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