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The Battle of Kulikovo
By Rider, 12 February 2006; Revised
Category: Medieval Europe: Military History
During the 14th century, the power of Muscowy grew, while the Golden Horde became weaker and weaker. On the second half of the 14th century, there were around 25 different khans, of whom a large number was killed by his competitors. During these troubled times, the Horde was united by commander Mamai. By these times, Muscowy rarely listened to the orders of the khan and the khan saw it fit to punish the Rus for it. On 1378, the Mongol armies assaulted Muscowy and the whole of Russia with it.
He was confronted by a Muscowian army, led by Dmitri Ivanovich, grandson of Ivan Kalita. The armies met on the lands of Rjazan, besides River Vozh. This Mongol army was defeated by the Russian forces and it retreated. The Khan, however escaped and gathered a new army. He also ordered a treaty with the Lithuanians, for their assistance. Khan Mamai also counted on the Kniaz of Rjazan, Oleg, who had sided with the Mongols. Oleg wanted the lands of Muscowy for himself and Lithuania, and that was the reason for his servitude of the Horde.
In the august of 1380, the Khan made way to Russia, but the Russian dukes had unexpectedly united against the growing threat.
Again it was Dmitri Ivanovich, who stood in the lead of the armies of Russia (or more correctly, Muscowy and allied princedoms). The army was made up of the forces and levy of Suzdal, Brjansk, Rostov, Jaroslavl, Kostroma and Beloozero. Smaller detachments came even from Ukraine and Belorussia. The peasants, although barely armed, were numerous. The force that assembled all together, is assumed to around 150 000 men, but it might have been quite a bit smaller. Yet it was for that time, the single largest army Russia had ever gathered.
The plan of Dmitri was to hold the battle outside Muscowian territories. He quickly had his army move towards the River Don. They built bridges to cross the river and after crossing, Dmitri supposedly ordered the destruction of the bridges to show that there was no way for retreat.
The armies lined up in the fog. The Russian forces were placed so, that, the contignents’ flanks were protected by Smolka River, deep slopes and forests. A part of the army was left into the woods as for ambushing purposes. The fog quickly vanished and the larger army of the enemy was sighted. The Russian first lines assaulted the enemy daringly, and they were led to combat by Dmitri. Within short time, the whole of Russian vanguard was destroyed, although some of the greatest warriors (along with kniaz Dmitri) returned to the main army.
Now the forces of Mamai assaulted forward as a thick mass. „Spears broke as straws, arrows came down as rain, dust shadowed sunlight, swords flashed as lightning, men fell as crop before the scythes.“ is a description by a Russian chronicler of this battle.
The Russians decided to break through the enemy center, although a Mongol force had crossed River Smolka and was attacking the Russian left flank with fury. The Mongols were gaining the upper hand. The left flank started retreating and the Mongols, seeing the opportunity, quickly began to surround the center. The ambushers wanted to help the others, but their commander, voievode Bobrok held them back saying: „It is not yet the time!“ Mamai thought that victory was close.
Yet now was the time, and the ambushing squad assaulted the Mongols and crushed them. The remnant of Russian forces regrouped and assaulted once more. Khan thought it better to run, and the Russians gave him a decent chase. For the victory at the Fields of Kulikovo, Dmitri Ivanovich gained the nickname of Donskoi.
Although the battle didn’t overthrow the Mongol rule, it certainly helped in doing so. Two years later, after Kulikovo, a new Khan striekd and burnt down Muscowy. Despite the fact that the city was almost completely destroyed, the Russian peoples had understood their power in unity. Soon, the Mongol powers were completely destroyed and they left the whole of Europe alone.