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In the BBC radio 4 series The Wild East, the history of Russia after the Mongolian occupation is described as if all the bad things happened subsequently had been caused by the legacy of that era. Isn't there any positive legacy of the Mongolian occupation in Russia?

For example, didn't the newly opened up trade route to the east benefit the economy of Russia? Wasn't the cultural influence from the east one of the appeals of the Russian music to the West European audiences in the early 20th century?

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    More Mongolians, which I guess is a benefit if you like Mongolians. Nov 11, 2014 at 22:27
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    It took me a minute to see that you wrote "Mongol occupation of Russia," referring to the Genghis Khan times, instead of "Russian occupation of Mongolia" in the early 1900's. Jul 28, 2016 at 1:02
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    Those trade routes existed with or without Mongol control - wars and slaughter didn't made them more appealing or useful.
    – Greg
    Jul 28, 2016 at 6:04
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    Welcome to History:SE. Could you edit your question to clarify what you've looked into already, complete with links and references, and context if applicable? In particular, please let us know what you find missing or unclear about the Wikipedia entry on the topic, if one exists. This allows those who might want to answer to do so without needing to redo the work you've already done. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. Also please address the subjective nature of "better".
    – MCW
    Oct 31, 2019 at 8:12
  • I am surprised to see this question upvoted so much. Since when does History give subjective judgements about positive or negative legacies of whatever event ?
    – Evargalo
    May 26, 2023 at 12:38

5 Answers 5

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Interesting question and highly creative conjectures but ultimately the answer is no. The trade routes didn't play much of a role: Russian trade remained oriented on Western Europe; as for the great Russian music, it was the product of the 19-20th centuries and followed and developed, once again, Western patterns.

So, to sum up: I can't think of any positive influence the Mongol overlordship had (it's a more accurate term then occupation, in this context). The negative legacies are legion.

EDIT: I was asked to provide references. Right now on the fly I found this chapter (in Russian) from a recent (2001) book called "Ten centuries of Russian mentality". I'll quote a bit in the original:

Татарское владычество наложило свою печать на характер русских князей: сознание постоянной опасности довело до высшей степени свойственные им недоверчивость и осторожность. Резко изменился и образ их жизни. С появлением татар князья и их окружение стали запирать своих жен в теремах, прятать свои сокровища в церквах и монастырях. Н. Карамзин писал об этом периоде: «Забыв гордость народную, мы выучились низким хитростям рабства, заменяющим силу в слабых; обманывая татар, более обманывали и друг друга; откупаясь деньгами от насилия варваров, стали корыстолюбивее и бесчувственнее к обидам, к стыду, подверженные наглостям иноплеменных тиранов. От времен Василия Ярославича до Иоанна Калиты (период самый несчастнейший!) Отечество наше походило более на темный лес, нежели на государство: сила казалась правом; кто мог, грабил; не только чужие, но и свои; не было безопасности ни в пути, ни дома; татьбы сделались общею язвою собственности»13. Ему вторил А. Герцен, писавший позднее: «У преследуемого, разоренного, всегда запуганного народа появились черты хитрости и угодливости, присущие всем угнетенным: общество пало духом » 14.

For lack of time I'll have to make do with a slightly-edited Google Translate translation:

Tatar domination has left its mark on the character of the Russian princes: consciousness constant danger brought to the highest degree the inherent distrust and caution. Dramatically changed their way of life. With the Tatar princes and their entourage were locked in a mansion of their wives, hide their treasures in churches and monasteries. Karamzin wrote about this period: "Forgetting the people's pride, we learned the low cunning of slavery, which substitutes for force in the weak, deceiving the Tatars, a cheat, and each other, buying off the the violence of the barbarians, became greedy and insensitive to insults and the shame, exposed to the rapacity of foreign tyrants. From the time of Basil Yaroslavich until John Kalita (during the most miserable!) our motherland was more like a dark forest, rather than a state: might was right, and who could, robbed, not only strangers, but also his own people, there was no security neither on road nor in home; seizure of property became a common plague" He was seconded by Alexander Herzen, who wrote later: "The persecuted, ruined, always frightened people acquire the features of cunning and obsequiousness, common to all the oppressed: the society has fallen in spirit".

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    Which is kind of strange and unfortunate, given that Mongols had in abundance the incredible ideas they could have taught Russians which were centuries ahead of their times and completely lacking in Russian culture even now (religious tolerance, meritocracy, low-level military tactical initiative).
    – DVK
    Jan 22, 2013 at 15:20
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    @DVK: Indeed! I've never thought of it this way. Do you know, btw, that Vyacheslav Rybakov has a whole series of alternate history books based on the premise of Russia and the Golden Horde merging too form one state - very strong but also humane? I had read one of them and it's a decent literary game but until now I've always scoffed at the basic premise. Now you got me thinking there might be something in it... Jan 22, 2013 at 15:47
  • Never read "Holm van Zaichik" stuff but read good reviews
    – DVK
    Jan 22, 2013 at 16:35
  • @Bryce: What I wrote is one of the two more or less commonplace thinking in Russia about the Mongolian-domination period. (The other variety of approaches is exemplified here by exebook's answer which you downvoted - of all things :) - for lack of capitalization). Nevertheless, mea culpa about lack of references. I'll edit now to add some. Feb 9, 2013 at 12:07
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    The quote you included reproduces opinions of Karamzin and Herzen, who were in the zapadniki ("pro-Western") camp of Russian historians on 19th century. They emphasized the negative sides of non-European influence in Russian history. There are less biased opinions on the subject.
    – vpekar
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:58
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The biggest positive effect that the Mongols had was the unification of Russia into a more or less centralised state under a single ruler. Russia had long been divided in city-states with varying degrees of political association and cooperation. The Mongols broke the power of most of these city-states. With the big powers such as Kiev and Vladimir taken out, smaller cities such as Moscow managed to prosper.

The city of Vladimir never recovered as well as Moscow did from the blow it had been dealt, and eventually it was eclipsed by Moscow in importance. Especially when Moscow became the religious capital of Russia. Vladimir had been the seat of the metropolitan of Kiev (the religious leader of Kievan Rus'), but in 1325 this seat was moved to Moscow.

Moscow prospered even more after the khan started to directly support its domination of Russian lands in an effort to counter the rising power and influence of Lithuania. Eventually Moscow grew powerful enough to defeat the Mongols and unite most of the cities of Russia in a single state. That is probably the only real positive effect the Mongols had on Russia.

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    +1, but one can also mention the positive points from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…: postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization.
    – vpekar
    Mar 4, 2017 at 19:35
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    @vpekar - See my answer on the ambiguity of such indirect "positive" results. Hungary built bigger castles, all eastern Europe learned better use of bow and light cavalry, Romanians (volens-nolens) became experts of scorched earth strategy (and some "points" inherited from Mongols and Turks became a local specialty, like Vlad Tepes-Dracula's impalement proclivity), but that is like saying that a virus that doesn't kill you gives you immunity. In Muscovy's case this went much farther.
    – cipricus
    May 26, 2023 at 11:04
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    What this answer says in fact is that the Mongol rule had an incredibly positive effect on the destiny of one (or two) of the 'Rus principalities, namely Muscovy + Vladimir-Suzdal. Under Mongol tutelage, it incorporated the rest of the vassal states and ended up replacing the Mongol empire and calling itself "Russia" while developing an extreme form of repressive autocracy closer to the Mongol even more than to the Byzantine model, and in stark contrast to those of other 'Rus descendants, like the Novgorod republic or the Zaporozhian Sich.
    – cipricus
    May 26, 2023 at 13:34
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    That the Mongols played a decisive role in the outcome of 'Rus is clear, but how is that a happy development is less so.
    – cipricus
    May 26, 2023 at 13:39
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I would recommend reading Lev Gumilëv works if you'd like to look onto positive sides of Mongol (or Tartar-Mongol) occupation, starting with this assay (1)[in Russian] and its main source (2). One of his points is that Mongols were allies in fight against Teuton and Livonian orders.

As to neutral impact, one should first of all look at the numerous loanwords from Turkic languages, such as e.g. 'Kreml'

1) Луков Д. Особенности позиции Л.Н. Гумилева по проблеме Русь и татаро-монголы. Томский Политехнический Университет

2) Гумилёв Л.Н. От Руси к России. - М.: Прогресс.

Also Karamzin, who was mentioned above, is of Turkic origin (name coming from Turkic 'Kara Murza', Black Prince).

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    And in what sense does the struggle against the Teuton and Livonian orders constitute a positive legacy? Dec 19, 2016 at 14:19
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    As the Mongols were allies, their participation is interpretet as positive. Dec 19, 2016 at 19:33
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    @FelixGoldberg Teuton and Livonian orders were invaders intent on colonizing territories and converting population to a different religion. Tataro-Mongols didn't do any of that. In this sense, the defence against Teutons was a positive legacy.
    – vpekar
    Mar 4, 2017 at 18:50
  • As the Mongols were allies - but were they allies or rather suzerains? If "allies", they were also allies of Muscovy against the other 'Rus principalities. From the retrospective view of future Russian empire as successor of the Mongol one that may be construed as a positive Mongol contribution. But only within an imperialist narrative that sees Russian empire not just as a positive outcome but also as a finalist cause. Saying that the Russian princes chose to fight the Livonian knights rather than the Mongols is obviously false. They fought the Mongols as soon as they "had a choice".
    – cipricus
    May 26, 2023 at 12:48
  • @vpekar - That's like saying that Russian occupation of Poland was a way of protecting the Poles from Germans, or that the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans shielded them from Catholic conversion. Obviously that's a distorting interpretation. - Also, I very much doubt (and I think it is revolting to suggest) that medieval eastern Slavs preferred to be captured, enslaved and sold like cattle on Crimean slave markets rather than be ruled by Catholics! A such suggestion only tries to accommodate the fact that subsequent tsarist rule was more similar to the "Tartar" than to the "Livonian".
    – cipricus
    May 26, 2023 at 13:18
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This kind of question involves rather subjective and relative terms, like positive and negative legacies, which are bound to trigger a "yes and no" answer.

Not only these terms are relative in themselves, they are also relative to the historical actors — meaning "adversaries".

There is the famous Monty Python's "Life of Bryan" moment What have the Romans ever done for us? where this problem is perfectly illustrated. The Romans are seen as the empire that by definition, the easy or the hard way, is supposed to have always brought civilization, (although the Pythons are overdoing it by suggesting the Romans had brought wine to the Middle East!). — In the end, anyway, the Romans all but demolished Jerusalem, evaporated any remnants of Jewish polity and reduced the Jews to a diaspora for a millennium and a half. (And if the Jews survived as a culture, a language and as a people it was not because of anything the Romans had brought, but because of the things the Israelite had themselves invented and inherited from the much older civilizations closer to them.)

The civilizing impact of the Roman conquest is what the European colonialists always assumed of themselves, of course. Within that picture the anti-model were the invading peoples, from the Huns to the Mongols. That perspective can and must be relativized, even if only up to a point.

It is thus not unfair to look for a "positive Mongol legacy" (although it sounds like a refurbishment of the Python sketch).

The immediate problem with such a legacy is that, once envisioned, it's too easy to find! — in the Nietzschean form of "what doesn't kill me makes me strong". Of course an invading and destructive attacker is bound to trigger some residual "positive" response from a surviving victim and to bring forward and encourage some potential. It's a Darwinian scenario where the surviving animal has at least confirmed as "positive" those few assets it has which allowed it to keep breathing, albeit mauled and bloody.

For example, the Mongol pressure had as a positive effect on the Hungarian kingdom the development of more and bigger fortified castles, and up to a point it might have contributed to the strengthening of the royal power (hence of the state) against the nobles (although that power remained shaky). In all Eastern Europe it is the Mongols that triggered the special development of the mounted archery and light cavalry - which ended up as the Hungarian Hussars and Polish Uhlans as a response and as a borrowing from the steppe cavalry. (Wallachian and Moldavian armies favored the bow and the light cavalry Mongol-style, and that might have contributed to their initial successes against the Ottoman, especially that volens-nolens they had became experts of scorched-earth strategy - while some "points" inherited from Mongols and Turks became a local specialty, like in the case of the impalement proclivity and overall politics of Vlad Țepes-Dracula, who Ivan the Terrible might have emulated, according to some; see this; same idea here and here).

But there are also more direct and less ironic "positive results" brought by the Mongols, and they can be described as increasing in significance on a scale at the top of which we can situate Russia-proper, that is Muscovy, although the relativity and the contradictory aspects of those positive things cannot be eliminated.

On the lowest part of the scale we can put such effects as those mentioned above: Mongol pressure indirectly triggered military development (of fortifications and cavalry) and the centralization of some states.

This effect of centralization represents a still indirect result, but more explicitly positive, when it leads to the development and independence of some states as a result of a change brought by the Mongols to the regional balance of power. — Muscovy fits this model more than others. Wallachia possibly owes its initial independence from both Bulgarian tsardom and the Hungarian kingdom to the new balance of power brought by the Golden Horde (Crimean Tartars). Moldavia, created as a Hungarian buffer against the Mongols was able to secure its relative independence under a similar logic. The Cossack Hetmanate developed also as a buffer state between stronger powers, on the same trends and in the same region.

But, more to the north, what happened to Muscovy goes much farther in that direction. Initially it acted as the main instrument in the Mongol domination in the area, then became the strongest Mongol vassal and started absorbing the other principalities of the north under the Mongol tutelage. After a while though, it not only became independent from the Mongols, but destroyed much of their power and in the end became the geopolitical successor of the great Mongol empire, between Poland and Japan.

That is the main direct heritage that the Russian empire received from the Mongol one: a very specific Eurasian geopolitical position, which comes with very specific constraints and opportunities. Whether that counts as a "positive" asset cannot be decided in absolute terms, and that is even less the case for the political model that this asset encouraged: autocracy. Beside the initial Roman-byzantine imperial model, the Muscovite and Russian autocracy seems strengthened by some absolutist Mongol features that have possibly ambiguously been contributing to the Russian political ethos. It is of course debatable and obscure to what extent it is the geopolitical context that determines the political model, and to what extent, then, the "Mongol heritage" is "Mongol" at all, or it is simply determined by that context, as a more generic factor.

At a lower level of that scale, it is like saying that a virus that doesn't kill you gives you immunity. In Muscovy's case this went much farther: it amounts to one's capacity of surpassing ones master, to getting an imperial inheritance, where Russia in a way became the "new" Mongol empire (geopolitically), much more than it became the "new" Byzantine one ("the new Rome", that the new imperial power pretended to reincarnate after it conquered Kiev and after its name became "Russia").

Aesthetically that political heritage is clearly reflected in the design of the initial crown of imperial Russia, the Monomakh's cap:

enter image description here

In this sense even the most positive Mongol heritage in later Russia is a political system and a geopolitical situation that are not without their contradictions.


As for more direct and arguably morally or aesthetically positive effects or borrowings like those mentioned by the OP (opening of the commercial routes to the east, cultural influences like music - by which the OP must mean folk music) they can easily be dismissed. The Eurasian commercial routes that the Mongols controlled were far from Muscovy, too much to the south. Maybe if entire Europe had been conquered by the Mongols we would have ended up with a unified Eurasia from France to China with a flourishing commerce (but maybe we are lucky we'll never know for sure!). Thus, Eastern Europe remained a periphery of the Mongol realm, and the Chinese technical and political advances that the Mongols adopted (bureaucracy, paper, gunpowder) didn't radiate this far. Chinese gunpowder siege weaponry was made felt in Hungary at some point, but not in a humanly progressive sense. Last but not least — as far as flourishing commerce is concerned —, Mongols continued the slave trade north-to-south (from the context of which the very word slave etymologically derives, from "Slav"), in the end through Italian mediation of the Crimean ports. As for the typical Russian music, it is very clearly closer to the rest of eastern European folk music, from Poland to the Balkans, one that is different from (and in my opinion superior to) the folk music of western Europe, but has nothing to do with the Mongols.

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my guess is that cultural transfer from mongols to russians was huge.

no that they teach russians to build ships, calculate trade and play flute, but consider this:

sophisticated 'honour' system between lords distinguish russian from european mentality until now. and allow russians to survive many turbulent periods. mongol operation of masses and armies was more eye-eye, body-body contact and feeling to feeling, rather than western word-by-word, paper-by-paper approach. and russians seem learned that from mongols to my vision. russians will follow the leader that will breathe and blink at a proper rate rather than the one who speaks right words about freedom.

even these days this approach allows putin to consolidate forces around kremlin. this is definetly positive if existance of russia is considered positive.

then russians learned about asia from mongols, which later allowed to extend small country to the pacific, to persia and to china borders. is that positive?

yes the idea that russia those days was not occupied but rather like a state within US is accepted by many russians. then invasions should be called local suppression.

above someone mention religion-tolerance. yes, seems to me, russian culture in this area is also seem to be mongol-like. russian will not follow religious rituals in detail but would try to achieve God's(or ancestor or spirit) support in their activites. Russians for centuries would base their strategic decisions on their religion experience. Last czar planned WW1 activities based on "advices from god" he received while praying or from prophets (like rasputin).

just like mongols russians will support or leave alone those who pray the 'right god', and cast away or kill those who pray to a 'wrong gods'. this is quite positive, in some sense. as western style of religion-tolerance is to leave alone anybody who claims to do praying.

of course mongol unwritten 'honor system' or 'the way to communicate and cooperate efficiently in sophisticated manner across large areas in long term over generations without breaking apart in small fractions' is what holds russia together until now. this is most positive outcome. I cannot see how russia would survive so close to burning europe without that "we are huge together" mentality of mongols.

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    -1 due to lack of capitalization and/or linked references.
    – Bryce
    Feb 9, 2013 at 11:36
  • lol how much you hate Putin that even need Mongols to denigrate him.
    – Anixx
    Feb 9, 2013 at 13:18
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    @Anixx: LOL. I think you misread the guy. He loves Putin and he loves the Mongols. Please read again - it's obvious :) Feb 9, 2013 at 13:52

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