The Mongol Invasion of Croatia and Serbia in 1242

The Mongol Invasion of Croatia and Serbia in 1242

By Panos Sophoulis

Fragmenta Hellenoslavica, Vol.2 (2015)

The Mongols depicted by Matthew Paris

Introduction: The Mongol invasion of Croatia and Serbia constitutes a single, albeit extremely interesting, episode in the great western campaign of 1236-1242, so meticulously planned and executed by the armies of Batu, grandson of Chingis Khan and founder of the “Golden Horde”. Although Slavonia, Dalmatia and Serbia suffered less at the Mongol’s hands than did Hungary – the prime target of the offensive–, in each of these regions the advent of the steppe invaders caused havoc and induced unimaginable terror, as evidenced by the apocalyptic sentiment present in Christian writings of this time. The goal of this paper is to provide a narrative account of these events, one that can be used for general orientation, and at the same present new approaches and conclusions, partly based on recent scholarship not easily accessible to wider audiences.

The decision to complete the subjugation of the western steppes, which had began during Chingis Khan’s final years, was made at the quriltay (national assembly) summoned by Ögedei, the conqueror’s third son and successor, in 1235. The following year the Mongols dispatched a large army, numbering 150,000 men, which quickly defeated and subjugated the Volga Bulghars, the Bashkirs (settled on the slopes of the Urals) and the Qipchaqs/Cumans on the lower Volga, north of the Caspian Sea. As the last cells of Qipchaq resistance were swept away, some 40,000 warriors and their families, under their leader Köten, took refuge in Hungary, where they received baptism.

Then, in the winter of 1237, the Mongols crossed the Volga into Russia, laying waste the land and sacking all the major towns and cities as they went, including Riazan’, Kolomna, Vladimir (1238) and Chernigov (1239). The Grand Prince of Vladimir Yuri II was slaughtered on the River Sit’, and on December 1240, Kiev, the ecclesiastical centre of Russia, was reduced to ashes. Within a few weeks the Mongols reached the western border of Russia and the Carpathian mountains that formed a natural bulwark around Hungary, their next target.

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