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"The heathen warriors slaughtered everyone down to the last monk-priest"

The princes of Rus could have known.

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"The heathen warriors slaughtered everyone down to the last monk-priest"

The princes of Rus could have known. As early as May 1223, a Mongolian army had cut a path of devastation through the steppe and destroyed a Russian army on the Kalka River (today Kalmius) in eastern Ukraine. The winners celebrated their triumph with a feast under which the losers were miserably crushed. But then the wild riders suddenly left.

That was to change 14 years later. Another Mongolian army appeared in Russia, but this time it had a different mission. In 1223 it was basically about enlightenment, since the founder of the empire, Genghis Khan, who was still alive at the time, wanted to know which neighbors lived in the far west. In 1234 a council of war in distant Karakorum had decided to incorporate the then explored country into the world empire. The order for this was given by the new Great Khan Ögedei to his nephew Batu (1205-1255). His conquests earned him the nickname "the Magnificent".

Batu was the second eldest son of Genghis Khan's eldest son Jochi. Actually, the eldest Orda should have assumed his inheritance. But the fact that he renounced in favor of his brother could be evidence of the insight that Batu possessed greater qualities as a ruler. This also upset the delicate balance among Genghis Khan's heirs. Because Dschötschi had once refused his father's allegiance during a campaign, which is said to have angered him very much. Instead, Jochi liked to reside in the "Khanate of the Westerners" in Siberia, which he developed into his own center of power.

It is therefore quite possible that the decision to entrust Batu with the great western offensive was also motivated by the desire to remove him from the center of the Mongol empire in this way. Systematically Batu prepared his campaign. Up to 140,000 soldiers were assembled, plus servants, slaves, women, children, perhaps more than half a million people, as well as millions of horses, sheep, goats. Basically, it was a whole people that relentlessly rolled westward across the Eurasian steppes.

The first victims were the Volga Bulgarians in 1236. The Kipchaks, also known as Cumans, followed. At the end of 1238, the attack on the Kiev Empire began. It was founded as a tribute empire by Swedish Vikings, the Varangians, in the 9th century. In the meantime, however, the northerners had merged with their Slavic and Finnish subjects and had accepted Christianity under Vladimir I in 988. Their princes jealously guarded their position, which had already led to the catastrophe on the Kalka.

Now the Mongols set about besieging the Russian cities one by one. Those who voluntarily submitted had a chance of being left alive. Those who resisted were wiped out, especially the elite. However, craftsmen and other specialists were spared and often deported to the Reich. A total of 49 of 72 cities of the "Orusut", as the "Secret History" of the Mongols calls the Russians, are said to have been more or less destroyed.

The spring mud of 1239 probably saved the rich trading city of Novgorod, the wealthy center of Rus' in the north. After ordering a rest for his army, Batu began the siege of Kyiv in November 1240. Since it was only a few days' march from the steppe border, the Varangians had made the city on the Dnieper the center of their empire. Now the situation led to its downfall.

Presumably, Batu's army was so large that it was able to encircle the whole of Kyiv. Catapults and drilling rams brought down the walls. The residents finally took refuge in the church of the tithe, but the galleries collapsed under the load and many people were buried under them. On December 6, Kyiv surrendered.

The image has left a deep mark on Russian commemorative culture: "The pagan warriors slaughtered everyone down to the last monk-priest and burned the whole city," summed up a modern Russian historian. The papal envoy Plano Carpini, who visited the ruins in 1246, found only 200 busy courtyards. Of the 36,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, only 2,000 are said to have escaped with their lives.

Batu didn't stop there: he moved further west and conquered Galicia. There he divided his army. One wing marched to Silesia, where in April 1241 Duke Heinrich II lost his life and battle near Liegnitz (Legnica). The other wing devastated Hungary.

Contemporaries attributed the fact that Batu left unexpectedly to the intervention of God. The reason was probably more prosaic. Great Khan Ogedei had died in Karakorum, and Batu wanted to be involved in choosing a successor. Since Batu supported his nephew, the victor Möngke, he was able to expand his power base in the west. From it emerged the Khanate of the Golden Horde, which soon developed a life of its own.

Another reason for Batu to spare western Europe may have been his army organization. The huge herds wanted to be fed, which was hardly possible beyond the steppe. The Golden Horde also established its center in the steppe zone and was content with paying tribute and punitive expeditions.

However, the Russian image of being overrun by uncivilized savages is far from reality. Batu relied on careful reconnaissance, had modern siege technology and relied on an efficient intelligence service. His soldiers maintained strict discipline and, in the composite bow, had an excellent long-range weapon at their disposal. With this set of instruments, the Golden Horde and its partial khanates were able to secure rule over Russia for 250 years.

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