How Russian Culture Changed Under Mongol Rule

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Having a foreign army around can really change a place's culture. However, the Rus (an early Russian culture) managed to make the best of having the Mongols around, emphasizing those cultural areas that the Mongols didn't care about to ensure that their identity thrived.

The Mongols and Russian Culture

With the arrival of the Mongol Golden Horde in the lands of the Rus, an early Russian culture, in the thirteenth century, much of the material culture of the Rus was destroyed. Cities were burned to the ground, civilians were sold into slavery or murdered, and no doubt was left that the land now belonged to the Mongols. However, as much as the Mongols were interested in showing the Rus who was in charge, they seemed satisfied to do so from a military and political standpoint only. In fact, the Mongols made no major attempts to culturally subdue the Rus, and actually aided the strongest vessel of Russian culture: religion.

Sack of a Russian city
Sack of a Russian City

Religion

Unlike many other conquerors throughout history, the Mongols had no interest in converting their enemies to a new religion. In fact, the Mongols had learned that it was best to largely leave religious authorities alone, as providing access to religion worked well in keeping conquered populations subdued. As such, the Mongols made the Orthodox Church largely immune from any taxes, levies of manpower, or drafts. Predictably, the power of the Church grew dramatically, with more and more people willing to contribute both manpower and economic means to support the Church, especially at the expense of giving resources to the Mongols. However, the real amazing thing is that the Church became a major source of dissent against the Mongols. Given such independence, it soon allied itself with the rulers of Moscow, the city that had the most potential to destroy the Mongols.

Art and Language

In many ways, Russian culture came into its own during the Mongolian occupation. Eager to set itself off from the Mongols, and flush with the cash to do so, the Orthodox Church sponsored some of the greatest works of Russian art during this period. Many of these decorated the expensive new buildings the Church required, ranging from monasteries to massive new churches.

Trinity Cathedral was built during the Mongol occupation
Trinity Cathedral

At the same time, some evidence of the Mongol presence could not help but creep in, albeit only in areas of life far away from the spiritual world of the Church. This was most clearly evidenced in linguistic developments. Mongolian words began to replace Russian terms, especially for ideas associated with a nomadic life or with trade. Due to the cosmopolitan nature of the Golden Horde, many of these terms themselves came from Arabic or Persian.

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