A Brief History of the Pechenegs
The Pechenegs were a Turkic, possibly Oghuz, ethno-political group originating from the Central Asian steppe in what is today Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, between the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd centuries AH. Uyughur historian and linguist Mahmud al-Kashgari wrote that their name has its origins in one of the Oghuz languages, in his Diwan Lughut al-Turk, a treatise on the Turkic languages from the Syr Darya River to Uighurstan. He also asserts that the Pechenegs were one of many Oghuz groups, but it is impossible, at this time, to say for certain.
Sometime in the second half of the 3rd century AH (9th century CE), the Pechenegs were pushed from their traditional homelands by a group of Oghuz Turks, Kimaks and Cumans, though the confederation was unable to finish off their Pecheneg rivals due to infighting, quickly compounded by external conflicts with other groups in the east, towards Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia.
The Pechenegs spent possibly a decade, or more, as a people fully on the move, forced to maintain westward migration along the corridor of steppe connecting the Syr Darya and the Volga rivers by the expanding power of other Oghuz Turkic and Cuman groups. By the end of the 3rd century AH, they had found relative safety near the Don and Volga rivers, between the older and more established Turkic Bulgar groups in the north, and the waning Khazar clans in the south.
The Khazar clans, however, were still strong enough to put pressure on the newly arrived Pechenegs, and sometime between the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 4th centuries AH, they had again moved further west, in the process driving the then-fractured and relatively weak Magyars toward the Carpathian mountains and beyond, where they would eventually found the Kingdom of Hungary. After nearly half a century on the move, the Pechenegs finally settled down to a semi-nomadic life, taking advantage of the situation in the hard-pressed Byzantine Empire to strike a protective deal with the Emperors in Constantinople. In exchange for peace, the Pechenegs would ensure that Slavs, Magyars, Khazars and other Turkic groups would be a diminished threat on the Empire’s eastern borders.
This agreement brought them into conflict with the emerging Slavic powers around Kiev very quickly. For the first half of the 4th century AH, the Pechenegs raided and harassed burgeoning Slavic settlements, earning a lasting enmity with the powerful Kievan princes. During the same period, the relationship with the Khazar clans continued to be in flux, with the two groups vying for supremacy, often in short, sometimes even seasonal, rises and falls from positions of power over one another. Finally, Islam may have established a presence, possibly as a small cult or henotheistic practice, distinct in a larger skein of traditional Turkic religion and shamanism, although again, it is impossible to be sure. At least one Russian source lists the Pechenegs as connected to the Biblical Ishmael, sent by God to punish the Slavs, but the significance of this statement, and its relationship to any real-world reality for the Pechenegs, is unknown.
In 357 AH (968 CE), tensions with the Kievan Rus finally boiled over into the last full-scale war between the Slavs and the Turkic group, and the Pechenegs besieged Kiev. Though the war initially went well for the Pechenegs, they were eventually defeated by Vladimir I “the Great” of Kiev’s Rurik dynasty, and from then on, never recovered dominance over the Rus again. In 427 AH (1036 CE), the Pechenegs were dealt another serious blow, this time by another Rurik prince, Yaroslav I. At this point, the Byzantines had forsaken the alliance, as the Pechenegs were no longer a useful tool for the Emperors, and in response, the Turkic tribe turned its attention to the Bulgarian and Roman borders, harassing and burning settlements, conducting intermittent, small-scale wars, and attempting to create a decisive advantage that would allow them to end what was becoming more than a century of conflict with the Khazars.
When Alexios I Komenons, the strongest Byzantine/Roman Emperor in centuries, took the throne in Constantinople in 473 AH (1081 CE), he marched an army of Cuman mercenaries and Greek troops into what is today Turkey’s European regions, where the majority of the Pecheneg military might had been moved during an expedition into Christian territory, and at the Battle of Levounion, routed up to 80,000 (though the number was probably much lower) Pecheneg troops, driving them back toward the Black Sea, while others fled into the Pontic steppe, toward Seljuq territory. Now divided and drastically weakened, in 487 AH (1095 CE), hostile Cuman forces finished off what remained of the scattered people. The last mention of them comes from the mid 6th century AH (12th century CE), as one Turkic group living among many others, somewhere along the coast of the Black Sea, no longer of any particular consequence in either Christian or Islamic sources. After that, all mentions of the group are solely confined to history.