Mongol Influence on Rus’

The Mongol’s rule over Rus’ from around 1250 to 1480 seems to have brought many cultural consequences to the Rus’ land.  Russian architecture received a major blow as previous techniques were simplified and many incidents of structure malfunctions were reported.  The Mongols brutal sacking of cities such as Kiev destroyed much of the Rus’ culture.  Ancient pieces of valuable literature were destroyed by this destruction of the Mongols and were lost in time. Most ancient books were preserved in the un-harmed Novgorod. (137)  The practice of writing chronicles disappeared and the grand architecture of the 11th and 12th century was replaced with more simplified techniques.  In reference to Rus’ culture, it’s said that, “The Mongol-Tatars enriched it with nothing whatever… (Kaiser and Marker 138)”.  The Mongols blocked Rus’ from the Enlightenment occurring in the west and put it on track to develop separately from the west.

However, some historians see the Mongol Yoke as a positive effect to Rus’ culture.  The Khan left the Rus’ political infrastructure intact as well as giving the Orthodox church freedom from Mongol intervention.  This allowed the church to grow and finally convert most of the population into Orthodoxy.  It’s also seen that, “The Russians showed praiseworthy perspicacity in imitating the institutions in warfare and government… (105)”.  Princes were also given “booty” for participating in military campaigns with the Mongols. (106)  The vast Mongolian empire also benefitted Rus’ with their huge trade connections.  Rus’ furs became popular a commodity in this trade.

If the Mongols did not control Rus’ would the idea of a “Russian identity” become as prominent?



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

The Mongols and Russian Progress

What struck me in tonight’s reading was the Mongols responsibility for effectively severing Russia’s historical and cultural ties to the West. We can only place so much stock in historians’ projections for what could have been, as Riasanovsky and Steinberg write, “it has been suggested that, but for the Mongols, Russia might well have participated in such epochal European developments as the Renaissance and the Reformation.” ((RS 68))  The Mongols imposed exacting financial punishments on the Russians, divesting an already poor society assets and property. As a result, the Kievan standards of living went into a sharp decline and the society saw its development stunted “by some 150 or 200 years.”  ((RS 68))

The Mongols made a limited number of constructive contributions to Russian society, but in many ways these contributions anticipate modes of population management and infrastructure that wouldn’t arise in other societies until the Modern Era: they took a census of the Russian population and created roads that helped centralize their empire. Their superior military organization “resembled a modern general staff,” ((RS 67)  and they greatly evolved the Russian Calvary forces. They also brought the Russians a crude postal system. ((RS 70))


Discussion question: How is the role of Mongol involvement in Russia treated in by historians today?

Pagans and Patriarchs: Russian Orthodoxy and the Mongols in the Thirteenth Century

The Mongol tide that swept much of the civilized world in the thirteenth century played an integral role in shaping the history of Asia and Central Europe, and few nations maintain as strong a legacy to this day as Russia. During its history under the rule of the Rus princes, the Orthodox Church was a mainstay institution of society, but it truly flourished under the Mongols. Protection from tax collectors, land redistribution, and the ability to pass judgement on any crimes in their holdings gave the Church a next-to unheard of degree of political influence and flexibility. Indeed, juxtaposed against the barbaric slaughter the Mongols perpetrated in the Novgorod Chronicle, their degree of autonomy seems almost impossible in the light of their earlier behavior.

The Chronicle presents the introduction of the Mongols into Rus as a nigh-apocalyptic event issued forth from Hell to extract payment from the Rus for their sins. While the reality was much more mundane, it was nevertheless a major check on princely power throughout the lands of Rus. Unwilling to band together against a common threat, Rus princes presented little more than a token resistance. In the face of the unchecked invasion many princes took to hiding underneath the spiritual bulwark of their local churches, leaving their villages and holdings to suffer the consequences of their short-lived defiance. The churches themselves did little to protect their erstwhile lords, standing against the fire and sword of the invaders as well as a series of wooden walls can be expected to.

It seems odd, then, given their early disregard for the sanctity of the local churches, that the Mongols saw fit to afford the Church institution as a whole so much power. The aptly named Immunity Charter granted the Church protection from land forfeiture, the indenture and enslavement of church affiliated laymen, and tax and tribute gathering. In light of their paganism and evidently savage behavior, why did they see fit to not only spare, but also empower the Church? Was it some dogmatic shift between the initial invasion and the middle ground of the occupation? Or perhaps merely a pragmatic attempt to ingratiate their tribute collectors to a powerful local organization, making resistance to their rule less intense?

The Russian Orthodox Church and The Mongols in the Thirteenth Century

The Mongol invasion of Rus’ started in the mid thirteenth century and lasted until around 1480. It followed closely behind the fighting between the Rus’ princes over land and power. During this period the two most powerful groups in Rus’ were the Princes and the church. The church quickly blamed the princes for the invasion of the Mongols stating that it was Gods punishment for their foolish skirmishing. According to The Novgorod Chronicle (Kaiser and Marker 99) the church was innocent from all wrongdoing and the Mongol invasion was directed primarily toward the princes as God’s reprimand for their behavior. Throughout the invasion the church became a sanctuary for the people of Rus’. Princes and their closest companions fled to the church, “the pagans breaking down the doors, piled up wood and set fire to the sacred church; and slew all, thus they perished, giving up their souls to God.” (101). The common people of Rus’ also began to take shelter in churches in the face of Mongol invasions and thus the churches gained even more power.

The Mongol Immunity Charter to Metropolitan Peter (101) created a power balance between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Mongols. It basically gave protection to the church from the Mongols letting them trade and function in the Mongol controlled land. It seems that the real purpose was to control the power of the church and keep control of the Rus’ people as much as possible. The Russian Orthodox Church accepted the protection of the Mongols because it helped their power grow. It is a primary factor of their importance and power today.


Why did the people of Rus’ embrace Christianity in the wake of the Mongol invasion? What made the people of Rus’ turn toward Christianity and away from their old Pagan religion? How did the Mongols own beliefs affect this decision?


How could history have been different if the Mongols did not grant the immunity charter to the church? Would Russian Orthodoxy be as prevalent? Would the Mongols have stayed in power in Rus’ for more or less time?


Works cited:

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

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?

Mongol Invasion of Russia, 13th Century.

It is believed by The Russian Chronicle of Novgorod that God willed the Tatars, a group derived of Central Asian Mongols, to slay the Russians. God did this because The Princes around the country had not been obeying the will left by their predecessor, Grand Prince Iaroslav. Instead, the princes were fighting amongst each other, and not acting like brothers.

The Mongols were ruthless and brutal. They came into villages did terrible deeds such as dishonoring the wives of priests and slaying all members of the community, including children by fire or the sword. In one story, a Prince and Princess took refuge in the Church of the Holy Mother, but even in the house of God, Tatars would end end setting fire to church and later the whole village. For these violent, heartless Tatars, there were no limits.

In another section of The Chronicle, it i suggested after the ransacking of one town in early March, the souls of the Russian commoners, mayors, and priests “gave up their souls to the lord in a bitter and wretched death.” The prominent christian holiday of Easter, where Jesus’ soul supposedly rose to the heavens, also fell on this week. Do Russians have a different appreciation for Easter than most because of this?

It is important to note that God willed the Pagan and Godless Tatars on the Russians for their own sins.

Russia has always been torn between Western and Eastern ideologies, how much influence did these invasions have on Russia leaning toward the East, much like Christianity pulled Russia toward the West?

Power Shifts in Post- Kievan Rus’

In post- Kievan Rus’, the power dynamics shifted significantly because of the changing sources of the power. There were two specific ways that the power in the area shifted: through dispersing power from the prince to other officials in the area, and to give the elite citizens more power. The first type describes a system where officials had to be elected to power, but once in office had authority to limit the prince’s power and to govern the area (mainly found in the northwestern region). The second type mainly took place in the southwest and consisted of the princes power being reduced once again, but this time the authority went to the elite who only placed people in power who would aid their personal goals. Of course, many places saw no change, but in general this era marks a shift from entirely princely rule to a, somewhat, more open system.

Minstrels in Rus’

Due to the destruction caused by the Mongols during their invasion of Rus’, the culture of the time is not as well known as it is in other times. The Mongols obviously had significant impact on the culture of Rus’, but they also left large amounts of destruction in their wake, meaning that culture came second to other activities (namely: survival).

Painting, literature, and other forms of the performing arts were not as prevalent in this time, but we know that one thing that was very prevalent was wandering minstrels. These minstrels would go town to town performing their various arts or crafts for the people.

They were popular among the general populace (mainly in villages), but not as commonly seen in larger cities. This is primarily due to the Church warring against, and banning in some cases, the traveling minstrels due to their activities and methods. The Church was still trying to eliminate traces of paganism and they were very clearly carrying on the traditions of paganism.

The Effects of Mongol Rule in Rus

The articles by Halperin and Sakharov both pose opposite arguments regarding the Mongol’s effect on the development of Rus. Halperin claims that the view of the Mongols as “blood-sucking infidels” (106) was a result of the Orthodox Church’s so called “Ideology of Silence”. He argues that The Mongol’s actually did a lot to help advance Rus culture through integration of their own methods rather than only doing harm as the writings of the Church would have us believe. For example, many of the Princes were able to gain position with the hoard through marriage and then learn about and use the knowledge that they gain of the Mongol’s military and political techniques. The Church, Halperin states, could not accept the Mongols as having been in any way beneficial to Rus as they may have felt that acknowledging anything positive about a culture that followed a different religion undermined their own, and thus they simply refused to acknowledge the positive effects that the Mongols had.

Sakharov takes the opposing view, stating that any and all putting down of possible historical information was done by the Mongols themselves. He claims that all types of craftsmanship, from architecture and construction to art and literature, suffered under the rule of the Mongols (137) and that the growth of the nation was practically stunted because of it.  He says that the Mongols destroyed a great number of books, and therefore knowledge, which we now have no way of knowing what might have contained. Overall, he views the effect of the Mongol rule in Rus as one of profound negativity that in no way aided the nation in any way.

Sakharov talks about the Mongols using very general terms, applying them widely and without exception, saying that they “… enriched [Rus] with nothing whatever” and claiming that the negative effects of the invasion were an “indisputable historical fact” (138). Claims on such a dramatic scale are very difficult to back up, and I felt only went to make his argument read as more of a biased rant than a logical argument. Had he allowed for some movement and acknowledged even the possibility that any good might have come from the Mongols I may have found his argument to be more convincing. I certainly did find some of his points, such as the destruction of books, to be interesting, though even that idea is based on the absence of something rather than hard evidence. Although I was not convinced by Sakharov that the Mongols were an unarguable evil, neither was I convinced by Halperin that the Mongols aided Rus to the extent that he claimed they did. Although I agreed that they must have benefited Rus in several ways, I wonder how much that is weighed down by harm that they might have done. Is it possible that, had the Mongols not invaded,  and had Rus therefore not had to cover certain expenses and meet certain expectations because of that, Rus may have developed in an equally efficient yet distinctly different way? As many “what-if” questions, it’s impossible to know for certain. I do, however, believe that while Halperin’s claims were accurate, he does not consider enough how the harm they brought as well may have effected Rus’s growth.