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Chapter 2 The Era of Batu The East Slavs’ first encounter with the Mongols was fortuitous but hardly fortunate. A Mongol scouting expedition ten thousand strong, actually a reconnaissance in force, rode north from the Caucasus and smashed a combined army of Russians and Polovtsy at the Battle on the River Kalka in 1223. The Russian chronicles contain a “tale” (povest´) about the battle which was altered by later scribes, copyists, and redactors and has come down to us in several variants. 1 Of these, the fullest and most reliable is that in the Novgorodian First Chronicle. Given that the tale must have originated in the south, probably Kiev, and that no Novgorodians participated in the battle, this is somewhat ironic. The versions preserved in the Laurentian Chronicle from the northeast and in the Hypatian Chronicle from the southwest differ largely in 1 On this text, see John L. I. Fennell, “The Tatar Invasion of 1223: Source Problems,” Forschungen zur osteuropäischen Geschichte, 27 (1980), pp. 18–31, and his remarks in Fennell and Anthony Stokes, Early Russian Literature (Berkeley, 1974), pp. 81– 88. See also M. B. Sverdlov, “K voprosu o letopisnykh istochnikakh ‘Povesti o bitve na Kalke,’” Vestnik Leningradskogo universiteta, #2, seriia istorii, iazyka i literatury, vypusk I (1963), pp. 139–44, and A. V. Emmauskii, “Letopisnye izvestie o pervom nashestvii mongolo-tatar na Vostochnuiu Evropu,” Uchenye zapiski Kirovsk. gos. ped. inst. im. V. I. Lenina, vyp. 17, t. 3, ist.-fil. fak, 1958, pp. 59–109. Fennell’s textology seems compatible with that of the Soviet studies; his interpretation of the tale is quite different from mine. See also the remarks of Istoriia russkoi literatury, t. II, ch. 1 (Moscow– Leningrad, 1946), pp. 77–78; V. T. Pashuto, “Kievskaia letopis´ 1238 g.,” Istoricheskie zapiski 26 (1948), pp. 286–88; V. T. Pashuto, Ocherki po istorii GalitskoVolynskoi Rusi (Moscow–Leningrad, 1950), pp. 39–43, 51–55; N. V. Vodovozov, “Povest´ o bitve na reke Kalke,” Uchenye zapiski Mosk. gorod. ped. inst. im. V. P. Potemkina, kafedra rus. lit., vyp. 6, t. 67, 1957, pp. 3–77; I. U. Budovnits, Obshchestvenno -politicheskaia mysl´ drevnei Rusi (Moscow, 1960), pp. 291–97; N. V. Vodovozov , Istoriia drevnei russkoi literatury (Moscow, 1962), pp. 109–11; A. N. Nasonov, “Lavrent´evskaia letopis´ i Vladimirskoe velikokniazheskoe letopisanie pervoi poloviny XIII v.,” Problemy istochnikovedeniia, XI (1963), pp. 462–63; and N. K. Gudzii, Istoriia drevnei russkoi literatury, 7th ed. (Moscow, 1966), pp. 189–90. 24 THE TATAR YOKE focusing on rivalries among the Russian princes which are not germain to our interests here. The core narrative is less adulterated than one might expect, and neither the lexicon nor the assumptions of the unknown author have received the attention they deserve. The Novgorodian First Chronicle account2 begins by noting that “A group of pagans appeared … and no one knew who they were or where they came from, or what their language is, or what tribe (plemeni) they belong to, or what their religion (vera) is. Some say they are Tatars, and others call them Taurmeny, and others Pechenegs.” Perhaps they are the people of Gog and Magog, of whom Methodius of Patara wrote, once locked behind the mountains by Alexander the Great. “We heard that they had plundered (plenili) the Ossetians (Iasy), the Georgians (Obezi), the Kasogians and the Polovtsy, which is God’s punishment of the Polovtsy for having shed much Christian blood and done much harm to the Russian Land… The Polovtsy Daniil Kobiakovich and Yurii had been killed (by the Tatars), and Kotian, father-inlaw (test´) of Mstislav, came to Kiev with many gifts, including horses, camels , buffaloes and girls, saying: ‘Today they (the Tatars) take our land, and they will come to take yours tomorrow.’” The Russian princes agree to an alliance with the Polovtsy, fearing that the Mongols will only grow stronger if they meet no resistance. At this point, however, envoys arrive from the Tatars as well and make the following speech: “We hear that you are coming against us, having listened to the Polovtsy, and we have no designs on your land (ne zaiakhom) nor your cities, nor your villages, and we are not marching against you. We come only at God’s will against our slaves (kholopy) and our cattleherders (koniusy), the pagan Polovtsy. And you should make peace with us; if they (the Polovtsy) run to you, you can defeat them and have their goods. Because we have heard that they have done much evil to you...


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