Mongol Cultural Influence

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?

Post- Kievan Rus’ and Mongol Influence

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).

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?

The Start of Moscow’s Rise

The documents ascertaining to different regions of Rus’ in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries depict rather well how power was viewed and exacted.  The most important thing to note is since the different regions of Rus’ were ruled differently, the expansion eastward and away from Kiev is logical.

Firstly, we can tell how the mentality of the Northwest, Southwest, and Northeast parts of the Rus’ were different in the types of the documents given.  The document for Northwest Rus’ is a treaty between boyars and the prince.  In this document, it lays out ground rules for the prince to abide by.  The aristocrats in Novgorod clearly write in a tone of authority, but in the document itself they state more or less that power is to be shared between the people of Novgorod (the aristocrats) and the prince.

The document for the Southwestern Rus’ is an extraction from a chronicle, which tells a tale of boyars conspiring against the prince in this region.  When their first conspiracy plan is foiled, many boyars flee to Hungary, convince the king of Hungary to overtake Prince Danilo’s lands, and eventually the boyars end up making princely decisions over the land without the knowledge or permission of Prince Danilo.  Of course, as this document is a chronicle, it carries a religious tone, especially when Prince Danilo finds out about how his Boyar’s betray him, but acts meekly in seeking favor from God, and how he “[prays] to God for his native land, which [is] held by these godless [boyars] and ruled by them” (KM, pg. 87).  Here we can see that the prince is merely a figurehead with no authority over his lands, while the aristocracy holds any real power.

The third document, coming from Moscow, is Prince Dmitrii Donskoi’s will and testament.  This document are the prince’s own words, and were recorded in witness by members of the Church and aristocracy.  However, these witnesses are mentioned penultimately, and Prince Dmitrii is clearly in control over his lands and its profits.  In this document, there are two important aspects to note about how he divvies up his property.  Firstly, he gives his wife shares of property from each of the shares of his sons, and gives her authority over her sons about how in any circumstances that are not outlined in the will, she can change each son’s share (though this is still outlined rather carefully in the will how she is supposed to distribute the land).  He also states several times throughout the document how his sons must obey the princess, or they lose his blessing, and therefore, their shares of his lands and property.  Secondly, Prince Dmitrii divides the land unevenly.  He gives the largest share of inheritance and his princeship to his eldest son, and the following sons receive less than their older brother(s).  In the lands he gives each of his sons, he mentions how they are to inherit the lands that his father had obtained, meaning before Prince Dmitrii’s rule, Moscow had greatly expanded.

As each Moscow heir receives an uneven amount of inheritance, this exhibits how eventually over time, Moscow heirs would inherit close to nothing.  However, since there is evidence of a previous Moscow expansion, what this does in turn is encourage the Muscovite royalty to further expand, making there more lands to inherit.  What this leads to is a novel expansionist attitude in Muscovite princes that is not seen in the other regions of Rus’.

With that said, this is exactly how true power began to gravitate toward Moscow:

  1. In the western parts of the Rus’, the princes lost most if not all of their princely power in government, while in Moscow, the rule of the prince was absolute.
  2. Moscow was beginning to express a need to expand their lands.  In the expansion of their lands, it would in turn result in Rus’ expanding in general.

Conflicting Ideas in Christianization of Rus

The author’s opinion of Christianity and Paganism is made clear in the first paragraph of The Christianization of Rus’ According to the Primary Chronicle, in which pagan idols are referred to as “devils” and Russia pre-Christianization was a land “defiled with blood”. As Vladimir is visited by representatives of different faiths, it is again beaten into the reader that Christianity is the only reasonable choice.

Not only do followers of Islam not drink wine, but most of what they say is “false” and crude. The validity of the Jewish people as the chosen ones of God is similarly looked down upon because God had dispersed them, his favorite people, to foreign lands as punishment long ago. Later, when Vladimir sends emissaries to investigate these religions further, nothing is said about the Bulgarians’ Islamic practices other than that they are “disgraceful” while there is a detailed description of the lavishness and beauty of the Greek Orthodox worship.

After being told of the glory of the Greeks’ practices, a year passes and then Vladimir marches an armed force against a Greek city. I find his actions to be confusing, as he had just been told of the emissaries’ respect and admiration for the Greeks. Would he not want to set out in purpose of creating good relations with these people, as opposed to sacking their city? This could be an example of Vladimir’s many conflicting motives for choosing a religion for Rus – the primary being to make his land and his own reign stronger, as opposed to his desire to worship God.

I found The Life of St. Theodosius to depart from a few of what I consider to be the primary teachings of Christianity, in particular the Ten Commandments. A primary theme throughout the text is Feodosii’s refusal to obey his parents. Obedience and respect of one’s parents is generally very important to Christianity (i.e. “Honor your father and mother”) but, in this case, Feodosii is a saintly figure because he refuses to do as he is told. For example, he would rather wear shabby clothing and read divine teachings instead of dressing nicely and playing with other children. Feodosii disobeys his mother and runs away from home to become closer to God. His obedience and adherence to God’s call comes above all else. This is illustrated most obviously when God speaks to him and says, “Whosoever hath not forsaken his father and mother and followed after me is not worthy of me…”

In the introduction to this text, it is clarified that this particular view of religion is not unique to Rus. If so, what region or group of people are these values unique to? Or did everyone pick and choose the aspects they liked about St. Theodosius and ignore others, such as his self-abuse? Can any religion really be valid or credible if its current form is the result of a compilation of conflicting ideals and teachings?

Women According to the Law

The readings in Kaiser and Marker pages 49-59 solidify the social presence of the church in Kievan Rus’ society; specifically in the way that women were treated. The most evident is the definitive distinction between “good” and “evil” women. Good women were characterized by their attentiveness to the Christian faith and their strict adherence to social principles; Evil women were those who strayed from the church and asserted their social independence. Even the way that these laws are writhed prove how male- centric the society was. Every law is geared towards the man, and in situations where the male is punished the prince offers punishment whereas where the female is punished she is punished by her husband (page 52, law 37). On the other hand, there certainly are some surprising laws that protect the women and her personal choice. For example, if a girl wishes to marry (or wishes not to marry) but her parents make her do the opposite of her wishes and she causes harm to herself her parents must accept responsibility. It is unclear on whether they simply accept responsibility or must allow her to assert her own wishes, but this still provides some insight into the value of the woman’s choice.  However, there is no way to ensure that these laws were held up in society or just looked at as if the women who enacted these laws were considered “evil” women who were too independent from a male’s rule. In addition, many laws that would appear to be protecting women were simply created to protect their societal role- their ability to care for children (and not respecting their own lives).

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.

The Mongol Yoke

The excerpts from Halperin and Sakharov are drastically different. Halperin’s article, Interpreting the Mongol Yoke: The Ideology of Silence, sheds a harsh light on the church, and those who seek to discredit any innovation the Mongols might have brought to Rus. Evidence demonstrates that the Rus people borrowed from nearly all aspects of Mongol life, with the one exception being religious culture. Rus princes married Mongol princesses, and the conquered peoples borrowed Mongol political and military institutions, as well as adopting the postal network of the Mongols. On the other hand, Sakharov’s article suggests that he blames Mongols for a lack of craftsmanship during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He claims that the Mongols destroyed a “vast number of artifacts of the written world” (137). Sakharov goes on to blame the Church for blocking Moscow’s connections with the Western world during the second half of the fifteenth century, which he perceived to be the time period of a ‘pre-Renaissance.’

Upon closer reading, Sakharov seems as if he’s grasping at straws while simultaneously making sweeping generalizations. He takes the Chronicles as complete fact, citing a few stories about destroyed books as an indicator of “how seriously Russian writings suffered from the onslaughts of the Mongol-Tatars” (137). His entire excerpt completely slams the Mongols, deciding that nothing good could have come from the Mongol-Tatar Yoke.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that his article, entitled The Mongols and Cultural Change, comes from a larger book entitled Soviet Studies in History. Most likely, Sakharov wrote his article with a tremendous bias. It seems unlikely that the Soviet Union would admit that anything good came from the Mongol Invasion, let alone a political system or military institutions (which would have been pivotal to society during the thirteenth century).

What kind of bias was Sakharov writing with? Is there more evidence of his bias? Was he even biased at all?

Debates over the Effects of the Mongol Invasion

Halperin’s and Sakharov’s articles offer different historical intepretations of the reception and effects of the Mongol invasion in Rus’. Halperin argues that, contrary to teachings perpetuated by the Church, the Rus adapted many aspects of Mongolian life which advanced Rus’ society. For instance, during the Mongol occupation, Rus’ society learned to use the Mongols’ efficient military structure and postal service. The Mongols also “rerouted the fur trade to extract greater revenue” (Halperin 106) for Rus’, thus assisting the culture they had conquered. Halperin makes the point, however, that the Mongols did not force every aspect of their culture onto the Rus’ people, such as their religion. Such an interpretation portrays the Mongol invasion as a kind and enriching period in Rus’ history. On the other hand, Sakharov, in a study of Rus’ culture after the Mongol occupation ended, argues that the Mongols had no positive effect on Rus’. He explains that the Mongols, in taking away Rus’ best craftsmen, created centuries of a Rus’ with inferior architecture. Sakharov then contends that, after the Mongols left, Rus’ culture became much more sophisticated and enlightened, thus underscoring the dark period that had been the Mongols’ reign.

Sakharov writes, “Reborn and developing Russian culture regained its national character in full. The Mongol-Tartars enriched it with nothing whatever, and their influence was quite insignificant in practice” (Sakharov 138). I find this claim to be a little too broad and definitive to be taken as fact. Even disregarding the period after the occupation, the Mongol invasion was clearly significant in its empowering of Moscow and ultimate depowering of Kiev. But moreover, the fact that Rus’ culture exploded in literature and architecture after the occupation also signfies that the Mongols affected Rus’. Perhaps, Rus’ culture wouldn’t have advanced as quickly as it did if the Mongols had not stunted it (if indeed they did stunt it) for so long.

I wonder how the effects Mongol occupation is viewed in other parts of the world. Does the Middle-East and China contend that the Mongols had a positive or negative impact on their cultures? Furthermore, do different geographic sections of Russia today claim different interpretations about the Mongol invasions?

Development of the Post-Kievan State and the Mongal Conquest

Novgorod and Muscovy became one united state under the command of a Grand Prince, Ivan III. The chronicles assigned for this evening depict the development of Ivan’s control over a span of territory that would eventually become a state in and of itself instead of a loosely united set of principalities with no strong connection to a secular leader. Ivan executed his control with a complete political force, ranging from military intimidation to religious conviction. The Grand Prince also employed a tactic favored by Assyrian generals in the days of humanity’s first civilizations in the fertile crescent; a technique known as ‘calculated frightfulness’. Much like Assyrians did to conquered people, Ivan proposed (and eventually succeeded in) moving people from his own ethnicity into conquered territories (Muscovites into Novgorod) and taking potentially threatening members of the Novgorod community and sending them into military service in the Nizovskaia land, far and away from their homeland and any potential of uprising in the land recently acquired by the Grand Prince.

The chronicle jumps out of order. Following the addressing of Post-Kievan Rus, the chronicle in RS tackles the history of the Mongol invasion that lasted from 1235 to 1238. This period in Russian history completely redefined the way in which the Rus people identified themselves, as well as the society as a whole functioned. The chronicles describe the Mongols as an all destroying devil-race, “from whose beginning wished no good to the human race.” The chronicles go on to describe the ways in which the Mongols shed Christian blood, as well as a plethora of other atrocities, including the dethroning and subsequent murder of multiple Rus princes, effectively ending the governmental structure of the land which now lay in Mongol control.