History of Russia/Chapter 10

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History of Russia by Alfred Nicolas Rambaud
Chapter 10

The Tatar Mongols: enslavement of Russia[edit]

Origin and manners of the Mongols[edit]

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 interest 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 (1154–1227) 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[edit]

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 Danial, prince 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 Poictiers 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 he 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 preferred 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 falling 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 beseiged 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 servitude, 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, Bati 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 hear your own voice in the town. The Tatars assailed 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 Dîme, 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 Dîme 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 had 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 had made war in Greece and in the West against the most war-like 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 arrived as fugitives in Poland and Hungary, Europe was terror-stricken. 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 approaching. The news of the death of Oktaï, second Emperor of all the Tatars, in China, recalled Bati 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 itself principally on those plains of Russia which seem a continuation 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 14th 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.

Alexander Nevski (1252–1263)[edit]

Iaroslaf, after his defeat at Lipetsk, entered Souzdal on the tragic death of his brother, the Grand Prince George II. Iaroslaf (1238–1246) found his inheritance in the most deplorable condition. The towns and villages were burnt, the country and roads covered with unburied corpses; the survivors hid themselves in the woods. He recalled the fugitives and began to rebuild. Bati, who had completed the devastation of South Russia, summoned Iaroslaf to do him homage at Saraï, on the Volga. Iaroslaf was received there with distinction. Bati confirmed his title of Grand Prince, but invited him to go in person to the Great Khan, supreme chief of the Mongol nation, who lived on the banks of the river Sakhalian or Amour. To do this was to cross the whole of Russia and Asia. Iaroslaf bent his knees to the new master of the world, Oktaï, succeeded in refuting the accusations brought against him by a Russian boyard, and obtained a new confirmation of his title. On his return he died in the desert of exhaustion, and his faithful servants brought his body back to Vladimir. His son Andrew succeeded him in Souzdal (1246–1252). His other son, Alexander, reigned at Novgorod the Great.

Alexander was as brave as he was intelligent. He was the hero of the North, and yet he forced himself to accept the necessary humiliations of his terrible situation. In his youth we see him fighting with all the enemies of Novgorod, Livonian knights and Tchouds, Swedes and Finns. The Novgorodians found themselves at issue with the Scandinavians on the subject of their possessions on the Neva and the Gulf of Finland. As they had helped the natives to resist the Latin faith, King John obtained the promise of Gregory IX. that a crusade, with plenary indulgences, should be preached against the Great Republic and her protégés, the pagans of the Baltic. His son-in-law, Birger, with an army of Scandinavians, Finns, and Western Crusaders, took the command of the forces, and sent word to the Prince of Novgorod, “Defend yourself if you can: know that I am already in your provinces.” The Russians on their side, feeling they were fighting for orthodoxy, opposed the Latin crusade with a Greek one. Alexander humbled himself in Saint Sophia, received the benediction of the Archbishop Spiridion, and addressed an energetic harangue to his warriors. He had no time to await reinforcements from Souzdal. He attacked the Swedish camp, which was situated on the Ijora, one of the southern affluents of the Neva, which has given its name to Ingria. Alexander won a brilliant victory, which gained him his surname of Nevski, and the honor of becoming under Peter the Great, the second conqueror of the Swedes, one of the patrons of St. Petersburg. By the orders of his great successor his bones repose in the Monastery of Alexander Nevski. The battle of the Neva was preserved in a dramatic legend. An Ingrian chief told Alexander how, in the eve of the combat, he had seen a mysterious bark, manned by two warriors with shining brows, glide through the night. They were Boris and Gleb, who came to the rescue of their young kinsman. Other accounts have preserved to us the individual exploits of the Russian heroes—Gabriel, Skylaf of Novgorod, James of Polotsk, Sabas, who threw down the tent of Birger, and Alexander Nevski himself, who with a stroke of the lance “imprinted his seal on his face” (1240). Notwithstanding the triumph of such a service, Alexander and the Novgorodians could not agree; a short time after, he retired to Peréiaslavl-Zaliesski. The proud republicans soon had reason to regret the exile of this second Camillus. The Order of the Sword-bearers, the indefatigable enemy of orthodoxy, took Pskof, their ally; the Germans imposed tribute on the Vojans, vassals of Novgorod, constructed the fortress of Koporié on her territory of the Neva, took the Russian town of Tessof in Esthonia, and pillaged the merchants of Novgorod within seventeen miles of their ramparts. During this time the Tchouds and the Lithuanians captured the peasants, and the cattle of the citizens. At last Alexander allowed himself to be touched by the prayers of the archbishop and the people, assembled an army, expelled the Germans from Koporié, and next from Pskof, hung as traitors the captive Vojans and Tchouds, and put to death six knights who fell into his hands. This war between the two races and two religions was cruel and pitiless. The rights of nations were hardly recognized. More than once Germans and Russians slew the ambassadors of the other side. Alexander Nevski finally gave battle to the Livonian knights on the ice of Lake Peïpus, killed 400 of them, took 50 prisoners, and exterminated a multitude of Tchouds. Such was the Battle of the Ice (1242). He returned in triumph to Novgorod, dragging with him his prisoners in armor of iron. The Grand Master expected to see Alexander at the gates of Riga, and implored help of Denmark. The Prince of Novgorod, satisfied with having delivered Pskof, concluded peace, recovered certain districts, and consented to the exchange of prisoners. At this time Innocent IV., deceived by false information, addressed a bull to Alexander, as a devoted son of the Church, assuring him that his father Iaroslaf, while dying among the Horde, had desired to submit himself to the throne of St. Peter. Two cardinals brought him this letter from the Pope (1251).

It is this hero of the Neva and Lake Peïpus, this vanquisher of the Scandinavians and Livonian knights, that we are presently to see grovelling at the feet of a barbarian. Alexander Nevski had understood that, in presence of this immense and brutal force of the Mongols, all resistance was madness, all pride ruin. To brave them was to complete the overthrow of Russia. His conduct may not have been chivalrous, but it was wise and humane. Alexander disdained to play the hero at the expense of his people, like his brother Andrew of Souzdal, who was immediately obliged to fly, abandoning his country to the vengeance of the Tatars. The Prince of Novgorod was the only prince in Russia who had kept his independence, but he knew Bati's hands could extend as far as the Ilmen. “God has subjected many peoples to me,” wrote the barbarian to him: “will you alone refuse to recognize my power? If you wish to keep your land, come to me; you will see the splendor and the glory of my sway.” Then Alexander went to Saraï with his brother Andrew, who disputed the Grand Principality of Vladimir with his uncle Sviatoslaf. Bati declared that fame had not exaggerated the merit of Alexander, that he far excelled the common run of Russian princes. He enjoined the two brothers to show themselves, like their father Iaroslaf, at the Great Horde; they returned from it in 1257. Kouïouk had confirmed the one in the possession of Vladimir, and the other in that of Novgorod, adding to it all South Russia and Kief.

The year 1260 put the patience of Alexander and his politic obedience to the Tatars to the proof. Oulavtchi, to whom the Khan Berkaï had confided the affairs of Russia, demanded that Novgorod should submit to the census and pay tribute. It was the hero of the Neva that was charged with the humiliating and dangerous mission of persuading Novgorod. When the possadnik uttered in the vetché the doctrine that it was necessary to submit to the strongest, the people raised a terrible cry and murdered the possadnik. Vassili himself, the son of Alexander, declared against a father “who brought servitude to free men”; and retired to the Pskovians. It needed a soul of iron temper to resist the universal disapprobation, and counsel the Novgorodians to the commission of the cowardly though necessary act. Alexander arrested his son, and punished the boyards who had led him into the revolt with death or mutilation. The vetché had decided to refuse the tribute, and send back the Mongol ambassadors with presents. However, on the rumor of the approach of the Tatars, they repented, and Alexander could announce to the enemy that Novgorod submitted to the census. But when they saw the officers of the Khan at work, the population revolted again, and the prince was obliged to keep guard on the officers night and day. In vain the boyards advised the citizens to give in: assembled around St. Sophia, the people declared they would die for liberty and honor. Alexander then threatened to quit the city with his men, and abandon it to the vengeance of the Khan. This menace conquered the pride of the Novgorodians. The Mongols and their agents might go, register in hand, from house to house in the humiliated and silent city to make the list of the inhabitants. “The boyards,” says Karamsin, “might yet be vain of their rank and their riches, but the simple citizens had lost with their national honor their most precious possession” (1260).

In Souzdal also Alexander found himself in the presence of insolent victors and exasperated subjects. In 1262 the inhabitants of Vladimir, of Souzdal, of Rostof, rose against the collectors of the Tatar impost. The people of Iaroslavl slew a renegade named Zozimus, a former monk, who had become a Moslem fanatic. Terrible reprisals were sure to follow. Alexander set out with presents for the Horde at the risk of leaving his head there. He had likewise to excuse himself for having refused a body of auxiliary Russians to the Mongols, wishing at least to spare the blood and religious scruples of his subjects. It is a remarkable fact, that, over the most profound humiliations of the Russian nationality, the contemporary history always throws a ray of glory. At the moment that Alexander went to prostrate himself at Saraï, the Souzdalian army, united to that of Novgorod, and commanded by his son Dmitri, defeated the Livonian knights, and took Dorpat by assault. The Khan Berkaï gave Alexander a kind greeting, accepted his explanations, dispensed with the promised contingent, but kept him for a year near his court. The health of Alexander broke down; he died on his return before reaching Vladimir. When the news arrived at his capital, the Metropolitan Cyril, who was finishing the liturgy, turned towards the faithful, and said, “Learn, my dear children, that the Sun of Russia is set, is dead.” “We are lost,” cried the people, breaking forth into sobs. Alexander by this policy of resignation, which his chivalrous heroism does not permit us to despise, had secured some repose for exhausted Russia. By his victories over his enemies of the West he had given her some glory, and hindered her from despairing under the most crushing tyranny, material and moral, which a European people had ever suffered.

The Mongol yoke—Influence of the Tatars on the Russian development[edit]

The Mongol khans, after having devastated and abased Russia, did not introduce any direct political change. They left to each country her laws, her courts of justice, her natural chiefs. The house of Andrew Bogolioubski continued to reign in Souzdal, that of Daniel Romanovitch in Galitch and Volhynia, the Olgovitches in Tchernigof, and the descendants of Rogvolod the Varangian at Polotsk. Novgorod might continue to expel and recall her princes, and the dynasties of the South to dispute the throne of Kief. The Russian States found themselves under the Mongol yoke, in much the same situation as that of the Christians of the Greco-Slav peninsula three centuries later, under the Ottomans. The Russians remained in possession of all their lands, which their nomad conquerors, encamped on the steppes of the East and South, disdained. They were, like their Danubian kinsmen, a sort of rayahs, over whom the authority of the khans was exerted with more or less rigor, but whom their conquerors never tried in any way to Tatarize. Let us see exactly in what consisted the obligations of the vanquished, and their relations with their conquerors, during the period of the Mongol yoke or Tatarchtchina.

1. The Russian princes were forced to visit the Horde, either as evidence of their submission, or to give the Khan opportunity of judging their disputes. We have seen how they had to go not only to the Khan of the Golden Horde, but often also to the Grand Khan at the extremity of Asia, on the borders of the Sakhalian or Amour. They met there the chiefs of the Mongol, Tatar, Thibetian and Bokharian hordes, and sometimes the ambassador of the Caliph of Bagdad, of the Pope, or of the King of France. The Grand Khans tried to play off against each other these ambassadors, who were astonished to meet at his court. Mangou Khan desired Saint Louis to recognize him as the master of the world, “for,” said he, “when the universe has saluted me as sovereign, a happy tranquillity will reign on the earth.” In the case of refusal, “neither deep seas nor inaccessible mountains” would place the King of France beyond the power of his wrath. To the princes of Asia and Russia he displayed the presents of the King of France, affecting to consider them as tributes and signs of submission. “We will send to seek him to confound you,” he said to them, and Joinville assures us that this threat, and “the fear of the King of France,” decided many to throw themselves on his mercy. This journey to the Grand Horde was terrible. The road went through deserts, or countries once rich, but changed by the Tatars into vast wastes. Few who went returned. Planus Carpinus, envoy of Innocent IV., saw in the steppes of the Kirghiz the dry bones of the boyards of the unhappy Iaroslaf, who had died of thirst in the sand. Planus Carpinus thus describes the Court of Bati on the Volga:—“It is crowded and brilliant. His army consists of 600,000 men, 150,000 of whom are Tatars, and 450,000 strangers, Christians as well as infidels. On Good Friday we were conducted to his tent, between two fires, because the Tatars pretend that a fire purifies everything, and robs even poison of its danger. We had to make many prostrations, and enter the tent without touching the threshold. Bati was on his throne with one of his wives; his brothers, his children, and the Tatar lords were seated on benches; the rest of the assembly were on the ground, the men on the right, the women on the left. … The Khan and the lords of the Court emptied from time to time cups of gold and silver, while the musicians made the air ring with their melodies. Bati has a bright complexion; he is affable with his men, but inspires general terror.” The Court of the Grand Khan was still more magnificent. Planus Carpinus found there a Russian named Koum, who was the favorite and special goldsmith of Gaïouk or Kouïouk, and Rubruquis discovered a Parisian goldsmith, named Guillaume. Much money was needed for success, either at the Court of the Grand Khan or of Bati. Presents had to be distributed to the Tatar princes, to the favorites; above all to the wives and the mother of the Khan. At this terrible tribunal the Russian princes had to struggle with intrigues and corruption; the heads of the pleaders were often the stakes of these dreadful trials. The most dangerous enemies they encountered at the Tatar Court were not the barbarians, but the Russians, their rivals. The history of the Russian princes at the Horde is very tragic. Thus Michael of Tchernigof perished at the Horde of Saraï in 1246, and Michael of Tver in 1319, the one assassinated by the renegade Doman, the other by the renegade Romanetz, at the instigation and under the eyes of the Grand Prince of Moscow.

2. The conquered people were obliged to pay a capitation tax, which weighed as heavily on the poor as on the rich. The tribute was paid either in money or in furs; those who were unable to furnish it became slaves. The Khans had for some time farmed out this revenue to some Khiva merchants, who collected it with the utmost rigor, and whom they protected by appointing superior agents called baskaks, with strong guards to support them. The excesses of these tax-gatherers excited many revolts: in 1262, that of Souzdal; in 1284, that of Koursk; in 1318, that of Kolomna; in 1327, that of Tver, where the inhabitants slew the baskak Chevkal, and brought down on themselves frightful reprisals. Later, the princes of Moscow themselves farmed not only the tax from their own subjects, but also from neighboring countries. They became the farmers-general of the invaders. This was the origin of their riches and their power.

3. Besides the tribute, the Russians had to furnish to their master the blood-tax, a military contingent. Already at the time of the Huns and Avars, we have seen Slavs and Goths accompany the Asiatic hordes, form their vanguards, and be as it were the hounds of Baïan. In the 13th century, the Russian princes furnished to the Tatars select troops, especially a solid infantry, and marched in their armies at the head of their droujinas. It was thus that in 1276 Boris of Rostof, Gleb of Biélozersk, Feodor of Iaroslavl, and Andrew of Gorodetz followed Mangou Khan in a war against the tribes of the Caucasus, and sacked Dediakof in Daghestan, the capital of the Iasses. The Mongols scrupulously reserved to them their part of the booty. The same Russian princes took part in an expedition against an adventurer named Lachan by the Greek historians, formerly a keeper of pigs, who had raised Bulgaria. The descendants of Monomachus behaved still more dishonorably in the troubles in the interior of Russia. They excited the Mongols against their countrymen and aided the invaders. Prince Andrew, son of Alexander Nevski, pillaged in 1281, in concert with the Tatars, the provinces of Vladimir, Souzdal, Mourom, Moscow, and Peréiaslavl, which he was disputing with Dmitri, his elder brother. He helped the barbarians to profane churches and convents. In 1327 it was the princes of Moscow and Souzdal who directed the military execution against Tver. In 1284, two Olgovitches reigned in the land of Koursk; one of them, Oleg, put the other to death in the name of the Khan. Servitude had so much abased all characters, that even the annalists share the general degradation. They blame, not Oleg the murderer, but Sviatoslaf the victim. Was it not his unbridled conduct that caused the anger of the Khan?

4. No prince could ascend the throne without having received the investiture and the iarlikh, or letters patent, from the Khan. The proud Novgorodians themselves rejected Michael, their prince, saying, “It is true we have chosen Michael, but on the condition that he should show us the iarlikh.”

5. No Russian State dared to make war without being authorized to do so. In 1269 the Novgorodians asked leave to march against Revel. In 1303, in an assembly of princes, and in the presence of the Metropolitan Maximus, a decree of the Khan Tokhta was read, enjoining the princes to put an end to their dissensions, and to content themselves with their appanages, it being the will of the Grand Khan that the Grand Principality should enjoy peace. When the Mongol ambassadors brought a letter from their sovereign, the Russian princes were obliged to meet them on foot, prostrate themselves, spread precious carpets under their feet, present them with a cup filled with gold pieces, and listen, kneeling, while the iarlikh was read.

Even while the Tatars conquered the Russians, they respected their bravery. Matrimonial alliances were contracted between their princes. About 1272, Gleb, prince of Biélozersk, took a wife out the Khan's family, which already professed Christianity, and Feodor of Riazan became the son-in-law of the Khan of the Nogais, who assigned to the young couple a palace in Saraï. In 1318 the Grand Prince George married Kontchaka, sister of Uzbeck Khan, who was baptized by the name of Agatha. Towards the end of the 14th century, the Tatars were no longer the rude shepherds of the steppes. Mingled with sedentary and more cultivated races, they rebuilt fresh cities on the ruins of those they had destroyed; Krym in the Crimea, Kazan, Astrakhan, and Saraï. They had acquired a taste for luxury and magnificence, honored the national poets who sang their exploits, piqued themselves on their chivalry and even on their gallantry. Notwithstanding the difference of religion, a reconciliation was taking place between the aristocracy of the two countries, between the Russian kniazes and the Tatar mourzas.

The Russian historians are not entirely agreed as to the nature and degree of influence exerted by the Mongol yoke on the Russian development. Karamsin and M. Kostomarof believe it to have been considerable. “Perhaps,” says the former “our national character still presents some blots which are derived from the Mongol barbarism.” M. Solovief, on the contrary, affirms that the Tatars hardly influenced it more than the Patzinaks or Polovtsi. M. Bestoujef-Rioumine estimates the influence to have been specially exerted on the financial administration and military organization. On one side the Tatars established the capitation-tax, which has remained in the financial system of Russia; on the other, the conquered race had a natural tendency to adopt the military system of the victors. The Russian or Mongol princes formed a caste of soldiers henceforth quite distinct from Western chivalry, to which the Russian heroes of the 12th century belonged. The warriors of Daniel of Galitch, it is said, astounded the Poles and Hungarians by the Oriental character of their equipment. Short stirrups, very high saddles, a long caftan or floating dress, a sort of turban surmounted by an aigret, sabres and poniards in their belts, a bow and arrows—such was the military costume of a Russian prince of the 15th century.

On the other side, many of the peculiarities in which the Mongol influence is thought traceable may be attributed as well or better to purely Slav traditions, or imitations of Byzantine manners. If the Muscovite princes inclined to autocracy, it was not that they formed themselves on the model of the Grand Khan, but that they naturally adopted imperial ideas of absolutism imported from Constantinople. It is always the Roman Emperor of Tzargrad, and not the leader of Asiatic shepherds, who is their typical monarch. If from this time the Russian penal law makes more frequent use of the pain of death and corporal punishment, it is not only the result of imitation of the Tatars, but of the evergrowing influence of Byzantine laws, and the progressive triumph of their principles over those of the ancient code of Iaroslaf. Now these laws so very easily admitted torture, flogging, mutilation, the stake, &c., that there is no need to explain anything by Mongol usages. The habit of prostration, of beating the forehead, of affecting the servile submission, is certainly Oriential, but it is also Byzantine. The seclusion of women was customary in ancient Russia, moulded by Greek missionaries, and the Russian terem proceeds more certainly from the Hellenic gynæceum than from the Oriental harem; all the more because the Tatar women, before the conversion of the Mongols to Islamism, do not appear to have been secluded. If the Russians of the 17th century seem strange to us in their long robes and Oriental fashions, we must remember that the French and Italians of the 15th century, dressed by Venetian merchants, displayed the same taste. Only in France fashions made advances, while in Russia, isolated from the rest of Europe they remained stationary.

From a social point of view, two Russian expressions seem to date from the Tatar invasion: tcherne, or the black people, to designate the lower orders; and krestianine, signifying the peasant, that is, the Christian par excellence, who was always a stranger to the Mongol customs adopted for a short time by the aristocracy. As to the amount of Mongol or Tatar blood mixed with the blood of the Russians, it must have been very small: the aristocracy of the two countries may have contracted marriages, a certain number of mourzas may have become Russian princes by their conversion to orthodoxy, but the two races, as a whole, remained strangers. Even to-day, while the autochthonous Finns continue to be Russified, the Tatar cantons, even though converted to Christianity, are still Tatar.

If the Mongol yoke has influenced the Russian development, it is very indirectly. 1. In separating Russia from the West, in making her a political dependency of Asia, it perpetuated in the country that Byzantine half civilization whose inferiority to European civilization became daily more obvious. If the Russians of the 17th century differ so much from Western nations, it is above all because they have remained at the point whence all set out. 2. The Tatar conquest also favored indirectly the establishment of absolute power. The Muscovite princes, responsible to the Khan for the public tranquillity and the collection of the tax, being all the while watched and supported by the baskaks, could the more easily annihilate the independence of the towns, the resistance of the second order of princes, the turbulence of the boyards, and the privileges of the free peasants. The Grand Prince of Moscow had no consideration for his subjects because no man had any consideration for him, and because his life was always at stake. The Mongol tyranny bore with a frightful weight on all the Russian hierarchy, and subjected more closely the nobles to the princes, and the peasants to the nobles. “The princes of Moscow,” says Karamsin, “took the humble title of servants of the khans, and it was by this means that they became powerful monarchs.” No doubt the Russian principalities would always have ended by losing themselves in the same dominion, but Russian unity would have been made, like French unity, without the entire destruction of local autonomies, the privileges of the towns, and the rights of the subjects. It was the crushing weight of the Mongol domination that stifled all the germs of political liberty. We may say with Mr. Wallace, that “the first Tzars of Muscovy were the political descendants, not of the Russian princes, but of the Tatar khans.” 3. A third indirect result of the conquest was the growth of the power and riches of the Church. In spite of the saintly legends about the martyrdom of certain princes, the Tatars were a tolerant nation. Rubruquis saw in the presence of the Grand Khan Mangou, Nestorians, Mussulmans, and Shamans celebrating their own particular worships.

Kouïouk had a Christian chapel near his palace; Khoubilaï regularly took part in the feast of Easter. In 1261 the Khan of Saraï authorized the erection of a church and orthodox bishopric in his capital. The Mongols had no sectarian hatred against bishops and priests. With a sure political instinct, the Tatars, like the Sultans of Stamboul, understood that these men could agitate or calm the people. After the first fury of the conquest was passed, they applied themselves to gaining them over. They excepted priests and monks from the capitation-tax; they received them well at the Horde, and gave pardons at their intercession. They settled disputes of orthodox prelates, and established the peace in the Church that they imposed on the State. In 1313 the Khan Uzbeck, at the prayer of Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow, confirmed the privileges of the Church and forbade her being deprived of her goods, “for,” says the edict, “these possessions are sacred, because they belong to men whose prayers preserve our lives and strengthen our armies.” The right of justice in the Church was formally recognized. Sacrilege was punished by death.

The convents also increased in numbers and riches. They filled enormously: were they not the safest asylums? Their peasants and servants multiplied: was not the projection of the Church the surest? Gifts of land were showered on them, as in France in the year 1000. It was thus that the great ecclesiastical patrimony of Russia, a wealthy reservoir of revenues and capital, was constituted, on which more than once in national crises the Russian sovereigns were glad to draw. The Church, which, even in her weakness, had steadily tended to unity and autocracy, was to place at the service of the crown a power which had become enormous. The Metropolitans of Moscow were nearly always the faithful allies of the Grand Princes.


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