The Lipka Tatars (also known as Belarusian Tatars, Lithuanian Tatars, Polish Tatars, Lipkowie, Lipcani or Muślimi) are a group of Tatars who originally settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at the end of the 14th century at the invitation of Vytautas the Great. The first reliable evidence of Tatars settling in Lithuania is the case of Tokhtamysh's allies in 1398. Rowell asserts that the legend of Tatar settlement in Lithuania in 1324 is false. [1] The Tatars first settled in Lithuania proper around Vilnius, Trakai, Hrodna and Kaunas and later spread to other parts of the Grand Duchy that later became part of Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. These areas comprise present-day Lithuania, Belarus and Poland. From the very beginning of their settlement in Lithuania they were known as the Lipka Tatars. While maintaining their religion, they united their fate with that of the mainly Christian Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the Battle of Grunwald onwards the Lipka Tatar light cavalry regiments participated in every significant military campaign of Lithuania and Poland.

It is estimated that during the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the population of Muslims in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania reached 25,000. [2]

The Lithuanian Tatars comprised four social groups, which in the territories of the Commonwealth, and particularly in Lithuania, reflected the social organisation of the Golden Horde. The Tartar aristocracy was recognised as such in Lithuania, and subsequently in the Commonwealth, upon presentation of letters of patent issued by the Golden Horde.
The status of Tatar and Lithuanian princes was handled differently. As the Commonwealth did not grant any new princely titles, those who aspired to such titles had their princely titles recognised only if they were related to the reigning house of the Golden Horde. This group of the Tatar aristocracy was the least numerous. Recognition required in every single case the joint decision of the king and the parliament of the Commonwealth.

A different case is that of the non-royal Tatar nobility, later called Hospodar's Tatars. Princes of the blood, sometimes called "carewicze" (tsarevitje) meaning “sons of the tsar,” were followed in precedence by begs or beys. The next most illustrious group consisted of the murza (mirza or murza from emir-zade, literally a “son of emir” i.e. "a son of the ruler"). These were followed by the uhlans (oglan or ohlan meaning “brave” - dominus or miles would be fairly correct translations into medieval, feudal Latin). The use of the princely titles of bey or beg (kniaz and 'tsarevij') was subsequently abandoned. From the seventeenth century, Tatar princes used the title of murza or mirza in Poland. [3]

The name Lipka is derived from the old Crimean Tatar name of Lithuania. The record of the name Lipka in Oriental sources permits us to infer an original Libķa/Lipķa, from which the Polish derivative Lipka was formed, with possible contamination with the Polish lipka "small lime-tree"; this etymology was suggested by the Tatar author S. Tuhan-Baranowski. A less frequent Polish form, Łubka, is corroborated in Łubka/Łupka, the Crimean Tatar name of the Lipkas up to the end of the nineteenth century. The Crimean Tatar term Lipka Tatarłar meaning Lithuanian Tatars, later started to be used by the Polish-Lithuanian Tatars to describe themselves.

In religion and culture the Lipka Tatars differed from most other Islamic communities in respect of the treatment of their women, who always enjoyed a large degree of freedom, even during the years when the Lipkas were in the service of the Ottoman Empire. Co-education of male and female children was the norm, and Lipka women did not wear the veil - except at the marriage ceremony. While nominally Islamic, the customs and religious practices of the Lipka Tatars also accommodated many Christian elements adopted during their 600 years residence in Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania while still maintaining the traditions and superstitions from their nomadic Mongol past, such
as the sacrifice of bulls in their mosques during the main religious festivals.

Over time, the lower and middle Lipka Tatar nobles adopted the Ruthenian language then later Belarusian language as their mother tongue. However, they used the Arabic alphabet to write in Belarusian until the 1930s. The upper nobility of Lipka Tatars spoke Polish.

Diplomatic correspondence between the Crimean Khanate and Poland from the early 16th century refers to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as the "land of the Poles and the Lipkas". [4] By the 17th century the term Lipka Tatar began to appear in the official documents of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


Tatar Origins


The Tatars originate with the Tatar confederation in the north-eastern Gobi desert in the 5th century. After subjugation in the 9th century by the Khitans, they migrated southward. In the 13th century, they were subjugated by the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan. Under the leadership of his grandson Batu Khan, they moved westwards, forming part of the Golden Horde which dominated the Eurasian steppe during the 14th and 15th centuries. In Europe, they were assimilated by the local populations or their name spread to the conquered peoples: Kipchaks, Kimaks and others; and elsewhere with Uralic-speaking peoples, as well as with remnants of the ancient Greek colonies in the Crimea and Caucasians in the Caucasus.

Siberian Tatars are survivors of the Turkic population of the Ural-Altaic region, mixed to some extent with the speakers of Uralic languages, as well as with Mongols.

The three ethnic descendants of the 13th-century westward migration are Volga Tatars, Lipka Tatars and Crimean Tatars, most of whom adopted Islam in the medieval period.

The name Tatar likely originated amongst the nomadic Tatar confederation of northeastern Mongolia in the region around Lake Baikal in the beginning of the 5th century. [5] The Chinese term is Dadan and is a comparatively specific term for nomads to the north, emerging in the late Tang. Other names include Dadan and Tatan. The name "Tatars" was used an alternative term for the Shiwei, a nomadic confederation to which these Tatar people belonged.

As various of these nomadic groups became part of Genghis Khan's army in the early 13th century, a fusion of Mongol and Turkic elements took place, and the invaders of Rus and the Pannonian Basin became known to Europeans as Tatars or Tartars. After the breakup of the Mongol Empire, the Tatars became especially identified with the western part of the empire, known as the Golden Horde.

The form Tartar has its origins in either Latin or French, coming to Western European languages from Turkish and Persian Tātār ("mounted courier, mounted messenger; postrider"). From the beginning the extra r was present in the Western forms, and according to the Oxford English Dictionary this was most likely due to an association with Tartarus (Hell in Greek mythology), though some claim that the name Tartar was in fact used amongst the Tatars themselves.


Mongol Period


The Khanate of the White Horde

In 1226 the Khanate of the White Horde was established as one of the successor states to the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. The first Khan, Orda was the second son of Jochi, the eldest son of Genghis Khan. The White Horde occupied the southern Siberian steppe from the east of the Urals and the Caspian Sea to Mongolia.


The Khanate of the Golden Horde

In 1380 Khan Tokhtamysh, the hereditary ruler of the White Horde, crossed west over the Urals and merged the White Horde with the Golden Horde whose first khan was Batu, the eldest son of Jochi.


The Sacking of Moscow [6]

On August 26, 1382, Tokhtamysh burned down and savagely ransacked the city of Moscow. The Golden Horde had once again reestablished their authority over Russia and
forced payment of tribute.

The attack came two years after the combined Russian armies under the command of Grand Prince of Moscow Dmitry Ivanovich (also known as "Dmitry of the Don" or "Dmitry Donskoy") defeated the Tatar general Mamai in the bloody battle of Kulikovo field near the Don River. But the new Tatar invasion proved that the union between Russian principalities was not yet so strong.

The new leader of the Golden Horde, Tokhtamysh, launched his own mission to restore suzerainty over Russia, and headed straight for Moscow. The duke of Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod, Dmitry, sent his two sons to Tokhtamysh with gifts acknowledging his subjection to the Horde. The khan also gained cooperation from Oleg of Ryazan and crossed the Oka River approaching Moscow.

When Dmitry Donskoy recognized the lack of forces and absence of unity, he decided to leave his city. Meanwhile, Moscow was well-fortified and able to hold off the approaching enemy long enough for Dmitry to bring back reinforcements from the north.

After the Mongol army violently stormed the city gates for three days and three nights without success, Tokhtamysh took the city by deceit. He proffered peace to the inhabitants, offering to negotiate. When two Russian princes accompanying Tokhtamysh vouched for the integrity of his words, the Muscovites opened the gates to their city. Tokhtamysh's army fell upon the Muscovites, slaughtering them in the streets and robbing their homes.

When the pillaging had finished, Moscow was set on fire and reduced to ashes. "All at once its beauty perished and its glory disappeared" a chronicler wrote of Moscow after the Tatars were done with it. "Nothing was left except smoking ruins, bare earth and piles of corpses."

Having returned to his capital, Dmitry Donskoy found nearly twenty five thousand dead bodies scattered in the ruins. Almost the entire population of Moscow was killed that day and thousands more were taken as slaves. Dmitry ordered those bodies still unburied to be interred, for a fee of one ruble for every eighty corpses.

Having captured an important political and army center of Russia, Tokhtamysh directed his army towards Pereyaslavl, Vladimir, Yurev, Zvenigorod and other cities near Moscow. Russia's dukes were shortly all paying tribute to the Golden Horde's new ruler. Unable to unite his allies of the Kulikovo campaign behind him again, Dmitry Donskoy submitted as well. Moscow remained part of the Mongol Tatar Empire of the Golden Horde until 1480, and was nominally expected to pay tribute to the Tatar rulers all this time.


Tokhtamysh–Timur War



Tokhtamysh appears in history in 1376, trying to overthrow his uncle Urus Khan, ruler of the White Horde, and fleeing to the great Timur. Tokhtamysh outlived Urus and both his sons and forcefully ascended the throne of the White Horde in 1378 with Timur's backing.


Timur (Tamerlane)

Timur (Persian: Timūr, Chagatai: Temür "iron", Turkish: Demir "iron"; 8 April 1336 – 18 February 1405), historically known as Tamerlanein (from Persian: , Timūr-e Lang, "Timur the Lame"), was a Turkic [7] conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty (1370–1405) in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until 1857. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] Timurlane was also the grandfather of the "Great Ruler" of Central Asia Ulugh Beg, who was an astronomy and mathematics genius. He was responsible for building one of the greatest observatories in the Islamic world. As well as building the Ulugh Beg Madrasah in Samarkand and Bukhara, transforming the cities into a world cultural center of learning in Central Asia. [13] [14] [15]

Timur was in his lifetime a controversial figure, and remains so today. He sought to restore the Mongol Empire, [16] [17] yet his heaviest blow was against the Islamized Tatar Golden Horde. He was more at home in an urban environment than on the steppe. He styled himself a ghazi while conducting wars that severely affected some Muslim states, in particular the Sultanate of Delhi. A great patron of the arts, his campaigns also caused vast destruction. His military campaigns are believed to have caused the deaths of 17 million people. [18] His greatest military achievement is having defeated some of most powerful empires on the continents around the world such as the Golden Horde (Mongols) of Europe, the Delhi Sultanate of South Asia, the Ottomans of Middle East and the Mamluk of Africa. Tamerlane as an military conqueror is within the ranks of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great, making him one of the world's greatest conquerors. His armies were ferocious, feared throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe. [19]





In the late 1370s and early 1380s, Timur helped Tokhtamysh to assume supreme power in the White Horde against Tokhtamysh's uncle Urus Khan. After this he united the White and Blue Hordes, forming the Golden Horde, and launched a massive military punitive campaign against the Russian principalities between 1381 and 1382, restoring the Turko(tartar)Mongol power in Russia after the defeat in the Battle of Kulikovo. The Golden Horde, after a period of anarchy between early 1360s and late 1370s, passed for a briefly reestablishing as a dominant regional power, defeating Lithuania in Poltava around 1383. But Tokhtamysh had territorial ambitions in Persia and Central Asia, and on
account of this he turned against his old ally, Timur.


The War

After the death of Abu Sa'id, ruler of the Ilkhanid Dynasty, in 1335, there was a power vacuum in Persia. In 1383 Timur started the military conquest of Persia. He captured Herat, Khorasan and all eastern Persia by 1385 and captured almost all of Persia by 1387. These conquests were characterised by exceptional brutality. For example, when Isfahan surrendered to Timur in 1387, he initially treated it with relative mercy as he commonly did with cities that surrendered without resistance. However, after the city revolted against Timur's punitive taxes by killing the tax collectors and some of Timur's soldiers, Timur ordered the complete massacre of the city, killing a reported 70,000 citizens. An eye-witness counted more than 28 towers, each constructed of about 1,500 heads. [20]

In the meantime, Tokhtamysh, now khan of the Golden Horde, turned against his patron and invaded Azerbaijan in 1385. This action would cause a counter by Timur that would become the Tokhtamysh–Timur war. In the initial stage of the war, Timur won a victory at the Battle of the Kondurcha River, however Tokhtamysh and some of his army were allowed to escape. After Tokhtamysh's initial defeat, Timur then invaded Muscovy to the north of Tokhtamysh's holdings. Timur's army burned Raizan and advanced upon Moscow, only to be pulled away before reaching the Oka River by Tokhtamysh's renewed campaign in the south. [21]

In the first phase of the conflict with Tokhtamysh, Timur led an army of over 100,000 men north for more than 700 miles into the uninhabited steppe, then west about 1,000 miles, advancing in a front more than 10 miles wide. The Timurid army almost starved, and Timur organized a great hunt where the army encircled vast areas of steppe to get food. It was then that Tokhtamysh's army was boxed in against the east bank of the Volga River in the Orenburg region and destroyed at the Battle of the Kondurcha River. During this march, Timur's army got far enough north to be in a region of very long summer days, causing complaints by his Muslim soldiers about keeping a long schedule of prayers in such northern regions.

It was in the second phase of the conflict that Timur took an easier route against the enemy, invading the realm of Tokhtamysh via the Caucasus region. The year 1395 saw the Battle of the Terek River, when Tokhtamysh's power was finally broken, concluding the great struggle between the two monarchs.

Tokhtamysh was not able to restore his power or prestige.

Timur during the course of his campaigns destroyed Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde, and Astrakhan, subsequently wrecking the Golden Horde's economy based on theSilk Road trade. The Golden Horde saw political disintegration after such losses, with Mongol unity in the region shattered permanently.



Tokhtamysh and the remnants of his clan were granted asylum and given estates and noble status in Grand Duchy of Lithuania by Vytautas the Great. Tokhtamysh asked Vytautas for assistance in retaking the Horde in exchange for surrendering his suzerainity over Rus' lands.

The settlement of the Lipka Tatars in Lithuania in 1397 is recorded in the Chronicles of Jan Długosz.

The Italian city state of Genoa funded a joint expedition by the forces of Khan Tokhtamysz and Grand Duke Vytautas against Timur. This campaign was notable for the fact that the Lipka Tatars and Lithuanian armies were armed with handguns, but no major victories were achieved.

The alliance of Tokhtamysh and Vytautas was defeated by the Khan Temur Qutlugh and his emir Edigu at the battle of the Vorskla River in 1399. The trade routes never recovered from Timur's destruction, and Tokhtamysh died in obscurity in 1405.


The Battle of Grunwald



On July 15, 1410 The Battle of Grunwald took place between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on one side (c. 39,000 troops), and the Teutonic Knights on the other (c. 27,000 troops). The Teutonic knights were defeated and never recovered their former influence. After the battle, rumors spread across Europe that the Germans had only been defeated thanks to the aid of tens of thousands of heathen Tatars, though it is likely there were no more than 1,000 Tatar horse archers at the battle, the core being the entourage of Jalal ad-Din, son of Khan Tokhtamysh. At the start of the battle, Jalal ad-Din led the Lipka Tatar and Lithuanian light cavalry on a suicide charge against the Teutonic Knights' artillery positions. The Teutonic Knights' Grand Master Ulrich von Jungingen responded by ordering his own heavy cavalry to pursue the Lipkas away from the field of battle, trampling through their own infantry in the process. The resulting destruction of the Teutonic Knights' line of battle was a major factor in their subsequent defeat.







[1] S.C.Rowell, "Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East=Central Europe, 1295-1345", Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1994. p. 18.

[2] Agata S. Nalborczyk, "Muslim Women in Poland and Lithuania: Tatar Tradition, Religious Practice, hijab and Marriage", Gender and Religion in Central and Eastern Europe, Edited by: Elzbieta Adamiak, Malgorzata Chrzastowska, Charlotte Methuen, Sonia Sobkowiak, Poznan 2009

[3] Selim Mirza-Juszenski Chazbijewicz , "Tartar Nobility in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth", Verbum Nobile No. 2 (1993), Sopot, Poland. Translated by Paul de Nowina-Konopka

[4]Selim Mirza-Juszeński Chazbijewicz, "Szlachta tatarska w Rzeczypospolitej" (Tartar Nobility in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), Verbum Nobile no 2 (1993), Sopot, Poland

[5] Tatar. (2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 28, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:


[7] "Timur (Turkic conqueror)." Encyclopædia Britannica. Ultimate Reference Suite. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011.

[8] "Timur ", Encyclopædia Britannica, Online Academic Edition, 2007.

[9] "Central Asia, history of Timur ", in Encyclopædia Britannica, Online Edition, 2007., Quotation: "... Timur first united under his leadership the Turko-Mongol tribes located in the basins of the two rivers...."

[10] History of Central Asia , Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 13 December 2008

[11] B.F. Manz, "Tīmūr Lang", in Encyclopaedia of Islam.

[12] "Timur " The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05. Quotation: Tamerlane, c.1336–1405, b. Kesh, near Samarkand. He is also called Timur Leng [Timur the lame]. He was the son of a tribal leader. Some historians claim that he was the descendant of Genghiz Khan. He was from a Mongol tribe, Barlos. There were mongol tribes used to live in the area where his father was a leader. Timur spent his early military career in subduing his rivals in what is now Turkistan; by 1369 he firmly controlled the entire area from his capital at Samarkand.

[13] History of mathematics. By David Eugene Smith

[14] Science in Islamic civilisation: proceedings of the international symposia: "Science institutions in Islamic civilisation", & "Science and technology in the Turkish and Islamic world"

[15] The global built environment as a representation of realities: By author:A.J.J. Mekking

[16] Beatrice Forbes Manz, Temür and the Problem of a Conqueror's Legacy, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Apr., 1998), 25; "In his formal correspondance Temur continued throughout his life as the restorer of Chinggisid rights. He even justified his Iranian, Mamluk and Ottoman campaigns as a reimposition of legitimate Mongol control over lands taken by usurpers...".

[17] Michal Biran, The Chaghadaids and Islam: The Conversion of Tarmashirin Khan (1331-34) , Journal of American Oriental Society, Vol. 122, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 2002), 751; "Temur, a non-Chinggisid, tried to build a double legitimacy based on his role as both guardian and restorer of the Mongol Empire.".


[19] Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World

[20] Fisher, W.B.; Jackson, P.; Lockhart, L.; Boyle, J.A. : The Cambridge History of Iran, p55.

[21] Nicholas V. Raisanovsky; Mark D. Steinberg: A History of Russia Seventh Edition, pg 93