Golden Horde

The golden horde (Mongolian: Züchi-iin Ulus) was a Mongol and later Turkic khanate that was established in the 13th century and formed the north-western sector of the Mongol Empire. The khanate is also known as the Kipchak Khanate or as the Ulus of Jochi. The Nogais are descendants from the Golden Horde.

After the death of Batu Khan in 1255, the prosperity of his dynasty lasted for a full century until 1359, though the intrigues of Nogai did invoke a partial civil war in the late 1290s. The Horde's military power peaked during the reign of Uzbeg (1312–41), who adopted islam. The territory of the golden horde at its peak included most of Eastern Europe from the Urals to the right Banks of the Danube River, extending east deep into Siberia. In the south, the golden horde's lands bordered on the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the territories of the Mongol dynasty known as the Ilkhanate.

The khanate had begun to experience violent internal political disorder in 1359, before it was briefly reunited under Tokhtamysh in 1381. However, soon after the 1396 invasion of Tamerlane, it broke into smaller Tatar khanates that declined steadily in power. At the start of the 15th century the Horde began to fall apart. By 1433 it was simply referred to as the Great Horde. On its territories appeared numerous predominantly Turkic-speaking khanates. These internal struggles allowed the northern vassal state of Moscovy to rid itself of the "Tatar Yoke" at the Great stand on the Ugra river in 1480. The remnants of the khanate, known as the Great Horde, persisted until 1502.


The origin of the name golden horde is uncertain. But Yellow (Sarı/Saru) means Center/Central in Old Turkish and Mongolic languages. The term horde is in origin a Mongolic word for the palace, camp or headquarters., or Turkic "orta", which means side, section, tent or direction. In modern Turkish the word "ordu" refers to either army or army base, headquarters. The "golden" may just have been applied by the Slavic tributaries to express the great wealth of the khanate. But it has been suggested that it may also have been due to an actual golden tent used by Batu Khan or by Uzbek Khan. Not until the 16th century did Russian chronicles begin explicitly using Golden Horde to designate this successor khanate of the Mongol Empire. The term golden horde (Russian: Золотая Орда) initially only designated the Ulus of Batu (Russian: Улуса Батыя) centered on Sarai when the terminology first appeared in the History of Kazan in 1565.

In Persian and muslim contemporary sources, the Golden Horde was referred to as the "Ulus of Jochi", "Dahst-i-Qifchaq" (Qipchaq Steppe) or Khanate of the Qipchaq. The khanate was called the Ulus of Jochi ('realm of Jochi' in Mongolian) in the records of the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries such as the Yuanshi and the Jami' al-tawarikh.

Its left wing or "left hand" (in official Mongolian-sponsored Persian sources) was called Blue Horde in Russian chronicles but White Horde in Timurid sources (e.g. Zafar-Nameh). While western scholars favored the second to designate the left wing, the use of Blue Horde by Ötemish Hajji (fl.1550), a historian of Khwarezm familiar with oral traditions of the khanate, indicates the Russian usage is correct. Batu's house held control over the ulus and was seated in Sarai, constituting the right wing or White Horde. The designations, Golden Horde, Blue Horde, and White Horde are not encountered in the sources of the Mongol-period.

Mongol origins (1225–1241)

At his death, Genghis Khan divided the Mongol Empire amongst his four sons as appanages but the Empire remained united under the supreme khan. Jochi was the eldest, but he died six months before Genghis. The westernmost lands occupied by the Mongols, which included southern Russia and Kazakhstan, were given to Jochi's eldest sons: Batu, who eventually became the ruler of the Blue Horde; and Orda, who became the leader of the White Horde. In 1235, Batu with the great general Subedei began an invasion westwards, first conquering the Bashkirs and then moving on to Volga Bulgaria in 1236. From here, in 1237, he conquered some of the southern steppes of the Ukraine, forcing the local Cumans to retreat westward.

The military campaign against Kypchaks and Cumans started under Jochi and Subedei in 1216–8 when the Merkits took shelter among them. By 1239 most of the Cumans were driven out of the peninsula and Crimea became one of the appanages of the Mongol Empire. The remnants of the Crimean Cumans survived in the Crimean mountains while most of the peninsula was resettled by the invading Mongols. Moving north, Batu began the Mongol invasion of Rus' and for three years subjugated the principalities of former Kievan Rus', whilst his cousins Möngke, Kadan and Guyuk moved southwards into Alania.

Using the migration of the Cumans as his casus belli, the Mongols continued west, raiding Poland and Hungary and culminating in the battles of Legnica and Muhi. In 1241, however, the Ögedei Khan died in Mongolia homeland. Batu turned back from his siege of Vienna to take part in disputing the succession. The Mongol armies would never again travel so far west. In 1242, after retreating through Hungary (destroying Pest in the process), and subjugating Bulgaria, Batu established his capital at Sarai, commanding the lower stretch of the Volga River, on the site of the Khazarian capital of Atil. Shortly before that, Batu and Orda's younger brother Shiban was given his own enormous ulus east of the Ural Mountains along the Ob and Irtysh Rivers.

While there can be no doubt that in the mid-13th century at the court of Batu the Mongolian language was in general use, few Mongol texts written in the territory of the Golden Horde have survived, perhaps because of the prevalent general illiteracy. According to Grigor'ev, yarliq or decrees of the Khans were written in Mongol, then translated into the Cuman language. The existence of Arabic-Mongol and Persian-Mongol dictionaries dating from the middle of the 14th century and prepared for the use of the Mamluks in Egypt suggests that there was a practical need for such works in the chancelleries handling correspondence with the Golden Horde. It is thus reasonable to conclude that letters received by the Mamluks – if not also written by them – must have been in Mongol.

Indeed, the linguistic and even socio-linguistic impacts were great, as the Russians borrowed thousands of words, phrases and other significant linguistic features from the Mongol and the Turkic languages that were united under the Mongol Empire.

Golden Age

Early rulers under the Great Khans (1241–1259)

Batu declined to attend a kurultai, thus delaying the succession for several years when the Great Khatun Toregene invited him to elect the next Emperor of the Mongol Empire in 1242. Although Batu stated he was suffering from old age and illness and politely refused the invitation, it seems that he did not support the election of Guyuk Khan because Güyük and Büri, grandson of Chagatai Khan, had quarreled violently with Batu at a victory banquet during the Mongol occupation of Eastern Europe. Finally, he sent his brothers to the kurultai, and the new Emperor of the Mongols was elected in 1246. All the senior Rus' princes, including Yaroslav II of Vladimir, Danylo of Halych, Vladimir Constantine, Boris, Gleb, Vasili, Constatantine, Vladimir Constantinovich, Vassilko and Sviatoslav Vsevolodovich of Vladimir, acknowledged Batu's supremacy. However, the Mongol court exterminated some anti-Mongol princes such as Michael of Chernigov who had killed a Mongol envoy (1240).

After a short period of time, Guyuk called Batu to pay him homage several times. The latter sent Andrey and Alexander Nevsky to Karakorum in Mongolia in 1247 after their father's death. Guyuk appointed Andrey Grand prince of Vladimir-Suzdal and Alexander prince of Kiev. In 1248, he demanded Batu come eastward to meet him, a move that some contemporaries regarded as a pretext for Batu's arrest. In compliance with the order, Batu approached bringing a large army. When Güyük moved westwards, Tolui's widow and a sister of Batu's stepmother Sorghaghtani warned Batu that the Jochids might be his target.

Güyük died on the way, in what is now Xinjiang ; he had succumbed at about the age of forty-two to the combined effects of alcoholism and gout, although he may have been poisoned. But some modern historians believe that he died of natural causes because of deteriorating health. According to William of Rubruck and a muslim chronicle, Batu killed the imperial envoy and one of his brothers murdered the Great Khan Guyuk. But those claims are not completely corroborated by other major sources. Guyuk's widow Oghul Qaimish took over as regent, but she would be unable to keep the succession within her branch of the family.

With the assistance of the Golden Horde, Möngke succeeded as Great Khan in 1251. Utilizing the discovery of a plot designed to remove Mongke, the new Great Khan began a purge of his opponents. Estimates of the deaths of aristocrats, officials and Mongol commanders range from 77–300. Batu became the most influential person after the Khagan and Möngke's friendliness with Batu ensured the unity of the empire. Batu, Mongke and other princely lines shared rule over the area from Afghanistan to Turkey.

Batu allowed Mongke's census takers to operate freely in his realm, though his prestige as kingmaker and elder Borjigin was at its height. In 1252–1259, Möngke conducted a census of the Mongol Empire including Iran, Afghanistan, Georgia, Armenia, Russia, Central Asia and North China. While that of China was completed in 1252, Novgorod in the far northwest was not counted until winter 1258–9. There was an uprising in Novgorod against the Mongol census, but Alexander Nevsky forced the city to submit to the census and taxation.

The Grand prince Andrey II gave umbrage to the Mongols. Batu sent a punitive expedition under Nevruy. On their approach, Andrey fled to Pskov, and thence to Sweden. The Mongols overran Vladimir and harshly punished the principality. The Livonian Knights stopped their advance to Novgorod and Pskov. Thanks to his friendship with Sartaq, Alexander was installed as the Grand Prince of Vladimir (i.e., the supreme Russian ruler) by Batu in 1252. In 1256 Andrey traveled to Sarai to ask pardon for his former infidelity and was shown mercy.

Mongke ordered the Jochid and Chagatayid families to join Hulegu's expedition to Iran. Berke's persuasion might have forced his brother Batu to postpone Hulegu's operation, little suspecting that it would result in eliminating the Jochid predominance there for several years. During the reign of Batu or his first two successors, the Golden Horde dispatched a large Jochid delegation to participate in Hulegu's expedition in the Middle East in 1256/57.

After Batu died in 1256, his son Sartaq was appointed by Mongke. As soon as he returned from the court of the Great Khan in Mongolia, Sartaq died. After a brief reign of an infant Ulaghchi under the regency of Boragchin Khatun, Batu's younger brother Berke was enthroned as khan of the Jochids in 1257.

In 1257, Danylo repelled Mongol assaults led by the prince Kuremsa on Ponyzia and Volhynia and dispatched an expedition with the aim of taking Kiev. Despite initial successes, in 1259, a Mongol force under Boroldai entered Galicia and Volhynia and offered an ultimatum: Danylo was to destroy his fortifications or Boroldai would assault the towns. Danylo complied and pulled down the city walls. In 1259 Berke launched savage attacks on Lithuania and Poland, and demanded the submission of Bela IV, the Hungarian monarch, and the French King Louis IX in 1259 and 1260. His assault on Prussia in 1259/60 inflicted heavy losses on the Teutonic Order. The Lithuanians were probably tributary in the 1260s, when reports reached the Curia that they were in league with the Mongols.

Civil war of the Mongols (1260–1280)

After Möngke Khan died in 1259, a war of succession between Kublai Khan and Ariq Böke began. While Hulegu supported Kublai, Berke threw his allegiance to Ariq Böke. He also minted coins in Ariq Böke's name. Berke was at first neutral in the struggle between Kublai and Ariq Böke, but after the defeat of the latter, freely acceded to Kublai's enthronement. However, some elites of the White Horde joined Ariq Böke's resistance.

One of the Jochid princes who joined Hulegu's army was accused of witchcraft and sorcery against Hulegu. After receiving permission from Berke, Hulegu executed him. After that two more Jochid princes died suspiciously. According to some muslim sources, Hulegu refused to share his war booty with Berke in accordance with Genghis Khan's wish. Berke was a devoted muslim who had close relationship with the Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta'sim who was killed by Hulegu in 1258. The Jochids believed that Hulegu's state eliminated their presence in the Transcaucasus. Those events increased the anger of Berke and the war between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate soon broke out in 1262.

In 1262 a rebellion erupted in Suzdal, killing Mongol darughachis and tax-collectors. Only after Alexander Nevsky begged Berke not to punish the Russian people and the Vladimir-Suzdal cities agreed to send large sum of payments, did the Golden Horde abort its punitive expedition.

The increasing tension between Berke and Hulegu was a warning to the contingents belonging to the Golden Horde which had marched with Hulegu that they had better escape. One section reached the Kipchak Steppe, another traversed Khorasan and a third body took refuge in Mamluk ruled Syria where they were well received by Sultan Baybars (1260–77). Hulegu harshly punished the rest of the Golden Horde army in Iran. Berke sought a joint attack with Baybars and forged an alliance with the Mamluks against Hulegu. The Golden Horde dispatched Nogai to invade the Ilkhanate but Hulegu forced him back in 1262. The Ilkhanids then crossed the Terek River, capturing an empty Jochid encampment, only to be routed in a surprise attack by Nogai's forces. Many of them were drowned as the ice broke on the frozen Terek River.

When the former Seljuk Sultan Kaykaus II was arrested in the Byzantine Empire, his younger brother Kayqubad II appealed to Berke. An Egyptian envoy was also detained there. With the assistance of the Kingdom of Bulgaria (Berke's vassal) Nogai invaded the Empire in 1264 and released Kaykaus and his men. Berke gave Kaykaus appanage in Crimea and had him marry a Mongol woman. Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos signed a peace treaty with Berke Khan and was obliged to send tributes, and he married one of his daughters, Euphrosyne Palaiologina, to Nogai.

Ariq Böke had earlier placed Chagatai's grandson Alghu in charge of Central Asia. He took control of Samarkand and Bukhara. When the muslim elites and the Jochid retainers in Bukhara declared their loyalty to Berke, Alghu smashed the Golden Horde appanages in Khorazm. The Chagatayid Khan Alghu insisted Hulegu attack Berke's realm because he accused Berke of purging of his family in 1252. In Bukhara, he and Hulegu slaughtered all the retainers of the Golden Horde and reduced their families into slavery, leaving only the Great Khan Kublai's men alive. After he threw his allegiance to Kublai, Alghu then declared war on Berke Khan, seizing Otrar and Khorazm. Whilst the left bank of Khorazm would eventually be retaken, Berke had lost control over Transoxiana. In 1264 Berke marched to cross near Tiflis to fight against Hulegu's successor Abagha, but he died en route.

Batu's grandson Mengu-Timur was nominated by Kublai and succeeded his uncle Berke. However, Mengu-Timur secretly supported the Ogedeid prince Kaidu against Kublai and the Ilkhanate. After the defeat of Baraq (Chagatai Khan), a peace treaty was made among Mengu-Timur, Kaidu and him in c.1267. One-third of Transoxiana was granted to Kaidu and Mengu-Timur according to this peace treaty. In 1268, when a group of princes operating in Central Asia on Kublai's behalf mutinied and arrested two sons of the Qaghan (Great Khan), they sent them to Mengu-Timur. One of them, Nomoghan, favorite of Kublai, was located in the Crimea. Mengu-Timur might have struggled with Hulegu's successor Abagha for a brief period of time, but the Great Khan Kublai forced them to sign a peace treaty.

He was allowed to take his share in Persia. Independently from the Khan, Nogai expressed his desire to ally with Baybars in 1271. Despite the fact that he was proposing a joint attack on Iran with the Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo), Mengu-Timur congratulated Abagha when Baraq was defeated by the Ilkhan in 1270.

In 1267, Mengu-Timur issued a diploma – jarliq – to exempt Rus' clergy from any taxation and gave to the Genoese and Venice exclusive rights to hold Caffa and Azov. Some of Mengu-Timur's relatives converted to Christianity at the same time and settled among the Rus' people. Even though Nogai invaded the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire in 1271, the Khan sent his envoys to maintain friendly relationship with Michael VIII Palaiologos. He ordered the Grand prince of Rus to allow German merchants free travel through his lands. This gramota says:

"Mengu-Timur's word to Prince Yaroslav: give the German merchants way into your lands. From Prince Yaroslav to the people of Riga, to the great and the young, and to all: your way is clear through my lands; and who comes to fight, with them I do as I know; but for the merchant the way is clear."

This decree also allowed Novgorod's merchants travel throughout the Suzdal lands without restraint. Mengu-Timur was good as his words, when the Danes and the Livonian Knights attacked the north-western lands of the Rus in 1269, the Khan's great basqaq (darugachi), Amraghan, and many Mongols assisted the Russian army assembled by the Grand duke Yaroslav. The Germans and the Danes were so cowed that they sent gifts to the Mongols and abandoned the region of Narva. The Mongol Khan's authority extended to all Russian principalities and, in 1274–5, the census took place in all Rus' cities including Smolensk and Vitebsk

Dual khanship (1281–1299)

Mengu-Timur was succeeded in 1281 by his brother Töde Möngke, who was a muslim. He made his peace with Kublai, returned his sons to him, and acknowledged his supremacy. Nogai and Köchü, Khan of the White Horde and son of Orda Khan, also made peace with the yuan dynasty and the Ilkhanate. According to Mamluk historians, Töde Möngke sent the Mamluks a letter proposing to fight against their common enemy the unbelieving Ilkhanate. This indicates that he might have had an interest in Azerbaijan and Georgia both of which were ruled by the Ilkhans.

At the same time, the influence of Nogai greatly increased in the Golden Horde. Backed by him, some of Rus' princes, such as Dmitry of Pereslavl, refused to come to the court of the Khan in Sarai while Dmitry's brother Andrey of Gorodets sought assistance from Töde Möngke.

Nogai savagely raided Bulgaria and Lithuania in the 1270s. He blockaded Michael Asen II inside Drăstăr in 1279, executed the rebel emperor Ivailo in 1280, and forced George Terter I to seek refuge in the Byzantine Empire in 1292. In 1284 Saqchi came under the Mongol rule during the major invasion of Bulgaria and coins were struck in the Khan's name. Smilec became emperor of Bulgaria according to the wishes of Nogai Khan who helped his allies the Byzantines. Accordingly, the reign of Smilec has been considered the height of Mongol over-lordship in Bulgaria. Nogai compelled Stephen Uroš II Milutin of Serbia to accept the Mongol supremacy, and received his son, Dečanski, as hostage in 1287. Under his rule, the Vlachs, the Slavs and the Alans and the Turco-Mongols lived in what is modern day Moldavia.

After their failed but devastating invasion of Hungary in 1285, Nogai, Talabuga and other noyans overthrew Töde Möngke because he was not an active Khan who was surrounded by clerics and sheikhs. Talabuga was elected as Khan and Töde Möngke was left to live in peace. In addition to his attack on Poland in 1287, Talabuga's army made unsuccessful attempts to invade the Ilkhanate in 1288 and 1290.

Nogai vowed to support Dmitry in his struggle for the grand ducal throne. On hearing about this, Andrey renounced his claims to Vladimir and Novgorod and returned to Gorodets. In 1285 Andrey again led a Mongol army under the Borjigin prince to Russia, however, Dmitry expelled them. Under Nogai, the western part of the Horde and its vassals became de facto independent. During the punitive expedition against the Circassians, the Khan's suspicion of Nogai increased. When Talabuga challenged Nogai, who had established a de facto independent ulus (district) in the westernmost part of the Horde, Nogai organized a coup, and replaced him with Toqta in 1291.

Simultaneous with Dmitry's action, Mikhail Yaroslavich was summoned to appear before Nogai who was called Khan at the time instead of the legitimate Khan, Toqta, in Sarai, and Daniel of Moscow declined to come to Sarai. In 1293 Toqta sent a punitive expedition led by his brother, Tudaun (Dyeden in Russian chronicles), to Russia and Belarus to punish those stubborn subjects. The latter sacked fourteen major cities, finally forcing Dmitry to abdicate.

When the Bulgarian czar was expelled by a local boyar c.1295, the Mongols launched another invasion of Bulgaria to protect their protege.

Nogai's daughter married a son of Kublai's niece, Kelmish, who was wife of a Qongirat general of the Golden Horde. Nogai was angry with Kelmish's family when her Buddhist son despised his muslim daughter. For this reason, he demanded Toqta send Kelmish's husband to him. Before that, Nogai's independent actions related to Rus' princes and foreign merchants had already annoyed the Khan. The Khan refused and declared war on Nogai. Toqta was defeated at the first battle between them. When the legitimate Khan Toqta tried for a second time, Nogai was killed in battle in 1299 at the Kagamlik, near the Dnieper. Toqta had his son stationed in Saqchi and along the Danube as far as the Iron Gate. Nogai's son Chaka who had briefly made himself Emperor of Bulgaria was murdered by Theodore Svetoslav on the orders of Toqta.

After Mengu-Timur had passed away, rulers of the Golden Horde withdrew their support from Kaidu, the head of the House of Ogedei. Kaidu tried to restore his influence in the Golden Horde by sponsoring his own candidate Kobeleg against Bayan (r. 1299–1304), Khan of the White Horde. After taking military support from Toqta, Bayan asked help from the Great Khan and the Ilkhanate to organize a unified attack on the Mongol Khanates of Kaidu and his number two Duwa. However, the Yuan court was unable to send quick military support.

General peace (1299–1312)

From 1300 to 1303 a very severe drought occurred in the areas surrounding the Black Sea. Toqta allowed the remnants of Nogai's followers to live in his lands. He demanded that the Ilkhan Ghazan and his successor Oljeitu give Azerbaijan back but was refused. Then he sought assistance from Egypt against the Ilkhanate. And Toqta made his man ruler in Ghazna, but he was expelled by its people. But thanks to Toqta's peace mission dispatched to the Ilkhan Gaykhatu earlier in 1294, the period of peace inaugurated was to last mostly uninterruptedly, until 1318.

In 1304 ambassadors from Mongol rulers of Central Asia and the Yuan announced to Toqta their general peace proposal. Toqta immediately accepted Yuan emperor Temür Öljeytü's supremacy and all yams (postal relays) and commercial networks across the Mongol khanates reopened. Toqta introduced the general peace among the Mongol khanates to Rus' princes at the assembly in Pereyaslavl. The Yuan influence seemed to have increased in Golden Horde as some of Toqta's coins carried 'Phags-pa script in addition to Mongolian script and Persian characters.

The Khan arrested the Italian residents of Sarai, and besieged Caffa in 1307. The cause was apparently Toqta's displeasure at the Genoese trade in his subjects who were mostly sold for soldiers to Egypt. The Genoese resisted for a year, but in 1308 set fire to their city and abandoned it. Relations between the Italians and the Golden Horde remained tense until Toqta's death.

The Khan was married to Mary, illegitimate daughter of the Byzantine Emperor, securing the Byzantine-Mongol alliance after the defeat of Nogai. A report reached Western Europe that Toqta was highly favourable to the Christians. According to muslim observers, however, Toqta remained an idol-worshiper (Buddhism and Tengerism) and showed favour to religious men of all faiths, though he preferred muslims.

During the late reign of Toqta, tensions between princes of Tver and Moscow became violent. Toqta might have considered eliminating the special status of the Grand principality of Vladimir, placing all the Rus princes on the same level. Toqta decided to personally visit northern Russia, however he died while crossing the Volga in 1313.


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