View Full Version : Earliest Information About Bashkirs in the Written Sources

Monday, June 20th, 2005, 06:00 PM
Fayzullina Zulfia

Earliest Information About Bashkirs in the Written Sources

Data from written sources give interesting but rather controversial information about the Bashkir people at the earliest stages of their history. The first records about the Bashkirs appeared in the 9th century in the works of eastern travelers, in Arabic and Persian literature, and in maps.

Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a secretary of the delegation commissioned by Caliph Al-Muqtadir (908 – 932) to Volga Bulgaria, was the first traveler whose detailed descriptions of that region still exist. Ibn Fadlan, together with the members of the delegation, left Baghdad on 2 April 921, traveled across Khwarezm and the Ural foothills, and reached the capital of Volga Bulgaria, in May, 922. After returning to Baghdad he wrote a report based on his travel notes, in which he left interesting information about the life and customs of the Bashkirs. In the work, he set down precisely where the delegation crossed the land of the Bashkirs, naming the rivers they crossed on the way to Volga Bulgaria: “We stayed with Pechenegs one day. Then we set out and stayed by the river Jaik. Having gone several days, we crossed the river Jakha (Chagan), after this [we crossed] the river Irhiz (Irgiz), then — Bachag (Mocha), then — Samur (Samar), then — Kinel, then — Sukh (Sok) river, then — Kandjaki (Kundurcha) river, and arrived to the country of Turk people, named Al Bashgard.” (Ibn Fadlan 130) Several of the rivers, such as the Jaik, the Samar, the Kinel, the Irgiz, can be easily identified, since their names are similar to the names of some South Ural rivers.

Then, having described the land and customs of the Bashkirs, Ibn Fadlan noted the rivers that they crossed after they left the land of the Bashkirs, and some of these rivers can be identified also. So, according to the information given by Ibn Fadlan, in 922 the Bashkirs lived on the southern slopes of the Ural Mountains, between the rivers Jaik and Kundurcha, and their neighbors were Pechenegs to the southeast, Bulgars to the west, and Oguzs to the south. Bashkirs were Turkic people and considered to be the most fearsome and bravest of Turks, whom ibn Fadlan and his companions “bewared of … with great danger.”

Ibn Fadlan also wrote about different religious beliefs and cults of the Bashkir people. For example, he mentioned the phallic cult of the Bashkirs: he wrote that having observed a penis-sized piece of wood being worshiped, he asked his interpreter why this piece of wood had become a deity. The Bashkir gave the following answer: “Because I myself was begotten by something similar, and I know of no other creator.” Then Ibn Fadlan enumerated twelve gods that were worshipped by the Bashkir people: “Some of them say that he has 12 masters: the master of winter, the master of summer, the master of rain, the master of wind, the master of trees, the master of human beings, the master of horses, the master of water, the master of night, the master of day, the master of depth, the master of Earth, the master, which is on the Heaven, is the greatest of them, but he consolidate[s] with others in consent and each of them approve[s] the deeds of his companion.” (Ibn Fadlan 131) The Turkic name of the supreme deity, the sky, wrote Ibn Fadlan, was “Tengry.” The kind of religious belief described by Ibn Fadlan is a nomadic form of religion, known as “Tengrism.”

Ibn Fadlan also described other cults of the Bashkirs: “We saw how [one] group of them worshiped snakes, [another] group worshiped fishes, [another] group worshiped cranes. They let us know that [once] they fought a war with some people of their enemies, they (enemies) putting them to flight, and cranes began to cry behind them (enemies), so that they were frightened and took to flight after having put (those Bashkirs) to flight. That is why (Bashkirs) began to worship cranes and tell: ‘That cranes are our master because they put to flight our enemies.’ And they worship them for it.” Ibn Fadlan also mentioned one Bashkir man, an interpreter who helped him communicate with local people, who had converted to the Islamic faith. So by that time, the Islamic religion probably had begun to spread among the Bashkirs.

Arabic geographer and traveler (Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Muhammad) Al Idrisi, who died around 1165, described most of world as it was perceived in the 12th century in his work, “Amusement of the [man] exhausted from the journey through regions.” Al Idrisi left interesting information that the Bashkirs were divided into ‘external’ and ‘internal,’ depending on where they lived: Bashkirs living in steppes and deserts were called external. “In their land there is a little town Nemdjan and, at a distance of three days’ away from this town, there is a mount Irendek. People living there are occupied with melting of copper and sending it to Horesm and Tashkent for sale; also they send valuable furs, procured there, for sale to lands near Hazar (Black) sea. Also, at a distance of eight days’ away from Nemdjan, at the northern part of Agidel River, there is a town Gurhan, where nice handicrafts of good quality, saddles and arms are produced.” Internal Bashkirs “lived near Volga Bulgars and they wear the same clothes as Bulgars” (Yanguzin 11).

To this work Al Idrisi added two maps: the map of “inhabited regions” on 70 sheets and a schematic round world map, orientated to the south. (Postnicov 77**-78). On the map Bashkir lands were placed at the upper reaches of the river flowing into the Caspian Sea. In the Middle Ages, eastern geographers believed that the upper reaches of the Volga (Itil) River were Kama (Idel) and, still further, Agidel with its influents. The Ural Mountains on this map were called “Ayani.” Three towns — Carackiya, Casra and Masra — were marked in the Bashkir lands, and it was noted in the text that the latter two were situated near the river flowing into the Itil River. “Carackiya town consists of wooden houses and jurts. They are constantly attacked by Bulgars, which live at [a distance of] sixteen days’ away, and wage a war with them.”

Mohamed Al Cashgary described the Turkic tribes and languages that were known by that time in the “Code of Turk vocabulary” written in 1072 – 1074. Al Cashgary included Bashkirs among the twenty greatest Turk tribes and, describing Turkic languages, he wrote: “Kyrgiz, Kyphchak, Oguz … speak in Turkic [language], but have own dialects. Languages of Yemeks and Bashkirs are close to them.” (Kononov 13-14) So according to the Ibn Fadlan, Al Cashgary, and some other eastern authors, the Bashkirs lived in the southern part of Ural Mountains beginning in the 9th century at least, and they were Turks and spoke a Turkic language.

In the 13th century, records about the South Ural region and peoples living there appeared in the works of western merchants, travelers, and ambassadors who reached this territory. Descendants of Magyars, settled in 895 – 896 in Pannoniya, still remembered legends about their ancestors coming from the East, from behind the Volga River. After establishing and consolidating their own kingdom, Hungarians became interested in the idea of finding fellow-tribesmen who remained in the East. So, by the order of Pope Gregarious IX, Hungarian friar Julian twice traveled to the East in the 1240s. There are two written sources recounting these events: a description of the first expedition composed immediately after Julian’s return and a letter Julian wrote to the Pope’s legate that includes his description of the second.

The purpose of Julian’s expeditions was to the find a legendary land — “Great (Ancient) Hungary” (“Magna Hungaria”) — and convert its inhabitants to the Catholic faith. The author of the first travel description wrote that, after a long journey via Constantinople and the Northern Caucasus, Julian reached the town of Bulgar, a capital of Volga Bulgaria. There, “in one big town,” he met “one Magyar woman, who was given in marriage to this country from the land that he was searching. She showed the brother [Julian] the ways, on which he had to go, and said that after two days’ way he undoubtedly would be able to find Magyars that he was searching [for]… He found them by the great River Itil (Ethil) … Everything that he wanted to tell them about faith, as well as about something else, they listened very attentively, because their language is quite Magyar; they understood him, and he [understood] them. They are pagans, have no idea of God, but do not worship idols, and live like animals. [They] do not cultivate the land, eat meat of horses, wolves and so on; drink milk of horses and blood. [They are] rich in horses and arms and very brave in wars. By legends of ancients they know that those Magyars are descended from them, but don’t know where they are. Tatar (tartar) people are their neighbors.” (Ricardo 98-99)

Unfortunately, Julian didn’t point out the place where he had found those Magyars, or even the town of Bulgar, or any river except Ethil. That’s why there are many disagreements among scientists regarding the place that Julian visited and the people he identified as Magyars. Some scholars believe that Julian had been in a land inhabited by the Bashkirs and that his descriptions were of them. Others suppose he visited some other place, because in the letter describing his second expedition, Julian mentioned the Bashkir Khan and a war between Bashkirs and Mongols that took place not long before his arrival, but didn’t write anything about Magyars in this connection. (Epistola 103-104)

However, Italian friar Jiovanny de Plano Carpini, who visited the headquarters of the Mongolian Khan in 1246 as a legate of Pope Inokentius IV, identified the land inhabited by Bashkirs with so-called Magna Hungaria. After his return from his travels, he wrote Mongols History, in which he described his journey to the East and people who lived there. About the northern campaign of Khan Batu in 1242, he wrote, “[They] went to the Bilers country, i.e. Great Bulgary, and entirely destroyed it. Then [they went] to the north against Bastarks, i.e. Great Hungaria, and having gained a victory, set out to Parassits.” (Plano Carpini 25) Furthermore, Flemish monk William of Rubruc, who was at the head of the legation sent by the French King Ludovic IX to the headquarters of the Great Khan in 1253, wrote describing his journey, “Having ridden 12 days from Itil, we found big river, called Jagak (Jaik); it flows from the north, the land of Pascatirs … Pascatir language and Hungarian are the same…. From this Pascatir land came Hunns, afterwards — Hungarians.” (Plano Carpini 101)

Thus, according to a number of written sources, Bashkirs at that time were Turks and spoke a Turkic language; but according to other sources, they were Magyars, and their language was like Hungarian. This contradictory information, together with data from archeologists and other scientists, causes discussions and disagreements among researchers concerning the earliest stages of the formation of the Bashkir people. From the whole literature devoted to the subject, three main viewpoints can be distinguished. Some scientists think that Bashkirs are descendants of Turkic tribes that came to the Ural Mountains from the South and dismiss the idea of any kind of participation of Magyars in the formation of the Bashkir people. Others believe that Magyars actually lived in the South Urals and that present-day Bashkirs are descendants of those Magyars. According to the third point of view, which is deemed to be more reliable, the formation of the Bashkir people, as of any other people, was a very complicated process, in which Turkic peoples as well as Magyars and some other peoples all played a part.


Epistola fr. Juliani de bello Mongolorum.//Historic archive. Mosqow – Leningrad. 1940.

Ioan de Plano Carpini. History of Mongols. Vilgelm de Rubruk. Travel to the eastern countries. Sankt-Petersburg. 19511.

Kononov A. N. Mahmud, Al Cashgary and his “Divony lugat it-turky”.//Soviet turkology. Baku, 1972. # 1.

Postnicov A. V. Cartography development and application of old maps. – Moscow, 1985.

Ricardo invento tempore domini Gregorii IX. //Historic archive. Moscow – Leningrad. 1940.

Shusharin V.P. Earliest stage of ethnic history of Hungarians. Moscow. 1997.

The book of Ahmed Ibn Fadlan. Kovalevsky A.P. The book of Ahmed Ibn Fadlan about his travel to Volga in 921 - 922. Harkov, 1956.

Yanguzin R.Z. Ethnography of Bashkirs. Ufa, 2002.