Khazars, Patzinaks and Cumans The Golden Horde, 1241-1390

The Tatar Invasion

A.) The Origin of the Tatars

The TATARS originate from the steppe region of Central Asia, where they were known as KIPCHAK TURKS. A nomadic people, expert horseriders on their short Mongolian ponies, they were able to shoot aimed arrows while riding. A constant cause of trouble to Genghis Khan, he is said to have ordered the Kipchak Turk men line up in front of waggons. Those who were taller than a waggon wheel had their heads chopped off; the youngsters were raised as loyal subjects to the nascent Mongolian Empire.
Still, the Mongolians did not trust the Kipchaks too much. In 1223 they sent them west, to explore the region, prepare a possible future conquest, but also to get rid of those potential troublemakers.

A.) The Invasions of 1223-1241

Russian chronicles report the first Tatar appearance for 1223, when the Tatar force was defeated in Cuman territory at the Kalka River. Another reconnaisance appeared in 1226. Then, in 1230, a Tatar expedition ravaged Volga Bulgaria and then turned against Moscow. Yet, these were all raiding parties, after the completion of which the Tatars withdrew to the steppe of Central Asia.
In 1236 they were back in full force, subduing the Khanate of the Volgar Bulgars (the region is now known as Tatarstan), then turning on the Russian principality of Ryazan. In 1238 an expedition ravaged eastern Russia. In December 1240 the Tatars suddenly appeared in front of Kiev, entered the city before the defenders even could close the gates. They continued westward, splitting their force into two, one taking the southern route into Hungary, the other the northern route into Poland. The Hungarian army was annihilated in the BATTLE OF THE SAJO RIVER (1241), the Polish capital of Cracow was sacked, a combined Polish-German force defeated in the BATTLE OF LEGNICA (1241). In a letter to the King of France, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order wrote "nothing, Sire, stands between the invaders and the Kingdom of France". However, news of the Great Khan's death reached the Tatar troops. According to Mongolian law, BATU KHAN and his armies had to return to Central Asia to attend a KURALTAI. It was to save Europe.

C.) Tatar Strategy

The Mongolian ponies were smaller than the horses of European knights, but they were a robust breed, able to go a long distance. They gave their Tatars riders great mobility, up to 100 km a day. The Tatars were not only able riders, but also good archers, able to shoot arrows from horseback while riding. They were lightly armed, wearing leather protection, in contrast to European knights which relied on heavy metal armour. While the knights were looking for close combat, the Tatars were keen to keep their opponents at a distance, from where they could shoot their arrows.
At the Battle of Legnica, the Tatars applied a strategy of harassing the enemy, then retreating. The knights followed them, but at first could not keep up with them, because the archers in their army, on foot, slowed them down. The Tatars harassed the knights again and again, and finally lured them into a full pursuit, so that the christian archers were left behind. Now the Tatars encircled their enemy, shot down the horses and then the knights themselves, dealing a crushing defeat to the knights. The battle was single sided, the Tatar losses negligible when compared to the christian losses.
The Tatars were superior in mobility, were able to apply a wider range of strategies and determined the way the battle was fought. In addition, utilizing their superior mobility, they had a better intelligence. At Legnica, the Tatars knew that a Bohemian force was approaching to link up with the Polish-German force, the combination of which might have been too much for the Tatars.

C.) The Purpose of the Invasion

The raid into Poland was meant to distract the Poles, Germans and Bohemians to aid the Hungarians, for Hungary's ALFÖLD, perfect grazing ground, was the main object of the expedition. However, Tatars and Mongols rarely established their rule on their first raid. Instead, they ravaged, destroyed, defeated the enemy in order to prepare the conquest on a second raid. On such a second raid, many princes or cities would submit voluntarily, and those who did not were isolated and easy to defeat.
At the Kuraltai in 1242 it was decided that the Kipchaks (Tatars) move their herds into the steppe of Southern Russia, where they were to form the KHANATE OF THE GOLDEN HORDE, with it's capital at SARAI.

Rambaud on the Mongol Conquest of the Kievan Rus' Principalities, by shsu
The Mongol Invasion of Europe, by Erik Hildinger
Subetei and the European Expedition , from Library of Congress, Country Studies : Mongolia
DOCUMENTS The Tatar Invasion of 1241, from the Annals of Jan Dlugosz, 15th century, by IM Publications
A 1243 description of the Tatars, from Medieval Sourcebook
REFERENCES Colin McEvedy, The New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, London : Penguin, without year

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 8th 2004

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