Sarai (also transcribed as Saraj or Saray, from Persian sarāi,
"palace" or "court") was the name of two cities, which were
successively capital cities of the Golden Horde, the
which ruled much of
Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in the 13th and
14th centuries. Located in present-day Russia, they were among the
largest cities of the medieval world, with a population estimated by
Britannica at 600,000.
1 Old Sarai
2 New Sarai
3 Little Sarai
4 See also
Tilework fragments of a palace in Sarai.
"Old Sarai", or "Sarai Batu" or "Sarai-al-Maqrus" (al-Maqrus is
Arabic for "the blessed") was established by
Batu Khan in
the mid-1240s, on a site east of the
Akhtuba river, near to the modern
village of Selitrennoye.
This site was most probably located on the
Akhtuba River, a channel of
the lower Volga River, near the contemporary village of Selitrennoye
in Kharabali District,
Astrakhan Oblast, Russia, about 120 km
north from Astrakhan.
Sarai was the seat of Batu and his successor Berke. Under them Sarai
was the capital of a great empire. The various Rus' princes came to
Sarai to pledge allegiance to the Khan and receive his patent of
The domains of the
Golden Horde in 1389. The gold star shows the
location of New Sarai. Empty circles represent other major cities.
"New Sarai" or "Sarai Berke" (called Sarai-al-Jadid on coins) was at
modern Kolobovka, formerly Tsarev, an archeological site also on
Akhtuba channel 85 km east of Volgograd, and about
180 km northwest of Old Sarai; or possibly on the site of Saqsin
(which may itself have stood on the site of the Khazar capital, Atil).
The bishops of
Krutitsy resided in Tsarev from 1261 to 1454. It had
probably succeeded Sarai Batu as the capital of the
Golden Horde by
the mid-14th century.
Sarai was described by the famous traveller
Ibn Battuta as "one of the
most beautiful cities ... full of people, with the beautiful bazaars
and wide streets", and having 13 congregational mosques along with
"plenty of lesser mosques". Another contemporary source describes
it as "a grand city accommodating markets, baths and religious
institutions". An astrolabe was discovered during escavations at
the site and the city was home to many poets, most of whom are known
to us only by name.
Both cities were sacked several times.
Timur sacked New Sarai around
Meñli I Giray of the
Crimean Khanate sacked New Sarai
around 1502. The forces of Ivan IV of
Russia finally destroyed Sarai
after conquering the
Astrakhan Khanate in 1556.
In 1623-1624, a Russian merchant, Fedot Kotov, travelled to
the lower Volga. He described the site of Sarai:
Here by the river
Akhtuba stands the Golden Horde. The khan's court,
palaces, and courts, and mosques are all made of stone. But now all
these buildings are being dismantled and the stone is being taken to
Since Old Sarai lies at 120 km from
Astrakhan and New Sarai at
300 km, it is difficult to decide to which of these two cities
this description applies.
After the destruction of New Sarai,
Russia established the fortress
city of Tsaritsyn (later Stalingrad, now Volgograd) to control the
Main article: Saray-Jük
Sarai Juk (Little Sarai) was a city on the Ural River. It is often
conflated with the other Sarais in historical and modern accounts.
This town was the main city of the Nogai Horde, one of the successors
of the Golden Horde. Although sacked by the
Ural Cossacks in 1580, it
was later used as the headquarters by some Kazakh khans.
^ Encyclopedia of Islam, Saray
^ Atwood, Christopher P. (2004). Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the
Mongol Empire. New York, NY: Facts on File
^ VASILIEVITCH, K.V. et al., Atlas Istorii SSSR 1, Glavnoe
Upravlenie.., Moskva, 1948, p. 12
^ MacKenzie, David, Michael W. Curran. (2002). A History of Russia,
the Soviet Union, and Beyond. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
^ Possibly near: 48°39′42″N 45°22′05″E / 48.6617°N
45.3680°E / 48.6617; 45.3680
^ a b c Ravil Bukharaev (2014). Islam in Russia: The Four Seasons.
Routledge. p. 116.
^ Ravil Bukharaev, David Matthews, eds. (2013). Historical Anthology
of Kazan Tatar Verse. Routledge. p. 15. CS1 maint: Uses
editors parameter (link)
^ Н. А. Кузнецова (N. A. Kuznetsova), Хождение
купца Федота Котова в Персию [Journey of the
merchant Fedot Kotov to Persia] (Moscow, U.S.S.R.: 1958), page 30. (in
Russian) From p. 30: "Тут по той реки по Ахтубе
стоит Золатая Орда. Царской двор, и
полаты, и дворы, и мечети — все
каменные, а стоят и до Астр