This article is essentially the crib notes used by me for the MEG podcast
First off my apologies if I mangle pronunciations, my choice has been to go with the modern Mongolian take on the names and any straying from that is entirely due to my own ineptitude,
So Ching-gis, Subiday, Zhev, Juuchi
There are four major sources for the Mongols during Genghis’ lifetime and particularly the period around the Great Raid,
The Secret History of the Mongols, this appears to have been compiled no later than 1252AD, although slightly inconsistent in its treatment of the ‘facts’ being prone to building a good story rather than a straight history it does not shy away from the negative or critical statements.
The other three sources all appear to share a common pool of details,
The Collected Chronicles: written by the Persian historian Rashid al-Din
Yuanshi- the official dynastic history Of the Ruling Mongols in China, completed sometime around 1370
Shengwujinzhenglu (Chen-wou ts’in-tcheng lou) similar to the Secret history but regarded as a better chronology and detail orientated.
Additionally, there are the various Rus chronicles, The Chronicle of Novgorod and The Hypatian Chronicle being the significant early ones.
All that said though pick up any book on Genghis, or the military campaigns of his generals and you will be hard pressed to find any true consistency in the sequence of events, the events themselves or even the participants. I’ve a bibliography of the books that I have used, which Nik will add to the podcast notes. I’ve tried to put a balanced view forward and also noted a few of the variations along the way.
To cover Genghis and the Mongol rise to the point of Subutai and Jebe’s great raid would in itself take a few podcasts!
So to set the scene, Genghis had been drawn into conflicts around the former lands of the Qara Khitan Empire, this sitting across modern Uzbekistan to points both east and west. This in turn brought him into contact and conflict with the Shah Muhammad of the Khwarezmian. In 1218 an accidental or at least avoidable pitched battle between a flying column of Mongol tumans under Jochi and Subutai and an army under the Shah lit the fuse that by the end of the year saw a Merchant caravan, which was under Genghis’ personal protection massacred, envoys dead and the delivery of a politely worded notice of formal conflict from the Khan that essentially read ‘Prepare for war, for I am coming against you with a host you cannot withstand’
The campaign that followed would again be at least a good podcast in length to describe. To sketch it out, Genghis and his generals launched a multi-prong campaign that effectively destroyed the Khwarezmian Empire, forced the Shah into a prolonged flight that led to his death in early 1221. The death of the Shah though did little to reduce the ferocity of the ongoing campaign, it would take the best part of a decade to subdue the various Khwarezmian Leaders and armies in what became a cauldron of alliances, treachery and battles. It turned the Shah’s son Jalal al-Din into a notorious brigand or heroic freedom fighter depending on which side you were standing. Jalal al-Din inflicted significant defeats on the Mongols and created and subsequently lost several power bases in his continued resistance.
< Discuss Khwarezmian armies in MEG >
After the death of the Shah, whose pursuit they had been ordered on by Genghis ,Subutai suggested an incursion around the Caspian sea to attack the Cuman tribes from an unexpected direction, while Jochi approached from the south. Genghis released 20,000 men for the purpose and set a 3-year limit on this independent command.
Jebe and Subutai used the Azerbaijani city of Tabriz as the base for launching their raid. The intent had been to conquer the city, but it surrendered without a fight and paid a substantial bribe to be left intact. Whilst moving on Tabriz the Mongol commanders supplemented their forces with irregular Turcoman, Kurdish and other mercenaries and by early 1221 were in a position to push on into Georgia.
< Discuss Mongols in MEG and armylist >
The Mongols and their auxiliaries entered Georgia following the path of the Kura River. Subutai and Jebe scattered the auxiliary forces into raiding groups across the countryside as a screen for the Mongol troops and to goad the Georgians into a response.
Georgia state was a Christian Kingdom that in the first decade of the 13th century under Queen Tamar or ‘King of Kings’ as she was more properly titled, had dominated large parts of present-day Azerbaijan, Armenia, and eastern Turkey. Their military might was based on a feudal mix of mounted Nobles and retainers supported by a substantial foot levy. Unfortunately, Tamar’s son George IVth wasn’t a chip of the old block and while personally brave wasn’t the calibre of leader needed to face the Mongols.
< Discuss Georgians in Meg >
Subutai and Jebe, once the assembled Georgian field army started responding to the hack and slash raids through the countryside pulled their auxiliary forces back and gave battle. The Georgians battered aside these auxiliaries, only to be confronted by the intact Mongol troops who retreated in good order, peppering the advancing Georgians as they came on in some disorder. The Georgians apparently broke when the Mongols were able to rehorse on fresh mounts and launch charges on the spread-out enemy cavalry.
The Mongols withdrew at this point, either to re-equip or more likely to cover other Mongol forces in Northern Iran who were still heavily engaged. Certainly Subutai’s forces took several cities by siege and assault, some of those had submitted the year before but had since hardened their resolve. They also extorted Tabriz once again. By the end of 1221 the Raid was back on and the army advanced back into Georgia and Armenia.
Again, the Georgian army was brought on to ground the Mongol commanders wanted and ambushed by a detached force under Jebe and then hit by the main force under Subutai. The inevitable rout destroyed the Georgian forces as a field army, it would also set the scene for the loss of their capital Tbilisi in 1226 to that thorn in the Mongol side Jalal al-Din.
Its worth noting that the Mongol confrontation with the main Georgian army is somewhat murky. Accounts range from there being a single battle in late 1221 to two main battles, one early in 1221 and one late. Historians seem equally undecided. My opinion is the likelihood of a general Georgian levy being possible in late winter that which results in the loss of much of Georgia’s significant Noble forces is improbable. Two battles would be significantly more damaging.
With Georgia neutralised the Mongols carried on to the fortified city of Derbent between the Caucasus’ mountains and the Caspian Sea. This city controlled the main passage between the sea and the mountains, Limiting any access North.
Once again it gets murky, at best we can say the Mongols, got themselves into a rather nasty mountain trek and took casualties and before they could recover were forced into a battle with a Kipchak and Alan alliance. Only resolved by bribing the Kipchaks to desert or to swap sides. This allowed the Mongols to defeat the isolated Alans. They then hunted down the Kipchak clans and recovered their bribes. Many of the Kipchak refugees fleeing North to their fellow Cuman tribes and then retreating towards the Rus principalities.
Here the raid took a very literal left turn and detoured to the settlement at Soldaia on the Crimean Peninsula which they destroyed. This unexpected detour may have been the result of negotiations with Venetian traders who supplied a variety of intelligence on the state of the surrounding area and Rus principalities. There would later be formal, though secret, treaties between the Doge of Venice and the Mongol empire. There is however little directly citated evidence for Venetian and Mongol co-operation over this raid into the Crimea, especially as, although later a Geneose controlled settlement it is likely here it was under the control of the Byzantine rump state of Trebizond at this time or possibly even the Seljuk’s of Rum.
Having sacked Soldaia, the Mongol forces split, Subutai took a raiding force along the coast of the sea of Azov. Destroying towns as he went, creating a secure rear behind any future Mongol advance. Jebe took a force towards the Don where he harassed Kipchak clans. In doing so they co-opted, hired or otherwise persuaded the chief of the Brodnik tribe to add 5,000 men to their forces.
During this period it was apparent to the Mongols that the Rus principalities were allied together to form an anti-Mongol alliance. Koten, one of the fleeing Cuman chieftains, had appealed to his father-in-law, the Rus Prince of Galicia for assistance against the Mongols. Despite advice to leave the Cumans to their fate, they had after all been raiding Rus lands for several centuries, a princely council was called at Keiv. Here an accord was struck, some 18 Rus Princes formed an alliance to see off this new nomad incursion. The leading players in this alliance were the princes of Galicia, Kiev and Chernigov, all named Mstislav
By April 1223 the Rus forces were starting to converge, assembling to the South of their territory.
The settlement of Vikings in the Ukraine in the 10th century created the powerhouse that was the trading colony of Kiev, by the 12th century it had expanded, declined then fragmented, creating a myriad of principalities over modern day Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. These statelets continually warred with each other and their Cuman neighbours, who were usually referred to as Polovtsi. Only rarely combining into large forces when punitive raids were felt needed against the Cumans. By this period the reliance was on well-armed mounted retainers. With several degrees of foot milita but these seem to have rarely had an active offensive capacity.
In keeping with usual Mongol diplomacy of separate and conquer Subutai sent envoys to the Rus princes stating his grievances were with the Cumans and not them. The princes promptly killed the envoys and continued to muster. The muster point was near an island off Khortitsa, which was located on the lower Dnieper. No consistent number is listed for the size of the muster, as low as 8,000 and as high as 80000 and that it contained ‘the entire Polovcian nation.’
The only infantry mentioned are those that boated up the Dnieper from the Black sea and numbered some 2000.
A second Mongol embassy informed the Rus Princes that they accepted the death of their previous envoys as an act of war and this time the embassy was allowed to depart.
And now we are back into the murk, the upcoming battle between Mongols and the Russ and their Cuman allies usually known as the battle of Kalka River, has few sources, each often contradicts the other.
At or near the muster point on the neiper a force of some 1,000 mongols is attacked by Misilov of Galicia’s Rus and the Kipchaks. This force is annihilated and prompts a general advance by the Rus army. This 1000 man force of Mongols is variously described as a rear guard, a supply column, the Rus Chronicles say large numbers of cattle were captured or it may have been a scouting force. One historian has gone as far to suggest that this element of the story actually masks the death of Jebe as its leader. An interesting twist in the tale.
The actual battle is fought over the river Kalka or one of it feeder rivers, Subutai and the majority of the Mongols on the eastern side away from the river itself with and advance guard on the western bank. The battle opens with the Rus vanguard clashing with the Mongol advance guard and the Mongols withdraw over the river. Elements of the Rus forces and the Cumans cross, some stopping to erect a camp. The Cumans scouting forward to establish where the Mongol forces are. Other Rus Princes start crossing the river, some are still strung out on the approach to the river. It appears at this juncture Subutai launched an immediate and strong cavalry attack on the Cuman forward scouts , routing them back into the Rus near the river. The chronicler Ibn al-Athir and Rus sources such as the Chronicle of Novgorod, make it clear the Rus forces already across the river, despite being disordered and ill prepared were able to counter attack the Mongols and hold them long enough for other Rus troops to cross and reinforce the line, stopping the Mongols for a time but additional Mongol units swung the balance, a reserve? A general rout ensues with Mongol conducting a pursuit as far back as the Dnieper. Of note is that the Keivan contingent is said to either to have formed a wagon laager on the Kalka and eventually been overwhelmed and massacred or to have managed a ordered retreat back to the Dnieper where it formed a defence wagon laager and was over whelmed. The first seems much more likely.
The aftermath of the battle is Jebe, who I’m pretty sure was still alive at this point, and Subutai sack a series of towns along the Dnieper before heading back to the Eastern plains to rest and resupply. Also, it would seem to gather intelligence as instead of taking the most direct East to link up with Jochi and his force they head north East into the territory of the Volga Bulgars, said to be a wealth and prosperous land. To paraphrase the Secret history ‘Subutai was discomforted by these peoples’ , it would seem at the very least he suffered some kind of reverse. The supposition is that the Mongol vanguard was ambushed and severely damaged. Again it possible Jebe was wounded or Killed at this point as he pretty much disappears from the sources at this point. What ever happened either consequently or as part of a concerted action previously subdued Kipchak tribes in the area seemed to have rebelled. Jochi is recorded as sending a supporting column which joined with Subutai’s and successfully crushed the rebels and then destroyed a series of free Kipchak settlements on the Volga. From this point on the Mongol troops consolidated then returned to the main Mongol army.
The raid last some three years, covered in excess of 6500 km, and despite a stated aim of ‘just’ looping around the Caspian Sea and created a multidirectional attack on Kipchak tribes actually ended up scouting far further to the North and finally combining with Jochi’s forces to actually achieve its original remit. Its easy to see this a deliberate precursor to the later invasion into Eastern Europe and the Rus principalities.
McLynn, Frank. Genghis Khan
Sverdrup, Carl Fredrik. The Mongol Conquests
Halperin, Charles J.. Russia and the Golden Horde: The Mongol Impact on Medieval Russian History (Encounters)
May, Timothy. The Mongol Art of War
Chambers, James. The Devil’s horseman