The Mongol Invasion (from various Chronicles)

Information and Questions for Reading

We have three extracts from various sources: "The Battle on the River Kalka," from the Novgorodian Chronicle; the "Orison on the Downfall of Russia," found in medieval miscellanies; andthe "Tale of the Destruction of Riazan," also found in medieval manuscripts.

A wee bit of background information: The Mongol invasion did not get as far as Novgorod in the North, and it seems that some survivors of the invasion managed to get to Novgorod and even farther north. (Novgorod became a Hanseatic trading city and was more "western" in its culture than Muscovy, until in 1570 Ivan the Terrible had his minions sack and slaughter, to bring the city under his control. This may have impacted the survival of documents in the city - but the Chronicle did survive.) An interesting fact from the point of view of folk culture: in the nineteenth century Russian scholars found folk epic singers in the Onega region, north and east of Novgorod, who knew epic songs (think: like the Iliad and Odyssey) whose action was set in Kiev. - We might think of the Chronicles as combining a variety of kinds of discourse: recording remarkable events, even if at some remove and with some distortion (NB: The Novgorodian Chronicle gets the battle on the Kalka a year late - presumably because it took a while for the news to arrive); a kind of political discourse, asserting whose dynasty was more virtuous and suited to rule; a certain amount of sermonizing, or moralizing commentary on events and the actors in them; a certain amount of prayer and addressing God. We know that visitors to a city might be alllowed to consult a chronicle, to copy out interesting pieces, and to take them back to their own home chroniclers - usually located in monasteries. The heterogeneous texts we find in chronicles suggests that they were partly composed by the local literate monks, partly enriched by texts or stories of any kind that were brought into the locality. Something like the Mongol invasion, of course, would both wipe out a lot of hisotical records (parchment burns, and it's useful for other things) AND leave strong traces in the historical records that survived. The details about hte battle of the Kalka are much more precise and less confused, no doubt because the Mongols departed after their victory and gave the Rusians (and Kumans) a chance to regroup.

The medieval miscellanies would combine a variety of kinds of documents, generally the kind the copyist or the copyist's patron considered to be the kind of reading that would improve the reader. Our editor, Serge Zenkovsky, notes that the "Orison" usually precedes a hagiographic (= saint's life) work about Alexander Nevsky, perhaps because Nevsky (named fo the Neva river on which, much later, Saint Petersburg would be built) was seen as a great military defender of Rus', even as a man who turned the tide of losses with his victories. Or the two works could be found together because when copyists put together miscellanies they would be likely to copy one text they liked and then (if they liked the one that followed it) to continue copying the next one too.



1. How does the writer in the Novgorodian Chronicle explain the arrival of the "unknown tribes"?

2. We just saw the Kumans in The Song of Igor's Campaign, and here they are again (page 193 at the bottom). Calling them "godless Kumans, sons of Ishmael" gives the reader what kind of impression? (Compare page 207: "these children of Hagar, / these grandchildren of Ishmael" - this time referring to the Mongols, not the Kumans.)

3. But if the Kuman leader Khotian (the next page) is the father-in0law of Mstislav Mstislavich, Prince of Galich, then what kind of relations do the Russiana and Kumans actually have?

4. Do the authorial comments about how Rusians (especially princes) should behave resemble those from the Igor Tale? If not, how are they different?

5. How does the translation as "Russian land" impact the reactions of the reader? (Versus "Rusian land," which Zenkovsky does not use.)

6. What kinds of events or other things do these texts refer to in order to convey roughly what year it was?

7. What role do women play in these narratives?

8. What do you make of the moment of chivalry (?) on page 204, when Khan Batu lets the survivors of hte Riazan force take Eupaty Kolovrat's body and depart without doing them further harm? (Does it remind you of anything in ibn Fadlān's account?)