July 01, 2006

Knights of the Don

The Don steppes in Southern Russia are a special place. In ancient times, the paths of trading caravans, religious pilgrims and nomadic peoples all criss-crossed here. The ancient Greeks thought that the waters of the Don separated the continents of Europe and Asia. They established their northernmost settlement in the river’s lower reaches. The Slavs had their southernmost settlement here. 

Ancient tribes migrated from west to east and east to west through this steppe corridor, bordered by seas and mountains: Sumerians, Scythians, Bulgars, Goths, Pechenegs, Polovtsians, Khazars. Every tribe sought to oust its predecessors from the banks of the Don, to drive them from the rich pastures, the lands teeming with fish and game. At the same time, the victors invariably interbred with the vanquished, inheriting elements of their culture.

The Golden Horde established their rule over the Don steppes in 1237. But this was only a small part of their vast empire: the Mongols ruled over lands stretching from China to Lithuania. They imposed an excessive tribute on Rus, devastating its southern principalities. 

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