English-speaking writers during the 18th and early 19th centuries often called the territory of the Crimean Khanate and of the Lesser Nogai Horde Little Tartary (or subdivided it as Crim Tartary (also Krim Tartary) and Kuban Tartary). The name "Little Tartary" distinguished the area from (Great) Tartary - those areas of central and northern Asia inhabited by Turkic peoples or Tatars.
The Khanate included the Crimean peninsula and the adjacent Steppes, mostly corresponding to the parts of South Ukraine between the Dnepr and the Donets (i.e. including most of present-day Zaporizhia Oblast, left-Dnepr parts of Kherson Oblast, besides minor parts of southeastern Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and western Donetsk Oblast). The territory controlled by the Crimean Khanate shifted throughout its existence due to the constant incursions by the Cossacks, who had lived along the Don since the disintegration of the Golden Horde in the 15th century.
The London-based cartographer Herman Moll in a map of c. 1729 shows "Little Tartary" as including the Crimean peninsula and the steppe between Dnepr and Mius River as far north as the Dnepr bend and the upper Tor River (a tributary of the Donets).
The Crimean Khanate originated in the early 15th century when certain clans of the Golden Horde Empire ceased their nomadic life in the Desht-i Kipchak (Kypchak Steppes of today's Ukraine and southern Russia) and decided to make Crimea their yurt (homeland). At that time, the Golden Horde of the Mongol Empire had governed the Crimean peninsula as an ulus since 1239, with its capital at Qirim (Staryi Krym). The local separatists invited a Genghisid contender for the Golden Horde throne, Hacı Giray, to become their Khan. Hacı Giray accepted their invitation and traveled from exile in Lithuania. He warred for independence against the Horde from 1420 to 1441, in the end achieving success. But Hacı Giray then had to fight off internal rivals before he could ascend the throne of the khanate in 1449, after which he moved its capital to Qırq Yer (today part of Bahçeseray). The khanate included the Crimean Peninsula (except the south and southwest coast and ports, controlled by the Republic of Genoa) as well as the adjacent steppe.
The sons of Hacı I Giray contended against each other to succeed him. The Ottomans intervened and installed one of the sons, Meñli I Giray, on the throne. Menli I Giray, took the imperial title "Sovereign of Two Continents and Khan of Khans of Two Seas."
In 1475 the Ottoman forces, under the command of Gedik Ahmet Pasha, conquered the Greek Principality of Theodoro and the Genoese colonies at Cembalo, Soldaia, and Caffa (modern Feodosiya). Thenceforth the khanate was a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman sultan enjoyed veto power over the selection of new Crimean khans. The Empire annexed the Crimean coast but recognized the legitimacy of the khanate rule of the steppes, as the khans were descendants of Genghis Khan.
In 1475, the Ottomans imprisoned Meñli I Giray for three years for resisting the invasion. After returning from captivity in Constantinople, he accepted the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire. Nevertheless, Ottoman sultans treated the khans more as allies than subjects. The khans continued to have a foreign policy independent from the Ottomans in the steppes of Little Tartary. The khans continued to mint coins and use their names in Friday prayers, two important signs of sovereignty. They did not pay tribute to the Ottoman Empire; instead the Ottomans paid them in return for their services of providing skilled outriders and frontline cavalry in their campaigns. Later on, Crimea lost power in this relationship as the result of a crisis in 1523, during the reign of Meñli's successor, Mehmed I Giray. He died that year and beginning with his successor, from 1524 on, Crimean khans were appointed by the Sultan.
The alliance of the Crimean Tatars and the Ottomans was comparable to the Polish-Lithuanian Union in its importance and durability. The Crimean cavalry became indispensable for the Ottomans' campaigns against Poland, Hungary, and Persia.
In 1502, Meñli I Giray defeated the last khan of the Great Horde, which put an end to the Horde's claims on Crimea. The Khanate initially chose as its capital Salaçıq near the Qırq Yer fortress. Later, the capital was moved a short distance to Bahçeseray, founded in 1532 by Sahib I Giray. Both Salaçıq and the Qırq Yer fortress today are part of the expanded city of Bahçeseray.
The Crimeans frequently mounted raids into the Danubian principalities, Poland-Lithuania, and Muscovy to enslave people whom they could capture; for each captive, the khan received a fixed share (savğa) of 10% or 20%. These campaigns by Crimean forces were either sefers ("sojourns"), officially declared military operations led by the khans themselves, or çapuls ("despoiling"), raids undertaken by groups of noblemen, sometimes illegally because they contravened treaties concluded by the khans with neighbouring rulers.
For a long time, until the early 18th century, the khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East, exporting about 2 million slaves from Russia and Poland-Lithuania over the period 1500–1700. Caffa (city on Crimean peninsula) was one of the best known and significant trading ports and slave markets. In 1769, a last major Tatar raid resulted in the capture of 20,000 Russian and Ruthenian slaves.
Author and historian Brian Glyn Williams writes:
Fisher estimates that in the sixteenth century the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth lost around 20,000 individuals a year and that from 1474 to 1694, as many as a million Commonwealth citizens were carried off into Crimean slavery.
Early modern sources are full of descriptions of sufferings of Christian slaves captured by the Crimean Tatars in the course of their raids:
It seems that the position and everyday conditions of a slave depended largely on his/her owner. Some slaves indeed could spend the rest of their days doing exhausting labor: as the Crimean vizir (minister) Sefer Gazi Aga mentions in one of his letters, the slaves were often “a plough and a scythe” of their owners. Most terrible, perhaps, was the fate of those who became galley-slaves, whose sufferings were poeticized in many Ukrainian dumas (songs). ... Both female and male slaves were often used for sexual purposes.
The Crimean Khanate also made alliances with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Zaporizhian Sich. The assistance of İslâm III Giray during the Khmelnytsky Uprising in 1648 contributed greatly to the initial momentum of military successes for the Cossacks. The relationship with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was also exclusive, as it was the home dynasty of the Girays, who sought sanctuary in Lithuania in the 15th century before establishing themselves on the Crimean peninsula.
The northern hinterlands of the khanate were coveted by Muscovy for their agricultural productivity, having longer growing seasons than Muscovy itself. Within Muscovy, the permanent warfare at the borderland and the burgeoning in size of the armies of the nobles (boyars) fomented intense exploitation of the peasantry.
In the middle of the 16th century, the Crimean khanate asserted a claim to be the successor to the Golden Horde, which entailed asserting the right of rule over the Tatar khanates of the Caspian-Volga region, particularly the Kazan Khanate and Astrakhan Khanate. This claim pitted it against Muscovy for dominance in the region. A successful campaign by Devlet I Giray upon the Russian capital in 1571 culminated in the burning of Moscow, and he thereby gained the sobriquet, That Alğan (seizer of the throne). The following year, however, the Crimean Khanate lost access to the Volga once and for all due to its catastrophic defeat in the Battle at Molodi.
The Turkish traveler writer Evliya Çelebi mentions the impact of Cossack raids from Azak upon the territories of the Crimean Khanate, these raids ruined trade routes and severely depopulated many important regions. By the time Evliya Çelebi had arrived almost all the towns he visited were affected by the Cossack raids. In fact, the only place Evliya Çelebi considered safe from the Cossacks was the Ottoman fortress at Arabat.
The decline of the Crimean Khanate was a consequence of the weakening of the Ottoman Empire and a change in the balance of power in Eastern Europe that favoured its neighbours. Crimean Tatars often returned from Ottoman campaigns without booty and Ottoman subsidies were less likely for unsuccessful campaigns. Tatar cavalry, without sufficient guns, suffered great loss against European and Russian armies with modern equipment. By the late 17th century, Muscovite Russia became too strong a power for Crimea to pillage and the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) outlawed further raids. The era of great slave raids in Russia and Ukraine was over, although brigands and Nogay raiders continued their attacks and Russian hatred of the Khanate did not decrease. These polito-economic losses led in turn to erosion of the khan's support among noble clans, and internal conflicts for power ensued. The Nogays, who provided a significant portion of the Crimean military forces, also took back their support from the khans towards the end of the empire.
In the first half of 17th century, Kalmyks formed the Kalmyk Khanate in the Lower Volga and under Ayuka Khan conducted many military expeditions against the Crimean Khanate and Nogays. By becoming an important ally and later part of the Russian Empire and taking an oath to protect its southeastern borders, the Kalmyk Khanate took an active part in all Russian war campaigns in 17th and 18th centuries, providing up to 40,000 fully equipped horsemen.
The united Russian and Ukrainian forces attacked the Khanate during the Chigirin Campaigns and the Crimean Campaigns. It was during the Russo-Turkish War, 1735-1739 that the Russians, under the command of Field-Marshal Münnich, finally managed to penetrate the Crimean Peninsula itself, burning and destroying everything on their way.
More warfare ensued during the reign of Catherine II. The Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 resulted in the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, which made the Crimean Khanate independent from the Ottoman Empire and aligned it with the Russian Empire.
The rule of the last Crimean khan Şahin Giray was marked with increasing Russian influence and outbursts of violence from the khan administration towards internal opposition. On 8 April 1783, in violation of the treaty (some parts of which had been already violated by Crimeans and Ottomans), Catherine II intervened in the civil war, de facto annexing the whole peninsula as the Taurida Governorate. In 1787, Şahin Giray took refuge in the Ottoman Empire and was eventually executed, on Rhodes, by the Ottoman authorities for betrayal. The royal Giray family survives to this day.
Through the 1792 Treaty of Jassy (Iaşi), the Russian frontier was extended to the Dniester River and the takeover of Yedisan was complete. The 1812 Treaty of Bucharest transferred Bessarabia to Russian control.
All Khans were from the Giray clan, which traced its right to rule to its descent from Genghis Khan. According to the tradition of the steppes, the ruler was legitimate only if he was of Genghisid royal descent (i.e. "ak süyek"). Although the Giray dynasty was the symbol of government, the khan actually governed with the participation of Qaraçı Beys, the leaders of the noble clans such as Şirin, Barın, Arğın, Qıpçaq, and in the later period, Mansuroğlu and Sicavut. After the collapse of the Astrakhan Khanate in 1556, an important element of the Crimean Khanate were the Nogays, who most of them transferred their allegiance from Astrakhan to Crimea. Circassians (Atteghei) and Cossacks also occasionally played roles in Crimean politics, alternating their allegiance between the khan and the beys. The Nogay pastoral nomads north of the Black Sea were nominally subject to the Crimean Khan. They were divided into the following groups: Budjak (from the Danube to the Dniester), Yedisan (from the Dniester to the Bug), Jamboyluk (Bug to Crimea), Yedickul (north of Crimea) and Kuban.
Internally, the khanate territory was divided among the beys, and beneath the beys were mirzas from noble families. The relationship of peasants or herdsmen to their mirzas was not feudal. They were free and the Islamic law protected them from losing their rights. Apportioned by village, the land was worked in common and taxes were assigned to the whole village. The tax was one tenth of an agricultural product, one twentieth of a herd animal, and a variable amount of unpaid labor. During the reforms by the last khan Şahin Giray, the internal structure was changed following the Turkish pattern: the nobles' landholdings were proclaimed the domain of the khan and reorganized into qadılıqs (provinces governed by representatives of the khan).
Crimean law was based on Tatar law, Islamic law, and, in limited matters, Ottoman law. The leader of the Muslim establishment was the mufti, who was selected from among the local Muslim clergy. His major duty was neither judicial nor theological, but financial. The mufti’s administration controlled all of the vakif lands and their enormous revenues. Another Muslim official, appointed not by the clergy but the Ottoman sultan, was the kadıasker, the overseer of the khanate’s judicial districts, each under jurisdiction of a kadi. In theory, kadis answered to the kadiaskers, but in practice they answered to the clan leaders and the khan. The kadis determined the day to day legal behavior of Muslims in the khanate.
Substantial non-Muslim minorities, Greeks, Armenians, Crimean Goths, Adyghe (Circassians), Venetians, Genoese, Crimean Karaites and Qırımçaq Jews, lived principally in the cities, mostly in separate districts or suburbs. Under the millet system, they had their own religious and judicial institutions. They were subject to extra taxes in exchange for exemption from military service, living like Crimean Tatars and speaking dialects of Crimean Tatar. Mikhail Kizilov writes: "According to Marcin Broniewski (1578), the Tatars seldom cultivated the soil themselves, with most of their land tilled by the Polish, Ruthenian, Russian, and Walachian (Moldavian) slaves."
The Jewish population was concentrated in Çufut Kale ('Jewish Fortress'), a separate town near Bahçeseray that was the Khan's original capital. As other minorities, they spoke a Turkic language. Crimean law granted them special financial and political rights as a reward, according to local folklore, for historic services rendered to an uluhane (first wife of a Khan). The capitation tax on Jews in Crimea was levied by the office of the uluhane in Bahçeseray. The Jews in Crimea were actively involved in the slave trade.
The nomadic part of the Crimean Tatars and all the Nogays were cattle breeders. Crimea had important trading ports where the goods arrived via the Silk Road were exported to the Ottoman Empire and Europe. Crimean Khanate had many large, beautiful, and lively cities such as the capital Bahçeseray, Gözleve (Yevpatoria), Karasu Bazaar (Karasu-market) and Aqmescit (White-mosque) having numerous hans (caravansarais and merchant quarters), tanners, and mills. Many monuments constructed under the Crimean Khanate were destroyed or left in ruins after the Russian invasion. Mosques, in particular were demolished or remade into Orthodox churches. The settled Crimean Tatars were engaged in trade, agriculture, and artisanry. Crimea was a center of wine, tobacco, and fruit cultivation. Bahçeseray kilims (oriental rugs) were exported to Poland, and knives made by Crimean Tatar artisans were deemed the best by the Caucasian tribes. Crimea was also renowned for manufacture of silk and honey.
The slave trade (15th-17th century) in captured Ukrainians and Russians was one of the major sources of income of Crimean Tatar and Nogay nobility. In this process, known as harvesting the steppe, raiding parties would go out and capture, and then enslave the local Christian peasants living in the countryside. In spite of the dangers, Polish and Russian serfs were attracted to the freedom offered by the empty steppes of Ukraine. The slave raids entered Russian and Cossack folklore and many dumy were written elegising the victims' fates. This contributed to a hatred for the Khanate that transcended political or military concerns. But in fact, there were always small raids committed by both Tatars and Cossacks, in both directions. The last recorded major Crimean raid, before those in the Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774) took place during the reign of Peter I (1682–1725).
The Selim II Giray fountain, built in 1747, is considered one of the masterpieces of Crimean Khanate's hydraulic engineering designs and is still marveled in modern times. It consists of small ceramic pipes, boxed in an underground stone tunnel, stretching back to the spring source more than 20 metres (66 feet) away. It was one of the finest sources of water in Bakhchisaray.
One of the notable constructors of Crimean art and architecture was Qırım Giray, who in 1764 commissioned the fountain master Omer the Persian to construct the Bakhchisaray Fountain. The Bakhchisaray Fountain or Fountain of Tears is a real case of life imitating art. The fountain is known as the embodiment of love of one of the last Crimean Khans, Khan Qırım Giray for his young wife, and his grief after her early death. The Khan was said to have fallen in love with a Polish girl in his harem. Despite his battle-hardened harshness, he was grievous and wept when she died, astonishing all those who knew him. He commissioned a marble fountain to be made, so that the rock would weep, like him, forever.Main regions outside of Qirim yurt (the peninsula)Kaztsiv ulus (located in Kuban)Yedychkul HordeDjambayluk HordeYedisan HordeBudzhak HordeProhnoinsk Palanka (possibly leased to the Zaporizhian Host) (located on the Kinburn peninsula)Silistra Province, Ottoman Empire for sometime governed by Bakhchisaray
The peninsula itself was divided by the khan's family and several beys. The estates controlled by beys were called beylik. Beys in the khanate were as important as the Polish Magnats. Directly to the khan belonged Cufut-Qale, Bakhchisaray, and Staryi Krym (Eski Qirim). The khan also possessed all the salt lakes and the villages around them, as well as the woods around the rivers Alma, Kacha, and Salgir. Part of his own estate included the wastelands with their newly created settlements.
Part of the main khan's estates were the lands of the Kalha-sultan (Qalğa) who was next in the line of succession of the khan's family. He usually administered the eastern portion of the peninsula. Kalha also was Chief Commander of the Crimean Army in the absence of the Khan. The next hereditary administrative position, called Nureddin, was also assigned to the khan's family. He administrated the western region of the peninsula. There also was a specifically assigned position for the khan's mother or sister — Ana-beim — which was similar to the Ottomans' Valide Sultan. The senior wife of the Khan carried a rank of Ulu-beim and was next in importance to the Nureddin.
By the end of the khanate regional offices of the kaimakans, who administered smaller regions of the Crimean Khanate, were created.Or Qapı (Perekop) had special status. The fortress was controlled either directly by the khan's family or by the family of Shirin.Kefe Eyalet, a seat of Ottomans in Crimea until 1774Silistra Eyalet, the western coast of Black Sea, later Danube Vilayet