History Files

Far East Kingdoms

Central Asia


Khans of Astrakhan (Tartars)

This Tarter khanate was a Turkic-speaking splinter state of the disintegrating Golden Horde, one of many. It occupied territory on the north-western shore of the Caspian Sea in Central Asia, bordered to the north and east by the aggressive and normally hostile Nogai Horde (the Nogay or Nogais), with the newly-created Kazan khanate on the eastern side of the Volga, and the Crimean khanate to the west, inland from the Caspian coastal area.

Occupying a small area of territory around the mouth of the Volga, the Astrakhan khanate was supposedly (but not necessarily) formed by Mahmud, the son of Kuchuk Muhammad. Both he and his father were rulers of the Golden Horde during its last years, when it was being torn to pieces by rival claimants and by the formation of independent khanates out of its territory. For some years Mahmud had contended for power against Ahmad, his own brother, but in 1465 he gave up the fruitless conflict and instead carved out his own independent khanate from former territory of the Golden Horde. Opposing theories suggest that it was Mahmud's son Qasim who founded the khanate, or that it may not have been independent at all until the fall of the Great Horde in 1502. Being one of the horde's key locations - and its new capital - it was then viewed as the titular inheritor of the horde's prestige and status. None of these theories can be proven satisfactorily but they offer a powerful and creditable alternative.

If he were indeed acting independently, Mahmud centred his khanate on the capital at Astrakhan, which seems to have been founded shortly before its first mention in history in 1333. Known more accurately as Xacitarxan or Hajji Tarkhan (a Tartar), this transformed in time into Actarxan or Hashtar Khan, and became the modern Astrakhan. It was located on the southern bank of the Volga shortly before the river entered the Caspian Sea, and commanded a bubble of territory that extended back along the Volga, almost as far as the modern city of Volgagrad (formerly Tsaritsyn from 1589 and Stalingrad during the Stalin period of Communist rule). Tartar Astrakhan was located about twelve kilometres (nine miles) north of the modern city of the same name. In 1395 it was sacked by Timur during his conquest of the Golden Horde from his new base in Persia and was subsequently rebuilt.

The Central Asian steppe

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Josafa Barbaro & Ambrogio Contarini: Travels to Tana and Persia, Henry E J Stanley (Ed, Hakluyt Society Series No 49, 1873), from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved, Volume 3, from The Encyclopaedia of Islam (New Edition), C E Bosworth, E van Donzel, B Lewis, & Ch Pellat (Eds), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia.com, and World of Royalty.)

1465 - 1466

Mahmud Astrakhani

Son of Kuchuk Muhammad. Former khan of the Golden Horde.


Mahmud Astrakhani is generally believed to have founded a state at Astrakhan during the disintegration of the Golden Horde. However, some scholars prefer to acclaim his son, Qasim, as the actual founder of a fully independent khanate instead, perhaps, of an autonomous division of the Golden Horde. In fact, Astrakhan itself is one of the centres of the Golden Horde after the destruction of the former capital at Saray, and may remain so until the horde's dissolution in 1502.

Map of the Tartar Khanates AD 1500
The Mongol empire created by Chingiz Khan gradually broke up over the course of three hundred years until, by around AD 1500, it had fragmented into several more-or-less stable khanates that which each vied with the others for power and influence, while having to fend off the growing power of the Ottoman empire to the south and Moscow Sate (Muscovy) to the north - in the end it was an unwinnable fight (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1466 - 1490

Qasim (I) / Kasim (I)

Son. Founder of the khanate?

1474 - 1475

Ambrogio Contarini is a Venetian diplomat and merchant who, during his travels, records his adventures throughout the east as a form of travelogue. As the envoy of Venice, he has been visiting the royal Persian court at Isfahan in 1474 in pursuit of a military alliance with the dominant White Sheep emirate against the mutually hostile Ottomans. The talks are largely fruitless so in 1475 Contarini begins a circuitous return that must by necessity avoid the Ottomans. The task is even more difficult because, at the start of 1475, they conquer Caffa and the Crimean khanate. The latter remains an Ottoman vassal to its very end.

Contarini travels through Derbent in Dagestan and visits Astrakhan to be able to access the Volga and a return to Europe via Moscow state. He notes the paucity of trade in the city despite the presence of Russian, Tatar, Persian, Transcaucasian, and Central Asian merchants. The city has never fully recovered from being sacked by Timur around 1391. The region as a whole is politically unstable and trade is crippled by extortion.

1490 - 1504

Abd al Karim / Abdal-Karim Khan



The Crimean khanate apparently seizes all of the Great Horde's horses, and encourages Moscow to deliver the death blow as a result. Both Moscow and the Ottomans dispatch forces which include Russian cavalry, Tartars, and Janissaries. This causes part of the horde to secede in November 1491 which goes on to form the Sibir khanate, while the remainder is routed by its enemies. Khan Murtada Beg may be weakened by this but he clings on to power for a further eight years (and his son, Aq Köbek, goes on to seize the Astrakhan khanate in 1532).

Crimean Tartars fight Cossacks
Tartars of the Crimean khanate fight Cossacks from the Ukrainian steppe, a scene that would be repeated many times over the course of the khanate's three hundred year-plus existence

1502 - 1504

Much of the Great Horde's people and horses are captured by the khan of the Crimea and forcibly relocated to the Crimea itself. It is not clear whether this is a repetition of the events of 1491 or a separate event. Shaykh Ahmad flees with about 4,000 horsemen. While he attempts to come to amicable terms with first Moscow and then khan of Astrakhan, the Nogais kick him out in 1504. Ahmad is forced to flee again, trying negotiation with Poland and then with the Ottomans at the former Genoese fortress of Mauro Castro. The Great Horde effectually disintegrates. However, Shaykh Ahmad's son Qasim succeeds as ruler of the Astrakhan khanate in 1504, with the help of the Nogais. The Mongol heartland continues to survive farther east as the Northern Yuan.

1504 - 1532

Qasay / Qasim (II) / Kasim (II)

Son of Khan Shaykh Ahmad (Great Horde). Deposed & killed.


Aq Köbek is responsible for deposing and killing Qasim, and ending his long reign (Qasim's son, Yadigar Muhammad briefly rules as the last khan of the Kazan). However, during his own time as khan Aq Köbek apparently puts in place a treaty or agreement which, for the time being, guarantees the independence of Astrakhan from the Crimean khanate and the Nogais.

1532 - 1534

Aq Köbek / Aq Kubek

Son of Mortaza Beg of the Great Horde. Usurper. Deposed.

1534 - 1538

Abd al Rahman / Abdur-Rahman

Son of Abd al Karim.

1538 - 1541

Shaykh Haydar / Sheikh Haydar

1541 - 1544

Aq Köbek / Aq Kubek

Restored. Deposed.


With the help of the Nogais, Aq Köbek is deposed for a second and final time by his own nephew, Yaghmurchi. Aq Köbek's son, Mustafa Ali, goes on to become ruler of the Kasim khanate in 1584.

Under Russian rule trade flourished in Astrakhan, sitting as it did on one of the prime east-west trade routes - the city is shown in this print in the sixteenth century

1544 - 1554

Yaghmurchi / Yamghurchi

Son of Berdibeg Khan. Defeated, fled, and killed.


The city of Astrakhan is briefly seized by Sahib Giray I of the Crimean khanate, but it would seem that Yaghmurchi is able to recover and return to restore his own rule on the city. By now, though, members of the Genghisid ruling family are thinking of leaving the city, to migrate to the other side of the Caspian Sea where they can join the Shaibanids at Bukhara.

1554 - 1555

The Russians under Ivan IV attack the khanate. Yaghmurchi is defeated at the Battle of Xacitarxan (Astrakhan) and is forced to flee across the River Terek to the south, in Dagestan, close to the Caucus Mountains. In 1555 he is killed, either by the Russians, or by the Nogais, or by his own successor (sources conflict). The Russians and Nogais have already ensured that their own candidate to rule Astrakhan, Darwish Ali, is able to seize control. As a grandson of Shaykh Ahmad, the last khan of the Great Horde, he at least has some claim to the position.

1554 - 1557

Darwîsh Alî / Dervish Ali

Russian vassal.

1556 - 1557

Having been temporarily dethroned in 1555 by the Nogais, Darwîsh Alî had quickly been returned to Astrakhan with the support of the Russians. Despite his perilous position he begins to resist Russian and pro-Russian support and/or interference. He introduces a garrison of Turks into Xacitarxan (Astrakhan) and the end result is that the city is besieged by the Russians in 1556.

Kazan khanate and Ivan IV
The short-lived Kazan khanate was conquered by the resurgent Rus under the leadership of Ivan IV just over a century after Ulugh Muhammad had founded it

Ivan IV burns the city, forcing the Astrakhan khanate to surrender. Darwîsh Alî flees to continue a guerrilla struggle against the Russians but to no avail. Admitting defeat he heads north-eastwards to the town of Azov while Astrakhan is incorporated into Russia's growing empire.

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