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|Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria|
|Mongol Empire||Volga Bulgaria|
|Commanders and leaders|
|at least 300 000|
|Casualties and losses|
|unknown, defeated in their first attack||Heavy|
|History of Tatarstan|
This article is part of a series
|Khanate of Kazan|
|Republic of Tatarstan|
|History of Udmurtia|
This article is part of a series
|Khanate of Kazan|
|Udmurt Autonomous Oblast|
Udmurt Republic Portal
The Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria lasted from 1223 to 1236. The Bulgar State, centered in lower Volga and Kama, was the center of the fur trade in Eurasia throughout most of its history. Before the Mongol conquest, Russians of Novgorod and Vladimir repeatedly looted and attacked the area, thereby weakening the Bulgar state's economy and military power. The latter ambushed the Mongols in the later 1223 or in 1224. Several clashes occurred between 1229–1234, and the Mongol Empire conquered the Bulgars in 1236.
In 1223, after defeating Russian and Cuman/Kipchak armies at the Battle of Kalka, a Mongol army under the generals Subutai and Jebe was sent to subdue Volga Bulgaria. Genghis Khan's troops were seen as invincible at that time. However, in late 1223 (or 1224), the Bulgars defeated the Mongols. An army led by the Bulgar iltäbär (king) Ghabdulla Chelbir, including the armies of Mordvin princes Puresh and Purgaz, ambushed and defeated Subutais's vanguard forces in 1223 at the Battle of Samara Bend. The Khwarizmi historian al-Nasawi says only 4,000 survived. The captured Mongol troops were later sent back to Genghis, in exchange for live stock. This was unusual for the period, as captives were usually executed or sold into slavery. Al-Nasawi says that one mongol captive was exchanged for one ram. Al-Althir's account also proves that they were ambushed in the Volga region. After several sharp skirmishes with the Bulgars, the tiring Mongols moved back down to the Volga. Meanwhile, the Russians continuously attacked the Bulgar State to try to attain supremacy of this wealthy region.
Sent by Ögedei Khan, the Mongols returned in 1229 under the command of Kukday and Bubedey. This force defeated Bulgar frontier guards at the Ural River and occupied the upper Ural valley. In 1232 the Mongol cavalry subjugated the southeastern part of the Bashkiria and occupied southern portions of Volga Bulgaria. However, the Mongols failed to capture Volga Bulgaria's main cities. At the Great kurultai in Karakorum, the Mongols decided to transfer their greatest generals from China and Arabia to lead the effort to subdue the Bulgar state.
Led by Batu Khan, Mongol forces numbering more than 300,000 soldiers struck again in 1236. They besieged and seized Bilär, Bolghar, Suar, Cükätaw, and other cities and castles of Volga Bulgaria. The inhabitants were killed or sold into slavery. Volga Bulgaria became a part of the Ulus Jochi, later known as the Golden Horde. The territory was divided into duchies; later each of them received some autonomy as vassal states of the Golden Horde.
The surviving agricultural population was forced to leave the steppe lands. The majority settled along the Kama river and in adjacent areas further north. The area around Kazan, which was settled by Mari people some years before, became the new center of Bolgar culture and the nucleus of the Kazan tatars population. Kazan and Çallı became new major political and trade centers.
After the Mongols left Volga Bulgaria to conquer the Russians, the Bulgars rebelled, led by the nobility. The Mongols then returned and put down the rebellions.
According to some historians, over 80% of the country's population was killed during the invasion. The remaining population mostly relocated to the northern areas (territories of modern Chuvashia and Tatarstan). Some autonomous duchies appeared in those areas. The steppe areas of Volga Bulgaria were settled by nomadic Kipchaks and Mongols, and agricultural development suffered a severe decline.
Over time, the cities of Volga Bulgaria were rebuilt and became trade and craft centers of the Golden Horde. Some Bulgarians, primarily masters and craftsmen, were forcibly moved to Sarai and other southern cities of the Golden Horde. Volga Bulgaria remained a center of agriculture and handicraft.
The population of Volga Bulgaria was mostly Muslim. Under the influence of Bulgarian culture, more and more nomadic Mongols and Kipchaks were converted to Islam. The language used by Muslims of the Golden Horde transformed into the Kipchak language, adopted by all Muslim Volga Bulgars. As a result of a later mixing of the Kipchak and Bolgar languages, the literary language of the Golden Horde became what is now called the Old Tatar language, and eventually evolved into the modern Tatar language. Some of Bulgaria's non-Islamic population kept the Bolgar language, which was influenced by the Mari language, a language commonly used in the territories to which they had relocated. This led to the development of the modern Chuvash language.
Some historians hypothesize that during the rule of the Mongols, the ethnic makeup of the population of Volga Bulgaria did not change, remaining largely Bolgar and partly Finnic. Alternatively, some hypothesize that some Kipchaks and Russians were forcibly relocated to Bulgaria. Undoubtedly, some Bulgars were forcibly relocated to the territory of modern Astrakhan Oblast, the population of which was previously nomadic.
Volga Bulgaria's Muslim community preferred to call themselves Muslims (Möselmannar), but used the word Bolghar to distinguish themselves from nomadic Moslem Kipchaks. They did not call themselves Tatars until the 19th century. Russian sources originally distinguished Volga Bulgars from nomadic Tatars, but later the word "Tatar" became synonymous with "Turkic Muslim". To distinguish between themselves, they started to use names of the khanates: the population of Khanate of Kazan called themselves the people of Kazan (Qazanlı); this name was also used by the steppe Tatars and by the Russians.
In the middle of the 14th century some duchies of Volga Bulgaria became more independent and even coined their own money. The duchies were sometimes ruled by Bulgar nobles. In 1420s the Kasan Duchy (Kazan Ulus) under the Ghiasetdin's leadership became practically independent from the Golden Horde. In 1440s, all lands with Volga Bulgar population were included into the Khanate of Kazan, which was ruled by Mongol dynasties. The Khanate also included Mari and Chuvash lands, while the rulers of the territories of Bashkirs, Udmurts, and Mordvins were considered vassals of Kazan. These were the peoples that traditionally had been under the economic and cultural influence of Volga Bulgaria.