[by Jenna Brightwell]

The Pechenegs were an important Turkic nomad group in Central Asia between the ninth and twelfth centuries.  Their nomadic lifestyle shaped their culture; they herded large groups of animals and used trumpets, spears, and other war ornaments to showcase their wealth.  They originally lived in the land between Lake Aral and the Urals, surrounded by other nomadic groups who often competed for the lands most equitable land to support their herds and lifestyle.  However, when they were pushed west across the Volga in the ninth century, they displayed their dominance by defeating the fearsome Magyars.

The Kipchak lived toward the north, the Khazars toward the southwest, the Oghuz toward the east, and the Sakaliba toward the northwest (Róna-Tas, 234-235).  Most of the information about the characteristics and locations of the Pechenegs comes from Arab historians who visited the Pecheneg lands and Constantinople VII’s De Administrando Imperio (On the Governance of the Empire) finalized around 952 (Róna-Tas, 46).  Al Bakri, an Arab historian who observed the Pechenegs during the eleventh century, explained that the Pechenegs “are wealth and possess beasts of burden and herds; also utensils of gold and silver and weapons.  They have ornamental belts and standards and trumpets instead of kettledrums” (Macartney, 189).  A second Persian historian, Gardēzī similarly described the Pechenegs, saying they “are wealthy and have many animals and sheep and vessels of gold and silver.  They have weapons in plenty and belts of silver, and standards and short spears which they take into battle and they have trumpets well shaped on the outside which they sound in warfare” (Macartney, 189).

In the middle of the ninth century, the Oghuz formed a coalition with two other tribes, the Kimeks and the Kharlukhs, to seize the Pecheneg territory.  As a result, the Pechenegs were forced to move west across the Volga into the Etelköz region, occupied by the Magyars.  In 889, the fierce Pechenegs warriors defeated the Magyars, giving them control of the region north of the black sea between the Dnieper and the Don rivers and bordering the Byzantine Empire (Urbanksy, 11).  In 894, Simeon, the Tsar of Bulgaria, wanted to control the trade in the Balkans, which threatened the power of the Byzantine Empire.  When Bulgarian troops invaded Byzantium and moved toward Constantinople, the Byzantine Empire, whose army was preoccupied in an Arab war, asked for help from the Magyars.  The Pechenegs supported Bulgaria and subsequently defeated the Magyars, pushing them out of the lower Danube region.  This proved the Pecheneg’s superiority over the Magayrs and further asserted their dominance in the region (Urbansky, 17).

In 1063, the Oghuz in the east again pressured them, the Pechenegs received permission from the Byzantium to live within their empire as long as they helped defend the northern border.  However, the Pechenegs often invaded the Magyar territory north of the Empire.  Finally in 1122, the Magyars defeated the Pechenegs and essentially wiped them out as a people.  Small Pecheneg bands continued to fight for the Magyar and Byzantine armies, but lost their autonomy and importance in the region (Urbansky, 22, 43, 72).


Works Cited

  • András Rona-Tas, Hungarians and Europe in the Early Middle Ages: An Introduction to Early Hungarian History, (Budapest: Central European Univ. Press, 1999).
  • Andrew B. Urbansky, Byzantium and the Danube Frontier, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968).
  • Carlile A. Macartney, The Magyars in the Ninth Century, Repr. of 1930 ed, (Cambridge: Univ. Press, 1968).