The Kipchak (also spelled Qipchaq, Kypchak, Kupchak, Kıpçak, or Qıpçaq) were a Turkic nomadic people. Originating in the Kimek Khanate, they conquered large parts of the Eurasian steppe during the Turkic expansion of the 11th and 12th centuries together with the Cumans, and were in turn conquered by the Mongol invasions of the early 13th century. The Cuman-Kipchak confederation was a predecessor of the Kazakh Khanate and, later, modern-day Kazakhstan.
The Kipchaks described their name as meaning 'hollow tree', as it was, according to them, inside a hollow tree that their original human ancestress gave birth to her son.
Their name appears occasionally transliterated in other languages, such as Arabic: قفجاق, Qifjāq; Persian: قبچاق, Qabčāq/Qabcâq; Georgian: ყივჩაყები, Qivçaqebi; Turkish: Kıpçak; Crimean Tatar: Kıpçaq, Karachay-Balkar: Къыпчакъ, Qıpçaq; Uzbek: Qipchoq, Қипчоқ/قىپچاق; Uyghur: قىپچاق, Qipchaq/Қипчақ; Kazakh: Қыпшақ, Qıpşaq; Kumyk: Къыпчакъ, Qıpçaq; Kyrgyz: Кыпчак, Qıpçaq; Nogai: Кыпчак; Chinese: 欽察/钦察, Qīnchá.
They are called Polovtsy in Russian and Ukrainian and similar names in other Slavic languages.
The Kipchaks were a tribal confederation that originally settled on the River Irtysh, possibly connected to the Kimäks. According to Ukrainian anthropologists, Kipchaks had racial characteristics of Caucasians and Mongoloids, namely a broad flat face and protruding nose. Researcher E. P. Alekseeva drew attention to the fact that European Kipchak stone images have both Mongoloid and Caucasoid faces. However, in her opinion, Kipchaks, who settled in Georgia in the first half of the 12th century, were predominantly Caucasoid in appearance with some admixture of Mongoloid traits. They were already joined by Cumans. In the course of the Turkic expansion they migrated into Siberia and further into the Trans-Volga region. Eventually they occupied a vast territory in the Eurasian steppe, stretching from north of the Aral Sea westward to the region north of the Black Sea, establishing a state known as Desht-i Qipchaq.. Cumans expanded further westward, by the 11th century reaching Moldavia, Wallachia, and part of Transylvania.
In the late 11th and early 12th centuries, the Cumans and Kipchaks became involved in various conflicts with the Byzantines, Kievan Rus', Hungarians (Cuman involvement only), and the Pechenegs (Cuman involvement only), allying themselves with one or the other side at different times. In 1089, they were defeated by Ladislaus I of Hungary, and again by Knyaz Vladimir Monomakh of the Rus in the 12th century. They sacked Kiev in 1203.
They were finally crushed by the Mongols in 1241. During the Mongol empire, Kipchaks constituted a majority of the Kipchak Khanate comprising present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, and were called the Golden Horde – the westernmost division of the Mongol empire. After the fall of the Mongol Empire, the Golden Horde rulers continued to hold Saraj until 1502.
The Cumans fled to Hungary, and some of their warriors became mercenaries for the Latin crusaders and the Byzantines. Members of the Bahri dynasty, the first dynasty of Mamluks in Egypt, were Kipchaks/Cumans; one of the most prominent examples was Sultan Baybars, born in Solhat, Crimea. Some Kipchaks served in the Yuan dynasty and became the Kharchins.
The Kipchaks and Cumans spoke a Turkic language (Kipchak language, Cuman language) whose most important surviving record is the Codex Cumanicus, a late 13th-century dictionary of words in Kipchak, Cuman, and Latin. The presence in Egypt of Turkic-speaking Mamluks also stimulated the compilation of Kipchak/Cuman-Arabic dictionaries and grammars that are important in the study of several old Turkic languages.
Some Kipchaks and Cumans are also known to have converted to Christianity, around the 11th century, at the suggestion of the Georgians as they allied in their conflicts against the Muslims. A great number were baptized at the request of the Georgian king David IV, who also married a daughter of the Kipchak khan Otrok. From 1120, there was a Kipchak national Christian church and an important clergy. Following the Mongol conquest, Islam rose in popularity among the Kipchaks of the Golden Horde.
When members of the Armenian diaspora moved from the Crimean peninsula to the Polish-Ukrainian borderland at the end of the 13th century, they brought Kipchak, their adopted Turkic language, with them.
During the 16th and 17th centuries the Turkic language among the Armenian communities of the Kipchak people was Armeno-Kipchak. They were settled in the Lviv and Kamianets-Podilskyi areas of what is now Ukraine.
The modern Northwestern branch of the Turkic language is often referred to as the Kipchak branch. The languages in this branch are mostly considered to be descendants of the Kipchak language, and the people who speak them may likewise be referred to as Kipchak peoples. Some of the groups traditionally included are the Karachays, Siberian Tatars, Nogays, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Volga Tatars, and Crimean Tatars. There is also a village named Kipchak in Crimea. Kypshak is one of the constituent tribes of the Middle Horde confederation of the Kazakh people. The name Kipchak also occurs as a surname in Kazakhstan. Some of the descendants of the Kipchaks are the Bashkirian clan Qipsaq.