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Golden Horde

Updated on September 11, 2015
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Golden Horde is the modern term for a state that existed from 1223 to about 1400 in the Turkic steppes, the westernmost part of the Mongol empire. In 1223, Jochi, the son of Genghis Khan, received Khwarizm (Khorezm) and the northern Caucasus from his father, with lands to the west "as far as Mongol horse had trod."

Jochi's son, Batu, conquered the Volga region and most of the grasslands as far west as the Danube. Princes of the Slavic territories north of the forest-steppe line acknowledged the Horde's sovereignty and collected tribute and taxes for the khans. The Horde's political institutions combined traditional and innovative features. A new capital, Sarai (near Astrakhan; later moved to a site, also called Sarai, near Volgograd), was built by Batu Khan, but older centers retained their significance.

A new dynasty, the Genghisids, was established, but its rule continued previous local traditions of statecraft.

Culture and Economy

The destructiveness (often exaggerated) of the invasions notwithstanding, the region within the Mongol sphere enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. The Volga trade route was revived, and after the restoration of the Palaeologan dynasty in Byzantium in 1261, the way was opened for European merchants to trade in the furs of Bulgary and the silks of Cathay. The cities of the Horde, populated by traders and craftsmen of many nationalities, were centers of Muslim culture-the nomads, Turkic and largely pagan, did not inhabit them. Even the ruling khans normally preferred the nomad camp to the palace.

The economy of the Horde was based on the Central Asian combination of pastoral nomadism and international transit trade, which provided traders the security of a vast trading zone secured by Mongol horsemen and also provided the nomads with tax revenues, a market for their flocks, and the necessities that they did not produce.

The Blue and White Hordes

Numerous changes of khans have led scholars to conclude that the Horde was an unstable society. In fact, however, it endured with little political change until Timur's (Tamerlane's) sack of Sarai in 1395. The dynamic of its internal political history was provided by the struggle between its main components, the White (Western) and the Blue (Eastern) Hordes. The great tribal confederations were important in this struggle; the khans were often merely figureheads. Thus the real ruler during the reigns of Tuda-Mengu (1282-1287) and Talabuga (1287-1291) was the great western tribal chieftain, Nogai, who gained control over Sarai and the trade routes.

On the death of Nogai, Tokhta, with the aid of the tribes of the Blue Horde, commanded the capital, but soon Uzbek again united the Horde under western rule. His reign (1312-1342) and that of his son Janibek (1342-1357) mark the apogee of the Horde's power. Late in the 14th century another western chieftain, Mamai, ruled until he and his Genoese allies were defeated first by the Muscovites (at Kulikovo, 1380) and then (1382) by Tokhtamysh, who had seized control of the Blue Horde with the help of Timur. Instead of subjugating the White Horde, however, Tokhtamysh allied himself with the western tribes and in effect replaced Mamai. This led to a conflict with Timur, who laid waste the great centers of the Horde from 1389 to 1395.

Decline

The collapse of the center and the redirection of trade (due to the rise of Ottoman and Lithuanian power) led to the growth of peripheral successor states (the Crimea, Kazan, Astrakhan, and Muscovy). They co-existed in changing alliances until Muscovy's expansion into the steppe in the mid-16th century.

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