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Mongol Yoke Impact on Russia's Development

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The principalities of Russia had a long history of clashes between those on the Russian frontier and nomadic peoples. The existing equilibrium of attacks between the principalities and the nomads was disturbed altered by the emergence of the Mongol empire. The Mongols unified the large groups of nomads creating a large united force and empire that stretched across Asia, to the loose border of the Kievan Rus'. By 1237 Batu Khan, ruler of the Mongols, turned his sights to the Rus' and launched the Storm of the Mongols. In only three years Kiev had been captured and destroyed and the Russian lands conquered. Rather than subjugate the Russian principalities the Mongols implemented a system of suzerainty in which the Russian princes would pay tribute[1], and Russia would act as a vassal state. The rein of the Mongols over Russia for almost two centauries had some positive impact on Russia's development and has had a lasting influence on Russian culture and identity.

With the freshly conquered Russia under their control, the Mongols needed to implement the administrative system for collecting the tribute that they demanded from the Russian people. The Mongols decided on using the existing system of principalities to require that each prince collect the taxation from the land which they controlled. Princes were incentivised to cooperate with their Mongol occupants as those that did were given greater powers and control to reign over their principalities. The Mongols pursued a policy of divide and concur, as due to the competition for Mongol favour the Kievan Rus' disintegrated further as principalities communicated less. The competition and struggle for power was particularly great between the principalities of Moscow and Tver as both competed to become the most influential Russian principality and for the yarlyk. In the 13th century the Principality of Tver was less dependent on the Golden Horde, and as a result its people grew frustrated at the taxation and subjection and started to rise in rebellion in 1327. Prince Ivan I of Moscow saw this as an opportunity to gain further favour of the Mongol rulers and to defeat Tver, taking his Muscovite forces to quash and put down the rebellion, restoring order. In reward for his loyalty the Khan bestowed to Prince Ivan I the yarlyk, and to Moscow the sole responsibility for tax collection across the lands[2]. This decision has a dramatic impact on the balance of power in Russia and its development that is evident still today. Due to its role as main tax collector Moscow grew ever wealthier, which was aided by the screwed and skilled ruling of the Muscovite Princes. With their increasing wealth the Moscow began a process of "gathering of the Russian lands" in which it bought up and subjected other principalities allowing them more access to resources taxes and consequently more power. This progression continues and by the 15th century the Moscow's power has expanded to most principalities being under Muscovite control. Therefore the Mongol decision to grant the yarlyk to the Muscovite Prince Ivan I had a great impact on the development of Russia as it led to the unification and consolidation of its lands under the rule of Moscow. No longer was Russia to be ruled be divided and competing Princes and their principalities. This was to be highly beneficial to Russia's development as the principalities led to a state of constant turmoil as Princes warred with one another, which is highly costly in resources and manpower, hindering development. The consolidation of power under Moscow created the relative stability needed for Russia to develop and flourish. Additionally the impact of favouring Moscow has been incredibly long lasting as Moscow is still the capital and largest city in Russia today.

The Mongols had a significant impact on the forming of the administrative structure that developed in Muscovy. This was not as a result of the Mongols imposing these systems upon the Russian rulers, but rather the Muscovite princes' deliberate attempt to adopt and modify the Mongol administrative structure as a model for their own[3]. The Muscovite princes gained a first-hand understanding of these political and administrative structures during their numerous visits to the Khan, as well as many of their sons being kept within the Mongol Empire to ensure the cooperation of the ruling princes. These institutional reforms were to be highly beneficial to Russia's development, as the number of principalities that fell under Muscovite control increased so did the need for administration of these territories. Muscovy's princes "turned to the Mongol legacy for inspiration" as it was necessary to implement a "full scale administrative bureaucracy" as they needed a system to govern over their growing lands and to maintain control over their acquired principalities[4]. The princes naturally adopted and modified institutions that they had seen work well for the Mongols and applied it to their lands. Perhaps most important of the institutions was the system of daruaga, the territorial subdivision of Russia and the greater Mongol Empire. The governing of these territories was the responsibility of the darughachi who were the main administrators, and primarily the tax collectors. This system was developed and implemented by Ivan Kalita and future princes as the structure of tax collection and control in their territories. Consequently the Mongols had a significant impact on Russia's development as the daruaga was a Mongol invention, and the wealth amassed by Muscovy through taxation was vital for its expansion and consolidation of Russian lands. However the Mongol influence in the development of taxation should not be overstated. The Mongols did not need to make major changes or alterations to the existing Rus' institutions as the surviving principalities already contained their own hierarchical structures and tributary networks[5]. Nevertheless, it was the levying of tributes upon Russia by the Mongols which led to these systems being formalised and strengthened by adopting Mongol institutions that resulted in the daruaga. The Mongol influence and impact on finance and trade in Russia has been lasting and is evident still today as the Russian word for money, 'dengi' originates from the Tatar word 'denga' as the first paper money to appear in Russia was issued under Mongol rule. Additionally many words concerning trade and banking are of Mongol origin including tamozhnya (customs), kazna (treasury), tovar (good or merchandise)[6].

To enable taxation to be efficient and as effective as possible the Mongols gave great priority to census tabulation and had performed the first census of the Rus' by 1257, just 17 years after its conquest. Census recording was conducted by the darugi and served to ensure that taxes were being paid by all and of the purpose of conscription. Moscow continued this practice of collecting census data for centuries after the fall of the Mongol Empire. Russia was one of the earliest adopters of census tabulation as it would not become prevalent in Europe until the early 19th century, and not to the level of thoroughness and detail achieved in Russia. The impact of the Mongol rule on the development of Russia is apparent and extensive as it helped the Russian princes to create a strong and central government needed to govern a vast and populous territory, and later empire.

In addition to aiding the expansion of Muscovy, the Mongol's brought with them the institutions needed to maintain a growing territory. The Mongol's had much experience ruling great sprawling empires, and had developed the institutions needed to rule vast land masses. One of these important development was the yam. The yam was a system of posts which was developed to provide to messengers and leaders; food, bedding and horses[7]. Each post ensured riders with rested horses and a place to retire exhausted horses, allowing riders to travel faster and further. The local people were responsible for the sustaining of these posts and caring for the horses. The yam enabled the Mongols to communicate quickly between the Khan and local leaders as a form of a fast postal service, but also dispatch elites between the various cities and principalities across the large Mongol Empire. The system was fast and efficient with a Hapsburg emissary reporting that the yam had allowed him to travel 500 kilometres in only three days, much faster than anywhere else in Europe[8]. The yam system was important to the Mongols being able to maintain a tight control over its empire, and its usefulness was noticed by the Muscovite princes. Towards the end of Mongol control over Russia, Prince Ivan III continued to use the Mongol invention as the established method of communication as it gave to the price all the same benefits it did to the Mongols. By adopting the yam Muscovy had greater control over its citizens and was able to operate more effectively. The Mongols therefore had some impact on the development of Russia as whilst the yam does differ to the contemporary postal system we have today, it continued to be operated by Russian princes long after the Mongol Khans lost their control of the region and remained largely unchanged until the early 18th century.

Whilst the Mongols Yoke did bring some positive aspects to Russia, much of the impact of the Mongols was negative and detrimental to Russia's development. During the invasion of the Rus' by the Mongol armies looted and razed cities and slaughtered the people, devastating whole regions. It is believed that around half the population of the Kievan Rus' died during the Mongol invasion[9] which has given the Mongol Empire and its rule over Russia a reputation of brutality. This sense of Mongol brutality and Russian victimhood has had a lasting impact on Russian national identity and Russian culture. As a consequence the Mongols were blamed for the destruction of the Kievan Rus' and from this was born the idea of 'oriental despotism' and an unwillingness to attribute improvements to the Mongol Yoke. However it seems that whilst the initial invasion by the Mongols was certainly bloody and destructive, they were no solely responsible for the turmoil, rather warring principalities continued to battle one another in quasi civil wars. Additionally, Russian chronicles have very limited records of the rule of the Mongols following their assault and their immediate consequences. Whilst it is possible that a sense of national pride resulted in the monks responsible for chronicling the events choosing to omit the Mongols from their records out of shame of being dominated by a foreign and non-Christian force, it is also possible that the Mongol Yoke simply did not have that great of an impact on normal Russians. As the Mongols utilised some of the existing hierarchical power systems their control over the Rus' was indirect and therefore less noticeable. Furthermore the violence between Russian principalities was more noticeable and striking at the time, allowing for the impact of the Yoke to be ignored. This suggests that whilst the initial invasion of the Rus' certainly had a negative impact on Russia's development as it resulted in the deaths of so many, but also the destruction of cities such as Kiev that would take centauries to recover. Additionally the tribute in the form of taxes placed on the people would have been a burden on the Russian people, particularly for the peasantry and serfs[10], but they were not a new phenomenon for the Russian people as they would have been expected to pay tribute to their prince before the Mongol invasion. Therefore the negative impact that the Mongols had on Russia's development has likely been exaggerated as beyond the immediate invasion the Mongols avoided creating significant changes to the ruling of Russia and adapted existing structures.

In conclusion, beyond the initial devastation that the Mongols inflicted upon Russia it would seem that overall the Mongol Yoke had a moderately positive impact in the development of Russia. By giving favour to the Muscovite princes and granting them the role of tax collectors enabled the principality to flourish and grow. The unifying and gathering of the Russian lands that was possible with this wealth has had an enormous impact on Russia's development as it allowed for the creation of a strong centralised government that still exists as the capital today. Furthermore the creation of the yam system had a positive impact on Russia's development, as the Russian princes continued to utilise the Mongol invention long after their Empire collapsed as they benefited from fast communication. Overall the impact of the Mongol Yoke is only moderate as some of the institutions credited to their rule although certainly beneficial, were improvements upon existing Rus' systems, such as the use of census tabulation to improve taxation. Additionally if their impact was more significant it would be expected for there to be greater mention of the Mongol Yoke within Russian documents of the time.

Bibliography

Dmytryshyn, Basil. A History of Russia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977

Goldfrank, David M. "Muscovy and the Mongols: What's What and What's Maybe." Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1.2 (2008): 259-266.

Halperin, Charles J. Russia and the golden horde: the Mongol impact on medieval Russian history. Vol. 445. Indiana University Press, 1987

Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001

Hosseini, Dustin. "The Effects of the Mongol Empire on Russia", Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studie 2005.

Ostrowski, Donald. Muscovy and the Mongols: cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-1589. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ostrowski, Donald. "The Mongol Origins of Muscovite Political Institutions." Slavic Review (1990): 525-542.

Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. A History of Russia. Sixth ed. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. 2000.

The Moscow Times,. 'Was Tatar Yoke Really All That Bad? | News'. N.p., 2015. Web. Apr. 19 2000.

Vernadsky, George. A history of Russia. Vol. 5. Yale University Press, 1969.

Wittfogel, Karl A. "Russia and the East: A Comparison and Contrast", Slavic Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, December 1963: 627-643.


[1] Ostrowski, Donald. Muscovy and the Mongols: cross-cultural influences on the steppe frontier, 1304-1589. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

[2] Hosseini, Dustin. "The Effects of the Mongol Empire on Russia", Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studie 2005.

[3] Ostrowski, Donald. "The Mongol Origins of Muscovite Political Institutions." Slavic Review (1990): 525-542

[4]Halperin, Charles J. Russia and the golden horde: the Mongol impact on medieval Russian history. Vol. 445. Indiana University Press, 1987.

[5] Goldfrank, David M. "Muscovy and the Mongols: What's What and What's Maybe." Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 1.2 (2008): 259-266.

[6] The Moscow Times,. 'Was Tatar Yoke Really All That Bad? | News'. N.p., 2015. Web. Apr. 19 2000.

[7] Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001

[8] Wittfogel, Karl A. "Russia and the East: A Comparison and Contrast", Slavic Review, Vol. 22, No. 4, December 1963: 627-643.

[9] Vernadsky, George. A history of Russia. Vol. 5. Yale University Press, 1969.

[10] Stearns, Peter. "Russia in Bondage", World Civilizations: The Global Experience


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