Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus'

Mongol conquest of Eastern Europe
Genghis Khan empire-en.svg
The conquests of Genghis Khan
Date1237–1242
Location
Modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus
ResultDecisive Mongol victory resulting in principalities of Kievan State becoming vassals of the Mongol Golden Horde.
Belligerents
Mongol Empire
Commanders and leaders
Strength
1236:
1223:
  • c. 20,000 cavalry
1236:
  • c. 25,000–50,000 total including garrisons and tribesmen[2]
Casualties and losses
Unknown500,000 (6–7% of the population of Rus)[3]

As part of the Mongol invasion of Europe, the Mongol Empire invaded Kievan Rus' in the 13th century, destroying numerous cities, including Ryazan, Kolomna, Moscow, Vladimir and Kiev.[4][5]

The campaign was heralded by the Battle of the Kalka River in May 1223, which resulted in a Mongol victory over the forces of several Rus' principalities. The Mongols nevertheless retreated. A full-scale invasion of Rus' by Batu Khan followed, from 1237 to 1242. The invasion was ended by the Mongol succession process upon the death of Ögedei Khan. All Rus' principalities were forced to submit to Mongol rule and became part of the Golden Horde empire, some of which lasted until 1480.

The invasion, facilitated by the beginning of the breakup of Kievan Rus' in the 13th century, had incalculable ramifications for the history of Eastern Europe, including the division of the East Slavic people into three separate nations: modern-day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,[6] and the rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

Background

As it was undergoing fragmentation, Kievan Rus' faced the unexpected eruption of an irresistible foreign foe coming from the mysterious regions of the Far East. "For our sins", writes the Rus' chronicler of the time, "unknown nations arrived. No one knew their origin or whence they came, or what religion they practiced. That is known only to God, and perhaps to wise men learned in books".[7]

The princes of Rus' first heard of the coming Mongol warriors from the nomadic Cumans. Previously known for pillaging settlers on the frontier, the nomads now preferred peaceful relations, warning their neighbors: "These terrible strangers have taken our country, and tomorrow they will take yours if you do not come and help us". In response to this call, Mstislav the Bold and Mstislav Romanovich the Old joined forces and set out eastward to meet the foe, only to be routed on April 1, 1223, at the Battle of the Kalka River.

Although this defeat left the Rus' principalities at the mercy of invaders, the Mongol forces retreated and did not reappear for thirteen years, during which time the princes of Rus' went on quarrelling and fighting as before, until they were startled by a new and much more formidable invading force. In the Secret History of the Mongols, the only reference to this early battle is:

"Then he (Chinghis Khan) sent Dorbei the Fierce off against the city of Merv, and on to conquer the people between Iraq and the Indus. He sent Subetei the Brave off to war in the North where he defeated eleven kingdoms and tribes, crossing the Volga and Ural Rivers, finally going to war with Kiev."

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