MURAVSKY TRAIL or MURAVA ROUTE (Russian : Муравский шлях, Ukrainian : Муравський шлях) was an important trade route and according to the Russian historiography a favourite invasion route of the Crimean Tatars during the Russo-Crimean Wars of the 16th and early 17th centuries. As described in the Book to the Great Chart of Muscovy (1627), the route went north from the Tatar fortress of Or Qapı ( Perekop ), the gateway of the Crimean peninsula, east of the Dnieper to the Russian fortress of Tula , 193 km south of Moscow.
To avoid major river crossings, the route followed the high ground between the basins of the Dnieper and Don, making an almost straight line from the Dnieper bend to Tula. It ran mostly through thinly populated tallgrass steppe country ('Muravá' is an old Slavic word for prairie or grassland) avoiding forests, marshes and river crossings. Apart from the main route, there were number of branches and bypaths, of which the Kalmius Trail and the Izyum Trail were by far the most important.
Between 1500 and 1550 there were 43 Tatars' raids using this trail.
In the wake of the
Russo-Crimean War (1571) , it became increasingly
clear that only a defense line south of the main zasechnaya cherta
would put an end to annual incursions. Such a chain of eleven forts
and obstructions, the "
Belgorod Defense Line", was constructed at the
After this, the Tatars began avoiding this route. It later became a main route used by the Cossacks to raid the Crimea.
The Tatars preferred to invade at harvest time when forage was plentiful. Smaller raids were made in early winter when the rivers were frozen. Davies says that the journey to Moscow took 55 days. Larger raids were led by the Khan in person. The core of his force was a guard of 200-1000 musketeers with light artillery and supply carts that could be formed into a wagenburg . The main force consisted of horse archers with reflex bows and short stirups. They also had sabers and lances and the richer ones might have chain mail, helmets or muskets. Each man took one or two spare horses. They carried few supplies, preferring to live off the land. The army traveled in columns. Beauplan estimated a column as 800 to 1,000 paces across and up to 10 leagues long. 'It was an amazing sight since 80,000 Tatars are accompanied by more than 200,000 horses'. On nearing enemy territory they camped for a few days and sent out scouts to be sure there were no significant forces in the area. After penetration they sent out two wings of up to 10,000 men each from the main body to sweep the country for 10 or 12 leagues around taking women, children, horses, sheep and cattle and those men who chose not to resist. When the wings returned to the main corps, other wings were sent out in the same manner. Having 'harvested' an area they withdrew by a different route. They did not waste time attacking fortified towns and avoided fighting organized forces unless they were forced to defend themselves. The returning columns, laden with booty, were most vulnerable to counterattack. The need to guard and escort captives kept the ratio of captives to raiders to about 1:3.
Individual Mirzas would lead smaller-scale raids with a few thousand men. They would send out scouts to look for enemy forces and capture prisoners for interrogation and then sweep through an area 10 to twelve leagues broad, rendezvousing at a pre-arranged point each night. If attacked they would split into bands of about 100 men ('chambuly') and scatter in all directions, reuniting later.
According to Davies, the trail started at
Perekop (about 1100 km
south of Moscow) and ran northeast parallel to the
Sea of Azov coast
about two thirds of the way and then swung north along the watershed
between the basins of the
Dnieper River and
Donets . There it spread
into branches through what later became the
He also mentions three trails running northwest from
Galicia. The Czarny Trail went north toward Kiev with a branch at the
latitude of Cherkasy going west to Galicia. The Kuczman Trail followed
the south bank of the Bug and the Wolsky Trail followed the shore of
the Black Sea and then the
* ^ Davies, Brian L, Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 2007, page 20 * ^ Davies, Brian L, Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 2007, Map 1 and page 18 (his account seems to contradict itself in a few places. Routes would have varied and there are probably few documents)
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public
Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary