The Islamic World to 1600
As a much more powerful and influential Khanate than the Chagatai, the Golden Horde is one of the better known of the Mongol empires, particularly because of its effect on modern Russian history. For the purposes of this tutorial, however, the Golden Horde is significant not because of its ties to Russia, but to the Islamic world. This empire, like the Chagatai, was a product of the division of power that followed the death of Genghis Khan in 1227, when several of his relatives inherited their own regions to rule. Great Khan Ogodei, Genghis Khan's son, ordered the invasion of Russia in 1236, which was led by Ogodei's nephew, Batu. Russia at this time was not a unified state, but rather a collection of principalities known as Rus.
Between 1236 and 1240, Batu led the invading Mongols through a series of attacks on Russian cities, including Moscow and Kiev. By 1241 the Mongols had reached Poland and Hungary, and they were planning an attack on Croatia when Batu received word that Great Khan Ogodei had died back in Mongolia. Batu immediately withdrew his army from Europe and retreated to the steppe region north of the Black Sea, the home of the Islamic Volga Bulgars. Batu supported his cousin, Mongke, in the struggle for the position of Great Khan against several challengers, and after ten years, Mongke finally prevailed in 1251. Batu was rewarded by the Great Khan for his support during the succession struggle, and his empire enjoyed Mongke's patronage for the duration of his reign. Batu built a capital, Sarai, on the Volga River, and he named his empire the Golden Horde. The word "horde" is derived from the Turkic-Mongol word, ordu, meaning "encampment." The Golden Horde became one of the most powerful of Genghis Khan's successor states.
Batu was a shamanist, like most Mongols at this time, which meant that he acknowledged the existence of one God, but he also viewed the sun, moon, earth, and water as higher beings. Islam would not influence the Golden Horde's rulers until after Batu's death in 1255. After the brief reigns of two of Batu's sons, the Khanate passed to his brother, Berke, who took power in 1258. Berke was the first Muslim ruler of the Golden Horde, and although he was unable to establish Islam as the Khanate's official religion, his faith caused a serious rift to develop between him and his cousin, Hulegu, the Mongol ruler of the Il-Khanate in Persia. As we will see later in this chapter, Hulegu's army was responsible for the collapse of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, and the murder of the caliph himself. For Hulegu, who was a shamanist with Buddhist sympathies, the sacking of Baghdad was just another military conquest, but the Muslim Berke, watching from Sarai, was appalled. The resulting animosity between the two leaders led to several wars, the first to pit Mongol armies against each other.
In addition to their religious differences, Berke and Hulegu fought over control of the Caucasus Mountains, over which both leaders claimed jurisdiction. So intense was the rivalry that Berke reportedly ordered the troops he had loaned to Hulegu's army years earlier to defect to the Egyptian Mamluk army following the sack of Baghdad. The Mamluks then won a decisive victory over Hulegu in 1260. Additionally, Berke concluded a peace treaty with the Mamluks in 1261, in order for the two groups to ally themselves against Hulegu. It was the first alliance between a Mongol and non-Mongol state in which both parties were equal.
Also around 1260, Berke removed the Great Khan Kublai's name from the Golden Horde's coins. Kublai, Mongke's brother, had succeeded as Great Khan that year, after a lengthy struggle with another brother, Arik-Boke. Hulegu had supported Kublai's claim, while Berke supported Arik-Boke. Kublai's victory pushed Berke and his Islamic faith further into isolation from his Mongol brethren. Removing Kublai's name from the Golden Horde's coins was the ultimate repudiation of allegiance to the Great Khan.
Berke died in 1267, only a year after Hulegu, and the feud between the Golden Horde and the Il-Khans died down. Berke's immediate successors were not Muslim, and thus they were not as hostile to Hulegu's successors, who also were not Muslim. Still, the Golden Horde retained its isolation from the other Mongol Khanates, and the cultural, linguistic, and religious influence of its mostly Muslim Turkish population increasingly affected the Golden Horde's Mongol leaders. By the end of the 13th century, Turkish had virtually replaced Mongol as the language of administration, and in 1313, with the ascension of a Muslim, Ozbeg, to the Khanate, Islam became the official religion of the Golden Horde.
By assimilating into the Islamic Turkish culture of the south, rather than the Christian Russian culture of the north, the Golden Horde set itself up for its eventual collapse at the hands of the increasingly powerful Russian principalities. While the Golden Horde lasted longer than many other Khanates, by the mid-14th century it began to fall apart. The increasingly powerful territories of Moscow and Lithuania began absorbing pieces of the disintegrating Golden Horde, while the invasion of Timur's army in the late 14th century added to the destruction. By the mid-15th century, separate Khanates were established in Kazan, Astrakhan, and the Crimea. The Russian tsar, Ivan the Terrible, annexed Kazan and Astrakhan in 1552 and 1554, while Crimea survived under the protection of the Ottoman Empire until 1783, when Catherine the Great annexed it to the Russian Empire. The Islamic Tatars of the Golden Horde, as Europeans have historically called the Mongols, survive today in small population groups, primarily in southern Russia.
|Proceed to The Il-Khanate|