A Short History of Russia eBook

Mary Platt Parmele
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 177 pages of information about A Short History of Russia.

CHAPTER VII

UNDER MONGOL YOKE

Amid the wreck of principalities there was one state remaining erect.  Novgorod was defended by its remoteness and its uninviting climate.  The Mongols had not thought it worth while to attempt the reduction of the warlike state, so the stalwart Republic stood alone amid the general ruin.  All the rest were under the Tatar yoke.  Of Princes there were none.  All had either been slaughtered or fled.  Proud boyars saw their wives and daughters the slaves of barbarians.  Delicate women who had always lived in luxury were grinding corn and preparing coarse food for their terrible masters.

After the conquest was completed the Mongol sovereign exacted only three things from the prostrate state—­homage, tribute, and a military contingent when required.  They might retain their land and their customs, might worship any god in any way; their Princes might dispute for the thrones as before; but no Prince—­not the Grand Prince himself—­could ascend a throne until he had permission from the Great Khan, to whom also every dispute between royal claimants must be deferred.  Then when finally the messenger came from the sovereign with the yarlik, or royal sanction, the Prince must listen kneeling, with his head in the dust.  And if then he was invited (?) to the Mongol court to pay homage, he must go, even though it required (as Marco Polo tells us) four years to make the journey across the plains and the mountains and rivers and the Great Desert of Gobi!

When Yaroslaf II., third Grand Prince of Suzdal, succeeded to the Principality, he was invited to pay this visit.  After reaching there, and after all the degrading ceremonies to which he was subjected—­kissing the stirrup of his Suzerain, and licking up the drops which fell from his cup as he drank—­then this Prince of the family of Rurik perished from exhaustion in the Desert of Gobi on his return journey.  But this was not all.  The yoke was a heavy as well as a degrading one.  Each Prince with his Drujina must be always ready to lead an army in defense of the Mongol cause if required; and, last of all, the poll-tax bore with intolerable weight upon everyone, rich or poor, excepting only the ecclesiastics and the property of the Greek Church, which with a singular clemency they exempted.

What sort of a despotism was it, and what sort of a being, that could wield such a power from such a distance! that, across a continent it took four years to traverse, could compel such obedience; could by a word or a nod bring proud Princes with rage and rebellion in their hearts to his court—­not to be honored and enriched, but degraded and insulted; then in shame to turn back with their boyars and retinues,—­if indeed they were permitted to go back at all,—­one-half of whom would perish from exhaustion by the way.  What was the secret of such a power?  Even with all the modern appliances for conveying the will of a sovereign to-day, with railroads to carry his messengers and telegraph wires to convey his will, would it be conceivable to exert such an authority?

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A Short History of Russia from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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