The Mordvins (also Mordva, Mordvinians) are a people who speak languages of the Volga-Finnic (Finno-Volgaic) branch of the Finno-Ugric language family. They are divided into two sub-ethnicities, the Erzya and Moksha, besides other subgroups, the Qaratay, Teryukhan and Tengushev (or Shoksha) Mordvins who have become fully Russified or Turkified during the 19th to 20th centuries.
Less than one third of Mordvins live in the autonomous republic of Mordovia, Russian Federation, in the basin of the Volga River. The rest are scattered over the Russian oblasts of Samara, Penza, Orenburg and Nizhni Novgorod, as well as Tatarstan, Chuvashia, Bashkortostan, Central Asia, Siberia, Far East, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the USA.
The Erzya Mordvins (Erzyat; also Erzia, Erza), who speak Erzya, and the Moksha Mordvins (Mokshet), who speak Moksha, are the two major groups. The Qaratay Mordvins live in Kama Tamağı District of Tatarstan, and have shifted to speaking Tatar, albeit with a large proportion of Mordvin vocabulary (substratum). The Teryukhan, living in the Nizhny Novgorod Oblast of Russia, have switched to Russian in the 19th century. The Teryukhans recognize the term Mordva as pertaining to themselves, whereas the Qaratay also call themselves Muksha. The Tengushev Mordvins live in southern Mordovia and are a transitional group between Moksha and Eryza. The western Erzyans are also called Shoksha (or Shoksho). They are isolated from the bulk of the Erzyans, and their dialect/language has been influenced by the Mokshan dialects.
In other Finno-Ugric languages the meaning of "man" corresponds to magyar, the term Hungarians use to refer to themselves, also found in a former Estonian self-identification, maarahvas., in and in mort
The ethnonym Mordva is possibly attested in Jordanes' Getica in the form of Mordens. In medieval European sources the names Merdas, Merdinis, Merdium, Mordani, Mordua, Morduinos have appared. In the Old Russian chronicles the ethnonyms Mordva and mordvichi first appear im the 11th century. In Russian sources the people appear only under the name Mordva excclusively (without reference to subdivisions) up the the 17th century.
'Erzya' is thought to derive from the arshan - man. The first written mentions of Erzya are considered to be from the 10th century in the form of Arisu mentioned by Iosif in the Khazar khaganate, and sometimes thought to be in the works of Strabo and Ptolemy called as Aorsy and Arsiity respectively.
'Moksha' is thoght to derive from the name of the Moksha River (an Iranian hydronym in origin, cognate to moksha "releasing, causing to flow"). The earliest written mention of Moksha in the form of Moxel is considered to be in the works of a 13 century Flemish traveler Guillaume Rubruquis and in the Persian chronicle Rashid-al-Din who reported the Golden Horde being in war with the Moksha and the Ardzhans (Erzia).
Aleksey Shakhmatov in the early 20th century has noted that Mordva was not used as a self-designation by the two Mordvinic tribes of the Erzya and Moksha. Nikolai Mokshin somewhat disagrees saying that it’s not entirely true, the term has been used by the people as an internal self-defining term to constitue their ancient common origin.
The Mordvins today commonly divided into five sub-ethnicities:
Mokshin (1991) concludes that the above grouping does not represent subdivisions of equal ethnotaxonomic order, and discounts Shoksha, Karatai and Teryukhan as ethnonyms, identifying two Mordvin sub-ethnicities, the Erzya and the Moksha, and two "ethnographic groups", the Shoksha and the Karatai. Two further formerly Mordvinic groups have assimilated to (Slavic and Turkic) superstrate influence:
The Mordvins emerged as an ancient indigenous people in Eastern Europe between the Volga and Oka rivers around the turn of the Common Era. Due to lack of evidence of any major migrations it has been estimated that the ancestors of the people may have lived in the region for up to 8000 years. The Gorodets culture dating back to around 500 BC has been associated with the people. The north-western neighbors were the Muromians and Merians who spoke related Finno-Ugric languages. To the north of Mordvins lived Maris and the eastern neighbors became the Bolgars around 700 AD.
The Mordvin language began to diverge into Moksha and Erzya between 500 AD and Common Era and separate ethnic groups emerged over the course of the 1st millennium AD Erzyans lived in the northern parts of the territory, close to where is Nizhny Novgorod nowadays. The Mokshans lived further south and west of present Mordovia, living closer to the neighboring Iranian, Bolgar and Turkic tribes became under their cultural influence.
The social organization of Moksha and Erzya was based on patriarchy, the tribes were headed by elders kuda-ti who selected a tekshtai, senior elders responsible for coordinating wider regions.
Around 800 AD two major empires emerged in the neighborhood: Kievan Rus in present day Ukraine adopted Orthodox Christianity, Bolgar kingdom Islam at the confluence of Kama and Volga rivers and some Mokshan areas became tributaries to the latter until the 12th century.
Following the foundation of Nizhny Novgorod by Kievan Rus in 1221, the Mordvin territory was increasingly falling under Russian domination, pushing the Mordvin populations southwards and eastwards beyond the Urals, severing cohesion among them.
Christianization of the Mordvin peoples took place during the 16th to 18th centuries, and most Mordvins today adhere to the Russian Orthodox Church all carrying Russian Orthodox names. In the 19th century Latham reported strong pagan elements surviving Christianization, the chief gods of the Erzyans and the Mokshas being called Paas and Shkai, respectively.
Although the Mordvins were given an autonomous territory as a titular nation within the Soviet Union in 1928, Russification intensified during the 1930s, and knowledge of the Mordvin languages by the 1950s was in rapid decline.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Morvins, like other indigenous peoples of Russia, experienced a rise of national consciousness. The Erzya national epic is called Mastorava, which stands for "Mother Earth". It was compiled by A. M. Sharonov and first published in 1994 in the Erzya language (it has since been translated into Moksha and Russian). Mastorava is also the name of a movement of ethnic separatism founded by D. Nadkin of the Mordovian State University, active in the early 1990s.
The Mordvinic brancch of Volgaic comprises the Erzya and Moksha languages, with about 500,000 native speakers each. Both are official languages of Mordovia alongside Russian. Mordvinic is closely related to the now extinct Meshcherian and Muromian languages.
Erzya is spoken in the northern and eastern and north-western parts of Mordovia and adjacent regions of Nizhniy Novgorod, Chuvashia, Penza, Samara, Saratov, Orenburg, Ulyanovsk, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. Moksha is the majority language in the western part of Mordovia. Within Volgaic,
The two languages are closely related, but distinct in phonetics, morphology and vocabulary. Both are currently written using the standard Russian alphabet.
Mordvin toponymy (in Mordovia and throughout the Middle Volga region):