Alternative name:
Zubu mokshans. Dubasov.jpg
Zubu Moksha women. Ivan Dubasov’s photo.
Total population
296, 900[1]
Regions with significant populations
Russia, Mordovia

Moksha, Russian, Tatar


Russian Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Paganism

Related ethnic groups

other Finno-Ugric peoples (Volga Finns), particulary Erzya and Mari

The Mokshas (also Mokshans, Moksha people, in Moksha: Мокшет/Mokshat) are an ethnic group belonging to Volgaic branch of Finnic peoples [2] who live mostly on the west side and to the south of the great bend of the Volga river, and along a tributary of the Oka, the Moksha river[3] in Russian Federation.

Their native language is Moksha (Mokshan), one of the three surviving Finno-Volgaic branch members of the Finno-Ugric language family. According to the Russian census conducted in 1994, 49% of autochthonal Finnic population in Mordovia identified themselves as Mokshas (more than 180,000).[4] Most Mokshas belong to Russian Orthodox Church, there are also Lutherans[5] and Paganists.




Differentiation of Volga Finns into separate groups is believed to began around 1200 BC. [6] In fact they can not be traced earlier as they didn’t have ground burial tradition before. According to archeological data bodies in early Mokshan burials were oriented with their heads to the south. Androphagi living north of Scythia (according to Herodotus), in the forests between the upper waters of the Dnieper and Don are believed to be the first mentioning of Moksha ancestors (Gorodets archeological culture) [7] [8] Herodotus also gives a description of Scythian-Persian war 516-512 B.C., which involved all Middle Volga population. Sarmatians forced out Scythians and subdued some Moksha clans, though failed to spread their dominion far enough due to their sparsity. 100s-200s AD Ants, Slavs, Mokshas and Erzyas became the most powerful and numerous of East European population.[9] By the end of IV c.AD most Mokshas joined Hunnic tribal alliance and took part in the defeat of Ostrogothic Empire in 377 AD, then moved eastward and settled themselves in Pannonia. Mokshan battle charger harness, especially bits and psalia are identic to early battle harness of Hunnic epoch. Their analogues found in Eastern Europe and Caucasus.[10] Archeological data prove the boundaries of Moksha land didn’t change within 4 - 8 cc. AD period. In 450 AD Mokshas in alliance with Alans in Middle Volga known as Burtas,[11] (Burtass alliance).[12]

Medieval History

During second Arab-Khazar War in 737 AD Arab armies under command of Marwan ibn Muhammad reached right bank of Volga and had a battle with the Burtas fighting their way to left Khazar bank of Volga.[13] Circa 889-890 AD Khazars at war with the Burtas, the Oghuz and the Pechenegs. In 913 AD after Orsiyya war breakout against Rus' at Atil five thousand Rus' survivers escaped up the Volga and most of them were killed by the Burtas. In 932 AD Khazar King Aaron allied with the Oghuz in a war. Circa 940 AD in the reign of King Joseph the Khazars entered into an alliance with the Burtas.[14] Afterwards Seliksa (Burtas) principality became vassal to Khazar khanate.[15] Sviatoslav I of Kiev in 965 AD according to Ibn Haukal “attacked Khazar allies, captured Sarkel, Bulgar and reached Semender”.[16] Two years later after the Great Flood he seized and destroyed Atil.[17] In the beginning of 10 c Volga Bulgaria king Almush (Almış) took under control "Khazar tribute". He converted to Islam, kept alliance with Baghdad khalif Muktafi and founded trading post in the mouth of Oka river.[18] Kievan kniaz Vladimir undertook a military compaign and seized Bolghar in 985 AD. King Almush and kniaz Vladimir signed peace and trade treaty in 1006 and it was the beginning of ‘eternal peace’ lasted for 80 years.[19] War for domination in Oka and Erzyan fortress Obran osh started again in 1120 AD.[20] Prince Yury of Vladimir seized Oshel in 1220 and demanded reducing Bulgarian influence on Erzyan kingdom (Purgas Rus). The latter was in alliance with Volga Bulgaria. Vladimir kniazes captured and destroyed Obran osh in 1221 and founded Nizhny Novgorod. Erzyan king Purgaz and Mokshan king Puresh were at war and when Purgaz was in alliance with Volga Bulgaria, Puresh was an ally of kniaz Yury.[21] In 1230 Purgaz lay siege to Nizhny Novgorod but was defeated. After that Puresh’s son prince Tyushtyan with his Polovets allies raided into his lands and completely destroyed his kingdom.[22] As it was reported by Rashid-al-Din in his Jami al-Tawarikh, 4th September of 1236 was the year when sons of Jochi: Batu, Orda, Berke, Ugedei khan’s son Kadan, Chagatai’s grandson Büri and Jenghiz Khan’s son Kulkan declared war on Moksha, Burtas and Erzya. Each of them leaded a tumen. The war ended 23 August 1237 with a crucial defeat at the Black forest close to the border of Principality of Ryazan.[23][24]

Puresh the king of the Mokshans submitted to Batu Khan and he was required personally to lead his army as a vassal in the Mongol-Tartar military campaigns.[25] In the beginning of 1241 Mongol army seized Kiev, then crossed Carpathian mountains and invaded Poland. Roger Bacon in his Opus Majus[26] reports Mokshas were in the vanguard of Mongol army and took part in capture of Lublin and Zawichost in Poland. Benedict Polone reports Mokshan army suffered seriouse losses during seizure of Sandomir in February and Krakow in March of the same year. On 9th April of 1241 Mongol army defeats allied Polish and German armies in Battle of Legnica. It is believed king Puresh was slain in that battle.[27] Right after that Moksha army declares to Batu they refuse to fight with Germans. As reported by William Rubruck and Roger Bacon Mokshas previously negotiated with Germans and Bohemians possibility of joining their side and get rid of Batu vassalage they were forced to.[28] It is known that Batu ordered to punish the conspirators and thousands of them were put to death but approximately 1/3 escaped and returned to Mokshaland. Another 1/3 remained the vanguard of Mongol army marching to Hungary through Vereckei pass in March of 1242 as reports Hungarian bishop Stephan II[29] and Matthew of Paris.[30]


Moksha women from Zubu (Zubova Poliana) Mordovia district in traditional costumes

Mokshas are typical Caucasians with North-Pontic racial type predominance and also with Lapponic race elements. Lapponic race is a variation of Uralic race. Common charasteristics are low heights, very inferior face, distinct cheekbones, concave bridge of the nose, low percentage of epicanthus. Representatives of Lappopnic race are Lapps (Sami). This anthropology type formation took place somewhere in North Norway, Northern Finland and Kola peninsula. This type bearers are Lapps and to some extent Komi-Permians and Mokshas. According to I.Gokhman, anthropologically Lapps are charaterized as following. Cranium is short and wide, middle height. Forehead is of average width and angle, moderately protuberant. Inferior face, distinctively wide, orthognathic, however some crania has distinct alveolar prognathism with nose wide enogh (Australoid race characteristics). Weak nose prominency, nose bridge is concave, tip of the nose and base are elevated. Straight but soft hair, low level body and face hair growth. Pigmentation is moderately dark. Thus Lapponics have all three big races charasteristics: Caucasian (orthognathic face), Southern (prognathism, wide nose; characteristics observed not at all times) and Mongoloid (flat face, protrudent cheekbones, sometimes epicanthus, eyes focus inclination).[31]


In old Mokshan mythology world was created by Ine Narmon (Great Bird), in folklore referred to as Aksha Loksti ("White Swan"). First thing Ine Narmon created was water. Yaksiarga ("Duck") brought sand from the bottom of the sea and Ine Narmon made of it earth with Ine Shufta (Great Tree) on it. Ine Narmon made its nest on Ine Shufta which usually referred to as Kelu ("birch") in folklore. Aksha kal ("White Sturgeon") carried the earth with the roots of Ine Shufta on its back. Ine Narmon had three nestlings Tsofks ("Nightingale"), Kuku ("Cuckoo"), and Oziarga ("Skylark"). Tsofks chose bushes and willows for his home, Kuku settled in the forest, Oziarga went to meadows. One of the old mentioned in folklore Mokshan deities was also Meshavane ("Mother Bee"). After Christianization Mokshan Supreme God usually been called Viarden Shkai ("Supreme Creator"). According to later legends the creation of the world went through several stages: first the Idemevs (Devil) been asked by the God to bring sand from the bottom of the great sea. Idemevs hid some sand in his mouth. When Viarden Shkai started creation of earth, hidden sand started to grow in the mouth of Idemevs. He had to spit it out and thus chasms and mountains were created on previously created even and beatiful earth. The first humans created by Viarden Shkai could live for 700–800 years and were giants of 99 archinnes. The underworld in Mokshan mythology was ruled by Mastoratia. Souls of heroes, clan elders and warriors slain in battle leave after death for emerald green Usiya island, where they sit at the long table together with great king Tyushten drinking pure mead.

Origins of the word Moksha

The term "Moksha" is derived from the Indo-Iranian (mōkṣa, liberation, salvation) which came from the Scythians and Sarmatians Mokshas are believed to neighbour in prehistory. This term appears at a rather late date, in the 13 century. Rubruck, the Franciscan monk who was dispatched to the Mongols, called them moxel. The same term used Persian chronicle Rashid-al-Din. According to popular tradition the Russians first used the term "Mordva" referring to Erzya people [32] but later used it both to Erzya and Moksha people. The term 'Moksha' appears in Russian sources starting from the 17th century.

The Mokshas are known in local languages as:

  • Мокшет or Мокшень ломатть ("Moksha people") in Moksha
  • Мокшане or Мордва-Мокша in Russian
  • Muqşılar in Tatar
  • Мăкшăсем in Chuvash
  • Мокшот in Erzya


  • Финно-угры и балты в эпоху средневековья (Археология СССР). М., 1987. С. 398-404
  • Кулаков В И. Древности пруссов VI-XIII вв. САИ. Вып. Г1-9 М., 1990
  • Финно-угры и балты... С. 411-419
  • Jaskanis J. Jacwiez w badaniach archeologicznych. Stan i perspektywy badawce // Rocznik biatostocki. T. XIV. Biatystok. 1981. S. 49-67.
  • Nowakowski W. Osiedia Kultury bogaczcwskiej - proba podsumowania stanu badart // WA. LI-1. 1986-1990.
  • Таутавичюс А.3. Балтские племена на территории Литвы в I тысячелетии н.э. // Из древнейшей истории балтских народов (по данным археологии и антропологии). Рига, 1980. С. 81, 82
  • Kevin Alan Brook. The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2010.ISBN: 978-0-7425-4981-4


  1. ^ Ethnologue and bibliography information on Moksha
  2. ^ POPULATION GENETICS OF FINNO-UGRIC-SPEAKING HUMANS IN NORTH EURASIA by Department of Forensic Medicine University of Helsinki
  3. ^ Vuorela, Toivo (1964). The Finno-Ugric Peoples. Indiana University. pp. pp.221. 
  4. ^ Goskomstat (1995): Goskomstat of Russia, 1994 Microcensus of Russia, topical results (8 volumes). Goskomstat, Moscow
  5. ^ Ingermanland Church webpage
  6. ^
  7. ^ Kuussaari, Eero, Suomen suvun tiet, F. Tilgmann Oy, Helsinki 1935
  8. ^ Бубрих Д. В. Можно ли отождествлять мордву с андрофагами Геродота? — Записки Мордовского научно-исследовательского института социальной культуры, Саранск, 1941, № 3, с. 31.
  9. ^ Федорова М. В. Славяне, мордва и анты. Издательство Воронежского Университета, 1976
  10. ^ Ахмедов И. Р. Псалии в начале эпохи великого переселения народов // Культуры Евразийских степей вт. пол. I тыс. н. э.: (из истории костюма) . — Т. 2 . — Самара, 2001 — С. 220—222
  11. ^ Афанасьев Г. Е. Буртасы // Исчезнувшие народы. — М., 1988. — С.85-96.
  12. ^ Афанасьев Г. Е. Этническая территория буртасов во второй половине VIII — начале Х века // СЭ. — 1984. — № 4 — С.28-41
  13. ^ The History of the Jewish Khazars. New York: Schocken Books, 1967, p.84
  14. ^ Zuckerman, Constantine. (1995) On the Date of the Khazars' Conversion to Judaism and the Chronology of the Kings of the Rus Oleg and Igor (Journal Article in Revue des études Byzantines)
  15. ^ «История Пензенского края» под редакцией профессора Г.Н.Белорыбкина, Пенза, 1996
  16. ^ Калинина Т.М. Сведения Ибн Хаукаля о походах Руси времен Святослава//ДГ. М., 1976. С. 90-101.
  17. ^ Сахаров Андрей Николаевич "Дипломатия Святослава" Москва, "Международные отношения", 1982 г.
  18. ^ В. А. Юрченков. Мордовский народ: вехи истории. — Саранск, 2007. — с. 89
  19. ^ В. А. Юрченков. Мордовский народ: вехи истории. — Саранск, 2007. — с. 90
  20. ^ В. А. Юрченков. Мордовский народ: вехи истории. — Саранск, 2007. — с. 93
  21. ^ В. А. Юрченков. Мордовский народ: вехи истории. — Саранск, 2007. — с. 97-98
  22. ^ Костомаров Н.И. Русская история в жизнеописаниях ее главнейших дейтелей.
  23. ^ Лурье Я.С. 1) Общерусские летописи. С. 49-55; 2) Летопись Тверская // Словарь книжников и книжности Древней Руси. Вып.2. (вторая половина XIV — XVI в.). 4.2. Л.,1989
  24. ^ Рашид Ад-Дин. Сборник летописей. Т. II, Издательство АН СССР, 1960
  25. ^ Benson, Douglas (1995). Six Emperors. University of Michigan. 
  26. ^ John Bridges. The "Opus Majus" of Roger Bacon. Elibron Classics, 2000
  27. ^ В. А. Юрченков. Мордовский народ: вехи истории. — Саранск, 2007. — с. 116
  28. ^ Itinerarium fratris Willielmi de Rubruquis de ordine fratrum Minorum, Galli, Anno gratia 1253. ad partes Orientales.
  29. ^ Sinor D. Un voyageur du treizieme siecle: le Dominicain de Hongrie. — Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. University of London, 1952, vol. XIV, part 3, p. 599)
  30. ^ Paris, Matthew; Roger, of Wendover; H. R. Luard (editor). Chronica majora in Rerum Britannicarum Medii Aevi Scriptores; or, Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland During the Middle Ages (London: Great Britain Public Record Office, 1858-1911). 57.
  31. ^ Гохман И.И. Происхождение центральноазиатской расы в свете новых палеоантропологических материалов // Сб. Музея антропологии и этнографии. 1980. Т. 36
  32. ^ Jaimoukha p.12

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