A. Gertsen, N. Gertsen


Moldavia and Feodoro principality in 1475

The complex political situation, typical for Northern Black Sea coast in the second half of the fifteenth century, was accompanied by active diplomatic actions aimed at establishment of antiosman coalition. The most active participants of this activity were Moldavian, Muscovy , Mangup (or Feodoro) principalities and Hungarian kingdom. The little Principality in the south-western part of Crimean peninsula found itself in a whirlpool of events that sharply changed the political map of the region. Now some words about biography of Mangup city as it seen according to archaeological and written sources. To make it more vivid I am going to show some slides. There you will be able to see the major sites of our long-term researches. I apologise for the poor quality of some illustrations.

So we determined the following phases of evolution of the settlement at Mangup plateau.

1. Pre-fortress period: (middle of third - middle of fourth century. Only the upper parts of the valleys were inhabited at the plateau. The population mostly consisted of Goths and Alans. Christianity was gradually spread among them.

2. Early Byzantium fortress period (sixth-eighth century). Construction of powerful defensive system, Grand Basilica was built in the centre of the plateau.

3. Khazars period (end of eighth - first half of ninth century). Khazars captured the fortress for the short period. The local economy strengthened.

4. Thema period (middle of ninth - tenth centuries). The fortress is back under the Byzantine authority.

5. Period of neglect (ninth-thirteenth centuries)

6. Early-Feodoro period (fifteenth century). The town blocks appear at the plateau, citadel is formed at Teshkli-Burun Cape ; at the end of the century the town is devastated by Tamerlan's forces.

7. Late Feodoro period (first-third quarter of fifteenth century). Revival of Feodoro principality, reconstruction of citadel, palace and Basilica, the second defensive line was built.

8. Turkish period (end of fifteenth century - seventieth of eighteenth century). After the town was captured by Turks (1475) it gradually falls into neglect and totally abandoned by the residents (karaites) at the very end of eighteenth century.


Rise of the Turkish threat caused ideological reaction in neighbouring countries. It was expressed by strengthening of interest to Byzantine legacy. Twenty years after the fall of Constantinople rush for "purple" brides has started. In a single year, 1472, two marriages took place at the highest state level. Ivan the Third, the great prince of Muscovy married Sofia Peleolog the niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine the Twelfth. By this Moscow showed claim for role of the Third Rome. This doctrine became the basis of political ideology of Russia for the next five hundred years from Ivan to Josef.

The same year political relations between Feodoro principality and Moldavia were secured by marriage between Stephen the Third and Prince Isaac's sister Maria, known as Maria Mangupian. The bride arrived to the court on September 4 th , 1472 , and the day after the marriage was concluded. By this act the commander gained relationship to Paleologs and other noble Byzantine families, who were mentioned in the genealogical tree of his bride.

There is still true remark of Romanian historian Banesku (1935) regarding the origin of Mangup ruling dynasty that this subject is not clear up to now. Last years the popular hypothesis that the dynasty had Armenian Byzantine-Trabzond roots is criticised. According to it the origin of the dynasty derives from the noble family of Havras which representatives were exiled to Kherson in twelfths century. However there is no other strong evidence of this version beside the similar pronunciation of this name and Prince's surname Hovr-Hovrin.

Austrian philologist H .- F . Bayer relying on Romanian anonymous German-language chronicle where Stephen's the Third wife was called Circassian assumes her Northern Caucasus origin. However that should be considered that in fourteenth-sixteenths centuries Alans which appeared in Taurica at least in the fourth century were called Circassian. Medieval city ruined by emir Nogai horde in the end of thirteenth century and neighbouring village located in the vicinity of Mangup were called Circassian-Kermen. This name was recorded by Martin Bronevsky in 1578. Alans and Goths were the major ethnic component that formed medieval population of mountainous and coastal areas of peninsula. Information about Goths and Alans in Crimea who preserved their ethnic identity is mentioned many times in the medieval written sources. There is one more important issue to be noted . H .- F. Bayer supposed that offspring of Mangup dynasty prince Ioann who died in Trabzond is the same person Ioann Tsirias it est Circassian, who died in 1435 and buried in George Peristerion monastery near Trabzond. In case the hypothesis about Ioann's nickname is correct, we can suppose carefully the Alanic origin of Maria Mangupian. By the way, Ioann who married Maria Asanina Paleolog Tsambalokonin was the brother of Maria from Feodoro the first wife of Trabzond tsar's son David the Great Comnin. This marriage opened the new epoch of international recognition of Mangup Principality.

The most important source for research of the issue of Mangup dynasty origin is Maria's funeral pall kept in Putna monastery. Emblems of Paleologs and Asens depicted on it suggest kindred relationship of Mangup family and those noble families of the Empire. There are no hints at Hovrs or Havras present on this relic. Indirectly connection of Asens to family tree of Mangup elite is confirmed by fragment of lime-stone slab discovered during excavation of the Virgin church at the centre of Mangup plateau. Unfortunately its top part is missing but obviously there was reared heraldic animal depicted on it, most probably lion that was the emblem of Asens.

Marriage and political union between Suchawa and Mangup suggested to scientists that Stephen had claims for the throne of reconstructed Byzantium in case of Turk's defeat, or at least for ruling Feodoro principality. Probably these intentions were not secret to Mangup and that brought to deterioration of relations between two principalities. It seems there was prerequisite to implementation of Stephen's Crimean plan - the glorious victory over the Turkish army on January 10 th , 1475 . Inspired by the triumph Stephen entered into negotiations with Genoese Kafa to establish the union to fight against Crimean khan and Prince of Feodoro Isaac. However rising threat of Turkish invasion prevented Genoese from this risky step against two powerful forces of the peninsula. After Feodoro was captured by Turks, Stephen loose interest to Mangup princess and was enamoured by Maria Voychita, daughter of Radu the Beautiful, prince of Walachia , who became the third wife of the commander after the death of Maria Mangupian on December 19 th , 1477 . We have to admit that marriage to Stephen the Great the victor over the terrible Osmans was the high honour for the small Crimean principality that was the vassal of Tatars' khan. Perhaps only high and gained in unclear way title of the bride attracted attention of the warlord who like Muscovy Ivan wanted to develop Byzantine subject.

Trying to find possibility to resist the rising threat of the Turkish invasion as a response to attempt of the northern neighbour to strengthen his Byzantine genealogy Prince Isaac negotiated successfully on marriage of Mangup Princess whose name is unknown to son of a Tsar Ivan the Young. This alliance was prevented by capture of Mangup by Turks. Let's notice that after this marriage didn't take place Ivan the Third remained bound to the chosen by him south direction of his policy. In 1483 son of a Tsar Ivan became husband of Helen the daughter of Stephen the Third and Princess Eudoxia who was sister of Kiev Prince Semen Omelkovich. However according to the legend he became a victim of this policy having been poisoned by stepmother "despina" Sofia Paleolog.


Feeling the inevitability of Turkish invasion the ruler of Feodoro Prince Isaac tried to establish friendly relations with Mohamed the Second. Probably, it was negatively accepted by his citizens and allies. The harshest reaction was from Stephen the Third. It is A. Vasiliev's opinion, that Stephen in fact inspired coup d'etat in Feodoro. The hint is dropped by the embassy report to Hungarian king Mattew Korwin dated June 1475. It says that Stephen sent his wife's brother Alexander to Mango Principality. Genoese ship conveyed him to the point named by Genoese sources "Yaspo". Probably Laspi bay, 20 km south of Mangup is meant. The area was part of Gothia Capitanate - the territorial division of Genoese Gazaria, with Chembalo fortress ( Balaclava ) as administrative centre. Probably Genoese administration alarmed by pro-Turkish dispositions of the neighbouring ruler, assisted Stephen's the Third in removal of Isaac and his replacement by more radical Alexander. Stephen provided ship and 300 armed Walachians, who helped Alexander to come to the throne. Those warriors probably formed the backbone of the garrison, which protected Mangup. Most likely this mission met support from within the Principality and first of all from elite, otherwise fast overthrow of Isaac is hardly explainable. According to Genoese source, it took only three days for Alexander "to seize the father's legacy" and to subdue it.

According to another version Prince Isaac, whose ruling started in 1471, died in spring or in the begging of summer 1475. He was replaced by the ruler, whose name is unknown, probably the nephew of the late Prince. But soon he was overthrown by Isaac's younger brother Alexander, brother-in-law of Moldavian ruler.

It is important that those events occurred just before Turkish expeditionary corps landed in vicinity of Kafa on May 31, 1475 . Thus, overthrow and probably concurrent murder of Isaac or his successor, happened in spring 1475.

At the time before the Turkish invasion political situation was unstable not only at the Principality. Internal political conflict broke out also in Crimean Khanat - Mengli Girey Khan was overthrown. His escape to Genoese and request for help from the Tatars elite to Mohamed the Second became the cause for Turkish military invasion to the peninsula. Turkish fleet with expeditionary corps under command of Grand vizier Keduk Ahmed-Pasha appeared at the sight of Kafa on May 31, landing took place on June 1, and on June 6 th the city opened the gates to the victors.

The fall of Kafa for Stephen was a signal of rising Turkish threat to his domain. So he tries to meet support from his suzerain Hungarian king Matthew Corwin, making a hint in his letter on rise of common threat of invasion both for Moldavia and Hungary .

After Kafa, Soldaya and several smaller Genoese fortresses at the southern coast were captured, the turn of Mangup domain had come. The sources inform only on Turkish operations against the capital of Principality and give no information on resistance of other fortifications like Kalamita, which was built at mouth of river Chernaya in 1420 th to protect the main and probably the only Principality's seaport. Most likely there were no considerable military operations against those settlements, they surrendered soon or were abandoned by inhabitants.

The best European source for reconstruction of events of Mangup siege is an essay of gunsmith George Nuremberg. His destiny connected him to Stephen the Great to whom he was sent by duke of Bosnia in 1456. Later in 1460 George with his family was captured by Turks and worked for Mohamed the Second for 20 years. In a book about his adventures he briefly mentions that after capture of Soldaya and Kafa, Turks approached city Santodoro (Feodoro), three kings (princes) and 15 thousand persons were there.

The quick storm of the fortress was not successful, but three months later it surrendered voluntarily, the kings with their people were killed. The later authors, for example canon from Krakow Matthew Mahovskiy mentioned about two princes who were brothers and the last Gothic Konungs. According to Martin Bronevskiy, Polish diplomat who visited Mangup in 1578, they were uncle and nephew, descended from Trabsond or Constantinople ruler's family. This information Martin Bronevskiy received from abbot of one of the two remaining temples in the deserted city.

Theodore Spandunis, the author from the end of fifteenth century - beginning of sixteenth century, using sources that are not available today, informs that Prince of Gothia killed the elder brother and came to power. Mohamed send his biglierbey against the Prince. The siege of the fortress made Prince surrender in exchange to promise to save his life and property. However after he was delivered to Constantinople Mohamed ordered to execute him, allegedly saying that "promise given by my official to be kept by his own". Little son of the Prince was turned into Islam and the author saw him in Constantinople already Turkish-like.

Till recently the best review of Turkish source informing on fall of Mangup was contained in monograph of A. Vasiliev (The Goths in the Crimea . Cambridge , Mass. ,1936). In addition to it - recently published in MAIET new translation of historical essay of Ashik Pashaoglu "Osman dynastic history", written between 1475-1480. New, the more precise version of the translation allows to determine certain details of the siege. For example, assumption about two stages of the siege is confirmed. There is important information on the fall of the fortress due to use of war ruse - false Turk's retreat and a strike from an ambush. This information is supplemented by data from the book of Saad-ed-Din (1536-1599) the author of "History of Osman Empire".

By the time military actions began the fortress on Mangup plateau represented powerful fortified complex consisting of three major components. Main defence line provided protection to the entire natural contour of the plateau. Its main line 6600 m long followed the natural inaccessible contour of the plateau added with artificial fortification 1500 m long. The fortified area of 90 hectares had broken defensive line that is typical for mountainous fortifications. The most dangerous areas - valleys - were crossed by the lines of fortress walls, which form re-entering angle on a plan. Rift valleys in the cliffs were blocked by short walls with flanks joining the cliffs. The three major sections of the area fortified by the Main defence line may be determined: the Northern, Southern and Western fronts. Each front differed by landscape and fortification features. This complex was created in the second half of sixth century by Byzantine military engineers. It fully or partially functioned during the entire history of the settlement.

During the existence of Feodoro principality (fourteenth - third quarter of the fifteenth century) with Mangup as a capital, the second defence line was created. It represented continuous belt of walls and towers and protected the developed part of the plateau cutting off the two largest in area capes - Chamnu-Burun and Chufut-Cheargan-Burun. Citadel was created at Teshkli-burun cape which served also as a fortified residence for the principality rulers. The total area of this fortification is 1.2 hectares.

There was no other medieval fortress in Crimea with such a developed defence composed of three belts strengthened by natural conditions. Its siege became for the Turkish army one of the hardest military campaigns at the Northern Black Sea Coast . Open grounds surrounding Mangup plateau made numerous blockade troops necessary mostly cavalry rather than infantry. The other problem for besiegers was choice of the site for the major strike. Tactics of war in mountains requires operations at the several sectors in that case. Course of events suggests that besiegers had precise information on strong and weak sections of the fortress. And it is not surprising when taking into account presence of deserters - representatives of the ruling dynasty in Turkish camp. This information came from Turkish authors. The archaeological excavations and written sources made it clear that according to classic requirements of fortress war the siege took place at least at two sectors. This allows to disperse defendants and to increase the effect of sudden storm. However in the beginning Turks launched an attack to the fortress from the South, but unsuccessfully. Two centuries later it was still remembered. That noted by Turkish traveller Evlia Cheleby, who mentioned that 7 thousand janissary died here, although this number is undoubtedly too high, nevertheless it suggests to extensive losses of the besieging part. This was an affect of both natural inaccessibility of the slope and ineffective usage of artillery here. Range of effective cannon fire in the second half of fifteenth - sixteenths centuries was limited to 200 meters, beyond this distance dispersion of shells was too high even the total range reached up to 800 m and more. So, the cannon cast by Urban, sent 600 kilogram cannonballs into distance of 4 km. However, during the siege of Constantinople it was placed 500 steps from the gates of Saint Roman. Information that we have on Turkish artillery usage suggests that it was usually placed not far from the target. The distance from emplacement south of Mangup (250 m) exceeded optimal range for aimed fire of artillery that time. Besides angle at sight was close to 45 degrees that increased dispersion of cannonballs and weakened its effect on the walls because of high trajectory.

The necessity to use artillery more effectively forced Turks to start operations also at the northern side of the plateau at Hamam-Dere valley during the second stage of the siege. Clear evidence of this event well preserved as the main point of bombardment and assault - fortification ?.XIV was not reconstructed in Turkish time or used as a source of bricks unlike the fortifications at the southern edge of the plateau. Exactly this site allowed restoring several details of organisation of the siege. There were fragments of granite cannonballs found in the remaining of the walls. About 20 hit points and even 2 cannonballs stuck in the stone-work were detected. That allowed determining azimuth of firing directrix equal to 35 degrees and location of the Turkish battery. The only location to place the battery was the opposite western slope of Elli-Burun cape. Two fortifications - ? . XIV and ? . XV. could be fired at from this site concurrently. There are traces of the road remaining. The road led from the bottom of the valley along the western slope of the cape up to two levelled grounds each 25-30 square metres in size. The grounds were used for the placement of cannons .

The types of artillery used at the northern sector of Mangup siege may be determined sufficiently precisely according to arrays of found cannonballs with steady sizes. At that time every cannon had its own calibre and unification started only after implementation of artillery scale developed by Gartman - mechanic from Nuremberg in 1540. There are three types of cannons may be determined: the small ones with calibre of 8, 9, 11, 14 and 15 centimetres called by Turks "shaika"; the medium size with only one calibre detected - 26 centimetres (Turkish name "shaklos" or "pranka"); and the large siege cannons "martin", "eiderdehen", "belemez" (the heaviest one also called "shahy"). The large cannons had calibres of 35, 40 and 42 centimetres. This range corresponds well with known method of artillery usage during siege of fortresses in the second half of fifteenth century. Usually the small cannons were used for adjusting the large ones or they formed the batteries for breaking the wall battlements, bringing down defenders or catapults. Then heavy cannons were employed to destroy the walls. This way Turkish artillery was used against Constantinople . There were about 30 small calibre cannonballs found during excavation of fortification ?. XIV. They were made of marble and were usually used by Turkish ship artillery. However the majority of finds is fragments of large calibre cannonballs. Number of large fragments (half to quarter of the cannonball) amounts to several hundreds, the smaller fragments are countless. Material for those shells is granite which could not be mined in Crimea at that time because it is covered with heavy cover of sedimentary rocks.

The firing at two directions at fortifications ? . XIV and ? . XV lasted long enough, it is suggested by few number of heavy cannons due to lack of space for their allocation and by huge number of cannonball fragments. We have to consider also extremely low fire rate of heavy cannons in fifteenth century. They fired no more than ten shots per day. For example continuous bombardment of Constantinople walls continued for six weeks. Even in the first half of sixteenth century fire rate of 10 shots per day was considered good. Besides, the theory of fortification bombardment was not developed well in fifteenth century. They considered it is easier to break down the wall rather than breach it with convenient way for assault troops.

Five assaults of Mangup launched by besiegers prove that theirs artillery haven't made necessary demolition at once. During the assault both sides suffered considerable losses: besiegers - from stones, defenders - from arrows. There were more than hundred arrowheads found, two of them were detected stuck in the bricks of the defensive wall. Turks used mostly narrow, rhomb shaped in section steel arrowheads. Turkish arrows were mostly short and light with small flight range, they rebounded from plate armour but penetrated chain armour. Usually assault was launched after preparatory bombardment combined with archery, then storm troops with ladders rushed to the attack, archers followed them raining the defenders on the walls with arrows.

The Turkish siege was culmination of life of Mangup fortress. It revealed its strong and weak sides to the maximum extent. Here late Roman fortification met modern siege weaponry. The same way as Constantinople Mangup met Turkish siege at the frontier created in the early medieval times. The walls of Byzantine capital, built under Theodosius the Second (408-450 ) withstand for two months, Mangup walls - about half a year. Siege of Novo Brdo lasted forty days, siege of Smederevo - three months. Against this background operation at Mangup may be considered as the hardest campaign of Turkish army in South-Western Europe after Constantinople was captured. The obstacle for the besiegers was not only the natural and artificial fortifications. We may assert of high morale of the garrison which was undoubtedly supported by local population who gathered for protection of the city walls. Courage of the defenders was tested with new Turkish weapon, which had not only the destructive power but huge psychological effect especially for those who haven't seen cannons before. This way it was in Smederevo . In 1478 after fortress and Turkish ship squadron saluted ambassador of khan Seid-Ahmed Tatars ran away in panic from the walls of Kafa.

Defenders of Mangup haven't loose courage at the sight of cannons. Probably, due to important role of the warriors from the troops sent by Stephen the Great. They already had experience of fighting Turks and were familiar with artillery which was widely employed at Balkan battlefields. During the bombardment sentinels remained at the walls to prevent janissaries from sudden attack and capture. Skeleton of a defender was found at the doors of tower ?. 4 under the pile of bricks from the wall that was ruined after cannonball hit. Even after large section of the wall A between tower A. 4 and joint with wall B was ruined Turks still haven't managed to enter the city. It is suggested by new wall 1.4 meter wide created of the bricks from the ruined wall and limestone boulders. The bricks in the new wall have no clear traces of cannonball hits. Probably Turks finally managed to overcome it without new bombardment. It is still hard to point out the exact location where they forced their way to the territory of the city in the end of December, 1475. Possibly it happened in the Camp valley due to its weak natural flanks. However the new translation of Ashik Pashaoglu text allows to consider another version of siege development and its final.

Failure of the first assault made Keduk Ahmed-pasha fall back temporarily, leaving relatively small part of the troops to support the blockade. Later he came back with reinforcement and started the operation again . However this hasn't brought enough progress . Then he used ruse by starting false retreat . Part of the warriors remained in an ambush . They waited till defenders came out of the walls, rushed to the attack and entered the city.

Final events, which are not reflected in written sources, are reconstructed based on materials of archaeological excavation. After the main defence line has fallen the city was doomed. The palace of prince Alexey became separate resistance centre on the plateau. Citadel became the last stronghold for the defenders of the fortress. Resistance here was offered till the last opportunity. Pieces of marble cannonballs and several fragments of granite cannonballs 26 centimetres in diameter were found in the doorway. The cannon ("shaklos") that fired them was used little in Hamam-dere valley. Only one cannonball of this calibre was found there. Probably after citadel garrison's refusal to surrender this cannon was delivered to the new location - Teshkli-burun cape. Its shots sounded as a final event in life of Feodoro principality capital. Undoubtedly the envoys of Stephen the Great were among the last defenders of the citadel who did their duty to the very end. It is symbolical that during excavations the last year there was silver coin dated to the period of his ruling found. It was probably a talisman of the warrior who fought at Mangup walls also for the honour and independence of his Homeland. It seems symbolic that namely the year Mangup fell there was church built in Suchawa in the name of Saint Demetrius who was one of the divine patrons of Feodoro.


Undoubtedly carnage over the defeated was violent. There were tombs found at the plateau of Mangup during excavations of basilica held by N. Barmina. The tombs dated to the last period of temple existence were packed with skeletons - up to seventeen per one. Many skulls had traces of a hit with heavy blunt tool. Many skeletons had limbs cut off. Burials were found in many unexpected places. Hollows of winepresses were used as graves, sometimes bodies were just bestrewn with ground and stones. The last representatives of Mangup prince dynasty ended their lives in Istanbul : Prince Alexander and his male relatives except the youngest one were executed, women were taken to sultan's harem.

The destiny of the population of captured Mangup may be realised according to "signature" of Keduk-Ahmed-pasha in the similar situation during capture of Otranto city in Southern Italy . After two week siege Turks having breached the fortress wall entered the city. Almost all male population (12 of 22 thousand persons) were killed; 800 persons who refused to adopt Islam were executed, about 8 thousand persons were enslaved. According to Ashik Pashaoglu after the city has fallen census was held and cadi was appointed. Mangup kadylyk that included considerable number of settlements in the south coast of Crimea existed till 1783.


The last time Doros-Feodoro-Mangup «took part» in war in June 1942. There was junction between units of 54 th corps of 11 th Wehrmacht army and 1 st mountain division of Romanian corpse in vicinity of Mangup. At that time there was an observation point of commander of eleventh army - Erich Fon Mandshtein among the ruins of the Gothic fortress. In his memoirs he clearly expressed the view from this place: «There was an unforgettable view in front of us. It was the only case in the present war, when commander of the army could see the entire battlefield in front of him». The remaining of bunkers is preserved at the south-western part of the plateau. Let's hope, that they will be the monuments to the last in history usage of Mangup fortress in military purpose.


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