Destruction of the Golden Horde

The destruction of the Golden Horde marked the emergence of Russia as a unified European political entity. Russia’s newfound freedom from the dominance of the Mongol khans enabled it to grow in both strength and territory, becoming an important power.

Summary of Event

The destruction of the Golden Horde marked the end of nearly two and a half centuries of Mongol rule in Russia. It was brought about by the rise to power of Ivan the Great, who bound several Russian states together into a single powerful political entity, and by the nearly simultaneous weakening of the Golden Horde as its formerly strong central khanate splintered into a loose collection of minor khanates. Golden Horde
Mongol Empire;defeat in Russia
Ivan the Great
Mengli Giray
Dmitry Donskoy
Ivan the Great
Dmitry Donskoy
Ulugh Muhammad
Mengli Giray

The Mongols first appeared in Russia Russia;Mongol Empire and in May of 1223, when a raiding party, pushing northward from Persia, defeated a joint Russian-Polovtsy force at the Kalka River in the steppes north of the Black Sea. In 1237, Mongol khan Batu (d. 1255), the grandson of Genghis Khan, began a systematic campaign to extend the Mongol Empire to the west. In the winter of 1237-1238, Batu’s forces sacked the Russian city of Riazan, destroyed the then-small town of Moscow, and devastated Vladimir, the capital city of northern Russia. Batu’s army laid waste to Kiev in 1240 and gained control of southern Russia as well. However, domestic problems within the empire caused the Mongols to halt their advance, which had taken them into Poland and Hungary. They pulled back into the Russian lands, where they established the Golden Horde, the westernmost subdivision of the Mongol Empire, with a capital at Sarai, in the lower Volga Valley.

At first, the Golden Horde was an integral part of the great Mongol Empire, but by the beginning of the fourteenth century, it had become an independent state. In general, although the Mongols interfered little in Russian daily life, they maintained an effective control over Russia until the end of the fourteenth century. In 1378, Dmitry Donskoy, prince of Moscow, rebelled against the Golden Horde and defeated a Mongol force along the Vozh River. Dmitry won an even bigger victory over the Mongols in 1380 at Kulikovo Kulikovo, Battle of (1380) , near the upper reaches of the Don River. In 1382, however, Khan Tokhtamysh mounted a punitive campaign against Dmitry, sacked Moscow, and reestablished Mongol authority.

Internal difficulties began to beset the Golden Horde, however, and its unity began to disintegrate during the reign of Ulugh Muhammad, who first became khan in 1419. In 1430, the Crimean khanate separated itself from the Golden Horde, with Kazan following in 1436 and Astrakhan in 1462. The Golden Horde tried to reassert itself and to bring its Russian vassals back under control. Khan Aḥmad directed three campaigns against Moscow in 1451, 1455, and 1461, but he failed to secure any decisive results.

Moscow’s abrogation of the Mongol yoke finally came in 1476, when Ivan the Great renounced all further payment of tribute to the Golden Horde, thus terminating diplomatic relations between Moscow and Sarai. Aḥmad’s final attempt to punish Ivan failed in 1480. Early in January, 1481, while making his way southward, Aḥmad was assassinated by a rival.


Khan Aḥmad’s retreat marked the liberation of Russia from Mongol rule. Despite its shortcomings, Ivan’s less than heroic victory over the Mongols added to his prestige in the eyes of his contemporaries and more than facilitated the consolidation of his 1478 conquest of Novgorod Novgorod, annexation by Moscow and subsequent acquisition of other areas, such as Tver’ Tver’, annexation by Moscow[Tver, annexation by Moscow] in 1485. Much of the great Russian heartland began to recognize the new titles that Ivan had bestowed upon himself, namely Czar or Caesar of all Rus, and Autocrat. In 1491, in cooperation with his old ally Mengli Giray, Ivan invaded and virtually crushed the Golden Horde. Eleven years later, in 1502, Mengli’s Crimean Tatars delivered the final blow, and the Golden Horde collapsed. A small remnant managed to survive at the mouth of the Volga as part of the khanate of Astrakhan. Ivan the Great left to his grandson Ivan the Terrible the task of annexing the whole of the lower Volga region, which was done by 1556.

Further Reading

  • Chambers, James. The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe. New York: Atheneum, 1979. A narrative history of the thirteenth century Mongol invasion of Europe and the Near East.
  • Crummey, Robert O. The Formation of Muscovy, 1304-1613. London: Longman, 1987. Work of historical synthesis that covers the history of Muscovite Russia, including an informative account of the achievements and legacy of the Mongols.
  • Curtin, Jeremiah. The Mongols in Russia. Boston: Little, Brown, 1908. Although dated, Curtin’s work still provides a useful and inclusive summary of the history of the Mongols in Russia.
  • Fedorov-Davydov, German A. The Silk Road and the Cities of the Golden Horde. Translated by Aleksandr Naymark. Edited by Jeannine Davis-Kimball. Berkeley, Calif.: Zinat Press, 2001. Portrait of the civilization and culture of the Golden Horde, based largely on archaeological studies of their principal cities. Includes illustrations, maps, genealogical tables, catalog of archaeological findings from the Volga River region, bibliographic references, and index.
  • Halecki, Oscar. Borderlands of Western Civilization: A History of East Central Europe. New York: Ronald Press, 1952. A review of the collapse of Mongol power.
  • Halperin, Charles J. Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongols’ Impact on Medieval Russian History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Integrates up-to-date Western and Soviet scholarship about the Mongols, offering a new interpretation of the role and impact of the Mongols on Russian history.
  • Hartog, Leo de. Russia and the Mongol Yoke: The History of the Russian Principalities and the Golden Horde, 1221-1502. New York: British Academic Press, 1996. Thorough survey detailing the entire history of Russian-Mongol strife, from the background of each civilization before the first invasion through the final defeat of the Horde in 1502. Includes maps, genealogical appendix, bibliographic references, and index.
  • Ostrowski, Donald. Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier, 1304-1589. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A history of the development of Muscovy and the Russian state that focuses on its relationship to and interactions with other cultures, especially those of the Mongols. Looks at the extent to which external secular and religious practices were modified and incorporated by Russian religious and political institutions, and the ways in which cross-cultural influence shaped the nation. Includes glossary, chronology, bibliography, and index.
  • Wren, Melvin C. The Course of Russian History. 5th ed. Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland Press, 1994. Provides an informative discussion of the lifting of the Mongol yoke in 1480. Includes illustrations, bibliographic references, and index.

1478: Muscovite Conquest of Novgorod

After 1480: Ivan the Great Organizes the “Third Rome”

1499-c. 1600: Russo-Polish Wars

Jan. 16, 1547: Coronation of Ivan the Terrible

Summer, 1556: Ivan the Terrible Annexes Astrakhan

1581-1597: Cossacks Seize Sibir

1584-1613: Russia’s Time of Troubles