Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.
Related to Tartars: Genghis Khan, Cossacks


Tatars (täˈtərz) or Tartars (tärˈtərz), Turkic-speaking peoples living primarily in Russia, Crimea, and Uzbekistan. They number about 10 million and are largely Sunni Muslims; there is also a large population of Crimean Tatar descent in Turkey. The name is derived from Tata or Dada, a Mongolian tribe that inhabited present NE Mongolia in the 5th cent. First used to describe the peoples that overran parts of Asia and Europe under Mongol leadership in the 13th cent., it was later extended to include almost any Asian nomadic invader. Before the 1920s Russians used the name Tatar to designate the Azerbaijani Turks and several tribes of the Caucasus.

The Tatar Empire

The original Tatars probably came from E central Asia or central Siberia; unlike the Mongols, they spoke a Turkic language and were possibly akin to the Cumans or Kipchaks and the Pechenegs. They were nomads, moving across the vast Asian and Russian steppes with their families and their herds of cattle and sheep. After the conquests of the Mongol Jenghiz Khan, the Mongol and Turkic elements merged, and the invaders became known in Europe as Tatars. The Mongol invasion led by Batu Khan into Hungary and Germany in 1241 is also known as the Tatar invasion.

After the wave of invasion receded eastward, the Tatars continued to dominate nearly all of Russia, Ukraine, and Siberia. Because of the gorgeous tents of Batu Khan, his followers were known as the Golden Horde. The empire of the Golden Horde—also known as the Kipchak khanate—controlled most of Russia either directly or through exacting tribute from the Russian princes. The Golden Horde adopted Islam as its religion in the 14th cent.

Disintegration of the Empire

Internal divisions, the expansion of Moscow, the invasion by Timur, and the appearance of the Ottoman Turks contributed to the disintegration of the Tatar empire in the late 15th cent. The independent khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, Sibir, and Crimea emerged. In the 16th cent. Russia conquered the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Sibir (Siberia); the khans of Crimea became (1478) vassals of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless Siberia long continued to be known as Tartary and the Crimean domains as Little Tartary. The Crimean Tatars continued to harass Ukraine and Poland and to exact tribute from the czars of Russia; they raided Moscow in 1572.

The majority of the Tatars in Russia had by that time reached a relatively high degree of civilization. They were generally settled, were skillful in agriculture and crafts, and had great centers of Muslim learning. Only minorities, such as the Nogais, who were subject to the Crimean khans, remained nomadic. Tatar political leaders, administrators, and traders had a great influence on Russian history. Many Russian noble families were of partly Tatar origin. The social and military organization of the Muscovite state was influenced by the institutions of the Tatars, and many Russian customs are traceable to them.

Recent History

In 1783 the last Tatar state, Crimea, was annexed to Russia. The Nogais were gradually pushed eastward into the Caucasus by the Russian settlers. The Crimean Tatars themselves—except for the large numbers that emigrated to Turkey at the time of the Russian conquest of Crimea and after the Crimean War—remained in the Crimea until World War II and formed the basis of the Crimean Autonomous SSR, founded in 1921. It was dissolved in 1945, and all Crimean Tatars (about 200,000 in 1939) were exiled to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for alleged collaboration with the Germans. In 1956 they regained civil rights and beginning in the late 1980s many returned to Crimea; their numbers there now exceed prewar levels. Following the disintegration of the USSR, leaders of Tatarstan began to press the Russian government for increased powers. In a 1992 referendum, over 61% of the voters supported a “sovereign” Tatarstan. Tatarstan signed a power-sharing treaty with the Russian government in 1994, but the treaty was renegotiated in the early 21st cent. to conform with the national constitution. Since Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, which Crimean Tatars generally opposed, Tatars there have faced political repression.


See B. S. Izhbolden, Essays on Tatar History (1963).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


13th-century rapacious hordes of Genghis Khan. [Medieval Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1064]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Crimean Tartars who are Muslims of Turkic origin were deported en masse 70 years ago from their homeland by the then Soviet ruler Josef Stalin who accused them of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Crimea is where roughly 300,000 Tartars of Turkic origin live.
Screening at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil as part of the Greats of Italian Cinema retrospective, "Tartars" is unremittingly engaging.
as one of many royal hunting camps and fortified settlements (Kremlins), to its history as the city of Moscow invaded by or in thrall to the Khans, the Tartars, the Poles, and the French.
Meanwhile, Umai/Mamay's brothers get lost in the wilderness looking for him and end up cornered in a forest by the Tartars. It looks like they're about to get the sharp end of the saber when the Moslem Tartar gang leader decides, "Even infidels deserve better than a silent death in a silent forest." Even so, the respite doesn't last long for the men, and back on the steppe, Umai/Mamay's romantic idyll is drawing to a close when his g.f.'s brothers decide she's betrayed the clan.
He immediately took aggressive action against the Tartars of Kazan, some 400 miles south-east of Moscow on the River Volga, who persistently raided Muscovy for loot and slaves for the markets of Persia and Turkey.
In 1346, in the countries of the East, countless numbers of Tartars and Saracens were struck down by a mysterious illness which brought sudden death.
The Tartars from the north built a city near this location as early as the tenth century.
The House, established with the help of American missionaries, is also supported by Ukrainians, Russians, Crimean Tartars and South Africans.
In the final act Zarema is thrown from the ramparts and the Tartars break into virile "character" dance before the epilogue echoes the prologue in showing the Khan mourning beside the fountain erected to Maria's memory.
When the Crimean Khanate was formally annexed by Czarist Russia in 1783, hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tartars and Nogai people were expelled from the region, heading for the Ottoman state instead.