The crushing victories of Batu's armies initiated nearly two and one-half centuries of Mongol dominance in Russia. Russian princes were forced to submit as vassals of the khan of the Golden Horde and to pay tribute or risk the ravages of Mongol raiders. Mongol exactions fell particularly heavily on the Russian peasantry, who had to yield up their crops and labor to both their own princes and the Mongol overlords. Impoverished and ever fearful of the lightning raids of Mongol marauders, the peasants fled to remote areas or became, in effect, the serfs of the Russian ruling class in return for protection.
The decision on the part of many peasants to become the lifetime laborers of the nobility resulted in a major change in the rural social structure of Russia. Until the mid-19th century, the great majority of the population of Russia would be tied to the lands they worked and bound to the tiny minority of nobles who owned these great estates. Some Russian towns made profits on the increased trade Mongol links made possible, and sometimes the gains exceeded the tribute they paid to the Golden Horde. No town benefited from the Mongol presence more than Moscow. Badly plundered and partially burned in the early Mongol assaults, the city was gradually rebuilt and its ruling princes steadily swallowed up nearby towns and surrounding villages. After 1328, Moscow also profited from its status as the tribute collector for the Mongol khans. Its princes not only used their position to fill their own coffers, they annexed further towns as punishment for falling behind on the payment of their tribute.
As Moscow grew in strength, the power of the Golden Horde declined. Mongol religious toleration benefited both the Orthodox church and Moscow. The Metropolitan, or head of the Orthodox church, was made the representative of all the clergy in Russia, which did much to enhance the church's standing. The choice of Moscow as the seat of the Orthodox leaders brought new sources of wealth to its princes and buttressed Muscovite claims to be Russia's leading city. In 1380, those claims received an additional boost when the princes of Moscow shifted from being tribute collectors to being the defenders of Russia. In alliance with other Russian vassals, they raised an army that defeated the forces of the Golden Horde at the battle of Kulikovo. Their victory and the devastating blows Timur's attacks dealt the Golden Horde two decades later effectively broke the Mongol hold over Russia. Mongol forces raided as late as the 1450s, and the princes of Muscovy did not formally renounce their vassal status until 1480. But from the end of the 14th century, Moscow was the center of political power in Russia, and it was armies from Poland and Lithuania that posed the main threat to Russian peace and prosperity.
Though much of the Mongol impact was negative, their conquest proved in a number of ways a decisive turning point in Russian history. In addition to their meaning for Moscow and the Orthodox church, Mongol contacts led to changes in Russian military organization and tactics and the political style of Russian rulers. Claims that the Tartars were responsible for Russian despotism, either Tsarist or Stalinist, are clearly overstated. Still, the Mongol example may have influenced the desire of Russian princes to centralize their control and minimize the limitations placed on their power by the landed nobility, the clergy, and wealthy merchants.
By far the greatest effects of Mongol rule, however, were those resulting
from Russia's relative isolation from Christian lands farther west. On
the one hand, the Mongols protected a divided and weak Russia from the
attacks of much more powerful kingdoms such as Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary
as well as the "crusades" of militant Christian orders like the Teutonic
Knights, which were determined to stamp out the Orthodox heresy. On the
other hand, Mongol overlordship cut Russia off from key transformations
in western Europe that were inspired by the Renaissance and led ultimately
to the Reformation. The Orthodox clergy, of course, would have had little
use for these influences, but their absence severely reduced the options
available for Russian political, economic, and intellectual development.
"The Golden Horde"
Jiu-Hwa L. Upshur, et al., World History (Minneapolis, 1994), 371-372
The westernmost part of Genghis's empire, ruled by the descendants of Juji and called the Khanate of the Golden Horde, stretched from the Carpathian Mountains to the Aral Sea. Whereas the Mongol rulers of China and Persia adopted some of the sedentary ways of their subjects, on the Eurasian steppes the Mongols maintained their ancestral nomadic habits, assimilating the indigenous nomads.
The Khanate of the Golden Horde was farthest from the Mongol homeland and the first to go its own way. The khans of the Golden Horde ruled southern Russia from Sarai, their capital city on the lower Volga River. Their territory stretched between the Aral Sea, across the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. After the successful campaigns to the north and west from 1240 to 1242, they received the submission of all Russian princes, who were required to go to Sarai to tender personal homage and to offer tribute in gold, silver, fur, cattle, and young men and women as slaves.
The khans found indirect rule lucrative and effective. They appointed one Russian ruler Grand Prince, and authorized him to keep the other rulers in line. The position of Grand Prince was not hereditary, however, and since the khan could invest any Russian prince with the position, he was thus able to sow dissension among the Russian princes, and promote loyalty and subservience to himself. The princes of Moscow gradually proved their loyalty to the Golden Horde, and therefore won continued confirmation as grand princes. In this way Moscow became second only to Sarai in importance during the Mongol period. Mongol expeditions burned towns and ravaged crops to punish disobedience and to instill fear.
Mongol power lasted in Russia without effective challenge until 1380, when the Prince of Moscow defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Kulikovo. Although weakened, Mongol power continued for another hundred years. Finally in 1480, Ivan III, Prince of Moscow, renounced his and Russia's allegiance to the khan. The Golden Horde split up, and after the sixteenth century, in a reversal of events, the rulers of Russia would absorb the Horde's successor states one after another into the Russian Empire. Russians called the descendants of the Mongols Tartars.
Two major factors account for the longevity of Mongol power over Russia. One was the disunity among the Russian princes, who succumbed to the Mongol policy of divide and rule. Since Russia was simultaneously threatened by Lithuanians and Germans to the west, Mongol overlordship even afforded some Russians a measure of protection against their western enemies. Another reason was Russia's relative cultural backwardness compared with China and Persia, so that the Russian way of life was less a model for Mongol emulation than Chinese and Persian ways. Thus Mongols in Russia remained distinct and did not assimilate.
In the fourteenth century the Golden Horde converted to Islam. This
act was decisive, for it placed an insurmountable barrier between the Mongols
and their Christian subjects. It raised the Russian struggle for independence
into a crusade for Orthodox Christianity, for in their darkest hours Russians
had turned to their religion for identification and consolation. This religious
difference continued to reaffirm the division between Russian and Mongol
and later prevented the integration of Mongols fully into Russian life.
Albert Craig, et al. The Heritage of World Civilizations (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2000), 366
In the thirteenth century, Mongol (or Tatar) armies swept over China, much of the Islamic world, and Russia. Ghengis Khan invaded Russia in 1223 and Kiev fell to Batu Khan in 1240. Russian cities became tribute-paying principalities of the segment of the Mongol Empire called the Golden Horde which had its capital at Sarai, on the lower Volga. The Golden Horde stationed officials in Russian towns to oversee taxation and the conscription of soldiers into Tatar armies.
Mongol rule further divided Russia from the West. The Mongols intermarried with the Russians and also created harems filled with Russian women. Russian women--under the influence of Islam, which had become the religion of the Golden Horde--began to wear veils and to lead more secluded lives. The Mongols, however, left Russian political institutions and religion largely intact and, thanks to their far-flung trade, brought most Russians greater peace and prosperity than they had enjoyed before.
RUSSIAN LIBERATION. The princes of Moscow cooperated with their overlords
in the collection of tribute and grew wealthy under the Mongols. As Mongol
rule weakened, the princes took control of the territory surrounding the
city. In a process that has come to be known as "the gathering of the Russian
land," they then gradually expanded the principality of Moscow through
land purchases, colonization, and conquest.
"Russia and the Mongol Conquest"
Richard L. Greaves, et al., Civilizations of the World (New York, 1997), 345-347
The Mongols established their western capital at Sarai on the Lower Volga River, north of the Caspian Sea. The princes of southern and eastern Russia had to pay tribute to the khans, but in return they received charters, or yarliks, authorizing them to act as deputies of the khans. In general, the princes enjoyed considerable freedom to rule as they desired. One of them, Alexander Nevsky (died 1263), prince of Vladimir, acquired heroic status as the result of major victories over the Swedes: Teutonic Knights, and the Lithuanians.
The Mongol incursions destroyed the last remnant of Kievan power, and henceforth medieval Russia was essentially divided into four regions. The Mongols dominated the southern steppes but exercised only modest control over Great Russia, the region between the Volga and Oka rivers, which included the principalities of Vladimir and Moscow. Western Russia, including Ukraine, freed itself of Mongol control in the late medieval period, only to fall under the sway of Lithuania. The Mongols had the least influence over the vast principality of Novgorod in northern Russia. Novgorod enjoyed the advantage of a strategic commercial site on the Volkhov River, but most of its territory was thinly populated because of its poor soil. Immigrants who left southern Russia to escape the Mongols gravitated mostly to the northeast, where the soil was better and the rivers were more conducive to commercial development. This region provided the nucleus of the modern Russian state in the late medieval period. By that time the Mongols had left their impact on the Russians in such areas as military dress and tactics, labor levies, and the development of new trade routes. Eastern influence remained strong well into the eighteenth century, when Russian rulers attempted to westernize their country.
"Russia and the Golden Horde"
Anthony Esler. The Human Venture (Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2000), 305-306
By 1240 the Mongols were effectively, the masters of European Russia. They would remain so for the next two and a half centuries (1240-1480).
The khan of the Golden Horde—so called from the color of their tents—settled at a new city called Sarai on the lower Volga. Once the initial carnage was ended, the Tatar Yoke, as the Russians call the period of Mongol rule, was less onerous than it might have been. The khans retained control over princely successions and exercised a veto over all major policy decision. Taxes had to be paid on time and recruits for the Mongol armies sent as ordered. Beyond this, the Russian cities, once they dug out of their ruins, order their affairs pretty much as they wished. A senior Russian prince was even put in charge of tax collection for the Golden Horde, and Mongol officials rigorously punished any profanation of the Orthodox church.
The eventual fall of the khans came about as a result of a proclivity for self-destructive feuding as great as that of the Russian princes in earlier times. The earlier fifteenth century saw major Mongol accessions from the Golden Horde. Then in 1480 a weakened khan backed off from a confrontation with a Russian alliance now headed by the grand duke of Moscow. Twenty years later, the shrunken remnant of the Golden Horde was extinguished on the southern steppes by some of their own rivalrous Tatar kin.
But two and a half centuries of Mongol rule had left their mark on Russia.:
On the negative side, Russian cultural development seems to have been impeded by the severing of contact with Western Europe during this period. Russian economic growth also suffered--from heavy tributes and from repeated punitive expeditions, the Mongol method of maintaining order in Russia. Politically, budding city assemblies that had had some power in the Kieven period withered under the Mongols. Thus, Russia lost the urban merchant oligarchies, the "rising middle classes" that appeared in Western Europe about this time.
.A Mongol element may be detected in the Russian population and some Mongol influence on Russian coinage, military organization, and early administrative practices. But the most significant consequence of the centuries of Russian subservience to the Golden Horde was surely the impetus it gave to authoritarian rule in czatist Russia.
The Russian people, as one Russian historian pointed out, "were trained by the Mongols to take orders, to pay taxes, and to supply soldiers without delay." They carried over these habits into later centuries, making them excellent subjects for future czars.
The ruthless methods used by the Moscow grand dukes to unify their country
in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are also sometimes traced to the
Mongol example. In matters of government, the subtler model of Byzantine
autocracy was now reinforced by direct experience of the bludgeoning authoritarianism
of the khans. It may not be too imaginative to see in these early models
the seeds of a Russian style of autocracy that would be echoed in the hardfisted
regimes of such later Russian rulers as Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great,
and Joseph Stalin.
"Russia Divided and Conquered"
John M. Thompson. Russia and the Soviet Union (Boulder, Colo, 1994), 39-40
In assessing the Mongol period of Russian history it is important neither to dismiss it nor to overplay it. Looked at from the broadest perspective, the Mongol era left three significant legacies for future Russian civilization. First, it heightened a deep sense of insecurity among Russians and within Russian society. The fear of being overrun and subjugated might eventually have faded from the consciousness of ordinary Russians and their leaders, except that subsequent events, as we shall see, kept those anxieties boiling.
Thus, time and again in Russian history the people and state struggled, with limited resources, to ward off foreign intruders and to ensure their own safety and security.
Second, the Mongol invasion made unity and cohesiveness a high-priority value in Russian society and the Russian state. The Russians had had no chance against the Mongols, in part because they were divided, with each prince and his followers trying to fend for themselves. Out of that experience and the necessity of building a strong state to overthrow the Mongol yoke came an emphasis on the strength to be found in a common religion, Orthodoxy, and in a common allegiance to the grand prince (later the tsar). Without the Mongols a Russian state or empire might eventually have been formed out of the disparate pieces into which Kievan civilization had separated, but it is at least equally possible that the Russians would have remained divided and would have been absorbed by their powerful neighbors: Poles, Lithuanians, and others.
Finally, whatever specific effects the Mongols had in draining the Russian
economy and terrorizing the population, a highly significant fundamental
outcome of their rule was to spur the divergence of Russian civilization
from the West. As we have discussed, Russia was bound to emerge as a unique
society, but at least in Kievan times it was developing along a track parallel
to that of western Europe and its Latin Christian civilization. But after
the Mongols the distance between them had perceptibly widened, and Russian
society evolved along more distinctly different lines than it had a few
centuries earlier. As a result, serfdom emerged in Russia just as it was
disappearing in western Europe. Trade and commercial capitalism flourished
in Europe but languished in Russia. Europe bubbled over with intellectual
ferment and social fluidity, particularly during the Renaissance. Thought
in Russia remained quite traditional, even stagnant, as Russian society
became increasingly rigid and stratified. To be sure, this is not to argue
that, but for the Mongols, Russia would have turned out (happily in our
view) much like the West. It is simply to underscore that the Mongol era
made certain that Russian civilization would follow a markedly different
course from that being traversed by Western civilization.