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Guide to Russia > Geography and History

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The Mongol Invasion

The invading Mongols accelerated the fragmentation of the Kievan Rus'. In 1223, the Kievan Russian army faced a Mongol raiding party at the Kalka River and was soundly defeated. In 1240 the Mongols sacked the city of Kiev and then moved west into Poland and Hungary. By then they had conquered most of the Russian principalities. Of the principalities of Kievan Rus', only Novgorod escaped occupation. The impact of the Mongol invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus' was uneven. Centers such as Kiev never recovered from the devastation of the initial attack. Immigrants who left southern Russia to escape the Mongols gravitated mostly to the northeast, where the soil was better and the rivers more conducive to commercial development. It was this region that provided the nucleus of the modern Russian state in the late medieval period. However, Novgorod continued to prosper and a new entity, Muscovy, began to flourish under the Mongols.

Golden Horde

The Mongols dominated Russia from their western capital at Sarai on the Volga River, near the modern city of Volgograd. The princes of southern and eastern Russia had to pay tribute to the Mongols, commonly called Tartars, or the Golden Horde; but in return they received charters authorizing them to act as deputies to the khans. In general, the princes were allowed considerable freedom to rule as they wished. One of them, Alexander Nevsky, prince of Vladimir, acquired heroic status in the mid-13th century as the result of major victories over the Teutonic Knights, the Swedes and the Lithuanians. To the Orthodox Church and most princes, the westerners seemed a greater threat to the Russian way of life than the Mongols. Nevsky obtained Mongol protection and assistance in fighting invaders from the west who, hoping to profit from the Russian collapse since the Mongol invasions, tried to grab territory. Even so, Nevsky's successors would later come to challenge Tartar rule.

The Mongols left their impact on the Russians in such areas as military tactics and the development of trade routes. Under Mongol occupation, Muscovy also developed its postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization. Eastern influence remained strong well until the 18th century, when Russian rulers made a conscious effort to westernize their country.


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