The Mordvins are a Finnic ethnic group with two main branches: the Erzya and the Moksha.

The Mordvins (also known as Mordvinians) are descendants of Finnic tribes which populated the area between the rivers Volga, Oka and Sura more than 2000 years ago. The first literary reference to the Mordvinians came in the sixth c., when they were located in villages between the Oka and middle Volga rivers.

The city of Nizhniy Novgorod was the capital of the Mordvinians until 1172, when it was conquered by troops of three Russian principalities - Suzdal, Ryazan and Murom. The conquest of the Mordvinians continued the next 200 years, with Muscovy also joining the assault. Many ethnic Russian peasants settled in the area and it was incorporated into the Russian political subdivisions of Ryazan and Nizhniy Novgorod.

From the 13th to the 15th c., the Mongols and the Tatars became dominant in the region. When the Khazan Khanate fell in 1552, the Mordvinian territories were taken over by the Russian state.

16th c.: Russian colonization and economic exploitation force the Mordvins to move east; From the late 16th c. onwards, Russians poured into the area, as they built a strong line of military fortifications and settlements in the south-eastern reaches of Mordovia. During the next 200 years, the Mordvinians were subject to repression by the Russians, and many migrated into the Ural mountains and southern Siberia. There were also many uprisings against Russian rule.

1671: the uprising led by S. Razin is suppressed, 1/10 of Mordvins are killed; 2/3 of the Mordvins leave their settlements to escape the forced conversion to the Christian Orthodox religion. This was the beginning of their current dispersed settlement.

1743-45: brutal crushing of Teryushevsky’s revolt; Nesmeyan Vasilyev, leader of the Mordvin Erzyas, is burned at the stake.

1804: another uprising against Russia fails, which puts an end to the active resistance of the Mordvins.

With the completion of the Moscow-Kazan railroad in the 1890's, which integrated the region more completely into the Russian economy, the Mordvinians changed from subsistence farming to a more commercial production, but most of them remained tied to the land. Cultural links to the Russians followed the commercial links, and the process of assimilation began to accelerate.

Many things changed after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In 1919, a Mordvinian section was established in the People's Commisariat for Nationalities in Russia, and, in 1921, a Congress of Communists of Mordvinian Nationality met in Samara.

1920's - 1930's: collectivization, famine, repression; resistance from Mordvinians who suffer mass executions and deportations to Siberia.

1928: the district of Mordovia is created in the Central Volga region; areas settled by Mordvins are brought under different administrative territories.

During World War 2, Russian industry was moved east of the Urals to be safe from the Germans, and economic life in the Mordvinian area changed significantly. This gave a new boost to Russification. The process of Russification has continued since then, and the number of people identifying themselves as Mordvinian is steadily decreasing, so is the number of Mordvinians who actually speak the Mordvinian language.

1950's: continued industrialization and colonization encourage assimilation and the destruction of ethnic culture (especially in cities).

Current situation
The number of Mordvins and their knowledge of their mother tongue began to decrease in 1939. Their percentage of the total population in their ethnic Republic is also decreasing (38.5% in 1959, 34.2% in 1979 and 32.5% in 1989). The Mordvins are the most dispersed of the Finnic peoples: in 1989 72.8% of them lived outside their Republic. They are a minority even in their own Republic (32.5% in 1989), especially small is their proportion in the cities (16.8% in 1970). The Mordvin national culture can be found only in the rural areas, the cities are dominated by newcomers and their life-style. Extensive economic industrialization (the industrial production of 1970 was 13 times greater than that of 1940) has served the interests of the governmental economic and national policy. The effect of using Mordovia as a main zone of prison camps of Russia has also been detrimental.

The demographic structure of the Mordvin people suffers from an increasing imbalance, which is shown by the decreasing numbers of births and of young people. In 1926 51.9% of the population were 19-years of age or younger, in 1959 the percentage was 37.8 and by 1970 it was only 36.7 %. The language use also decreases with the decline of ethnicity. In the beginning of the 1970s, 77,000 pupils took classes of the Mordvin language or studied in Mordvin in 391 different schools, by 1995 only 5925 students had the Mordvin (2560 Erzya, 3365 Moksha) language in their school curricula. A major language shift has begun among the Mordvin people. This can also be observed in the attitude of the parents. In 1989 45.5% of the rural and 83.9% of the urban Mordvins preferred to educate their children in Russian schools, and 13.9% and 5% respectively in Mordvin schools.

As culture is associated with language, it is worth mentioning that in 1970, 35 newspapers were published in Russian, 1 in Erzya and 1 in Moksha. Between 1946 and 1955, 81.4 publications per year were printed in Mordvin, but during 1976-1985 only half as many, or 46.6 publications per year. In 1992 there was one Russian publication per person, but only one Mordvin publication per 1,000 persons. The libraries had 7 books for each Russian reader, but 0.001 book for each Mordvin reader.

The extent of the use of the Mordvin language for communication can be illustrated by the following example: in 1974 91.6% of rural Mordvins used their native language at home, 61.8% at work and 31.9% in public communication. The respective numbers for urban Mordvins were 21.7%, 1.8% and 1.1%.

Norwegian Institute of International Affairs [NUPI] - Centre for Russian Studies

Meshchera | Mordvin Appeal

Links to external websites about the Mordvin people, their land, history, and culture (pages will open in new window):

Endangered Uralic Peoples: Mordvins

Wikipedia: Mordvins

Photos:,, Zubova Poliana District Administration

Idel-Ural Map | TURAN Main Map