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The Golden Horde

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The Golden Horde

After Genghis Khan died in 1227, the Mongolian empire split into smaller Khanates, or hordes. Not only did Genghis Khan's sons and grandsons inherit these territories and people, but they also inherited their father's insatiable lust for conquest.

In the western reaches of the Mongolian Empire, the Khanate descending from Jochi waged wars and established its own state in Russia and Eastern Europe. For the 200 years following the death of Genghis Khan, the Golden Horde dominated Bulgaria, Hungary, and much of modern-day Russia.

Location of the Golden Horde

The map below represents the different regions of the split Mongolian Empire during the 15th century. The territories belonging to the Golden Horde are in the northwest of the map.

The Golden Horde Map Study Smarter

Map of the Mongolian Empire after splitting. Source: Elvonudium, CC-BY-SA-4.0, Wikimedia Commons.

The Golden Horde covered much of Russia and Eastern Europe, stretching from Ukraine to Russia, to Kazakhstan and Constantinople at the height of its power. Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde, can be found just above the Caspian Sea (the body of water in the top half of the 'Timurids' territory.

The Golden Horde History

Genghis Khan made provisions to divide the territories of his kingdom among his children, should he die. Jochi Khan, eldest of the Great Khan's sons, died shortly before his father. Genghis Khan met his end in 1227 due to an accidental fall from his horse, and Jochi's sons Batu Khan and Orda inherited the western territories that had been promised to their father.

The Golden Horde had many different rulers, and it may seem overwhelming. Later in this article, you'll find a chart that lists all of the prominent Golden Horde Khans for easy reference.

The Rise of the Golden Horde

Batu Khan did not rest upon his inheritance. After absorbing his brother Orda's territory, Batu Khan pressed into the Volga region, Bulgaria, and Russia. Following his grandfather's footsteps, Batu Khan led an unstoppable campaign, conquering Bulgaria in 1237 and the Russian cities of Suzdal and Kiev by 1240.

The Golden Horde Conquest of Russia Study Smarter

Batu Khan invades Russia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The combined Polish and Hungarian armies, bolstered by Teutonic Knights (military order of the Catholic Church), could not stop Batu Khan's advance. When he began his march upon Vienna, the Khan only turned back because a war for succession had begun in Mongolia due to the death of his uncle, Ogedei Khan. Later, Batu Khan established a capital at Sarai and implemented a tribute system for the Russian princes.

Batu's brother Berke inherited the Golden Horde in 1257 and continued successful campaigns in Eastern Europe. Notably, Berke Khan officially converted to Islam, foreshadowing the future importance of the religion in the Golden Horde.

The Golden Horde Battle StudySmarter

Golden Horde at Kulikovo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As the passage of leadership exchanged hands from Berke to Mengu-Timir, then to Nogai Khan, the Golden Horde began to focus more on internalizing its kingdom, enhancing its infrastructure, and ingratiating itself in the lands it conquered. Local governors were assigned to regions; the capital city of Sarai surged in population; the Mongols even established an official state religion under Uzbeg Khan: Islam. The Golden Horde did what no one thought the Mongols could do: they settled.

The True Ruler: Nogai Khan

In the latter half of the 13th century, the Khans of the Golden Horde were accompanied by a powerful advisor and military commander: Nogai Khan, the great-grandson of Genghis Khan. Nogai Khan was unofficially considered a co-ruler of the Golden Horde (and sometimes the 'true ruler' by foreign powers), directing conquests alongside the likes of Berke and Mengu-Timir. He led military campaigns against Poland, Byzantium, Bulgaria, and Hungary, though he never sought complete power over the Golden Horde for himself.

The Fall of the Golden Horde

Troubles began in the second half of the 14th century. The Black Death was ravaging Europe and Asia, spreading with particular ease through the tight trade routes that the Golden Horde had created. Civil War and infighting split the Golden Horde. Eastern Europeans rebelled and won. Russian Princes, drawing their strength from Moscow, resisted the Golden Horde's dominion. Attacks by Tamerlane, a powerful Asiatic warlord, devastated Sarai and its connecting trade routes.

The Black Death:

An infamous 14th-century plague that devastated Eurasia, killing hundreds of millions of people.

The Golden Horde split into multiple Khanates, losing its unified political and cultural identity. These successor Khanates were shadows of the Golden Horde's forgotten rule. Some raids continued, but the dream of conquering all of Europe and Russia was lost. The Khanates gradually disappeared, dissolving into other rising nations, the last surviving until 1783 when it was annexed by Russian ruler Catherine the Great.

Rulers of the Golden Horde

The Golden Horde reigned in Russia and Eastern Europe for two centuries, exercising its power under many different rulers. Yet as the Golden Horde gradually lost influence, so did its Khans. The chart below details some of the prominent Khans in the Golden Horde's history, almost all of them from the horde's first century of power.

Prominent leaders of the Golden Horde
Name and Time Period of Reign
Significance
Jochi Khan (n/a)
Son of Genghis Khan and planned inheritor of the western territories, Jochi never lived to rule the land he was promised. His sons ruled in his stead.
Batu Khan (1227-1255 CE)
First leader of the Golden Horde. He led a conquering force as far as Vienna, only retreating upon word of succession wars transpiring in his homeland. Established Golden Horde capital in Sarai.
Berke Khan (1257-1266 CE)
Personally converted to Islam. He conquered parts of Poland and Lithuania.
Mengu-Timir Khan (1266-1280 CE)
Allowed trade routes to flourish through the Golden Horde, connecting Russia, Germany, and Italy.
Nogai Khan (1250s-1290s CE)
Golden Horde general and longtime political advisor who served Mengu-Timir and Berke Khan, among others.
Uzbeg Khan (1313-1341 CE)
Established Islam as the official religion of his state. His army was over 300,00 men strong.

Members of the Golden Horde

The Golden Horde subjugated many states in Eastern Europe and Russia to its mighty reign. Official members of the Golden Horde were the many Mongolian warlords gathered under its banner, but the Golden Horde acquired many vassal states through conquest. The Russian Princes, Armenians, Crimeans, and Georgians all paid tribute to the Khan of the Golden Horde. Historians speculate that the Russian Princes and Golden Horde often interacted like a defensive alliance, poised against possible invasion by Lithuania and armies of the Catholic Church.

The Golden Horde & Russia

The Golden Horde had quite an impact on Russia. For two centuries, the Golden Horde held Russia in its grip, dividing the Russian Princes and extracting heavy tributes. Mongolians entered Russian society at high levels, enforcing Golden Horde law in their vassal states. There was always Russian resistance, however, and in 1480 Russian forces rallied under Prince Ivan III of Moscow at the Battle of the Urga. Ivan III defeated the Golden Horde's army, proving Moscow as the foremost city in Russia for years to come. Through hundreds of years of occupying Russian territory, the Golden Horde left a permanent mark on its history and identity.

Meaning of the Golden Horde

The Mongolians of the Golden Horde did not refer to themselves as the 'Golden Horde', but rather as the Ulus of Jochi. Before the seventeenth century, this Russia-based Mongolian sect was never referred to as the Golden Horde. So, why do we now call them the Golden Horde?

One possibility is from the Asian steppe system for cardinal directions. Various colors were attributed to the different directions: black for the north-facing, red for the south, and yellow or gold for the center. (The Golden Horde dominated central Eurasia.) Another possibility comes from rumors. The attribution of gold may have come from the splendorous golden color of Batu Khan's war tent. In any case, the term 'Golden Horde' was given to the Ulus of Jochi by scholars in hindsight.

The Golden Horde - Key takeaways

  • The Golden Horde developed from the western territories of Genghis Khan's vast empire. Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, was its first leader.
  • The Golden Horde invaded territories in Russia and Eastern Europe, achieving great military success reminiscent of Genghis Khan's own conquests.
  • In the 14th century, the Golden Horde shifted from constant invasions to settling. The Golden Horde's capital at Sarai flourished and the Mongolians worked to tighten their reign on territories they already controlled.
  • The Black Death, civil wars, and successful resistance from vassal states devastated the Golden Horde, splitting the horde into many smaller Khanates. Some of these Khanates survived for many years, but none came close to the past glory of the Golden Horde.
  • The term 'Golden Horde' began to be used in the seventeenth century by scholars. The Mongolians of the Golden Horde likely referred to their organization as the Ulus of Jochi.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Golden Horde

The Mongolians in the western reaches of Genghis Khan's empire split and became the Golden Horde. Their first leader was Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. 

The Golden Horde ruled for hundreds of years and had many different rulers. Prominent among them are Batu Khan, Mengu-Timir Khan, and Uzbeg Khan. 

The Mongolians of the Golden Horde dominated Eastern Europe and Russia from the 13th to the 15th centuries, waging wars and establishing their own state in the region. 

After a calamitous period in the 14th century involving the Black Death and civil war, the Golden Horde split into many smaller Khanates. These Khanates eventually disappeared into obscurity, the last surviving until 1783.  

Final The Golden Horde Quiz

Question

From what Mongolian territories did the Golden Horde develop? 

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Answer

The western territories, around Eastern Europe and Russia.

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Question

Which of Genghis Khan's sons was planned to inherit the western territories, but never lived to do so?

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Answer

Jochi Khan

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Question

Why did Batu Khan turn away from his siege of Vienna? 

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Answer

His uncle Ogedei Khan's death caused a succession war in Mongolia that he wanted to partake in. 

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Question

Where was the capital of the Golden Horde located? 

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Answer

Sarai

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Question

What was the Black Death? 

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Answer

An infamous 14th-century plague that devastated Eurasia, killing hundreds of millions of people.

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Question

How was the Black Death able to spread so easily within the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Because of the interconnectedness of the Golden Horde's territories through trade routes.

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Question

What was NOT a contributing factor to the downfall of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Failed invasion of France

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Question

Which Golden Horde Khan established Islam as the official religion of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Uzbeg Khan

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Question

What was NOT a vassal state or territory of the Golden Horde? 

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Answer

Byzantium

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Question

Name a possible explanation for the meaning of the Golden Horde's name. 

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Answer

Golden, based on the color of Batu Khan's tent OR Golden, based on the Mognolian cardinal directions (with golden meaning center)

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