(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.
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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.
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Rybakov, B. A. “Slovo o polku Igoreve” i ego sovremenniki. Moscow 1971.
O. M. RAPOV