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The Ulus of Jochi or the Golden Horde (Turkish: Altin ordu, ; ; ) is an East Slavic designation for the Mongol—later TurkicizedMuslim khanate established in the western part of the Mongol Empire after the Mongol invasion of Rus' in the 1240s: present-day Russiamarker, Ukrainemarker, Moldovamarker, Kazakhstanmarker, and the Caucasus. Also known as Jochi ulus or 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 Uralsmarker to the right banks of the Dnieper River, extending east deep into Siberiamarker. On the south, the Golden Horde's lands bordered on the Black Seamarker, the Caucasus Mountainsmarker, and the territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Ilkhanate.

The origins of the name "Golden Horde" is uncertain. Some scholars believe that it refers to the camp of Batu and the later rulers of the Horde. In Mongolian, Altan Orda refers to the golden camp or palace ( , Altan Ordon = Golden Palace). Altan (golden) was also the color 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 Qipchaq Turks comprised the majority of the nomadic population in the region (the Ulus Jochid).

Mongol origins

At his death, Genghis Khan divided the Mongol Empire amongst his four sons. Jochi was the eldest, but he died six months before Genghis (his paternity was also in doubt). The westernmost lands occupied by the Mongols, which included southern Russiamarker and Kazakhstanmarker, were given to his 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 Ukrainemarker, forcing the local Cumans to retrieve westwards. The military campaign against Cumans started Cuçi, the son of Genghis Khan, in 1223 when his army tried to enter the Crimean peninsulamarker. Only in 1239 finally most of Cumans were driven out the peninsula and Crimea was turned in one of the usuls of the Mongol Empire. The remnants of the Crimean Cumans survived in the Crimean mountainsmarker while most of the peninsula was resettled by the invading Tatars. Moving north, Batu began the Mongol invasion of Rus' and for three years subjugated the principalities Kievan State, whilst his cousins Möngke, Kadan and Guyuk moved southwards into Alania.

Using the migration of the Cumans as his casus belli, Batu's Horde, with an assortment of brothers and cousins, including Shiban, Orda, Kadan and future khagan Möngke Khan, continued west, raiding Polandmarker and Hungarymarker and culminating in the Battles of Legnica and Muhimarker. In 1241, however, the Great Khan Ögedei died in Mongoliamarker. Batu turned back from his siege of Viennamarker to take part in disputing the succession. The Mongol armies would never again travel so far west. In 1242, after retreating through Hungary (destroying Pestmarker in the process), and subjugating Bulgariamarker, 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 left Batu's army and was given his own enormous ulus east of the Ural Mountainsmarker along the Ob and Irtysh Riversmarker.

After Möngke Khan died in 1259, the succession war between Kublai Khan and Ariq Böke essentially marked the end of a united Mongol Empire. The war between Golden Horde under Berke Khan and Ilkhanate under Hulagu Khan, the Berke-Hulagu war, soon broke out in 1262. The Golden Horde became a virtually independent state thereafter. Although Uzbeg Khan Islamicized the Horde in 1315 and used the Mongolian language as the only diplomatic language, Mongolian script was used by khans until the late 14th century. It is known that Janibeg wrote a letter in Mongolian to Egypt and Tokhta, and Tokhtamysh minted coins with Mongolian script. After the overthrow of their nominal suzerain Yuanmarker Emperor Toghan Temur, the Golden Horde lost touch with Mongoliamarker and Chinamarker.

Golden Age

The people of the Golden Horde were largely a mixture of Turks and Mongols who early adopted Islam. 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 group 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 Carpathian mountainsmarker to the mouth of the Danube River. The descendants of Orda ruled the area from the Ural River to Lake Balkhashmarker. Censuses recorded Chinese living quarters in the Tatar parts of Novgorodmarker, Tvermarker and Moscowmarker.

The poem on bark, which is known as Golden Horde papyrus, is one of commemorative remnants of Khanate culture. The poem is written in Mongolian in early 14th century. It is about a warrior and his mother who missed each other and brought on constant warfare.

Internal organization

A 13th century cup produced in the Golden Horde.

The Horde's 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 Saraimarker, 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

The Horde exacted tax payments from its subject peoples - Russians, Armenians, Georgians, Circassians, Alans, Crimeanmarker Greeks, Crimean Goths, and others (Balkan Bulgars 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 incorporated into the Horde, and Russian rulers early obtained the privilege of collecting the Tatar tax themselves. To maintain control over Russia, Tatar warlords carried out regular punitive raids on most Russian principalities (most dangerous in 1252, 1293, 1382).

There is a point of view, much propagated by Lev Gumilev, that the Horde and Russian polities entered into a defensive alliance against the fanatical Teutonic knights and pagan Lithuanians. Proponents point to the fact that the Mongol court was frequented by Russian princes, notably Yaroslavlmarker's Feodor the Black, who boasted his own ulus near Sarai, and Novgorodmarker'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 Genoesemarker trade emporiums on the coast of the Black Seamarker - Soldaiamarker, Caffa, and Azakmarker. Mamluk Egyptmarker was the khans' long-standing trade partner and ally in the Mediterraneanmarker. Berke, the khan of Kipchak had drawn up an alliance with the Mamluk Sultan Baibars against Ilkhanate in 1261.

Political evolution

After Batu's death in 1255, the prosperity of his empire lasted for a full century, until the assassination of Jani Beg in 1357, though the intrigues of Nogai did invoke a partial civil war in the late 1290s. The Horde's military clout peaked during the reign of Uzbeg (1312-41), whose army exceeded 300,000 warriors.

Their Russian policy was one of constantly switching alliances in an attempt to keep Russia weak and divided. In the 14th century, the rise of Lithuaniamarker in Northeast Europe posed a challenge to Tatar control over Russia. Thus Uzbeg Khan began backing Moscowmarker 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.

Disintegration and fall

The Black Death of the 1340s was a major factor contributing to the Golden Horde's downfall. Following the disastrous rule of Jani Beg and his subsequent assassination, the empire fell into a long civil war, averaging one new Khan per annum for the next few decades. (Orda's White Horde carried on generally free from trouble until the late 1370s). By the 1380s, Khwarezm, Astrakhanmarker, and Muscovy attempted to break free of the Horde's power, while the lower reaches of the Dnieper were annexed by Lithuania after its decisive victory in the Battle of Blue Waters and Polandmarker in 1368. (The eastern principalities were generally annexed with little resistance).

Mamai, a Tatar general who did not formally hold the throne, attempted to reassert Tatar authority over Russia. His army was defeated by Dmitri Donskoi at the Battle of Kulikovomarker in his second consecutive victory over the Tatars. Mamai soon fell from power.

In 1378, Tokhtamysh, a descendant of Orda Khan and ruler of the White Horde, invaded and annexed the territory of the Blue Horde, briefly reestablishing the Golden Horde as a dominant regional power. After Mamai's defeat, Tokhtamysh tried to restore the dominance of the Golden Horde over Russia by attacking Russian lands in 1382. He besieged Moscowmarker on August 23, but Muscovites beat off his storm, 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 Muscovites to open the city gates, promising that forces would not harm the city in this case. This allowed Tokhtamysh's troops to burst in and destroy Moscow, killing 24,000 people.

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 Samarkandmarker.

In the first decades of the 15th century, power was wielded by Edigu, a vizier who routed Vytautas of Lithuania in the great Battle of the Vorskla River and established the Nogai Horde as his personal demesne. In the 1440s, the Horde was again wracked by civil war. This time, it broke up into separate Khanates: Qasim Khanate, Khanate of Kazan, Khanate of Astrakhan, Kazakh Khanate, Uzbek Khanate, and Khanate of Crimea all seceding from the last remnant of the Golden Horde - the Great Horde.

None of these new Khanates was stronger than Muscovite Russia, which finally broke free of Tatar control by 1480. Each Khanate was eventually annexed by it, starting with Kazan and Astrakhan in the 1550s. By the end of the century, the Siberia Khanate was also part of Russia. Descendants of its ruling khans entered Russian service.

In the summer of 1470 (other sources give 1469), Ahmed Khan organized an attack against Moldavia, the Kingdom of Poland, and Lithuaniamarker. By August 20, the Moldavian forces under Stephen the Great defeated the Tatars at the Battle of Lipnic. The Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which possessed much of the Ukrainemarker at the time) were attacked in 1487-1491 by the remains of the Golden Horde. They reached as far as Lublinmarker in central 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 by 1502. 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.


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

See also

Reference and notes

  1. G. Vernadsky, M. Karpovich: The Mongols and Russia, Yale University Press, 1953
  2. " Empire of the Golden Horde", The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2001-05.
  3. T. May, " Khanate of the Golden Horde", North Georgia College and State University.
  4. " Golden Horde", in Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2007. Quotation: "also called 'Kipchak Khanate Russian designation for the Ulus Juchi, the western part of the Mongol Empire, which flourished from the mid-13th century to the end of the 14th century. The people of the Golden Horde were a mixture of Turks and Mongols, with the latter generally constituting the aristocracy."
  5. Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History By Charles J. Halperin, pg. 111
  6. Britannica1
  7. Edward L. Keenan, Encyclopedia Americana article
  8. B.D. Grekov and A.Y. Yakubovski, The Golden Horde and its Downfall
  9. History of Crimean Khanate
  10. Denis Sinor, " The Mongols in the West", Journal of Asian History v.33 n.1 (1999).
  11. Sh.Bira - Culture exchange between Mongol Khanates, p 136
  12. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and Mongol Empire
  13. Russia and the Golden Horde, By Charles J. Halperin, page 28
  14. Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History, By Charles J. Halperin, pg.111
  15. Encyclopædia Britannica
  16. Encyclopædia Britannica
  17. Mantran, Robert (Fossier, Robert, ed.) "A Turkish or Mongolian Islam" in The Cambridge Illustrated History of the Middle Ages: 1250-1520, p. 298
  18. Dmitri Donskoi Epoch
  19. History of Moscow settlements - Suchevo
  20. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, entry on "Московское восстание 1382", available online here
  21. "Russian Interaction with Foreign Lands"
  22. A.P.Grigorev and O.B.Frolova, Geographicheskoy opisaniye Zolotoy Ordi v encyclopedia al-Kashkandi-Tyurkologicheskyh sbornik, 2001, pp. 262-302

Further reading

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