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Mongol invasion of the Latin Empire

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In the summer of 1242, a Mongol army invaded the Latin Empire of Constantinople. The army, a detachment of the army under Qadan then devastating Bulgaria, entered the empire from the north. It was met by the Emperor Baldwin II, who was victorious in a first encounter but was subsequently defeated.

The encounters probably took place in Thrace, but little can be said about them owing to the paucity of sources. Subsequent relations between Baldwin and the Mongol khans have been taken as evidence by some that Baldwin was captured and forced to make submission to the Mongols and pay tribute. Together with the major Mongol invasion of Anatolia the following year (1243), the Mongol defeat of Baldwin precipitated a power shift in the Aegean world.

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  • ✪ Russia, the Kievan Rus, and the Mongols: Crash Course World History #20
  • ✪ The Mongol Conquest of Song China, 1230s-1279
  • ✪ Spanish Conquest of the Incan Empire


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course: World History and today we’re going to talk about Russia, which means we get to talk about this guy again! We haven’t talked about Russia much so far because 1. It’s complicated, and 2. Ya actually gavarou pa russki a little bit, because I had some Russian in college and that makes it difficult to mispronounce things, which is my thing! Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Why’d you take Russian? Well, because I had this big crush on a Russian major. But, anyway, I’m sure I’ll still mispronounce everything. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] So, today we’re going to talk about persistent stereotypes about Russia, and how Russia came to take its current shape, a turn of events we owe largely to the Mongols. [Savage, brassy swarm of Mongol-tage doom calls…] But before we discuss the Mongol conquest of Russia, let’s discuss exactly what got conquered. So before there was a Russian empire, or even a Russian kingdom, there was the Kievan Rus. We know Kiev was a powerful city-state, but who exactly founded it is a subject of debate. Most historians now believe that the settlers of Kiev were Slavic people who migrated from around the Black Sea. But there’s an older theory that the settlers of Kiev were actually, like, Vikings. That theory goes that Vikings came down to Kiev from rivers like the Dnieper and founded a trading outpost similar to ones they’d founded in Iceland and Greenland. Which is an awesome idea and everything, but Russian, the language that developed from what the Rus spoke, sounds a lot more Slavic than it sounds, you know, Swedish. To illustrate, here is a Swede fighting with a Russian over who founded Kiev. [Russian: Kiev was founded by the slavic ancestors of the Rus.] [Swede: No. Clearly Kiev was founded by Swedes.] Right, okay, so trade was hugely important to Kiev. Almost all of their wars ended with trade concession treaties, and their law codes were unusually devoted to the subject of commerce. The Rus traded raw materials like fur, wax, and also slaves— We’re not gonna venture into the astonishingly intense etymological debate over whether the word slav derives from the Latin word for slave because there's nothing more terrifying and verbose than an etymologist flame war. But, yeah, the Rus traded slaves. They also relied on agriculture— and your relationships to the land determined both your social status and your tax burden. And if you fell into tax debt, which a lot of peasants did, then you became bonded to the land you farmed for the rest of your life, I guess that slave-like dynamic is okay as a model for social organization, but if you step on the proletariat for too long, you might end up with a Communist revolution. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Couple more things about Kiev: First, the ruler of Kiev was called the Grand Prince, and he became the model for future Russian Kings. Also, the early grand princes made a fateful decision: They became Byzantine Christians. According to legend, prince Vladimir chose to convert the Rus to Byzantine Christianity in the 11th century. He purportedly chose Christianity over Islam because of Islam’s prohibition on alcohol saying: “Drink is the joy of the Russian.” Anyway, the Kievan Rus eventually fell in 1240 when these guys [Mongol-tage horns horn it up] showed up and replaced them. By that time the Rus had been at war with pastoral nomads for centuries; from the Khazars to the Pechengs to the Cumans, and they were tired. Which made them easy targets. The period of Mongol “rule” over Russia is also known as Appanage Russia. An Appanage is princedom, and this period basically featured a bunch of Russian princes vying for control over territory, which is not a recipe for political stability or economic growth, another theme that will re-emerge in Russian history. By the way, I’m describing all of this as Russia even though if you did that in the 13th century, people would look at you funny. They’d be like, “What do you mean, Russia? Also, where’d you get those pants? And all those teeth?” “MMMM...YOU SMELL PRETTY.” Right. So, to discuss how important the Mongols were to Russia, let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The Mongols did set up the Khanate o f the Golden Horde in Russia, but it didn’t leave much lasting impact on the institutions of the region, which had already been set up by the Kievans. But they did bring about a population shift— away from the South, where Kiev was, toward the Northeast. This was partly to get away from the Mongols and their massacring, but that noted, the Mongols were comparatively light rulers: They were happy to live in their yurts and collect tribute from the ever-bickering Russian princes. And all the princes had to do in exchange for their relative freedom was recognize the Mongol khans as their rulers and allow the Mongols to pick the Grand Prince from among the Russians. Perhaps most importantly, Mongol rule cut the Russians off from the Byzantines and further isolated them from Europe, leaving Russia not Byzantine, not European, and not really Mongol either, since they hated the Mongols and generally believed the Mongols were a scourge sent from God to punish them for their sinfulness and everything. But the Mongols did help propel Moscow to prominence and in doing so, created the idea that this was Russia. And as an aside, they also did what Napoleon, Hitler, and many others couldn’t: The Mongols successfully conquered Russia in the winter. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So how did the Mongols help catapult Moscow and its princes to prominence? Well, first, they named Muscovite princes The Grand Prince on more than one occasion. More importantly, the Muscovite princes won— that is to say purchased— the right to collect tribute on behalf of the Khan from other princes. That’s a good gig because it’s easy to skim a little bit off the top before you send it down the line to [Mongol-taging a bit more for good measure] the Mongols. Which is precisely what the Muscovites did to enrich themselves— in fact, one prince who was particularly good at this was known as Ivan Kalita. Using my Russian, I can tell you that that translates to “Johnny Moneybags.” As my Russian professor would tell you, I’m a “creative” translator. All this extra loot helped Moscow expand their influence and buy principalities. The Mongols also helped them more directly by attacking their enemies. Plus Moscow was at the headwaters of four rivers which made it well-positioned for trade. And because they were kind of the allies of the Mongols- the Mongols rarely attacked them- which meant that lots of people went to Moscow because it was relatively safe. Including “churchy” people. In fact, Moscow also became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox church in 1325, when the Metropolitan Peter moved there. So you might think that the Muscovites would be grateful for all this help from the Mongols, but you would be wrong. As the Mongols’ position weakened in Russia in the latter half of the 14th century, one of Moscow’s princes Dmitrii Donskoi made war on them and inflicted the first major defeat of Mongols in Russia at battle of Kulikovo Field. This showed that the Mongols weren’t invincible, which is always really bad for an imperial force. Plus it made Moscow look like the hero of the Russians. And that helped strengthen the idea of a unified Russia, just as you’ll remember the Persians helped unify the Greeks a long time ago. Aiding this growth was stability, which Moscow owed largely to luck: Muscovite princes usually had sons which allowed them to have successors. In fact, there was only one major succession struggle and it was between two blind guys named Basil. That’s not a joke by the way. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? [Swoodilyscoots by globey to get his fireside chat on] An Open Letter to Basil and Basil: But first, let’s see in the Secret Compartment. Oh, it’s Grizzlor! Yeah, I guess that is kind of how the Russians saw the Mongols. Dear Basils, The 15th century Muscovite civil war was insanely complicated, but it culminated with you guys essentially blinding each other. First, Basil II, the eventual winner of the civil war, had Basil the cross-eyed blinded. Because being cross-eyed wan’t bad enough. And that was seen as the end of the political career of Basil the Cross-Eyed. But then Basil the Cross-Eyed’s brother tracked down Basil II and he was like “I’ma blind you back!” And of course, everybody thought that would end Basil II’s political career, but they were wrong. It turns out you can rule Russia like a Boss even if you’re blind. Best Wishes, Johnny Bookwriter After Basil the Blind came the real man who expanded Moscow’s power, Ivan III, later known as Ivan the Great. First, he asserted Russian independence from the Mongols and stopped paying tribute to the khan-- after the khan had named him Grand Prince, of course. Then, Ivan purchased, negotiated for or conquered multiple appanages, thus expanding Muscovite power even more. Ivan later declared himself sovereign of all Russians and then married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, thus giving him even more legitimacy. And he took titles autocrat and tsar, which means Caesar. Basically, Ivan created the first centralized Russian state and for doing that he probably deserves title “the Great.” And that would be a good place to stop, except then we won’t see the type of absolute rule that characterized Russia for most of the rest of its history, even unto Putin. OH GOD. JUST KIDDING PUTIN! YOU’D NEVER RIG AN ELECTION.. N-NO...PLEASE DON’T PUT ME IN JAIL! While Ivan III consolidated Muscovite power, the undeniable brutal streak in Russian governance comes not from the Mogols, but from Ivan IV. Better known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan IV ruled from 1533 to 1584, taking the throne at age 16, yet more evidence that adolescents should not be trusted with emerging empires. Ivan the Terrible’s reign represents the end of princely power and the beginning of the autocracy that Russia is famous for. But in the beginning, he was really an innovative leader. As a young king, he worked with a group of advisers called the Chosen Council, which certainly sounds like a good thing. He also called the very first meeting of the zemskii sobor, a grand council of representatives similar to the estates general that would become so important in France two hundred years later. And also reformed the army, emphasizing the new technology of muskets. But in the second part of his reign, Ivan earned his nickname, the Terrible— which can mean either bad or just awe-inspiring, depending on your perspective. Psychological historians will point out that things started go terribly wrong with Ivan after the death of his beloved wife, Anastasia Romanov. Or they might point to the fact that he enjoyed torturing animals when he was a kid. Regardless, Ivan set out to break the power of the nobility-- the former princes and landowners called the boyars. They were the last link to princely rule. And after an odd episode that saw him briefly “abdicate,” Ivan returned to Moscow and declared he had the right to punish all traitors and evildoers. To help him in this effort, Ivan created the oprichnikii a corps of secret police who rode around on black horses, wearing all black, whose job it was to hunt down and destroy any enemies of the tsar. See also: Nazgul and Dementors. So this was the first of Russia’s purges. And over the latter half of Ivan’s reign, whole towns were destroyed. It was, in effect, a civil war, except with no resistance. One historian called it a civil massacre. In the end, Ivan IV established absolute control of the tsar over all the Russian people, but he also set the precedent of accomplishing this through terror, secret police, and the suspension of law. And that would echo through the ages of Russian history… I mean, until Vladimir Putin heroically put an end to it. His little eyes. They’re scary... So, hence the stereotype of Russian brutality and barbarism, but here’s the truth; the rest of Europe also knew a lot about brutality and secret police forces. But for centuries, Russia was seen by western Europe as both European and not, an “Other” that was to be doubly feared because it was not fully Other. And when we think of all these historical stereotypes about Russia, it’s worth remembering that what you see as barbaric about others is often what they see as barbaric about you. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Our graphics team is ThoughtBubble, Last week’s Phrase of the Week was: "Nobody's business but the Turks" If you want to suggest future phrases of the week or guess at this week’s you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions related to today's video that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching. and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a Unicorn.



The Aegean world in the early 13th century. Adrianople was the chief city of Thrace.
The Aegean world in the early 13th century. Adrianople was the chief city of Thrace.

There is only one primary source that explicitly mentions a Mongol raid into the Latin Empire: the anonymous Austrian Chronicle completed about 1327. Its account was copied into the Chronicle of Leoben and the Annals of Heiligenkreuz. The event is dated to 1243, an obvious error for 1242.[1] According to the Austrian chronicles:[2]

Tatars and Cumans, meeting no resistance or opposition, withdrew from Hungary with an endless booty of gold and silver, garments and animals, leading many captives of both sexes to the scandal of the Christians. Entering Greece, they depopulated the entire land except for the castles and well-fortified cities. But the king of Constantinople, named Baldwin, went out in battle against them, at first he was victorious, but the second time he was defeated by them.[3]

A brief account in the Chronography of the Syriac prelate Bar Hebraeus (died 1286) must refer to the Mongol invasions of Bulgaria and Thrace in 1242, although it is mis-dated to 1232:

And the Khan continued to wax strong. And he prepared to attack Constantinople from the quarter of the Bulgarians. And the kings of the Franks heard of this, and they gathered together and they met Batu in battle, and they broke him and made him flee.[4]

This passage seems to confirm that the Mongol armies in Bulgaria, which were under the overall command of Batu, attacked in the direction of Constantinople and were defeated at some point either by the Bulgars or the Latins.[4][5]

John of Garland in his epic poem On the Triumph of the Church, which he completed about 1252 while teaching at the University of Paris, lists the victims of the expansion of the Mongol empire:

The avenger arriving from the East mows down everything he encounters
And subdues the West with his sword.
The leaders of Armenia are dead, the lords of Syria surrender,
The Black Sea groans at the yoke of subjection.
The Caucasus bows, the Danube offers up its weapons in surrender,
Thrace, defeated, mourns its leader.[6]

Thrace was, at the time, a part of the Latin Empire. John seems to imply that its leader, Baldwin II, was killed defending Thrace against the Mongols. While this was not so, there is evidence that the rumour of Baldwin's death in 1242 was current in western Europe that year. Philippe Mouskes in his Rhymed Chronicle of French history, which goes up to 1242, reports that in that year news reached the French court "from Greece ... that the emperor was dead." Prince Geoffrey II of Achaea, who was married to Baldwin's sister Agnes, even sailed with an army to Constantinople on the basis of this rumour, perhaps hoping to seize the throne.[3][7]

The historian Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall in the nineteenth century was the first modern historian to notice the passage in the Chronicon Austriacum and attribute the attack to Qadan's army then passing through Bulgaria.[1][8]


Baldwin II portrayed as a king on horseback on his seal.
Baldwin II portrayed as a king on horseback on his seal.

Baldwin II had made an alliance with some Cumans under their leaders Saronius and Jonas by 1239.[9][10] It seems likely that he was giving shelter to Cumans fleeing the Mongols. The same act of giving shelter to the Mongols' Cuman enemies was the pretext for the Mongol invasion of Hungary, and probably also for the invasion of Bulgaria. It is likely that the attack on the Latin Empire resulted from the same motive: to punish the protectors of the Cumans.[5][11]

Baldwin II was in Constantinople on 12 February 1242, when he addressed a letter to King Louis IX of France. He was again in Constantinople when he addressed a letter to Louis's influential mother, Blanche of Castile, on 5 August 1243. The Mongol invasion must have taken place between these dates, since it drew Baldwin away from the capital.[12] The sources indicate only that the battles took place in Greece, a broad term in medieval sources, which could mean all the territory claimed by the Latin and Byzantine empires. It definitely included Thrace, which was part of the Latin Empire and bordered Bulgaria, which makes it the likely location of the Mongol raids.[13]

According to the Chronicon Austriacum, Baldwin fought two battles with the invading force, which included some Cuman allies of the Mongols. Historians have offered several explanations of the Austrian chronicle's two battles and for Baldwin's motive in riding out to meet the invader. Peter Jackson suggests that Baldwin's initial victory may have come at the expense of these Cumans before the Mongol force arrived to defeat him.[14] John Giebfried, on the other hand, suggests that the two battles may in fact be two phases of a single battle, making Baldwin II the victim of a feigned retreat. He argues, however, that Baldwin possessed sufficiently strong forces to have defeated a Mongol army. He had an alliance of his own with a group of Cumans and had recruited a large army in western Europe for his crusade against Tzurulon in 1239.[12] Jean Richard suggests that in 1242 Baldwin may have been defending his Cuman allies when they came under Mongol attack.[11] Henry Howorth suggests that he had been called to the defence of the young ruler of Bulgaria, Kaliman I, who was his vassal.[15]

Baldwin may have been captured after his defeat, which would explain how rumours of his death originated. In that event, he was likely forced to accept Mongol overlordship and to make annual tribute payments in return for release.[11][12]


By 1251 or 1252, Baldwin II certainly had diplomatic relations with the Mongol Empire, since he sent an ambassador, Baldwin of Hainaut, all the way to the imperial Mongol capital of Karakorum. In 1253, he gave William of Rubruck, a Franciscan missionary, letters of recommendation for Sartaq, the son of the Batu, khan of the Golden Horde. Batu was Qadan's superior in 1242 and his army had also invaded Bulgaria.[11]

Jean Richard suggests that Baldwin of Hainaut's mission was a renewal of submission, since a new khan had been elected since 1242.[11][16] The Latin Empire is not listed by William of Rubruck among the tributaries of the Mongol Empire, however, nor was Baldwin II excommunicated for accepting Mongol overlordship as Bohemond V of Antioch was.[12]

The Mongol invasion of the Latin Empire took place just a year before the Mongols' crushing victory over the Seljuks of Anatolia at the battle of Köse Dağ (26 June 1243). Although Baldwin II had negotiated an alliance with the Seljuks in 1241, the Byzantine emperor John III Vatatzes provided aid to his erstwhile enemies, the Seljuks, at a critical juncture in 1242 while they were under Mongol attack. As a result, the position of Vatatzes was strengthened with regards to the rump Seljuk state and the position of Baldwin, defeated by the Mongols himself, was weakened.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b Vásáry (2005), p. 70.
  2. ^ Madgearu (2016), pp. 230–31; Vásáry (2005), p. 70n: Tartari et Chumani nemine resistente et occurrente, recesserunt ab Ungaria cum infinita preda auri et argenti, vestium, animalium, multos et captivos utriusque sexus ducebant in obproprium christianorum. Qui intrantes Greciam totam terram illam depopulabant, exceptis castellis et civitatibus valde munitis. Rex vero Constantinopolitanus nomine Paldwinus, congressus est cum eis, a quo primo victi in secunda congressione victus est ab eis.
  3. ^ a b Giebfried (2013), p. 132.
  4. ^ a b Madgearu (2016), pp. 230–31.
  5. ^ a b Jackson (2005), p. 65.
  6. ^ Giebfried (2013), p. 132. The translation is Martin Hall's. The last line in the original Latin is Suum luget Thracia victa ducem.
  7. ^ Longnon (1969), p. 243.
  8. ^ Hammer-Purgstall (1840), p. 126.
  9. ^ Vásáry (2005), p. 66.
  10. ^ Madgearu (2016), p. 223.
  11. ^ a b c d e Richard (1992), p. 118.
  12. ^ a b c d Giebfried (2013), p. 133.
  13. ^ Richard (1992), p. 116.
  14. ^ Jackson (2005), p. 79 n. 56.
  15. ^ Howorth (1880), p. 58.
  16. ^ Jackson (2005), p. 103.
  17. ^ Richard (1992), p. 119.
  18. ^ Giebfried (2013), p. 134.


  • Giebfried, John (2013). "The Mongol Invasions and the Aegean World (1241–61)". Mediterranean Historical Review. 28 (2): 129–39.
  • Hammer-Purgstall, Joseph von (1840). Geschichte der goldenen Horde in Kiptschak, das ist: Der Mongolen in Russland. Pest: C. A. Hartleben.
  • Howorth, Henry H. (1880). History of the Mongols from the 9th to the 19th Century. Part II: The So-Called Tartars of Russia and Central Asia, Division I. New York: Burt Franklin.
  • Jackson, Peter (2005). The Mongols and the West, 1221–1410. Routledge.
  • Longnon, Jean (1969). "The Frankish States in Greece, 1204–1311" (PDF). In R. L. Wolff; H. W. Hazard (eds.). A History of the Crusades, Volume 2: The Later Crusades, 1189–1311. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 234–74.
  • Madgearu, Alexandru (2016). The Asanids: The Political and Military History of the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185–1280). Leiden: Brill.
  • Richard, Jean (1992). "À propos de la mission de Baudouin de Hainaut: l'empire latin de Constantinople et les mongols". Journal des Savants (1): 115–121. doi:10.3406/jds.1992.1554.
  • Vásáry, István (2005). Cumans and Tatars: Oriental Military in the Pre-Ottoman Balkans, 1185–1365. Cambridge University Press.
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