Russian history 34: Tatars' rule in Rus

After the foundation of the Golden Horde, Russia fell under the rule of Tatars. Being nomads, Tatars preferred southern steppes to the forests of Rus. Rus was controlled by special officials called baskaks and military detachments. Tatar scribes calculated the population of Rus and the tribute Russians had to pay. The collection of the tribute was observed by other officials in the Golden Horde, daruks or dorogs. They sent emissaries to Russia who actually collected the tribute. In Rus, knyazes could only communicate with these lower emissaries. When knyazes received orders, they had to arrive to the Horde. As long as the Horde remained dependent from the central government in Mongolia, knyazes also had to visit Mongolia from time to time to express their obedience.

In many cities, like Novgorod, Rostov, Suzdal, Vladimir, the people rebelled, killed the Tatar emissaries and refused to pay the tribute. The knyazes did their best to save the cities from the revenge of Mongols. The situation changed for the better when knyazes were allowed to collect the tribute and bring it to the Horde (see chapter 43). The decrease of direct contacts with the Mongols made the humiliation slightly less painful.

Rus became an ulus (a district controlled by Tatars), but its political structure in the first decades of the Tatars rule remained the same. Tatars respected Russian religion and clergy (like in other occupied countries). The metropolitan of Rus and the church as a whole did not pay tribute. The clerics received special documents (yarlyks) as the confirmation of their privileges. Similar yarlyks were granted to the knyazes. The order of succession also remained the same. The Tatars only approved the succession of new knyazes. Only when a feud began between the heirs of a knyaz, they asked the Tatars to decide who was to become the knyaz. The Tatar khans gave them yarlyks and severely punished those who refused to accept their ruling. Some knyazes were killed during the visit to the Horde because they refused to comply with the Tatar traditions. So, knyaz Mikhail Vsevolodovich of Chernigov was killed in the Horde and was later sanctified by the Russian church as a martyr. However, such cases were rare and the general rule was that the traditional power of the knyazes remained strong. This gave Russians a chance to gather forces to get rid of the rule of the Tatars.

Some things had changed, though. The Tatars rule was especially strong in Suzdal-Rostov Rus whose links with Novgorod Rus and the south-western lands became significanly weaker. The Western influence was much stronger in these distant lands: the Germans were strong in Novgorod and the Poles in the south-west. So, unlike Novgorod and the southern lands, Suzdal and Ryazan Russians were forced to borrow some Tatar customs and administrative principles. This is why the Russian east shows the signs of stagnation in the XIII-XIV centuries compared to the other parts of the country. Anyway, such influence should not be overestimated. In the first centuries of occupation Russians hated the occupiers and would not copy their customs voluntarily. Only since the XV century, when Tatars began to come to Rus to serve the Russian knyazes, became merchants and land-owners, Russians began to see them as neighbors. Then the Tatars became a part of the Russian society, their traditions were accepted by the Russians and mixed families became common.

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