I've seen it hinted in some places the Pechenegs were at some point Manicheans, often contrasting against the Bogomils in the Balkans, Paulicians in Armenia and other Manicheans in Central Asia, notably the Uyghurs.

Is there any source for this claim? Or is it one of those situations historians used refer to people by what they think is an analogue, like calling Pechenegs 'Scythians', for example, common among medieval historians.

3 Answers 3


There are very few sources on Pechenegs, and they do not tell us the details of their religious situation. By analogy with other tribes which inhabited this area in the Middle Age, one can guess that they had a variety of religious beliefs. Some of them could be Manichean, others Christian, Muslims or pagan. It was normal for that times and that place to have diverse religions within one "state" or tribe union. Contemporary Khazars and later Mongols and Cumans had variety of religions. But the best guess would be that most of them were pagans. (Because religious intolerance and unification is a feature of monotheistic religions. It usually begins with conversion of the rulers to Islam or Christianity. And for Pechenegs we do not read this in surviving sources. Russian sources call them pagans.)

  • 1
    Would "pagan" in this context just mean not Christian?
    – SPavel
    Sep 28, 2016 at 13:43
  • 1
    @SPavel: probably. Unfortunatelt the sources are not more specific.
    – Alex
    Sep 28, 2016 at 22:50

I'd also like to know what the sources for that claim are (since you're the one who has seen them.).

It does pass the smell test. Manichaeism was on the decline after about 840, but there were still adherents that we know of in China as late as the 14th century, and it was known to have had adherents among Turkish-speakers, and also in other peoples in central Asia during its heyday.

The Pechenegs likely moved west from Central Asia sometime between 790 and 850. So it is certainly possible many of them were Manichaeist, and perhaps even likely at least a few of them were.

Alex is right that there are any number of possibilities other than that though. Another likely religion would have been Tengrism. That appears to have been the dominant religion of their fellow Western Turks, the Khasars and the Hungarians*, at that time. As the original religion of the Turkic and Mongolian peoples, this would be my first guess for the religion of any nomadic Turkish groups of that period, in the absence of any historical references saying otherwise.

* - Hungarians are lingusticly and geneticly not at all Turkish, but oddly their culture at the time was otherwise almost entirely Turkish.

  • While it's hard to find sources, you can see the theory being hinted in "The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism", where Vasily Vasilievsky is cited as saying Manichean beliefs spread to Pechenegs though the Cumans.
    – Firebug
    Jun 9, 2017 at 19:21
  • And I know people question this theory, therefore justifying my question.
    – Firebug
    Jun 9, 2017 at 19:22
  • @Firebug - Note that Bogomilism and Manichaeism are not at all the same thing. Christian opponents of dualistic heresies liked to use "Manichaeism" as an adjective, because that religion was an old enemy. But that doesn't make them the same, any more than "nihilistic" terrorists are really committed philosophic students of Nietzsche.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 9, 2017 at 19:47
  • @Firebug - Hmmm. That (1) footnote there is interesting reading. The "Arabic source" its talking about is said to call their original religion "Zarathusfrian dualisim". Zarathustra was the founder of Zoroastrianism, which was another dualist religion (decidedly different from Manichaeism, but the latter likely got its dualism from the former). All in all, I think I'd trust the guy when he pronounces the evidence supporting any link to be suspect.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 9, 2017 at 20:29
  • I know Bogomilism and Manichaeism aren't the same. I also know quite a bit about Zoroastrianism. Those weren't the point of the question though. You can find plenty of discussions associating Pechenegs to Manichaeism in the internet, hence the question,
    – Firebug
    Jun 10, 2017 at 13:22

From "The Cambridge History of Inner Asia" (Cambridge, 1990), p.275

According to al-Bakri (d. 1094), the Pechenegs up to the year 400/1009-10, were followers of "the religion of the Magi." This statement may indicate some Zoroastrian or Manichaean influences. It may also refer to a shamanistic cult. After that period, according to our sources, Islam began to make some headway amongst them (f.n.)

Footnote: A. Kunik, V. Rozen, Izvestija al-Bekri i drugikh avtorov o Rusi i slavjanakh, pts. 1-2 (pt. 1, Supplement to the Zapiski Imperatorskot Akademii Nauk, xxxii, 1878), p. 43.

Islamic perspective (reference), from "The Encyclopedia of Islam", (Cambridge, 1954), p.1018:

Officially, they (referring to another Hungarian group) called themselves Christians and they disguised their Islam, in contrast to the Maghariba/Pechenegs*, who overtly professed the Muslim faith ...

*Maghariba (Arabic: المغاربة al-Maghāribah, meaning "Westerners").

They are often referred to as "Maghariba" in Islamic texts of the time, which makes it difficult for Latin (Western) scholars to know whom exactly these "Westerners" were. The problem has persisted to present-day research.

  • I've focused on established sources because it seems to me that's the direction of the question (tag: sources)
    – J Asia
    Jul 23, 2017 at 14:50
  • Recent results from archaeology might come in useful (try R. Rashev, S. Stanilov, S. Stoychev - individually and collectively).
    – J Asia
    Jul 23, 2017 at 15:10

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