All about Hungary: The Cumans

The Cumans

Posted on May 16, 2011| | | 17 comments:
This post about Cumans is very important for me, a kind of homage for my mother's father to whom I felt very close and who was origin of this minority people in Hungary...

The Cumans originally lived east of the Yellow River, in China, making them the only Caucasian people in eastern Asia at the time.

A genetic study was done on Cuman burials within Hungary and it was determined that they had substantially more western Eurasian mitochondrial DNA lineages : see source here and more description here !

It is rather confusing to know who historians from the past referred to when the name Kipchak was used - they either referred to the Kumans only, the Kipchaks only, or both; this is due to the two nations joining and living together (and possibly exchanging weaponry, culture and with possible fusion of languages). This confederation and them living together might have made it tricky at times for historians to write exclusively about either nation.


The Cumans (Turkish: kuman / plural kumanlar, Hungarian: kun / plural kunok; Greek: Κο(υ)μάνοι, Ko(u)manoi; Romanian: cuman / plural cumani, Russian: Половцы - Polovtsi, Ukrainian: Половці, Bulgarian: Кумани) were a Turkic nomadic people comprising the western branch of the Cuman-Kipchak confederation until the Mongol invasion (1237) forced them to seek asylum in Hungary, and consequently to Bulgaria, although there were Cumans there before the Mongol invasion. Being related to the Pechenegs, they have inhabited a shifting area north of the Black Sea known as Cumania along the Volga River. They eventually settled to the west of the Black Sea, influencing the politics of Kievan Rus', Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Moldavia, Georgia and Wallachia (Romania today). Cuman and Kipchak tribes joined politically to create a confederation known as the Cuman-Kipchak confederation. The Cuman language is attested in some medieval documents and is the best-known of the early Turkic languages. The Codex Cumanicus was a linguistic manual which was written to help Catholic missionaries communicate with Cumans.

The Cumans were nomadic warriors of the Eurasian steppe who exerted an enduring impact on the medieval Balkans. The basic instrument of Cuman political success was military force, which none of the warring Balkan factions could resist. As a consequence, groups of the Cumans settled and mingled with the local population in various regions of the Balkans.

They played an active role in Byzantium, Hungary, Bulgaria, Serbia and in the Basarab dynasties in Wallachia with Cuman immigrants being integrated into each country's elite.


The Cumans entered the grassland of Eastern Europe in the 11th century, from where they continued to assault the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and Rus - they became arch enemies.

The vast territory of this Cuman-Kipchak realm, consisting of loosely connected tribal units who were the military dominating force, was never politically united by a strong central power. Cumania was neither a state nor an empire, but different groups under independent rulers, or khans, who acted on their own initiative, meddling in the political life of the surrounding states: the Russian principalities, Bulgaria, Byzantium and the Romanian (Wallachian) states in the Balkans, Armenia and Georgia (see Kipchaks in Georgia-but here we do not know if it was just Kipchaks, just Cumans, or Kipchaks and Cumans, discussed earlier) in the Caucasus, and Khwarezm, having reached as far as to create a powerful caste of warriors, the Mamluks.

In 1091 the Pechenegs, a semi-nomadic Turkic people of the prairies of southwestern Eurasia, were decisively defeated as an independent force at the Battle of Levounion by the combined forces of a Byzantine army under Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and a Cuman army under Togortok and Bunaq. Attacked again in 1094 by the Cumans, many Pechenegs were again slain. The remnants of the Pechenegs fled to Hungary, as the Cumans themselves would do a few decades later: fearing the Mongol invasion, in 1229, they asked asylum from Béla IV of Hungary.

Like most other peoples of medieval Eastern Europe, they put up resistance against the relentlessly advancing Mongols, led by Jebe and Subutai. The Mongols crossed the Caucasus mountains in pursuit of Muhammad II, the shah of Khwarazm, and met and defeated the Cumans in Subcaucasia in 1220. The Cumans made allience with the Rus but at the Battle of Kalka River, due to confusion from mistakes, they lost - the Cumans and Rus were defeated (1223) by the Mongols. The Cumans were finally crushed in 1238. Most of them surrendered to the Mongols, while the others followed Koten to Hungary and Bulgaria, where they became part of the local population; they were integrated into the elite and became nobles and rulers. Although the Cumans were defeated by the Mongols, their (the Cumans that remained in the Rus steppe, those who didnt move to Hungary and Bulgaria) cultural heritage was transferred on to them (the Mongols). The Mongol elite adopted from the Cumans and Kipchaks a lot of their traits, customs and language.and the Cumans, kipchaks and Mongols finally became assimilated through intermarriage and became the Golden Horde. The Cumans, together with the Turko-Mongols, adopted Islam, in these cond half of the 13th and the first half of the 14th century.

Previously, in 1229, they had asked for asylum from King Béla IV of Hungary, who in 1238 finally offered refuge to the remainder of the Cuman people under their leader Kuthen (Hungarians spelled his name Kötöny). Kuthen in turn vowed to convert his 40,000 families to Christianity. King Béla hoped to use the new subjects as auxiliary troops against the Mongols, who were already threatening Hungary. The king assigned various parts of central Hungary to the Cuman tribes. A tense situation erupted when Mongol troops burst into Hungary. The Hungarians, frustrated by their own helplessness, took revenge on the Cumans, whom they accused of being Mongol spies. After a bloody fight the Hungarians killed Kuthen and his bodygards, and the remaining Cumans fled to the Balkans. After the Mongol invasion Béla IV of Hungary recalled the Cumans to Hungary to populate settlements devastated by war. The nomads subsequently settled throughout the Great Hungarian Plain. Throughout the following centuries the Cumans in Hungary were granted various rights, the extent of which depended on the prevailing political situation. Some of these rights survived until the end of the 19th century, although the Cumans had long since assimilated with Hungarians.

The Cumans who remained scattered in the prairie of what is now southwest Russia joined the Golden Horde khanate and their descendants became assimilated with local Tatar populations. Many of them were incorporated into other Turkic peoples including the Crimean Tatars, Karachays, and Kumyks.

Basarab I, son of the Wallachian prince Tihomir of Wallachia obtained independence from Hungary at the beginning of the 14th century. The name Basarab is considered by some authors as being of Cuman origin, and meaning "Father King". It is generally believed by Bulgarian historians that the Bulgarian mediaеval dynasties Asen, Shishman and Terter were Cumanian.

The Caucasian mummies found in China a while ago could have been Cumans, as it is stated that the Cumans originally came from eastern China before migrating to Europe.


Robert de Clari described Cumans as nomadic warriors, who did not use houses, or farm, but rather lived in tents, and ate milk, cheese and meat. The horses had a sack for feeding attached to the bridle, and in a day and a night they can ride seven days of walking (Mansio), they go on campaign without any baggage, and when they return they take everything they can carry, they wear sheepskin and were armed with composite bows and arrows. They pray to the first animal they see in the morning. The Cumans, like the Bulgars, were also known to drink blood from their horse (they would cut a vein) when they ran out of water and were far from an available source. Another interesting feature of the Cumans was their elaborate masks which they used in battle - they were shaped like and worn over the face. A typical feature were mustaches.

The main activity of the Cumans was animal husbandry. They raised horses, sheep, goats, camels, and cattle. In summer they moved north with their herds; in winter, south. Some of the Cumans led a semi settled life and took part in trading and farming. They mainly sold and exported animals, mostly horses, and animal products. The Cumans also played the role of middlemen in the trade between Byzantium and the East, which passed through the Cuman-controlled ports of Surozh, Oziv, and Saksyn. Several land routes between Europe and the Near East ran through Cuman territories: the Zaloznyi route, the Solianyi route, and the Varangian route. Cuman towns—Sharukan, Suhrov, and Balin—appeared in the Donets River Basin; they were inhabited, however, by other peoples besides the Cumans. Stone figures called Stone babas, which are found throughout southern Ukraine, were closely connected with the Cuman religious cult of shamanism. The Cumans tolerated all religions and Islam and Christianity spread quickly among them. As they were close to the Kyivan Rus’ principalities, the Cuman khans and important families began to Slavicize their names, for example, Yaroslav Tomzakovych, Hlib Tyriievych, Yurii Konchakovych, and Danylo Kobiakovych. Ukrainian princely families were often connected by marriage with Cuman khans; this lessened wars and conflicts. Sometimes the princes and khans waged joint campaigns; for example, in 1221 they attacked the trading town of Sudak on the Black Sea, which was held by the Seljuk Turks and which interfered with Rus’-Cuman trade.


The main religion was Tengriism centered around Tengri and Umay. The Kuman people were baptised in 1227 by Róbert Archbishop of Esztergom in a mass baptism in Moldavia on the orders of Bortz Khan, who swore allegiance to King Andrew II of Hungary.
In the 13th century, the Western Cumans adopted Roman Catholicism (in Hungary they all later became Calvinist) and the Gagauzes Eastern Orthodoxy, while the Eastern Cumans converted to Islam. The Catholic Diocese of Cumania founded in Milcov in 1227 and including what is now Romania and Moldova, retained its title until 1523. It was a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Esztergom in Hungary.


While the Cumans were gradually absorbed into eastern European populations, their trace can still be found in place names as widespread as the city of Kumanovo in the Northeastern part of the Republic of Macedonia; a Slavic village named Kumanichevo in the Kostur (Kastoria) district of Greece, which was changed to Lithia after Greece obtained this territory in the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest, Comăneşti in Romania, Comana in Dobrogea (also Romania) and the small village of Kumanite in Bulgaria.

As the Mongols pushed westwards and devastated their state, most of the Cumans fled to the Bulgarian Empire as they were major military allies. The Bulgarian Tsar Ivan-Asen II (who was descended from Cumans) settled them in the southern parts of the country, bordering the Latin Empire and the Thessallonikan Despotate. Those territories are in present-day Turkish Europe and the Republic of Macedonia.

In the countries where the Cumans were assimilated, family surnames derived from the words for "Cuman" (such as coman or kun, "kuman") are not uncommon. Traces of the Cumans are the Bulgarian surnames Kunev or Kumanov (feminine Kuneva, Kumanova), its Macedonian variants Kunevski, Kumanovski (feminine Kumanovska), and the widespread Hungarian surname Kun. The names "Coman" in Romania and its derivatives however do not appear to have any connection to the medieval Cumans, as it was unrecorded until very recent times and the places with the highest frequency of such names has not produced any archaeological evidence of Cuman settlement. The name Cuman is still the name of several villages in different parts of Turkey, such as Kumanlar, including the Black Sea region. A branch of the Cumans - the Kumandins still exists up to this day, located in Siberia. The Komi peoples in Russia could also be descendents of the Cumans or related to them, as their name - Komi is similar to the name Cuman, and a lot of them are also blond.

The Cumans appear in Rus culture in The Tale of Igor's Campaign and are the Rus' military enemies in Alexander Borodin's opera Prince Igor, which features a set of "Polovtsian Dances".

The Cumans also settled in Hungary and had their own self-government there in a territory that bore their name, Kunság, that survived until the 19th century. There, the name of the Cumans (Kun) is still preserved in county names such as Bács-Kiskun and Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok and town names such as Kiskunhalas and Kunszentmiklós.

The Cumans were organized into four tribes in Hungary: Kolbasz/Olas in upper Cumania around Karcag (my grand parents were living there, so my Cuman grand father and I still have family from this city !), and the other three in lower Cumania.

Unfortunately, the Cuman language disappeared from Hungary in the 17th or 18th century (1770?), possibly following the Turkish occupation.

When some of the Cumans moved to Hungary, they brought with them their dogs - the Komondor dogs, which has become one of the national dogs of Hungary.

(Here I note only those who are related to Hungary, see all name in this page !)


Cuman (also Kuman) was a Kipchak Turkic language spoken by the Kipchaks, also known in the Greek annals as Cumans, in the west as Kumans, undiscriminative Polovetses in the Slavic and Rus annals, and Kuns in the Hungarian annals, the language was similar to the today's Crimean Tatar language. The Kipchak language is documented in medieval works, including the Codex Cumanicus, and it was a literary language in the Central and Eastern Europe that left a rich literary inheritance.

The Turkic Cuman language was still spoken at the time of the Ottoman occupation and during the Protestant Reformation. The Cuman language became extinct in early 17th century in the region of Cumania in Hungary, which was its last stronghold. Today, Gagauz people of modern Moldavia speak a close variation of Cuman Turkish. Turks of Turkey can also read and understand old Cuman texts. From Codex Cumanicus book :

Cuman Turkish

Atamız kim köktesiñ. Alğışlı bolsun seniñ atıñ, kelsin seniñ xanlığıñ, bolsun seniñ tilemekiñ – neçikkim kökte, alay [da] yerde. Kündeki ötmegimizni bizge bugün bergil. Dağı yazuqlarımıznı bizge boşatqıl – neçik biz boşatırbiz bizge yaman etkenlerge. Dağı yekniñ sınamaqına bizni quurmağıl. Basa barça yamandan bizni qutxarğıl. Amen!

In Modern Turkish, the text is

Atamız sen göktesin. Alkışlı olsun senin adın, gelsin senin hanlığın, olsun senin dilemeğin– nasıl ki gökte, ve yerde. Gündelik ekmeğimizi bize bugün ver. Ve de yazıklarımızdan (suçlarımızdan) bizi bağışla– nasıl biz bağışlarız bize yaman (kötülük) edenleri. Ve de şeytanın sınamasından bizi koru. Tüm yamandan (kötülükten) bizi kurtar. Amin!

Tradition holds that the last speaker of the cuman language was a certain István Varró, a resident of Karcag (Hungary - the city of my grand father !) who died in 1770.


The first Cumans arrived in Hungary in 1239 but there was violence between the nomadic Cumans and the settled Hungarians. Hungarians murdered the Cuman leader Kuthen (Kötöny) and the Cumans fled to the Balkans in 1241, pillaging as they went.

Following the Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1246, King Béla IV, invited 40 to 60 thousand Cumans and smaller group of Jazyges back to Hungary to settle in areas of the Great Hungarian Plain depopulated by Mongol invasions that would beceome Kunság and Jazygia. An area between Szolnok and Debrecen became Greater Cumania (Nagykunság) while an area between the Kalocsa and Szeged became Little Cumania (Kiskunság).

In exchange for military service to the Hungarian king against the Mongols, the Cumans were allowed to keep their own ethnic customs but they were required to settle permanently and convert to Christianity. Bela bethrothed his son Stephen to Kuthen's daughter Elizabeth. In 1279, King Ladislaus IV formalized Cuman territorial autonomy in Kunság.
Following the Ottoman occupation of much of Hungary in the 16th century, the region was part of the Jazygia-Cumania (Jászkunság) District which laid outside of the Kingdom of Hungary's county system.

The 1711 Peace of Szatmár following the Rákóczi Uprising abolished the privileges of the Cumans and Jazyges but Jazygia-Cumania was restored by Maria Theresa of Austria in 1745. The territories possessed greater rights than the counties of Hungary including the freedom from villeinage (serfdom) well before its abolition throughout Hungary in 1858.

Cuman autonomy had been revoked and restored several times over the centuries, but in 1876 the territories were permanently abolished and incorporated into the county system as part of the Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok and Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun counties.

After settling in Kunság, the Cumans continued to practice nomadic of animal husbandry and lived in felt-covered tents. By the end of the 14th century, the Cumans had begun to settle in villages and were gradually assimilating into Hungarian ways. The wars and Ottoman invasion in the 16th century disrupted the social structure of the region, but the Cumans returned to the areas and kept some of their native social customs.

Today, the language of the Cumans living in Hungary is only preserved in a few vague monuments, the “Cuman paternoster” and a few almost unrecognizable verses. A number of geographical names originating from the Cuman language have been preserved, such as Bengecseg (heritage), Orgonda (meadow hill), the Cuman and Hungarian Tarattyó (diverging river), Érbuga (Er-buga = heroic bull), Táskond (place of flood, flood-basin).
Some of the ancient family names are also of Cuman origin: Csôreg (soldier), a Kangur, Kocskor, Karacs (blackish), Kecse. There are several other words in the Hungarian language considered to be of Cuman origin: boza (drink fermented from millet), komondor (a type of dog), balta (hatchet), kalauz (conductor, guide), daku (frock), árkány (headrope), buzogány (mace), bicska (pocket-knife), csôdör (stallion), tôzeg (peat), bögöly (horse-fly), etc.


Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok is the name of an administrative county (comitatus or megye) in Hungary. It lies in the middle of the country (see on map here below). The rivers Tisza and Körös flow through the county. The capital of Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county is Szolnok. Its area is 5582 km².

Karcag, the city of my grand parents, is the third largest town in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, in the Northern Great Plain region of central Hungary. It covers an area of 368.63 km2 (142 sq mi) and has a population of 22,579 people (2001).

The name of the city comes from a Cuman first name which means Prairie fox (in Hungarian : Pusztai róka, in Cuman : Korzak, in Latin - scientific name :Vulpes corsac).

In the 13th century mainly Cumans were living here. The name of the city appears the first time in the name of Karcag János in the 14th century. In the 16th century Karcag has got the leadership from Kisújszállás (at that time Kolbázszállás) in Great Cumania. Its name was Karcagújszállás until the 19th century. At that time the city was small, the farmers were living near the city on farms who came to town for exchanging their products. Only after 1745 that Karcag starts to grow and develop. In spite of the fact, the farms remained an important structure of the region until the '60s when the government started to build the cooperative agriculture system.

In 2001, 93% of the population of the city was magyar and 7% roma (gipsy).

To read more about Karcag, I will post an article about the city soon under the theme "Sights" !

Suggestion : http://www.karcag.hudomain2filesmodulesmodule15ismertetofuzet-2009-gb.pdf

Sources : Other interesting link :


  1. Well done.

    The best data-recall facility I have found about Kipchaks and Cumans. Very informative and enlightening.

    Keep it up!

  2. Saw bol! In kipchak-kuman language means "thanks" from kipchak from Kazakhstan!

  3. Hi, excellent piece! I am a fellow brother descended from the Kumans just like you, my name is Simeon Kumanov. Unlike all the other Kuns, Kunevs, Kunevas, Kumanovskis, Comans and Kumanovs, I actually realise the major significance of my surname. Add me on facebook, if you add me you will find many, many pictures and information of the Kumans in my profile!

  4. An excellent piece, thanks!
    I would just add three toponyms from eastern Serbia: two Kumane and one Kumanovo.,_Veliko_Gradi%C5%A1te

    I would also like to know about the autonomy of the Cumans under the Habsburgs and, possibly, under the Ottomans (?). Did they side with the kurucz during the Rakoczy rebellion?

    Words "boza" and "kalauz" are also adopted in the Serbian language but the latter means a "universal key" to open many locks.

  5. there is also the town of Komancza which probable from the Kuman/Cuman. It is now in Poland but was a Lemko/Rusyn town before WW2 . Close to border of Slovakia .

  6. Aye, the name Komańcza is likely to have Cuman origin (according to polish linguist Kazimierz Rymut and some else), the same for Lemkos. But also some people, in particular from southern Poland have... umm.. some turkic features in their physical appearance.

    For a number of years i was intrested in history and historical re-enactment. Once, on one event I was asked if I have Tartar origin. 'Why do you think so?' -- I replied
    'Because of your appearance - slight turkic features' - I heard

    Ok, basicly I am not much Slavic - half German/Austrian, half Highlander (Goral - which was a originally a mixture of Vlachs, Germans, Slavs and Hungarians, much different from ethnic Poles). As for traditional culture of Highlanders, Vlach element seemed to be prevalent in the past. But turkic? Since that time I wondered why so many Highlanders look turkic (many were even classified as such by some damn Nazi Germans during WW II), and why some elements of our archaic culture were... hmm.. not much of Indo-European origin.
    Like men-warriors having braids (element of Great Steppe hairstyles + some Vlachs)...

    Since that time I know that Cumans actually took part in the process of forming Vlach ethnicity. Basarab family had such origin, Hunyadi appears in hist. sources sometimes as Vlach etc...

    Michal from southern Poland

  7. BTW - and this is how some people in our Highlands look like:

    They are Babiogórcy / Górale babiogórscy from Zawoja. In this areas Vlach element was very strong due to Vlach colonisation. My ancestors from Zawoja belonged to that particular group of Gorals.

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  9. Hello Kipchak/Kun brothers, please advise is there any kunok museum or any historical places to visit in Madjarszag?
    BR. your brother from Qazaqstan

  10. hello , am from afghanistan my ancestors came to afghanistan during the war between kypchaks and chengiz khan .. i am very proud to be kypchak .. very happy that am seeing cumans or kypchaks page .. does anybody can help me to give reference for cumans history .. email me ..

  11. cumans are the first people who used to live in caucus. they are mostly tall blue eyes and brown hairs .. my ancestors came to afghanistan around few centuries back. they fought chengiz khan the moghul emperor many times. it caused moghuls to catch and kill every cumans or kypchaks most of kypchaks or cumans distributed to another countries. something i feel is like cumans or kypchaks were brave people and never accepted slavery.that's why they never been able to rule a country because of less population and powerful countries near .. am looking forward for the reply from you all ..

  12. My wife has "Kun" ancestors from Visc, Máramaros, Hungary (today, it is part of Ukraine). As the surname Kun usually refers
    to Cuman I was sure of the connection. However, her aunt said it was originally Kuhn and it was German. Visc was settled by
    German immigrants. However, how likely is it that they would change their name from Kuhn to Kun? Visc is not in the area of Cumania.
    They were not Jewish Kuhns. Is it more likely they originated as German Kuhns rather than Cuman Kun?

  13. I have just found a great-great-great-great-great grandmother BALLABAS Erzsebet and I have found out that BALLABAS is a Kun last name. It means young chief or young king. It is interesting because where she is from is north of Karcag about 50 kms, but there is a story that her family moved to Erdely (Transylvania) and then came back to Zemplen area. Can anyone tell me if it's true that Ballabas is a Kun last name for sure? It is interesting because a lot of people in my family have blue eyes or light brown or blond hair and are tall. I did my dna testing and it says I have 3% Western Asian dna and my cousins who have done it also have this same amount and we all have the same g-g-g-g-g grandmother. If so, I am very proud to have Kun blood in me. I have been through the Kunsag before both Nagy and Kis and have always felt comfortable there. What a special people!

  14. Cumans wanted to break out from Hungarian state in 1918. They founded the Cuman National Council, which proclamed the independent Cuman Republic. They even wanted to obtain weapons to fight against Hungarians.

  15. I am looking for a pointed yellowish hat that I believe is a Cuman hat from northern Ukraine. I wanted to attach a photo to this link of what I'm looking for to see if anyone knows where I can buy one? Email if you have any info or would like a picture of what I'm looking for.

  16. A very interesting blog. I'm from north-east Turkey and found out a few years ago that the people in our area are from Cuman origin. I was always wondering why we, unlike surrending Turks and Georgians, looked so different( light skin, blond hair with colored eyes)

    According to the common theory, my ancestors tribe came after the Mongol invasion to southern Caucasia region to join the Georgians, who were in conflict with the approaching Seltjuks. It's very sad that we are sepparated thousands of kilometers and have to communicate in English.

  17. I am so pleased to find this because I have been searching for information about our family history. I know that our last name "Skumanick", changed by my grandfather in WWII to "Skamanich", is from the Cumans but I can't seem to locate any records. My great-great-grandfather came to America in early 1900's from Pcolina and my great-great-grandmother was from Cukolovce. I can't find any documentation from either of those towns verifying our heritage and history. Our family is known for our blonde hair, blue eyes, and yellowish skin color and we are baptized Russian Orthodox (in America). All of these factors make a difference but very confusing. Can anyone please help?


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