Mongol Influence on Rus’ Culture

The Mongol occupation of the Rus’ lands is recounted by many historians as being incredibly detrimental to the culture of Rus’. The Mongols stormed into Rus’, manipulated the princes, and seized the opportunity to assert their military and political dominance upon Rus’. However, they did not force their shamanistic religion upon the Rus’ people, and they gave the Orthodox Church free reign. This interesting balance between the political and religious spheres and how they overlapped would eventually give the Rus’ people reason to believe that there was something they had to unite. The initial destruction of Rus’ culture by the Mongol occupation was brought back by the Church and the economic success that was in part due to the Mongols.

The historian A. M. Sakharov argues that the Mongol occupation destroyed early Rus’ culture in writing, architecture, crafts, and art and it, “failed to introduce any cultural innovations in their place.” (Kaiser and Marker 137) The Mongols exiled craftsman and architects which resulted in the loss of techniques that were passed down for generations. The loss of all the books which were stored in the Kremlin cathedrals by the invasion of Tokhtamysh is just one example of the large amounts of history destroyed. Sakharov does write on the rise of culture during what he refers to as the “Second Stage” of the Mongol occupation. (139) The economic success in cities such as Tver and Moscow meant Novgorod was no longer the only center of culture in Rus’. The rise of a Russian identity which was cultivated by the Church gave the people even more inspiration to push culture further forward.

However, Halperin later argues that the influence of the Mongols was more beneficial than many historians give credit. (105) The pride of Rus’ people as well as the dominance of the Orthodox Church who controlled most of the writing could easily have prevented the recording of the positives of the Mongol reign. While the Mongols did grant the Church immunity, the Church regarded them as infidels for their beliefs in shamanism and Islam. The rerouting of the fur trade by the Mongols led to the rise of Moscow and the cultural growth that occurred there during the mid 14th-mid 15th centuries had a very large positive impact on Rus’ culture. (106)

As the Primary Chronicles have shown multiple times, the religion of the subject being written about has a considerable consequence on how they are portrayed. While the recordings from the Chronicles describe the Mongol occupation as being only detrimental to Rus’ culture, it is possible that the Mongols had a positive influence on some of the culture.

What made the Mongols decide to initially destroy the Rus’ culture and then leave the Church to help bring it back?

How did the Mongol occupation unite Rus’ people together? Was it cultural unity that was finally discovered or just a desire to get rid of the Mongol yoke?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994

3 thoughts on “Mongol Influence on Rus’ Culture

  1. It is interesting that the Mongols laid waste to so many significant facets of Russian culture but then had no problem allowing the church to go about it’s business. It may be that the destruction of things such as books and cathedrals were a side effect of the pillaging necessary to subdue and terrify rebellious portions of Rus’ society. Leaving the church alone was probably a calculated move to pacify Russians and to make them feel as though they aren’t being directly oppressed. A contented people are much more likely to willingly pay their taxes and not rebel.

  2. To answer your second question, Mongol occupation seemed to create a shared feeling of animosity and therefore created some sense of unity. But, at the same time, I would be careful not to overstate how much “unity” there was during/immediately after the Mongol occupation. From what I’ve read, it sounds like significant unification of the lands of modern-day Russia didn’t happen until well after the Mongols left.

  3. With the Church’s longstanding relationship of cooperation with the Rus princes, it seems that it was used as a go-between to ease the transition from the defiant princes to new ones appointed by the Mongols. With the support the Church received from the Mongols, it was much more likely to counsel princes against rising against their new rulers. This, in conjunction with the legitimate fear of the power the Mongols possessed, provided the basis for a political system with very little room for dissent from the princes, who themselves were the target for the people’s ire, as they were the ones responsible for the actual gathering of taxes.

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