The Mongols undertook to gather and organize Russia as they did their own state in order to introduce into the country law, order, and prosperity.... As a result of this policy the Mongols gave the conquered country the basic elements of future Muscovite statehood: autocracy, centralism, and serfdom.  (Khara-divan)
The bloody business begun by Chingiz-khan and continued by his descendants cost the Russians and other peoples of our country dearly.... The liberation struggle of peoples against the despotism of Chingiz-khan and his successors was a supreme act of progress.  (Istoriia SSSR)

As these quotations suggest, historians differ greatly in assessing the effects of the Mongol invasion and the "Tatar yoke" upon Rus. Contemporary and later Muscovite chronicles, depicting the invasion as a terrible misfortune for Rus, emphasized the terrible slaughter, disorder, and civil strife. Prerevolutionary Russian historians divided sharply over the effects of Mongol rule. N. M. Karamzin, an early l9th-century nationalist historian, blamed the Tatars for Russian backwardness, but he added that they had "restored autocracy" and strengthened Moscow, which "owed its greatness to the khans." On the other hand, S. M. Soloviev, the leading scholar of the so-called organic school, regarded the Mongols as merely the more powerful successors of the Polovtsy. "We have no reason to assume," he, wrote, "any great influence [of the Mongols] on [Russia's] internal administration, as we do not see any traces of it."

Since the Bolshevik Revolution two sharply contrasting views of the Mongol impact have emerged. Soviet historians, repudiating the balanced approach .of the 1920s presented by V. V. Bartold, stressed the negative, destructive aspects of the Mongol conquest and argued that Tatar rule delayed the development of a unified; Russian culture, economy, and national state.

On the other hand, the Eurasian school of Russian emigres, depicting the Mongol unification of Eurasia as historically progressive, have viewed Russia's unification under Moscow as the direct outgrowth of Mongol rule: "The Russian state was the heir, successor, and continuer of Chingis-khan's historic work.

Derived from the Eurasian view is the approach of Professor George Vernadsky, a Russian eniigre living in the United States, who assessed Mongol influence by analyzing differences between Kievan and Muscovite Russia.

Here is a summary of these three approaches to the nature of the Tatar yoke in Russia.

The Soviet View

The Mongol invasion, Soviet historians agreed, brought terrible physical destruction to Rus towns and villages and dealt severe blows to agriculture, trade, and handicrafts. During the balance of the 13th century repeated Tatar raids devastated new regions and prevented economic  recovery. The Rus and other peoples within the territory of the former USSR fought bitterly against the Mongols.

The heroic defense of their native land and cities by the Russian people was the decisive factor that wrecked the plan of the Tatar-Mongol aggressors to conquer all Europe. The great worldwide significance of the exploit of the Russian people was that it undermined the strength of the Mongol army. The Russian people defended the peoples of western Europe from the approaching avalanche of the Tatar-Mongol hordes and thus secured for them the possibility of normal economic and social development.

Only Rus's feudal division, claimed another Soviet historian, prevented able Rus princes such as Alexander Nevskii from coordinating massive resistance by peasants and townsmen against the invader. Feudal princes, boyars, and merchants for selfish reasons often collaborated with the enemy. Nonetheless Rus's vigorous resistance to the Mongols gave it greater autonomy than that of other regions subject to Mongol rule. Instead of administering Rus directly, the Tatars, as Karl Marx noted, "oppressed from a distance,"

The invasion and subsequent Mongol yoke, contended Soviet historians, greatly delayed Russia's economic development. Plunder and tribute payments drained silver and other pre-cious metals from the country. The destruction of commercial centers delayed the growth of a money economy. "Russian town handicrafts were completely destroyed. Russia was thrown back by several centuries, and during those centuries when the guild industry of the West shifted to a period of original accumulation, Russian handicraft industry again had to pass through part of that historic path which was traversed before Batu.''  Likewise, the Mongols undermined Russian agriculture, a basis for towns that might have counterbalanced the influence of feudal lords. The invasion worsened Russia's international and commercial position, especially toward the West. Weakened by Tatar attacks, the Russian states lost control of the important Dvina River trade route and territory in the West to Lithuania, Sweden, and the Teutonic Knights. Russia's links with Byzantium were mostly cut. Not until the 14th century was there some revival of commerce with Russia's southern and western neighbors. In the Mongol era much of Russian trade shifted  eastward, although Novgorod remained an important gateway to the West. The net effect of the Tatar yoke on the Russian economy, emphasized most Soviet historians, was overwhelmingly negative. Destroying, looting, and burning, the Mongols gave nothing to the Russian people in return.

Politically, affirmed these historians, the conquest interrupted the gradual consolidation of the Russian lands and deepened feudal divisions. The Mongols shattered the grand princely administration in the northeast and weakened the towns, the supporters of centralization. The centralized Muscovite state of the 15th century emerged, not with the aid of the Tatars, but "contrary to their interests and despite their will." Mongol policy in Russia "was not aimed at creating a unified state out of a divided society, but in every way to hinder consolidation, support mutual dissension of individual political groups and principalities.''

The Eurasian View

Emphasizing the necessity to treat the history of the Eurasian landmass as a unit, the emigre Russian scholars of the Eurasian view regard the Mongol invasion as the chief turning point in Russian history. Kievan Rus, they affirm, had merely been "a group of principalities run by Varangian princes" that became historically obsolete. "The political unification of Eurasia was a historic necessity from the beginning, and the people who took this onóthe Mongolsówere performing a historically progressive and necessary task." What they did for Russia was most significant: "The Mongol yoke summoned the Russian people from a provincial historical existence in small separated tribal and town principalities of the so-called appanage period onto the broad road of statehood." Russia, at first only a province of the Mongol Empire, adopted the Mongols' concept of the state and later took their place. "The Russian state was the heir, successor, and continuer of Chingis-khan's historic work.... The unification of the Russian lands under the power of Moscow was the direct result of the Tatar yoke."

The Mongol impact, assert the Eurasian historians, proved highly beneficial to the Russians. "The Tatars defended Russia from Europe," sparing it from conquest by the West. After the conquest Mongols and the people of Rus coexisted in harmony and peace. From their conquerors the Rus adopted typical Turanian character traits: steadiness, conviction, strength, and religiosity, all of which promoted the development of the Muscovite state. The Mongols assured to Rus secure commercial and cultural relations with the Orient; they enhanced the position of the Orthodox church. In the mid-13th century Alexander Nevskii, prince of Novgorod, faced with a fateful choice, wisely chose the East over the West: "Alexander saw in the Mongols a friendly force in a cultural sense that could assist him to pre- serve and consolidate Russian cultural identity from the Latin West."

Thus the Eurasian school, largely overlooking the destruction and disruption caused by the Mongol invasion, stressed the Mongols' positive contributions to all aspects of Russian development. It ascribed to them a role similar to that which the Normanists attributed to the Varangians. Both of these schools affirm that external influences outweighed domestic socioeconomic  change as a factor in Russia's growth.

Vernadsky's Approach

The problem of the nature of Mongol influence, affirms Vernadsky, a moderate Eurasianist, is many-sided; it involves the immediate impact of the invasion, the direct effects of Mongol rule,  and unintended contributions of the Tatars, through delayed action. One can gauge the extent of Mongol influence, he believes, by contrasting the institutions and spirit of Kievan Rus with those of Muscovyóby comparing the pre-Mongol era with the post-Mongol era.

Kievan political life had been free and diversified with monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements roughly in balance, but under the Mongols this pattern changed drastically. In place of the Kievan Rus federation, sharp rifts developed between east and west Rus. In the east, the region most exposed to Mongol influences, monarchical power became highly developed. After visiting Muscovy in 1517, Baron von Herberstein affirmed that the grand prince's authority over his subjects surpassed that of any European monarch. Under Mongol rule political life in Rus was curbed and deformed and its traditional balance upset. The Mongols crushed town assemblies because of their defiant independence; landed estates, rather than cities, .became the bases of political life. The power of princes grew as checks on their authority crumbled. When the prince of Moscow prevailed over the others, he became the sovereign of east Rus, clothed with awesome power.

Tatar influence on Muscovite administrative and military affairs, asserts Vernadsky, was also profound. "It was on the basis of the Mongol patterns that the grand ducal system of taxation and army organization was developed [in Muscovy] in the late fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries.''  For more than 50 years the khans of the Golden Horde exercised full and direct power over taxation and conscription in east Rus. When the Rus princes recovered authority over them, they continued the Mongol systems. The Turkic origin of the Russian words for treasury (kazna) and treasurer (kaznachei) suggest that the Muscovite treasury followed a Mongol pattern. The division of the Muscovite army into five large units resembled Mongol practice. The Russians adopted the Tatars' tactics of envelopment and  their system of universal conscription.

In the social realm, the foundations of the  relatively free and mobile Kievan society were chipped away during the Mongol period. Tatar rule helped subordinate the boyars to the ruler and prepared the way for enserfment of the peasantry. When Ivan III announced Rus's emancipation from the Tatar yoke in 1480, the framework  of a new service-bound society was virtually complete.

The economic results of the Mongol conquest were mixed. Devastated major cities, especially Kiev, Chernigov, and Suzdal, lost their importance for centuries. Mongol conscription of craftsmen almost exhausted Rus's reservoir of skilled manpower; industry was crippled. In Novgorod the economic depression lasted for 50 years; in east Rus, for a full century. Revival only followed the relaxation of Tatar control. Agriculture, affirms Vernadsky, suffered less and became the leading branch of the Rus economy, especially in the northeast. Mongol regional governors and khans, however, encouraged the development of Rus trade with both east and west.

Mongol rule affected the Orthodox church mostly indirectly but significantly. The devastation and decline of Kiev soon induced the church to shift its center of operations to the northeast. The khans of the Golden Horde issued a series of charters permitting the church to build up its material wealth and influence without fear of state interference or persecution. In many ways it emerged from the Mongol era stronger and richer than before.

The Mongol cultural impact, Vernadsky believes, was considerable. By a process of osmosis Turkish, Persian, and Arabic words entered the Russian language as late as the 17th century. Some of the descendants of Tatars who settled in Rus, such as Karamzin and Peter Chaadaev, became outstanding intellectual leaders. Russia adopted the stiff, formal diplomatic ritual of the Orient from the Mongols. In a sense, concludes Vernadsky, Russia itself was a successor state of the Golden Horde.

[From David MacKenzie, Michael Curran. A History of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Beyond (Belmont, CA, 1999), 68-72]

Additional sources:

"The Tatar Yoke" by Gerhard Rempel