Home Litterature Fairy Tales Bylines History

Russian folk art

French version Russian version


    «...In the same year, for our sins, there came unknown tribes. No one knew 'who they are, or from where they come, or what their language is, or race, or faith...»

Lavrentian chronicle

N.Kulandin. "Prince Vasilko

N.Kulandin. Prince Vasilko"
Plate. 1962   Rostov enamel

    "The invasion of the Mongols, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, snapped the thread of Russia's destinies. The consequences of this terrible event were peculiar to Russia ; the causes were not. This catastrophe, seemingly isolated, was only an incident in the great struggle between Europe and Asia, of which the crusades were the chief incident
    Russia had done that sort of fighting, in her own southern deserts, against the Petchenegs, the Polovtsy, and other nomads of Turkish race, bearing the brunt of the strife against Asia, long before the great invasion of the thirteenth century. Being placed at the most perilous outpost, in the neighborhood of the most extensive gathering-place of the Barbarians, her fall was a foregone conclusion. The Russian princes, united against the hosts of Djinghiz-Khan, had valiantly held out against the first shock on the Kalka (1224). A second invasion encountered resistance only behind the walls of cities. The two capitals, Vladimir and Kiev, were taken at the first onslaught. It seemed as though the Russian nation was to vanish, and those immense plains, a prolongation of Asia, were to become, definitely, Asiatic.
    Never yet was nation put through such a school of patience and abject submission. The Russian, forced to give up his arms, compelled to look for help exclusively to his own patience and suppleness... The oppression by man, added to the oppression by the climate, deepened certain traits already sketched in by nature in the Great-Russian's soul. Nature inclined him to submission, to endurance, to resignation ; history confirmed these inclinations. Hardened by nature, he was steeled by history.
    Nature, after preparing the invasion, herself marked its bounds. The Tatars, now masters of the steppes in the southeast, which felt to them very much like home, grew ill at ease as soon as they began to lose themselves in the forests of the north. They did not settle there. These regions were too European to suit their half-nomadic habits, and they cared more for tribute-payers than for subjects. So the kniazes received their principalities back from the hands of the Mongols - as fiefs. They had to submit to the presence near their person of a sort of Tatar "residents," - the baskaks, whose duty it was to take the census and to collect the taxes. They were compelled to take the long, long journey to the "Horde," often encamped in the heart of Asia, in order to receive their investiture from the successors of Djinghiz, and ended by becoming the vassals of a vassal of the " Great-Khan." At this price Russia retained her religion, her dynasties, and – thanks to her clergy and her princes - her nationality..
    One of the chief effects of the Tatar domination and all that makes up Russian history, is the importance given to the national worship. . Suffering opens to faith the hearts of a people as well as those of individuals ; religion draws new vigor from public calamities as well as from private misfortunes. Such an impulse must have been deep and enduring in the thirteenth century and in such a country as Russia. On all sides sprang up prophecies and apparitions, every city had its wonder-working icons that could stay the hand of the foe. In the midst of universal penury, wealth flowed freely into the churches. The black Byzantine paintings were cased in massive gold and silver, and set with those gorgeous jewels which even yet astound the traveller. The men crowded into the monasteries whose battlemented walls afforded the only retreat within which peace of mind and security of life and limb could be found. The policy of the Tatars was wholly favorable to religion and the clergy

D.Denisov. "The legend of the invisible town Kitej"

D.Denisov. "The legend of the invisible town Kitej"
Box. 1972  Kholou

    Of the manifold effects resulting from the yoke imposed on the country, the moral ones are perhaps the least obscure. For nations, as for individuals, slavery is unwholesome; it bows their souls so low that, even after deliverance has come, centuries are needed to straighten them again. The oppressed are all alike; bondage breeds servility; abasement breeds baseness. Craft takes the place of strength, which has become useless ; finessing, being most called for, becomes the universal quality. The Tatar domination developed in the Russians faults and faculties of which their intercourse with Byzance had already brought them the germs, and which, tempered by time, have since contributed to develop their diplomatic gifts.
    The domination of an enemy who was a stranger to Christianity fortified the sufferers' attachment to their worship. Religion and native land were merged into one faith, took the place of nationality and kept it alive.It was then that the conception sprang up which still links the quality of Russian to the profession of Greek orthodoxy, and makes of the latter the chief pledge of patriotism. Such facts occur in other nations, but it is Russia's peculiarity that all her wars have had the same effect. Owing to the differences in worship, her wars with Pole, Swede, or German have assumed a religious character, just as her long crusade against Tatar or Turk. Every war has been to this people a religious war, and patriotism was reinforced by piety and fanaticism. In his battles against infidel, heretic, or Latin, the Russian learned to consider his native land, the only one exempt from both the Mussulman and the Popish spiritual yoke, as a blessed land, as sacred soil, and came at last to regard himself, after the fashion of the Jew, as the chosen of God, until, filled with religious reverence for his own country, he named it "Holy Russia."
   St. Alexander Nevsky - the Russian St. Louis - is the type of the princes of that epoch, when heroism was taught to cringe. Alexander, the victor over the Swedes and the German knights of the Baltic, who, instead of assisting Russia, strove to wrest from her a few wretched roods of land, was forced, if he would protect his people, to make himself very small indeed before the Tatars. The Russian princes, in their dealings with them, had no weapons but supplication, presents, and - intriguing. Of these they made use largely for the preservation, or even aggrandizement, of their power, freely denouncing and slandering one another to the foreign masters. Under this humiliating and impoverishing domination the germs of culture laid in the old principalities withered up. The meagre and marshy region of the northwest alone, the land of Novgorod and Pskov, secure against invasion, could, under cover of a merely nominal subjection, lead a free and European life.
    A terrible and wonderful story is that of Moscow's autocracy, growing up under the protecting shade of the Horde. Never did such lowly beginnings leap up so rapidly to greatness; never was there more striking instance of the power of tradition in a sovereign house, whose members, along with blood and inheritance, transmit, from child to grandchild, a sacred goal and task, whose views, at first narrow, go widening from generation to generation, the faculties themselves seeming to grow by a kind of natural selection.

P.Mitiachin. "The duel"

P.Mitiachin. "The duel"
Box . 1981   Rostov enamel

    As men they were crafty, grasping, anything but chivalrous, of few scruples, patiently building up greatness on self-abasement; as princes they were mostly of mediocre parts, far from shining with the brilliant qualities that distinguished the kniazes of the preceding epoch; dull-faced, with countenances devoid of relief, of individuality, with features that from afar seem to run into one another. All these Ivans and Vassilis of the fourteenth century kept on hoarding wealth in their treasury and aggrandizing their patrimony after the fashion of a private inheritance, and, as it appears from treaties and wills, without any very well-defined political idea, more after the manner of landholders anxious to'' round up '' their estates, than of sovereigns ambitious of extending their territories. This character – privat, domanial—the vast Moscovite Empire was to preserve in its government and administration, through all its achievements and conquests, down to the reforms of Peter the Great."

A.Leroy-Beaulieu "The empire of the Tsars and the Russians"    1881

© 2004   Artrusse    Email

  Lacquer miniatures
  - Fedoskino
  - Palekh
  - Mstera
  - Kholui

 The russian toys
  - Bogorodskoe
  - Dymkovo
  - Modern folk art toy
  Rostov enamel
  Vologda lace
  Pavlovsky Posad shawls

Russian history

  The Lay of the Host of Igor
  Alexander Nevsky
  The battle of Kulikovo
  The Time of Troubles
  Peter the Great
  The Desembrists

under construction
under construction
under construction
under construction
under construction

     The dreaded name of the Tatars first became known in Russia in 1223. The Mongols, united under Genghis Khan, invaded southern Russia for the first time. They came there more or less accidentally, returning to Central Asia after conquests in Persia and the Caucasus. The Cumans on the south-east steppe fled at the approach of a Mongol host and looked for the means of common defence to the princes of Russia. Russian and Cuman forces were joined: it was resolved not to await the enemy's further advance but to go out and give battle on the steppe. The armies met on the river Kalka, near the Sea of Azov. The prince of Kiev was crushed to death under the boards on which the Tatar victors' feast was spread. But the invaders, after having reached the line of the Dnepr, did not penetrate further into the land. They turned back, their reconnaissance completed, and the people of Russia were incredulous of their deliverance and fearful of what was to follow. For fifteen years they knew no more of "the evil Tatars", "the accursed godless strangers." Only then did the Mongols sweep forward once more from the alien steppe and press on like a devouring sea over the Russian land...

    Genghis Khan died in 1227. It was under his grandson Batu, whose armies were led by the redoubtable Subutai, that the plans for a further great movement of migration across the Russian plain were put into effect. In 1237 a mounted host, in its train a moving encampment of women, children, horses, cattle, camels, felt-roofed tents and primitive siege artillery, swept over the Siberian steppe, crushed the Bulgar tribes east of the Volga and crossed the river.
     The Tale of the Destruction of Riazan is one of the most interesting and best written accounts of the invasion of Russia by the Mongols:
     "...Within twelve years after bringing the miraculous icon of St.Nicholas from Kherson, the godless Emperor Batu invaded the Russian land with a great multitude of his Tatar warriors and
set up camp on the river Voronezh in the vicinity of the principality of Riazan. And he sent his infidel envoys to the city of Riazan, to Great Prince Yury Ingvarevich, demanding tithes from everyone - from the princes and from all ranks of people.And the Great Prince decided to send his son,Fedor Yurevich, to Batu with many gifts and supplications that he not invade the land of Riazan...
     Prince Fedor came to the Emperor Batu... And Batu began to entertain the Riazan Princes, and after this entertainment asked that they send their sisters and daughters to be his concubines. And one envious Riazan courtier told Batu that the wife of Prince Fedor belonged to the Byzantine imperial family and that she had a most beautiful body. Emperor Batu, who was false and merciless, became excited, and told Prince Fedor: "Prince, give me your wife so that I may enjoy her beauty." And Prince Fedor said - "It is not our Christian custom to bring to you, the godless emperor our wives so that your lust may be satisfied. If you conquer us then you will be the ruler of our wives."
     The godless Batu felt offended, and became angry. He ordered the immediate death of Prince Fedor, and commanded that his body be thrown in a field where it would be devoured by beasts and birds. And the retinue and the warriors of Prince Fedor were also put to death.
     One of the servants of Prince Fedor, by name Aponitsa, managed to escape, and wept bitterly, seeing the body of his master. Having noticed that no one guarded the corpse, he took his beloved master's body and buried it secretly. Then he hurried to Princess Eupraxy and told her that Emperor Batu had killed her husband. At that moment the princess happened to be on the upper floor of the palace with her infant son, Prince Ivan. When she heard from Aponitsa that her husband had been slain, she was seized with grief, and threw herself from the window with the child in her arms. And so both were killed...
     The accursed Batu began the conquest of the land of Riazan and soon approached the city of Riazan itself. They encircled the city and fought without surcease for five days. Batu changed his regiments frequently, replacing them with fresh troops, while the citizens of Riazan fought without relief. And many citizens were killed and others wounded. Still others were exhausted by their great efforts and their wounds. On the dawn of the sixth day the pagan warriors began to storm the city, some with firebrands, some with battering rams, and others with countless scaling ladders for ascending the walls of the city. And they took the city of Riazan on the 21st day of December.
     And they killed without exception all monks and priests. And they burned this holy city with all its beauty and wealth... And churches of God were destroyed, and much blood was spilled on the holy altars. And not one man remained alive in the city. All had drunk the same bitter cup to the dregs. And there was not even anyone to mourn the dead. Neither father nor mother could mourn their dear children, nor the children their fathers or mothers...

      Seeing this terrible letting of Christian blood, the heart of godless Batu became even more hardened, and he marched against the cities of Suzdal and Vladimir, intending to conquer all Russian lands...At that time a Riazan lord, Eupaty Kolovrat, in Chernigov at the time of the destruction of the city of Riazan heard of Batu's invasion. He left Chernigov with a force and hurried to Riazan. When he came to the land of Riazan he saw it devastated and the cities destroyed, the rulers killed, and the people dead...
       And Eupaty wept with great his heart became angry. He gathered a small force seventeen hundred men who had been preserved by God outside the city. And they hurriedly pursued the godless Batu. And with difficulty they caught up with him in the principality of Suzdal, and suddenly fell upon his camp. And there began a battle without mercy, and confusion reigned.
     And the Tatars lost their heads from fear as Eupaty fought so fiercely that his sword became dull, and, taking a sword from a fallen Tatar, he would cut them down with their own swords. The Tatars thought that the Russians had risen from the dead, and Eupaty was riding through the ranks of the Tatar regiments so bravely that Batu himself became frightened. With great effort the Tatars managed to capture five men from Eupaty's regiments, and then only because they were exhausted from their wounds. They were brought before the Tatar emperor, and he asked them: "Why do you cause me such evil?" The warriors answered: "We are of the Christian faith, knights of the Great Prince Yury of Riazan, and from the regiment of Eupaty Kolovrat. We were sent by Prince Ingvar Ingvarevich to you, the powerful emperor, to honor you, to chase you away with honors, and to render unto you all honors. Do not wonder, Emperor, that we have not had time to serve up the bitter cup o your entire army."And Batu sent his brother-in-law, Hostovrul, against Eupaty, and with Hostovrul went strong regiments. Hostovrul bragged the emperor, and promised to bring back Eupaty alive. Eupaty was encircled by Tatar troops. And Hostovrul rode out against Eupaty, but Eupaty cleft with one blow he to saddle...
     And once more he began to cut down the Tatar troops, and he killed many of Batu's best knights. Some were cut down, while others were cleft to their waist, and still other were to their saddles... The And Tatars brought up catapults and began showering rocks upon him. And they finally killed Eupaty Kolovrat.