruzii i Vladimir Monomakh.” In the collection Iz istorii ukrainsko-gruzinskikh sviazei: Sb. dokladov. Tbilisi, 1968.
Murguliia, N. P. “K voprosu pereseleniia polovetskoi ordy v Gruziiu.” In the collection Iz istorii ukrainsko-gruzinskikh sviazei Kiev, 1971.
Rybakov, B. A. Pervye veka russkoi istorii. Moscow, 1964.
Rybakov, B. A. “Slovo o polku Igoreve” i ego sovremenniki. Moscow 1971.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
We all know that Kievan Rus's first encounter with the Mongols was at the Kalka River battle in 1223, but the Novgorod Chronicle casually mentions that the Rus' fought there in alliance with the "godless Kumans" (Polovtsy, Turkic-speaking nomadic pastoralists) because Prince Mstislav of Galich just happened to be married to the daughter of the Kuman chief.
"A peasant goes out to till the fields, a Polovets falls upon him, kills him, steals his horse; a multitude of Polovtsy then comes out against a village, kills all the peasants, sets fire to the houses, takes the women into captivity, while the princes are at this time occupied with their own internecine strife." (47) In order not to be confined to sentimental words alone, pity for these peasants had to proceed to the organization of a firm and united state authority, sufficient for the defense of peasants against princely internecine strife and Polovtsian raids.
The Polovtsy were nomadic invaders of Russia and are responsible for the capture of Igor according to the opera's plot.
Ruthenian refers to the Eastern Slavic inhabitants of Galicia and Volhynia; Cumans or Polovtsy were a Turkic-speaking nomadic group, while Teutons were German speakers and Saracens Arabs.
Igor, however, ignores the portent: "Passion burned the prince's mind, and the desire to taste of the mighty Don barred the omen from him." (24) The headstrong prince is, of course, defeated and taken captive by the Polovtsy. He ultimately escapes, however, and all ends well.
Masterpiece of Old Russian literature, an account of the unsuccessful campaign in 1185 of Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversky against the Polovtsy (Kipchaks, or Cumans), a Euro-Asian tribal confederation.
Describing the ill - fated campaign of a Russian prince against the roaming Polovtsy tribes in 1185, it is regarded as one of the greatest literary masterpieces in Russian written before Pushkin 's work.
A substantial body of research concerning the interactions of the Slavic sedentary peoples with the nomads of the Pontic steppe (Khazars, Pechenegs, Polovtsy, and especially the Mongols/ Tatars) has now emerged.
He imagines that the Polovtsy are running away, while in actuality they are probably racing to cut off the Rus" army before it reaches the river Don.