Golden Horde

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Golden Horde


(ulus of Jochi), a feudal state organized in the early 1240’s under Batu Khan (1236–55), son of Jochi Khan. The authority of its rulers extended over territory from the lower Danube and the Finnish Gulf in the west to the Irtysh and lower Ob’ basins in the east, and from the Black, Caspian, and Aral seas and Lake Balkhash in the south to the Novgorod Lands in the north. However, the indigenous Russian lands were not incorporated into the territory of the Golden Horde, but were its vassals, paying tribute and obeying the orders of the khans. The center of the horde was located on the lower Volga, where, during Batu’s reign, a capital was built at Sarai-Batu, near modern Astrakhan. In the first half of the 14th century, the capital was transferred to Sarai-Berke, which was built by Berke Khan (1255–66) near present-day Volgograd.

The Golden Horde was an artificial, unstable political unit. Ethnically, its population was extremely diverse. Its settled areas were inhabited by Bulgars, Mordvinians, Russians, Greeks, Khorezmians, and other peoples. Predominant among its nomadic population were the Turkic tribes of Polovtsians (Kipchaks), Kangly, Tatars, Turkmens, and Kirghiz. The social and cultural levels of its subject peoples were also very diverse. In general, semipatriarchal, semifeudal relationships were characteristic of the nomadic peoples, and feudal relationships prevailed in settled areas.

After their original conquest of territory, which was accompanied by incredible destruction and loss of life, the rulers of the Golden Horde focused their attention on the pillage of the conquered population by means of extremely heavy taxation. The greater part of the agricultural lands and pastures were in the hands of the Mongol feudal aristocracy, to whom the laboring population was required to pay taxes and perform various services.

The handicraft production of the nomads of the Golden Horde was primarily a domestic industry. In the cities many different types of artisans produced for the market, but they were usually masters transferred from Khorezm, the Northern Caucasus, and the Crimea, or Russian, Armenian, and Greek immigrants. Many cities, ravaged by the Mongol conquest, fell into decline or disappeared altogether. The major extant urban centers, which were important primarily for the caravan trade, included Sarai-Batu, Sarai-Berke, Urgench, and the Crimean cities of Sudak, Kafa (Feodosiia), and Azak (Azov) on the Sea of Azov.

The Golden Horde was led by a khan from the house of Batu. In particularly important political situations, however, a so-called kurultai —an assembly of the military feudal aristocracy led by members of the ruling dynasty—might be summoned to take part in decisions. Affairs of state were directed by a bekliar-bek (prince of princes), and individual departments were directed by vezirs. Officers known as darugas, who were primarily responsible for the collection of taxes, were sent to subject cities and their surrounding regions. These officials were often accompanied by military commanders known as baskaks. The structure of the state was semimilitary, with no sharp division between military and administrative responsibilities. The highest posts were given to members of the ruling dynasty—the oglans (in Russian, tsarevichi), who ruled appanages within the Golden Horde and led the horde’s armies. The officer corps, which was drawn from the begs (noiny) and tarkhans, consisted of commanders of 10,000 (temniks), 1,000, (tysiachniks), and 100 (sotniki), as well as officials known asbakauls, who were responsible for supplying the army and distributing the loot.

Its unstable political structure and, above all, the rise of liberation movements among its conquered and dependent peoples were the chief reasons for the decline and fall of the Golden Horde. At the time of its organization, the horde was already divided into 14 ulus (appanages), the possessions of the 14 sons of Jochi. Of the brothers, 13 were semi-independent rulers subordinate only to the senior authority of Batu. Decentralizing tendencies emerged after the death of Mengu-Timur Khan (1266–82), when a war broke out between the princes of the house of Jochi. Under khans Tuda-Mengu (1282–87) and Talabuge (1287–91), the de facto ruler of the horde was the temnik Nogai. Only Tokhte Khan (1291–1312) managed to free himself from the control of the temnik and his supporters. Five years after Tokhte’s triumph, strife broke out again, terminating only under Khan Uzbek (1312–42).

Under Uzbek and his successor Dzhanibek (1342–57) the Golden Horde reached the peak of its military strength. The forces available to Khan Uzbek totaled about 300,000. Nonetheless, the unrest that developed after the killing of Dzhanibek made it clear that the power of the horde had begun to decline. From 1357 to 1380 more than 25 khans occupied the throne. During the 1360’s and 1370’s de facto power once again passed to a temnik, Mamai. In the 1360’s, Khorezm broke away from the Golden Horde, Poland and Lithuania annexed lands in the Dnieper Basin, and the area around Astrakhan became independent. In addition, Mamai had to face the growing strength of Russian princes’ union with Moscow as their head. His attempt to weaken Russia by organizing a grand pillage campaign led to the crushing defeat of the Tatars by united Russian forces at the battle of Kulikovo (1380).

Under Toktamish Khan (1380-95) internal strife ended, and the central authorities again began to control the major territory of the Golden Horde. In 1380, Toktamish crushed Mamai’s forces on the Kalka River, and in 1382 he moved against Moscow, which he seized by treachery and burned. Having established his authority, he turned against Timur. The latter, after a series of devastating campaigns, crushed the armies of Toktamish, destroyed the cities of the lower Volga, including Sarai-Berke, and plundered the cities of the Crimea. The horde had been dealt a blow from which it would never recover.

The Nogai Horde, the Tiumen Khanate (known as the Siberian Khanate since the late 15th century), and the Uzbek Khanate (the Kazakh Khanate since the turn of the 16th century) were formed in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, with the Kazan Khanate (1438), the Crimean Khanate (1443), and the Astrakhan Khanate (mid-15th century). In the 15th century the dependence of Rus’ on the Golden Horde grew steadily weaker. In 1480, Khan Ahmad of the Great Horde, which emerged briefly as the successor to the Golden Horde, tried unsuccessfully to force Ivan III of Moscow into submission. As of 1480 the Russian people were completely freed from the Tatar-Mongol yoke. The Great Horde ceased to exist at the beginning of the 16th century.


Grekov, B. D., and A. lu. lakubovskii. Zolotaia Orda i eepadenie. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.
Safargaliev, M. G. Raspad Zolotoi Ordy. Saransk, 1960.


Golden Horde

13th-century Mongol overlords of Russia. [Russ. Hist.: Grun, 170]
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