- Turkish-speaking nomads from central Asia who served as standing troops for Byzantium (q.v.) in the 12th-13th centuries. They moved into the south Russian steppe (q.v.) in the mid-11th century, driving the Pechenegs across the Danube (qq.v.), and attaching themselves to Byzantine armies as mercenaries. Their most memorable service to Byzantium (q.v.) was in 1091, when Alexios I Komnenos (q.v.) used them to annihilate the Pechenegs at the battle of Mount Lebounion. In the 12th century they were enrolled into the army in substantial numbers, where their skill as mounted archers was renowned. They also began to settle in Byzantine territory, where some were given pronoia (q.v.) grants. However, even while some Cumans served Byzantium, other Cumans remained intermittent threats, or served other masters. Manuel I Komnenos (q.v.), for example, turned back a Cuman raid across the Danube in the aftermath of the Second Crusade (q.v.). Cumans played a role in the revolt of Peter and Asen I (q.v.) against Byzantium in 1186. They served in the army of Kalojan (q.v.) that in 1205 destroyed a Latin army, capturing Baldwin of Flanders (q.v.). They were decisive in the victory of John Asen II at Klokotnitsa (qq.v.) in 1230. Around 1241 the Mongols (q.v.) defeated the Cumans, forcing many to flee to Byzantine territory. Some were settled along the frontiers of Thrace and Macedonia (qq.v.), and in Asia Minor (q.v.) in the Meander valley and in Phyrgia (q.v.). Some fled to Hungary and Bulgaria (qq.v.), while others became Mamelukes (q.v.). The Cumans played an important role in the army of Michael VIII Palaeologos (q.v.), including his victory at the battle of Pelagonia (q.v.) in 1259.
Historical Dictionary of Byzantium . John H. Rosser .
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