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[from Walsh] Although Tatar [or Mongol] troops had defeated those of the Russian princes in 1228 this had been only a reconnaissance in force and the Tatars had withdrawn without attempting to follow up the victory. They returned in 1236, however, and within less than four years brought all the Russian principalities, except Novogorod, under their dominion. Tatar control of the Russian lands lasted almost two and one-half centuries and had very important, far-reaching consequences. The following description of the Tatars was written in 1243.

[spelling slightly modernized - Halsall]

But concerning their manners and superstitions, of the disposition and stature of their bodies, of their country and manner of fighting etc., he protested the particulars following to be true: namely, that they were above all men, covetous, hasty, deceitful], and merciless: notwithstanding, by reason of the rigor and extremity of punishments to be inflicted upon them by their superiors, they are restrained from brawlings, and from mutual strife and contention. The ancient founders and fathers of their tribes, they call by the name of gods, and at certain set times the do celebrate solemn feasts unto them, many of them being particular, & but four only general. They think that all things are created for themselves alone. They esteem it none offence to exercise cruelty against rebels. They are hardy and strong in the breast, lean and pale-faced, rough and hug-shouldered, having flat and short noses, long and sharp chins, their upper jaws are low and declining, their teeth long and thin, their eye-brows extending from their foreheads down to their noses, their eyes inconstand and black, their countenances writhen and terrible, their extreme joints strong with bones and sinews, having thick and great thighs, and short legs, and yet being equal unto us in stature: for that length which is wanting in their legs, is supplied in the upper parts of their bodies. Their country in old time was a land utterly desert and waste, situated far beyond Chaldea, from whence they have expelled lions, bears, & such like tintarned beasts, with their bows, and other engines. Of the hides of beasts being tanned, they use to shape for themselves light but yet impenetrable armor. They ride fast bound 'unto their horses, which are not very great in stature, but exceedingly strong, and maintained with little provender. They used to fight constantly and valiantly with javelins, maces, battle-axes, and swords. But specially they are excellent archers, and cunning warriors with their bows. Their backs are slightly armed, that they may not flee. They withdraw not themselves from the combat till they see the chief standard of their General give back. Vanquished, they ask no favor, and -vanquishing, they show no compassion. They all persist in their purpose of subduing the whole world under their own subjection, as if . they were but one man, and yet they are more then millions in number. They have 60000. Couriers, who being sent before upon light horses to prepare a place for the army to encamp in, will in the space of one night gallop three days journey. And suddenly diffusing themselves over an whole province, and surprising all the people thereof unarmed, unprovided, dispersed, they make such horrible slaughters, that the king or prince of the land invaded, cannot find people sufficient to wage battle against them, and to withstand them They delude all people and princes of regions in time of peace, pretending that for a cause, which indeed is no cause. Sometimes they say, that they will make a voyage to Colen, to fetch home the three wise kings into their own country; sometimes to punish the avarice and pride of the Romans, who oppressed them in times past; sometimes to conquer barbarous and Northern nations; sometimes to moderate the fury of the Germans with their own meek mildness; sometimes to learn warlike feats and stratagems of the French; sometimes for the finding out of fertile ground to suffice their huge multitudes; sometimes again in derision they say that they intend to go on pilgrimage to S. James of Galicia. In regard of which sleights and collusions certain undiscreet governors concluding a league with them, have granted them free passage through their territories, which leagues notwithstanding being violate, were an occasion of ruin and destruction unto the governors &c.

 


from Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation.

Ten vols. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1927. Vol. 1, pp. 91-93. reprinted in Warren Walsh, Readings in Russian History, (Syracuse NY: Syracuse University Press, 1948)
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

Paul Halsall Mar 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu