Who were the Tartars?

There is often great confusion about who the Tartars actually were, many people confuse them with the Mongols but this is not totally accurate.

There was a book published in 1817 that can help to throw some light on this subject, it was called the Atlas of European History. It was written and published by Christian Kruse, and for the first time the term Mongla-Tartar was used. It was developed to try and describe the peoples that descended on Russia during the middle ages. The term started to appear in reference books soon after this, which is why confusion has surrounded who these people actually were.   

Pagan Heritage

There is a school of thought put forward by historian Nikolai Levashov that the old pagan names of Tara and Tarkh (sister and brother) were the origin of the hybrid Tartar and it was simply another name for the Russians. Tarkh was the brother and was supposed to be the keeper of all wisdom, whilst his sister Tara was the guardian of the land, hence the term Mother Russia or Grand Tartary.

Genghis Khan

Deciding who the Tartars really were cannot possibly be studied without the mention of Genghis Khan and the important role that he played during this period. Khan founded the Mongol Empire which grew into one of the largest ever Empires in history and continued to grow even after the Great Khan’s death. His success was achieved by uniting the nomadic tribes all over northeast Asia. This is where the Tartars probably entered into the equation. They were a nomadic tribe that joined the great Empire.

Khan started to take his combined strength and conquered many territories including around the Black Sea area and the Crimea. Perhaps that is why the Tartars were so prevalent in this region in the years to come. And all the evidence seems to point to Genghis Khan being of European descent and not Asian.


Perhaps the most significant clue to who the Tartars were comes from the Encyclopedia Britannica of 1771. It states that in the southern states of the Romanov Empire lived mostly Slavs. It describes Tartary as a large country that bordered Siberia in the north.

It further goes on to name the peoples as Tartars with the ones living south of Siberia called Dagestani, Astrakham, or Cherkasy. And then it expands its explanation to define the peoples living around the Caspian Sea area that were called Kalmyk Tartars. Also it mentions that there were the Tartar-Mongols who lived in India and Persia.

The Tartars were a pagan people but even with a ferocious reputation were fairly tolerant. At some point in their development the Tartars were converted into an Islamic people, and the most passionate and loyal to Russia were the Crimean Tartars.

It is still true today, the Tartar descendants that live in the Crimean region are fiercely protective of Moscow and its policies. Which helps to explain some of the political situation that now exists between Crimea, Russia and the Ukraine.

Posted in: Crimea

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