Cultural Changes due to Mongol Invasion

It is clear that the Mongol’s conquest of Russia was the cause of huge amounts of destruction in Russia as they are consistently described as “cruel and evil infidels” ((Kaiser and Marker 105)).  However, Halperin’s view on the Mongolian influence was particularly interesting as he does not focus on the negative contributions from the Mongols but the positive  influences the Rus people borrowed from them in order to better their society.  In order to fully understand the influence of the Mongol’s in Rus’ society, It is important to recognize the different perspectives taken when analyzing this historical event.

Both documents clearly state that the Mongol’s were the cause of serious destruction in Rus and they can even be blamed for our present lack of knowledge of early Rus societies due to the mass burnings of hundreds of written texts.  But both documents also claim that the Mongols had a prominent impact on multiple aspects of the Rus culture.  Sakharov states that the art in Rus suffered greatly as this job “rested upon manual tools and involved many years of practice,” and he continues to blame the Mongols and their mass slaughter for the decline of Rus art and architecture ((Kaiser and Marker 137)).  Halperin argues another view point, provoking the thought that “Mongols influenced Russia, but the Russians did not influence the Tatars,” essentially saying that Russia did not have anything to offer the Mongols to better their society ((Kaiser and Marker 105)).  This same thought is carried on throughout Halperin’s piece as he stresses the point that the Russian’s were the ones borrowing military, political, and administrative ideas from the Mongols.  Interesting to note is the fact that religion, a key aspect to culture, is one of the only things that remains untouched by the Mongols.

Why did the Mongols believe it was so important to keep Russian Orthodoxy prominent in Rus?

How big of an impact do the Mongols have in affecting our knowledge of early Rus today?  Would we have more knowledge of the culture had the Mongols not invaded?


Works Cited

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

The Mongols and their Relationship with the Orthodox Church

By most accounts, the Mongol invasion was a bloody time for the people of Russian territories in the thirteenth century. Arriving from southeastern Russia in 1223, they had superior military tactics to overthrow the Russian Princes and keep that power for the next 150 years to 250 years with the help of their proficient administration skills that Russian officials lacked. The wide-spread massacre and destruction ruined towns and deprived the population at large from farming land in the steppe and from critical trade routes. Although some scholars focus more on the positive Mongol influences to Russian culture (some administrative language and military knowledge), it is clear that the Mongols left the society devastated. ((Riasanovsky and Steinberg 63-70))

The people of the Russian Orthodox faith saw this display of cruelty and killing as “the Christian God [employing] the Tartars (Mongols) to punish Rus for the folly of its princes who, rather than abiding by the wise advice of Grand Prince Iaroslav … instead fought against one another, and had failed to honor one another.” ((Kaiser and Marker 100)) But despite the Mongols’ hostile behavior, they eventually chose to respect the Russian Orthodox Church and any of its clergy and members and let them practice their religion in peace. In the Mongol Immunity Charter to Metropolitan Peter, we see that the church is given official recognition as an “independent institution” and the Mongol population is forbidden to “interfere in church affairs or in the metropolitan’s business, for they are God’s business.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102)) They make it very clear that the Church is not be bothered and no one is to be offended by any acts of the Mongol’s or else the “wrath of God will be on him.” ((Kaiser and Marker 102))

Given their attitudes to the Orthodox faith, what does that tell us about the importance of religion to the Mongols?

How did this affect the Russian culture and lifestyle moving forward in the future?

Are there any lasting effects from the Mongol invasion that we can see in today’s Russian society?

Works Cited

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

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia to 1855. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005

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.

Novgorod Chronicle and Mongol Invasion

The Novgorod Chronicle presents the Mongol invasion as a punishment sent by God. The Mongols invaded because the princes were selfish and fought against one another, disobeying both their father and God. The Chroniclers write that the Devil himself is responsible for inciting this discord among the princes.

The Chronicle lessens the importance of the Mongol’s role in the invasion because God is named as the one pulling all of the strings. God allowed the Mongols attack as punishment for the people’s sins. If God had not intervened, then the Mongols would never have invaded; therefore, God plays the central role in this story, not the Mongols.

Did the Mongols practice Paganism? Was there religious tolerance under Mongol rule? If God is the one responsible for this devastation, then shouldn’t the people of Rus direct their anger towards God and not towards the Mongols? If the princes had behaved more righteously, does that mean the Mongol invasion would never have happened? What is the point of being a Christian if God offers no protections from such horrors?