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The Mongolian Invasions of Medieval Europe - Part 2

The Mongolian Army - Invasion Timeline and Legacy

Temujin, after uniting the nomadic tribes of the steppes into the Mongolian Federation of Tribes, is proclaimed khagan, and given the name of Chinghis(4). He begins a series of foreign conquests the following year.

Chinghis sends his eldest son Jochi to defeat the Oirat, Buriyat, Turkish Kirghiz and Tumet tribes. The next battle is against the kingdom of Si-hia in the Ordos desert. This is a stronghold of Buddhism and Chinese culture with an army of 150,000. Jochi lays siege until 1210, when the capital city of Chungsing surrenders. ---In the meantime, Chinghis takes the kingdom of Karakhitai, of which most subjects are Turks. In 1209 Barchuk, the ruler of the Uighur Turks, joins with Chinghis.

Jaghatai, Jochi, Ogodei(5) and Chinghis lead three forces totaling 120,000 men across the Gobi Desert against the Chin army of 500,000, and defeat them in 1217. Turkistan is invaded on this campaign and absorbed by Chinghis in 1215.

Chinghis, now allied with Prince Hsiang, leads an army of 150,000 cavalry, including 10,000 Chinese siege engineers and Moslem interpreters who acted as spies, against Muhammad II, Shah of Khwarizm, and his army of 300,000, who were scattered in garrisons in several cities. Muhammad flees and dies in 1220, and is succeeded by Gelal-ad-Din.

In February, reconnaissance into Europe begins. Jebe(6) and Subetai (the Brave)(7), while pursuing Muhammed, overrun Iran and winter on the steppe of Mughan in Azerbaijan. Under Jebe and Subetai, 20,000 Mongols are attacked by 70,000 men under King George IV of Armenia on the Khumen Plain. The Mongols wait for the Georgian cavalry to charge and exhaust their horses, then scatter their forces under a hail of arrows. The Mongols then mount fresh horses, advance under another screen of arrows, and drive a wedge into the Georgian army. George withdraws with his fastest horsemen and returns to their capital city to prepare for a siege.

The Mongols sack Maragha and Ramadan for horses and treasure, then return to their camp on the delta of Kura. At the beginning of winter they return to Georgia to Derbend--the fortress which protects Bab-al-Abwab Pass, leading to the steppes. George rides to Tiflis where he is ambushed and defeated. He later dies there. The Mongols then go on to attack Astrakhan on the Sea of Azov. It is during this sacking that Subetai first comes in contact with the Europeans.

1222 -1223
Jebe and Subetai prepare to invade Russia with Jochi, who is to meet them, but who falls ill. Jebe and Subetai overrun the Ukraine and the Crimea and winter there. They are attacked by Mstislav of Galich and his force of 100,000 men who cross the Dneiper River. Mstislav's forces then retreat to Kalka and are destroyed there.Chinghis falls ill and returns to the Mongolian capital city of Karakorum in 1223. There, he divides his kingdom into ulusut for his sons to rule:

Tolui, the youngest son, is given the homelands of Mongolia Jaghatai is given China and Mongolia. Ogodei and Jochi are to share rule over all lands west from Irtysh and the Aral Sea to Russia. Jebe and Subetai are recalled to Mongolia upon hearing of Chinghis's ill health. Jochi joins up with them, but dies on the way home and is replaced by Batu(8). Chinghis appoints Ogodei as his successor. Chinghis' wife Borte is appointed regent until the khurlitai(9), and Tolui is appointed regent between the time of the khurlitai and the coronation of the new khagan.

Chinghis dies on August 24, 1227 and is taken back to Mongolia for burial. Ogodei is chosen as khagan at the khurlitai in Karakorum in 1229. His reign began the civil administration over the federation of tribes.

Russia is in political collapse. Subetai and Batu lead 50,000 Mongols and 70,000 Turks against the Kingdom of Bulgar, which is defeated and becomes a vassal state of Mongolia the following year. In 1237, the Mongols attack the Cumans on the Volga and Don Rivers. During the following winter, the Mongols also take Moscow, Suzdal, Tver and other Russian cities. They destroy the army of Grand Duke Yuri, but the spring thaw prevents them from entering Novgorod and the Baltic Coast. Subetai turns south and camps on the Don River before returning home.

1240 - 1242
The Mongols advance on Kiev under the command of Mongke(10). The city, already declined into rival principalities, faces invasion by both the Mongols (who are tolerant of religions other than their own) and the Franks (Latin Christians who did not have similar religious tolerance). Choosing the lesser of the two evils, Kiev falls to the Mongolians army under Batu in December.

Batu splits his army into three branches. One branch, under generals Kaidu and Baidar, enters Poland. After defeating the Polish army at Chmielnik, they proceed to Breslau in four columns while the fifth column overruns Lithuania and East Prussia. At Wahlstatt, Archduke Henry of Silesia is ambushed and killed by Kaidu, who then turns south to join Batu.General Kadan leads another branch into southern Hungary through the Carpathian Mountains. Batu and Subetai lead the final branch into central Hungary against King Bela, to punish him for having given asylum to 200,000 Cumans in 1238.

Beta's army finds Batu's camp at the junction of the Sayo and Theiss Rivers, but are surrounded by Batu's army at night and are defeated. Batu reaches Pesth by mid-March, cutting Hungary in half and severing communications between the two sides. Batu occupies Hungary until 1242, when news of the death of Ogodei reaches him. This piece of news prevents Batu from invading Austria, Bohemia and the rest of Europe.

Batu returns to Karakorum, ravaging Albania, Damatia and Serbia on his way. The Mongolian Empire now numbers one million, not including non-Mongol states.

Ogodei's widow Artedais serves as regent until the new khagan can be elected. Although Ogodei appointed his grandson Kubilai, Artedais succeeds in putting her own son Kuyuk on the throne. However, Kuyuk dies two years later and Mongke, nominated by Batu, becomes khagan in 1251.

In a controversial move, Batu later establishes himself at Sarai (65 miles north of Astrakhan on the lower Volga River) and holds his own khurlitai, where he is proclaimed (or proclaims himself) khagan. Batu breaks allegiance with Karakorum and rules independently as the Great Khan of the Golden Horde (from the Mongol altun ardu). Although Batu's tribes are mostly Turkish, the official language remains Mongolian, and it remains a province of the Mongol Empire. This is the beginning of the splintering of Chinghis's empire, and begins the demise of the Mongolians as a coherent ruling force by the 14th century.

Italian trade settlements at Kaffa, Sudak and Kertch are maintained by Genoese and Venetians. The Mongols take over direct administration in the Ukraine, but allow Russian princes to administer most of the rest of Russia. Tribute takes the form of annual taxes from merchants and farmers, and animals from Russian nomads and cattle breeders. The Mongols interest in land was not political (they did not care who owned it), but rather they viewed land as a source for troops and revenue, assessed through annual censuses which were carried out by the Chinese. Their only political interest was for the Russian nobility to acknowledge their khagan at Karakorum as the Supreme Ruler. Batu's aim was to keep Russian princes disunited; rivalry was encouraged through the naming of one of the princes as Grand Duke, a title which was revoked and transferred by the ruling Khagan at will.

Hulagu, a grandson to Chinghis, conquers Transoxiana, Iran and Iraq and establishes the Iklhan Horde in Iran. Batu dies at old Sarai in 1255, leaving a territory from the upper Ob River to the lower Syr Darya, and from the Caspian coast to the Black Sea. A decline in leadership begins. Berke succeeds him in 1257 and dies in 1266.

Mongke Temur becomes khagan in 1266, but Nogai Noyan is the actual hand of power, and the cause of much infighting among the Mongolian ruling class. Nogai urges the Russian princes to fight against Poland and Lithuania, while he advances on south Poland and Hungary. Mongke Temur dies in 1280 and is succeeded by Tuda Mongke, who later abdicates to Teleboge, who is later seized and given to Tokhtu whom Nogai later proclaims as Khagan.

Nogai takes dominion in the Crimea, and is later opposed by Tokhtu, who sides against him in a war between Venice and Genoa. Nogai dies in 1299. Kubilai, grandson of Chinghis, conquers China in 1279 and establishes the Yuan Dynasty. Ghazan, great grandson of Hulagu, has become a Muslim and the Ilkhans become the national dynasty of Iran. Ties to the Mongol Khagans to the East dissipate.

Tokhtu dies and is succeeded by Ozbeg(11), who appoints Ivan Kalita of Moscow as Grand Duke. This office remains with the princes of Moscow until the end of Mongol rule in Russia. Ozbeg dies in 1341 and is succeeded by his son Janibeg who dies in 1357, and is in turn succeeded by Beribeg. The Golden Horde loses interest in lands south of the Caucasus. Beribeg is murdered in 1359. Timur becomes a major player and establishes Samarkand as hie capitol in 1335.

The Golden Horde is counter-attacked successfully in 1363 at the battle of Kulikouo by Dmitry Donskoy, Prince of Moscow. This battle is the first major defeat suffered by the Golden Horde.Civil war breaks out between rivals for the khanate and Russian princes attempting to overthrow Moscow. The Lithuanian Grand Dukes extend their power as far as Kiev. The Golden Horde's territory is divided between the rulers of the Crimea, Astrakhan and Khwarazm. Timur Melik makes himself master of Khwarazm, and helps Tokhtamysh in his possession of Astrakhan and Sarai in 1378.


Tokhtamysh leads the last successful siege on Moscow. After three days he gains entry into the city on the premise of offering to discuss peace terms, but once inside, his armies slaughter the entire city. Tokhtamysh also invades Caucasia and Transoxiana. He appoints Vassili of Moscow as ruler of Novgorod, and invades Causcasia in 1391 and 1394. He is defeated both times by Timur(12) who destroys Tokhtamysh's power bases at Astrakhan, Sarai, Bulgar and the Crimea. Timur dies in 1405 while on campaign against China. Tokhtamysh is later killed by a local khan, and is succeeded by Edigu, who continues to rule the Golden Horde as an independent state. Moscow continues to be attacked unsuccessfully by Edigu, Tamerlane and other khans. The Golden Horde begins to break up in about 1430.

Vassili dies and bequeaths his duchy to Ivan III. After ascending the throne, Ivan plots against the khanate of Kazan, one of four independent states once held by the Golden Horde. Ivan invades the khanate in 1467 and several times after that. Though he fails to capture the khanate, the repeated raids weaken the Mongols. Ahmed, the new khan of the Golden Horde, threatens Moscow in 1465 and 1472 but is undermined by internal struggles between his khanate and the Mongols of the Crimea and Lithuania.

Ahmed is murdered by Siberian and Nogai Mongols at Sarai, Leaving his horde without a leader. Ivan III formally renounces Russia's allegiance with the Mongols, and stops paying tribute. The Mongolian rule over Russia declines. The Crimean Mongols ally with Moscow against the Lithuanian Mongols by 1499. The last remnants of the Golden Horde are defeated and dispersed in 1502.

Ivan III is succeeded by his son Ivan IV. The Golden Horde has come to an end. The khanantes of Kazan and the Crimea prepare to act together against Moscow, but are defeated outside of Crimea by Ivan's armies, whose cannon and hand guns are unknown to the steppe tribes. The Girai Khanate continues in the Crimea until Peter the Great comes to power in 1689, bringing a final end to the Mongolian Empire.

The Mongolian Legacy
The Mongols were the last and most destructive invaders to come from the steppes. Even though Europe was saved from invasion by the deaths of Ogodei and Mansu, the Mongolian campaign had the following far-reaching and negative consequences:

  • Herring glut - In 1238, the British herring market became glutted when ships from the Baltic didn't arrive because of preparations they were making against the Mongols. Fifty herrings sold for one shilling.
  • Genoese monopoly - Subetai signed a treaty with the Genoese, who acted as spies in return for the Mongol destruction of all other trading posts in the Crimea, which gave the Genoese a monopoly there.
  • Russian economy - Russia suffered a ruined economy and exploited peasantry, as well as self-important and abusive aristocrats.
However, not all consequences were dire:
  • Western Europe gained knowledge of Asia through missionaries and diplomats. Routes were reopened to China from the West and merchants, envoys and missionaries were guaranteed safe passage under the Mongol rule.
  • China flourished during Kubilai's reign, since many of the governing officials left court and turned to artistic and scientific pursuits.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church became self sufficient due to it being isolated from Constantinople.  It went unchallenged by foreign ideas. Christians were guaranteed freedom of worship. Church lands were exempt from taxes, and clergy were exempt from army recruitment. This helped to strengthen the church and unify its people against the Mongolian invaders.
  • Novgorod became a center of trade. Baltic trade was stimulated because of the prosperity it brought to the Golden Horde. Russians were allowed to collect taxes for the Mongols and became autonomous.
  • Russia's population spread out evenly across the countryside as forests were cut down and agriculture was expanded.
The success of Chinghis lay in the strategies of his general, Subetai, as well as his own skill and organization in battle. The Mongol nation was eventually defeated by their own political infighting, disintegration in their discipline, and their shift from the harshness of nomadic culture, to the soft luxuries of city life. The introduction of firearms to Eastern Europe also played a major role, as they changed the nature of war throughout Europe, and later, the world at large.

  1. Although there are many spellings of Chinghis Khan, I prefer this more obscure one, which phonetically resembles the name's meaning, which is "the sound of iron being forged".
  2. Under the Mongolian Federation of Tribes, each tribe had a khan, the Mongolian term for chief. Khagan is the Mongolian term for "khan over all khans" or "Great Khan".
  3. A silk shirt did not pierce when shot, but instead traveled with the arrowhead into the flesh. The Mongols found that pulling the shirt extracted the arrow point, which kept the wound clean since it never came into contact with the metal tip, which in turn lowered a soldier's risk of infection.
  4. The Secret History of the Mongols, adapted by Paul Kahn, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1984.
  5. All sons of Chinghis
  6. Jebe, also known as Jirghogadai, from the defeated Tayichigud tribe, is one of Chinghis' four generals.
  7. Subetai, also spelled in some sources as Subedai, was also one of Chinghis's four generals.
  8. Batu, son of Jochi and founder of the Golden Horde.Khurlitai, the gathering of all the tribes for the purpose of electing the new khagan.
  9. By tradition, the wife (khatun) of the deceased khagan ruled as regent until the khurlitai was held. Although this text refers to the next khagan being named (as in the case of Chinghis appointing Ogodei to succeed him) such appointments had to be ratified at the khurlitai before the title was recognized. Being named a successor did not always guarantee the right to rule, if the khurlitai or political intrigue placed someone else as khagan.
  10. Mongke, also spelled Mongge, eldest son of Tolui and fourth khagan of the Mongolian Empire.Ozbeg, nephew to Tokhtu, khan of the Golden Horde, who is also known as Tokhtagha. Ozbeg is Islamic, the Uzbeg tribe is named after him. History of the Mongols by Bertold Spuler, Dorset Press, NY 1988.
  11. Timur, also known as Tamerlane.
Additional Sources:
  • The Sword and the Scimitar by Ernie Bradford, G.P. Putnam's Sons, Italy 1974
  • The Devil's Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe by James Chambers, Athenium Press, NY 1979
  • The Horizon History of Russia by Ion Grey, American Heritage Publishers, NY 1970
  • The Travels of Marco Polo, translated by R.E. Latham, Penguin Books, England 1958
  • Silks, Spices and the Empire by Owen and Eleanor Lattimore, Delacortes Press, 1968
  • The Rise of the West by W.H. McNeill, Mentor Books, NY 1965
  • The Mongols by E.D. Philips, Frederick A. Praeger Inc., NY 1969
  • Medieval People by Eileen Powers, Barnes and Noble Books, 1963
  • Cities of Gods, Isles of Spice by Christine Price, David McKay Co., Inc. NY 1965

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