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During the 13th and 14th centuries, the Mongols launched two long, massive invasions of the territory of modern Chechnya (then the Georgian-allied Vainakh kingdom of Dzurdzuketia). They caused massive destruction and human death for the Dzurdzuks, but also greatly shaped the people they became afterward. The ancestors of the Chechens and Ingush bear the distinction of being one of the few peoples to successfully resist the Mongols, not once, but twice, but this came at great cost to them, as their state was utterly destroyed. These invasions are among the most significant occurrences in Chechen history, and have had long-ranging effects on Chechnya and its people.


During what was the late Middle Ages of Western Europe, the Caucasus was invaded by Mongols and their Turkic vassals. The first appearance of Mongol troops in the Caucasus was an arrival of scouts in 1220-1222.[1] Kypchak Turkic peoples - some of which becoming future affiliates of Genghis Khan - had been invading and settling areas further and further South and West (a process that had was continuing since the fall of the Khazars), including the fertile river valleys of the Terek and the Kuban, so there was already plenty of tension in the region, and weapons. There were plenty of early warnings of the Turco-Mongolian threat. In the 1230s, the Mongols gained rule over the Kypchaks, and turned them into vassals. The clearest sign of the oncoming destruction was the Mongol invasion of Georgia, which commenced a year earlier to the invasion of the Vainakh kingdom of Dzurdzuketia. The Kingdom of Georgia was a strong ally of Dzurdzuketia, and its collapse under the weight of Mongol invasion was a signal event for the Dzurdzuks of the oncoming disaster (whether they actually realized it or not). The lack of support from Georgia (which had historically aided the Dzurdzuks in times of need in accordance with the alliance) and the situation of being surrounded on all sides was disastrous. This was a situation that Dzurdzuketia had never dealt with at least for centuries. Dzurdzuketia was a buffer state protecting Georgia, and as such Georgia would aid them as well, according to the alliance. The invasion of Georgia deprived the Dzurdzuks of this crucial lifeline.

First Mongol Invasion

In 1237, the assault on the North Caucasus began.[1] Mongols launched the first attacks: against the Circassians and the Alans (note that at this time, the Alan kingdom was actually highly multiethnic and was partially Dzurdzuk[2]). The Dzurdzuk observed with horror the complete destruction of Alanian villages in what is now northern Ingushetia, a part of northwestern Chechnya and North Ossetia.[1][3] Having consolidated their rule over the western parts of the Terek, the Mongols then moved West along the river to take down the Dzurdzuk part of the Terek (which was less than modern Chechen and Ingush republican control of the Terek, due to the previously superior position of the Alans).[1] Dzurdzuketia and Simsir were also attacked from the south and east, by the Mongol troops which had recently conquered Derbent, capital of the Lezghins, in modern Dagestan.[3] The attack on Dzurdzuketia, already having been commenced, intensified, and the Mongols went as far as the highlands in their attacks. Here, too, the Dzurdzuk proved no match for the arrows and flames of the Mongols, and their villages were completely and utterly destroyed and burned to the ground. Jaimoukha states that a majority of the Dzurdzuk people were probably killed or enslaved by the Mongols.[3] Within a few years of the invasion, Dzurdzuketia was history - but its resistant people were not. Even more disastrously, the Mongols successfully established control over much of the Sunzha river, which was an existential threat to the Chechen people due to their need for the Sunzha's (as well as the Terek's) agriculture to support their population. Those remaining joined their mountainous brethren in the highlands (lowland Circassians fled to the Circassian highlands, Alans, to southern parts of Alania, and Dzurdzuks to southern Dzurdzuk territory), fleeing out of lack of an alternative. They regrouped in the mountains and reorganized themselves, resolving to retake their homeland at all costs and to drive out the Mongols and Turks once and for all. Their goal was to survive both biologically and culturally.[3] The Dzurdzuks had both the forests and the mountains on their side, and waged a successful guerrilla war.[1] Three hordes fell in the attempted assault of the densely forested Dzurdzuketia. The Mongols managed to gain control over large areas at times, but there were pockets of resistance which they could not conquer, which soon expanded and reconnected with each other. Jaimoukha cites a writing of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, a Papal Ambassador to the Mongols, in 1245-1247. He apparently asserted that the Khan's armies had failed to take the mountainous parts of the eastern part of Alania, to which they had been laying siege for 12 years already, because of the persistence of the defenders (who were, as Jaimoukha points out, almost certainly Dzurdzuks according to their geographical location).[3] William of Rubruck, the emissary of the Kingdom of France to Sartaq Khan (son of Batu) travelled to the Caucasus in 1253.[3] He wrote that the Circassians (Circassians here does not refer to the Circassians proper, but rather from all North Caucasians from Anapa to Avaria, including Circassians, Ubykhs, Abazins, Ossetes, Ingush, Chechens and Avars) had never "bowed to Mongol rule", despite the fact that whole fifth of the Mongol armies were at that time devoted to the task of crushing Caucasian resistance once and for all.[4]

The Mongol army had been so heavily weakened (in the region) that their failure to recover from the mistake to invade Dzurdzuketia may have ultimately contributed in the loss of their control of Georgia and other Caucasian areas. The resistance to the Mongols set many of the precedents that were recycled for the tactics later used against the second Mongol invasion, and later, the Russians.

Second Mongol Invasion

In order to avoid future conflicts with the Mongols and give the Dzurdzuks time to recover, the ruler of the Princedom of Simsir (also known by the shorter name of "Simsim"; it was a small Dzurdzuk-run feudal principality separate from Alania and Dzurdzuketia, located between the two rivers[5]), known to the Mongols as Gayur Khan (though this probably was not what his own subjects called him), allied itself with the Golden Horde.[6] To underline Simsim's loyalty to the Horde, Gayur even adopted Sunni Islam as a state religion, although this move was purely symbolic (as the bulk of the Chechens were still pagan and those that were Muslim or Christian were highly syncretic in their practice).[5]

However, ultimately this proved to be a mistake. In the second half of the 14th century, the Golden Horde began to weaken. Timurlane (Tamerlan/Timur) dealt a major defeat to the Golden Horde, from which it would never recover.[7] But Timurlane did not intend on stopping with the Horde, and the Caucasus was one of the many conquests he planned. He then used Simsir's alliance with the Horde as pretext for war against Simsir.[6] He did not stop with Simsir, and continued on, attacking all Dzurdzuk lands. This meant that the Dzurdzuks, still recovering from the damage done by the first Mongol invasion, would have to deal with a second.

Timurlane first sent his Turkic imperial warriors to attack the Caucasus in 1390, and greatly stepped up the invasion in 1395-1396. The second Mongol invasion was just as brutal as the first, and huge amounts of the Dzurdzuks population were completely annihilated, as were various churches and pagan sanctuaries.[7] However, although initially successful in the lowlands, they were confronted with, and defeated by, the same set of problems the first Mongol invaders faced. Unlike the previous Mongol invaders, Timurlane eventually made peace with the Chechens rather than waste huge amounts of his strength on trying to conquer them. Traditional folk history remembers that in order to give peace, he gave the Chechens his sabre as a gift.

When the battle of the day was over, Timur asked his commanders: "Have you taken away their Phondar’" (musical string instrument). The answer was negative. And then he said: "If you haven’t taken away the ‘pondar’, you only destroyed their army, but you didn’t subjugate them. So we must make them our allies. I welcome them, and I wish as a sign of my respect to their steadfastness and for their edification, to grant them my sabre, which I haven’t given to anyone yet." His men didn’t find the fighting men; they were all killed. They brought the storyteller, who was prohibited from taking part in the battle and had to observe from a distance, so that he could tell the story to the future generation. The storyteller, Illancha, took the sabre of the Iron Lame and gave it to nine pregnant women, who passed it on to nine young boys. Later, Timur ordered freedom for all the Chechen prisoners. The Chechen elders told that this sabre, together with other presents and many Chechen relics were saved up until February 1944, when the Chechen people were robbed of all their possessions during deportation; the main part of the Chechen treasures were taken to Moscow.[8]

Long-term effects of the Mongol invasions

Themes in folklore and the concept of nationhood

The determination to resist the Mongols and survive as Vainakh at all costs cost much hardship on the part of ordinary people. It had a great influence on the concept of "Chechen-ness" and what it meant. There is much folklore on this among the modern Chechen and Ingush.[9] One particular tale recounts how the former inhabitants of Argun, during the first invasion and the surrounding area held a successful defense (waged by men, women and children) of the slopes of Mount Tebulosmta, before returning after that to reconquer their home region. Jaimoukha notes that many of the tales are, in fact, coincident with historical accounts by Western travelers.[3]

End of Dzurdzuk statehood and of the feudal system

However, fierce resistance did not prevent the utter destruction of the state apparatus of Dzurdzuketia. Historical and state documents (mainly written in Georgian script) were also destroyed in mass amounts. As Jaimoukha puts it "the historical link of times and cultures was broken".[10] The feudal system of vassals and lords also fell into shambles. The contribution of men, women and children of all classes paired with the destruction of the feudal system during the war, rich and poor also helped the Vainakh to develop a strong sense of egalitarianism, which was one of the major causes for the revolt against their new lords after the end of the Mongol invasions.

Religious implications

Pagan sanctuaries as well as the Orthodox Christian churches in the south were utterly destroyed. Under the conditions of the invasion, Christianity (already originally highly dependent on connections with Georgia) was unable to sustain itself in Chechnya, and as its sanctuaries and priests fell, those who had converted reverted to paganism for spiritual needs. Had it not been for the Mongol invasion, Chechens and Ingush today may have been syncretic Christian (like the Abkhaz and the mountainous Georgians), rather than Muslim.

Cultural effects

Military tower in Chanta. These sorts of towers were first built as defenses against the Mongols.

The utter destruction of the Dzurdzuks' statehood, their lifestyle (and in the south, their religion), and much of their knowledge of history caused them to rebuild their culture in many ways. The population developed various methods of resistance and much of their later lifestyle during the resistance to the Mongols and in between the two wars. The clan system mapped onto battlefield organization. Guerrilla tactics using mountains and forests were perfected. It was during the Mongol invasions that the military defense towers that one associates today with the Vainakh population (see Nakh Architecture) came into being.[3][7] Many served simultaneously as homes, as sentry posts, and as fortresses from which one could launch spears, arrows, etc. The overcrowding and lack of arable land caused the Chechens to devise new agricultural methods for the highlands including terracing plots and introducing soil.[6]

Land conflicts with the Nogai over the rivers

After defending the highlands, the Vainakh attacked Mongol control of the lowlands (after both Mongol invasions this occurred). Much of this area still had nominal Vainakh owners (as per the clan system which acknowledges the ownership of a piece of land by a certain teip), even after generations upon generations of not living there. Much was retaken, only to be lost again due to the second invasion. After that, the Vainakh managed to take most (but not all) of their former holdings on the Sunzha, but most of the Terek remained in Kypchak hands.

The conflicts did not stop however, as there were clans that had ownership of lands now inhabited by Turkic peoples, meaning that if they did not retake the lands, they would lack their own territory and be forever reliant on the laws of hospitality of other clans (doing great damage to their honor). Conflicts between Vainakh and Turkic peoples originating from the Mongol invasion when Dzurdzuks were driven out of the Terek and Sunzha rivers by Turco-Mongolian invaders (the Nogais) continued as late as the 1750s and 1770s.[1] After that, the conflict was with newer arrivals in Northern Chechnya: the Cossacks.

End of the Chechen-Georgian alliance and later replacement

As the Georgian-allied state of Dzurdzuketia was destroyed, so was the alliance the Dzurdzuks had with the Georgians - the 13th century saw the end of it.[11] This meant that when invaded from the north, they found help from other sources. The Chechen feudal state of Simsim, after the First Mongol Invasion (which its monarchy somehow miraculously survived), allied itself not to Georgia, but to the Golden Horde,[5] and even nominally converted to Islam, when faced with the threat of invasion. This underlines the causes for the later conversion of the Chechens to Islam in the 16th to 19th centuries, in order to secure the sympathy of the Ottomon Empire and the rest of the Muslim world in their conflict with the Christian state of Russia.[12][13]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Anchalabze, George. The Vainakhs. Page 24
  2. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 28
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Pages 34-5
  4. G Rubruquis. 1753. Cited in Jaimoukha's The Chechens, page 35
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 34, section Simsim.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 35, Timurlane section
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Anchabadze, George. The Vainakhs. Page 25.
  9. Anchabadze, George. The Vainakh. Pages 24-25
  10. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 35
  11. Jaimoukha, Amjad. The Chechens. Page 270
  12. Anciennes Croyances des Ingouches et des Tchétchènes. Mariel Tsaroïeva ISBN 2-7068-1792-5
  13. Lecha Ilyasov. The Diversity of the Chechen Culture: From Historical Roots to the Present. ISBN 978-5-904549-02-2

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