RAMBAUD ON THE MONGOL CONQUEST OF THE KIEVAN RUS' PRINCIPALITIES

[excerpted from Alfred Rambaud, Russia, Leonora B. Lang, tr., vol. 1 (New York: Collier, 1900), pp. 112-119]


Up to this time the destinies of Russia had presented some analogy with those. of the West. Slavonia, like Gaul, had received Roman civilization and Christianity from the South. The Northmen had brought her an organization which recalls that of the Germans; and under Iaroslaf, like the west under Charles the Great, she had enjoyed a certain semblance of unity, while she was afterwards dismembered and divided like France in feudal times. But in the 13th century, Russia suffered an unheard-of misfortune -- she was invaded and subjugated by Asiatic hordes. This fatal event contributed quite as much as the disadvantage of the soil and the climate to retard her development by many centuries. " Nature," as M. Solovief says, "has been a step-mother to Russia;" fate was another step-mother.

" In those times," say the Russian chroniclers, "there came upon us for our sins, unknown nations. No one could tell their origin, whence they came, what religion they professed. God alone know who they were, God and perhaps wise men learned in books." When we think of the horror of the whole of Europe at the arrival of the Mongols, and the anguish of a Frederick, of a Saint Louis, an Innocent IV., we may imagine the terror of the Russians. They bore the first shock of those mysterious foemen, who were, so the people whispered, Gog and Magog, who " were to come at the end of the world, when Antichrist is to destroy everything." (Joinville.)

The Ta-ta or Tatars seem to have been a tribe of the great Mongol race, living at the foot of the Altai, who in spite of their long-continued discords frequently found means to lay waste China by their invasions. The portrait drawn of them recalls in many ways those already traced by Chinese, Latin and Greek authors, of the Huns, the Avars, and other nomad peoples of former invasions. "The Ta-tzis or the Das," says a Chinese writer of the 13th century, " occupy themselves exclusively with their flocks; they go wandering ceaselessly from pasture to pasture, from river to river. They are ignorant of the nature of a town or a wall. They are unacquainted with writing and books; their treaties are concluded orally. From infancy they are accustomed to ride, to aim their arrows at rats and birds, and thus acquire the courage essential to their life of wars and rapine. They have neither religious ceremonies nor judicial institutions. From the prince to the lowest among the people all are nourished by the flesh of the animals whose skin they use for clothing. The strongest among them have the largest and fattest morsels at feasts; the old men are put off with the fragments that are left. They respect nothing but strength and bravery; age and weakness are condemned. When the father dies, the son marries his youngest wives." A Mussulman writer adds, that they adore the sun, and practice polygamy and the community of wives. This pastoral people did not take an in. terest in any phenomenon of nature except the growth of grass. The names they gave to their months were suggested by the different aspects of the prairie. Born horsemen, they had no infantry in war. They were ignorant of the art of sieges. " But," says a Chinese author, "when they wish to take a town, they fall on the suburban villages. Each leader seizes ten men , and every prisoner is forced to carry a certain quantity of wood, stones, and other materials. They use these for filling up fosses, or digging trenches. In the capture of a town, the loss of 10,000 men was thought nothing. No place could resist them. After a siege, all the population was massacred, without distinction of old or young, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, those who resisted or those who yielded ; no distinguished person escaped death, if a defence was attempted."

It was these rough tribes that Temoutchine or Genghis-Khan (11154-1227) succeeded in uniting into one nation after forty years of obscure struggles. Then in a general congress of their princes he proclaimed himself emperor, and declared that, as there was only one sun in heaven, there ought only to be one emperor on the earth. At the head of their forces he conquered Mantchouria, the kingdom of Tangout, Northern China, Turkestan, and Great Bokhara, which never recovered this disaster, and the plains of Western Asia as far as the Crimea. When he died, he left to be divided between his four sons the largest empire that ever existed.

It was during his conquest of Bokhara that his lieutenants Tchepe and Souboudaï-
bagadour subdued -in -their passage a multitude of Turkish peoples, passed the Caspian by its
southern shore, invaded Georgia and the Caucasus, and in the southern steppes of Russia came in
contact with the Polovtsi.

BATTLES OF THE KALKA, OF RIAZAN, OF KOLOMNA, AND OF THE SIT-CONQUEST OF RUSSIA.

The hereditary enemies of the Russians proper, the Polovsti, asked the Christian princes for help against these Mongols and Turks, who were their brothers by a common origin. " They have taken our country," said they to the descendants of Saint Vladimir ; " to-morrow they will take yours." Mstislaf the Bold, then prince of Galitch, persuaded all the dynasties of Southern Russia to take up arms against the Tatars: his nephew Daniel, princece of Volhynia, Mstislaf Romanovitch, Grand Prince of Kief, Oleg of Koursk, Mstislaf of Tchernigof, Vladimir of Smolensk, Vsevolod for a short time prince of Novgorod, responded to his appeal. To cement his alliance with the Russians, Basti, khan of the Polovsti, embraced orthodoxy. The Russian army had already arrived on the Lower Dnieper, when the Tatar ambassadors made their appearance. "We have come by God's command against our slaves and grooms, the accursed Polovtsi. Be at peace with us; we have no quarrel with you." The Russians, with the promptitude and thoughtlessness that characterized the men of that time, put the ambassadors to death. They then went further into the steppe, and encountered the Asiatic hordes on the Kalka, a small river running into the Sea of Azof. The Russian chivalry on this memorable day showed the same disordered, and the same ill-advised eagerness as the French chivalry at the opening of the English wars. Mstislaf the Bold, Daniel of Galitch, and Oleg of Koursk were the first to rush into the midst of the infidels, without waiting for the princes of Kief, and even without giving them warning, in order to gain for themselves the honors of victory. In the middle of the combat, the. Polovsti were seized with a panic and fell back on the Russian ranks, thus throwing them into disorder. The rout, became general, and the leaders spurred on their steeds in hopes of reaching the Dnieper.

Six princes and seventy of the chief boyards or voïevodes remained on the field of battle. It was the Creçy and Poitiers of the Russian chivalry. Hardly a tenth of the army escaped ; the Kievians alone left 10,000 dead. The Grand Prince of Kief, however, Mstislaf Romanovitch, still occupied a fortified camp on the banks of the Kalka. Abandoned by the rest of the army, he tried to defend himself. The Tatars offered to make terms ; he might retire on payment of a ransom for himself and his droujina. He capitulated, and the conditions were broken. His guard was massacred, and be and his two sons-in-law were stifled under planks. The Tatars held their festival over the inanimate bodies (1224).

After this thunderbolt, which struck terror into the whole of Russia, the Tatars paused and returned to the East. Nothing more was heard of them. Thirteen years passed, during which the princes reverted to their perpetual discords. Those in the north-east had given no help to the Russians of the Dnieper; perhaps the Grand Prince, George II. of Souzdal, may have rejoiced over the humiliation of the Kievians and Gallicians. The Mongols were forgotten; the chronicles, however, are filled with fatal presages : in the midst of scarcity, famine and pestilence, of incendiaries in the towns and calamities of all sorts, they remark on the comet of 1224, the earthquake and eclipse of the sun of 1230.

The Tatars were busy finishing the conquest of China, but presently one of the sons of Genghis, Ougoudei or Oktaï, sent his nephew Bati to the West. As the reflux of the Polovtsi had announced the invasion Of 1224, that of the Saxin nomads, related to the Khirghiz who took refuge on the lands of the Bulgarians of the Volga, warned men of a new irruption of the Tatars, and indicated its direction. It was no longer South Russia, but Souzdalian Russia that was threatened. In 1237 Bati conquered the Great City, capital of the half-civilized Bulgars, who were, like the Polovtsi, ancient enemies of Russia, and who were to be included in her ruin. Bolgary was given up to the flames, and her inhabitants were put to the sword. The Tatars next plunged into the deep forests of the Volga, and sent a sorcerer and two officers as envoys to the princes of Riazan. The three princes of Riazan, those of Pronsk, Kolomna, Moscow and Mourom, advanced to meet them. " If you want peace," said the Tatars, "give us the tenth of your goods." " When we are dead," replied the Russian princes, " you can have the whole." Though abandoned by the princes of Tchernigof and the Grand Prince George II., of whom they had implored help, the dynasty of Riazan accepted the unequal struggle. They were completely crushed ; nearly all their princes remained on the field of battle. Legend has embellished their fall. It is told how Feodor pre. ferred to die rather than see his young wife, Euphrasia, the spoil of Bati; and how, on learning his fate, she threw herself and her son from the window of the terem. Oleg the Handsome, found still alive on the battle- field, repelled the caresses, the attention, and religion of the Khan, and was cut in pieces. Riazan was immediately taken by assault, sacked, and burned. All the towns of the principality suffered the same fate.

It was now the turn of the Grand Prince, for the Russia of the North-east had not even the honor of failing in a great battle like the Russia of the South-west, united for once against the common enemy. The Souzdalian army, commanded by a son of George II., was beaten on the day of Kolomna, on the Oka. The Tatars burned Moscow, then besieged Vladimir on the Kliazma, which George II. had abandoned to seek for help in the North. His two sons were charged with the defence of the capital. Princes and boyards, feeling there was no alternative but death or servi. tude, prepared to die. The princesses and all the nobles prayed Bishop Metrophanes to give them the tonsure; and when the Tatars rushed into the town by all its gates, the vanquished retired into the cathedral, where they perished, men and women, in a general conflagration. Souzdal, Rostof, Iaroslavl, fourteen towns, a multitude of villages in the Grand Principality, were all given over to the flames (1238). The Tatars then went to seek the Grand Prince, who was encamped on the Sit, almost on the frontier of the possessions of Novgorod. George II. could neither avenge his people nor his family. After the battle, the bishop of Rostof found his headless corpse (1238). His nephew, Vassilko, who was taken prisoner, was stabbed for refusing to serve Bati. The immense Tatar army, after having sacked Tver, took Torjok; there "the Russian heads fell beneath the sword of the Tatars as grass beneath the scythe." The territory of Novgorod was invaded ; the great republic trembled, but, the deep forests and the swollen rivers delayed Bati. The invading flood reached the Cross of Ignatius, about fifty miles from Novgorod, then returned to the South- east. On the way the small town of Kozelsk (near Kalouga) checked the Tatars for so long, and inflicted on them so much loss, that it was called by them the wicked town. Its population was exterminated, and the prince Vassili, still a child, was " drowned in blood."

The two following years (1239-1240) were spent by the Tatars in ravaging Southern Russia. They burnt Pereiaslaf, and Tchernigof, defended with desperation by its princes. Next Mangou, grandson of Genghis Khan, marched against the famous town of Kief, whose name resounded through the East, and in the books of the Arab writers. From the left bank of the Dnieper, the barbarian admired the great city on the heights of the right bank, towering over the wide river with her white walls and towers adorned by Byzantine artists, and innumerable churches with cupolas of gold and silver. Mangou proposed a capitulation to the Kievians ; the fate of Riazan, of Tchernigof, of Vladimir, the capitals of powerful states, announced to them the lot that awaited them in case of refusal, yet the Kievians dared to massacre the envoys of the Khan. Michael, their Grand Prince, fled; his rival, Daniel of Galitch, did not care to remain. On hearing the report of Mangou, Bad came to assault Kief with the bulk of his army. The grinding of the wooden chariots, the bellowings of the buffaloes, the cries of the camels, the neighing of the horses, the howlings of the Tatars, rendered it impossible, says the annalist, to bear your own voice in the town. The Tatars as sailed the Polish Gate, and knocked down the walls with a battering-ram. " The Kievians, supported by the brave Dmitri, a Gallician boyard, defended the fallen ramparts till the end of the day, then retreated to the Church of the Dime, which they surrounded by a palisade. The last defenders of Kief found themselves grouped around the tomb of Iaroslaf. Next day they perished. The Khan gave the boyard his life, but, the 'Mother of Russian cities' was sacked. This third pillage was the most terrible, Even the tombs were not respected. All that remains of the Church of the Dime is only a few fragments of mosaic in the Museum at Kief. Saint Sophia, and the Monastery of the Catacombs, were delivered up to be plundered " (1240).

Volhynia and Gallicia still remained, but their princes could not defend them, and Russia found herself, with the exception of Novgorod and the north-west country, under the Tatar yoke. The princes bad fled or were dead; hundreds of thousands of Russians were dragged into captivity. Men saw the wives of boyards, "who had never known work, who a short time ago had been clothed in rich garments, adorned with jewels and collars of gold, surrounded with slaves. now reduced to be themselves the slaves of barbarians and their wives, turning the wheel of the mill, and preparing their coarse food."

If we look for the causes which rendered the defeat of the brave Russian nation so complete, we may, with Karamsin, indicate the following: - 1. Though the Tatars were not more advanced, from a military point of view, than the Russians, who bad made war in Greece and in the West against the most warlike and civilized people of Europe, yet they had an enormous superiority of numbers. Bati probably had with him 500,000 warriors. 2. This immense army moved like one man; it could successively annihilate the droujinas of the princes, or the militia of the towns, which only presented themselves successively to its blows. The Tatars had found Russia divided against herself. 3. Even though Russia had wished to form a confederation, the sudden irruptions of an army entirely composed of horsemen did not leave her time. 4. In the tribes ruled by Bati, every man was a soldier; in Russia the nobles and citizens alone bore arms: the peasants, who formed the bulk of the population, allowed themselves to be stabbed or bound without resistance. 5. It was not by a weak nation that Russia was conquered. The Tatar-Mongols, under Genghis Khan, had filled the East with the glory of their name, and subdued nearly all Asia. They arrived, proud of their exploits, animated by the recollection of a hundred victories, and reinforced by numerous peoples whom they had vanquished, and hurried with them to the West.

When the princes of Galitch, of Volhynia, and of Kief ar. rived as fugitives in Poland and Hungary, Europe was terrorstricken. The Pope, whose support had been claimed by the Prince of Galitch, summoned Christendom to arms. Louis IX. prepared for a crusade. Frederic II., as Emperor, wrote to the sovereigns of the West "This is the moment to open the eyes of body and soul, now that the brave princes on whom we reckoned are dead or in slavery." The Tatars invaded Hungary, gave battle to the Poles in Liegnitz in Silesia, had their progress a long while arrested by the courageous defence of Olmütz in Moravia, by the Tcheque voïevode Iaroslaf, and stopped finally, learning that a large army, commanded by the King of Bohemia and the dukes of Austria and Carinthia, was approach. ing. The news of the death of Oktaï, second Emperor of all the Tatars, in China, recalled Bad from the West, and during the long march from Germany his army necessarily diminished in number. The Tatars were no longer in the vast plains of Asia and Eastern Europe, but in a broken hilly country, bristling with fortresses, defended by a population more dense and a chivalry more numerous than those in Russia. To sum up, all the fury of the Mongol tempest spent itself on the Slavonic race. It was the Russians who fought at the Kalka, at Kolomna, at the Sit; the Poles and Silesians at Liegnitz; the Bohemians and Moravians at Olmütz. The Germans suffered nothing from the invasion of the Mongols but the fear of it. It exhausted it. self principally on those plains of Russia which seem a continu. ation of the steppes of Asia. Only in Russian history did the invasion produce great results. About the same time Bati built on one of the arms of the Lower Volga a city called Saraï (the Castle), which became the capital of a powerful Tatar Empire, the Golden Horde, extending from the Oural and Caspian to the mouth of the Danube. The Golden Horde was formed not only of Tatar-Mongols or Nogaïs, who even now survive in the Northern Crimea, but particularly of the remains of ancient nomads, such as the Patzinaks and Polovtsi, whose descendants seem to be the present Kalmucks and Bachkirs; of Turkish tribes tending to become sedentary, like the Tatars of Astrakhan in the present day; and of the Finnish populations already established in the country, and which mixed with the invaders. Oktaï, Kouïouk, and Mangou, the first three successors of Genghis Khan, elected by all the Mongol princes, took the title of Great Khans, and the Golden Horde recognized their authority ; but under his fourth successor, Khouboulaï, who usurped the throne and established himself in China, this bond of vassalage was broken. The Golden Horde became an independent State (1260). United and powerful under the terrible Bati, who died in 1255, it fell to pieces under his successors ; but in the '4th century the Khan Uzbeck reunited it anew, and gave the horde a second period of prosperity. The Tatars, who were pagans when they entered Russia, embraced about 1272 the faith of Islam, and became its most formidable apostles.