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Mongol invasion of Russia

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History of Russia
Early East Slavs
Khazars
Kievan Rus'
Volga Bulgaria
Mongol invasion
Golden Horde
Muscovy
Khanate of Kazan
Khanate of Astrakhan
Siberia Khanate
Crimean Khanate
Imperial Russia
Revolution of 1905
Revolution of 1917
Civil War
Soviet Union
Russian Federation

The Mongol Invasion of Russia was an invasion of the medieval state of Kievan Rus' by a large army of nomadic Mongols, starting in 1223. The invasion precipitated the breakup of Kievan Rus' and influenced development of Russian history, including rise of the Moscow principality.

As it was undergoing fragmentation, Kievan Rus' faced its greatest threat from invading Mongols. In 1223 an army from Kievan Rus', together with a force of Turkic Polovtsians (Cumans), faced a Mongol raiding party at the Kalka River. This battle(31st May, 1223 N.S.) was the first military engagement between the Mongol armies of Genghis Khan and the East Slavic warriors. It was fought on the bank of the Kalka River, somewhere between present-day Donetsk and Mariupol.

Early in 1223, the Mongol armies under Subudai Bahadur and Jebei Noyon 'the Arrow,' Genghis Khan's dreaded "dogs of war," approached the steppe occupied by the Kipchak nomads, the Cumans. Khan Kotian of the Kipchaks escaped to the court of his son-in-law, Mstislav of Halych, and asked him for help, saying: "Today they will slaughter us, tomorrow they will come for you". Several other princes, including Mstislav the Bold, joined their forces with Kipchak allies in Kiev and sailed down the Dnieper. There was no unity in the Slavic camp, as the princes were political rivals and each hoped to obtain a supreme command over the army.

The Mongols sent several embassies to the Slavic princes offering peace. They asked Mstislav and his army to let them have their way with the Kipchaks and promised not to raid into Slavic lands. Mstislav however was persuaded in his own victory and had the ambassadors killed. The princes then espied an avantgarde of the Mongols and pursued it for 8 days until they reached the fateful Kalka River.

Mstislav of Kievs forces, who had chosen to cross the river, were attacked and besieged in their camp by the main body of the Mongol horde. The Kipchak allies retreated in disarray, but Mstislav the Bold stood firm. The camp was assaulted for three days, and finally taken. There was no mercy to anyone. Six princes were taken prisoner, and only a tenth of the original army escaped (led by Mstislav the Bold) to return to Kiev. The imprisoned princes were stretched out under the wooden boards and slowly suffocated while Mongols feasted upon the boards during their victory banquet.

The Battle of the Kalka River is commonly viewed as a catastrophe in a disintegrating Kievan Rus. The Mongol commanders, however, were not inclined to conquer Rus at that time. Genghis Khan viewed their mission as a mere reconnaissance in force to prepare a better attack in the future. The Mongols returned under the leadership of Batu Khan more than a decade later, in 1239. The Kievan alliance was defeated soundly. Then in 1237-1238 (after conquering of Volga Bulgaria in 1236, see Mongol invasion of Volga Bulgaria), a much larger Mongol force overran much of Kievan Rus'. In 1240 the Mongols sacked the city of Kiev and then moved west into Poland and Hungary. Of the principalities of Kievan Rus', only the Republic of Novgorod escaped occupation, but it paid tribute to the Mongols. One branch of the Mongol force withdrew to Saray on the lower Volga River, establishing the Golden Horde. From Saray, the Golden Horde Mongols ruled Kievan Rus' indirectly through their princes and tax collectors.

The influence of the Mongol invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus' was uneven. Centers such as Kiev never recovered from the devastation of the initial attack. The Republic of Novgorod continued to prosper, however, and a new entity, the city of Moscow, began to flourish under the Mongols. Although a Russian army defeated the Golden Horde at Kulikovo in 1380, Mongol domination of the Russian-inhabited territories, along with demands of tribute from Russian princes, continued until about 1480 (see Great standing on the Ugra river).

Historians have debated the long-term influence of Mongol rule on Russian society. The Mongols have been blamed for the destruction of Kievan Rus', the breakup of the ancient Russian nationality into three components, and the introduction of the concept of "oriental despotism" into Russia. But most historians agree that Kievan Rus' was not a homogeneous political, cultural, or ethnic entity and that the Mongols merely accelerated a fragmentation that had begun before the invasion. Historians also credit the Mongol regime with an important role in the development of Muscovy as a state. Under Mongol occupation, for example, Muscovy developed its postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization.

Kievan Rus' also left a powerful legacy. The leader of the Rurik Dynasty united a large territory inhabited by East Slavs into an important, albeit unstable, state. After Vladimir accepted Eastern Orthodoxy, Kievan Rus' came together under a church structure and developed a Byzantine-Slavic synthesis in culture, statecraft, and the arts. On the northeastern periphery of Kievan Rus', those traditions were adapted to form the Russian autocratic state.

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