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[1237-1241 A.D.] Easter festivals. In 1261 the khan of the Golden Horde allowed the Russians to found a bishopric in his capital, and several members of his family adopted Christianity. One of them even founded a monastery, and became a saint of the Russian church! The orthodox clergy were exempted from the poll tax, and in the charters granted to them it was expressly declared that if anyone committed blasphemy against the faith of the Russians he should be put to death. Some time afterwards the Golden Horde was converted to Islam, but the khans did not on that account change their policy.
They continued to favour the clergy, and their protection was long remembered. Many generations later, when the property of the church was threatened by the autocratic power, refractory ecclesiastics contrasted the policy of the orthodox sovereign with that of the "godless Tatars," much to the advantage of the latter.
At first there was and could be very little mutual confidence between the conquerors and the conquered. The princes anxiously looked for an opportunity of throwing off the galling yoke, and the people chafed under the exactions and cruelty of the tribute collectors, whilst the khans took precautions to prevent insurrection, and threatened to devastate the country if their authority was not respected. But in the course of time this mutual distrust and hostility greatly lessened. The princes gradually perceived that all attempts at resistance would be fruitless, and became reconciled to their new position. Instead of seeking to throw off the khan's authority, they sought to gain his favour, in the hope of thereby forwarding their personal interests. For this purpose they paid frequent visits to the Tatar chief, made rich presents to his wives and courtiers, received from him charters confirming their authority, and sometimes even married members of his family. Some of them used the favour thus acquired for extending their possessions at the expense of neighbouring princes of their own race, and did not hesitate to call in Tatar hordes to their assistance. The khans, in their turn, placed greater confidence in their vassals, entrusted them with the task of collecting the tribute, recalled their own officials who were a constant eyesore to the people, and abstained from all interference in the internal affairs of the principalities so long as tribute was regularly paid. The princes acted, in short, as the khan's lieutenants, and became to a certain extent Tartarised. Some of them carried this policy so far that they were reproached by the people with "loving beyond measure the Tatars and their language, and giving them too freely land, and gold, and goods of every kind."c
A FEMALE SAMOYED
The recognition of Tatar sovereignty was complete in the homage and tribute they demanded and received. Every prince was forced to solicit his investiture from the khan of Kiptchak; and even when Iaroslav was established as grand prince over the rest, Batu cunningly allowed several rivals to put in their claims to that authority, and obliged them to wait so long for his decision that the order of succession remained unsettled. This state of suspense in which the feudal lords were kept, and a series of famines which followed the destructive march of the Tatars, plunged the country into a condition of abject wretchedness.
During this period of indecision on the one hand, and forlorn imbecility on the other, the Lithuanians succeeded in appropriating to themselves some portions of the northwestern division of Russia; and the Swedes, and Danes, and Livonian knights of the sword proceeded to make demonstrations of a descent upon Novgorod. Alexander, however, who had succeeded his father in that principality, finding that the grand prince was unable to render him any assistance towards the defence of the city, anticipated the advance of the intruders, and giving them battle on the banks of the Neva gained a decisive victory. He immediately built strong forts on the spot to repel any future attempts, and returned in triumph to Novgorod. So signal was the overthrow of the enemy that Alexander was honoured by the surname of Nevski, in commemoration of the achievement.
Flushed with a triumph as unexpected as it was important, Alexander Nevski desired to enlarge the bounds of his power at home. The army was warmly attached to him, for his personal intrepidity was no less remarkable than his sagacity qualities which were rarely so strongly developed in so young a man. The Novgorodians, however, always jealous of their municipal privileges, and suspicious of the motives of their rulers, resisted the extension of Alexander's power, and, apprehensive that he would abuse his advantages, they remonstrated against his proceedings, and at last broke out into open rebellion. The proud spirit of the young prince was justly offended at the impetuous revolt of his subjects, and he retired at once from the city, going over to his father at Vladimir, to request the aid of a sufficient force to restore order. But Iaroslav, in the conviction of his own inadequacy, was unwilling to interfere with the wishes of the Novgorodians; and, conferring upon Alexander the inferior principality of Pereiaslavl, he sent another of his sons, at the request of the people, to reign over the disaffected province.
The Novgorodians, however, speedily discovered their error. The Danes, induced to speculate upon the absence of Alexander, a second time appeared within the boundary, and the new prince, an inexperienced young man, made choice of such measures as clearly proved him to be unfit for his office. The people became dissatisfied, and, being now convinced that Alexander was the only man who could relieve them in their difficulty, petitioned him to return; but he indignantly rejected the request. A second embassy, headed by the archbishop, was more fortunate, and Alexander Nevski once more placed himself at the head of the army, and obtained a second victory over the invaders. Resolved to profit by the obligations under which he laid his subjects by resuming, at their own instance, the reins of government, and by freeing them from the presence of a dangerous foe, he now pushed on to Livonia, and routed the combined forces of a triple alliance of Germans, Danes, and Tchuds, on the borders of Lake Peipus. This exploit, which the youthful hero achieved in the year 1245, not only obtained him the love and
admiration of his own subjects, but speedily spread his name through every part of the empire, until it finally reached the court of the Golden Horde, where it elicited an unusual degree of curiosity and applause.
In the person of the prince of Novgorod, a new dawn of hope broke over Russia, and nothing but the disheartening feuds of the chiefs checked the growth of that incipient desire for liberty which the influence of his successes was calculated to create. Alexander was adapted to the occasion; and if the disunited sovereigns could now have consented to forego their low animosities, and to merge their personal differences in the common cause, Alexander was the instrument of all others the most fit to undertake the conduct of so gallant an enterprise. But it required an extraordinary combination of circumstances to awaken the Russian princes to a full sense of their degrada'tion, and to inspire them with resolution to set about the rescue of their country from the chains of the spoiler. Alexander's example was useless. He could do no more than demonstrate the possibility of improvement within the reach of his own domain; but for all purposes of a national and extensive character, his exertions failed to procure any favourable results.
On the death of the grand prince Iaroslav, whose reign appears to have passed unmarked by any events of importance, the khan invited or rather summoned Alexander to the horde. A number of competitors or claimants for the grand princedom had already brought forward their petitions: some were lingering in person at the court; others were represented by ambassadors bearing rich tributes; and all were in a state of considerable anxiety pending the decision of the Tatar. Alexander alone was silent. The fame of his deeds had preceded him. He did not come to supplicate for an honour to which he felt that he possessed an unexceptionable claim, but he attended as a point of duty, without reference to a nomination that could hardly increase his popularity. His independent bearing, his manly figure, and the general candour and fearlessness of his manners gained him at once the confidence and admiration of the khan, who did not hesitate to assure him that, although he had heard much in his favour, report had fallen short of his distinguished merits.
Auspicious, however, as this reception was, it did not terminate in Alexander's appointment to the suspended sceptre of Vladimir. The policy of the Tatar was to keep the order of succession in periodical uncertainty, so that the Russians might the more distinctly see how much the destinies of the country depended on his supreme will. It was not until Alexander paid a second visit to the horde, in 1252, that he was raised to the dignity of grand prince. It was accorded to him in a very gracious spirit, and he entered upon his new office with more earnest zeal than had for a long time before been displayed by his predecessors.
The first act of the grand prince was an expedition against Sweden, undertaken with two objects: (1) to crush a formidable foe that occasionally harassed the frontier districts; and (2) to give employment and opportunity for pillage to his numerous army, which he had already taught to calculate upon the rewards of spoliation. The expedition terminated in victory. The triumphant army laid a part of the Swedish territory under contribution, succeeded in capturing a number of prisoners, and returned home laden with spoils.
These successes and the skilful policy of the grand prince made the most favourable impression on the mind of the khan, who now, whenever dissensions arose amongst the princes, either referred the adjustment of their differences to Alexander, or confiscated their dominions and annexed them to the
grand princedom. Two instances of the latter description may be recorded as evidences of the cunning displayed by the Tatar in the protection of the Greek religion. While Alexander was at the height of his prosperity, the prince of Kiev, affected by some sudden admiration of the Roman Catholic ritual, signified his submission to the pope, acknowledging his holiness's supremacy over the churches of his principality. Another prince, his brotherin-law, adopted a similar measure, which was equally offensive to Tatars and Russians. The khan, irritated by proceedings so directly at variance with his will, deprived them of their authority, and transferred their territories to the grand prince, who, according to some writers, was even assisted by the Tatars in seizing upon them.
The tribute which had been originally imposed upon the Russians by their conquerors had always been levied by the princes, the khan being satisfied to receive it at their hands. As the power of Alexander increased, the khan gradually recalled this system of delegation, and adopted a more strict and jealous mode of collection. The first contribution was raised upon the princes, as tribute money, and they were left to procure it amongst their subjects as well as they could. But it now assumed the shape of a tax on persons and property. In order to ensure the regularity of its payment, and protect the khan against evasions, Tatar officers were appointed in every district to attend exclusively to the rigid collection of the revenue. From this tax, which was imposed without distinction upon every Russian, and rated according to his means, the clergy alone were exempt: and even they, in one instance, were attempted to be taxed in later times; but the khan who sought to enforce it was obliged to yield to the double argument of long-established usage and weighty presents from the wealthy monks.
The new burthen lay heavily upon the people, and the mode in which it was enforced through foreign collectors, of the nation of their oppressors enhanced its mortifications. Universal discontent followed the tax-gatherers. They were treated with unreserved displeasure. It was with great difficulty they could carry into effect the objects of their unpopular mission, and in some places, particularly the cities where the population was more compact, and the communication of opinion more rapid and complete, they were received with execration. This resistance on the one hand no doubt produced increased severity on the other; and as the levy advanced, the people became less cautious in the exhibition of their feelings, and the collectors more rigorous and despotic. Novgorod, which had always been the rallying point for the assertion of freedom in Russia, took the lead in this revolt against the khan's authority. The Novgorodians, to a man, refused to pay the tax, and even threatened to wreak their vengeance upon the officers who were appointed to collect it. The prince of Novgorod, one of Alexander's sons, urged to extremities by his republican advisers, sanctioned these declarations of independence, and openly signified his determination to prevent the exactions of so ignominious a tribute within the districts dependent upon his rule. Alexander, perceiving, in this dangerous obstinacy of his son, the source of serious calamity to the empire at large, and knowing well that neither the Novgorodians, nor any other fraction of the Russian people, were in a condition to resist the powerful armies of the khan, should he be provoked to compel compliance at the point of the sword, undertook in person to appease the growing tumult, and presenting himself in the city, rebuked the inhabitants for having perilled the safety of the country by their contumacy, severely punished rash advisers of his son, and finally arranged the payment of the tax to the satisfaction of the Tatar offices. Still the Novgorodians were not content.
[1263 A.D.] They remonstrated against the unequal pressure of the tax, setting forth that it fell more grievously upon the poor than upon the rich, and that if they were obliged to submit to such a penalty, it should at all events be adjusted proportionately to the means of individuals. Even this difficulty Alexander was enabled to meet by assuming the responsibility of the payment himself, a vexatious and ungrateful duty, which, however, he willingly accepted, as it afforded him the means of quelling discontents that might have otherwise terminated in a sanguinary convulsion.d
Death of Alexander Nevski; Appreciation of His Character
In 1262, disturbances arose in the country of Rostov, where the people became exasperated at the violence of the Tatar collectors of tribute; a council was called together and the collectors were driven out of Rostov, Vladimir, Suzdal, Pereiaslavl, and Iaroslavl; in the last mentioned town the enraged inhabitants killed the collector Izosim, who had embraced Mohammedanism to become a Tatar tax-gatherer, and persecuted his former fellow-citizens worse than the Tatars themselves. Naturally such an occurrence could not be calmly passed over by the horde, and Tatar regiments were already sent to take the Christians into captivity. In order to avert this calamity from the people, Alexander repaired a fourth time to the horde; he was evidently successful, possibly because of the Persian War which was then greatly occupying the khan Bergé. But it was his last work; he left the horde, where he had passed the whole winter, a sick man, and died on the way back to Vladimir on the 14th of November, 1263; "having laboured greatly for the Russian land, for Novgorod and Pskov, for all the grand princedom, and having given his life for the orthodox faith." By preserving Russia from calamities on the east, and by his famous exploits for faith and country in the west, Alexander gained for himself a glorious memory throughout Russia and became the most conspicuous historical personage in Russian history from Monomakh to Donskoi. A token of this remembrance and fame is to be found in the special narrative of his exploits that has come down to us. "The grand prince Alexander Iaroslavitch," says the author of the narrative, "conquered everywhere, but himself was nowhere conquered;" there came to Novgorod from the western countries a famous knight, who saw Alexander, and when he returned to his own land he said: "I have gone through many countries and nations, but nowhere have I seen such a one, no such king among kings and no such prince among princes;" and a similar honourable mention was made of him by the khan. When, after the death of his father, Alexander came to Vladimir, his coming was terrible, and the news of it flew even to the mouth of the Volga, and the Muscovite women began to frighten their children, saying: "Be quiet, the grand duke Alexander is coming!" It happened once that ambassadors were sent to him from great Rome by the pope, who had commanded them to speak to Alexander as follows: "We have heard of thee, O Prince, that thou art honourable and wonderful, and that thy country is great, therefore have we sent unto thee two of the wisest of our twelve cardinals, that thou mayest hearken to their teaching." Alexander, having taken counsel with his wise men, wrote down and described to the pope all that had taken place from the creation of the world to the seventh œcumenical council, and added: "All this is well known unto us, but we cannot accept your teachings. Following in the footsteps of his father, Alexander gave much gold and silver to the horde to ransom prisoners. The metropolitan Cyril was in