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.