When the princes of Galitch, of Volhynia, and of Kiev arrived as fugitives in Poland and Hungary, Europe was terror-stricken.
Continuing 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. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Tatars Conquer Russia.
George II could neither avenge his people nor his family. After the battle, the Bishop of Rostoff found his headless corpse. His nephew, Vassilko, who was taken prisoner, was stabbed for refusing to serve Batu. The immense Tartar army, after having sacked Tver, took Torjok; there “the Russian heads fell beneath the sword of the Tartars as grass beneath the scythe.” The territory of Novgorod was invaded; the great republic trembled, but the deep forests and the swollen rivers delayed Batu. The invading flood reached the Cross of Ignatius, about fifty miles from Novgorod, then returned to the southeast. On the way the small town of Kozelsk (near Kaluga) checked the Tartars for so long, and inflicted on them so much loss, that it was called by them the “wicked town.” Its population was exterminated, and the prince Vassili, still a child, was “drowned in blood.”
The two following years, 1239-1240, were spent by the Tartars in ravaging Southern Russia. They burned Pereiaslaf and Tchernigoff, defended with desperation by its princes. Next Mangu, grandson of Genghis Khan, marched against the famous town of Kiev, whose name resounded through the East and in the books of the Arab writers. From the left bank of the Dnieper, the barbarian admired the great city on the heights of the right bank, towering over the wide river with her white walls and towers adorned by Byzantine artists, and innumerable churches with cupolas of gold and silver. Mangu proposed capitulation to the Kievians; the fate of Riazan, of Tchernigof, of Vladimir, the capitals of powerful states, announced to them the lot that awaited them in case of refusal, yet the Kievians dared to massacre the envoys of the Khan. Michael, their Grand Prince, fled; his rival, Daniel of Galitch, did not care to remain.
On hearing the report of Mangu, Batu came to assault Kiev with the bulk of his army. The grinding of the wooden chariots, the bellowings of the buffaloes, the cries of the camels, the neighing of the horses, the howlings of the Tartars rendered it impossible, says the annalist, to hear your own voice in the town. The Tartars assailed the Polish Gate and knocked down the walls with a battering-ram. The Kievians, supported by the brave Dmitri, a Galician boyar, defended the fallen ramparts till the end of the day, then retreated to the Church of the Dime, which they surrounded by a palisade. The last defenders of Kiev found themselves grouped around the tomb of Yaroslaff. Next day they perished. The Khan gave the boyar his life, but the “Mother of Russian cities” was sacked. The pillage was most terrible. Even the tombs were not respected. All that remains of the Church of the Dime is a few fragments of mosaic in the Museum at Kiev. St. Sophia and the Monastery of the Catacombs were delivered up to be plundered, 1240.
Volhynia and Galicia still remained, but their princes could not defend them, and Russia found herself, with the exception of Novgorod and the northwest country, under the Tartar yoke. The princes had fled or were dead: hundreds of thousands of Russians were dragged into captivity. Men saw the wives of boyars, “who had never known work, who a short time ago had been clothed in rich garments, adorned with jewels and collars of gold, surrounded with slaves, now reduced to be themselves the slaves of barbarians and their wives, turning the wheel of the mill and preparing their coarse food.”
If we look for the causes which rendered the defeat of the brave Russian nation so complete, we may, with Karamsin, indicate the following:
- Though the Tartars were not more advanced, from a military point of view, than the Russians, who had made war in Greece and in the West against the most warlike and civilized people of Europe, yet they had an enormous superiority of numbers. Batu probably had with him five hundred thousand warriors.
- This immense army moved like one man; it could successively annihilate the droujinas of the princes, or the militia of the towns, which only presented themselves successively to its blows. The Tartars had found Russia divided against herself.
- Even though Russia had wished to form a confederation, the sudden irruptions of an army entirely composed of horsemen did not leave her time.
- In the tribes ruled by Batu, every man was a soldier; in Russia the nobles and citizens alone bore arms: the peasants, who formed the bulk of the population, allowed themselves to be stabbed or bound without resistance.
- It was not by a weak nation that Russia was conquered. The Tartar-Mongols, under Genghis Khan, had filled the East with the glory of their name, and subdued nearly all Asia. They arrived, proud of their exploits, animated by the recollection of a hundred victories, and reinforced by numerous peoples whom they had vanquished, and hurried with them to the West.
When the princes of Galitch, of Volhynia, and of Kiev arrived as fugitives in Poland and Hungary, Europe was terror-stricken. The Pope, whose support had been claimed by the Prince of Galitch, summoned Christendom to arms. Louis IX prepared for a crusade. Frederic II, as emperor, wrote to the sovereigns of the West: “This is the moment to open the eyes of body and soul now that the brave princes on whom we reckoned are dead or in slavery.” The Tartars invaded Hungary, gave battle to the Poles in Liegnitz in Silesia, had their progress a long while arrested by the courageous defense of Olmutz in Moravia, by the Tcheque voievode Yaroslaff, and stopped finally, learning that a large army, commanded by the King of Bohemia and the dukes of Austria and Carinthia, was approaching. The news of the death of Oktai, second Emperor of all the Tartars, in China, recalled Batu from the West, and during the long march from Germany his army necessarily diminished in number.
The Tartars were no longer in the vast plains of Asia and Eastern Europe, but in a broken hilly country, bristling with fortresses, defended by a population more dense and a chivalry more numerous than those in Russia.
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