The impacts of the Mongol conquests have been discussed by many researchers who study medieval societies. The territory of the modern-day Russia was a part of the Golden Horde, and this control had profound implications for the development of this state as well as other countries such as Ukraine or Belarus. According to a widely-held assumption, the Mongol control had only negative influences on Russia, because it undermined the political, cultural, and economic development of Russia. To some degree, this assumption can be accepted because the rule of the Golden Horde led to the impoverishment of many people, devastation of many lands, and complete disempowerment of the local population. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that the Golden Horde contributed to the development of trade in this region, technical or administrative innovations and greater cultural diversity of Russia. These are the main questions that should be discussed in greater detail.
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At first, it is necessary to mention that the Mongol domination slowed down the political development of the medieval Russian society. Those people, who ruled the territories of the former Kievan Rus, had to be accepted or authorized by the Golden Horde. Yet, they did not even try to legitimize themselves among local people whose interests or needs were simple dismissed. These officials usually relied on the military strength of the invaders. Such representatives of the Golden Horde were called basqaqs, and they were responsible for the collection of taxes1. Furthermore, they could settle disputes between various nobles, but they did not consider the needs of peasants or artisans. As a result, the overwhelming majority of people living in Russia were completely deprived of their political rights. Moreover, it was very difficult for them to protect their interests since judicial system were virtually non-existent at that time. Due to these influences, dramatic inequalities became imbedded in the Russian society. This legacy remained noticeable even at the time, when the Golden Horde disappeared. This issue can be important for explaining the reasons why serfdom existed in Russia for a long time.
Apart from that, one should keep in mind that many parts of the former Kievan Rus did not accept the domination of the Golden Horde. For example, it is possible to mention the Novgorod Republic which remained independent even despite the Mongol invasion. At that time, the Novgorod Republic had the rudimentary elements of the democratic government since the main decisions were taken by a group of the most prominent citizens who were elected for the positions of authority2. Nevertheless, this state was conquered Muscovy and Tver which were partly supported by Mongols. Additionally, the Novgorod Republic was significantly weakened by various internal problems which undermined their military efficiency, especially in comparison with Muscovy3. Thus, one should speak about the military conflicts which originated from political tensions. The most immediate consequence of these tensions was almost total devastation and depopulation of many lands. Moreover, these feuds completely stifled any political progress that could be emerging on the territory of Slavic princedoms. Furthermore, people engaged in manufacturing or agricultural activities could have no incentive to improve the efficiency or quality of their work, knowing that the fruits of their labor could be taken away from them. This is one of the main effects that one should take into account.
Additionally, this conquest undermined the economic development of the Russian society. As it has been said before, the local Russian elites were responsible for the collection of taxes. Their key task was to gather a certain amount of gold or silver within a fixed period. The key problem is that basqaqs made the poorest layers of the society bear this financial burden4. Moreover, they could demand higher taxes, even in comparison with quotas set by the Golden Horde. Their primary concern was the preservation of their political power, rather than the protection of citizens. As a result, many people were deprived of any opportunity for economic growth. In fact, they were brought to the brink of starvation. The main legacy of this practice is the absence of the middle class in Russian society or people who could be interested in the political, legal, or economic evolution of the country. Apart from that, wealth acquired by a person began to be associated with unscrupulousness, cruelty, dishonesty, and so forth. This is another impact that should not be overlooked by people who study the history of Russia.
One should also keep in mind that economic and political effects could be closely intertwined. Very often, Mongols could raid the territories that were not directly under their control. In turn, people, who lived there, fled to Muscovy in order to escape slaughter or find opportunities to sustain their families5. This argument can be relevant if one speaks about the population of Tver, especially at the time, when this princedom opposed the rule of Mongols. As a result, the economic development of Russian territories was extremely uneven. People, who fled to Moscow, could be skilled artisans engaged in the production of valuable goods. So, Moscow became the prominent administrative and economic center; in contrast, other cities faced a long period of stagnation. This is one of the issues that should not be overlooked because it profoundly influenced Russia even when the rule of Mongols was overthrown. Admittedly, regional economic inequalities could be observed in other countries as well. Nevertheless, the problems were particularly acute and long-lasting in Russia. This is one of the details that should be taken into account.
Finally, much attention should be paid to the cultural impacts of the Mongol invasion. In particular, it severed contacts with Western European countries which began to enter the stage of the early Renaissance. Therefore, the Russian society could not benefit from the latest developments in art, architecture, as well as natural science. Furthermore, many institutions, which emerged in the Western world, were not present in Russia. For example, one can speak about universities which could play a significant role in the intellectual life of the country. Overall, the cultural life of the country was largely dominated by the Orthodox Church that could be extremely conservative in many cases6. These are the main negative effects that should be taken into account. To a great extent, these issues are important for understanding the long-term development of Russia.
However, one should not suppose that the influence of the Mongol invasion was only negative. Researchers also acknowledge the benefits that were derived from Mongol hegemony. For example, many areas of Russia became important hubs of intercontinental trade. In this case, one should speak primarily about the regions located near the Volga River which was critical for the movements of goods from Asia to Europe. The key problem is that local aristocracy was the major beneficiary of these commercial relations with the Eastern World. Thus, one can say that the potential gains were unequally distributed. This is one of the aspects that can be distinguished.
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Additionally, it is important to mention that Russian princedoms could embrace many new practices and technologies originally developed in the Eastern world. For example, they adopted the postal road network which was critical for the communication between different administrative centers. It is also important to remember that the Golden Horde could use many of the innovations which were introduced in China or India. Later these innovations could be transferred to Russia. For instance, it is possible to speak about water mills which were not on present on the territory of the Kievan Rus. Additionally, one should mention the use of standard copper coins which was important for commercial relations. Moreover, the Golden Horde brought various military technologies such as gunpowder and catapults7. On the whole, it is possible to argue that Mongols were willing to use technologies developed in other countries. They transferred them to other parts of the world, including the territory of the medieval Russia.
Additionally, the rule of the Golden Horde increased the tolerance of the medieval Russian society to people and states that represented different religious traditions. For instance, Russian merchants could trade with Muslims. In particular, one should speak about their close partnership with Persian merchants and artisans8. In contrast, other eastern Slavs believed that this behavior was not acceptable. In turn, the representatives of the Russian society tried to transcend this religious barrier. Apart from that, Mongol hegemony intensified the interactions between the representatives of different ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups. Certainly, Russia did not become a cosmopolitan society; nevertheless, it became more open to the influences of the Eastern world. Thus, one should not suppose that Russia could not benefit from the interaction with the Golden Horde.
Finally, one should mention that the growing political and military importance of Muscovy could be important for ending military conflicts between many princedoms. In many cases, such wars could also be very devastating. At that time, the centralization of power could be a positive force for the development of the state. These are some of the positive impacts that should not be overlooked. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that these gains were not evenly distributed; in particular, they were appropriated by the aristocracy. This is the key problem that one should recognize while evaluating the legacies of the Mongol invasion.
The invasion of Mongol profoundly influenced the social, political, and economic development of Russia. To a great extent, it is possible to say that this control of the Golden Horde significantly slowed down the transformation of various institutions such as representative government and judicial institutions. In particularly, one should mention that local elites were not accountable the population of the country. Additionally, one should not overlook long-term economic stagnation of many territories. This stagnation resulted from depopulation and various military raids. Nevertheless, it is not permissible to assume that this period brought only negative impacts. Much attention should be paid to the intensification of trade with Eastern countries and ending conflicts between different princedoms. Furthermore, one should mention that Mongols brought several technologies and administrative innovations that could be important for agriculture and commerce. Still, only a very limited group of people benefited from these positive impacts. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.
Bova, Russell. Russia and Western Civilization: Cultural and Historical Encounters. New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.
Burgan, Michael. Empire of the Mongols. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009.
Craughwell, Thomas. How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World. New York: Fair Winds Press, 2008.
Halperin, Charles. Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia, 980-1584. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.
Ziegler, Charles. The History of Russia. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
1 Michael Burgan, Empire of the Mongols (New York: Infobase Publishing, 2009), 67.
2 Janet Martin. Medieval Russia, 980-1584 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 114.
3 Charles Ziegler. The History of Russia (New York: ABC-CLIO, 2009), 22.
4 Charles Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 78.
5 Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, 76.
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6 Russell Bova, Russia and Western Civilization: Cultural and Historical Encounters (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), 14.
7 Thomas Craughwell, How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World (New York: Fair Winds Press, 2008), 279.
8 Halperin, Russia and the Golden Horde, 85.