This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: They Meet the Russian Princes.
Russia was for centuries the chief power of the Slavic peoples. On its plains and amid the neighboring lands they established a civilization and went through a development not unlike those which transformed Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Slavonia, like Gaul, had received Roman civilization and Christianity from the South. The Northmen had brought her an organization which recalls that of the Germans; and under Yaroslaff, 1016-1054, like the West under Charlemagne, she had enjoyed a certain semblance of unity, while she was afterward dismembered and divided like France in feudal times.
The Tartars seem to have been a tribe of the great Mongol race. They conquered Northern China and Central Asia, and after forty years of struggle were united with other Mongol tribes into one nation by Genghis Khan. His lieutenants subdued a multitude of Turkish peoples, passed the Caspian Sea by its southern shore, invaded Georgia and the Caucasus, and entered upon the southern steppes of Russia, where they came in contact with the Polovtsi, also a Mongol race, the hereditary enemies of the Russians proper.
This summary by the distinguished French academician, M. Rambaud–our leading authority in Russian history with its related studies–presents, with sufficient clearness, the character and tendency of Russia in the thirteenth century, when she was invaded and subjugated by Asiatic hordes.
This selection is 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.
Alfred Rambaud (1842-1905) was a French historian who spent his early research on Byzantium but later moved to Russia to focus on Russian history.
The Polovtsi asked the Christian princes for help against the Mongols and Turks, who were their brothers by a common origin. “They have taken our country,” said they to the descendants of St. Vladimir; “tomorrow they will take yours.” Mstislaf the Bold, then Prince of Galitch, persuaded all the dynasties of Southern Russia to take up arms against the Tartars: his nephew Daniel, Prince of Volhynia, Mstislaf Romanovitch, Grand Prince of Kiev, Oleg of Kursk, Mstislaf of Tchernigof, Vladimir of Smolensk, and Vsevolod, for a short time Prince of Novgorod,  responded to his appeal.
[1: Novgorod was for centuries the chief commercial city of Russia. It was an independent republic, holding sway over extensive territories around the Baltic Sea.]
To cement his alliance with the Russians, Basti, Khan of the Polovtsi, embraced orthodoxy. The Russian army had already arrived on the Lower Dnieper, when the Tartar ambassadors made their appearance. “We have come, by God’s command, against our slaves and grooms, the accursed Polovtsi. Be at peace with us; we have no quarrel with you.” The Russians, with the promptitude and thoughtlessness that characterized the men of that time, put the ambassadors to death. They then went farther into the steppe, and encountered the Asiatic hordes on the Kalka, a small river running into the Sea of Azov.
The Russian chivalry, on this memorable day, showed the same disordered and the same ill-advised eagerness as the French chivalry at the opening of the English wars. Mstislaf the Bold, Daniel of Galitch, and Oleg of Kursk were the first to rush into the midst of the infidels, without waiting for the princes of Kiev, and even without giving them warning, in order to gain for themselves the honors of victory. In the middle of the combat, the Polovtsi were seized with a panic and fell back on the Russian ranks, thus throwing them into disorder. The rout became general, and the leaders spurred on their steeds in hopes of reaching the Dnieper.
Six princes and seventy of the chief boyars or voievodes remained on the field of battle. It was the Crécy and Poitiers of the Russian chivalry. Hardly a tenth of the army escaped; the Kievians alone left ten thousand dead. The Grand Prince of Kiev, however, Mstislaf Romanovitch, still occupied a fortified camp on the banks of the Kalka. Abandoned by the rest of the army, he tried to defend himself. The Tartars offered to make terms; he might retire on payment of a ransom for himself and his droujina. He capitulated, and the conditions were broken. His guard was massacred, and he and his two sons-in-law were stifled under planks. The Tartars held their festival over the inanimate bodies, 1224.
After this thunderbolt, which struck terror into the whole of Russia, the Tartars paused and returned to the East. Nothing more was heard of them. Thirteen years passed, during which the princes reverted to their perpetual discords. Those in the northeast had given no help to the Russians of the Dnieper; perhaps the grand prince George II of Suzdal  may have rejoiced over the humiliation of the Kievians and Galicians. The Mongols were forgotten; the chronicles, however, are filled with fatal presages: in the midst of scarcity, famine and pestilence, of incendiaries in the towns and calamities of all sorts, they remark on the comet of 1224, the earthquake, and eclipse of the sun of 1230.
[2. Suzdal was at this time the principal state of Central Russia, with a capital of the same name.]
The Tartars were busy finishing the conquest of China, but presently one of the sons of Genghis, Ugudei, sent his nephew Batu to the West. As the reflux of the Polovtsi had announced the invasion of 1224, that of the Saxin nomads, related to the Khirghiz who took refuge on the lands of the Bulgarians of the Volga, warned men of a new irruption of the Tartars, and indicated its direction. It was no longer South Russia, but Sozdalian Russia, that was threatened. In 1237 Batu conquered the Great City, capital of the half-civilized Bulgars, who were, like the Polovtsi, ancient enemies of Russia, and who were to be included in her ruin. Bolgary was given up to the flames, and her inhabitants were put to the sword. The Tartars next plunged into the deep forests of the Volga, and sent a sorcerer and two officers as envoys to the princes of Riazan. The three princes of Riazan, those of Pronsk, Kolomna, Moscow, and Murom, advanced to meet them.
“If you want peace,” said the Tartars, “give us the tenth of your goods.”
“When we are dead,” replied the Russian princes, “you can have the whole.”
Though abandoned by the princes of Tchernigoff and the grand prince George II, of whom they had implored help, the dynasty of Riazan accepted the unequal struggle. They were completely crushed; nearly all their princes remained on the field of battle. Legend has embellished their fall. It is told how Feodor preferred to die rather than see his young wife, Euphrasia, the spoil of Batu; and how, on learning his fate, she threw herself and her son from the window of the _terem_. Oleg the Handsome, found still alive on the battle-field, repelled the caresses, the attention, and religion of the Khan, and was cut in pieces. Riazan was immediately taken by assault, sacked, and burned. All the towns of the principality suffered the same fate.
It was now the turn of the Grand Prince, for the Russia of the northeast had not even the honor of falling in a great battle like the Russia of the southwest, united for once against the common enemy. The Suzdalian army, commanded by a son of George II, was beaten on the day of Kolomna, on the Oka. The Tartars burned Moscow, then besieged Vladimir, the royal city, which George II had abandoned to seek for help in the North. His two sons were charged with the defence of the capital. Princes and boyars, feeling there was no alternative but death or servitude, prepared to die. The princesses and all the nobles prayed Bishop Metrophanes to give them the tonsure; and when the Tartars rushed into the town by all its gates, the vanquished retired into the cathedral, where they perished, men and women, in a general conflagration. Suzdal, Rostoff, Yaroslavl, fourteen towns, and a multitude of villages in the grand principality were also given over to the flames, 1238. The Tartars then went to seek the Grand Prince, who was encamped on the Sit, almost on the frontier of the possessions of Novgorod.
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