Mongkhe Khan

The Mongols established a western empire that stretched to the Black Sea and the River Don. They established a capital at Sarai, on a tributary of the Volga near the Caspian Sea, and expanded over all of Russia during the late 13th and early 14rh century. Russia's choice of Byzantium Orthodoxy over Roman Catholicism meant that Europe refused to assist Russia in their fight against the Mongols.

The western empire in Russia was called the Golden Horde. Golden is reference to the color of the khan’s golden yurt. The word "horde," came from the Turkish word "ordu", meaning "camp" or "fief." Horde now means "disorderly swarm." The Golden Horde ruled Russia for 250 years and endured longer than the Empire of the Great Khan in China. Saria became a great city with building made with fine glazed tiles and ceramic water pipes. The ruling ikikhans held court in huge ger lined with gold brocade.

The Empire of the Golden Horde (Kipchak Khanate) was founded in Russia by Batu Khan 1205 – 1255), a grandson of Genghis Khan and survived in European Russia until 1502. When it was ruled by Berke (1208-.1266), another grandson of Genghis Kahn who adopted Islam, it became virtually autonomous, and its relations with the Ilkhans, the Mongol rulers of Iran, deteriorated. The Golden Horde flourished until the late fourteenth century, when fraction developed among the various khans. Between 1360 and 1380 there were no fewer than twenty-five claimants to the Mongol throne. In 1380 a Russian army under Prince Dimitri Ivanovich defeated a Mongol force at the Battle of Kulikovo Field. The Russian ruler Ivan III (the Great) finally threw off the “Tatar yoke” in the late fifteenth century. |~|

The Golden Horde ruled by the descendants of Batu had more time and more room for expansion of its territories than any other Mongol khanate. The Mongols maintained sovereignty over eastern Russia from 1240 to 1480, and they controlled the upper Volga area, the territories of the former Volga Bulghar state, Siberia, the northern Caucasus, Bulgaria (for a time), the Crimea, and Khwarizm. By applying the principle of indirect rule, the Golden Horde Mongols were able to preserve the Mongol ruling class and the local dynasties for more than 200 years. The influence that the Golden Horde Mongols came to have over medieval Russia and other areas was immense and lasting. They played a role in unifying the future Russian state, provided new political institutions, influenced imperial visions, and, through indirect rule, facilitated the appearance of a Muscovite autocracy. [Source: Library of Congress, June 1989 *]

Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe:
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire ; The Mongols in World History ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) ; Encyclopædia Britannica article ; Mongol Archives


Batu Khan

The Golden Horde included large elements of Turkic peoples; they came to be known collectively as Tatars.
The Tatars is a name used to describe several distinct groups of Muslim Turkic people who speak a Turkic language. Most are Sunni Muslims and are identified in association with specific areas in Russia and the former Soviet Union. There are four main groups of Tatars; 1) the Volga Tatars; 2) the Crimean Tatars; 3) the Siberian Tatars; and 4) the Kriashen Tatars. Tatars are also called Tartars.

There are around 8 million Tartars in the former Soviet Union today. There are around 6.5 million Volga Tatars. Less than half are in their traditional homelands in the Volga and Urals regions. The others are scattered around the former Soviet Union, with a large number in Central Asia. There are around a half million Siberian Tatars, maybe a million Crimean Tatars and maybe 100,000 or 200,000 Kriashen Tatars.

Many Russians have traditionally linked the Tatars with the Mongols that terrorized Russia in the 16th century but in fact they are different groups. Tartars were neighbors of Mongols and Turks but were different. Ethnolinguists have difficulty in explaining exactly how they are different, and the links and difference between Tatars, Mongols and Turks is still a matter of debate. Even so the Tatars are casts as demons and beasts is many Slavic tales.

The original Tatars where a powerful Turkic tribe wiped out by Genghis Khan (See Genghis Khan, Horsemen). Many Tatars and Turks joined the Mongols during their period of conquest and empire buildings. The word Tatar is derived from Dada, or Tata, but is sometimes linked with the Tartarus, a section of hell where the wicked were punished and people with dog heads consumed the bodies of their victims. Europeans often referred to the Mongols as Tatars and argued that barbarians as horrible and wicked as them had to have come from a place like Tatarus.

Mongols Advance Towards Russia

Morris Rossabi wrote in Natural History: “Mobility and surprise characterized the military expeditions led by Genghis Khan and his commanders, and the horse was crucial for such tactics and strategy. Horses could, without exaggeration, be referred to as the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the thirteenth century. [Source: “All the Khan’s Horses” by Morris Rossabi, Natural History, October 1994 =|=]

“After his relatively easy conquest of Central Asia from 1219 to 1220, Genghis Khan had dispatched about 30,000 troops led by Jebe and Subedei, two of his ablest commanders, to conduct an exploratory foray to the west. After several skirmishes in Persia the advance forces reached southern Russia. In an initial engagement, the Mongols, appearing to retreat, lured a much larger detachment of Georgian cavalry on a chase. When the Mongols sensed that the Georgian horses were exhausted, they headed to where they kept reserve horses, quickly switched to them, and charged at the bedraggled, spread-out Georgians. Archers, who had been hiding with the reserve horses, backed up the cavalry—with a barrage of arrows as they routed the Georgians. =|=

“Continuing their exploration, the Mongol detachment crossed the Caucasus Mountains, a daunting expedition during which many men and horses perished. They wound up just north of the Black Sea on the southern Russian steppes, which offered rich pasturelands for their horses. After a brief respite, they first attacked Astrakhan to the east and then raided sites along the Dniester and Dnieper Rivers, inciting Russian retaliation in May of 1223 under Mstislav the Daring, who had a force of 80,000 men. Jebe and Subedei commanded no more than 20,000 troops and were outnumbered by a ratio of four to one. =|=

Feigned Withdrawal During Battle of Kalka River in Russia

Morris Rossabi wrote in Natural History: “The battle of the Kalka River, now renamed the Kalmyus River, in southern Russia is a good example of the kind of campaign Genghis Khan waged to gain territory and of the key role of horses. Knowing that an immediate, direct clash could be disastrous, the Mongols again used their tactic of feigned withdrawal. They retreated for more than a week, because they wanted to be certain that the opposing army continued to pursue them but was spaced out over a considerable distance. [Source: “All the Khan’s Horses” by Morris Rossabi, Natural History, October 1994 =|=]

“At the Kalka River, the Mongols finally took a stand, swerving around and positioning themselves in battle formation, with archers mounted on horses in the front. The Mongols’ retreat seems to have lulled the Russians into believing that the invaders from the East were in disarray. Without waiting for the remainder of his army to catch up and without devising a unified attack, Mstislav the Daring ordered the advance troops to charge immediately. This decision proved to be calamitous. Mongol archers on their well-trained steeds crisscrossed the Russian route of attack, shooting their arrows with great precision. The Russian line of troops was disrupted, and the soldiers scattered. =|=

“After their attack, the archers turned the battlefield over to the Mongol heavy cavalry, which pummeled the already battered, disunited, and scattered Russians. Wearing an iron helmet, a shirt of raw silk, a coat of mail, and a cuirass, each Mongol in the heavy cavalry carried with him two bows, a dagger, a battle-ax, a twelve-foot lance, and a lasso as his principal weapons. Using lances, the detachment of heavy cavalry rapidly attacked and overwhelmed the Russian vanguard which had been cut off from the rest of their forces in the very beginning of the battle. =|=

“Rejoined by the mounted archers, the combined Mongol force mowed down the straggling remnants of the Russian forces. Without an escape route, most were killed, and the rest, including Mstislav the Daring, were captured. Rather than shed the blood of rival princes — one of Genghis Khan’s commands — Jebe and Subedei ordered the unfortunate commander and two other princes stretched out under boards and slowly suffocated as Mongols stood or sat upon the boards during the victory banquet. =|=

“The battle at the Kalka River resembled, with some slight deviations, the general plan of most of Genghis Khan’s campaigns. In less than two decades Genghis Khan had, with the support of powerful cavalry, laid the foundations for an empire that was to control and govern much of Asia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He died on a campaign in Central Asia, and his underlings decided to return his corpse to his native land. Any unfortunate individual who happened to encounter the funeral cortege was immediately killed because the Mongols wished to conceal the precise location of the burial site. At least forty horses were reputedly sacrificed at Genghis Khan’s tomb; his trusted steeds would be as important to him in the afterlife as they had been during his lifetime. “ =|=

Mongols Invade Russia

Sacking of Suzdal by Batu Khan

Russia at the time of the Mongol attacks was a group of loosely affiliated principalities that were unable to amass a large army to resist the Mongols. The Mongols burned down Moscow, a small trading center at the time, and captured Vladamir, a resource-rich city that supplied furs, fish and iron products to the Hanseatic League.

On their way to Russia the Mongols attacked a major amber and fur trading center on the Volga River ruled by proto-Bulgarians and sacked the kingdom of Ryazan which refused to hand over "a tenth of everything...even women and children."

In 1237, the Mongols defeated the Russians in battle of the Sea of Azov. In 1238, Genghis Khan's grandson, Batu Khan, swept into Moscow, and captured the Russian ruler Prince Yuri of Vladamir nad had him suffocated to death inside Assumption Cathedral in Vladamir where he had fled. The cathedral still stands today.

In their offensives against the Russians, the Mongols used bone arrows that pierced Russian armor. In the siege of cities in wooded areas Mongols sometimes built stockades for protection against enemy arrows and bombarded the city several days with catapults until the walls were breached. Gates were battered with huge logs and ladders were used to surmount the walls.

Russia was overrun by Mongols from 1238 to 1240. Only northern trading republic of Novgorod remained independent but it too suffered. A chronicler in Novgorod wrote the "godless" invaders "slew all, both wives and children." "And who, brothers, fathers and children, seeing this, God's infliction on the whole Russian Land, does not lament?” Many Russians believed that the Mongol invasion was punishment for impiety, a view endorsed by the Orthodox church which prospered under Mongol protection.

Golden Horde Rule

The Golden Horde capital at Sarai became a prosperous center of commerce. Here, as in China, Mongol rule meant free trade, the exchange of goods between the East and the West, and also broad religious toleration.*

In the mid-thirteenth century, the Golden Horde was administratively and militarily an integral part of the Mongol empire with its capital at Karakorum. By the early fourteenth century, however, this allegiance had become largely symbolic and ceremonial. Although certain Mongol administrative forms--such as census and postal systems--were maintained, other customs were not. The Golden Horde embraced Islam as its state religion and, with it, adopted new and more complex administrative forms to replace those of the old regime that had been devised for conquest. Even though most Mongols remained steppe nomads, new cities were founded, and a permanent urbanized bureaucracy and social structure took shape at Sarai. The Golden Horde allied itself with the Mamluks and negotiated with the Byzantines to combat the Ilkhans in a struggle to control Azerbaijan. Rather than isolating Russia, the Mongol presence and extensive diplomatic system brought envoys to Sarai from central and southern Europe, the Pope, Southwest Asia, Egypt, Iran, Inner Asia, China, and Mongolia.*

Battle of Kulikovo

The Mongols' vast contacts opened Russia to new influences, both Eastern and Western. The reason the Mongols did not occupy Russia itself, but left its administration to local princes, was not inability to administer a society that was both urban and agrarian, or Russian resistance. Rather, some historians believe that Russia had little to offer the Mongols in terms of produce or trade routes, and even tax revenues were insignificant compared with the wealth of the southern realms under their control. The inability of cavalry to operate in forests and swamps--a factor that limited the northward advance of the Mongols and largely determined the northern frontier of their empire--was undoubtedly a distinct disincentive as well.*

In time the Golden Horde Mongols and the Mongol Tatars, although still nomads, lost their original identities and--as happened to Mongols in China and Iran--became largely synonymous with the local Turkic peoples, the Kipchak. Arabic and Tatar replaced Mongol as the official language of the Golden Horde, and increasing political fragmentation occurred. The power of the Golden Horde khans slowly declined, particularly as a powerful new state rose in central Russia.*

The Golden Horde ruled for as long as did because Mongol rule was indirect. The Mongols extracted tributes and used local princes to keep order and these princes were allowed to keep power as long as they paid their tributes. If an area began to be independent-minded the Mongols raided or threatened to raid.

In the 1440s, the Golden Horde fragmented into several khanates, including Kazan, Astrakhan and Crimea, and held on until 1502.

Golden Horde Settlement of Zhaiyk

The settlement Zhaiyk (10 kilometers south of of Oral) is a medieval monument: settlement on a a terrace right above-flood level on Ural river, dating from the 13th to 14th centuries was mainly inhabited by the Golden Horde. It is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The city on the site of Zhaiyk was at its height in in the first half of 14th century, during the period of reign of khan Uzbek (1313-1339) and Dzhanibek (1312-1357) characterized in the history of the Golden Horde as the years of greatest stability and prosperity of urban culture. The settlement is a monument of the urban culture of Zhoshy khan period reign perfectly conveys the image of medieval city, life, culture, economy of the population. The monument represents the important historical and cultural centre, located in the Uralo-Caspian sector of the Silk Road. Archeological excavations have shown close trade and economic and cultural communication of a city with the cities of Semirechyr, Central Asia and Iran. Zhaiyk was repeatedly mentioned by medieval historians and travelers. [Source: UNESCO]

In 2001-2004 explorations organized by the Institute of archeology of A.N. Margulan were conducted on a site of ancient settlement of Zhajyk, under the program “Cultural heritage”. Excavation of three closest hills has revealed the ruins of separate manors under them. Constructions have been made of mudbrick. Premises were heated with “kanns” – heating system. Economic holes-storehouses, garbage holes, sanitary-and-hygienic devices were located in premises. The thickness of the basic walls is 70-80 centimeters.

Golden Horde and related groups

Comparison of plans, techniques of housing construction of Volga region cities and a site of ancient settlement of “Zhajyk” show that prevailing influence on building culture of cities in Ural river basin were made by traditions of housing construction of Khoresm and near-The Syr Darya oases. Plans of the dwellings explored on a site of ancient settlement coincide with plans of dwellings of after-Mongolian Urgench, Otrar and Turkestan. The difference is observed in some details of an interior and heating system. The fact that in 13th-14th centuries there was enough developed city on a place of the Ural ancient settlement is testified by the ruins of a bath. For example, the bath revealed in Otrar ancient settlement of 13th-14th centuries and similar baths of the city of Kayalyk and cities of the Volga region are constructed according to a coherent plan with some insignificant variations.

Saraychik Settlement: Cradle of the Kazakh Horde

Saraishyk Settlement(75 kilometers north of Atyrau) is one of the most extensive and well-preserved medieval sites of Kazakhstan. Regarded as the cradle of the Kazakh Horde, it was a stop on the Silk Road and was occupied from the 10th to 16th centuries by Golden Horde, the Nogay and Kazakhs. The site is located near the Ural River between the Ural Mountains and the Sarachinka channel. A part of a site of ancient settlement is built up near Saraychik village. The south and the north sides were protected by walls. The ruins extend along the river for on one and a half kilometers. A new mosque and museum are located at the site. . Saraishyk Ancient Settlement is part of The Silk Road in Kazakhstan, which was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Saraychik settlement has an area of 100 hectares. It is a plain steppe area with low rolling hills. In the southeastern part of the monument Saraychik is partially built upwith “aul”, and from the west and southwestern part by the burials, southern part is washed by the river. Behind the burial and aul there is Ural River flow, formerly the main channel of the river Ural was held here, and the town was located on the east coast. The thickness of the cultural layer in the coastal area, 1.5 — 2 meters, excluding household pits and hills — rolled off the remnants of houses. [Source: UNESCO]

“According to the historical version, Saraychik was founded in the middle of the 13th century by Batu Khan (1227-1256) in a convenient location, and most importantly — on the host site of junction of Europe and Asia. Through it ran the Silk Road from European countries and the capital of the Golden Horde Sarai Berke on the Volga River to the cities of Khorezm, Kazakhstan, India, Iran and China. Now we have descriptions of many merchants and travelers about the direction of this road. In "Dorozhnik" Hamdallaha Qazwini, written around 1339, shows the transition points on the way indicating the distance. Same we can meet in the writings of Arab geographer al-Omari (XIVcentury). Trade route of the road from Saraichik to Urgench in length of "month road" was supplied by wells and caravanserais. Saraychik was an important political center. Here was carried out a procedure of the accession to the khan throne of the Golden Horde Zhanibek (1341-1357), Berdibek (1357-1359 ) and other members of the dynasty of Dzhuchids. The rapid development of the city was connected with the adoption of Islam by Khan Berke (1257-1266) and his brother-Tukai Timur, and later — as the official state religion of the Golden Horde by Uzbek Khan (1290-1312). These events occurred exactly in the Saraychik, which emphasizes its special role as the spiritual center of all the Golden Horde. In Saraychik were buried several khans of the Golden Horde, and other historical figures, including Mengu-Timur (1266-1281), Toktay (1280-1312), Zhanibek (1342-1357), Berdibek (1357-1359), as well as Kazakh khan Kasim (1511-1518). After the collapse of the Golden Horde since 1391 Saraychik became the center of Mangyt Yurt which had finally formed into an independent state — Nogai Horde in the 40th years of the 16th century, that was former political union of the tribes of the steppe. Around 1580 Saraychik was taken by storm and destroyed by the Cossack troops. Soon the city was rebuilt, but it was the beginning of a gradual and irreversible process of its total desolation. This contributed to the economic, social and political upheavals within the Nogai Horde and other unfavorable external factors.

Timur's (Tamerlane's) campaign against the Golden Horde

“Saraychik excavations have revealed residential districts of ordinary population.They consisted of houses built of mudbrick. There were two to three rooms, heated by chimney channels laid under the floor. During excavations baths, a mosque and other cult buildings were revealed and dug out and pottery — including glazed which was made on a place, and also products from the Syrian glass, the Chinese porcelain, the Khorezm bowls, bronze jugs and dishes from Iran — were found. The fact that the city was one of the centers on the Silk Road is proved by findings of imported Chinese and Iranian ceramics, bronze products and glass from Central Asia and Iran. Findings of coins minted in Golden Horde of Khoresm, Samarkand and Iran testify the commercial relations. The mint functioned in the Saraychik in 14th-XV centuries.

Chaghatai Khanate in Central Asia

he Central Asia khanate of Chaghatai was ruled by descendants of Genghis Khan's second son Chaghatai. It embraced most of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and western Xinjiang.

From their seat on Lake Balkhash, Asia's third largest lake, in present-day Kazakhstan, the Mongol leader ruled over a rough, frontier kingdom made up mostly of horsemen tribes similar to the Mongols. Chaghatai attempted to preserve the nomadic style. For a while there "capital" was tent encampment.

Over time the Chaghatai became more settled and formed closer ties with their Muslim subjects. Many Mongols converted to Islam and the leaders even entertained the idea.

End of the Mongols in Russia

The Russians remained Mongol vassals until they were thrown out by Ivan III in 1480. In 1783, Catherine the Great annexed the last Mongol stronghold in Crimea, where the people (Mongols who had intermarried with local Turks) were known as Tartars.

The Moscow princes colluded with their Mongol overlord. They extracted tributes and taxes from their subjects and subjugated other principalities. Eventually they grew strong enough to challenge their Mongol overlords and defeat them. The Mongols burned down Moscow a couple of times even after their influence had waned.

The Grands Dukes of Muscovy formed an alliance against the Mongols. Duke Dmitri III Donskoi (ruled 1359-89) defeated the Mongols in a great battles at Kulikovo on the Don River in 1380 and drove them from the Moscow area. Dimitri was the first to adapt the title of Grand Duke of Russia. He was canonized after his death. The Mongols crushed the Russian rebellion with a costly three-year campaign.

Over the decades the Mongols became weaker. Tamerlane's battles with the Golden Horde in the 14th century in southern Russia, weakened the Mongol hold in that region. This allowed Russian vassal states to gain power but unable to completely unify, the Russian prince remained vassals of the Mongols until 1480.

In 1552, Ivan the Terrible drove the last Mongol knanates out of Russia with decisive victories in Kazan and Astrakhan. This opened the way for the expansion of the Russian empire southward and across Siberia to the Pacific.

Legacy of Mongols on Russia: The Mongol invasions distanced Russia further from Europe. The cruel Mongol leaders became the model for the early tsars. The early tsars adopted administrative and military practices similar to that of the Mongols.

Volga Tatars

The Volga Tatars are the westernmost of the Turkic ethnic groups living in the former Soviet Union. They have traditionally lived in Tatarstan in the middle Volga’s forest and steppe and Bashkirstan in the southern Urals. There are two distinct groups: 1) the Kazan Tatars; and 2) the Mishars. There are about 2 million Volga Tatars in Tatarstan and another 2.5 million live in nearby republics, particularly Bashkir Republic, and regions and another 2 million live elsewhere in European Russia.

The Volga Tatars are descendants of the Kipchak Turks and formed a distinct Tatar dynasty, the Kazan Khanate, which lasted for more than a century until it was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. Most of the people known in Russia as Tartars were descendants of Turkic tribes like the Kipchaks who inhabited two eastern part of the Mongol Empire and worked as soldiers, tax collectors and slaves for the Mongols. The name Tatar was later used to describe the Mongols. In the 8th century the southern part of what became known as Tatarstan was occupied by a Turkic people called the “Bulghar.” Displaced from Azov steppes by frequent Arab raids, they moved into middle Volga region. When this area was conquered and devastated by the Mongol army under Batu in 1236 most of the survivors moved northward. The Mongols organized the area they conquered in Russia into a state and became known as the Golden Horde.

Under the Mongols, tribes that lived in areas, including the Bulghars, Kipachak Turks, the ancestors of the Volga Tatars and Finno-Ugric settlers, merged to varying degrees.

In the 1440s, the Golden Horde fragmented into several khanates, including Kazan, Astrakhan and Crimea, and held on until 1502. The people in the khanate of Kazan were the result of the merging of the groups mentioned above. The knanate lasted only a brief time (1445-1552) but was a powerful state that had a string impact in the region. The people that lived there developed the distinct Tatar language and became known as Volga Tatars

Crimean Tatars

Crimean Tatars emerged in the 14th century. Their early history is somewhat similar to that of the Volga Tatars but they evolved more or less independently of them. Crimean Tatars speak their own language. It is based on the language of the Kipchak Turks like Volga but is different. It incorporates a number of Ottoman words, for example. In some ways they are more closely linked to Azerbaijanis and Turks in Turkey.

Crimean Tatars emerged in a way that was not unlike the Volga Tatar. In the mid-13th century Mongols lead by Batu Khan claimed the Crimea. As was true in the Volga region, Mongols intermarried with local Turks and these tribes merged to become a group later called Crimean Tatars by the Russians. In 1440 they created their own state; the Crimean Tatar Khanate ruled by the Giray family, which dominated the Crimea until the Russians under Catherine the Great annexed it in 1783. It was the last Mongol (Tatar) stronghold in present-day Russia.

Some Crimean Tatars have blonde hair and blue eyes because some of the Greeks, Goths and Genoese that lived in the southern Crimea adopted the Tatar language, accepted Islam, and were thus welcomed by the traditional Mongolian-featured Tatars.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, Comptom’s Encyclopedia, Lonely Planet Guides, Silk Road Foundation, "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin; "History of Arab People" by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); "Islam, a Short History" by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library, 2000); and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2022

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