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Genghis Khan and Mongolian Influence on Russian Culture, Research Paper Example

Pages: 9

Words: 2519

Research Paper

There are many distinct similarities between the Russian and Mongolian cultures. The proximity that Mongolia has to certain parts of the country made it more readily accessible to invaders. Because Russia is a large land that is bordered by many nations, it has a history that is characterized by wars and power struggles with these neighbors more than almost any other country. However, these political clashes are responsible for defining some of the characteristic features of Russia, including its culture and its language. As a consequence of these interactions, Russia was allowed to evolve into a distinct culture of its own from incorporating many of the ideas that it had learned from its neighbors. One of the most striking similarities can be seen between the Russian and Mongolian cultures, as the Mongols first entered Russian territory as early as 1219 (Fennell, 1983).

In 1219, the Mongols entered Kiev in order to strike against the Poloytsy. At this point in time, Russia was comprised of divided kingdoms ruled by princes and princesses from different families (Dmytryshyn, 1977). When the Mongols threatened the Poloytsy, they had asked the Rus princes for assistance, which was a move that had frightened the Mongols. This event demonstrated for the first time the power that a united country may have to fend off attackers. While the various ruling families did not want to compromise their powers, they had also recognized that they were more powerful when they were united. As a consequence of this unity, the Russian people were able to fight and destroy the Mongol evaders despite their strategic attempts to establish peace with some of the ruling families. This is an interesting reaction as well, because royal families in the Russian territory, despite staking claim over their distinct regions preferred to unite with their neighbors than trust the Mongols. This demonstrates that a sense of Russian nationalism existed prior to the establishment of the country. The proximity that these ruling families had established an allied relationship between them that they used in order to support their rights over their lands.

Twenty years after this initial act of unity, the Mongolians attempted to strike Russia again to compensate for its prior failure. Batu Khan led an army from Mongolia consisting of more than 200,000 men. At this time, unity was no longer able to resist against the power of the Mongolian army. Areas including Ryazan, Moscow, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Rostov fell to the might of this army. At this point, to demonstrate their power, the Mongolian army destroyed cities, looting them and slaughtering residents. They took many Russians as slaves and prisoners. Although some distant kingdoms survived this attack, the capital of Kiev had been destroyed in the attack. Many historians believe that it would have been possible for this disaster to have been avoided if the Russian princes were willing to engage in negotiations with the Mongols when this conflict had first begun. Despite this, the Mongolian people exerted a great influence on Russian society in terms of its religion, art, language, government, and politics as a consequence of this invasion (Halperin, 1982).

After the Mongols had successfully destroyed many of the cities that it had entered upon their initial attack, a majority of the religious institutions in the area had been razed and there were few remaining clergy members. The Russian people were surprised by the might of the Mongolian armies and they had not previously considered that such destruction was possible. As a consequence of this attack, the kingdoms had suffered economic distress in addition to political and instability. Many individuals attempted to cope with this disaster by looking towards their spirituality. The Mongols claimed that they had attacked the Russians because God had told them to do so to punish the Russians for being sinful and many of the Russians came to believe that this was the case. Due to this common belief, the Mongols were able to introduce aspects of the Orthodox Church into Russian society. While this event laid the support for the establishment of this religion, future events helped refine the importance of the religion to this culture. The belief of a God who rewards those who follow Him and punishes evil became a prominent idea in this society as a consequence of Mongolian beliefs.

The Orthodox Church was able to take root for several reasons, not just the beliefs held by the Mongols alone. Since the churches that had existed prior to the invasion were destroyed and there was a notable degree of political instability due to the removal of the princes as authority figures, the Orthodox Church served to help the Russian people find their identity during these troubling times. The power of the church grew as a consequence of respect it gained from both the Mongolian invaders and the Russian residents. Over time, the church became immune to taxation by either group and clergymen were provided with exclusive powers, such as not being required to serve in the military force or to complete required labor.

The enhanced standing of the church significantly altered the political structure of Russian society. While the region had previously been influenced primarily by the control of its princes, it was now unified under the law of the church. Because the church was immune to taxation, it was able to acquire large amounts of land that it used to grow its power and enhance the stability of the region. After some time, the Orthodox Church had gained more power than the Mongolian invaders, citing that it would put any agents that attempted to seize church lands to death. In addition to implementing these strict policies, the power of the church grew rapidly because its mission was to spread the religion to other parts of the country and to dissuade people from practicing paganism. This mission was ultimately successful, as the far reach of the religion enabled the church to gain even more control. The idea of the religion appealed to individuals with economic and spiritual deficits and encouraged many of these individuals to leave the countryside to live in the cities. As people moved to the cities to become closer to the church, the church recognized a need to move to more desolate areas. However, these moves attracted new believers as well, which began an effect that helped establish new cities and towns. This rapid expansion of urbanization would not have been possible if the Mongolians had not introduced the Russians to the teachings of the Orthodox Church. This effect decreased the importance of Kiev with regards to Russian politics and instead emphasized Moscow as the center of Russian life (Crummey, 1987).

Because Russian society during this period was highly influenced by the Orthodox Church, the art produced during this period had a Mongolian influence as well. At this period in time, Russians considered themselves to be without a state and therefore relied on their Christianity to cope with this issue. As a consequence, Christian themes drove the art that was produced and this art was used in a manner that would help them affirm their faith. During the second half of the fourteenth century, painting began to flourish in Russia. At this point artists from around the world, such as Theophanes the Greek, entered into this society in order to create religious images for the churches. This artistic revival encouraged many Russians to learn how to create art, which allowed this Mongolian influence to perpetuate into society until modern times. The art produced by individuals during this time period helped Russians gain a greater sense of their Christian identity and many of these religious symbols were placed in houses of worship where they could be enjoyed by the masses.

In addition to providing Russians with their language, the Mongols influenced the residents of this area by causing them to develop a new dialect which ultimately altered the evolution of their language. In particular, the Russian people during this time borrowed many words, phrases, and linguistic aspects of the Turkic and Mongolian languages that were both used by members of the Mongolian Empire during this time period. While the letters used to represent these words continue to be different, many similarities can be seen between them. For example, the Russian word for barn is “амбар” while the Mongolian word for barn is “ambar”. In addition the Russian word for customs is “таможня” while the Mongolian word for customs is “tamozhnya”. This degree of similarity is striking because the spelling of the words appear to be very similar even though they are written in different languages. The examples provided are words that are in still use in both the Mongolian and Russian cultures today, and is reminiscent of their shared culture during this time period.

Prior to the involvement of the Mongolians in Russian politics, major political decisions were made by a group of free male citizens called the “veche”, which was essentially a small assembly that was granted with the power to discuss and decide upon matters that were relevant to the town. After the Mongolian invasion, these groups were no longer allowed to meet because this demonstrated too much power on the behalf of the Russians. In order to ensure that there would be some degree of stability in the area, Mongolian leaders appointed individuals known as the “basqaqi” which acted as military leaders to enforce the tax laws created by the Mongolians. This role was supported by the “darugi” which were individuals who supervised the areas of Russia that had submitted to the Mongolian forces without a fight. These individuals were placed primarily to oversee the activities of the princes and the individuals in the areas that had fought the Mongolians in order to ensure that they would be able to maintain power. Furthermore, they helped the Mongolian rulers by conducting census counts and by recruiting individuals into the armed forces.

Ultimately, the role of Russian princes in the Mongolian conquered society grew when the Mongolians learned that they would be able to trust them to take over the responsibilities of the “basqaqi” and the “darugi”. During this time, the involvement of the princes in the political aspects of Mongolian rule contributed to the tendency of the Russian leaders to carry out the political structure that had been established during this time period. For example, the Mongols took census counts using multiples of ten to represent the number of citizens present. Two hundred years after the Mongols took their first census count, the practice was continued by Moscow once it had come under independent rule once more. Another aspect of Mongolian rule that was preserved by later governments was the use of the “yam”, which was created to help bring food and supplies to different locations. While this system used horses to accomplish the transportation, it was efficiently organized, which allowed these goods to be transferred very quickly. While this system was used to help the Mongols have control over Russia, it was later used to support communication during the time of Prince Ivan III and eventually evolved to become the first postal system in the region. At this point, this method was used to strengthen Mongolian control, but this system was later used by the ruling families to support their own ability to control the region.

When the Mongolians had first conquered Russia, the city of Moscow was considered relatively unimportant. However, it was located in a strategic location because it connected three major roads, one of which provided the route from Moscow to Kiev. Furthermore, the city itself appears to have strategic advantages because it is connected to many different waterways, which opens up opportunities trade. Individuals who opposed Mongolian rule soon began to inhabit this area and local princes helped gain the areas favor with the Mongolian rulers, which helped it rise in power. The decision to make Moscow the center of Russia occurred after Prince Ivan I of Moscow decided to help the Mongolians by destroying a rebellion that had begun against them in Tyer. The prince was rewarded greatly for his action and Moscow was eventually given the privilege of collecting taxes throughout Russia and was allowed to keep a portion of these taxes as payment. This new wealth helped Moscow develop power due to the enhanced resources it had compared to other localities. As Moscow’s power increased, the power of the Mongolian invaders decreased because they were required to deal with rebellions and disaster across the region. After long, Prince Dmitrii attacked the Kazan Khanate and successfully defeated him. This triggered a series of events that eliminated the Mongolians that held the power in the region. Finally in 1380, Moscow shed its allegiance to the Mongolians, which signified an end to Mongolian control.

Because the Mongolians had exerted control over Russia for nearly 200 years, they had the opportunity to restructure the area and build its culture. As a consequence of their involvement, the Orthodox Church is still considered the major religion of Russia. Interestingly, this religion derived from the need for citizens of the area to cope with the fact that their politics and structure had been removed by this Mongolian conflict. However, the Orthodox religion continues to have a positive influence on Russia today. The religious beliefs introduced by the Mongolians still help Russians have a feeling of comfort and the art produced as a consequence of this religious introduction continues to be admired today. Even though the Mongolians attempted to rule the Russians in a manner that allowed them to retain some degree of autonomy, this is what led to their downfall. Modern Russian politics has learned from this mistake. The various government types enacted by this region leaves no room for weakness, as they fear that this will cause them to fall. From communism to Putin’s modern day implementation, Russia has learned to rule with an iron fist that will allow the country to continue to be strong for many years to come.

In conclusion, the Mongolian invasion of Russia has helped define its culture over the past 800 years. Even though the Mongols only spent 200 years in power, these years brought about significant political, social, and religious changes that permanently shaped the culture and attitude of the region. It is likely that these factors will continue to influence Russia’s interactions with the rest of the world for many years to come. Understanding the Mongolian impact on Russia can help historians understand the reasons for many of the country’s current decisions in addition to helping the remainder of the world gain an understanding of Russian society that will help them understand how to improve political interactions. Ultimately, Russia has changed significantly since the introduction of the Orthodox Church by the Mongolians and it is likely that this will continue to be a defining feature of this society.

References

Crummey, Robert O. (1987). The Formation of Muscovy: 1304 – 1613. New York: LongmanInc.

Dmytryshyn, Basil. (1977). A History of Russia. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Fennell, John. (1983). The Crisis of Medieval Russia: 1200 – 1304. New York: Longman Inc.

Halperin, Charles J. (1982). George Vernadsky, Eurasianism, the Mongols, and Russia. Slavic Review, 41(3): 477-493.

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