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ISSN: 2158-7051






ISSUE NO. 5 ( 2016/2 )



ANIL ÇİÇEK* Summary The Mongol impact on Russian history, politics, economy, and culture has been one of the most debated subjects not only among Russian historians, scholars, and philosophers, but also among the historians of Western countries as well. For Russian historians with a traditional approach, the Mongols brought nothing to Russia but destruction and bloodshed. The Westernizers approached the Mongol rule in Russia from the perspective of relations with Europe and thus perceived the Mongol impact as a very negative development, as Russia was isolated from Europe during the Mongol rule, which continued for almost 250 years. The Eurasian school, however, embraced the Mongol rule with the argument that it had a direct impact on strengthening the founding pillars of the Tsarist Russian State: Orthodoxy, centralization of political power, autocracy, and serfdom. In an attempt to make an impartial analysis, this paper first briefly takes a look at the different interpretations of Russian and Soviet historians of the impacts of the Mongol invasion. It then focuses on the search for concrete evidence that obviously demonstrates the impacts of the Mongol rule on Russia in various fields. In the last section, the paper tries to lay out its own impartial assessment based on the existing evidence as well as unbiased interpretations.

Key Words: Mongol invasion, Genghis Khan, Tatar yoke, Golden Horde, Kievan Rus’, Muscovy, Muscovite princes, centralization of power, political unification, oriental despotism, Eurasianism, Slavophiles, autocracy, absolutism, serfdom, Mongolianism, Russification of Mongol state system.

International Journal of Russian Studies, No. 5/2 ( July 2016 ) Introduction The role of the Mongols in the rise of Muscovy has been a controversial topic in Russian historiography. Some Russian and Western historians have used the terminology “Tatar yoke” to better explain the destructive consequences of the Mongol invasion of Russian lands. One group of Russian historians considered the invasion a huge catastrophe in Russian history that isolated Russia from Europe, whereas another camp of Russian historians saw it as a positive development that kept Russia immune from the “bad influences” of the Catholic Church of Rome and provided it the chance to establish its unique political, religious, cultural, and economic systems, at the core of which lay Orthodox belief. Despite the great differences between the existing interpretations of the impact of the Mongol invasion, it goes without saying that it had profound consequences that helped to shape Muscovite and modern Russia, and perhaps even its role in recent world history.

From the tenth to the thirteenth centuries, Kievan Rus’[1] (Russia of Kiev) was well integrated into the medieval economic system. The Tartar invasion, which resumed in 1237 and lasted more than 250 years, tore Russia away from the West. Despite having devastating consequences for Kievan Rus’, the Tartar rule played an important role in the rise of Moscow and subsequently the Russian Empire. When the Principality of Moscow reorganized itself and rolled back the Tartar invaders, a new Russia was born, which considered itself as the heir of Orthodox Byzantium, different from the Catholic and Protestant West. The victory of Moscow began the Russian drive towards the Siberian vastness.

The Russian historian Nikolai Karamzin was perhaps the first person to open the debate about the consequences of the Mongol invasion. In his masterpiece History of the Russian State, which was published in 1818, Karamzin described the Mongol invasion as a “blessing” as it played a key role in unifying the Russian principalities. Karamzin’s book was considered as the re-discovery of Russian history and Russian pride. The common conviction among the educated elites that Russia’s history started with the process of Westernization under the reign of Peter the Great rapidly faded away. The distant past of Russia became a valuable source, wherein answers to questions about the country’s nature and destiny were sought.

In fact, it would not be too odd to claim that the different interpretations of the Russian historians and intelligentsia regarding the impact of 250 years of Tatar rule have been highly influenced by the traditional debate about the place of Russia between West and East. Westernizers saw the “East”, and in that sense the Tatar influence, as linked with autocracy, despotism, and empire. Their opponents admired precisely these features, which for them signified a strong state, unity, and order.[2] According to the Slavophiles, Russia’s exclusion from the Roman heritage – thanks to the Mongol invasion – was the essential feature distinguishing Russia from Europe. Russia had been spared this fatal heritage and was therefore established on purely Christian principles that were in complete harmony with the spirit of the Slavic peasant commune. The West was poisoned by shallow rationalism and racked by class antagonism, from which Russia was saved by Byzantine heritage and Slavic spirit.

Nikolai Berdyaev, the eminent twentieth-century Russian philosopher, believed that the source of Russian troubles lay in the “inconsistency of the Russian spirit” due to the “conflict of the Eastern and Western elements in her”. Russia, he argued, always contained within its wide territory an invisible and shifting border between two continents, and thus Russian society was forever torn between two cultures. Berdyaev insisted that Russia could not discover its true calling or place in the International Journal of Russian Studies, No. 5/2 ( July 2016 ) world until it resolved its internal conflict between East and West.[3] As precisely pointed out by Berdyaev, the difference of the attitudes of Russian historians and philosophers towards the Mongol impact have in fact demonstrated this dual Russian character.

When the works of non-Russian historians are examined, one often encounters some attempts to establish a link between the Mongol invasion and the “autocratic tradition” of the Russian state. In most cases, non-Russian historians have considered the Mongol invasion as the reason for the cultural and political backwardness of Russia and its Oriental despotism. Especially during the years of the Cold War, some historians and politicians of the Western world, as a part of an intentional campaign against Communism, attempted to explore the similarities between the Russian character and Mongol barbarism.

These different camps of explanations of the consequences of the Mongol invasion, each playing its own role in Russian history and political thought, in fact demonstrate the different faces of Russia. In an attempt to make an impartial assessment about the consequences of the Mongol invasion in Russian history, politics, economy, and culture, this paper will examine these different interpretations in detail in order to reach some concrete conclusions.

The Mongol Invasion

Temuchin, known as Genghis Khan and born probably in 1162, united the Mongols in 1206 after many years of struggle and wars. The armies of Genghis Khan invaded China, smashed the Muslim states of Central Asia, and soon reached the Caucasus. Genghis Khan died in 1227 but his successors continued his sweeping conquests.

The Mongols – or Tatars as they are called in Russian sources – appeared suddenly in 1223 in southeastern Russia and smashed the Russians in a battle near the river Kalka, only to vanish into the steppe. They returned to conquer Russia, in 1237-1240, and impose their long rule over it. Batu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, directed the Mongol invasion of Europe. The Mongols crossed the Urals in 1236 to first attack the Volga Bulgars. After that, in 1237, they struck at the Russian eastern principality of Ryazan, coming unexpectedly from the north. The town of Ryazan was besieged and captured after five days of bitter fighting and its entire population was massacred. Next, in the winter of 1237-1238, the Mongols attacked the Suzdal territory with its capital of Vladimir, the seat of the grand prince. In a matter of several months, the Mongols had succeeded in conquering the strongest section of the country.[4] According to Riasanovsky, the winter campaign of the Mongols was the only successful winter invasion of Russia in history.[5] Kiev fell to Batu Khan in 1240. He established his headquarters in Sarai on the lower Volga, north of the Caspian Sea. The Khanate of the Golden Horde was the farthest part of the Mongol Empire. As the ties with the center weakened gradually, it was the first to become independent. Sarai became the capital of the Golden Horde and the Khans of the Golden Horde ruled southern Russia from there. Their territory stretched from the Aral Sea across the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.

Following successful campaigns to the north and west from 1240 to 1242, all Russian cities came under the rule of the Golden Horde.

The Mongols destroyed Kievan Rus’ and divided medieval Russia into four regions. They dominated the southern steppes, whereas their control over the region between the Volga and Oka rivers, including the principalities of Vladimir and Moscow, was relatively moderate. They had the least influence over the principality of Novgorod in northern Russia.

The Russian princes were required to go to Sarai to tender personal homage and to pay tribute to the khans. The Khans retained control over princely successions and exercised a veto over International Journal of Russian Studies, No. 5/2 ( July 2016 ) all major policy decisions. The collection of taxes was closely monitored by the Golden Horde through officials that were stationed in Russian towns. Russian princes were obliged to send recruits for the Mongol armies when ordered so by the Khans. In the beginning, the Mongols collected taxes from the Russians by means of their own agents. Later, they did it through the intermediary of Russian princes. The Khans appointed one Russian ruler as Grand Prince and authorized him to maintain public order, law, and discipline.

Despite the fact that the Mongols did not actively interfere in Russian life, they maintained their effective rule until 1380. In 1380, Prince Dimitrii of Moscow defeated the Mongols in the Battle of Kulikovo. This defeat greatly weakened the Mongol power, but still another hundred years had to pass for Mongol rule to be overthrown. Finally, in 1480, Ivan III, Prince of Moscow, refused the authority of the khan and the Mongols failed to challenge him. The successor states of the Golden Horde were absorbed one after another into the Russian Empire: the Khanate of Kazan in 1552, of Astrakhan in 1556, and of Crimea in 1783.

Different Interpretations of the Mongol Impact on Russia

The Mongol rule of Russia continued for almost 250 years. However, there exists no consensus among Russian historians, philosophers, and scholars regarding the impact of the Mongols on Russian history. According to Riasanovsky, traditionally Russian historians have paid little attention to the Mongols and their impact on Russia; nevertheless, some of them did stress the destructive and generally negative influence of the Mongol invasion and subjugation. Others virtually dismissed the entire matter as being of minor significance in the historical development of the country.[6] Following the Bolshevik Revolution, two contrasting views of the Mongol impact emerged.

While Soviet historians argued that Tatar rule delayed the development of a unified Russian culture, economy, and national state, the Eurasian school of Russian emigres depicted the Mongol unification of Eurasia as a historically progressive event, claiming that Russia’s unification under Moscow was a direct consequence of Mongol rule. According to Eurasianists, the Russian state was the heir, successor, and continuer of Genghis Khan’s great empire.

In order to make an impartial analysis regarding the impacts of Mongol rule in Russian history, politics, and culture, it is both imperative and productive to take a brief look at the different approaches of each school.

A) The Traditional Approach Perhaps the only thing upon which almost all Russian and non-Russian historians can agree is the staggering devastation and massacre that the Mongol invaders brought to Russian lands. Russianlanguage sources speak about the complete extermination of the populations of towns such as Ryazan, Tortzhok, and Kozelsk, while other sources indicate that those who were lucky enough to survive the massacres became slaves of the Mongols.

The Tale of the Destruction of Ryazan[7] (Повесть о разорении Рязани Батыем) is an early Russian work about the capture of the city of Ryazan by the Mongols in 1237, which describes the

invasion of the city as follows:

…godless Emperor Batu invaded the Russian land with a great multitude of his Tatar warriors and set up a camp of the river Voronezh in the vicinity of the principality of Ryazan.

The Grand Prince Yury Ingvarevich sends to Batu his son Fedor Yurevich with gifts of supplication. The merciless Batu accepts the gifts and gives a false promise not to invade Ryazan. His lust is fueled by stories about Prince Fedor’s beautiful wife of Byzantine noble International Journal of Russian Studies, No. 5/2 ( July 2016 ) blood; Batu demands for himself concubines from Ryazan’s ruling families. Angered by Fedor’s proud refusal, he puts the Prince and his retinue to death. Great Prince Yury Ingarevich prepares for the battle, which takes place on the border of the principality of Ryazan. The outnumbered Russians fight fiercely and bravely but they lose the battle. Many receive martyr-like deaths. The accursed Batu successfully storms the city and kills all of its inhabitants.

The tale further describes the great destruction and slaughter with the following words:

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