For centuries the warlike nomads stoutly resisted all encroachments on their pasture-grounds, and considered cattle-lifting, kidnapping, and pillage as a legitimate and honorable occupation. “Their raids,” says an old Byzantine writer, “are as flashes of lightning, and their retreat is at once heavy and light—heavy from booty and light from the swiftness of their movements. For them a peaceful life is a misfortune, and a convenient opportunity for war is the height of felicity. Worst of all, they are more numerous than bees in spring, their numbers are uncountable.” “Having no fixed place of abode,” says another Byzantine authority, “they seek to conquer all lands and colonise none. They are flying people, and therefore cannot be caught. As they have neither towns nor villages, they must be hunted like wild beasts, and can be fitly compared only to griffins, which beneficent Nature has banished to uninhabited regions.” As a Persian distich, quoted by Vambery, has it—
“They came, conquered,
pillaged, murdered, and went.”
Their raids are thus described by an old Russian chronicler: “They burn the villages, the farmyards, and the churches. The land is turned by them into a desert, and the overgrown fields become the lair of wild beasts. Many people are led away into slavery; others are tortured and killed, or die from hunger and thirst. Sad, weary, stiff from cold, with faces wan from woe, barefoot or naked, and torn by the thistles, the Russian prisoners trudge along through an unknown country, and, weeping, say to one another, ‘I am from such a town, and I from such a village.’” And in harmony with the monastic chroniclers we hear the nameless Slavonic Ossian wailing for the fallen sons of Rus: “In the Russian land is rarely heard the voice of the husbandman, but often the cry of the vultures, fighting with each other over the bodies of the slain; and the ravens scream as they fly to the spoil.”
In spite of the stubborn resistance of the nomads the wave of colonisation moved steadily onwards until the first years of the thirteenth century, when it was suddenly checked and thrown back. A great Mongolian horde from Eastern Asia, far more numerous and better organized than the local nomadic tribes, overran the whole country, and for more than two centuries Russia was in a certain sense ruled by Mongol Khans. As I wish to speak at some length of this Mongol domination, I shall devote to it a separate chapter.
THE MONGOL DOMINATION
The Conquest—Genghis Khan and his People—Creation and Rapid Disintegration of the Mongol Empire—The Golden Horde—The Real Character of the Mongol Domination—Religious Toleration—Mongol System of Government—Grand Princes—The Princes of Moscow—Influence of the Mongol Domination—Practical Importance of the Subject.