The Mongol Invasion of Russia in the 13th Century

Instructor: Kevin Newton

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

The Mongols built an empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea. One of the richest parts of that empire was the land of the Rus - but how did the Mongols conquer it so quickly? This lesson examines how, as well as how the Mongols ruled their new territory.

Who were the Mongols?

Perhaps no other group of invaders has changed history as much as the Mongols. Rising from the steppes of Central Asia, the Mongols quickly conquered China, Central Asia, Persia, and much of the Middle East, establishing the largest land empire in human history. All of this was done in a matter of a few decades. However, by the time the Mongols had arrived in Eastern Europe and Western Russia, it was already stretched to the limits. That strain would eventually provide some leniency for the Rus.

The Mongol Empire
Mongol Empire

Capturing Russia

In typical Mongol fashion, when the Mongols reached the edges of the Rus settlements, they sent messengers requesting peaceful submission and trade. The Rus themselves were no strangers to such messengers, as they had once sent them to Constantinople demanding tribute. Upon reaching the main city of the Rus, Kiev, the messengers were executed. The message to the Mongols was simple - the Rus would never peacefully submit. That said, the Mongols really didn't leave the Rus too much choice in the matter. Within a decade, smoking ruins were all that was left of much of the Rus's cities, from great centers like Kiev and Novgorod to tiny trading posts like Moscow. The Mongols would suffer no insult, and would win, whether peacefully or through other means.

Mongolians capturing a Rus city
Scene of a Mongol army conquering a Rus city

Mongol Trouble Far Away

The Mongols had largely conquered the Rus by 1240, yet within twenty years they faced problems. Already split into four parts following the death of the founder of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, these four parts were each ruled by a son of the great leader. However, as sons died and split up their own domains, there was a decreasing willingness to follow the orders of a distant cousin. As a result, the empire finally split after civil war, with the Golden Horde gaining power in the northwest, with the lands of the Rus as some of the most important holdings of that new state.

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