Standing Firmly on the Soft Banks of the Ugra

Miniature in Russian chronicle, 16th century (Wikipedia) So this is the anniversary of the “Great Stand on the Ugra River”. Or at least part of it. Never heard of it? See, it’s a tributary of the Oka which in turn leads to the Volga. Oh. You meant the stand. Well, apparently it was pretty much the end of the Tatar Yoke over Russia, in 1480.

Now I’ve written elsewhere in this series about the lamentable political history of Russia including the sad way the newly independent Tsars seem to have learned all the wrong lessons from the period of Mongol dominance. And it’s all true. But it doesn’t diminish the value of this incident beginning on October 8, 1480 when the army of Akhmat, Khan of the Great Horde, tried to force the Ugra and were stopped by the forces of Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy including by their possession of firearms that the Horde lacked.

I said Oct. 8 was part of the stand. And it was, because the action went on for four days. Then the armies sat glaring at one another while Ivan tried successfully to reconcile with his own brothers whose troops then showed up swelling the Russian ranks and the Khan waited unsuccessfully for his ally the King of Poland whose troops then didn’t show up not swelling the Mongol ranks.

The latter withdrew and a few months later Akhmat was killed in battle with other Hordies. And the Mongols never really came back.

I wish Russian history since had turned out better, that Muscovy had somehow got back onto the open, European path Kievan Rus’ had been on until the Mongol Empire showed up with fire and sword and Möngke Khan. But sometimes sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof or in this case the heroism of the Russian soldiers and the steady hand of Ivan III.

At any rate, if you’d been there that day you’d have been cheering for them. And they did win. So that’s got to count for something.