Girish Mahajan (Editor)


Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Not specified

Political structure



Preceded by
Succeeded by


The Pechenegs or Patzinaks were a semi-nomadic Turkic people of the Central Asian steppes speaking the Pecheneg language which belonged to the Oghuz branch of Turkic language family. Three of the ruling clans of the Pechenegs were the Kankalis/Kangli.



The Pechenegs' ethnonym derived from the Old Turkic word for "brother-in-law” (baja, baja-naq or bajinaq), implying that it initially referred to "in-law related clan or tribe". Sources written in different languages used similar denominations when referring to the confederation of the Pecheneg tribes. They were mentioned under the names Bjnak, Bjanak or Bajanak in Arabic and Persian texts, as Be-ča-nag in Classical Tibetan documents, as Pačanak-i in works written in Georgian, and as Pacinnak in Armenian. The modern Tatar name for them is Böcänäklär. Anna Komnene and other Byzantine authors referred to the Pechenegs as Patzinakoi or Patzinakitai. In medieval Latin texts, the Pechenegs were referred to as Pizenaci, Bisseni or Bessi. East Slavic peoples use the terms Pečenegi or Pečenezi, while the Poles mentions them as Pieczyngowie or Piecinigi. The Hungarian word for Pecheneg is besenyő. The Romanian word for Pechenegs is "Pecenegi"

According to Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, three of the eight Pechenegs "provinces" or clans were known under the name Kangar. He added that they received this denomination because "they are more valiant and noble than the rest" of the people "and that is what the title Kangar signifies". However, no Turkic word with the meaning suggested by the emperor has been demonstrated. Ármin Vámbéry connected the Kangar denomination to the Kirghiz words kangir ("agile"), kangirmak ("to go out riding") and kani-kara ("black-blooded"), while Carlile Aylmer Macartney associated it with the Chagatai word gang ("chariot"). Omeljan Pritsak proposed that the name had initially been a composite term (Kängär As) deriving from the Tocharian word for stone (kank) and the Iranian ethnonym As. If the latter assumption is valid, the ethnonym of the three Kangar tribes suggest that Iranian elements contributed to the formation of the Pecheneg people.


Mahmud al-Kashgari, an 11th-century man of letters specialized in Turkic dialects argued that the language spoken by the Pechenegs was a variant of the Cuman and Oghuz idioms. He suggested that foreign influences on the Pechenegs gave rise to phonetical differences between their tongue and the idiom spoken by other Turkic peoples. Anna Komnene likewise stated that the Pechenegs and the Cumans shared a common language. Although the Pecheneg language itself died out centuries ago, the names of the Pecheneg "provinces" recorded by Constantine Porphyrogenitus prove that the Pechenegs spoke a Turkic language. The Huns, , Khazars and Pechenegs are thought to have belonged to the same proto-Turkic group of languages as the modern Chuvash language (Oghur dialects).

Origins (till c. 800 or 850)

Ibn Khordadbeh, Mahmud al-Kashgari, Muhammad al-Idrisi and many other Muslim scholars agreed that the Pechenegs belonged to the Turkic peoples. The Russian Primary Chronicle stated that the "Torkmens, Pechenegs, Torks, and Polovcians" descended from "the godless sons of Ishmael, who had been sent as a chastisement to the Christians".

Paul Pelliot was the first to propose that a 7th-century Chinese work, the Book of Sui preserved the earliest record on the Pechenegs. It writes of the Pei-ju, a people settled along the En-ch'u and A-lan peoples (identified as the Onogurs and Alans, respectively) east of Fu-lin (the Eastern Roman Empire). In contrast with this view, Victor Spinei argues that the first certain reference to the Pechenegs can be read in a Tibetan translation of an 8th-century Uyghur text. It narrates a war between two peoples, the Be-ča-nag (the Pechenegs) and the Hor (the Ouzes). The Pechenegs inhabited the region along the river Syr Darya at the time when the first records were made of them.

Westward migration (c. 800 or 850–c. 895)

The Pechenegs were forced to leave their Central Asian homeland by a coalition of the Oghuz Turks, Karluks and Kimaks. The Pechenegs' westward migration started between the 790s and 850s, but its exact date cannot be determined. The Pechenegs settled in the steppe corridor between the rivers Ural and Volga.

According to Gardizi and other Muslim scholars who based their works on 9th-century sources, the Pechenegs' new territories were bordered by the Cumans, Khazars, Oghuz Turks and Slavs. The same sources also narrate that the Pechenegs regularly waged war against the Khazars and the latter's vassals, the Burtas. The Khazars and the Oghuz Turks made an alliance against the Pechenegs and attacked them. Outnumbered by the enemy, the Pechenegs started a new migration, invaded the dwelling places of the Hungarians and forced them to leave. There is no consensual date for this second migration of the Pechenegs: Pritsak argues that it took place around 830, but Kristó suggests that it could hardly occur before the 850s. The Pechenegs settled along the rivers Donets and Kuban.

It is plausible that the distinction between the "Turkic Pechenegs" and "Khazar Pechenegs" mentioned in the 10th-century Hudud al-'alam had its origin in this period. Spinei proposes that the latter denomination most probably refers to Pecheneg groups accepting Khazar suzerainty. In addition to these two branches, a third group of Pechenegs existed in this period: Constantine Porphyrogenitus and Ibn Fadlan mention that those who decided not to leave their homeland were incorporated into the Oghuz federation of Turkic tribes. However, it is uncertain whether this groups' formation is connected to the Pechenegs' first or second migration (as it is proposed by Pritsak and Golden, respectively). According to Mahmud al-Kashgari, one of the Üçok clans of the Oghuz Turks was still formed by Pechenegs in the 1060s.

Originally, the Pechenegs had their dwelling on the river Atil (Volga), and likewise on the river Geïch, having common frontiers with the Chazars and the so-called Uzes. But fifty years ago the so-called Uzes made common cause with the Chazars and joined battle with the Pechenegs and prevailed over them and expelled them from their country, which the so-called Uzes have occupied till this day. [...] At the time when the Pechenegs were expelled from their country, some of them of their own will and personal decision stayed behind there and united with the so-called Uzes, and even to this day they live among them, and wear such distinguishing marks as separate them off and betray their origin and how it came about that they were split off from their own folk: for their tunics are short, reaching to the knee, and their sleeves are cut off at the shoulder, whereby, you see, they indicate that they have been cut off from their own folk and those of their race.

Origins and area

In Mahmud Kashgari's 11th-century work Dīwān lughāt al-turk (Arabic: ديوان لغات الترك‎‎), the name Beçenek is given two meanings. The first is "a Turkish nation living around the country of the Rum", where Rum was the Turkish word for the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire). Kashgari's second definition of Beçenek is "a branch of Oghuz Turks"; he subsequently described the Oghuz as being formed of 22 branches, of which the 19th branch was named Beçenek. Max Vasmer derives this name from the Turkic word for "brother-in-law, relative" (Turkmen: bacanak and Turkish: bacanak).

By the 9th and 10th centuries, they controlled much of the steppes of southwestern Eurasia and the Crimean Peninsula. Although an important factor in the region at the time, like most nomadic tribes their concept of statecraft failed to go beyond random attacks on neighbours and spells as mercenaries for other powers.

According to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, writing in c. 950, Patzinakia, the Pecheneg realm, stretched west as far as the Siret River (or even the Eastern Carpathian Mountains), and was four days distant from "Tourkias" (i.e. Hungary).

The whole of Patzinakia is divided into eight provinces with the same number of great princes. The provinces are these: the name of the first province is Irtim; of the second, Tzour; of the third, Gyla; of the fourth, Koulpeï; of the fifth, Charaboï; of the sixth, Talmat; of the seventh, Chopon; of the eighth, Tzopon. At the time at which the Pechenegs were expelled from their country, their princes were, in the province of Irtim, Baïtzas; in Tzour, Kouel; in Gyla, Kourkoutai; in Koulpeï, Ipaos; in Charaboï, Kaïdoum; in the province of Talmat, Kostas; in Chopon, Giazis; in the province of Tzopon, Batas.

According to Omeljan Pritsak, the Pechenegs are descendants from the ancient Kangars who originate from Tashkent.

Alliance with Byzantium

In the 9th century, the Byzantines became allied with the Pechenegs, using them to fend off other, more dangerous tribes such as the Rus and the Magyars.

The Uzes, another Turkic steppe people, eventually expelled the Pechenegs from their homeland; in the process, they also seized most of their livestock and other goods. An alliance of Oghuz, Kimeks, and Karluks was also pressing the Pechenegs, but another group, the Samanids, defeated that alliance. Driven further west by the Khazars and Cumans by 889, the Pechenegs in turn drove the Magyars west of the Dnieper River by 892.

Bulgarian Tsar Simeon I employed the Pechenegs to help fend off the Magyars. The Pechenegs were so successful that they drove out the Magyars remaining in Etelköz and the Pontic steppes, forcing them westward towards the Pannonian plain, where they later founded the Hungarian state.

Late history and decline

In the 9th century the Pechenegs began a period of wars against Kievan Rus'. For more than two centuries they had launched raids into the lands of Rus', which sometimes escalated into full-scale wars (like the 920 war on the Pechenegs by Igor of Kiev, reported in the Primary Chronicle). The Pecheneg wars against Kievan Rus' caused the Slavs from Walachian territories to gradually migrate north of the Dniestr in the 10th and 11th centuries. Rus'/Pecheneg temporary military alliances also occurred however, as during the Byzantine campaign in 943 led by Igor. In 968 the Pechenegs attacked and besieged Kiev; some joined the Prince of Kiev, Sviatoslav I, in his Byzantine campaign of 970–971, though eventually they ambushed and killed the Kievan prince in 972. According to the Primary Chronicle, the Pecheneg Khan Kurya made a chalice from Sviatoslav's skull, in accordance with the custom of steppe nomads. The fortunes of the Rus'-Pecheneg confrontation swung during the reign of Vladimir I of Kiev (990–995), who founded the town of Pereyaslav upon the site of his victory over the Pechenegs, followed by the defeat of the Pechenegs during the reign of Yaroslav I the Wise in 1036. Shortly thereafter, other nomadic peoples replaced the weakened Pechenegs in the Pontic steppe: the Cumans and the Torks. According to Mykhailo Hrushevsky (History of Ukraine-Ruthenia), after its defeat near Kiev the Pecheneg Horde moved towards the Danube, crossed the river, and disappeared out of the Pontic steppes.

After centuries of fighting involving all their neighbours—the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, Kievan Rus', Khazaria, and the Magyars—the Pechenegs were annihilated as an independent force in 1091 at the Battle of Levounion by a combined Byzantine and Cuman army under Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. Alexios I recruited the defeated Pechenegs, whom he settled in the district of Moglena (today in Macedonia) into a tagma "of the Moglena Pechenegs". Attacked again in 1094 by the Cumans, many Pechenegs were slain or absorbed. The Byzantines defeated the Pechenegs again at the Battle of Beroia in 1122, on the territory of modern-day Bulgaria. For some time, significant communities of Pechenegs still remained in the Kingdom of Hungary. With time the Balkan Pechenegs lost their national identity and became fully assimilated, mostly with Magyars and Bulgarians.

In the 12th century, according to Byzantine historian John Kinnamos, the Pechenegs fought as mercenaries for the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos in southern Italy against the Norman king of Sicily, William the Bad. A group of Pechenegs was present at the battle of Andria in 1155.

The Pechenegs were last mentioned in 1168 as members of Turkic tribes known in the chronicles as the "Chorni Klobuky (Black Hats)".

In 15th-century Hungary, some people adopted the surname Besenyö (Hungarian for "Pecheneg"); they were most numerous in the county of Tolna. One of the earliest introductions of Islam into Eastern Europe came about through the work of an early 11th-century Muslim prisoner who was captured by the Byzantines. The Muslim prisoner was brought into the Besenyö territory of the Pechenegs, where he taught and converted individuals to Islam. In the late 12th century, Abu Hamid al Garnathi referred to Hungarian Pechenegs - probably Muslims - living disguised as Christians. In the southeast of Serbia, there is a village called Pecenjevce founded by Pechenegs. After war with Byzantium, the broken remnants of the tribes found refuge in the area, where they established their settlement.


  • Kurya c. 970s
  • Metiga c. 980s
  • Kuchug c. 990s
  • References

    Pechenegs Wikipedia