Perhaps this will be an overly and overtly charged blog; however, the two readings from Reinterpreting Russian History: Reading 860s-1860s present an excellent example of how historians can use the same sources but generate two very different narratives. In his article, “Interpreting the Mongol Yoke: The Ideology of Silence” Charles Halperin examines the variety of influences that the Mongol empire had on Russian society: its culture, politics, and economy. He challenges the popular notion that Mongol control only resulted in negative impacts on Russian culture. ((Kaiser, Daniel H., and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford, 1994. 105.)) While he does not deny that the invasion and occupation had its set of drawbacks – mainly economic – he also highlights some of the militaristic, political, and economic gains. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 105.)) Furthermore, he argues against the popular historical narrative on the Mongol empire, a narrative upheld by A.M. Sakharov in his article “The Mongols and Cultural Change.” Drawing from the chronicles, Sakharov argues that the Mongol invasion crippled Russian culture and set it back hundreds of years. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 138.)) However, Sakharov makes exceptionally broad an sweeping statements that at many points seem to contradict themselves. In any article, one should be healthily skeptical when an author writes that something “is an indisputable historical fact” as Sakharov does in his argument that “The Mongol-Tartar invasion was a terrible calamity for Russian culture.” ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 138.)) Very few historical facts exist outside of the date and place of an event, and discrepancies often surround those as well. Furthermore, Sakharov recognizes the continued prosperity of northern cities such as Novgorod while arguing that all of Russian culture suffered under Mongolian rule. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 139.)) His mention of the development of Russian culture and its apparent refinement (i.e. actually gaining a collective identity) at the end of the 14th century also contradicts his argument that the Mongol rule was entire detrimental to Russian culture.
How and why do you think historians – these two in particular – draw create such different narratives on the same event?
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?
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
The two writings of “Interpreting Mongol Yoke: Ideology of Science” and “The Mongols and Cultural Change” display differing versions of Mongol and Rus’ interactions. While the latter perceives the Mongol rule as entirely destructive with little to no cultural achievements made for Rus’ during this time, the former believes that this idea is a narrow- minded way of viewing Mongol influence. Although there was a severely recognizable amount of destruction upon Rus’, there were also achievements in societal structures. For incidence, while one writing claims that the literature of the land was inhibited and ruined (with writings being destroyed and writing characters altering). Conversely, the opposite view is that the Mongol presence in the region created an influence in Rus’ culture that allowed them to embrace parts of other cultures in the area (instead of seeing the literature of Rus’ being destroyed, it was viewed as being altered through Arabic influence).