September 01, 2020

The "Battle" of the Ugra River



The "Battle" of the Ugra River
The Ugra River today. Sergei Svetovoy

It has always puzzled me why “The Great Stand on the Ugra River,” as this confrontation in the autumn of 1480 has come to be known, is such an emblematic moment in Russian history, thought to mark “the liberation of Rus from the Tatar-Mongol yoke.”

Let’s start with the fact that, toward the end of the fifteenth century, the Horde was no longer the great and powerful state that had made Russian princes quake in their boots a hundred and fifty years earlier. The gradual crumbling of the Horde had been going on for some time. Many of the khanates, including Kazan and Crimea, were by then independent of the Great Horde, and many of the Horde’s most distinguished mirzas (Tatar princes) had settled in Rus and pledged allegiance to Muscovy. Tsar Boris Godunov himself was supposedly descended from the illustrious mirza Chet, who had come to Moscow back in 1330.

A bit over a hundred years later, the princes Qasim and Yaqub, who were unable to reach a power sharing agreement with their brother in Kazan, tied their fates to Moscow’s Vasily II (the Blind). For his faithful service to Muscovy, Qasim was given land to rule over, which is how the Qasim Khanate arose at the very heart of Orthodox Rus, on the banks of the Oka River. To this day, the town of Kasimov in Ryazan Oblast has a mosque, a minaret, and the burial vault for the area’s fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Muslim ruler.


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