Friday, March 10, 2023

Russia’s Two-Headed Eagle Came Not from Byzantium but from Golden Horde and the Tatars, New Kazan Study of Muscovy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 8 – In 1975, the Kazakh writer Olzhas Suleimenov stirred up a firestorm of criticism in Moscow for his book Az i Ya, which discussed the Turkic origins of the Russian chronicle, The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. Now a new book by Kazan authors about Mongol and Turkic elements in Muscovy threatens to do something similar.

            The new book, Muscovia: The Birth of the Two-Headed Eagle, was published in Kazan at the end of last year but is now being discussed there and in Moscow. It was supported by the Union of Muftis of Russia (SMR), the government of Tatarstan, the World Congress of Tatars, and the Kazan State Institute of Culture.

            The authors say that their book presents “a fresh view on the history of the interrelationship of the Turkic and Slavic worlds over the course of various historical periods of Russia” (

            Indeed, they do. The toponymic research they have conducted shows that many parts of Russia, including Moscow itself, have not been Russian from times immemorial but often were Tatar or Finno-Ugric and that the symbol of the Russian state, the two-headed eagle, came not from Byzantium or Europe as most believe but from the Tatars in the Golden Horde.

            Kazan historian Damir Iskhakov, one of those involved in the collective work, says that the two-headed eagle that Russians view as something unique to themselves in fact came from money and state symbols used by the Golden Horde and came to Muscovy via the Tatars. Other scholars in Tatarstan agree.

            But that evidence and the support it is getting from Tatar scholars will outrage both many Russian scholars and even more Russian nationalists who will see this as a totally unacceptable idea that must not only be countered but suppressed much as Suleimenov’s Az i Ya was in the last years of Soviet power. 

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