Known in ancient times as Tauris, the peninsula was the home of the Cimmerian people, called the Tauri. Expelled from the steppe by the Scythians in the 7th cent. B.C., they founded (5th cent. B.C.) the kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus, which later came under Greek influence. Ionian and Dorian Greeks began to colonize the coast in the 6th cent., and the peninsula became the major source of wheat for ancient Greece. In the 1st cent. B.C., the kingdom of Pontus began to rule the Greek part of the peninsula, which became a Roman protectorate in the 1st cent. A.D. During the next millennium the area was overrun by Ostrogoths, Huns, Khazars, Cumans, and in 1239, by the Mongols of the Golden Horde. Meanwhile, the southern shore was mostly under Byzantine control from the 6th to the 12th cent.
Trade relations were established (11th–13th cent.) with Kievan Rus, and in the 13th cent. Genoa founded prosperous coastal commercial settlements. After Timur's destruction of the Golden Horde, the Tatars established (1475) an independent khanate in N and central Crimea. In the late 15th cent. both the khanate and the southern coastal towns were conquered by the Ottoman Empire; the Turks called the peninsula Crimea. Although they became Turkish vassals, the Crimean Tatars were powerful rulers who became the scourge of Ukraine and Poland, exacted tribute from the Russian czars, and raided Moscow as late as 1572.
Russian armies first invaded the Crimea in 1736. Empress Catherine II forced Turkey to recognize the khanate's independence in 1774, and in 1783 she annexed it outright; the annexation was confirmed by the Treaty of Jassy (1792). Many Tatars, with their Muslim religion and Turkic language, emigrated to Turkey, while Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Germans, Armenians, and Greeks settled in the Crimea. During the Crimean War (1853–56), parts of the remaining Tatar population were resettled in the interior of Russia.
After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) an independent Crimean republic was proclaimed; but the region was soon occupied by German forces and then became a refuge for the White Army. In 1921 a Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created; Tatars then constituted about 25% of the population. During World War II, German invaders took the Crimea after an eight-month siege. Accused by the Soviet government of collaborating with the Germans, the Crimean Tatars were forcibly removed from their homeland after the war and resettled in distant parts of the Asian USSR. The republic itself was dissolved (1945) and made into a region of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic; in 1954 it was transferred to Ukraine. In 1989, Tatars began to return from their exile in Siberia and Central Asia.
In 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev was vacationing in Crimea at the time of the August Coup. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and Ukraine engaged in negotiations over the possession of Crimea and the disposition of the former Soviet fleet based in the Black Sea. In 1992 there was an abortive attempt by the Russian-dominated Crimean government to declare independence. Elected Crimea's first president in 1994, Yuri Meshkov called for the rejoining of the Crimea with Russia. In 1995, Crimea's government was placed under national control and Meshkov was ousted, but its assembly was retained. An accord the same year between Ukraine and Russia called for the division of the Black Sea fleet, and in 1997 it was agreed that Russia would be allowed to base its portion of the fleet there for 20 years. Tensions between Crimea's ethnic Russians and the Ukrainian national government continue to mark Crimean and Ukrainian politics; another source of tension have been demands by repatriated Tatars for land.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.