Nokhai (died 1299), also called Nohai, Kara Nokhai, Isa Nogai, was a general and de facto ruler of the Golden Horde and a great-great-grandson of Genghis Khan. His grandfather was Baul/Teval Khan, the 7th son of Jochi. His name is also spelled Nohai and Nogaj. Nogai Khan was also a notable convert to Islam.
Pelliot wrote that Nokhai meant a "dog." Although in the Mongolian language, "nokhoi" literally means a "dog", it does not necessarily mean a particularly negative and insulting name in its context, since people were called "dogs" among the Mongols at the time and sometimes presently as "nokhduud" as in "you dogs (guys/men/people)." Genghis Khan also called his capable generals "dogs of war" or "men of war." This probably came about because Mongols had a lot of dogs, and dogs were very useful for people's lives in hunting and warnings. According to the historian J. J. Saunders, the name "Dog" was used to distract the attention of evil spirits (presumably, they would not be interested in a canine).
Early life under Batu and Berke
Nogai was born to Tatar (Tutar), a son of Terval who was a son of Jochi. He would rule his grandfather's appanage after his father died. After the Mongol invasion of Europe, Batu Khan left Nogai with a tumen (10,000 warriors) in modern-day Moldavia and Romania as a frontier guard. He was a nephew of Berke Khan as well as Batu Khan and Orda Khan, and under his uncle, he became a powerful and ambitious warlord.
In his later years, Berke began to delegate more and more responsibility to his promising nephew. Nogai's leading role first appears, along with Talabuga, under famous Mongol general Burundai as a battle commander in 1259/1260, leading the second Mongol raid against Poland and plundering Sandomierz, Kraków and other cities.
Nogai converted to Islam, just like his uncle, Berke Khan, but it is not known exactly when his conversion occurred, probably soon after Berke converted, in the 1250s. His name was included on the list of new converts sent by Berke to the Mameluke Sultan al-Malik az-Zahir in 1262/1263. Almost a decade later, in 1270/1271, Nogai himself indicated that he embraced Islam in a letter to the Sultan of Egypt.
Rise to power in Golden Horde and Europe
Nogai's father Tatar died when he was serving under Hulegu. In 1262, during the civil war between Berke and Hulegu Khan, Nogai's army surprised the invading forces of Hulegu at the Terek River. Many thousands were drowned, and the survivors fled back into Azerbaijan. In 1265, Nogai led his army across the Danube, sending the Byzantine forces fleeing before him, and devastated the cities of Thrace. In 1266, the Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, anxious to make an alliance, gave his daughter Euphrosyne Palaeologina to Nogai as a wife. That same year, Nogai lost an eye fighting his relative, Abaqa Khan, in Tiflis. But he lived on terms with Abagha and his successor Arghun after the death of Berke.
Nogai ruled the Ukrainians of Galicia-Volhynia, the Ossetians and part of the Vlachs directly. He attacked Lithuania with the northern Russian princes in 1275. Nogai sent 4,000 Mongol soldiers to Constantinople in 1282, to help his father in law Emperor Michael suppress the rebels headed by John I Doukas of Thessaly. But Michael died and Andronikos II used the allied troops to fight against Serbia. In 1285, Nogai and Talabuga Khan invaded Hungary with Mongol and Cuman troops, but unlike Subutai forty years earlier, they were defeated. The Mongols ravaged Transylvania, but were beaten by the Hungarian royal army under Ladislaus IV of Hungary near Pest, and the retreating Mongol forces were ambushed by the Szekely. Nogai and Talabuga made a third raid against Poland in 1287/1288, but little is known of the result. Some sources claim that they returned with 20,000 captives.
In 1286, Nogai compelled king Stefan Uroš II Milutin of Serbia to recognize his suzerainty. He also reasserted Mongol authority over Bulgaria's internal affairs. In 1277, a popular movement led by Ivaylo of Bulgaria defeated the Mongols, but in 1278-79 Nogai defeated the Bulgarians and besieged Ivaylo in Silistra. Ivaylo tried to ally with Nogai, but Nogai had him murdered, and made the new Bulgarian Emperor George Terter his vassal. After George's flight to Constantinople, Nogai set his close associate Smilets on the Bulgarian throne.
Despite his power and prowess in battle, Nogai never attempted to seize the Golden Horde khanate for himself, preferring to act as a sort of kingmaker. He served under several Golden Horde Khans: Berke, Mengu-Timur, Tuda-Mengu, Talabuga, and Tokhta. This last khan proved to be more headstrong than the others, and he and Nogai began a deadly rivalry. By this time, Nogai effectively had control of the western-most sections of the Golden Horde. He overthrew Tuda-Mengu and killed Tulabuga. He was unable to enthrone himself because his great grandmother was a concubine. Another theory states that he was not allowed to take the throne due to his missing eye, as a physically imperfect man was not allowed to be khan.
When he helped the young Tokhta to assume power, Nogai no doubt hoped to find in him a puppet to be manipulated or ignored as the case might be. Things turned out differently, for Tokhta (1291–1312), a man of exceptional ability, took in hands the reins of government with a marked will to rule. He won the first battle against Tokhta Khan, but he did not want to chase Tokhta, because Nogai's grandson Agtji was murdered by Genoese in Crimea while collecting tributes from them. Then Nogai's Tatars plundered Italian ports in Crimea that was given to him by the khan.
Nogai was killed in battle in 1299 at the Kagamlik, near the Dnieper, against Mongols under legitimate khan. Because of his feud with Tokhta Khan, he was too dangerous to be kept alive. His head was brought to Tokhta Khan, who was offended that a mere Russian soldier had slain the mighty khan. He had the Russian put to death since "a commoner is unfit to kill a noble." Chini, one of Nogai's wives, with his son Turi, fled to Ghazan, who received them well and treated them with honour.
His son by his chief khatun Alagh (Алаг), Chaka, became tsar of Bulgaria for a few months before being deposed by Theodore Svetoslav, and Nogai's name was borne by the Nogai Horde, who ruled east of the Ural mountains.
Nogai is remembered by Russian chronicles as fat tsar.
- G.V. Vernadsky, The Mongols and Rus
- Vásáry, p.71
- Saunders, J.J. The History of the Mongol Conquests, 2001
- Ж.Бор Монгол хийгээд евроазийн дипломат шаштир Боть 2, 2003
- Howorth, H.H. "History of the Mongols from the 9th to the 19th Century: Part 2. The So-Called Tartars of Russia and Central Asia. Division 1"
- Vernadsky, G. "Mongols and Russia", Yale University Press, Dec 1953
- István Vásáry, Cumans and Tatars, Cambridge University Press 2005