The Subjugation of Kievan Rus : The Tartar-Mongol Conquest and its Influences/ Ramifications

The Tartar- Mongol invasion of 1237-1241 marked the collapse of the Kievan Rus state and for more than a century, the Mongolian leaders and armies remained the major power over most of the Rus territories. For almost the next 300 years, the three major influences on this country and its people were the Mongols, the new city of Moscow, and let's not forget the Russian princes and aristocracy that will continue to weave their influence, civil war, and conflicts onto the Russian people and its land mass. This paper will discuss the Tartar -Mongol invasion and the Russian resistance to it and also will discuss the history of the “Golden Gate” of Kiev and its significance to Russian history and the Mongol invasion.

By the time of the beginning of the Mongol invasion in 1237, many things had changed in Kievan Rus. The city of Kiev was no longer the capital of the 'great prince' Andrei Bogolyubsky as he had 'sacked' the city and then moved 'his' capital to the city of Vladimir. As the trade to Greece became less important, so did the city of Kiev and eventually steppe nomads (the Polovtsy) cut the water route to Greece. This waterway 'tie' had connected the two largest areas of Kievan Rus... and they were now divided. Decentralization and migration to avoid the steppe nomads began to occur and ordinary Russians, as they understood the inability or unwillingness of their princes to rule, took to finding their own strength to solve their problems and to try and prosper. This lack of communication and the lack of cooperation by the ruling elite left the Kievan Rus state more vulnerable to outside invading forces. This vulnerability and then the loss of several armies that were sent to help neighboring Polovtsky forces fight the Mongolian forces, helped assure the collapse of the Kievan Rus and the takeover by the Mongols.

Russia was safe for a few years from the Tartar-Mongols as the Mongolian forces retreated to the East in 1227 to deal with internal problems arising from the death of Genghis Khan....however, these were dealt with and so the Mongols returned, invading under a khan named Batu and a general named Subodei. While the Russian elite and its people should have been prepared for the Mongols to return, the Riurikid princes failed to take any extraordinary precautions against attack – even after three of their neighbors were attacked and subdued in 1229 and 1232. Batu and his army attacked in 1237 by crossing the Volga river and systematically taking over the land after his demand for a tribute of 10% of all the assets of Russia was denied- which included people and horses. The first to fall was the city of Riazan which was conquered in a week, destroyed the small town of Moscow in January 1238, 'captured, plundered, and burned' the city of Suzdal, and then reached the city of Vladimir in February- which was defeated and beaten in a battle on the Sit' river on March 4, 1238. The great Tartar-Mongol campaigns in the lands of Russia can be divided into two separate phases over three years (1237-1240).

By 1240, Batu had conquered all but a single part of the Kievan Rus- and Novgorod escaped only by a very lucky circumstance. As new territories were acquired, the Mongols conscripted new members for the military from the conquered populations and adapted their 'clan structure' to the conquered people. The Mongols were also noted by religious communities at the time for being very tolerant of other religions. However, the Mongols were not noted for their abundance of mercy or pity- to themselves or other groups of people. An example of the strict discipline by this group for themselves can be measured the the example given to other soldiers – if one or more soldiers was 'captured' by the enemy, the other members of their military 'group' were executed after the battle's end. Also, in “The Tale of the Destruction of Riazan”, the audience is reminded that the Mongols 'burned this holy city with all its beauty and wealth... And churches of God were destroyed and much blood was spilled on the holy alters. And not one man remained alive in the city. All were dead. All had drunk the same bitter cup to the dregs. And there was not even anyone to mourn the dead.', After the Mongol military campaigns were concluded in the Rus lands, these lands joined the vast empire that was known as the Golden Horde- which at its largest point covered large areas across eastern Europe, Persia, China and Korea.

The land of Kieven Rus and its people were deeply affected by the invasion and subsequent rule by the Mongol rulers. Looking at the land through a large lens, the country itself was mostly cut off from Europe for more than 250 years. This would certainly have had its effect on the economy- as well as the political and cultural structure of the time. After the city of Kiev was burned to the ground in December 1242, the center of political power in the Rus was shuffled from there to the newer city of Moscow. (An interesting chronicle account on the siege and burning of Kiev mentions that so many people tried to get to safety from the Mongol army in the Church of Tithe that the upper floors of the church collapsed due to the weight. The Church of Tithe was also the first church built of stone in the city of Kiev.) At the time of the Mongol destruction, Kiev was considered one of the largest cities in the world, with a population exceeding one hundred thousand. Many parts of the land and its human geography was destroyed as cities were burned, large quantities of people killed, several royal princes killed along with their armies, and a new way of life and new leaders emerged. (There is some argument about how much real damage either than 'deaths' the Mongol conquest actually caused.) The only facts that do not appear to have much dissent surrounding them is that the Tartar-Mongol forces seemed to easily and speedily conquer the Kievan Rus state due to a few circumstances- the Mongol army was much larger and much more efficient due to skill, military tactics etc.... The Russians had no central command, smaller and less efficient armies, no intelligence system and very little communication between the towns and districts.

With the coming of the Khan- ruler or tsar of the Golden Horde, the lives and lifestyles of the remaining populations were to change. The Mongol society was primarily a nomadic one and that was not to change after the takeover of a different group of people. Society was based around clans, which were then divided into tribes and then smaller groups and even when building cities and agricultural communities, the Mongols were known for continuing to be a people who were easily 'transportable'- while building his capital city of Sarai, the leader Batu lived in a tent. One source suggests that by 1253, this capital city was an enormous 'tent city' of about ten miles in size. The economy was affected as tribute needed to be paid to the Mongol oppressors, qualified men were forced or conscripted into new positions in the economy- army, crafted items, other skilled labor, etc... Some chronicles describe the taking of slaves and the systematic conscription of the skilled craftsman and artisans. So internal commerce would have suffered a setback due to the lack of city craftsman to make things to sell, the inability of the towns to make goods to satisfy the villagers, the Mongol policy of 'ignoring' the peasants so that the peasants would be forced to grow food for themselves and the trade routes that had been disrupted and needed to be restored, etc... To be blunt, the Mongols, who were primarily interested in economic gain, had the motivation to get the economy moving again quickly and settle in peaceful relations over the conquered. That said, the motivation was based on what the Mongol leaders wanted the economy to do... and that did not necessarily contain what the economy had already been functioning as before the war.

Politics changed as well. The war with the Mongols had reduced the number of princes that still survived to vie for power and land (mostly the northeastern princes). And each of these princes needed to accept their new rulers, learn how to deal with the new rules/laws and attempt to recover and restore order in their lands- of course, after they had their right to continue to 'rule' confirmed by the Khan. The fact that the Mongols had become the men in charge, however, did not change the continuous power struggles between the Russian princes as well as the near severance of political and cultural ties between the north and south lands. In some areas the only outward sign of the Tatar-Mongol invasion's success was that the Russian princes would travel to the headquarters of the Golden Horde to pay allegiance to the Khan and have their appointments as leaders confirmed... as well as to pay tribute. The invasion also brought the 'census' to Russian lands as the Mongol leaders used the information gathered for military conscription, land division, assessing the amount of tribute due, etc... Politics in general changed more in the southern areas of the old Kievan Rus due to proximity to the headquarters of the Golden Horde- the northern areas were less easily influenced. Diplomatic rituals clearly changed and developed over this time as well. The visits became more formalized and became a 'ritual'... and not a haphazard system.

Other changes that can be attributed to the Mongol invasion were changes in culture. A postal system was developed that helped speed communication and make it more efficient. Interactions between the Church and the Golden Horde became more direct and regular at time went on and by 1261 a bishopric was established at Sarai and the Russian church was afforded special privileges from taxation and military conscription- even though the Mongols were generally Muslim. Individual bishops could serve as diplomatic agents for the khans and were used by the Golden Horde to help improve alliances with the Byzantium as well as act as emissaries to the Russian princes (which could suggest church approval for the Mongols.) As the city of Moscow became more prominent over time, the culture that the city of Kiev had shared diminished and the cultural attributes of Moscow became more widespread. (By 1252, Moscow had become an independent hereditary principality and over the next hundred years it was to grow strong enough to not only annex some of its neighbors in 1302, but to also fight for the title of Grand Princedom in the early 1360's.) Over time, the Golden Horde would put it's trust/confidence in the prince's of Moscow over other political princes.

Like all empires, the Golden Horde was chipped at over time and was eventually vanquished from the Russian lands. In 1380, an alliance led by the princes of Moscow defeated the mongols at the battle of Kulikovo- which was to mark the beginning of the end of the Golden Horde in Russia. The Mongol 'vacuum' as filled as it lifted, but mostly by Russia's traditional enemies (the Poles and the Lithuanians) and not necessarily by the Russian's themselves. As these new groups moved in, intermarriage became more commonplace, helping to blend, people, cultures, and language.

In conclusion, while the Mongol invasion caused changes in the economic, political and cultural structure of Kievan Rus- and certainly contributed or caused the failure/collapse of the state, not all changes can be placed squarely at the feet of the Golden Horde. For some groups economic advantages could be had that were better than before the invasion... and many economic hardships that were suffered by the common man could be shown to be as much the fault of the Russian princes themselves as well as the Mongol leaders. The changes in culture can be placed at the feet of the Mongols... and at the feet of the Russian princes and the Byzantine empire as well. And many political 'changes' didn't cause much change at all- the Russian princes still squabbled like toddlers playing a high stakes game of Risk. Some changes, such as the census and tax gathering methods the princes saw as distinct benefits- and kept using them after the Khan had been vanquished from the Russian lands. Moscow rose to prominence because of the calculation of its princes and their use of the 'political arraignments by the Golden Horde- a calculation that other princes in Russia didn't take advantage of.

An interesting side note to this invasion and physical structure that has managed to survive the years of changes and revolution is the “Golden Gate' of Kiev. Who constructed the gate is up to debate- whether it was Vladimir I or his son Yaroslav the Wise- although Yaroslav appears to be winning in the debate. It was constructed in 1017-1024 and served as a main gala entrance to Kiev. The Golden Gate was originally a 'triplet' and was one of the three main gates into the city of Kiev. The other two have not survived the onslaught of centuries. The city of Vladimir had a set of gates also known as the 'Golden Gates', but those particular gates were destroyed by Batu during the Mongol invasion of the city. The Golden Gate of Kiev, however, was built so well that when Batu tried and successful attacked the city of Kiev, he was unable to get through that particular gate... and only found success through a less well fortified area. These 'gates' have a few significant connections to the past history of the Russian state. In 1048, a french delegation arrived in the city of Kiev to ask King Yaroslav for his daughter's hand in marriage to King Henry I of France. The french diplomats was awed by the beauty of the “Golden Gates” and you can still find royal deeds in France signed with the seal of the Princess Anna Yaroslavna- which has a iris and a gate... which is thought to be the Golden Gates of Kiev. If all the entrances to Kiev had been like the Golden Gate...well, the Mongols might have met their match in the city of Kiev. It is also a unique architectural structure that has been imitated a few times, but is based on the internal decorations found in ancient Ruthenian churches. Currently, the Golden Gates have been restored on the ruins of the original gates, holds a museum inside and are now the property of a different nation- Ukraine.

No comments:

Post a Comment