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The Tartars were Mongols who first appeared in the south Russian steppe in 1223. Their war machine rapidly subjugated and annexed Kievan Rus into the huge Mongol Empire.[1]

Two Tartar generals, Jebe and Subutai, crossed the Caucasus from the south and overthrew first the Cumans and their Caucasian neighbours, and then their Russian allies at the Battle of the river Kalka near the Sea of Azov in 1223. The death of Jenghiz Khan, however, prevented the continuation of the invasion. In 1237, however, his son Ogodai restarted it and despatched his nephew Batu 'the good-natured', as nominal head of an army which was really under the command of Subutai, the greatest of the Mongol generals. First, the trading tribe of the Bulgars on the Upper Volga were crushed. Then came the turn of the Russians: town after town was taken and sacked with an atrocity new to Europe, till in 1240 Kiev, the ancient capital, was also destroyed. Only Novgorod in the north escaped.

Subutai now devised a plan of campaign: one Tartar army was to make a diversion north of the Carpathians and occupy the Polish and German princes, while the main army under Subutai himself was to conquer Hungary. In 1241 the northern army victoriously rode through Poland, sacking Cracow, and defeated the Poles and Germans together under Duke Henry II of Silesia at Leignitz on April 9th. Then it turned, unmolested by the Bohemian king, through the Moravian gap to rejoin Subutai in Hungary. On April 11th he had annihilated the Hungarian forces under King Bela IV (of the House of Arpad) at Mohi on the river Sajó, and Hungary was then devastated. The West appeared paralysed. The only leaders prepared to offer real resistance were some of the German princes. Europe was then, however, not saved by valour, but by the death of Ogodai; the Mongols withdrew en masse to Asia for the election of a new Great Khan, never to return to the West, leaving behind Batu as Khan of the Golden Horde, with his capital at Serai on the Volga, to rule over Russia.

Mongol rule over Russia is traditionally considered to have lasted from 1240 to 1480, a century longer than in China or Persia.[2]


  1. Halperin, Charles J., Russia and the Golden Horde, London, 1985, p.20.ISBN 1-85043-057-8
  2. Halperin, 1985, p.21.
  • Previté-Orton, C. W., Litt.D., F.B.A., A History of Europe from 1198 to 1378, London, 1937, p.166-7.
  • Parker, Professor E.H., A Thousand Years of the Tartars, Dorset Press, New York, 1987, 2nd revised edition. ISBN 0-88029-136-2