Debates over the Effects of the Mongol Invasion

Halperin’s and Sakharov’s articles offer different historical intepretations of the reception and effects of the Mongol invasion in Rus’. Halperin argues that, contrary to teachings perpetuated by the Church, the Rus adapted many aspects of Mongolian life which advanced Rus’ society. For instance, during the Mongol occupation, Rus’ society learned to use the Mongols’ efficient military structure and postal service. The Mongols also “rerouted the fur trade to extract greater revenue” (Halperin 106) for Rus’, thus assisting the culture they had conquered. Halperin makes the point, however, that the Mongols did not force every aspect of their culture onto the Rus’ people, such as their religion. Such an interpretation portrays the Mongol invasion as a kind and enriching period in Rus’ history. On the other hand, Sakharov, in a study of Rus’ culture after the Mongol occupation ended, argues that the Mongols had no positive effect on Rus’. He explains that the Mongols, in taking away Rus’ best craftsmen, created centuries of a Rus’ with inferior architecture. Sakharov then contends that, after the Mongols left, Rus’ culture became much more sophisticated and enlightened, thus underscoring the dark period that had been the Mongols’ reign.

Sakharov writes, “Reborn and developing Russian culture regained its national character in full. The Mongol-Tartars enriched it with nothing whatever, and their influence was quite insignificant in practice” (Sakharov 138). I find this claim to be a little too broad and definitive to be taken as fact. Even disregarding the period after the occupation, the Mongol invasion was clearly significant in its empowering of Moscow and ultimate depowering of Kiev. But moreover, the fact that Rus’ culture exploded in literature and architecture after the occupation also signfies that the Mongols affected Rus’. Perhaps, Rus’ culture wouldn’t have advanced as quickly as it did if the Mongols had not stunted it (if indeed they did stunt it) for so long.

I wonder how the effects Mongol occupation is viewed in other parts of the world. Does the Middle-East and China contend that the Mongols had a positive or negative impact on their cultures? Furthermore, do different geographic sections of Russia today claim different interpretations about the Mongol invasions?

4 thoughts on “Debates over the Effects of the Mongol Invasion

  1. I agree with your analysis of both authors, Halperin makes a very interesting argument for the influence of the Horde in Rus’ land while Sakharov (with a particularly dramatic style) still points out that the Mongol invasion did play a significant role in the history of Rus’.

    I also would be interested to know what the Middle-East and China’s (or even Mongolia for that matter) position is on this part of history. As for Russia, my little experience with the Russians makes me lean toward the fact that they generally view it as negative, but since I have absolutely no true evidence to this claim I would not bet on it.

  2. Continuing your chain of reason in the first paragraph i would like to add that the crafts men of Rus did not leave but instead moved. This would cause a centralization of culture not a elimination. Also the reason for the explosion of culture after the mongols could be that the church was then able to use the massive wealth that they had accumulated. And that the populace of Russia had moved north to northern cities causing them to grow.

    Your question about the impressions other cultures got of the mongols is a interesting one. I know that the Chinese hated them and the Europeans did as well. But after the first years of shock i know that much of the Middle East grew to accept and emulate the mongols. In the end the mongol royals became the ruling family of several empires and were married into by later conquers for prestige.

  3. It is very interesting to think that the Mongols had such a large impact on Russian culture. The two different interpretations of the Mongol invasion definitely reflected the different biases of the authors. Halperin seemed to understand the impact of the Mongols and how much they changed Russian culture, while Sakharov clearly did not believe that the Mongols did anything for Russia. It’s interesting to note how hated the Mongols were and yet they changed most of Asia and Eastern Europe for the better and allowed these cultures to flourish and become more advanced. I would definitely like to gain a better understanding of the Middle East’s relationship with the Mongols.

  4. I actually took an early Middle Eastern history course last semester, and we talked at great length about when the Mongols sacked Baghdad. The process was similar to how the Mongols attacked Rus’. They offered the a chance to surrender, and when the ruler of Baghdad refused, the Mongols took over the city, destroying a lot of the area in the process. Interestingly enough, while the Mongols did cause a lot of damage, these atrocities were covered up or skimmed over in some historical accounts. This was because the Mongols eventually converted to Islam, and thus later historians needed to paint them in a positive light. A genre of literature written during this time was called “Mirrors for Princes”. Similar to Machiaveli’s “The Prince”, these books served as lessons for future rulers. In an account titled “Hulagu Khan Heads for Baghdad” by Rashid al-din, the writer depicted the sacking of Baghdad as a lesson for future leaders. In this account, the caliph (the Middle East equivalent of prince) was depicted as being foolish and not surrendering to the Mongols. The author makes sure to highlight that the Mongols offered the prince the chance to surrender the city, and that the prince was too prideful and stubborn to see the wisdom of this option. In essence, the destruction of Baghdad was blamed on the caliph and his inability to rule effectively. So basically, similar to the other sources we’re reading, it all depends on the author and the context in which he/she is writing. Rashid al-din was a historian under the Mongols, specifically a man named Ghazan Khan, who I believe commissioned this history of the Mongols (because one had never been written about their people before!). So Rashid al-din was in a precarious position where he had to write a history that would be accepted by the Mongols. That accounts for the way this event was depicted, at least in this culture. However, this is only one instance, and there are plenty of Middle East accounts of the sacking of Baghdad that are very negative about the Mongols.

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