How to Finance the American Civil War


I have just written a new section for Chapter 4 of my North American history, telling how Americans paid for the Civil War, with special emphasis on the Union solutions.  Read and enjoy!

Finding New Ways into the People’s Pockets

Before the Civil War, the federal government got most of its money from tariffs and a few other taxes, and issued various bonds and notes when it did not raise enough revenue this way. Federal spending was kept low, because most administrations, from Jefferson to Pierce, thought accumulating debt was bad in the long run. The Buchanan administration allowed an exception to this rule, because the financial panic of 1857 had reduced normal income from tariffs and duties. In 1857 the national debt was $28 million, not enough to scare anybody, and by issuing bonds and notes to cover the shortfall in revenue, Washington added $76 million to the debt by 1861. Then came the Civil War, and the calls to recruit hundreds of thousands of new soldiers. All those troops needed to be paid, and they also needed uniforms, guns, ammunition and food, so the Civil War was not only bigger than any previous war in North America — it was also more expensive. And because both sides had originally expected the war would be short, Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary (Salmon P. Chase), and his Confederate counterpart (Christopher Gustavus Memminger) did not think they would have to raise billions of dollars for the war effort, but that is what they eventually did.

To find new sources of revenue, President Lincoln called a special session of Congress in July 1861. The ideas considered at this session included the sale of government bonds, increased tariffs, new taxes or duties, and the sale of public lands. Congress approved a $240 million bond sale, and the introduction of an income tax; the latter was a flat tax of 3% on everyone making more than $800 a year. Before the new tax was collected, though, Congress passed a new Revenue Act (in mid-1862), to replace the Revenue Act of 1861. This modified the income tax, so that it collected 3% on annual incomes above $600, and 5% on incomes above $10,000 or on US citizens living abroad. Most important of all, the income tax was declared temporary; collection of it would end in 1866. After that, Americans would not be saddled with an income tax again for almost fifty years.

The 1861 bond sale raised only $150 million, so a $500 million bond sale was authorized in February 1862. Since bonds were bought mostly by banks and brokers, Secretary Chase gave the responsibility of selling the bonds to one of the buyers, a banker named Jay Cooke. This was a roaring success; Cooke did it by running newspaper advertisements, using a network of 2,500 salesmen spread out across the country, and by writing editorials promoting the bonds. Some of the bonds had a face value as low as $50, making them affordable to private citizens, and Cooke declared that buying a bond was a patriotic act, that should be considered by anyone who wanted to preserve the Union. Because Cooke did so well, Congress authorized an $830 million bond issue in early 1865, and this time Cooke sold them all by the summer of the same year. Altogether, bond sales paid two-thirds of the $3.4 billion that the Civil War cost the Union government.

Finally, the Civil War saw the introduction of paper money as present-day Americans know it. At the beginning of the war, the money supply in circulation was $200 million worth of banknotes. Each state authorized a few banks to print the money, and from state to state the bills looked different, and were in different denominations. To reduce the confusion this understandably caused, Treasury Secretary Chase suggested that the federal government print $150 million worth of a new paper currency not backed by gold, but still considered an obligation of the USA. Printed on green paper, these "greenbacks" would be convertible into an equal amount of government bonds and considered legal tender for all public and private debts. After two months of heated deliberation, Congress approved his plan, through the Legal Tender Act of 1862. Ironically, the first dollar bills printed had Chase’s picture on them. Still, the new standard currency was soon accepted by both merchants and consumers, so in July 1862, Congress authorized another $150 million greenback issue, and urged that about 25% of the notes be issued in denominations of one to five dollars. Then it approved the third greenback issue, worth $150 million, in early 1863. By the end of the war, approximately $450 million worth of the new paper money was in circulation.

The Sonderbund War


We have four more days before my next podcast episode goes online, so while you’re waiting for it, here’s another story about an obscure war that I recently added to the website.  This one took place in Switzerland, believe it or not, and I added it to Chapter 13 of the European history series.

The Sonderbund War

We don’t get many opportunities to discuss Switzerland in a European history narrative, because the Swiss kept to themselves most of the time, and the outside world didn’t bother them much. The most recent outsider who did bother them was Napoleon Bonaparte, who conquered Switzerland in 1798, and turned most of it into a "Helvetian Republic." Then in 1803, because the Swiss refused to cooperate with him, he brought back the previous canton system, though the cantons remained satellite states of the French Empire until 1814. With the Congress of Vienna, Switzerland’s independence was restored, and Valais, Neuchâtel and Geneva were added as new cantons, establishing Switzerland’s present-day boundaries. Most important of all, the Congress declared Switzerland neutral, and the Swiss have followed this to the letter; they have not been involved in any foreign war since 1815, nor will they join any international organization.

However, the Swiss could still fight other Swiss, and they did that once, in a conflict that was short and is now nearly forgotten. Thanks to Ulrich Zwingli, today’s Swiss population is predominantly Protestant, but a large Catholic minority remained after the Reformation era ended. In the 1840s a new liberal party rose, the Free Democratic Party of Switzerland. This party wanted a new constitution that would turn the Swiss Confederation into a more centralized state, and it wanted to reduce the power of the Catholic Church, especially in the schools. To protect their rights, seven cantons that were both conservative and Catholic formed an alliance called the Sonderbund ("Separate Alliance"). This was illegal according to the 1815 treaty and the constitution. The liberals ordered the alliance dissolved, and the Sonderbund members refused. Among the other cantons, fifteen supported the Bern government, and two were neutral.

The resulting Sonderbund War lasted less than four weeks, in November 1847. The Protestants had the advantage of numbers, recruiting 99,000 troops to go against the Sonderbund’s 79,000. In response, the Sonderbund requested aid from the two strongest Catholic nations in Europe, France and Austria. Therefore, Bern’s strategy was to win the war as quickly as possible, before any foreigners could get involved. The Sonderbund began the fighting by launching two offensives, against Ticino and Aargau, but they failed to gain anything important before the government struck back. Those counter-offensives conquered Fribourg and Lucerne, and broke the Sonderbund forces. By December 1 the last Sonderbund canton (Valais) surrendered, and it was all over.

There is nothing "civil" about most civil wars, but the Swiss managed to make the Sonderbund War one of the most polite conflicts of all time. The government army commander, Guillaume-Henri Dufour, refused to equip his army with Congreve rockets, a weapon the enemy did not have, because he felt the rockets would cause too much damage. And he actually let the other side know where he was planning his next attacks, in the hope that this would make them surrender before the attacks took place. In addition, a lot of people in the Sonderbund did not really want to secede from Switzerland, so when government troops entered rebel towns, they received a warm welcome. Finally, both sides had standing orders to give medical aid to wounded enemies. All this meant that casualties were minimal (60 federal troops and 26 rebels killed), and when a new constitution was introduced in 1848, one which turned Switzerland into the federal state that exists today, the Catholics were willing to give it a chance. In fact, they are still in Switzerland now. As for General Dufour, he went on to preside over the First Geneva Convention, which founded the International Red Cross in 1864.

The Free State of Van Zandt


On the podcast, in the latest episode I mentioned America’s first war in Korea, the Shinmiyangyo Incident of 1871.  Now here is another strange war in the 1800s that most people have forgotten, to the point that I just heard about it.  On The Xenophile Historian, I have added it to Chapter 4 of the North American history series.

The Free State of Van Zandt

One part of the South that wanted nothing to do with slavery and Reconstruction was Van Zandt County, in northeastern Texas.  Almost no one in this county owned slaves, and they didn’t like the idea of fighting for someone else’s right to own slaves.  When Texas seceded in 1861, some folks in Van Zandt County proposed seceding from Texas, so that like West Virginia, they could remain with the Union.  However, the threat of military intervention by the state of Texas was enough to keep the citizens of Van Zandt from acting, for the duration of the Civil War.

After the war, the citizens of Van Zandt decided that another thing they didn’t like was letting Union troops and carpetbaggers run around in the county.  In 1867 Texas was readmitted into the Union, and a convention was held in Van Zandt to propose seceding from Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States of America!  The county commissioners approved of this move, and drafted a declaration of independence, which looked a lot like the more famous 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Naturally General Sheridan saw this move as an act of rebellion, and he sent a cavalry unit to deal with it.  However, the heavily forrested terrain of Van Zandt County canceled the advantage cavalry normally has, and the rebels knew their home ground well enough to surprise their opponents.  The first (and only) battle of the Free State War was won by the rebels, who ambushed and drove off the cavalry.  Then, to celebrate the ultimate David-vs.-Goliath victory, the rebels gathered in Canton, the main town of Van Zandt County.  At the party they drank too much, and while they were totally blotto, Sheridan’s troops returned, arrested the whole bunch, and built a stockade near Canton to hold them.

You’d think that would be the end of the story, but it has an epilogue.  One of the prisoners, a former Confederate soldier named William Allen, had a knife in his boot that was not discovered by his captors, and over the course of several days he used the knife like a file, wearing down the anklets restraining him until he could break them off.  Around the same time the rainy season started, and the guards posted on the site were reduced to one, who did his best to keep an eye on the prisoners by simply walking around the compound.  This allowed Allen to free the other prisoners while the guard wasn’t looking, and when they broke out of the stockade, most of them fled in two different directions, one group going north to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and the other going west to the neighborhood of Waco, TX.

Arrest warrants were put out for all the prisoners that escaped, but Federal troops did not look very hard for them, and none were caught.  Even Allen was able to return after most people forgot about the affair, and he spent the rest of his life as a doctor in Canton.  As for the Feds, they departed as soon as they brought Van Zandt County back into Texas, considering their work complete.  Nobody bothered to void the county’s declaration of independence, so technically the county is still independent.  Today the county calls itself "The Free State of Van Zandt," though today it isn’t clear if it got that name from the 1867 secession, the 1861 secession attempt, the county’s lack of slaves, or some incident that happened even earlier.

The Xenophile Newsletter, #28


The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #28
( )

Greetings once again to all my loyal readers!  Charles Kimball is here again, to give you the latest news on my world history website and podcast. 

For this newsletter I have exactly two announcements.  That’s right, just two.  For one thing, it has only been four months since the last newsletter came out.  And since then, I have added more pictures to existing pages and corrected a few typos, but that was never stuff I considered worthy of announcing.  Also, I have been busy in the outside world lately.  Nevertheless, I managed to stick to my goals of what I wanted on both the Website and the podcast.  So this newsletter will be short and sweet, compared with previous ones.


On the website itself, I completed the history of the fourteen South Pacific nations.  Chapter 5 covers events from 1945 to the present.  As it turned out, the most convenient way to present the subject was to divide it into four parts.  Here are the URLs for the webpages, and the subheadings for each one:

Part I

First, A Word on the Cargo Cults
The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Nearby Atolls
Australia: The Menzies Era
Rabbits Gone Wild
Recolonial New Zealand

Part II

Independence Comes to the Islands
     Western New Guinea: From One Colonial Overlord to Another
     Western Samoa
     Nauru and Tonga
     Papua New Guinea
     The Solomon Islands
     Tuvalu and Kiribati
     The Free Association States

Part III

The Australian Constitutional Crisis
Australia in Recent Years
New Zealand: Labour and National Reforms

Part IV

The Smaller Island Nations Since Independence
     The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and Palau
     Fiji: Too Early to Tell
     Kiribati: Every Day and Every Year Begin Here
     Tuvalu: The First Nation to Go Under?
     Nauru: The Island That Lost its Future
     Papua New Guinea: A Troubled Young Nation
     Samoa: No Longer Western, But Looking Southwest
     The Solomon Islands: Are They A Nation Yet?
     Tonga: It’s Good to Be King
     Vanuatu: Harmony With Disunity
     New Caledonia: Unfinished Business
Conclusion for the Islands

However, I have one more task, requiring another history paper, before I will consider the South Pacific project finished.  That task is to write a history of the exploration of Antarctica, so the Antarctic can be included somewhere on the website.  I decided the best place for an essay on the South Pole would be to put it with the ones on the South Pacific, because most of the South Pacific is below the equator, too, and Chapters 1-3 also had much to say about exploration.  Come back in 2017 to read one more chapter!


The other news is that my podcast, on the history of Southeast Asia, continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  As of November 21, 2016, nine episodes have been recorded and uploaded, ten if you count the introduction.  So far there have been 4,710 downloads, to 3,355 devices (computers, laptops and smart phones).  Divide that by ten, and it works out to an estimated 335 listeners.  Most of that happened because I have successfully promoted the podcast, especially on Facebook.  Hopefully it won’t be long before I have enough listeners and downloads to attract a sponsor, and then I can make some money from this venture.

At the rate I am going, two episodes per month that average forty minutes each, I expect it will take the rest of this year to get finished with the Middle Ages, and I probably won’t cover twentieth-century conflicts (e.g., World War II, the Vietnam War) until sometime in 2018.  Still, as I have done on the website, I plan to include interesting content in each episode, including a number of strange and obscure stories the listeners probably haven’t heard before.

Since getting started last June, I have submitted the podcast’s RSS feed to four popular websites that host podcasts, and have found three more websites that posted links to the episodes without any input from me.  Therefore, at this time I know of eight sites where you can listen to or download the episodes:

Blubrry, the original host ( )
Google Play

And again, here is the podcast’s Facebook page:

If you haven’t listened to the podcast yet, check it out!


So there you have it.  For the near future, I will continue putting out podcast episodes, and compose the Antarctica page mentioned above.  Then I will probably update another history series.  Most likely it will be the Russian history, because I finished the last chapter in 2000, right after Boris Yeltsin resigned, so maybe now it is time to cover all the things Vladimir Putin has done to revive the Russian state, and what the other former Soviet republics think about that. 

And when that is done, sometime in 2017, I think it will finally be time to write the Central Asian history I have been promising to myself for a quarter century, so at last I can say The Xenophile Historian contains the history of the rise and fall of just about everybody.  Thank you for reading and listening.  If you observe holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, have a great holiday season, and I’ll see you in the New Year!


If you missed older issues of this newsletter and want to see them,

they can be downloaded in a zip file from .  And the links below go to topics I mentioned in previous issues, that are still valid.  Please visit them, if you haven’t already:

The Xenohistorian Weblog, this site’s official blog.

My world history textbook, "A Biblical Interpretation of World History."

My business website:


Take Care and God Bless,

Charles Scott Kimball


You received this newsletter because you subscribed to my mailing list, provided by .  It comes out 1-3 times a year, when there have been major changes to the website.  I AM NOT in the spam business, so when you subscribed here, your address was not sent to any third parties.  If for any reason you wish to unsubscribe, or would like to subscribe a new e-mail address, go to my homepage ( ), scroll down about four fifths of the way to the bottom, enter your address where it says "Enter your e-mail address to receive the site newsletter!" and hit the "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" button.

Chapter 5: Oceania Since 1945


Over the past four and a half months, I have been giving priority to the new podcast, as you can see from my previous messages.  Even so, I have not neglected the website, and have continued to write for the website’s current history project — the South Pacific.  It has been a bit of a challenge prioritizing the writing and the podcasting, so I can keep to my schedule of uploading two episodes every month.  For a while, for instance, I would write the scripts for my episodes and record them on weekdays, while writing for the website on weekends.  Perseverance paid off, and now the fifth chapter of the South Pacific history is now online!

This time we wrap up the whole narrative, covering the fourteen nations in this region from the end of World War II to the present.  As it turned out, the most convenient way to present the subject was to divide it into four parts.  Here are the URLs for the webpages, and a list of subheadings on each one:

Part I

* First, A Word on the Cargo Cults
* The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, and Nearby Atolls
* Australia: The Menzies Era
* Rabbits Gone Wild
* Recolonial New Zealand

Part II

* Independence Comes to the Islands
     * Western New Guinea: From One Colonial Overlord to Another
     * Western Samoa
     * Nauru and Tonga
     * Fiji
     * Papua New Guinea
     * The Solomon Islands
     * Tuvalu and Kiribati
     * Vanuatu
     * The Free Association States

Part III

* The Australian Constitutional Crisis
* Australia in Recent Years
* New Zealand: Labour and National Reforms

Part IV

* The Smaller Island Nations Since Independence
     * The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and Palau
     * Fiji: Too Early to Tell
     * Kiribati: Every Day and Every Year Begin Here
     * Tuvalu: The First Nation to Go Under?
     * Nauru: The Island That Lost its Future
     * Papua New Guinea: A Troubled Young Nation
     * Samoa: No Longer Western, But Looking Southwest
     * The Solomon Islands: Are They A Nation Yet?
     * Tonga: It’s Good to Be King
     * Vanuatu: Harmony With Disunity
     * New Caledonia: Unfinished Business
* Conclusion for the Islands

It looks like I am done with this project, but while working on it, I decided to write something on the exploration of Antarctica, so the Antarctic can be included somewhere on the website; we might as well put the paper on the South Pole together with the ones on Australia.  Therefore, look for one more paper on Antarctica to show up sometime in 2017, and then the complete South Pacific history will be considered finished.  Stay tuned for one more chapter!

The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #27


The Xenophile Historian Newsletter, #27
( )

Greetings once again to all my loyal readers!  Charles Kimball is here again, to give you the latest news on my world history website, and more. 

This time the main announcement is that I am trying a new online venture — podcasting.  I was prompted to do this by my discovery last fall, that history-related podcasts were appearing all over the World Wide Web.  There are no longer just a few individuals in the business, like Dan Carlin.  Most of the podcasts I listened to were enjoyable, especially if I learned something, but with those that weren’t so good, my reaction was, “I can do better than that!”  In June one of the podcasters I listened to went on Facebook and asked for comments, and when I told him about the episode where I thought I could have done better, he agreed!

After that, I considered making my own history podcast, But I didn’t want to start by doing a topic that someone else had already covered.  Thus, I considered what areas of history I am strong at, and one of them is Southeast Asian history.  A quick Google search told me that no one is doing a podcast on that yet, so that became my subject.  I read up on how to make a podcast, bought a good microphone, chose a host for the MP3 files, wrote my first script, and off I went.  There were some technical issues when I uploaded the first episode on June 29, and they were resolved on July 1, so I consider July 1 the official launch date for the podcast.  That episode was just an introduction, and the second episode began the actual historical narrative; I uploaded it on July 15.

Thus, the History of Southeast Asia Podcast is fully underway.  My goal is to upload two episodes a month, each around 30 minutes in length.  Let’s see how long I can keep it going; if I make it to the mid-twentieth century, this will become the official podcast about the Vietnam War, among other things.  Next, I want to get some advertisers, and otherwise find ways to make money doing this, because I am still out of work at this time.  Here is the URL that goes directly to my host.  Check it out.

You can also subscribe to it on iTunes:

And I made a page on Facebook to promote the podcast:


Now, what is happening back on the main website?  Another chapter in my South Pacific history series has been completed and uploaded, as you might expect if you have read my previous newsletters.  In composing Chapter 4, the main issue was that since we only have 102 years to cover to get to the present (1914-2016), should it all be done in one chapter?  At first I thought so, but then it occurred to me that the part dealing with World War I & II in the South Pacific can stand by itself, and I am keeping you from seeing it if I wait until the postwar material is done before uploading everything.  Thus, the narrative now has Chapter 4 for the period between 1914 and 1945, and a future Chapter 5 will go from 1945 to the present.  Here is how the chapter is organized:

Chapter 4: The Great Pacific War

1914 to 1945

Part I

World War I: The Prologue
The Pacific Islands in the Interwar Period
The Interwar Years: Australia
The Cactus War and the Emu War
New Zealand: Between Liberal and Labour
"Under A Jarvis Moon"
The Flight of Amelia Earhart

Part II

The Pacific War Begins
From Pearl Harbor to the Coral Sea
The Battle of Midway: The Tide Turns
The New Guinea Campaign, Part 1
The New Guinea Campaign, Part 2
Climbing the Solomon Islands, and Part 3 of the New Guinea Campaign
The Pacific Drive
The Last Carrier vs. Carrier Battle
The End of the War is in Sight


As for existing pages on the site, I only have one update to report, but it’s a big one.  In May I went back to the Russian history series.  This time I did a major rewrite Chapter 2, the Medieval Russia chapter.  The motivation is the same that prompted me to compose Chapter 1 in 2013; I felt the need to give equal time for non-Russians living in places that would be considered part of Russia in later eras.  For medieval times, that will include the Mongols, Germans, and Lithuanians.  I ended up adding so much new content, including pictures, that I split Chapter 2.  The new Chapter 2, called “Kievan Russia,” covers the years from 862 to 1300, while the material for the years 1300-1682 became a new Chapter 3, called “Muscovite Russia.”  Of course the chapters that were previously numbered 3-5 were renumbered 4-6.  Chapters 2 and 3 are now organized thusly:

Chapter 2: Kievan Russia

862 to 1300

The Kievan Principality
A Christian Russia
The Decline of Kiev
The Mongol Conquest
The Baltic Crusades Begin
Alexander Nevsky
The Golden Horde
Chapter 3: Muscovite Russia

1300 to 1682

The Rise of Lithuania
The Rise of Muscovy
The Golden Horde Breaks Up
Ivan the Great
Ivan the Terrible
North to the Orient
The Time of Troubles
The Conquest of Siberia
Russia Under the Early Romanovs


That’s it already.  Concerning what’s next, just two things come to mind.  First, I will finish the South Pacific history series; doing that by the end of this year is a worthy goal.  Second, I will build on the new History of Southeast Asia podcast; how far can I go with this?  Thank you for reading and listening, and have a great life until we touch base again!  ‘Bye for now.


If you missed older issues of this newsletter and want to see them, they can be downloaded in a zip file from .  And the links below go to topics I mentioned in previous issues, that are still valid.  Please visit them, if you haven’t already:

The Xenohistorian Weblog, this site’s official blog.

My world history textbook, "A Biblical Interpretation of World History."

My business website:

And my page on Tsu.


Take Care and God Bless,

Charles Scott Kimball


You received this newsletter because you subscribed to my mailing list, provided by .  It comes out once or twice a year, when there have been major changes to the website.  I AM NOT in the spam business, so when you subscribed here, your address was not sent to any third parties.  If for any reason you wish to unsubscribe, or would like to subscribe a new e-mail address, go to my homepage ( ), scroll down about four fifths of the way to the bottom, enter your address where it says "Enter your e-mail address to receive the site newsletter!" and hit the "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" button.

The Time of Troubles, Updated


I now declare my rewrite of my medieval Russian history papers complete.  The section covering the chaotic period from 1584 to 1613 is the last where I made major changes, so here it is.  I also moved a section about sailing the “Northeast Passage” (“North to the Orient”) here, from my European history folder, and added a few maps and one or two new paragraphs to the section entitled “The Early Romanovs,” but I don’t think those changes are big enough to warrant retelling those stories here.  If you want to check out those sections, go to .  And now let’s look at the anarchic time between Ivan the Terrible and Michael Romanov.

The Time of Troubles

1584 to 1613

For 29 years after the death of Ivan the Terrible there was no competent leadership in Moscow. Part of this was Ivan’s fault; in 1581, in a moment of rage, he killed his only promising son (also named Ivan) with a blow from the iron staff he habitually carried around. That left two other sons, the mentally retarded Fyodor and an infant named Dmitri. Unfortunately, with a monarchy you have to take what the royal family gives you, so Fyodor received the crown by default. He spent his 14-year reign saying prayers and listening to church bells, while his father-in-law, a member of the service gentry named Boris Godunov, ran the daily affairs of the country.

Ivan IV by Repin

Ivan the Terrible reacts with horror upon realizing that he killed his son. Painting by Elias Repin.

Halfway through the "reign" of Fyodor I, his brother Dmitri was found dead with his throat cut. It was never proved whether this was an accident or a murder. Official investigators, appointed by Godunov, declared that Dmitri suffered an epileptic seizure while playing with a knife and killed himself. Some Russians (including the nineteenth century writer Pushkin) believed that Godunov was responsible, in order to give himself a better claim to the throne; it is also possible that a boyar committed the deed, in an act of revenge against the family of Ivan the Terrible. Whatever the case, it was the death of this ten-year-old boy that caused all of the tragic events that followed in this period.

Seven years after Dmitri, Tsar Fyodor died childless, and with that the 700-year-old dynasty founded by Rurik came to an end. The Zemsky Sobor elected Boris Godunov to be the next tsar. Boris had proven himself to be a good prime minister, but after he became tsar nothing went right. The people never accepted him wholeheartedly because he could not trace his ancestry to the Rurikide tsars. Many boyars, including the influential Romanovs, opposed him for personal reasons, and the Church denounced his attempt to set up a Western-style university in Moscow as "foreign contamination." Boris accused the head of the Romanov family, Fyodor Romanov, of treason, and exiled him to a monastery outside Moscow, where he was forced to become a monk and change his name to Philaret. Meanwhile, drought and famine ravaged the land, causing armed mobs of desperate men to roam the countryside, plundering the estates of the rich.

Boris Godunov.

Boris Godunov.

On top of all this, a mysterious young man appeared (modern historians call him "False Dmitri"), who claimed that Dmitri’s assassins bungled their assignment and killed the wrong boy; now he, the "real" Dmitri, was coming out of seclusion to claim his rightful throne. He went to Poland, promised to make Russia a Catholic country if he gained the throne, and got a Polish army to back him up. Then he marched on Moscow, his band of warriors swelled by Cossacks and peasants along the way. Boris Godunov went to fight him, but bad luck intervened one more time; he had a fatal heart before he could battle the pretender. False Dmitri triumphantly entered Moscow, removed Godunov’s son (Fyodor II) from the throne, and was crowned tsar.

The young ruler, whoever he was, only lasted thirteen months. His obnoxious Polish guards & retainers offended the Muscovites. The Russian Orthodox Church was offended because he married a Polish noblewoman after becoming tsar, but allowed her to remain a Catholic. Some Muscovites suspected that he was not even a Russian at all, because he never took a bath.(5)A conspiracy, led by a boyar named Vasili Shuisky, slaughtered the Poles and False Dmitri. Shuisky was elected tsar and he showed what he thought of False Dmitri by burning his remains, stuffing them into a cannon and shooting it off in the direction of Poland.

Vasili IV, the "boyar tsar" (1606-10), found himself even less popular than his predecessors. A second False Dmitri appeared, as well as a "False Peter," who claimed to be the non-existent son of Fyodor I. In the south a former slave named Ivan Bolotnikov led a mass revolt of Cossacks, runaway peasants and vagabonds against all authority; the rebellion got all the way to the gates of Moscow before it was driven back. Vasili IV appealed to Sweden for military assistance in stopping False Dmitri II, and the king of Poland, Sigismund III, let Swedish intervention become his excuse to launch a second Polish invasion. The Poles took Smolensk in 1609, and Moscow in 1610; they removed Vasili, and persuaded the boyars to elect Sigismund’s son Wladislaw as the next tsar. However Sigismund opposed this move, partly because Wladislaw was a minor, and partly because the boyars expected Wladislaw to convert to Orthodoxy, so Sigismund claimed the throne for himself. Later, when Sigismund realized the Russians would never accept him as their ruler, he agreed to a compromise where he would act as regent until Wladislaw came of age. At any rate, the situation in Moscow was too dangerous for the Polish king and prince to stick around, so they left without a coronation taking place, meaning that for three years there was no tsar. To the northwest, Sweden launched its own invasion to get the Poles out of Moscow, taking Novgorod in 1611 and supporting a third False Dmitri’s claim to the tsar’s throne.

It looked like Russia would disintegrate completely as a nation, but it was saved by a miraculous reuniting of the people. Since we last saw him, Philaret had become a metropolitan (archbishop), and now he used the pulpit to rally the people in the name of patriotism and Orthodox Christianity; Holy Moscow, the "Third Rome," must not be allowed to fall to the Catholic "heretics" of the West. The Poles arrested Philaret and sent him to Poland as a prisoner, but his message went forth. Russians who heard it gave up one third of their possessions to finance a war of liberation, and soon a great national army–which to the Poles must have appeared to spring spontaneously out of the earth–marched on Moscow, led by a butcher named Kuzma Minin and a boyar named Dmitri Pozharsky. Praying, fasting, and implacable, it wiped out the Poles and liberated Moscow in November 1612, though it would take several more years and concessions of land to get the Poles and Swedes out of Russia altogether.

5. A common practice at the time. Russians bathed regularly but most Europeans avoided it as much as possible, thinking it unhealthy (!) and morally questionable, because the bathhouses of early medieval times were a good place to get your personal possessions ripped off.

Ivan the Terrible, Redone


The end of this rewrite project is in sight!  For this section I did not add or change as much as I did in the others.  Again, this is from Chapter 3 of my Russian history series.

Ivan the Terrible

1533 to 1584

Ivan IV was only three years old when his father Vasili III died. From that time until he grew up, the government was run first by his mother, then after her death by the boyars. The latter had seen enough of autocracy from the two previous tsars, so they tried to regain their lost privileges while they had the opportunity. According to Ivan’s own account, the boyars treated him with contempt verging on cruelty. They kept him separated from his friends and favorite servants and lolled about on his late father’s bed with their boots on. A group of them once burst into the boy’s chamber at dawn and engaged in a furious argument, frightening him into a panic. In public they beat their foreheads on the ground before him, but when alone Ivan had to go hungry and without proper clothes. Perhaps as a result of this, Ivan began very early to display the streak of sadism that marked him all his life; his earliest amusement was throwing small animals from the window of a Kremlin tower. In 1543, at the age of thirteen, Ivan had the most troublesome boyar murdered by the Kremlin dogkeepers, and thereafter he was ruler of Russia in fact as well as in name.

The early part of Ivan’s reign, up until about 1560, was his "good" period; most of the time he was rational, an able ruler who surrounded himself with advisors from all walks of life, including those from a peasant background; Ivan knew that ability and status are not necessarily found in the same people. He rewrote the law code and asked for forgiveness, both from God and from the people, for the past sins he had committed. Up until this time the boyars had been a most difficult group to control, since they had inherited large amounts of land and felt that they had no responsibilities to the tsar and the state beyond paying taxes. Many of them had private armies and dispensed justice within their own territories, making their lands virtually independent states within the state. Moreover, they could look across the border into Poland-Lithuania and see how much the nobility can do when the king is not watching them all the time; sometimes only anti-Catholic prejudice could keep them loyal to Muscovy. Ivan required the boyars to supply officers and men for his military campaigns, and used arbitrary confiscations and an occasional murder on those who disobeyed. Since the boyars were not trustworthy even when they complied, Ivan created a new nobility that was: the service gentry. Those who made up the service gentry were officers, given small to medium-sized estates as a reward for their service. Since the tsar could give or take away their lands at the drop of a hat, the service gentry remained loyal to him, and he used them as a check against the hereditary nobility.

Another way to limit the influence of the boyars was to limit what the boyars’ assembly, the Duma, could do. In 1550 a new assembly, the Zemsky Sobor ("Assembly of the Land"), convened for the purpose of checking the Duma. Its membership was made up of service gentry, clergy, merchants and a few loyal boyars. This was not a true parliament in the Western sense; its members were appointed, not elected, and it was meant to approve the tsar’s proposals, not debate or veto them. Still Ivan listened carefully to the grievances that were presented and took steps to remedy the causes of some of them.

Ivan IV

Ivan IV.

It was in his military campaigns that Ivan acquired his epithet, "the Terrible"; not because he was terrible to the Russians (though he was), but because he was terrible to Russia’s enemies. The introduction of gunpowder weapons had eliminated the old superiority of the mounted archer vs. infantry, and now the numerically superior Russians took the offensive. The Mongol Khanate of Kazan was conquered in 1552.(1) In 1554 Ivan installed a puppet ruler over the Khanate of Astrakhan, and when this individual rebelled, the Russians conquered Astrakhan, too (1556).

After the Volga conquests, Ivan IV gave tax breaks and vast land grants between the Volga and the central Urals, to Anikey Stoganov, one of the country’s richest merchants, who in turn organized settlement of the lands, farming, hunting, saltworks, fishing, ore mining, trade with Siberian tribes — whatever brought a profit. The local tribes gave the Stroganov family no trouble until 1563, when a member of the Shaybanid family, Kuchum, took over the nearest state, the Khanate of Sibir. In the 1570s he sent raids against the nearest Russian communities, including Perm. Ivan’s land grants included authorization to defend the lands against attacks by Russia’s enemies, so the sons of Anikey Stroganov hired a Cossack hetman named Yermak Timofeyevitch to command the defenses. A military expedition was organized, and 840 armed men crossed the Urals in late 1581. Following a three-day battle with Kuchum’s forces (the battle of Chuvash Cape, 1582), they captured Qashliq/Sibir; Yermak presented the Khanate, along with 5,200 furs collected from the natives, as gifts to the tsar. However, Kuchum could still gather reinforcements; in 1584 they attacked at night, took back Sibir and killed Yermak. The Cossacks had to withdraw to the European side of the Urals — their biggest gain at this point was the knowledge gained from exploring Siberia’s northwest corner — and this area saw a seesaw struggle between Russians and Siberians until 1598, when Kuchum conceded he was getting too old to keep on fighting, and went into exile. In 1587 Tobolsk was founded, where the Tobol and Irtysh Rivers meet and about twelve miles from the ruins of Sibir; this was the first Russian city in Siberia.

The one Mongol state remaining, the Khanate of the Crimea, could not be conquered because as we saw earlier, it was backed by the the Ottoman Empire. In fact, a devastating raid on Moscow by the Crimean Tatars in 1571 killed 100,000 people, showing that Russia’s weak spot was in the south.

Russia 1598

Russian expansion under Ivan IV and Fyodor I.

Ivan first turned his eyes toward Europe in 1553, when the English explorer Richard Chancellor, while searching for a "northeast passage" to the Orient, sailed into the White Sea. We will talk more about this expedition in the next section. From the White Sea Chancellor journeyed overland to Moscow and "discovered" Russia, a nation his countrymen knew almost nothing about. There was a political reason for this isolation; all of the states on Russia’s western frontier–Sweden, Poland, and the Ottoman Turks–were enemies, and they would not allow commerce between Russia and the rest of the world to pass through their territories. The king of Poland made this clear when he told England’s Queen Elizabeth I, "Up to now we could conquer him only because he was a stranger in education and did not know the arts." Despite this a trade agreement between England and Russia was signed, and the seaport of Archangel was built at the mouth of the Northern Dvina River to handle the trade. For most of the time between Ivan IV and Peter the Great, this would be Russia’s only port.(2)

On the shores of the Baltic, the Protestant Reformation finished off the Teutonic Knights; the last Grand Master dissolved the Order when he became a Lutheran in 1525, and while he continued to rule Prussia, he did so as a secular duke. However, the branch of the Order that had ruled Estonia and Latvia, the Livonian Knights, stayed in business, and now reappeared on the map of eastern Europe. Ivan looked west, saw that the Baltic lands were loosely organized and poorly defended, and thought this was an opportunity for an easy western victory to match his nearly bloodless ones in the east. At first it looked like it might work that way; the Livonian Knights suffered a crushing defeat in 1560 and were dissolved a year later. But Sweden, Poland and Denmark were in agreement that the eastern shore of the Baltic must not become Russian, so all of them now entered the fight. Thus, the Livonian War dragged on for 24 years (1558-82), and ended with a division of the disputed territory among the three Baltic powers: Sweden got northern Estonia, Denmark got the Estonian island of Saaremaa, and the rest went to Poland.(3)

In the same year that Ivan met the English expedition, he began slipping into the "bad" period of his life. First he suffered a nearly fatal illness, and he called the boyars to swear loyalty to his infant son. None of them did, and when he recovered he hated them more than ever. Then in 1560 his wife died, and Ivan really went crazy. Convinced that the boyars had poisoned her, he conducted a bloody purge in which not only boyars but their families and servants were murdered or imprisoned. Then he took his treasures and a few trusted servants, and moved to the town of Aleksandrov, 60 miles away. He stayed there in seclusion for a month, until thousands of people, both rich and poor, came there and begged Ivan to return; to them even a mad tsar was better than no tsar at all.

Ivan agreed to return on condition that he be given unlimited power against the "traitors" to the state. To do this he divided the country into two states within the state; the loyal half of Russia became the Oprichnina, and the rest was called the Zemshchina. The borders between Oprichnina and Zemshchina were a fantastic gerrymander that almost defies description; some streets in Moscow were part of the Oprichnina, for instance, but not others. Even individuals were divided; service gentry, the Stroganov family and English traders were classified as Oprichniks while most boyars and other Russian merchants were not. Then the citizens of the Oprichnina were turned loose to destroy all potential rebels, and anyone in the Zemshchina was fair game. For the next eight years (1564-72) lawlessness and terror swept the land, with people killed and dispossessed everywhere. Ivan went back to Aleksandrov and ruled a weird parody of a monastery. His Oprichniks were "monks" and he was the "abbot." After prostrating himself before an altar with such vehemence that his forehead would be bloody and covered with bruises, he would preach sermons on Christian virtues to his drunken retainers, fresh from torturing and raping victims in the cellars (He often participated in that, too.). Afterwards he would send lists of the victims to the Church so that prayers could be said for their souls; when the bloodbath killed so many that he lost track of the victims, Ivan merely remarked, "God knows their names."

When Ivan finally dissolved the Oprichnina, all resistance to his rule was dead, but the hereditary aristocracy had not been eliminated as a class; after they recovered they would cause trouble in the next generation. Ivan returned to Moscow and spent his last days wandering and howling through the palace, his cries audible to those outside. No longer even pretending to be a Christian, he brought in witches from parts of the far north where paganism still existed. One day in 1584 he looked better and called for his chessboard, but before he could begin the game he suddenly toppled backward and died. He was only 54.


1. Russia’s most famous building, the dazzling St. Basil’s Cathedral, was built to commemorate the victory over Kazan. Legend says that when it was finished, its beauty made Ivan so jealous that he blinded the architect, so that he would never build anything as gorgeous for somebody else.

2. Ivan once sent a marriage proposal to England’s Queen Elizabeth I, which she promptly turned down. It’s just as well; neither of them knew what they were missing!

3. In case you are wondering what happened to Lithuania, the Lithuanian government was dissolved with the signing of the Treaty of Lublin in 1569. Henceforth the Polish-Lithuanian union, now run by an elective monarchy, will be referred to as simply Poland.

Ivan the Great


Now from Chapter 3 of my Russian history series, here is how Ivan III, also called Ivan the Great, made Moscow great.

Ivan the Great

Because of the Golden Horde’s troubles from 1395 onward, Vasili I did not have to pay the full tribute the Mongols demanded; he paid nothing until 1412, and just sent the khan "gifts" after that. The next prince, Vasili II, was only ten years old when the crown passed to him, so he enjoyed a long reign (1425-62), but most of it was spent in a struggle over who was in charge. The trouble happened because Vasili I and his predecessor, Dmitri Donskoy, had written wills that conflicted with one another; Vasili I had understandably declared his son Vasili II would be his heir, while Dmitri’s will stated that if Vasili I died before his brother Yuri, Yuri would get the crown next. Now Vasili I did not have any sons while Dmitri was alive, but Yuri insisted it was too late to amend the will, and looked for a way to stake his claim. First, he tried to get the khan of the Great Horde to declare him prince, but the khan recognized Vasili II instead. Next, in 1433 Yuri raised and army and attacked Moscow. A see-saw struggle went on for a year, where Yuri won first and sent Vasili to the town of Kolomna, Vasili came back with a new army, Yuri withdrew to the town of Galich, and then marched on Moscow a second time. Vasili fled to Nizhny Novgorod, and Yuri captured his family and treasury; Yuri was planning to go after Vasili when he died suddenly in 1434. Yuri’s eldest son, Vasili the Cross-Eyed, immediately proclaimed himself the new Grand Duke, but the other son, Dmitri Shemyaka, joined the faction supporting Vasili II. When Vasili II returned to Moscow in 1435, Vasili the Cross-Eyed was captured and blinded, removing him as a contender.

The next challenge came from the new Khanate of Kazan. Vasili II had to flee when the Mongols attacked Moscow in 1439; in 1445, during a battle at Suzdal, they captured him, and held him until Moscow paid the ransom they demanded. Unfortunately for Vasili, his cousin Dmitri Shemyaka had run Moscow while he was held prisoner by the Mongols, and Dmitri had not forgotten what Vasili did to his brother. As soon as Vasili was returned, Dmitri had him blinded, so sometimes we refer to Vasili II as "Vasili the Blind." Then Dmitri had him exiled to outlying towns, first to Uglich, then to Vologda. But Vasili remained more popular than Dmitri, and by the end of 1446 he managed to gather enough supporters behind him to regain the throne. Dmitri withdrew northward, and a civil war waged between them until 1453, when Dmitri was poisoned. The sons of Dmitri fled to Lithuania, and Vasili removed the local princes that had supported Dmitri. Finally, during the civil war a Mongol prince named Qasim defected from Kazan, and Vasili installed him as prince of Novy Nizovoy, a town near Ryazan (1452). Soon that town was renamed Kasimov, and Qasim’s family ruled it until 1681. In that way, Vasili reversed the roles of lord & vassal that had existed for the past two centuries.

During the last nine years of his reign the blind Vasili was able to rule in peace, with the help of some boyars and the head of the Russian Church, Metropolitan Jonah. He also crowned his son Ivan III as co-ruler, which gave Ivan plenty of experience before Vasili’s death in 1462.

Ivan III (1462-1505), was a cautious man who "always took two bites at a cherry," preferred to let his troops go into battle without him (uncommon in the age of chivalry), and was afraid of the dark. Nevertheless, once he ruled alone, Ivan proved to be a shrewd leader, and is known to us as "Ivan the Great" for these accomplishments: the unification of Russia under Muscovite authority, the end of Mongol domination, and the transformation of the government into an absolute monarchy. These are described in more detail below.

1. Unification under Moscow: Like his ancestors, Ivan used every trick in the book to gain more land–cash purchase, inheritance, treaties signed under duress, and when all else failed, war. He started by buying Yaroslavl (1463) and Rostov (1474). He also conquered Novgorod (1478) and Tver (1485), and persuaded many Russian nobles in Lithuania to transfer their allegiance to Ivan; this move started the rolling back of the Polish-Lithuanian frontier. Ivan bequeathed to his son Vasili III a great nation covering 55,000 square miles, 110 times the size of the 500 sq. mi. fief that Alexander Nevsky had given Daniel 242 years earlier.

Ivan’s greatest triumph was the conquest of Novgorod, the last stronghold of Kievan Russian culture. We saw previously how the fortunes of "Lord Novgorod the Great" were riding high in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Its government, dominated by the Veche, was the most democratic one that Russia ever had; it could even, and often did, vote the prince of the city out of office. Ivan’s covetous eye upon Novgorod’s wealth, combined with large numbers of Muscovites moving to Novgorod’s lands in the Urals, brought a war in 1478. When Novgorod fell Ivan dissolved the Veche, carried the Veche’s bell (a symbol of liberty) off to Moscow, and deported the Novgorod boyars to remote areas, starting a practice for removing troublemakers that tsars and communist officials have used ever since. Finally, the lands held by Novgorod gave Moscow access to the White Sea and the Baltic Sea (via the Gulf of Finland). On the Baltic shore, next to the German town of Narva, Ivan built the fortress of Ivangorod in 1492, so two hundred years before Peter I, Russia had its first "window to the west."

2. Liberation from the Mongols: Ivan spent the 1470s forming alliances against the Golden Horde, with the Kazan and Crimean Khanates, and even Uzun Hasan, the current Turkish leader in western Iran. Once all those states were on his side, he announced he wasn’t going to pay tribute anymore. In 1480 the Mongols sent an army, the Muscovites sent theirs, and the two forces met on opposite banks of the Ugra River, 150 miles south of Moscow. Ahmed Khan was even more cautious than Ivan III, so for weeks they watched each other, neither willing to cross the river and make the first move. Ivan did not want to cross the river because he wasn’t confident he could win on the Mongol side, while Ahmed Khan was worried that troops from the Crimean Khanate would strike in the rear of his army. Finally the troops got restless and both sides went home. This curious stand-down, sometimes called "the non-battle of the Ugra," marks the end of Mongol domination over Russia. Nomad raids on Russia would be a problem as late as the eighteenth century, but never again did the Russians pay tribute to a foreign power.

Ahmed Khan was killed the following January, in a raid from his Siberian rivals, the Shaybanids. The last twenty-one years of the Golden Horde’s history saw constant fighting between three of Ahmed Khan’s sons: Shaykh Ahmed, Sayyid Ahmed II, and Murtada. This state of anarchy ensured that nothing the mini-khans tried would be successful. When they invaded Poland-Lithuania in 1487, they got as far as the Polish city of Lublin, before going down in defeat. Then in 1500 Muscovy went to war with Poland-Lithuania, and the Golden Horde allied itself with the latter, to stop Ivan III. But Ivan’s alliance with the Khanate of the Crimea was still good; in 1502 Mengli Giray, the Crimean khan, marched to the Volga, sacked Sarai, and the Golden Horde was no more. Finis.

3. The establishment of absolute monarchy: Ivan’s wife was Sophia Paleologus, a niece of the last Byzantine emperor, who had died fighting the Turks when they took Constantinople in 1453. This marriage made Ivan heir to whatever was left from Byzantium. He made the two-headed eagle, a symbol of the Byzantine emperors, the emblem of Moscow’s rulers, and gave himself a new title, Tsar, meaning "Caesar" (Czar in Polish). The Church helped by making some contributions of its own. Among them was a remarkable genealogy invented for Ivan that traced his lineage (correctly) back to the founding Varangian father, Rurik–but then went on to trace Rurik’s forefathers back through 15 fictitious generations to a brother of Caesar Augustus, "proving" that Ivan III was the heir of Rome & Byzantium not only by marriage, but by blood as well.

Ivan III

Ivan III.

More interesting to us is the "Third Rome" theory, first proposed at this time by a monk named Philotheos. Basically, it stated that when Rome fell to the barbarians in the fifth century, God gave His earthly authority to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. But eventually Constantinople also fell into sin, culminating with its submission to the pope in 1438, in a last-ditch effort to bring in help from the West before the city fell to the Turks. Now God’s city on earth was Moscow, the capital of the last Orthodox Christian nation; as Philotheos put it, "Two Romes have fallen, a third stands, and a fourth there shall not be." To those who subscribe to this theory, the Roman Empire’s final end came with the death of the last tsar in 1918.

Life under an autocratic Russia became more oppressive as time went on. The first to feel it were the boyars, who lost most of their privileges to Ivan III and his successors. Those who suffered the most, however, were those on the bottom of the social ladder–the peasants. In earlier times there were few restrictions placed on the movements of peasants, and they could work for anyone they liked. But the only way to guarantee a supply of peasant labor when it is needed is to bind each peasant firmly to one piece of land. The way the boyar landlords did that was to loan them money, forcing the peasants to keep working for the same landlord until the debt had been paid. Unfortunately most peasants could never earn enough to do that; most could barely meet the excessive interest rates charged them, and so they remained, year after year, in a condition not much better than bondage. This was the beginning of 400 years of Russian feudalism.

For those peasants who could not take this kind of life, the answer was to run away, to the southern and eastern frontiers of the country. Along the Dnieper and Don Rivers, these lawless frontiersmen adopted the nomadic life of the barbarians who had lived there before and came to be known as Cossacks. The Cossacks were fiercely independent, electing their leaders (known by the title of "hetman") by popular vote, and living by hunting, fishing, or raiding somebody else; farming was forbidden, because it symbolized the oppressive life they had freed themselves from. Since they hated the Poles, Lithuanians, Mongols and Turks as much as any other Russian did, they would help the tsar in his foreign wars, but if the tsar or the boyars tried to get their runaway peasants back, the Cossacks would proudly boast, "There is no extradition from the Don."

The next tsar, Vasili III (1505-33), was too colorless to be mentioned in most history books, but he completed the work of reunification that his father had started, annexing Pskov (1510) and Ryazan (1521), and taking Smolensk from Lithuania (1514). This left about three and a half million Russians still under Lithuanian rule, and it would take nearly three centuries before all of them were brought under the rule of the tsars.

The Golden Horde Breaks Up


Last time we covered how Moscow became the capital of Russia, and now it’s time to get rid of Russia’s oppressor in the late Middle Ages.  From the new chapter in my Russian history series, Muscovite Russia.

The Golden Horde Breaks Up

The liberation of the Russians from the Mongols was still a century away. Part of the reason for Dmitri Donskoy’s success was that the Golden Horde had been in turmoil for the past twenty years; there was a general, Mamai, but no khan. East of the Urals, the Golden Horde’s vassals, the White Horde, went through a similar spell of anarchy in the 1370s, until a member that ruling family, Tokhtamysh, came out on top. When Tokhtamysh heard about Kulikovo Pole, he charged west, defeated Mamai near the Sea of Azov, and made himself ruler of the Golden Horde as well. Next, he demanded tribute from the Russians, and when they refused, he marched against the Russian states to the north, sacking cities like Suzdal, Vladimir, Yuriel and Mozhaisk. He got to Moscow in August 1382; Dmitri fled from the city, Tokhtamysh persuaded the defenders to open the gates by promising a truce, and proceeded to burn down Moscow and kill 24,000 people. The Lithuanians tried to intervene in Russia at this point, so on his way home, Tokhtamysh defeated them near Poltava. Dmitri only kept his job by pledging loyalty to Tokhtamysh and to the Golden Horde, and thus was reinstated as chief Mongol tax collector and Grand Duke of Vladimir. Upon Dmitri’s death in 1389, his son Vasili I (1389-1425) inherited his titles, and he was the first Grand Duke to do this without first getting the khan’s permission.

Tokhtamysh at Moscow.

A sixteenth-century picture of Tokhtamysh at the gates of Moscow. This was the first battle we know of where the Muscovites used firearms, hence the cannon in one tower. Twenty-two years later (1404), a clock tower was built in Moscow; it was the first mechanical clock in Russia.

Fortunately for the Russians, the restoration of the Golden Horde was short-lived. Tokhtamysh was only successful because Timur (also called Tamerlane), the Turkish ruler of Uzbekistan, had been supporting him since 1376. Tokhtamysh had been defeated more than once while competing with his relatives for rule of the White Horde, and each time that happened, Timur gave him refuge and enough soldiers to win the next battle. Now that he had triumphed in Russia, and was ruler of a realm stretching from the Black Sea to Lake Balkhash, Tokhtamysh turned against his patron. With the Mongols gone from China and the Middle East, and those of Central Asia reduced to mere puppets of Timur, Tokhtamysh was the last descendant of Genghis Khan who was doing well. This gave him the idea that he could rebuild Genghis Khan’s empire, and he started by striking south of the Caucasus, invading the lands that the Golden Horde claimed, but never could keep. He got as far as Tabriz, in northwest Iran, and plundered it before returning home. That was a really bad move, for Timur had captured this area a few years earlier, and he was a better warrior; unlike Tokhtamysh, he never lost a battle.

Bust of Timur.

Timur / Tamerlane.

Timur retaliated with two invasions of Mongol-held Russia. For the first invasion, in 1391, he started from Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, passed through Kazakhstan, failed to find Tokhtamysh there, continued west across the Urals, and defeated his opponent in a battle on the Kondurcha River, near Samara. Tokhtamysh fled, and Timur did not follow, because he was already too far from home. When Timur came back for the rematch, in 1395, he chose a more direct route — from Iran through the Caucasus, aiming for the Golden Horde’s heartland. The critical battle came at the Terek River, where Timur won again; Tokhtamysh was overthrown, and Timur sacked Sarai and all other Golden Horde cities along the Volga, helping himself to a century and a half’s worth of accumulated wealth. To run the Mongol state, Timur installed rivals of Tokhtamysh: Temür Qutlugh as khan of the Golden Horde, Koirichak as khan of the White Horde, and Edigu as vizier for both.

The looting of the Mongol cities must have encouraged Timur to loot the Russians, too, because next he marched up the Don River, toward Moscow. The Russians couldn’t resist such a terrible conqueror, and Timur got as close as Yelets, a town 219 miles away, when he suddenly turned back. He never explained why he called off the campaign, and the Russians thought God had changed his mind; on the same day that Timur ordered the retreat, a popular icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, arrived in Moscow and was paraded around the top of the city walls. This is the first of several mysterious occasions where the Russians believed that divine intervention saved them.

This time Tokhtamysh fled to Lithuania and tried to get the help of Grand Duke Vytautas in regaining his thrones, but they were defeated in 1399 near the Vorskla River, a tributary of the Dnieper, by Temür Qutlugh and Edigu. Then Tokhtamysh fled to Siberia, where he was killed in the Tyumen district in 1406, by Edigu’s agents. With him gone, Muscovy resumed its growth, and the Khanate resumed its devolution. From 1395 to 1433 the Golden Horde had twelve khans, making for an average reign of only three years. During the first half of this period Edigu was the one who held the most power, becoming in effect a "majordomo of the palace"; in 1408 he led a raid against the Russian cities, which had not paid tribute since 1395. The arrangement came undone, though, in 1412, when the crown of the Golden Horde passed to the sons of Tokhtamysh, and they didn’t like being told what to do; one of them had Edigu assassinated in 1419. However, Edigu’s tribe, the Nogai Horde, became a significant player in Mongol politics; some of them joined the Crimean Khanate (see below), while the rest settled on the north shore of the Caspian Sea until the 1630s, when another Mongolian tribe, the Kalmyks, moved into the area.

East of the Urals, the White Horde was more stable, having just four khans over a fifty-year-span. That ended with the overthrow of the White Horde in 1446 by Abu’l-Khayr Khan, a descendant of Shiban, a grandson of Genghis Khan we mentioned in the previous chapter. This faction and the Turkic tribe it led have been known by several names over the ages. In the thirteenth century they were the Grey Horde; in the fifteenth century they were the Shaybanids; today they are called Uzbeks. Likewise two sons of Baraq, a khan of the Golden Horde overthrown in a 1427 coup, claimed the land between the Ural and Syr Darya Rivers, and thus became the founders of the Kazakh Khanate.

Gradually the Shaybanids moved southward, no surprise since Central Asia must have looked more appealing than the frozen lands they were leaving. Behind them a new Mongol state appeared, the Khanate of Sibir; it is from this state that Siberia got its present-day name. Founded some time between 1405 and 1428 by Taibuga, a prince of uncertain origin, it was centered in the valleys of the Tobol and Irtysh Rivers; it also claimed the lands to the north of those rivers, all the way to the Arctic Ocean, and everything east as far as the Yenesei River. Most of its rulers followed Islam, making the Khanate the northernmost Moslem state that ever existed, but because the area they ruled included Finno-Ugric tribes like the Samoyeds, Khanty and Mansi, a large portion of the population remained pagan/shamanist. Control over the realm was contested between two families, Taibuga’s descendants and the Shaybanids. At first the capital was at Chimgi-Tura (modern Tyumen); in the 1490s it was moved to Qashliq (Sibir in Russian).

Among the fifteenth-century Golden Horde khans, Küchük Muhammad (1435-59) had the longest reign, but he was no more effective than the rest. The Circassians, a Christian tribe on the north side of the Caucasus, were independent by 1424, and under Küchük Muhammad, other areas on the periphery of the Khanate broke away. One of his predecessors, Ulugh Muhammad, had ruled as khan twice, and after he was deposed the second time, he escaped upstream to the city of Kazan. Here he declared independence, founding the Khanate of Kazan in 1438. This state, in terms of its location on the upper Volga and its Moslem population, very much resembled the Volga Bulgar kingdom that had existed before 1236.

The next part of the Khanate to go was the Crimean peninsula. The leader of the tribesmen living in this area was Hajji Giray; he traced his ancestry to Tuq-Timur (also spelled Toqa Temür), the thirteenth son of Genghis Khan’s son Juchi, so while he was not part of the royal family ruling the Golden Horde, he was a distant relative. At some point in the 1420s, he began to fight for independence, but he does not appear to have succeeded before 1441, when the first coins bearing his name were minted. Then in 1449, after some rivals were defeated, Hajji Giray was crowned first khan of the Crimea. He ruled until his death in 1466, and his subjects thought he looked so impressive that they nicknamed him Melek, meaning Angel. For his capital, he built a fortress at Qirq Yer in the southern Crimea; the modern town of Bakhchysarai would spring up next to it later. Finally, we believe Hajji Giray acquired the chunk of Ukrainian territory that the Crimean Khanate held in the late fifteenth century: everything between the Dnieper and Don Rivers, extending north as far as Yelets and Tambov.

The Khanate of the Crimea never took over the trading ports the city of Genoa owned on the Crimean peninsula’s coast, like Kaffa. Hajji Giray let their commerce continue freely, allowing his government to share in the profits, and his descendants did the same at first. But then in 1475 a fleet arrived from Sultan Mohammed II of the Ottoman Empire, the new power in the Middle East. The current khan, Mengli Giray, took part in the defense of the Italian ports, until the Ottoman Turks captured him, took him to Constantinople, and threw him in prison. They let him return in 1478, when Mengli Giray swore fealty to the sultan; now both he and the Khanate were vassals of the Turks. However, this worked to the benefit of the Khanate. Because the Turks now controlled the Black Sea, they could send ships and men to aid Mengli Giray and his successors, so as long as the Turks were stronger than the Russians, the defense needs of the Khanate were assured. In fact, the Turks remained stronger for the next three hundred years, and that is exactly how long the Khanate lasted; the Russian couldn’t take it until they had beaten the Turks first.

Küchük Muhammad had two sons, Ahmed Khan bin Küchük and Mahmud bin Küchük. Mahmud ruled first (1459-65), but he could not get along with his brother Ahmed, and eventually was forced to flee. He went to Xacítarxan (Astrakhan in Russian), a city in the Volga River delta, and there in 1466 he founded yet another breakaway state, the Khanate of Astrakhan. With the Volga delta gone, the only land left for Ahmed Khan (1465-81) to rule was the Golden Horde’s core territory, the middle Volga valley. Historians sometimes refer to the Golden Horde at this point as the Great Horde, to distinguish it from the smaller states that were part of it before the fifteenth century. By now Ivan III was in charge of Muscow, so let us return to the leading Russian state and see how the Muscovites gained the initiative against their opponents.

Map of Europe in 1487.

A map of Europe in 1487. I am posting it here because on the right you can see the last remnant of the Golden Horde, surrounded by the states the seceded from it: the Khanates of Kazan, the Crimea, and Astrakhan. From The Penguin Atlas of Medieval History.