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Golden Horde

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The Ulus of Jochi
Зүчийн улс
Алтан Орд
Altan Ord
Altın Urda
Golden Horde



The Golden Horde (green), c. 1300.
Capital Sarai Batu
Languages Mongolian after Islamisation Turkic languages
Religion Shamanism, Islam
Government Semi- elective monarchy, later hereditary monarchy
 -  1226-1280 Orda Khan ( White Horde)
 -  1242-1255 Batu Khan ( Blue Horde)
 -  1379-1395 Tokhtamysh
 -  1435-1459 Küchük Muhammad ( Great Horde)
 -  1481–1498, 1499–1502 Shaykh Ahmad
Legislature Kurultai
Historical era Late Middle Ages
 -  Established after the Mongol invasion of Rus' 1240s
 -  Blue Horde and White Horde united 1379
 -  Disintegrated into Great Horde 1466
 -  Last remnant subjugated by the Crimean Khanate 1502
 -  1310 6,000,000 km² (2,316,613 sq mi)
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Mongol Empire
Crimean Khanate
Qasim Khanate
Khanate of Kazan
Kazakh Khanate
Uzbek Khanate
Astrakhan Khanate
Khanate of Sibir
Timurid dynasty

The Golden Horde ( Mongolian: Алтан Орд, Altan Ord, Kazakh: Алтын Орда, Altyn Orda, Tatar: Алтын Урда, Altın Urda; Russian: Золотая Орда, Zolotaya Orda; Turkish: 'Altın Orda') is an East Slavic designation for the Mongol—later Turkicized— Muslim khanate established in the western part of the Mongol Empire after the Mongol invasion of Rus' in the 1240s: present-day Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus. Also known as the Ulus of Jochi or the Kipchak Khanate (not to be confused with the earlier Kipchak khanate prior to its conquest by the Mongols). The territory of the Golden Horde at its peak included most of Eastern Europe from the Urals to the right banks of the Danube River, extending east deep into Siberia. On the south, the Golden Horde's lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Ilkhanate.


The origin of the name "Golden Horde" is uncertain. Some scholars believe that it refers to the army camp of Batu and the later rulers of the Horde. In Mongolian, Altan Orda refers to the golden camp or palace ( Mongolian: Алтан Ордон, Altan Ordon = Golden Palace). Altan (golden) was also the colour connoting imperial status. Other sources mention that Batu had a golden tent, and it is from this that the Golden Horde received its name. While this legend is persistent, no one is positive of the origin of the term. In most contemporary sources, the Golden Horde was referred to as the Khanate of the Qipchaq, as the Qipchaqs comprised the majority of the nomadic population in the region.

After Batu's death in 1255, the prosperity of his dynasty lasted for a full century until 1359, though the intrigues of Nogai did invoke a partial civil war in the late 1290s. The Horde's military power peaked during the reign of Uzbeg (1312–41), who adopted Islam as state religion. Beginning in 1359 the Golden Horde had begun to experience violent internal political disorder before it was briefly reunited under Tokhtamysh in 1381. However, soon after the 1396 invasion of Tamerlane, it broke into smaller Tatar khanates that declined steadily in power until 1502.

Mongol origins (1225-1241)

Destruction of Suzdal by the Mongol armies. From the medieval Russian annals
A paiza in Mongolian script, found in the former territories of the Golden Horde.

At his death, Genghis Khan divided the Mongol Empire amongst his four sons as appanages but the Empire remained united under the supreme khan. Jochi was the eldest, but he died six months before Genghis. The westernmost lands occupied by the Mongols, which included southern Russia and Kazakhstan, were given to Jochi's eldest sons: Batu, who eventually became the ruler of the Blue Horde; and Orda, who became the leader of the White Horde. In 1235, Batu with the great general Subedei began an invasion westwards, first conquering the Bashkirs and then moving on to Volga Bulgaria in 1236. From here, in 1237, he conquered some of the southern steppes of the Ukraine, forcing the local Cumans to retreat westward. The military campaign against Kypchaks and Cumans started under Jochi and Subedei in 1216-18 when the Merkits took shelter among them. Only in 1239 finally most of the Cumans were driven out of the peninsula and Crimea was became one of the appanages of the Mongol Empire. The remnants of the Crimean Cumans survived in the Crimean mountains while most of the peninsula was resettled by the invading Mongols. Moving north, Batu began the Mongol invasion of Rus' and for three years subjugated the principalities of former Kievan Rus', whilst his cousins Möngke, Kadan and Guyuk moved southwards into Alania.

Using the migration of the Cumans as his casus belli, the Mongols continued west, raiding Poland and Hungary and culminating in the battles of Legnica and Muhi. In 1241, however, the Great Khan Ögedei died in Mongolia. Batu turned back from his siege of Vienna to take part in disputing the succession. The Mongol armies would never again travel so far west. In 1242, after retreating through Hungary (destroying Pest in the process), and subjugating Bulgaria, Batu established his capital at Sarai, commanding the lower stretch of the Volga River, on the site of the Khazarian capital of Atil. Shortly before that, Batu and Orda's younger brother Shiban was given his own enormous ulus east of the Ural Mountains along the Ob and Irtysh Rivers.

While there can be no doubt that in the mid-13th century at the court of Batu the Mongolian language was in general use, perhaps because of the prevalent general illiteracy, a few Mongol texts written in the territory of the Golden Horde have survived. According to Grigor'ev, yarliq or decrees of the Khans were written in Mongol, then translated into the Cuman language. The existence of Arabic-Mongol and Persian-Mongol dictionaries dating from the middle of the 14th century and prepared for the use of the Mamluks in Egypt suggests that there was a practical need for such works in the chancelleries handling correspondence with the Golden Horde. It is thus reasonable to conclude that letters received by the Mamluks - if not also written by them - must have been in Mongol.

Indeed, the linguistic and even socio-linguistic impacts were great, as the Russians borrowed thousands of words, phrases and other significant linguistic features from the Mongol and the Turkic languages that were united under the Mongol Empire.

Golden Age

Early rulers under the Great Khans (1241-1259)

A basqaq/darugha from the Horde to a Rus' city.

Batu declined to attend a kurultai, thus delaying the succession for several years when the Great Khatun Toregene invited him to elect the next Emperor of the Mongol Empire in 1242. Although Batu stated he was suffering from old age and illness and politely refused the invitation, it seems that he did not support the election of Guyuk Khan because Güyük and Büri, grandson of Chagatai Khan, had quarreled violently with Batu at a victory banquet during the Mongol occupation of Eastern Europe. Finally, he sent his brothers to the kurultai, and the new Emperor of the Mongols was elected in 1246. All the senior Rus' princes, including Yaroslav II of Vladimir, Danylo of Halych, Vladimir Constantine, Boris, Gleb, Vasili, Constatantine, Vladimir Constantinovich, Vassilko and Sviatoslav Vsevolodovich of Vladimir, acknowledged Batu's supremacy. However, the Mongol court exterminated some anti-Mongol princes such as Michael of Chernigov who had killed a Mongol envoy (1240).

After a short period of time, Guyuk called Batu to pay him homage several times. The latter sent Andrey and Alexander Nevsky to Karakorum in Mongolia in 1247 after their father's death. Guyuk appointed Andrey Grand prince of Vladimir-Suzdal and Alexander prince of Kiev. In 1248, he demanded Batu come eastward to meet him, a move that some contemporaries regarded as a pretext for Batu's arrest. In compliance with the order, Batu approached bringing a large army. When Güyük moved westwards, Tolui's widow and a sister of Batu's stepmother Sorghaghtani warned Batu that the Jochids might be his target.

Güyük died en route, in what is now Xinjiang; he had succumbed at about the age of forty-two to the combined effects of alcoholism and gout, although he may have been poisoned. But some modern historians believe that he died of natural causes because of deteriorating health. According to William of Rubruck and a Muslim chronicle, Batu killed the imperial envoy and one of his brothers murdered the Great Khan Guyuk. But those claims are not completely corroborated by other major sources. Guyuk's widow Oghul Qaimish took over as regent, but she would be unable to keep the succession within her branch of the family.

Batu's son Sartaq with his anda Alexander Nevsky in Golden Horde.

With the assistance of the Golden Horde, Möngke succeeded as Great Khan in 1251. Utilizing the discovery of a plot designed to remove Mongke, the new Great Khan began a purge of his opponents. Estimates of the deaths of aristocrats, officials and Mongol commanders range from 77-300. Batu became the most influential person after the Khagan and Möngke's friendliness with Batu ensured the unity of the empire. Batu, Mongke and other princely lines shared rule over the area from Afghanistan to Turkey.

Batu allowed Mongke's census takers to operate freely in his realm, though his prestige as kingmaker and elder Borjigin was at its height. In 1252-1259, Möngke conducted a census of the Mongol Empire including Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Central Asia and North China. While that of China was completed in 1252, Novgorod in the far northwest was not counted until winter 1258-59. There was an uprising in Novgorod against the Mongol census, but Alexander Nevsky forced the city to submit to the census and taxation.

The Grand prince Andrey II gave umbrage to the Mongols. Batu sent a punitive expedition under Nevruy. On their approach, Adrey fled to Pskov, and thence to Sweden. The Mongols overran Vladimir and harshly punished the principality. The Livonian Knights stopped their advance to Novgorod and Pskov. Thanks to his friendship with Sartaq, Alexander was installed as the Grand Prince of Vladimir (i.e., the supreme Russian ruler) by Batu in 1252. In 1256 Andrey traveled to Sarai to ask pardon for his former infidelity and was shown mercy.

The Mongol Empire in 1259-60.

Mongke ordered the Jochid and Chagatayid families to join Hulegu's expedition to Iran. Berke's persuasion might have forced his brother Batu to postpone Hulegu's operation, little suspecting that it would result in eliminating the Jochid predominance there for several years. During the reign of Batu or his first two successors, the Golden Horde dispatched a large Jochid delegation to participate in Hulegu's expedition in the Middle East in 1256/57.

After Batu died in 1256, his son Sartaq was appointed by Mongke. As soon as he returned from the court of the Great Khan in Mongolia, Sartaq died. After a brief reign of an infant Ulaghchi under the regency of Boragchin Khatun, Batu's younger brother Berke was enthroned as khan of the Jochids in 1257.

In 1257, Danylo repelled Mongol assaults led by the prince Kuremsa on Ponyzia and Volhynia and dispatched an expedition with the aim of taking Kiev. Despite initial successes, in 1259, a Mongol force under Boroldai entered Galicia and Volhynia and offered an ultimatum: Danylo was to destroy his fortifications or Boroldai would assault the towns. Danylo complied and pulled down the city walls. In 1259 Berke launched savage attacks on Lithuania and Poland, and demanded the submission of Bela IV, the Hungarian monarch, and the French King Louis IX in 1259 and 1260. His assault on Prussia in 1259/60 inflicted heavy losses on the Teutonic Order. The Lithuanians were probably tributary in the 1260s, when reports reached the Curia that they were in league with the Mongols.

Civil war of the Mongols (1260-1280)

Alexander Nevsky and a Mongol shaman.

After Möngke Khan died in 1259, a war of succession between Kublai Khan and Ariq Böke began. While Hulegu supported Kublai, Berke threw his allegiance to Ariq Böke. He also minted coins in Ariq Böke's name. Berke was at first neutral in the struggle between Kublai and Ariq Böke, but after the defeat of the latter, freely acceded to Kublai's enthronement. However, some elites of the White Horde joined Ariq Böke's resistance.

One of the Jochid princes who joined Hulegu's army was accused of witchcraft and sorcery against Hulegu. After receiving permission from Berke, Hulegu executed him. After that two more Jochid princes died suspiciously. According to some Muslim sources, Hulegu refused to share his war booty with Berke in accordance with Genghis Khan's wish. Berke was a devoted Muslim who had close relationship with the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim who was killed by Hulegu in 1258. The Jochids believed that Hulegu's state eliminated their presence in the Transcaucasus. Those events increased the anger of Berke and the war between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate soon broke out in 1262.

In 1262 a rebellion erupted in Suzdal, killing Mongol darughachis and tax-collectors. Only after Alexander Nevsky begged Berke not to punish the Russian people and the Vladimir-Suzdal cities agreed to send large sum of payments, did the Golden Horde abort its punitive expedition.

The Golden Horde army defeats the Ilkhanate at the battle of Terek in 1262. Many of Hulegu's men drowned in Terek River while withdrawing.

The increasing tension between Berke and Hulegu was a warning to the contingents belonging to the Golden Horde which had marched with Hulegu that they had better escape. One section reached the Kipchak Steppe, another traversed Khorasan and a third body took refuge in Mamluk ruled Syria where they were well received by Sultan Baybars (1260–77). Hulegu harshly punished the rest of the Golden Horde army in Iran. Berke sought a joint attack with Baybars and forged an alliance with the Mamluks against Hulegu. The Golden Horde dispatched Nogai to invade the Ilkhanate but Hulegu forced him back in 1262. The Ilkhanids then crossed the Terek River, capturing an empty Jochid encampment, only to be routed in a surprise attack by Nogai's forces. Many of them were drowned as the ice broke on the frozen Terek River.

When the former Seljuk Sultan Kaykaus II was arrested in the Byzantine Empire, his younger brother Kayqubad II appealed to Berke. An Egyptian envoy was also detained there. With the assistance of the Kingdom of Bulgaria (Berke's vassal) Nogai invaded the Empire in 1264 and released Kaykaus and his men. Berke gave Kaykaus appanage in Crimea and had him marry a Mongol woman. Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos signed a peace treaty with Berke Khan and was obliged to send tributes, and he married one of his daughters, Euphrosyne Palaiologina, to Nogai.

Ariq Böke had earlier placed Chagatai's grandson Alghu in charge of Central Asia. He took control of Samarkand and Bukhara. When the Muslim elites and the Jochid retainers in Bukhara declared their loyalty to Berke, Alghu smashed the Golden Horde appanages in Khorazm. The Chagatayid Khan Alghu insisted Hulegu attack Berke’s realm because he accused Berke of purging of his family in 1252. In Bukhara, he and Hulegu slaughtered all the retainers of the Golden Horde and reduced their families into slavery, leaving only the Great Khan Kublai’s men alive. After he threw his allegiance to Kublai, Alghu then declared war on Berke Khan, seizing Otrar and Khorazm. Whilst the left bank of Khorazm would eventually be retaken, Berke had lost control over Transoxiana. In 1264 Berke marched to cross near Tiflis to fight against Hulegu's successor Abagha, but he died en route.

Batu's grandson Mengu-Timur was nominated by Kublai and succeeded his uncle Berke. However, Mengu-Timur secretly supported the Ogedeid prince Kaidu against Kublai and the Ilkhanate. After the defeat of Baraq (Chagatai Khan), a peace treaty was made among Mengu-Timur, Kaidu and him in c.1267. One-third of Transoxiana was granted to Kaidu and Mengu-Timur according to this peace treaty. In 1268, when a group of princes operating in Central Asia on Kublai's behalf mutinied and arrested two sons of the Qaghan (Great Khan), they sent them to Mengu-Timur. One of them, Nomoghan, favorite of Kublai, was located in the Crimea. Mengu-Timur might have struggled with Hulegu's successor Abagha for a brief period of time, but the Great Khan Kublai forced them to sign a peace treaty. He was allowed to take his share in Persia. Independently from the Khan, Nogai expressed his desire to ally with Baybars in 1271. Despite the fact that he was proposing a joint attack on Iran with the Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo), Mengu-Timur congratulated Abagha when Baraq was defeated by the Ilkhan in 1270.

In 1267, Mengu-Timur issued a diploma - jarliq to exempt Rus' clergy from any taxation and gave to the Genoese and Venice exclusive rights to hold Caffa and Azov. Some of Mengu-Timur's relatives converted to Christianity at the same time and settled among the Rus' people. Even though Nogai invaded the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire in 1271, the Khan sent his envoys to maintain friendly relationship with Michael VIII Palaiologos. He ordered the Grand prince of Rus to allow German merchants free travel through his lands. This gramota says:

"Mengu-Timur's word to Prince Yaroslav: give the German merchants way into your lands. From Prince Yaroslav to the people of Riga, to the great and the young, and to all: your way is clear through my lands; and who comes to fight, with them I do as I know; but for the merchant the way is clear."

This decree also allowed Novgorod's merchants travel throughout the Suzdal lands without restraint. Mengu-Timur was good as his words, when the Danes and the Livonian Knights attacked the north-western lands of the Rus in 1269, the Khan's great basqaq (darugachi), Amraghan, and many Mongols assisted the Russian army assembled by the Grand duke Yaroslav. The Germans and the Danes were so cowed that they sent gifts to the Mongols and abandoned the region of Narva. The Mongol Khan's authority extended to all Russian principalities and, in 1274-75, the census took place in all Rus' cities including Smolensk and Vitebsk.

Dual khanship (1281-1299)

Mengu-Timur was succeeded in 1281 by his brother Töde Möngke, who was a Muslim. He made his peace with Kublai, returned his sons to him, and acknowledged his supremacy. Nogai and Köchü, Khan of the White Horde and son of Orda Khan, also made peace with the Yuan Dynasty and the Ilkhanate. According to Mamluk historians, Töde Möngke sent the Mamluks a letter proposing to fight against their common enemy the unbelieving Ilkhanate. This indicates that he might have had an interest in Azerbaijan and Georgia both of which were ruled by the Ilkhans.

The Jochid vassal Galicia-Volhynia princes contributed troops for Nogai and Talabuga's invasions of Europe.
The Mongol invasion of Hungary in 1285.

At the same time, the influence of Nogai greatly increased in the Golden Horde. Backed by him, some of Rus' princes, such as Dmitry of Pereslavl, refused to come to the court of the Khan in Sarai while Dmitry's brother Andrey of Gorodets sought assistance from Töde Möngke.

Nogai savagely raided Bulgaria and Lithuania in the 1270s. He blockaded Michael Asen II inside Drăstăr in 1279, executed the rebel emperor Ivailo in 1280, and forced George Terter I to seek refuge in the Byzantine Empire in 1292. In 1284 Saqchi came under the Mongol rule during the major invasion of Bulgaria and coins were struck in the Khan's name. Smilec became emperor of Bulgaria according to the wishes of Nogai Khan who helped his allies the Byzantines. Accordingly, the reign of Smilec has been considered the height of Mongol over-lordship in Bulgaria. Nogai compelled Stephen Uroš II Milutin of Serbia to accept the Mongol supremacy, and received his son, Dečanski, as hostage in 1287. Under his rule, the Vlachs, the Slavs and the Alansand the Turco-Mongols lived in what is modern day Moldavia.

After their failed but devastating invasion of Hungary in 1285, Nogai, Talabuga and other noyans overthrew Töde Möngke because he was not an active Khan who was surrounded by clerics and sheikhs. Talabuga was elected as Khan and Töde Möngke was left to live in peace. In addition to his attack on Poland in 1287, Talabuga's army made unsuccessful attempts to invade the Ilkhanate in 1288 and 1290.

Nogai vowed to support Dmitry in his struggle for the grand ducal throne. On hearing about this, Andrey renounced his claims to Vladimir and Novgorod and returned to Gorodets. In 1285 Andrey again led a Mongol army under the Borjigin prince to Russia, however, Dmitry expelled them. Under Nogai, the western part of the Horde and its vassals became de facto independent. During the punitive expedition against the Circassians, the Khan's suspicion of Nogai increased. When Talabuga challenged Nogai, who had established a de facto independent ulus (district) in the westernmost part of the Horde, Nogai organized a coup, and replaced him with Toqta in 1291.

Simultaneous with Dmitry's action, Mikhail Yaroslavich was summoned to appear before Nogai who was called Khan at the time instead of the legitimate Khan, Toqta, in Sarai, and Daniel of Moscow declined to come to Sarai. In 1293 Toqta sent a punitive expedition led by his brother, Tudaun (Dyeden in Russian chronicles), to Russia and Belarus to punish those stubborn subjects. The latter sacked fourteen major cities, finally forcing Dmitry to abdicate.

The Bulgarian Empire was still tributary to the Mongols in 1308.

When the Bulgarian czar was expelled by a local boyar c.1295, the Mongols launched another invasion of Bulgaria to protect their protege.

Nogai's daughter married a son of Kublai's niece, Kelmish, who was wife of a Qongirat general of the Golden Horde. Nogai was angry with Kelmish's family when her Buddhist son despised his Muslim daughter. For this reason, he demanded Toqta send Kelmish's husband to him. Before that, Nogai's independent actions related to Rus' princes and foreign merchants had already annoyed the Khan. The Khan refused and declared war on Nogai. Toqta was defeated at the first battle between them. When the legitimate Khan Toqta tried for a second time, Nogai was killed in battle in 1299 at the Kagamlik, near the Dnieper. Toqta had his son stationed in Saqchi and along the Danube as far as the Iron Gate. Nogai's son Chaka who had briefly made himself Emperor of Bulgaria was murdered by Theodore Svetoslav on the orders of Toqta.

After Mengu-Timur had passed away, rulers of the Golden Horde withdrew their support from Kaidu, the head of the House of Ogedei. Kaidu tried to restore his influence in the Golden Horde by sponsoring his own candidate Kobeleg against Bayan (r.1299-1304), Khan of the White Horde. After taking military support from Toqta, Bayan asked help from the Great Khan and the Ilkhanate to organize a unified attack on the Mongol Khanates of Kaidu and his number two Duwa. However, the Yuan court was unable to send quick military support.

General peace (1299-1312)

The Mongol Empire, ca. 1300.

From 1300 to 1303 a very severe drought occurred in the areas surrounding the Black Sea. Toqta allowed the remnants of Nogai's horde to live in his lands. He demanded that the Ilkhan Ghazan and his successor Oljeitu give Azerbaijan back but was refused. Then he sought assistance from Egypt against the Ilkhanate. And Toqta made his man ruler in Ghazna, but he was expelled by its people. But thanks to Toqta's peace mission dispatched to the Ilkhan Gaykhatu earlier in 1294, the period of peace inaugurated was to last mostly uninterruptedly, until 1318.

In 1304 ambassadors from Mongol rulers of Central Asia and the Yuan announced to Toqta their general peace proposal. Toqta immediately accepted the Great Khan Temür Öljeytü's supremacy and all yams (postal relays) and commercial networks across the Mongol states reopened. Toqta introduced the general peace among the Mongol khanates to Rus' princes at the assembly in Pereyaslavl.

The Khan arrested the Italian residents of Sarai, and besieged Caffa in 1307. The cause was apparently Toqta's displeasure at the Genoese trade in his subjects who were mostly sold for soldiers to Egypt. The Genoese resisted for a year, but in 1308 set fire to their city and abandoned it. Relations between the Italians and the Golden Horde remained tense until Toqta's death.

The Khan was married to Mary, illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, securing the Byzantine-Mongol alliance after the defeat of Nogai. A report reached Western Europe that Toqta was highly favourable to the Christians. According to Muslim observers, however, Toqta remained an idol-worshiper (Buddhism and Tengerism) and showed favour to religious men of all faiths, though he preferred Muslims.

During the late reign of Toqta, tensions between princes of Tver and Moscow became violent. Toqta might have considered eliminating the special status of the Grand principality of Vladimir, placing all the Rus princes on the same level. Toqta decided to personally visit northern Russia, however he died while crossing the Volga in 1313.

Political evolution (1312-1359)

After Uzbeg (Öz-Beg) mounted the throne in 1313, he adopted Islam as the state religion. He proscribed Buddhism and Shamanism among the Mongols in Russia, thus reversing the spread of the Yuan culture. By 1315, Uzbeg had successfully Islamicized the Horde, killing or converting pagan Jochid princes.

Mohammed Uzbeg Khan continued the alliance with the Mamluks which Berke and his predecessors had begun. He kept a friendly relationship with the Mamluk Sultan and his shadow Caliph in Cairo. After a long delay and much discussion, he married a princess of the blood to Al-Nasir Muhammad, Sultan of Egypt.

Dmitri revenging the death of his father in the ordo (palace) of Uzbeg Khan, killing Yury.
The Tver people burning the Khan's cousin Shevkal alive in 1327.

The Mongol rulers' Rus' policy was one of constantly switching alliances in an attempt to keep Russia and Eastern Europe weak and divided. With the assistance of Sarai, the Grand duke Mikhail Yaroslavich won the battle against the party in Novgorod in 1316. While Michael was asserting his authority, his rival Yury of Moscow ingratiated himself into the favour of Uzbeg so that he appointed him chief of the Rus' princes, and gave him his sister, Konchak, in marriage. Having been three years at Uzbeg's court, Yury returned with an army of Mongols and Mordvins. After he ravaged the villages of Tver, Yury was defeated by Mikhail in December 1318, and his new wife and the Mongol general, Kawgady, were captured. While she stayed in Tver, Konchak, who converted to Christianity and adopted the name Agatha, died. Mikhail's rivals suggested to Uzbeg Khan that he had poisoned the Khan's sister and revolted against his rule. Mikahil was summoned to Sarai and executed on November 22, 1318. In 1322, Mikhail's son, Dmitry, seeking revenge for his father's murder, went to Sarai and persuaded the Khan that Yury had appropriated a large portion of the tribute due to the Horde. Yury was summoned to the Horde for a trial but, before any formal investigation, was killed by Dmitry. Eight months later, Dmitry was also executed in the Horde for his crime.

At first Uzbeg did not want to empower Moscow. In 1327, Shevkal, the cousin of Uzbeg, arrived in Tver from the Horde, with a large retinue. They took up residence at Aleksander's palace. Rumors spread that Shevkal wanted to occupy the throne for himself and introduce Islam to the city. When, on 15 August 1327, the Mongols tried to take a horse from a deacon named Dyudko, he cried for help and a mob of furious people fell on the Tatars and killed them all. Shevkal and his remaining guards were burnt alive. Thus Uzbeg Khan began backing Moscow as the leading Russian state. Ivan I Kalita was granted the title of grand prince and given the right to collect taxes from other Russian potentates. The Khan also sent Ivan at the head of an army of 50,000 soldiers to punish Tver. Aleksander was shown mercy in 1335, however, when Moscow requested that he and his son Feoder be quartered in Sarai by orders of the Khan on October 29, 1339.

Uzbeg whose total army exceeded 300,000 repeatedly raided Thrace, partly in service of Bulgaria's war against both Byzantium and Serbia from 1319 on. The Greek Empire of Andronikos II Palaiologos was raided by the Golden Horde between 1320 and 1341, until the Byzantine port of Vicina Macaria was occupied, though Uzbeg married his daughter who had fled later. His armies pillaged Thrace for forty days in 1324 and for fifteen days in 1337,taking 300,000 captives. However, his attempt to reassert Mongol control over Serbia was unsuccessful in 1330. Backed by Uzbeg, Basarab I of Wallachia declared an independent state from the Hungarian crown in 1330.

Uzbeg allowed the Genoese to settle in Crimea after his accession. But the Mongols sacked Sudak under the Khan in 1322 when the Christians defied the Muslims in the city. The Genoese merchants in the other towns were not molested. Pope John XXII requested Uzbeg to restore Roman Catholic churches destroyed in the region. Thus, the Khan signed a new trade treaty with the Genoese in 1339 and allowed them to rebuild the walls of Kaffa. In 1332 he had allowed the Venetians to establish a colony at Tanais on the Don. A decree, issued probably by Mengu-Timur, allowing the Franciscans to proselytize, was renewed by Uzbeg in 1314.

The Golden Horde ceramic ware from State Historical Museum, Moscow.

The Golden Horde invaded the Ilkhanate under Abu Sa'id in 1318, 1324 and 1335, during his reign. His ally Al-Nasir refused to attack Abu Sa'id because the Ilkhan and the Mamluk Sultan signed a peace treaty in 1323. In 1326 Uzbeg reopened friendly relations with the Empire of the Great Khan and began to send tributes thereafter. From 1339 he received annually 24,000 ding in Yuan paper currency from the Jochid appanages in China. When the Ilkhanate collapsed after Abu Sa'id's death, its senior- beys approached Uzbeg in their desperation to find a leader, but the latter declined after consulting with his senior emir, Qutluq Timür.

When in 1323 Gediminas also gained control of Kiev and installed there as prince his brother Fedor, there was no question of discontinuing the principality's tribute to the Khan. The Lithuanians under Fedor on a campaign a few years later included the Khan's basqaq in their entourage.

Under Uzbeg and his successor Janibeg (1342–1357), Islam, which among some of the Turks in Eurasia had deep roots going back into pre-Mongol times, gained general acceptance, though its adherents remained tolerant of other beliefs. In order to successfully expand Islam, he built a mosque and other "elaborate places;" requiring baths—an important element of Muslim culture. Sarai attracted merchants from other countries. The slave trade flourished due to strengthening ties with the Mamluk Sultanate. Growth of wealth and increasing need of products always produce population growth, and so it was with Sarai. Housing in the region increased. This transformed the capital into the centre of a large Muslim Sultanate.

The Black Death of the 1340s was a major factor contributing to the Golden Horde's economic downfall. Janibeg abandoned his father's Balkan ambitions, and backed Moscow against Lithuania and Poland. He also asserted Jochid dominance over the Chagatai Khanate, and conquered Tabriz, ending the Chobanid rule there in 1356. After accepting the surrender of the Jalayirids, Janibeg boasted that three uluses of the Mongol Empire were under his control. The Polish King, Casimir III the Great, submitted to the Horde and undertook to pay tribute in order to avoid more conflicts. The seven Mongol princes were sent by Janibeg to assist Poland. Following his subsequent assassination, the Golden Horde quickly lost Azerbaijan to the Jalayir king Shaikh Uvais in 1357.


Great troubles (1359-1381)

The Battle of Kulikovo in 1380.

Following the assassination of Berdibek by his brother in 1359, the Khanate sank into prolonged internecine war, in which sometimes as many as four Khans vied for recognition by the emirs and for possession of major cities like Sarai, Qirim, and Azaq. After the overthrow of their nominal suzerain Yuan Emperor Toghan Temur, the Golden Horde lost touch with Mongolia and China. White Horde descendants of Orda and Tuqa-Timur carried on generally free from trouble until the late 1370s. Urus Khan of the White Horde took Sarai and reunited most of the Horde from Khorazm to Desht-i-Kipchak in 1375.

Paiza of Abdullah Khan (r.1361-70) with Mongolian script.

By the 1380s, Shaybanids, Muscovites, and Qashan attempted to break free of the Khan's power. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania profited from this situation and pushed deeper into the Golden Horde territory than any previous expedition and the Grand Duke Algirdas defeated forces of Murad Khan at the battle of Blue Waters c.1362.

In western Pontic steppe, Mamai, a Tatar general who was a king-maker, attempted to reassert Tatar authority over Russia. His army was defeated by the Grand prince Dmitri Donskoi at the battle of Kulikovo in his second consecutive victory over the Tatars in 1380. While preparing another invasion of Moscow, Mamai faced a greater challenge from the east. In 1379, Tokhtamysh, a kinsman of Urus Khan, won leadership of the White Horde with the assistance of Tamerlane. After that he defeated Mamai, and annexed the territory of the Blue Horde, briefly reestablishing the Golden Horde as a dominant regional power in 1381.

A brief reunion (1381-1419)

Tokhtamysh's siege of Moscow in 1382.

After Mamai's defeat, Tokhtamysh restored the dominance of the Golden Horde over Russia by attacking Russian lands in 1382. He besieged Moscow on August 23, but Muscovites beat off his attack, using firearms for the first time in Russian history. On August 26, two sons of Tokhtamysh's supporter Dmitry of Suzdal, dukes of Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod Vasily and Semyon, who were present in Tokhtamysh's forces, persuaded the Muscovites to open the city gates, promising that their forces would not harm the city. This allowed Tokhtamysh's troops to burst in and destroy Moscow, killing 24,000 people. He also crushed the army of the Lithuanians at Poltava in the next year. Władysław II Jagiełło, Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, accepted his supremacy and agreed to pay tribute in turn for a grant of Rus' territory. For another century, Russia was forced back under the Tatar yoke.

The campaign of Timur against the Golden Horde in 1392-1396.

Elated by his success, Tokhtamysh invaded Azerbaijan, Khorazm, and Transoxiana, parts of Tamerlane's empire. War was declared against him by the Timurids. A fatal blow to the Horde was dealt by Tamerlane, who annihilated Tokhtamysh's army, destroyed his capital, looted the Crimean trade centers, and deported the most skillful craftsmen to his own capital in Samarkand in 1395-96.

The domains of the Golden Horde in 1389 before the Tokhtamysh-Timur war. The Principality of Moscow is shown as a dependency, in light yellow.

When Tokhtamysh fled, Urus Khan's grandson, Temur Qutlugh, was chosen Khan in Sarai, and Koirijak was appointed sovereign of the White Horde by Timur.

Tokhtamysh escaped to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and asked Vytautas for assistance in retaking the Horde in exchange for surrendering his suzerainity over Ruthenian lands. The alliance of Tokhtamysh and Vytautas was defeated by the Khan Temur Qutlugh and his emir Edigu at the battle of the Vorskla River in 1399. The trade routes never recovered from Timur's destruction, and Toqtamish died in obscurity in 1405.

Edigu forced the Grand Prince of Moscow to accept the Khan's supremacy in 1408. Seeing Tatar commoners selling their children into slavery as damaging to both the manpower and the prestige of the Golden Horde's army, Edigu and his puppet Khan prohibited the slave trade at a kurultai. Despite some rebellions of Genghisid princes, he could keep the Horde united until 1410 when he was expelled to Central Asia. While he was absent, Jalal ad-Din khan briefly took the throne after he participated in the battle of Grunwald. Edigu returned to the Horde and set up his ordo in Crimea, challenging the sons of Tokhtamysh before his murder in 1419.

Disintegration (1420-1480)

After 1419, Olug Moxammat became Khan of the Golden Horde. However, his authority was limited to the lower banks of the Volga where Tokhtamysh's other son Kepek reigned. Together with the Khan claimant Dawlat Berdi, they were beaten by Baraq of the Uzbeks in 1421. The latter was assassinated in 1427 and Olug Moxammat reenthroned. The Lithuanian monarch Svitrigaila supported Olugh Moxammat's rival Sayid Ahmad I, who in 1433 gained the Golden Horde throne. Vasili II of Russia also supported Sayid Ahmad in order to weaken Olugh Moxammat who established the Khanate of Kazan and made Moscow a tributary. Sayid supported Švitrigaila during the Lithuanian Civil War (1431–1435).

The Horde ( Great Horde) broke up into separate Khanates:

  1. Qasim Khanate,
  2. Khanate of Kazan,
  3. Khanate of Astrakhan,
  4. Kazakh Khanate,
  5. Uzbek Khanate,
  6. Khanate of Crimea,
  7. Siberia Khanate,
  8. Nogai Horde.
The Great stand on the Ugra river in 1480.

In the summer of 1470 (other sources give 1469), the last prominent Khan, Ahmed, organized an attack against Moldavia, the Kingdom of Poland, and Lithuania. By August 20, the Moldavian forces under Stephen the Great defeated the Tatars at the battle of Lipnic.

In 1474 and 1476, Ahmed insisted that Ivan III should recognize Russia's vassal dependence on the Horde. However, the correlation of forces was not in the Horde's favour. In 1480, Ahmed organized another military campaign against Moscow, which would result in the Horde's failure. Russia finally freed itself from the Horde, thus ending over 250 years of Tatar-Mongol control. On 6 January 1481, the Khan was killed by Ibak Khan, the prince of Tyumen, and Nogays at the mouth of the Donets River.

Fall (1480-1502)

The Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which possessed much of the Ukraine at the time) were attacked in 1487-1491 by the remains of the Golden Horde. They reached as far as Lublin in eastern Poland before being decisively beaten at Zaslavl.

The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire in 1475 and subjugated what remained of the Great Horde, sacking Sarai in 1502. After seeking refuge in Lithuania, Sheikh Ahmed, last Khan of the Horde, died in prison in Kovno some time after 1504.

The Crimean Tatars wreaked havoc in southern Russia, Ukraine and even Poland in the course of the 16th and early 17th centuries, but they were not able to defeat Russia or take Moscow. Under Ottoman protection, the Khanate of Crimea continued its precarious existence until Catherine the Great annexed it on April 8, 1783. It was by far the longest-lived of the successor states to the Golden Horde.

Geography and society

A statue of Batu Khan in Mongolia. His family ruled the Horde for a century until 1360.

The people of the Golden Horde were largely a mixture of Turks and Mongols who adopted Islam later. Most of the Horde's population was Turkic: Kypchaks, Volga Tatars, Khwarezmians, and others. The Horde was gradually Turkified and lost its Mongol identity, while the descendants of Batu's original Mongol warriors constituted the upper class. They were commonly named the Tatars by the Russians and Europeans. Russians preserved this common name for this group down to the 20th century. Whereas most members of this group identified themselves by their ethnic or tribal names, some also considered themselves to be Muslims. Most of the population, both agricultural and nomadic, adopted the Kypchak language, which developed into the regional languages of Kypchak groups after the Horde disintegrated.

The descendants of Batu ruled the Golden Horde from Sarai Batu and later Sarai Berke, controlling an area ranging from the Volga River and the Carpathian mountains to the mouth of the Danube River. The descendants of Orda ruled the area from the Ural River to Lake Balkhash. Censuses recorded Chinese living quarters in the Tatar parts of Novgorod, Tver and Moscow.

Internal organization

The Golden Horde's elites were descended from four Mongol clans, Qiyat, Manghut, Sicivut and Qonqirat. Their supreme ruler was the Khan, chosen by the kurultai among Batu Khan's descendants. The prime minister, also ethnically Mongol, was known as "prince of princes", or beklare-bek. The ministers were called viziers. Local governors, or basqaqs, were responsible for levying taxes and dealing with popular discontent. Civil and military administration, as a rule, were not separate.

The Horde developed as a sedentary rather than nomadic culture, with Sarai evolving into a large, prosperous metropolis. In the early 14th century, the capital was moved considerably upstream to Sarai Berqe, which became one of the largest cities of the medieval world, with 600,000 inhabitants.

Despite Russian efforts at proselytizing in Sarai, the Mongols clung to their traditional animist or shamanist beliefs until Uzbeg Khan (1312–41) adopted Islam as a state religion. Several rulers of Kievan Rus - Mikhail of Chernigov and Mikhail of Tver among them - were reportedly assassinated in Sarai, but the Khans were generally tolerant and even released the Russian Orthodox Church from paying taxes.

Vassals and allies

A Rus' prince is being punished in the Golden Horde

The Horde exacted tax payments from its subject peoples - Rus' people, Armenians, Georgians, Circassians, Alans, Crimean Greeks, Crimean Goths, and others ( Bulgarians, Vlachs and Serbs). The territories of Christian subjects were regarded as peripheral areas of little interest as long as they continued to pay taxes. These vassal states were never fully incorporated into the Horde, and Russian rulers early obtained the privilege of collecting the Tatar tax themselves. To maintain control over Rus and Eastern Europe, the Tatar warlords carried out regular punitive raids on their tributaries. At its height, the Golden Horde controlled the areas from Central Siberia and Khorazm to the Danube and Narva.

There is a point of view, much propagated by Lev Gumilev, that the Horde and Russian polities entered into a defensive alliance against the Teutonic knights and pagan Lithuanians. Proponents point to the fact that the Mongol court was frequented by Russian princes, notably Yaroslavl's Feodor the Black, who boasted his own ulus near Sarai, and Novgorod's Alexander Nevsky, the sworn brother of Batu's successor Sartaq Khan. A Mongol contingent supported the Novgorodians in the Battle of the Ice and Novgorodians paid taxes to the Horde.

Sarai carried on a brisk trade with the Genoese trade emporiums on the coast of the Black Sea - Soldaia, Caffa, and Azak. Mamluk Egypt was the Khans' long-standing trade partner and ally in the Mediterranean. Berke, the Khan of Kipchak had drawn up an alliance with the Mamluk Sultan Baibars against the Ilkhanate in 1261.


The Kypchak stone baba in modern Ukraine. Ibn Battuta witnessed many Christian Kypchaks in the Horde, though, their masters, the Mongols, converted to Islam.

The Mongols favored decimal organization which was inherited from Genghis Khan. It is said that there were a total of 10 political divisions within the Golden Horde.

  • Khorazm,
  • Desht-i-Kipchak,
  • Khazaria,
  • Crimea (centre at Qırım). After the Mongol conquest in 1238, the port cities in Crimea paid the Jochids custom duties and the revenues were divided among all Chingisid princes of the Mongol Empire accordance with the appanage system.,
  • the banks of Azov,
  • the country of Circassians,
  • Bulgar land,
  • Walachia,
  • Alania,
  • Russian lands.
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