The Golden Horde

•December 14, 2008 • Leave a Comment


Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde

Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde


The Golden Horde (Mongolian: Алтан Орд Altan Ord; Tatar: Altın Urda; Russian: Золотая Орда, Zolotaya Orda; Turkish: Altın Ordu) is a Russian designation for the Mongol—later Turkicized—Muslim khanate established in the western part of the Mongol Empire after the Mongol invasion of Rus” in the 1240s: present-day Russia,Ukraine, Moldova,Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus. At its peak, the Golden Horde’s territory included most of Eastern Europe from the Urals to the right banks of the Dnieper River, extending east deep into Siberia. On the south, the Golden Horde’s lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Ilkhanate.

The origins of the name Golden Horde are uncertain. Some scholars believe that it refers to the camp of Batu and the later rulers of the Horde. In Mongolian, Altan Orda refers to the golden camp or palace (Mongolian: Алтан Ордон, Altan Ordon = Golden Palace). Altan (golden) was also the color connoting imperial status. Other sources mention that Batu had a golden tent, and it is from this that the Golden Horde received its name. While this legend is persistent, no one is positive of the origin of the term. In most contemporary sources, the Golden Horde was referred to as the Khanate of the Qipchaq as the Qipchaq Turks comprised the majority of the nomadic population in the region (the Ulus Jochid).

At his death, Genghis Khan divided the Mongol Empire amongst his four sons.Jochi was the eldest, but he died six months before Genghis (his paternity was also in doubt), so the westernmost lands occupied by the Mongols, which included southern Russia and Kazakhstan, were given to his eldest sons, Batu who eventually became the ruler of the Blue Horde; and Orda, who became the leader of the White Horde. In 1235, Batu (being the eldest son) with the great general Subedei began an invasion westwards, first conquering the Bashkirs and then moving on to Volga Bulgaria in 1236. From here, in 1237, he conquered the southern steppes of the Ukraine, forcing the Cumans to flee westwards. Moving north, Batu began the Mongol invasion of Rus and for three years subjugated the Russian principalities, whilst his cousins Kadan and Guyuk moved southwards into Alania.

Golden Horde Treasure in the Hermitage

Golden Horde Treasure in the Hermitage


Using the migration of the Cumans as his casus belli, Batu’s Horde with an assortment of brothers and cousins including Shiban,Orda,Kadan and future khagan Mongke Khan continued west, raiding Poland and Hungary and culminating in the Battles of Legnica and Muhi. In 1241, however, the Great Khan Ogedei died in Mongolia, and Batu turned back from his siege of Vienna to take part in disputing the succession. The Mongol armies would never again travel so far west. In 1242, after retreating through Hungary (destroying Pest in the process), and subjugating Bulgaria, Batu established his capital at Sarai, commanding the lower stretch of the Volga River, on the site of the Khazarian capital of Atil. Shortly before that, Batu and Orda’s younger brother Shiban left Batu’s army and was given his own enormous ulus east of the Ural mountains along the Ob and Irtysh Rivers.

After Mongke Khan died in 1259, the succession war between Kublai Khan and Ariq Boke essentially marked the end of a united Mongol Empire. The war between Golden Horde under Berke Khan and Ilkhanate under Hulagu khan, the Berke-Hulagu war soon broke out in 1262. The Golden Horde became a virtually independent state thereafter. Although Uzbeg Khan Islamicized the Horde in 1315 and used the Mongolian language as the only diplomatic language,Mongolian script was used by khans until the late 14th century. It is known that Janibeg wrote a letter in Mongolian to Egypt and Tokhta, and Tokhtamysh minted coins with Mongolian script. After the overthrow of their nominal suzerain Yuan Emperor Toghan Temur, Golden Horde lost touch with Mongolia and china.

Buildings of the Golden Horde

Buildings of the Golden Horde


The people of the Golden Horde were largely a mixture of Turks and Mongols who early adopted Islam. Most of the Horde’s population was Turkic: Kypchaks,Volga Tatars,Khwarezmians, and others. The Horde was gradually Turkified and lost its Mongol identity, while the descendants of Batu’s original Mongol warriors constituted the upper class. They were commonly named the Tatars by the Russians and Europeans. Russians preserved this common name for this group down to the 20th century, whereas most of this group identified themselves with their ethnic or tribal names, some also considered themselves to be Muslims. Most of the population, both agricultural and nomadic, adopted the Kypchak language, developed to the regional languages of Kypchak group after the Horde disintegrated.

The descendants of Batu ruled the Golden Horde from Sarai Batu and later Sarai Berke, controlling an area ranging from the Volga river to the Carpathian mountains and the mouth of the Danube, while the descendants of Orda ruled the area from the Ural river to Lake Balkhash. Russian censuses back then recorded Chinese living quarters in the Tatar parts of Novgorod,Tver and Moscow.

The poem on bark, which is known as the papyrus of Golden Horde, is one of the cultural of commemorative remnants of the Khanate. The poem is written in Mongolian in early 14th century. It is about a warrior and his mother who missed each other and annoyed constant warfare.

Coins of the Golden Horder,(AD15)

Coins of the Golden Horder,(AD15)


The Horde’s supreme ruler was the khan, chosen by the kurultai among Batu Khan’s descendants. The prime minister, also ethnically Mongol, was known as “prince of princes”, or beklare-bek. The ministers were called viziers. Local governors, or basqaqs, were responsible for levying tribute and extinguishing popular discontent. Civil and military administration, as a rule, were not separated.

The Horde developed as a settled rather than nomadic culture, with Sarai evolving into a populous and prosperous metropolis. In the early 14th century, the capital was moved considerably upstream to Sarai Berge, which became one of the largest cities of the medieval world, with 600,000 inhabitants.

Despite Russian efforts at proselytizing in Sarai, the Mongols clung to their traditional animist or shamanist beliefs until Uzbeg Khan (1312-41) adopted Islam as a state religion. Several Russian rulers -Mikhail of Chernigov and Mikhail of Tver among them – were reportedly assassinated in Sarai, but the khans were generally tolerant and even freed the Russian Orthodox Church of taxes.

The Horde exacted tribute from its subject peoples -Russians, Armenians,Georgians,Circassians, Alans,Crimean Greeks, Crimean Goths, and others (Balkan bulgars and Serbs). The territories of Christian subjects were regarded as peripheral areas of little interest as long as they continued to pay tribute. These vassal states were never incorporated into the Horde, and Russian rulers early obtained the privilege of collecting the Tatar tribute themselves. To maintain control over Russia, Tatar warlords carried out regular punitive raids to Russian principalities (most dangerous in 1252, 1293, 1382).

There is a point of view, much propagated by Lev Gumilev, that the Horde and Russian polities concluded a defensive alliance against the fanatical Teutonic knights and pagan Lithuanians. Enthusiasts point to the fact that the Mongol court was frequented by Russian princes, notably Yaroslavl’s Feodor the Black, who boasted his own ulus near Sarai, and Novgorod’s Alexander Nevsky, the sworn brother of Batu’s successor Sartaq Khan. A Mongol contingent supported Novgorodians in the Battle of the Ice and Novgorodians paid tributes to the Horde.

Sarai carried on a brisk trade with the Genoese trade emporiums on the Black Sea littoral -Soldaia,Caffa, and Azak.Mamluk Egypt was the khans’ long-standing trade partner and ally in the Mediterranean. Berke, the khan of Kipchak had drawn up an alliance with the Mamluk Sultan Baibars against Ilkhanate in 1261.

After Batu’s death in 1255, the prosperity of his empire lasted for a full century, until the assassination  of Jani Beg in 1357, though the intrigues of Nogai did invoke a partial civil war in the late 1290’s. The Horde’s military clout peaked during the reign of Uzbeg (1312-41), whose army exceeded 300,000 warriors.

Their Russian policy was one of constantly switching alliances in an attempt to keep Russia weak and divided. In the 14th century the rise of Lithuania in North East Europe posed a challenge to Tatar control over Russia. Thus Uzbeg Khan began backing Moscow as the leading Russian state.Ivan I Kalita was granted the title of grand prince and given the right to collect taxes from other Russian potentates.

The Black Death of the 1340s was a major factor contributing to the Golden Horde’s eventual downfall. Following the disastrous rule of Jani Beg and his subsequent assassination, the empire fell into a long civil war, averaging one new Khan per annum for the next few decades (Though Orda’s white horde carried on generally free from trouble until the late 1370’s). By the 1380s,Khwarezm, Astrakhan, and Muscovy attempted to break free of the Horde’s power, while the lower reaches of the Dnieper were annexed by Lithuania after its decisive victory in the Battle of Blue Waters and Poland in 1368 (Whilst the eastern principalities were generally annexed with little resistance).

Mamai, a Tatar general who did not formally hold the throne, attempted to reassert Tatar authority over Russia. His army was defeated by Dmitri Donskoi at the Battle of Kulikovo in his second consecutive victory over the Tatars. Mamai soon fell from power, and in 1378,Tokhtamysh, a descendant of Orda Khan and ruler of the White Horde, invaded and annexed the territory of the Blue Horde, briefly reestablishing the Golden Horde as a dominant regional power.

After Mamai’s defeat, Tokhtamysh tried to restore the dominance of the Golden Horde over Russia by attacking Russian lands in 1382. He besieged Moscow on August 23, but Muscovites beat off his storm, using firearms for the first time in Russian history. On August 26, two sons of Tokhtamysh’s supporter Dmitry of Suzdal, dukes of Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod Vasily and Semyon, who were present in Tokhtamysh’s forces, persuaded Muscovites to open the city gates, promising that forces would not harm the city in this case. This allowed Tokhtamysh’s troops to burst in and destroy Moscow, killing 24,000 people.

A fatal blow to the Horde was dealt by tamerlane, who annihilated Tokhtamysh’s army, destroyed his capital, looted the Crimean trade centers,besieged the best of the crimeajewel and deported the most skillful craftsmen to his own capital in the city of Samarkand.

In the first decades of the 15th century, power was wielded by Edigu, a vizier who routed Vytautas of Lithuania in the great Battle of the Vorskla River and established the Nogai Horde as his personal demesne.

In the 1440s, the Horde was again wracked by civil war. This time, it broke up into separate Khanates: Qasim Khanate,Khanate of Kazan,Khanate of Astrakhan,Kazakh Khanate,Uzbek Khanate, and Khanate of Crimea all seceding from the last remnant of the Golden Horde – the Great Horde.

None of these new Khanates was stronger than Muscovite Russia, which finally broke free of Tatar control by 1480. Each Khanate was eventually annexed by it, starting with Kazan and Astrakhan in the 1550s. By the end of the century the Siberia Khanate was also part of Russia, and descendants of its ruling khans entered Russian service.

In the summer of 1470 (other sources give 1469), Ahmed Khan organized an attack against Moldovia, the Kingdom of Poland, and Lithuania. By August 20th, the Moldavian forces under Stephen the Great defeated the Tatars at the Battle of lipnic. The Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which possessed much of the Ukraine at the time) were attacked in 1487-1491 by the remains of the Golden Horde. They reached as far as Lublin in central Poland before being decisively beaten at Zaslavl.

The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in 1475 and subjugated what remained of the Great Horde by 1502. Crimean Tatars wreaked havoc in southern Russia, Ukraine and even Poland in the course of the 16th and early 17th centuries but they were not able to defeat Russia or take Moscow. Under Ottoman protection, the Khanate of Crimea,and the crimeajewel continued its precarious existence until Catherine the Great annexed it on April 8,1783. It was by far the longest-lived of the successor states to the Golden Horde.


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•December 14, 2008 • 1 Comment

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