Today’s installment concludes The Tatars Conquer Russia,
our selection from History of Russia by Alfred Rambaud published in 1886. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Tatars Conquer Russia.
This war between the two races and two religions was cruel and pitiless. The rights of nations were hardly recognized. More than once Germans and Russians slew the ambassadors of the other side. Alexander Nevski finally gave battle to the Livonian knights on the ice of Lake Peipus, killed four hundred of them, took fifty prisoners, and exterminated a multitude of Tchuds. Such was the “Battle of the Ice,” 1242. He returned in triumph to Novgorod, dragging with him his prisoners in armor of iron. The grand master expected to see Alexander at the gates of Riga, and implored help of Denmark. The Prince of Novgorod, satisfied with having delivered Pskof, concluded peace, recovered certain districts, and consented to the exchange of prisoners. At this time Innocent IV, deceived by false information, addressed a bull to Alexander, as a devoted son of the Church, assuring him that his father Yaroslaff, while dying among the Horde, had desired to submit himself to the throne of St. Peter. Two cardinals brought him this letter from the Pope, 1251.
It is this hero of the Neva and Lake Peipus, this vanquisher of the Scandinavians and Livonian knights, that we are presently to see groveling at the feet of a barbarian. Alexander Nevski had understood that, in presence of this immense and brutal force of the Mongols, all resistance was madness, all pride ruin. To brave them was to complete the overthrow of Russia. His conduct may not have been chivalrous, but it was wise and humane. Alexander disdained to play the hero at the expense of his people, like his brother Andrew of Suzdal, who was immediately obliged to fly, abandoning his country to the vengeance of the Tartars. The Prince of Novgorod was the only prince in Russia who had kept his independence, but he knew Batu’s hands could extend as far as the Ilmen. “God has subjected many peoples to me,” wrote the barbarian to him: “will you alone refuse to recognize my power? If you wish to keep your land, come to me; you will see the splendor and the glory of my sway.” Then Alexander went to Sarai with his brother Andrew, who disputed the grand principality of Vladimir with his uncle Sviatoslaf. Batu declared that fame had not exaggerated the merit of Alexander, that he far excelled the common run of Russian princes. He enjoined the two brothers to show themselves, like their father Yaroslaff, at the Great Horde; they returned from it in 1257. Kuiuk had confirmed the one in the possession of Vladimir, and the other in that of Novgorod, adding to it all South Russia and Kiev.
The year 1260 put the patience of Alexander and his politic obedience to the Tartars to the proof. Ulavtchi, to whom the khan Berkai had confided the affairs of Russia, demanded that Novgorod should submit to the census and pay tribute. It was the hero of the Neva that was charged with the humiliating and dangerous mission of persuading Novgorod. When the _possadnik_ uttered in the _vetche_ the doctrine that it was necessary to submit to the strongest, the people raised a terrible cry and murdered the possadnik. Vassili himself, the son of Alexander, declared against a father “who brought servitude to freemen,” and retired to the Pskovians. It needed a soul of iron temper to resist the universal disapprobation, and counsel the Novgorodians to the commission of the cowardly though necessary act. Alexander arrested his son, and punished the boyars who had led him into the revolt with death or mutilation. The vetche had decided to refuse the tribute, and send back the Mongol ambassadors with presents.
However, on the rumor of the approach of the Tartars, they repented, and Alexander could announce to the enemy that Novgorod submitted to the census. But when they saw the officers of the Khan at work, the population revolted again, and the Prince was obliged to keep guard on the officers night and day. In vain the boyars advised the citizens to give in: assembled around St. Sophia, the people declared they would die for liberty and honor. Alexander then threatened to quit the city with his men and abandon it to the vengeance of the Khan. This menace conquered the pride of the Novgorodians. The Mongols and their agents might go, register in hand, from house to house in the humiliated and silent city to make the list of the inhabitants. “The boyars,” says Karamsin, “might yet be vain of their rank and their riches, but the simple citizens had lost with their national honor their most precious possession,” 1260.
In Suzdal also Alexander found himself in the presence of insolent victors and exasperated subjects. In 1262 the inhabitants of Vladimir, of Suzdal, of Rostof, rose against the collectors of the Tartar impost. The people of Yaroslavl slew a renegade named Zozimus, a former monk, who had become a Moslem fanatic. Terrible reprisals were sure to follow. Alexander set out with presents for the Horde at the risk of leaving his head there. He had likewise to excuse himself for having refused a body of auxiliary Russians to the Mongols, wishing at least to spare the blood and religious scruples of his subjects. It is a remarkable fact that over the most profound humiliations of the Russian nationality the contemporary history always throws a ray of glory.
At the moment that Alexander went to prostrate himself at Sarai, the Suzdalian army, united to that of Novgorod, and commanded by his son Dmitri, defeated the Livonian knights and took Dorpat by assault. The khan Berkai gave Alexander a kind greeting, accepted his explanations, dispensed with the promised contingent, but kept him for a year near his court. The health of Alexander broke down; he died on his return before reaching Vladimir. When the news arrived at his capital, the metropolitan Cyril, who was finishing the liturgy, turned toward the faithful and said, “Learn, my dear children, that the Sun of Russia is set, is dead.”
“We are lost,” cried the people, breaking forth into sobs. Alexander, by this policy of resignation, which his chivalrous heroism does not permit us to despise, had secured some repose for exhausted Russia. By his victories over his enemies of the West he had given her some glory, and hindered her from despairing under the most crushing tyranny, material and moral, which a European people had ever suffered.
This ends our series of passages on The Tatars Conquer Russia by Alfred Rambaud from his book History of Russia published in 1886. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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