Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

3
The Mongolian Invasion

THE FIRST TIDE

A MULTITUDE Of factors combined to weaken the social and political structure of Kievan Russia. The enervating struggle at the frontiers against recurrent raids and invasions, with their devastating effects upon trade, gradually forced portions of the population to migrate to safer areas, mainly the forest zone of the northeast. The struggle from within among aspiring and cantankerous rulers and the continual partitioning of the realm among the princeling-heirs weakened the principalities further. The cumulative effect was an appreciable decline in commerce accompanied by a reduction in sources of revenue, an economic and political eclipse, which brought to a final close the Kievan period in Russian history.

The development which proved decisive was the descent from the east of a new enemy rapidly advancing westward toward Kiev. The Tartar inundation originated in Asia, in the grasslands of Outer Mongolia, whence it swept westward, quickly engulfing the whole of eastern Europe. A last-minute desperate appeal for an alliance guaranteeing mutual aid in time of danger was sent out to all princes. It was too late: surging westward, the Mongol horde forced their way across the Caucasus. Once the Tartars reached the southern steppes they were in their own element. They fanned out, one force moving in the southwest direction of the Lower Volga, aiming at Astrakhan; another army pressed directly westward, with the Crimea as its immediate goal, and thence northward, where it rejoined other forces. Astrakhan was seized and pillaged. In 1223 the Cumans, hard-pressed and desperate, appealed to their traditional enemies, the Slavs, for aid.

Despite the warning issued by the Tartars urging the Slavs to remain neutral and not to aid the Cumans, Mstislav of Galicia thought otherwise. 'Our land', stated the appeal of the Cumans, '[the Tartars] have taken away today; and yours will be taken tomorrow'. This was precisely what Mstislav feared, and for this reason he called upon all Russian forces to join him in an alliance against the eastern invaders. 'Brothers', he pleaded, 'if we do not help these [the Cumans], they will certainly surrender to them [the Tartars] and their strength will be greater'. thus the princes, according to the chronicler, 'began to organize the forces, each his

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