Exploring Moscow's Past: Golden Horde & Ivan the Terrible

The medieval history of Russia witnessed significant political changes and the rise and fall of various influential entities. This article delves into the downfall of Moscow to the Golden Horde (also called Kipchak Khanate), the era of Moscow under Mongol-Tatar rule, the subsequent decline of the Golden Horde, and the rise of the Kazan Khanate. These events shaped the political landscape of the region and influenced Moscow's path towards becoming the dominant center of power in Russia.

Exploring Moscow's Past: Golden Horde & Ivan the Terrible
Ivan The Great Bell Tower

Fall of Moscow to the Golden Horde:

The Golden Horde, known as the "Great State" in their language, originated as a Mongol-controlled region in the 13th century. As Genghis Khan approached his death in 1227, he made the decision to divide his vast empire into four parts, one for each of his four sons. However, his eldest son, Jochi, had passed away six months earlier. Consequently, the western region, surrounding areas like Russia and Kazakhstan, was bestowed upon Jochi's eldest son, Batu Khan.

Once Batu Khan supposed control over the territories his grandfather had conquered, he mobilized his armies and set his visions on expanding the Golden Horde's dominion further west. In 1237, Batu Khan, leading the Mongol forces of the Golden Horde, launched a terrible invasion of the Russian lands.

Batu Khan's attack on Moscow in 1238 marked a dark chapter in the city's history. Yuri II, the ruler of Moscow, faced the devastating attack of the Mongol forces. The outcome was dreadful for Yuri II and Moscow, as the city was captured and subjected to destruction and sacking. Yuri II was ultimately taken imprisoned by the Mongols and died in captivity, symbolizing the extent of Mongol dominance over the Russian lands during that period. This event marked the beginning of Mongol rule in Moscow and the broader Russian territories.

Moscow under the Golden Horde:

Life for the people of Moscow under the Golden Horde was marked by hardship and fear. The Mongol rulers imposed heavy taxes, demanded honor, and were known for their brutal methods of punishment. During the period of Mongol-Tatar rule, Moscow experienced both challenges and opportunities. The Horde implemented a financial scheme, which required Moscow to pay taxes and provide military support. Despite this, the Mongol presence allowed Moscow's princes to unite their power and expand their influence over neighboring territories. Gradually, Moscow emerged as a significant center, benefiting from trade networks established by the Golden Horde that connected it to other regions within their empire.

Exploring Moscow's Past: Golden Horde & Ivan the Terrible
Mongol Empire

Moscow's architectural landscape also saw the influence of the Mongol-Tatar style. Structures such as the Assumption Cathedral and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe in the Kremlin displayed unique architectural elements, blending Eastern and Western aesthetics.

Fall of the Golden Horde and Moscow's Rise:

The fall of the Golden Horde and Moscow's control can be attributed to several key events and figures:

Battle of Kulikovo (September 8, 1380, near the Don River, Russia): The Battle of Kulikovo held immense historic significance in the Russian people's struggle against the rule of the Golden Horde. It delivered a significant blow to the Horde's power, hastening its eventual breakup. The Battle of Kulikovo, which occurred on September 8, 1380, near the Don River, marked a momentous occasion as it celebrated the first-ever victory of Russian forces against the Tatars of the Mongol Golden Horde since Russia had been dominated by Batu Khan in the thirteenth century.

In 1380, an army from Moscow, commanded by Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy, crossed the Oka River and went into the open grasslands to face the army of Emir Mamai. They fought a crucial battle on a field called Kulikovo Field (Kulikovo pole). Despite being heavy casualties, the Russians achieved a significant victory, dealing a severe blow to the Golden Horde's dominance over the region. He was the first prince of Moscow to openly defy Mongol rule in Russia. In Russian history, he is considered a national hero and a prominent figure of the medieval era.

Exploring Moscow's Past: Golden Horde & Ivan the Terrible
Kirillov Kulikovo Field

After the Battle of Kulikovo, Moscow steadily strengthened its control and enlarged its domains, capitalizing on the Golden Horde's internal divisions. As the late 15th century arrived, Moscow had firmly established itself as Russia's political, economic, and cultural hub, laying the foundation for its future as the capital.

Decline of the Golden Horde (Late 14th century - Early 15th century, various locations): Internal conflicts and external pressures played a pivotal role in causing the Golden Horde to crack and weaken. Because of this, Moscow got the chance to become independent and slowly get out from under the control of the Mongols.

Ivan III (1462-1505, Moscow, Russia):

The Great Stand on the Ugra River in 1480 was a pivotal moment when Ivan III (also known as Ivan the Great) of Moscow stopped paying tribute (a form of taxation or payment) to the Great Horde led by Akhmat Khan. Both armies faced off at the Ugra River but eventually withdrew without conflict. While some debate its significance, it's often seen as the end of Tatar control over Russia, marking the start of Moscow's independence.

The Rise of the Kazan Khanate:

While the power of the Golden Horde declined, a new Tatar state emerged in the 15th century—the Kazan Khanate. Situated on the territory of modern-day Tatarstan, the Kazan Khanate became a formidable force in the region. It expanded its influence, challenging Moscow's authority and engaging in interrupted conflicts.

Exploring Moscow's Past: Golden Horde & Ivan the Terrible
Astrakhan Kremlin

Founding of the Kazan Khanate (1438, Kazan, Russia): The Kazan Khanate was established in 1438 when Ulugh Muhammad, a descendant of Genghis Khan, declared himself the Khan of Kazan. This marked the beginning of the Kazan Khanate as an independent state, separate from the Golden Horde.

Expansion under Küçük Muhammad (1467-1495, Kazan, Russia): Küçük Muhammad, also known as Kasim Khan, became the Khan of Kazan in 1467 and embarked on a period of territorial expansion. Under his rule, the Kazan Khanate grew in power and influence, extending its control over neighboring regions and establishing itself as a significant force in the Volga-Ural region.

Fall of the Kazan Khanate to Moscow:

Siege of Kazan by Ivan IV (1552, Kazan, Russia): Ivan IV, known as Ivan the Terrible, launched a military campaign against the Kazan Khanate. In 1552, after a prolonged siege, Ivan IV's forces successfully captured Kazan, effectively ending the independence of the Kazan Khanate and incorporating it into the expanding Russian state.

Influence of Khan Safa Giray (1552-1556, Kazan, Russia): Following the fall of Kazan, Khan Safa Giray, a member of the Crimean Khanate, was appointed as the puppet ruler of the Kazan Khanate by Ivan IV. Safa Giray's reign marked a brief period of nominal Tatar rule under Russian control before the complete integration of the Khanate into the Russian Empire.

End of the Kazan Khanate (1552-1556, Kazan, Russia): With the capture of Kazan in 1552 and subsequent political changes, the Kazan Khanate ceased to exist as an independent entity. The fall of the Kazan Khanate marked a significant turning point in the region's history, solidifying Moscow's control over the Volga-Ural area and further expanding the Russian Empire.

To establish its authority, Moscow launched several military campaigns against the Kazan Khanate. After multiple unsuccessful attempts, Ivan the Terrible's forces were finally able to conquer Kazan. On October 2, 1552, Ivan's forces captured Kazan. The Forces of Muscovy also achieved victory in 1556 against the Astrakhan Khanate, which was another successor of the Golden Horde. This marked the continued expansion of Moscow's territory, as they broke free from the Muslim forces surrounding their eastern and southern borders.


The reality is that the Golden Horde's capture of Moscow was just one element of the Tatar-Mongol onslaught that gripped the world during that era. Many empires of that time fell to the Mongols' conquests. Based on the same episodes, the medieval history of Russia witnessed a complex interplay of power dynamics, marked by the rise and fall of the Golden Horde, Moscow's enduring struggle for independence, and the emergence and ultimate integration of the Kazan Khanate into the Russian Empire. These events shaped Moscow's rise as the dominant power in Russia, enriching the nation's historical tapestry.