Sack of Kiev (1240 AD)

By Bloodswan

A brief history of Kiev

Located on the hilly shore of the Dnieper River, Kiev existed as early as the 5th century. It was initially a trading post but gradually grew into the centre of Eastern Slavic Civilisation. It reached its' Golden age between the 10th and 12th centuries where it was one of the richest and most beautiful cities in Eastern Europe. It had been a Christian city since 988 and churches dominated the city. The city had previously been sieged by the Pechenegs in 968, been repeatedly campaigned against by the Polish during the 11th century and finally was sacked by the Suzdalians in 1169 but nothing could prepare it for the Mongol vanguard which arrived in 1240.

The Mongol advance

In 1235 Ogedai Khan summoned a great kuriltai. Prince Juchi's second son Batu was appointed to lead an expedition into Eastern Europe. Batu would lead the army with the great Mongol general Subodai Bahadur. Their first mission was to defeat the Bulgars and Kipchaks to safeguard the Mongol communication lines at the Volga and Don rivers. In 1236 they began with Mongke attacking the Kipchaks whilst Subodai and Batu attacked the Bulgars. By autumn 1237 both had defeated their foes. The Mongols then crossed the Volga and began a campaign only a Mongol army could have taken. They began an attack on Russia in winter.

The strongest point in Russia was the city of Vladimir guarded by the Grand Duke Yuri II but the Mongols decided to outflank him and instead began a 5-day siege of Riazan. Riazan fell to much slaughter. A chronicler wrote, "no eye remained open to weep for the dead" and that "some were impaled or had nails or splinters of wood driven under their finger nails. Priests were roasted alive, nuns and maidens ravished in the churches before their relatives". Next to fall was the then minor settlement of Moscow. Vladimir then fell on February 8, 1238. Yuri died soon after as settlements along the Sit were attacked.

The Mongols then headed for the city of Novgorod but just 65 miles away they decided to turn south and headed for the Don basin. Spring had come and the bogs and marshes would have made movement for the Mongol horses impossible and roads impassable. During 1239 there was little activity but many Kipchak and Polovtsy nomads fled to Hungary under King Bela IV where they became Christian. In 1240 the Mongol army set off again capturing Chernigov before turning their attention to Kiev.

At the Golden Gates

Kiev was a magnificent city, proud and defiant of the Mongols. The inhabitants showed this as they had the Mongol emissaries who had been sent to demand Kiev's surrender executed. The Mongol army then lay siege to the city. The exact number of the Mongol army is unknown but it would have been large enough to almost surround Kiev on all sides. Batu himself was spellbound by the size and beauty of the city but this did not prevent him from launching a fierce attack upon Kiev, one it would never truly recover from.

The Mongols brought with them siege equipment such as trebuchets, possibly in excess of 50,000 warriors and thousands upon thousands of extra horses, oxen, camels and wagons. It was said that the sound of bellowing camels and oxen, the beating of drums, blowing of horns and organs, neighing of horses and moving of wagons made hearing in the city impossible. The Russians were terrified by the sound and sight of the Mongol army.

The siege itself did not last long. The Mongols rained arrows upon the city in such vast quantities it was said they obscured the light, firebombs were flung from trebuchets into the wooden city and finally on December 6 1240 the Golden gates fell and the slaughter could begin. Most would have been captured and had their throat cut, whilst a few may have been raped or tortured. Mongol soldiers had strict quotas of how many they could kill but one thing is for certain mass slaughter took place and the once beautiful Kiev was burnt to the ground. In the end all 400 churches were destroyed and less than 200 houses stood in the once large and prosperous city. 6 years later Carpini saw the ruins and observed countless skulls and bones of the slain, which also littered the plains outside the city. Kiev was a city of Golden domes, beautiful churches and glowing white walls but it had been reduced to flame and ash inside a few weeks.

There is a Russian legend that says a Holy warrior named Mikhailik picked up the Golden gates with his spear and rode invisibly past the Mongol host to Constantinople.

Sack of Kiev

The aftermath

The fall of Kiev marked the culmination of the Mongol invasion of Russia. Most settlements nearby surrendered to the Mongols and many Russian princes fled to Moscow, which grew as Kiev declined. Moscow would eventually be an important Russian city but for now much of Russia was under Mongol rule and it would remain like this for several centuries. The Mongols that stayed in Russia founded the Golden horde but immediately after the fall of Kiev the Mongol army went Westwards as far as Poland and Vienna before returning East upon the death of Ogedai in 1241.

Batu founded the Golden horde in 1242 and despite a major defeat in 1380 at Kulikovo; they would dominate Russia for the next 250 years. The final Golden horde heir would last until the 20th century.


Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire by Jean-Paul Roux
The Mongols by Stephen Turnbull
Genghis Khan - Life, death and resurrection by John Man
Various Internet sources