The Impact of the Mongol Invasion on the development of Rus and Muscovy

This essay achieved a mid-2:1 in the first year of my undergraduate.

The Impact of the Mongol Invasion on the development of Rus and Muscovy

The Mongols swept through the principalities of Rus in 1237, leaving a trail of devastation behind them. They successfully conquered most of the principalities in just a few months in what was and still is the only successful winter invasion of Rus (and Russia) ever[1]. The impact of the Mongol[2] Invasion can be broadly divided in many ways, though the most obvious seems into short term and long term effects. There are many different views concerning the impact of the Mongol Invasion, with some arguing that despite the 200 year ‘occupation’ (from 1237 to arguably the 1440s), the effects were minimal.[3] From this point there are a whole range of views ranging to what is termed the ‘Eurasian School’[4] which argues that the Mongol Invasion was the decisive event in Russian history.

The short term impacts were almost exclusively on the population and by extension the economy. This was due to the razing of several cities including Riazan, Vladimir, Kolomna, Moscow and Kiev[5], and the accompanying slaughter of their populations[6]. The long term effects are more wide-ranging, and include the Mongol impact on the emerging Muscovite administration system (within which the treasury and postal system can be included), as well as the structure and makeup of its army. Perhaps most importantly, the Mongols arguably stimulated the growth of autocracy in Muscovy, and there are even some historians[7] who argue that the idea of serfdom had its origins in the Khanate.

The Mongol Invasions had varying impacts which lasted different lengths of time. The short term impacts of the Mongol Invasion were almost entirely due to the sheer number of casualties. The depopulation had a massive effect on the development of Rus and later Russia. These effects have been argued to include contributions to the general difficult conditions in Rus during the period, and the emergence of harsh and heavily taxed Muscovite state.[8] Another aspect of this effect is clearly exemplified by the effect on the Dnepr’ region in the Ukraine, where there was almost no political activity for around a century after the initial conquest.[9] As is implied by this example, population became a very important source of political capital for the princes of Rus, as it was how their power was controlled first by the Mongols and as a result measured by everyone else. The reason for this was that an increased population would mean more food producers, taxpayers (of greater importance to the Mongols) and recruits[10].

Another important effect of the massive depopulation was the fact that it shattered the economy.[11] Combined with the initial shock of the invasions, there was also the fact that the process of rebuilding the economy had to be undertaken with a much-decreased population as well as the burden of very heavy taxes.[12] As a result, there was little or no development in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, although it is argued that this retardation can be extended to the entire period of Mongol domination[13]. Despite these seemingly bleak conditions, it certainly was a period of retardation and not economic stagnation[14].

The period of stunted economic growth is arguably so important because it was at about this time (perhaps later, though still under the ‘Tatar Yoke’) when firearms came into widespread use, and the cost of warfare began to rise sharply. The comparative lack of a strong economy meant that among other things (the various principalities were not able to participate in the Renaissance[15]), the Muscovite military began to fall behind those of the other European factions, as is shown by the fact that the use of gunpowder weapons offensively only really began in the early sixteenth century[16] and even then only on a small scale. By comparison: in the rest of Europe, this began in the latter half of the fifteenth century[17].

The long term impacts of the Mongol Invasion can be largely traced to the influence it had on the emergent Muscovite. One of the more significant of these was administrative[18], with the adoption by Muscovite rulers of the dual administration system from the Mongols[19], as a result of the frequent and lengthy trips to Sarai (the capital of the Golden Horde)[20]. As well as this general influence on the administration system, the Mongols had a far more specific impact on the particular aspect of financial matters or more explicitly: the gathering of taxes. The main aim was to make tax gathering as efficient as it possibly could be, and this is shown by the construction of roads[21], and most importantly (it is even accepted by historians who argue there was very little overall impact) by the taking of a census of the population[22]. Unsurprisingly then, the language of Rus and then Muscovy imported several words from the Mongols in the financial field (including those of taxation and trade): the Russian words for customs stamp (iarlyk), coin (denga) and money (dengi) are all of Mongolian derivation[23].

As well as this, the forced creation and maintenance of the Mongol postal system (the yam) is seen by some to be crucial in the process of centralisation[24] which took place in Muscovy, and which was arguably required to govern such a large expanse. Perhaps most importantly, the Mongols have also been credited with introducing the concept of true autocracy to Muscovy. The foundations of the Muscovite version of autocracy were influenced a lot by Mongol political, social and military structures. With regards to the general counter argument that the Muscovite state did not at all come to be similar to that of the Mongols[25].

The other field over which the Mongols had a massive influence was the military. This is shown in the development of the Muscovite army, particularly the cavalry.  As is shown by contemporary accounts such as that of Giles Fletcher[26], the equipment and general appearance of Muscovite cavalry (particularly later in the sixteenth century) was very similar to that of the Tatars. Likewise, the development of the Cossack communities along the steppe borders of Muscovy could also be argued to draw inspiration from Mongol society (which seems likely due to the proximity to the Khanates with which the Cossacks lived) and the evidence for this would be the similar apparent views on farming, as well as the nomadic and warlike lifestyle.

As well as the similarities in equipment, the cavalry of Muscovy also used similar tactics and deployment as their Tatar counterparts[27]. It was not just the equipment and tactics of the Muscovite cavalry which was effected by Mongol influence however, as the system of military land grants (introduced around 1477 by Ivan III), or the pomest’e, was brought by the Mongols to Rus, despite its Chinese roots. This was to be very important to the Muscovite military, as it created a standing force of cavalry, obliged to fight for the Grand Prince of Moscow, which then formed the core of the army[28].

However, it is also important to assess the counter argument. There are arguments put against most of the impacts of the Mongol Invasion. Most agree that the Mongols had a massive impact in the short term, but there are lots of views which oppose the long term impacts of the Invasion. These include the argument that the yam’s value as a postal system was negligible[29], as well as the fact that the Russian government only began to diversify from the Western governments a century or more after the Mongols are agreed to have left[30]. Despite this being true, it is only natural that the implementation of administrative and political changes took time. In terms of the military impacts, it is argued that the cavalry only played a small part in the Muscovite army, and that the Muscovite armies and tactics were based on infantry, which therefore came directly from Kiev, and not from the Mongols[31], however the fact remains that the core of the standing army was made up of cavalry, and that they were also sourced from the aristocracy and therefore the ruling classes.

Although there are counter-arguments, they can be considered old-fashioned, and the ‘Eurasian School’ of what must be called ‘revisionist’ historians seems far more convincing. The impact of the invasion and then occupation seem unavoidable given that the Mongols were present for so long, as well as the fact that they continued to have an indirect effect even after the ‘Yoke’ was lifted, through the splinter Khanates, which exerted constant pressure on long stretches of the borders of the emergent Muscovite Empire[32]. In terms of the slightly longer term and more debated impacts of the Mongol conquest, credit must be given to the Mongols for the greater degree of the structure of the Muscovite state, as they influenced almost every aspect of the state: administrative, military and of course governmental.  This influence is not restricted to purely the Muscovite state either; the Mongols were also arguably the reason for the rise of Moscow as the dominant city (ahead of the likes of Vladimir and Tver)[33] in the first place, which in turn led to the establishment of the Muscovite state. This would seem to put the impact of the Mongols beyond doubt.

Word Count (including title): 1,995

 

[1] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia (7th Edition), p.66

[2] Also named The Golden Horde or The Qipchaq Khanate.

[3] For a clear example, see E. Acton, Russia, p.9

[4] For a description of this viewpoint, see N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69, E. Acton, Russia, p.8, C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History, or P. Dukes, A History of Russia, p.29.

[5] R. Charques, A Short History of Russia, p.29.

[6] C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.76

[7] J.J. Saunders, History of the Mongol Conquests, p.161, and to a certain extent G. Vernadsky, A History of Russia, Volume 3: The Mongols and Russia, pp.376-7. For a critical approach to this view, see D. Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-1589, p.62

[8] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.71 and C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.78.

[9] C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.76

[10] C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.79-80

[11] This is emphasized particularly by E. Acton, Russia, p.10

[12] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.68, and also supported by C.J. Halperin in Russia and the Golden Horde, p.77

[13] See N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.68

[14] P. Dukes, A History of Russia, p.37

[15] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.68

[16] B. Davies, ‘The Foundations of Muscovite Military Power’ in F.W. Kagan and R. Higham, The Military History of Tsarist Russia, p.17

[17] M. Howard, War in European History, pp.13-4

[18] Argued by Roublev, see C.J. Halperin, p.89-90

[19] Who themselves borrowed it from the Chinese, see D Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols, p.36, see also C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.89-90

[20] For a full description of this system, see D. Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols, pp.36-44

[21] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[22] See E. Acton, Russia, p.10 and N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[23] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[24] C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, pp.92-3

[25] Argued by Roublev, see C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p. 90

[26] See D. Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols, p.51-2

[27] C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.91 and N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[28] D. Ostrowski, Muscovy and the Mongols, p.47-50

[29] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[30] E. Acton, Russia, p.9

[31] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.69

[32] N.V. Riasanovsky and M.D. Steinberg, A History of Russia, p.71

[33] See C.J. Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, p.95

Bibliography

Acton, E., Russia (London and New York, 1986)

Bartlett, R., A History of Russia, (Basingstoke and New York, 2005)

Channon, J. and Hudson, R., The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia (London and New York, 1995)

Charques, R., A Short History of Russia (London, 1962)

Dewey, H.W., ‘Russia’s Debt to the Mongols in Suretyship and Collective Responsibility’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30 (1988), pp.249-70

Dukes, P., A History of Russia (London and Basingstoke, 1974)

Fisher, H.H., ‘Review of George Vernadsky, The Mongols and Russia’, American Slavic and East European Review, 13 (1954), pp.606-8

Halperin, C.J., Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History (Bloomington, 1985)

Halperin, C.J., ‘Russia in The Mongol Empire in Comparative Perspective’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 43 (1983), pp.239-61

Halperin, C.J., ‘Soviet Historiography on Russia and the Mongols’, Russian Review, 41 (1982), pp.306-22

Howard, M., War in European History, (New York, 2009)

Kagan, F.W. and Higham, R. (ed.), The Military History of Tsarist Russia (New York and Basingstoke, 2002)

Ostrowski, D., Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-1589 (Cambridge and New York, 1998)

Riasanovsky, N.V. and Steinberg, M.D., A History of Russia (7th edition) (New York and Oxford, 2005)

Vernadsky, G., A History of Russia Volume 3: The Mongols and Russia (New York, 1953)

Feedback:

65%

All the following feedback is rated on the following scale: Outstanding-Excellent-Good-Competent-Pass-Fail.

Knowledge of topic: Excellent

Independence of thought: Good

Clarity of structure: Good

Convincing development of argument: Competent

Engagement with secondary literature: Excellent

Clarity of language: Good

Accuracy of reference and bibliography: Excellent

General feedback: This is a well researched essay which shows a very good understanding of the topic. However, you should state your own position more clearly at the beginning so that you are pursuing a clear argument throughout. Although your knowledge of various phenomena is impressive, you try to address too many points for such a short essay – it would be better to focus on fewer and give them deeper analysis. Finally, your writing has the potential to be very good, but is hindered by convoluted phrases and occasional run-on sentences. Keep everything in the past tense, and don’t use words like ‘massive’ and ‘huge’.

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