Old and New Sarai- Capital of the Golden Horde (New Look at Original Sources)Go to Giray and Crimea Khan coins
                                                   By E. U. Goncharov

                                                                Its amazing that all these NEW Sarais
                                                                   and Bulghars, previously named only on
                                                                   coins,  with no archeological evidence
                                                                   whatsoever of any real existence of these
                                                                   duplicate geographical points, have not dared
                                                                   to be precisely ascertained by learned
                                                                   investigators. Apparently FATE is without
                                                                   mercy, not sparing even one of the above
                                                                   mentioned geographical duplicates, which
                                                                   would have saved scholars from much vain
                                                                   work, searching for these duplicates. It appears
                                                                   to us, that these scholars are just chasing
                                                                   phantoms, created by the scholars themselves.
             (V. D. Smirov, Crimean Khanate under the Rule of the Ottoman Empire, part 1)

        The archeological and historical literature of the last century has been dedicated to the problems of the history and government of the Golden Horde, which at the same time usually points out the two capitals-Sarai and New Sarai. Let us then marshal the historically reconstructed evidence on which the existence of these two cities are certified. The reasons calling forth this settled opinion are: 1) the coins on which are shown these mints;  2) Sarai and Great Sarai charted on the map of Fra Mauro;  3) an Arab biographer indicates the death of Khan Uzbek in New Serai;  4) observations of Arabshah about the construction of Sarai for 63 years until its destruction in 1395; 5 ) and the existence of two large cities Trsaevskovo and Selitrennoe (in Lower Povolshe-center of Ulus Juchi) demanding attribution. All the other remaining information presents itself as a logical construction of the analysis of these questions. At the present moment, the existence of two Sarais appears to be a fact, accepted by the majority of historians and archeologists.
        In our view, it is impossible to count the question as closed. That is, the accumulation of new material calls for a different examination of these facts, which are known to Ballody, Yakuboksky, and other scholars. In the excavated plots in Selitrennoe, the earliest buildings and structures are dated in the very first half of the mid 14th century, including a notable layer at the time of Toktamish. Earlier layers dated to the 13th century are unknown. This is why the archeologist is not able to divide the dated material, and why the excavated plots show development only in the second quarter of the 14th century. This is commonly explained by the burst  of city building that has been noted for a long time under the rules of Uzbek and Janibek (1312-1357).
        It is from archeological investigation of identifiable monuments that the opinion is based which the separates Sarai from the excavations from the village of Selitrennoe. Between them is the well known natural common development of cities and villages, situated by rivers, going upstream. It is known that the very oldest part stands lower, and partially converts abandoned wasteland with ruins. In the situation of Selitrennoes civic excavations, the material made for study is found in the higher village by Achtub. All contemporary writers know well the state of the remains are such that many of them are under the village farms. This region is situated lower along the river (according to U.), and appears, in all likelihood, to be the older part of the city. Near the village the banks have been washed away, so that now the rich remains are exposed to view-very large buildings (masses of plinths, fragments of mosaics and small treasures) are in the excavated pit. In archeological folklore (a plaque for tourists), they call these remains a palace. It can probably, but not precisely, be shown that this was a palace. G. A. Fedorov writes that the city came into existence on a wilderness, and empty place  (1). For all these reasons the excavations should be dated to 1350 plus or minus 20 years. Here we abandon our little archeological excursus without any inferences and turn to the written sources.
            The Arab writer Elomar (Al-Omar) relating the affairs in Ulus Juchi has two passages about Sarai city. (3;  229,  241). The capital of the local king-Sarai. This modest city is between desert and river. Now lives there the sultan Uzbek, who constructed in it a place for worship.  The second passage has been repeatedly cited, therefore I produce only part of it, that which is important for this study.   It, that is Sarai, is a great city, consisting of markets, baths, and prosperous establishments (?); a place where one makes his way for all sorts of goods…A place with a golden crescent above, encircled by a wall, turrets on houses, in which the emirs live.   What explains such differences in one and the same work? The author was for a long time the official secretary for an Egyptian sultan, collecting information about various countries, in person, which he visited. These passages appear in different sections of al-Omars writings. The first passage concerns the Golden Horde in Sarai in the first years of the Uzbek Khanate. The second comes from observations about the heir to the throne in the end of this reign. Preparing the final redaction of the work, the sultans secretary, consistently, without critical observation, rewrote these and other observations between visits to Desht-i- Kipchak. The following conclusions are made.
        Sarai, built as the Winter place of sojourning for the Mongol khans until Khan Uzbek was truly, actually not a great city. The khans sojourned the majority of time as the headquarters of the Horde, followed with all the administration, which was not conducive to the great growth of a city. By Uzbeks time, Sarai was more quickly becoming a main commercial center and industrial trading center of the country than just a political center. The expression of Mongol camp mentality, following Ash and the nearby absence of some structures (appearing later)-all these things make Sarai appear as Karakorum of the writer Rubruk.
        For successfully expanding Islam (this became one of the significant actions of Uzbek), it was necessary to build a mosque and other elaborate places;  requiring baths-an important element of Moslem culture. The introduction in Ulus Juchi of the government system of the worship of Allah and his prophet attracted merchants from Islamic countries. Strengthening the economic bonds with Mamluk Egypt-strongest Muslim government of the time and strongest country of the Near and Middle East. Successful commercial revolutions require new markets, caravans, a place where merchants find their way.  Growth of wealth and increasing needs of production always produce population growth, this did not passover Sarai. Dwelling places of the region increased. This transformed the village into a capital of a large Muslim government, giving it the appropriate aspect and status.  Uzbek actually came to build a new city, which received the official name Sarai al-Jedid (The New). These reasons, it seems to me, explain the different characterization of the capital of the Golden Horde in the chronicle of al-Omar.
        Because the sources of the 14th century and following time completely pass over in silence the existence of two cities with the same name and the transfer of the capital to another place, they testify that the territorial point, where there were Russians and Arab eyewitnesses, was not transferred.  It was simply customary for a town subdivided for political contacts not to have a special name (it was the main existing city), and the well known literary monuments do not reflect about it.
        Data about the construction of Sarai in 1332, which is recounted from the information of Arabshah, agrees with the excavated plots of Selitrennoe. The previous text of Arabshah apparently discourses about one city, and is not a basis to divide it into two cities. A cursory analysis of the information from Al-Omar in the context of the development of the Muslim city in general, permits us to make the conclusions about the growth of Sarai in the epoch of the reign of Khan Uzbek (1312-1341). It agrees wit the data of Arabshah and the archeological data of Selitrennoe. Such circumstances allow me to consider the toponymy of Sarai and Sarai al-Jedid to be regarded as one city, situated in place of indicated town (Selitrennoe). All the archeologists working on these ruins, investigated the remains of New Serai, which is why the whereabouts of the previous Sarai has still not appeared.
        But, on the other hand, in the time of the rule of Toktamish in the beginning of the 15th century, the dirham coins allow for a Sarai and Sarai al-Jedid. This appears to be a witness about two cities with the same name. In these affairs, we do not know the organization of the coinage in Ulus Juchi nor the principles of distributing monetary regalia to cities; the rights by which cities were granted mints, etc. The coinage is not able to serve as an indirect witness that the Sarais were separate cities. The Janibek dirhams use three mints-Sarai  al Jedid, Khorezm, and Gulistan. There is only one silver coin dated 749 AH with the mint Sarai al-Maxrussa. The whereabouts of Gulistan will not be examined in detail here. Khorezm is not called into doubt. Only the location of the first place remains unclear.  Under Toktamish, the majority of money is minted with the Arabis word beled -that in this period designates, primarily COUNTRY, TERRITORY, REGION, CITY.  We read beled Azak,   beled Krin,   beled Sarai,   beled Chadi-Tarkhan,  but no beled Khorezm.   Beled Sarai al-Jedid is met only very seldom in the year 791 AH. Only once on dirhams of 775 AH is found beled Orda.   Usually the word beled  means city,  but Orda was not a city in itself. Khorezm is historically a region, the capital of which at various times was Kyat or Urgench. But why, having beled Sarai,  do we not also have beled Sarai al-Jedid,  even though Gulistan (Rose Garden of the Desert) appears on the dirham coinage under Janibek in 752 AH as beled Gulistan?  The answer thrusts itself forward-Sarai al-Jedid was not a beled.e
        Every city, where it was permitted silver coinage, was a center of a province. Is it possible, in general, in the Golden Horde, as in other Muslim governments, that coinage customarily allowed the name of the place where taxes and other revenues were gathered from which silver coins were made?  A precedent to this is found in the Crimea at the beginning of the 14th century when was minted copper coins with the mint of Solxat,  which historical writings agree was the administrative center of the Crimea, but the dirham was called Krim  (naming a region for a city was affirmed later). Second precedent, already shown, was the Khorezm region with the capital Urgench (Gurganj). The, recalling the previous paragraph, beled…  is able to be interpreted as mint district of Azak, Gulistan, Crimea, Orda, Sarai….  Sarai al-Jedid is able to appear as a mint of the capital, which in all countries have a special status, its own rights, and finances. The existence of two mints in one city is not an unusual appearance. There is the well known two dirhams of the same year minted Chervan and Chervan-bazar at the time of the short rule of Birdibeg .  This has not become the basis to conclude the existence of a second Chervan. In the middle of the 12th century was issued a dirhem with the inscription beled Binket  the capital of the region was Shach (6; 167). Even earlier, from the middle of the 10th century until the 13th in Axikent, the money was minted in the name from the region Fergan. At this time it was minted from the name of the city. By translating the word beled  with the term, something like administrative region, one will not agree with the existence of Sarai al-Jedid and therefore not adopt it. If the Arabic word is translated city  then it becomes a vague way to admit there might be a Sarai al-Jedid.
The last strong pillar  of the interpretation of two capitals of the Golden Horde  appears on the map of Fra Mauro. It has already been the subject of investigation of Golden Horde geography and toponymy (5; 177). On the map is written Sarai Grando 1 ordo of Sarai, Sarai, f. Cara Sarai. The last named is a river; we will not consider it. The first named is drawn with large letters, encircled by contoured lines, as is also written Asia, Lithuania, Organca (Urgench), Parthia, Rossia, Sycthia, Tartara, and others. That is, this type is employed for signifying a zone, having more a geographical than administrative character. Secondary toponymy is written with middle sized shaded letters. Similar regions are Edil-1 ordo de Chagatai, 1 ordo de Organca, Ruenia, Rossia rossa, Rossia negra, Siroan (Shirvan), Tartaria (repeatedly, but on the other side of the river Tanais in the midst of the Southern Caucauses) and others. This script designates administrative regions, for example Rossia is divided into Rossia rosa and Rossia negra, and the ordo de Organca is found composed of Organca (Urgench), and also the 1 ordo de Saray, Edil, and truly Saray Grando is a second Tartaria. Very little letters in another script, signify concrete objects-cities, rivers, depicting things and places, so is written Astrkhan, Tana, Riga, and others. Also named is a Sarai, that is, as a city. More than one Sarai as a city is not named on the map. He existence of a second, new Sarai would be marked, as is marked the existence of organca nuova (New Urgench) near the south-eastern end of the Caspian Sea. In our view, the data of  Fra. Mauros map underscores that Sarai was one thing and found in a region of the same name.
In this view, the existence of two capitals in the Golden Horde, is not confirmed by the facts at out disposal. The capital city of Ulus Juchi appears in the urban conglomerate Sarai-Sarai al-Jedid, the administrative center of the Sarai region, found in the contemporary village of Selitrenno in the Astrakhan oblast.
A unique written mention of Sarai al-Jedid appears noted by al-Akadi about the death in New Sarai of Khan Uzbek (3;  447, 447-Arabshah). The place of his burial is counted as unknown until this time. This does not lessen, in our view, the possibility of explaining its location. Near the aul  (village) of Lapass, in the Astrakhan oblast is the well known grandiose burial complex from Golden Horde time. Writing of it in his book , V. L. Igorov (2; 117) counts four burial structures, but in the excavation of 1996 there appeared not less than 16 burial structures. Four very large ones appeared on earthen platforms with mausoleum structures. The very largest of them-two-tiered platform, on which extensive ruins with the usual rubble of decorated bricks, colored plinths, and mosaics. At this Nogai village, the burial mound is called Devlet-khan.  On the shore of the Axtub channel-Great Ashalyka-is found a little village. The removed material and remains of construction without doubt witness that here lived and worked the builders of these four mausoleums. Processing numismatic material, collected at Lapass city and the burial mound, 189 bronze coins and 3 silver coins were collected. Divided by mint are year the results are:
Silver:   1) Moschi                 712 AH
            2) Sarai                      717
            3) ------                      720
Bronze: 1) Sarai                      no dates -                      2 coins
             2) Sarai                      721 (star)                    14
             3) ------                      726 (falcon)                14
             4) ------                      731 (16 attributed)     54
             5) Sarai  al-Maxrus    731                               7
             6) Sarai                       730 (bars with Sun)   36
             7) Azak                                                           1
             8) Sarai al-Jedid          740 (2-headed eagle) 13
             9) ---------                    750 (flower)                3
           10) period of revolt, aneigraphic                       1
            11) not attributed and not dated                     56
Total 192

Such is the statistical witness that Lapass town existed in the period when puls of Uzbek predominated in the collected money. At this time, Janibek coins only took root in the market place,  that is on the edge of his rule. Concluding from the character of the remains-place of indigenous ceramics, construction, and other handicrafts, work on the erection of these burial monuments, we conclude that in the mausoleum was buried the Chinghiz-muslims Uzbek, Tinibek, Xizbek, and some fourth, about whose death is less well known to us historically. The very largest mausoleum (having, from the form of embankment constructed a mosque or chapel (zavi) belongs to Uzbek-khan, who converted the Golden Horde to Islam, introducing it to the upper middle class. No other person is worthy of such expense on the constructions of so fashionable a shelter and lived around the 1330-1340s that we know.
        If our version is true, then the deposits of Lapass complex around Selitrenno (near 40 kilometers) and not Tsarekovo, corroborates the conclusion that Selitrennoe appears to be the remains of beled  Sarai-Sarai al-Jedid.
List of cited literature (in Russian):
1.        G. A. Fedorov-Dvidov. Cities of the Golden Horde,  Moscow, 1994.
2.        V. L. Igorov. Historical Geography of the Golden Horde,  Moscow , 1983.
3.        Tizengaizen, V. G.  Collected Information on the Founding of the Golden Horde, Moscow, 1883

4.        I. V. Evstratov. The Golden Horde Cities, Located near Selitrenno and Tsarovo Villages…,Saratov, 1997.

5.        U. E. Barvarovski, I. V. Evstratov,  Concering the Identity of the Transmission of F.F.
      Chekalni Map of Fra. Mauro 1459,  of the Ancient Volga-Don Steppe, Volgograd, 1998.

6.        E. A. Davidovich. Ancient Economy of Middle Asia in 13th Century, Moscow, 1972

7.        A. P. Grigoriev, Golden Horde City of Orda, Leningrad, 1990

8.        Collected History of Arab Culture 5-15th Centuries, Moscow, 1982.