Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

Russia Under the Mongol Yoke

The Tartars did not interfere with the people, their institutions, or religion, but they demanded tribute in the form of an annual poll-tax. Officers called baskaks went from house to house to collect it, either in money or in furs, and those who could not pay were sold as slaves. Sometimes this collection caused disturbances. It was some time before the people of Novgorod would submit. When Bati sent his collectors to the Republic, the question was brought before the vetché where the possadnik urged the wisdom of paying the tax, but the people would not hear of it and promptly murdered the unfortunate burgomaster. Alexander, too, advised to avoid trouble, but the people refused and several boyards, including Alexander's son Vassili urged resistance. The duke acted vigorously. He ordered the arrest of his son, and had the boyards punished; but it was not before the people heard of the approach of a Tartar army, that they submitted. Still such was their resentment that Alexander had the baskaks guarded night and day. At last Alexander threatened to leave Novgorod with his drujina; then the people offered no further opposition to the collection of the hated poll-tax (1260). Two years later the people of Souzdal, Vladimir, and Rostof rose against the baskaks and killed one of them, a Russian who had become a Mahomedan. Alexander, who had succeeded his brother Andrew as Grand Duke, decided to attempt to appease the khan by going himself to Saraï with presents; he also wished to be excused from furnishing a body of Russians to serve in the Tartar army. He succeeded, but was kept at the court of the khan for a year. His health broke down and he died on his return journey in 1263. The news of his death was brought to Novgorod, as mass was being said in the cathedral. The Metropolitan who was reading the service, interrupted it, and said, "Learn, my clear children, that the Sun of Russia has set,—is dead," and the people cried, "We are lost." The death of Alexander Nevski was a heavy blow to Russia.

The Russians, that is the people of Russia whose story we are reading, did not mingle with any Tartar except the tax collector whom they did not like. The victors were nomads, who did not care to occupy the land they had conquered. When they did settle at Saraï on the Lower Volga, they absorbed the tribes who had lived there before the invasion, and who were not Russians, but nomads. The Russian people  did not associate with the conquerors. It was at this time that the word Krestianine  or "true Christian" was applied to the peasant, instead of the contemptuous term moujik.

Whatever Asiatic characteristics were grafted upon the Russians, came to them through their kniazes and boyards. The dukes soon showed that all they cared for, was to hold their positions. After Alexander Nevski, there is not a single instance of a desire to relieve the people; and the victors on their part never interfered so long as the tribute was paid regularly. The descendants of Andrew Bogolioubski were not disturbed in Souzdal; those of Roman continued to hold Galitch and Volhynia, and Oleg's house remained in possession of Tchernigof. The dukes might fight about Kief; Novgorod might appoint or expel its dukes,—the Tartars did not mind. But the khan did insist that the dukes should visit him and pay him homage. He also reserved the right of approving the succession of a duke, who was compelled to apply for a written consent, called an iarlikh. On one occasion when the people of Novgorod elected Duke Michael, they afterwards refused to recognize him, asserting that "it is true we have chosen Michael, but on condition that he should show us the iarlikh."

The dukes, holding their possessions by favor of the khan, tried to gain his good-will and favor. Gleb, duke of Biélozersk married in the khan's family about 1272; Feodor of Riazan was the son-in-law of the khan of the Nogaïs. In 1318, the Grand Duke George married Kontchaka, sister of the Khan Uzbeck. It was the rulers, and not the people of Russia, that quietly submitted to the Tartartchina  or Mongol yoke.

The khans, while they did not care about the people took care that the dukes should show them slavish respect. In 1303, the dukes were convoked, and when they were assembled a letter from the khan was read, in which they were commanded to stop fighting because the great khan desired to see peace established. Whenever such a letter was brought, the dukes were directed to meet the envoys on foot, prostrate themselves, spread fine carpets under their feet, present them with a cup filled with gold pieces, and listen, kneeling, while the letter was read.

Children of the prairie and the desert, the Tartars had neither a religion nor a civilization to impose upon the Russian people. The khans were tolerant because they did not care. Koïyuk had a Christian chapel near his residence. In 1261, the Khan of Saraï gave permission for the erection of a Greek church in his capital, and he allowed a bishop to reside there. Mangou gave equal privileges to Christians, Jews, and Mahomedans.

The dukes and boyards, paying court to the Tartars, gradually adopted their mode of dressing and, as they became Asiatic in appearance, they came under the influence of Asiatic thought. They dressed in a long caftan or flowing robe, wore a sort of turban on the head, swords and daggers in their belts, and when on horseback, sat in very high saddles with short stirrups. Dukes and boyards thus became semi-Asiatic, and drifted away from the people among whom the national principle was kept alive.

Every succeeding visit to the khan served to increase the intimacy of the dukes and their Asiatic masters. It was not many years before the relation with the great khan was severed, but that with the Golden Horde was kept alive. A writer living at that time, who visited Saraï during Bati's life, gives the following description: "It (the court) is crowded and brilliant. His army consists of 600,000 men, 150,000 of whom are Tartars, and 450,000 strangers, Christians as well as infidels. On Good Friday we were conducted to his tent, between two fires, because the Tartars believe that a fire purifies everything, and robs even poison of its danger. We had to make many prostrations, and enter the tent without touching the threshold. Bati was on his throne with one of his wives; his brothers, his children, and the Tartar lords were seated on benches; the rest of the assembly were on the ground, the men on the right, the women on the left. . . . The khan and the lords of the court emptied from time to time cups of gold and silver, while the musicians made the air ring with their melodies. Bati has a bright complexion; he is affable with his men, but inspires general terror." The same writer visited the court of the great khan, and in his description dwells upon the fact that it was not the Tartars who were most terrible, but the Russian dukes and nobles who accused one another and who sought to destroy their own countrymen by bribing the favorites. It was thus that Duke Michael of Tchernigof was murdered in 1246, and Duke Michael of Tver in 1319, by a Russian hireling of the Grand Duke of Moscow who was present when the foul deed was committed. Servile submission to the khans, a haughty demeanor towards their own people, became the characteristics of the dukes. "The dukes of Moscow," says a Russian author, "took the humble title of servants of the khan, and it was by this means that they became powerful monarchs." An English writer comes to the following evident conclusion: "The first czars of Muscovy were the political descendants, not of the Russian dukes, but of the Tartar khans."

A gradual change came over the Golden Horde after the Tartars departed from their nomadic life and settled in and about Saraï. They lost their warlike habits, and with them much of their vigor. They began to farm out the poll-tax, that is, they sold the right to collect the tax to merchants of Khiva, whose oppression was so great that the people of Souzdal revolted in 1262, Koursk in 1284, Kolomna in 1318, and Tver in 1327. But the oppression was greater when the dukes of Moscow farmed this tax, not only from their own subjects, but also from neighboring dukedoms. They were absolutely pitiless in collecting from the poor people as much as they could extort, and this was the disgraceful foundation of their wealth and power. The poll-tax, thereafter, was always a favorite source of revenue in Russia.

Besides this tribute, the dukes were compelled to furnish soldiers to their masters. Soon after the conquest, we read of Russian dukes marching with the Tartars at the head of their drujinas, and of supplying them with infantry. In 1276 Boris of Rostof and others, followed Mangou Khan in the war against the tribes of the Caucasus, and helped to sack the town of Dediakof in Daghestan. This was excusable, because the enemy was an alien; but what can be thought of Prince Andrew, the unworthy son of Alexander Nevski, who, in 1281, induced the Tartars to aid him in pillaging Vladimir, Souzdal, Mourom, Moscow, and Peréiaslaf, and led in profaning churches and convents? In 1284, when two descendants of Oleg were dukes of Koursk, one of them put his brother to death for having insulted the khan, and Russian historians blame not the murderer, but the victim, because he had aroused the khan's anger! In 1327, the dukes of Moscow and Souzdal marched against Tver at the command of their Asiatic master. Such was the influence of the Tartar yoke.

The Russian dukes and their nobles lost not only the principle of patriotism, but also that of personal honor. The unfortunate Russians henceforth were to them, not fellow-countrymen but "tcherné"  "black people." The khans, with true political instinct looking to the perpetuation of this condition, gained the friendship of the Church, as they had that of the dukes. In 1313, the Khan Uzbeck, at the request of the Metropolitan or head of the Church of Moscow, ordered that the Church should retain its privileges, and that it should not be deprived of its property, because, he says, "these possessions are sacred, as they belong to men whose prayers preserve our lives and strengthen our armies." The churches and convents grew enormously rich. They received gifts of land, and the priests, so bribed, allied themselves with the heathen masters, and aided further in oppressing the people.

The descendants of the dukes and drujinas lost the large and generous impulses of the old Norsemen, to make way for the Asiatic deformities of treachery, cruelly, cunning, and disregard of honor. Whatever came in the way of their own interests, was trampled under foot by fair means or foul. The boyards, too, were tainted by the example of the chiefs. The vast extent of the country, the sparsity of the population, the difficulties in the way of communication, and above all the general ignorance, prevented the appearance of a patriot who might have raised a truly national banner, and shaken off the yoke of the servile lackeys of the Tartars.