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. The Cumans were the founders of three successive Bulgarian dynasties (Asenids, Terterids, and Shishmanids), and the Wallachian dynasty (Basarabids). They also played an active role in Byzantium, Hungary, and Serbia, with Cuman immigrants being integrated into each country's elite.
The people known in Turkic as Kipchaks were the same as the Polovtsy of the Russians, the Komanoi of the Byzantines, the Qumani (Cumans) of the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, and the Kun (Qoun) of the Hungarians. According to Gadrisi, they originally formed part of the group of Kimak Turks who lived in Siberia along the middle reaches of the Irtysh, or along the Ob. The Kimaks and the Oghuz were closely related.
"Cuman" is seen by some turkologists as endoethnonym or self-designation of Kipçaks. Traditionally it was translated as "cu-man" "ku"-man, however after further research was made translation of "cuman" became clear "bright-me", "qu" (bright) and "men" (me). This word is also found in kazakh language as "quba" which translates as "blond".
Russian word "polovtsy" (Пóловцы) has many different explanations. Most common version is that it means "blonde" since the old Russian word "polovo" means "straw". The German word for Cumans was "Folban" (blonde). Another explanation was given by O.Suleymenov as "men of the field field, steppe" from Russian word "pole" - open ground, field, not to be confused with "polyane" (from Greek "polis" - city). A third explanation of the word was also made by O. Suleymenov which stated that the name Cumans came from a word for "blue-eyed," since the Serbo-Croatian word "plav" literally means "blue".
Originally inhabiting the steppes of southern Siberia and northern Kazakhstan the Cumans entered the lands of present-day southern Ukraine, as well as historic Moldavia, Wallachia and part of Transylvania, in the 11th century. Having conquered the area, they continued their assaults by attacking and plundering the Byzantine Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, and Rus. In 1089, they were defeated by Ladislaus I of Hungary.
Pechenegs, a semi-nomadic Turkic people of the steppes of southwestern Eurasia, were annihilated as an independent force at the Battle of Levounion by a combined Byzantine army under Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos and Cuman army under Togortok and Maniak in 1091. Attacked again in 1094 by the Cumans, many Pechenegs were slain or absorbed.
In alliance with the Bulgarians and Vlachs during the Vlach-Bulgar Rebellion by brothers Asen and Peter of Tarnovo, the Cumans are believed to have played a significant role in the rebellion's final victory over Byzantium and the restoration of Bulgaria's independence (1185). The Cumans were allies with Bulgarian emperor Kaloyan in the Bulgarian-Latin Wars. Robert de Clari described Cumans as nomadic warriors, which don't use houses, or perform farming, but live 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 Mansio, they go on campaign without any baggage, and when they return the 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 defeated the Great Prince Vladimir Monomakh of Kievan Rus in the 12th century (at the Battle of the Stugna River) but were crushed by the Mongols in 1238, after which most of them fled Wallachia and Moldova and took refuge in Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Byzantine Empire. After many clashes with the Hungarians, the Cumans were eventually evicted from Hungary to join their kin who lived in Bulgaria. Later, however, a large segment of them were re-invited back to Hungary. The Cumans who remained scattered in the steppe of what is now Russia joined the Golden Horde khanate. In the 11th century the Cumans established their own country named Cumania, in an area consisting of Moldavia and Walachia.
In the 13th century, the Western Cumans adopted Roman Catholicism (in Hungary they all later became Calvinist) and the Gagauzes Pravoslav/Orthodox, 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.
The Cuman influence in the region of Wallachia and Moldavia was so strong that the earliest Wallachian rulers bore Cuman names. Given that the rulers Tihomir and Bassarab I governed territories formerly ruled by Romanian leaders (mentioned in the Diploma of the Joannites of 1247), and given that there is no archaeological evidence to sustain the continuous presence of a Cuman population (only Hungarian documents mentioning a toll-paying Wallachian population), the ruling elite was gradually assimilated such as in Bulgaria's case by the majority population they governed, which became Romanian.
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 as being of Cuman origin, meaning "Father King".
Cuman influence also persisted in the Kingdom of Hungary with the Cuman language and customs persisting in autonomous Cuman territories (Kunság) until the 17th century.
While the Cumans were gradually absorbed into eastern European populations, their trace can still be found in placenames as widespread as the city of Kumanovo in the Northeastern part of the Republic of Macedonia, Comăneşti in Romania, and Comana in Dobruja (also Romania).
The Cumans settled in Hungary 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 the big Cumania around Karcag, and the other three in the lesser Cumania. The other Cuman group in Hungary is the Palóc group, the name deriving from the Slav Polovetz. They live in the Northern Hungary and current Slovakia and have a specific dialect. Their Cuman origin is not documented as the other two Cuman territory but their name derives from the above word. They have a very special "a" sound close to Turkish "a", unlike Hungarian pronunciation.
Unfortunately, the Cuman language disappeared from Hungary in the 17th century, possibly following the Turkish occupation.
Their 19th century biographer, Gyárfás István, in 1870 was of the opinion that they speak Hungarian together with the Iazyges population. Despite this mistake, he has the best overview on the subject concerning details of material used.
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. Among the people that have such a name are Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci, Romanian poet Otilia Coman (Ana Blandiana), contemporary painter Nicolai Comănescu, and Romanian football player Gigel Coman.
Traces of the Cumans are also the Bulgarian surname Kumanov (feminine Kumanova), its Macedonian variant Kumanovski (feminine Kumanovska), and the widespread Hungarian surname Kun. This name was also used as a magyarized version of the Jewish-German name Kohn/Cohen, like for the communist leader Béla Kun.
At the Gate of Christendom: Jews, Muslims and "Pagans" in Medieval Hungary, c. 1000-1300. (Book Reviews).(Book Review) (book review)
Mar 22, 2003; At the Gate of Christendom: Jews, Muslims and "Pagans" in Medieval Hungary, c. 1000-1300, by Nora Berend. Cambridge: Cambridge...