Halperin, Sakharov, and Silence

There is debate among scholars about the quality and quantity of change the Mongols imposed on society in the Rus’.  Much of this has to do with the ideology of Silence, in this context meaning the general notion of omitting any positive achievements the Mongols brought to the Rus’ from historical documentation.  Historians Charles Halperin and A. M. Sakharov are good examples of both sides of the Mongol argument.

Even in the development of their arguments, one can see differences form from the way both writers view the subject.  Sakharov focuses more on what actions the Mongols took, while Halperin instead focuses on the actions taken by the peoples of the Rus’.

Halperin’s main argument is that the early Russians adapted certain historical achievements brought by the Mongols, while they ignored and denied the Mongolian culture. Here it is important to note the main reasoning behind the picking and choosing what aspects of Mongolian society were adapted to the Rus’ was mainly due to religious differences.  Because the Mongols had no opposition to the Church in the Rus’ (and rather supported it because it helped instill Mongol authority), the Church in turn flourished from the thirteenth on, and this is from where much of early Russian culture emanated.  Halperin also discusses the ideology of Silencing here, explaining that much was censored by Church documentation because to raise any positive attention to the Mongols, who by the later half of their power of the Rus’ were Muslim, could raise one to question the authority of Orthodoxy.  So while at this time, the tangible aspects of Mongol society were adapted, like military and administrative advances as well as political ideology, the larger, theological and other-worldly questions were left to the Church.  What this led to was a negative tone toward the Mongol invaders in the chronicles, because while theses great advances did occur, Halperin does not deny that the Mongol invasion indeed led to a lot of destruction and steep economic repercussions.

On that note, Sakharov almost explicitly argues that the Mongols were destructive to Rus’ culture, which differs from Halperin’s argument of the Mongols leaving the cultural aspect of Rus’ alone.  Sakharov mentions because the Mongols killed off and took away master craftsmen, the styles of art and architecture not only disappeared, but when they reappeared, they were of significantly lesser quality.  For example, when the Mongols took away master masons, the styling of carved buildings went away after the thirteenth century, and also the methods of building were weaker (ie. making stone buildings instead of stone buildings with brick).  Additionally, Sakharov notes because the Rus’ was adapting more to the East, they were cut off almost entirely from the Western world, which excluded the Rus’ from joining their European counterparts in the Renaissance and the Reformation.  The exclusion from these two movements would serve as markers that would forever isolate Russia from connecting fully with the West, contributing in a debate over Russian identity which still exists today.

While Halperin’s argument is more valid, both he and Sakharov are not wrong.  While the Mongols were passive in the cultural aspects of Rus’ society later on, initially when they invaded Rus’ their path of destruction deprived the Rus’ of the cultural advances they were achieving on their own.  Also Sakharov does not take the factor of Silencing into account, meaning his argument is less valid.  Sakharov himself exhibits Silencing in a way by not better clarifying the advances the Mongols did bring to the Rus’ to better his argument of what the Mongols took away from the Rus’.  What one needs to take away from learning about the Mongol yoke is what the Mongols changed for better or for worse in Rus’ from the thirteenth century onward.

Halperin and Sacharaov on The Ideology of Silence

The Ideology of Science, as defined by Halperin, is the refusal to acknowledge the genuine achievements of the conquerors (the Golden Horde).  Halperin is critical of this viewpoint, as none of the benefits of Mongol rule come to light, giving new researchers a skewed look at this era of Rus’ history.

Halperin begins be describing the Mongol’s ability to rework the social and political order in the region with great success.  However, they allowed them to retain their original political infrastructure.  This kept the Mongol core policies untainted by Russian influences, but allowed the Mongols to impress their systems upon Russia. This gave Russians access to a number of benefits, such as being able to use the unrivaled Mongol postal system, and later, a plethora of blueprints on how to create effective political, military, administrative, and fiscal institutions in the future.

However, the religious prejudice refuse to acknowledge these achievements.  They viewed the Mongols with much less favor.  The Mongols, having their own set of beliefs, were tolerant of other religions.  However, this did not mean that all religions were equal, which the religious prejudice noticed.  They hated the notion that they were had the less popular religion, despite, to them, having a clearly superior religion.   Halperin claims that these individuals are what bring about the Ideology of Silence.

Unlike Halperin, Sakharov does not see any major cultural benefits the Mongols provide the Russian region.  While there is a cultural revival during the Mongol’s occupation, it is largely brought about by the Moscow principality.

One of the major blows to culture the Mongols deal is the systematic capturing of most skilled laborers and artisans.  This leaves little for Russia to use to develop its arts and other cultural points.  The Mongols also set back the architecture of the region, as the ability to combine materials such as limestone, brick, and stone, was lost as a result of the Mongols.Sakharov also cites the destruction of written word during the pillaging of towns and cities at the hand of the Mongols as a part of their destruction of Russian culture.  Sakharov states that many cultural advances occurred after the majority of the Mongol influences had already taken effect.

Why does Sakharov believe that the cultural advances in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have little to do with the Mongol’s occupation?  How can a historian simply refuse to believe in the benefits of Mongolian rule, when they are so present?