Battle of Kulikovo

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For the opera 'The Battle of Kulikovo' see Dmitry Donskoy (opera)
Battle of Kulikovo
Part of Mongol Yoke
17th century illustration
Date September 8, 1380
Location Kulikovo Field near the Don River
Result Decisive Moscow victory;[1] securing the title of Grand Duke for the Moscow faction
First historical mention of Muscovy as an independent country

Flag of Orthodox Army (Battle of Kulikovo).jpg Russian principalities:
Suzdal–Nizhny Novgorod
Iziaslav of Polock Seal avers.png Polotsk

Golden Horde flag 1339.svg Western part of the Golden Horde
with mercenaries
Commanders and leaders
Dmitri Ivanovich of Moscow Golden Horde flag 1339.svg Mamai
from 30,000[2] to 50,000-60,000[3] from 30,000[2] to 100,000[4] – 150,000[5]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 8/9 of the army

The Battle of Kulikovo (Russian: Мамаево побоище, Донское побоище, Куликовская битва, битва на Куликовом поле) was fought between the armies of the Golden Horde under the command of Mamai, and various Russian principalities under the united command of Prince Dmitri of Moscow. The battle took place on 8 September 1380, at the Kulikovo Field near the Don River (now Tula Oblast, Russia) and was won by Dmitri, who became known as Donskoy (of the Don) after the battle.

Although the victory did not end the Mongol domination over Russia, it is widely regarded by Russian historians as the turning point when Mongol influence began to wane and Muscovite power to rise, this process eventually led to Muscovite independence and formation of the modern Russian state. According to the Russian historian Lev Gumilev, "Russians went to the Kulikovo field as citizens of various principalities and returned as a united Russian nation".[6]


Dmitri captures a warrior of the Golden Horde.

After the Mongol-Tatar conquest, the territories of the disintegrating Kievan Rus became part of the western region of the Mongol Empire (also known as the Golden Horde), centered in the lower Volga region. The numerous Russian principalities became the Horde's tributaries, during this period, the small regional principality of Moscow was growing in power and was often challenging its neighbors over territory, including clashing with the Grand Duchy of Ryazan. The intrigues between Moscow and Ryazan pre-date the Mongol-Tatar conquest, having arisen during the ascent of regional powers within the Kievan Rus.

A civil war had arisen in the falling Golden Horde and new political powers were appearing, such as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and the Grand Duchy of Ryazan. After the mysterious death of Khan Abdulla the Tartar in 1370, warlord (temnik) Mamai took control of the Golden Horde and was appointed regent for the immature Khan Muhammad Bolak. Mamai was not a Genghisid (descendant of Genghis Khan), and as such his grip on power was tenuous, as there were blood-descendants of Genghis Khan with potential claims to the rulership of the Horde. Meanwhile, the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was gaining momentum, the Duchy having taken over some former territories of the Golden Horde and, after the Battle of Blue Waters, having secured power over both Kiev and parts of the northern Black Sea coast.

In 1362, the Prince of Moscow Dmitri came into physical possession of the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, he sought a jarliq (law pronouncement) from Mamai granting him formal possession of the Duchy. Instead, in 1371, Mamai passed its title to the Prince of Tver. Prince Dmitri refused to accept Mamai's decision. Conflict ensued in 1377, when a friend of Mamai Arpash defeated the united armies of Suzdal and Moscow, led by Prince Dmitri, at the Battle of Pyana River, the victors then began to raid Nizhniy Novgorod and Ryazan.

After the victory, Mamai sought to re-affirm his control over the tributary lands of the Golden Horde; in 1378, he sent forces led by the warlord Murza Begich to ensure Prince Dmitri's obedience. The Horde's army was defeated at the Battle of the Vozha River and Murza Begich was killed. Meanwhile, another khan, Tokhtamysh, arose in Middle Asia to challenge Mamai for the throne of the Golden Horde, although initially unsuccessful, khan Tokhtamysh slowly began to solidify support for his challenge to the rulership of the Horde.

In 1380, against this backdrop, Mamai chose to personally lead the Horde's forces against the forces of Moscow; in preparation for the invasion, he negotiated with both Prince Jogaila of Lithuania and a Russian prince Oleg II of Ryazan, who struggled against Dmitri. The armies of Lithuania and Ryazan marched to join the Horde's army, and Mamai camped his army on the bank of the Don river, waiting for their arrival.



While Mamai camped, Prince Dmitri mobilized his troops and allies in Kolomna to resist the invasion, the army of Moscow was joined there by armies from most of other Russian principalities, including Tver, Suzdal, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Polotsk, Murom and Beloozero. Many of participants had to break their former loyalties: army of Smolensk, formally Jogaila's vassals, joined Dmitri, as did Jogaila's brothers Andrei of Polotsk and Dmitri of Bryansk; in spite of Oleg's alliance with Mamai, a number of Ryazan boyars defected with their servants to join Dmitri (the exact number is not known, but some 70 of Ryazan boyars were listed among dead after the battle). According to Sergius of Radonezh's hagiography, Saint Sergius met Dmitri, blessed the Russian armies before the battle, and sent a group of warrior monks to accompany the combined force.

Prince Dmitri learned of the approaching armies of Lithuania and Ryazan, on 7 September 1380, Prince Dmitri's forces crossed the Don to attack, before his enemies could combine their forces.

The duel of Alexander Peresvet and Mamai's champion. By Victor Vasnetsov

Combined Russian armies under the command of the Grand Prince of Vladimir, Dmitri Ivanovich of Moscow, faced a much larger Tatar force under the command of Mamai. Mamai's allies, Grand Prince Oleg II of Ryazan and Grand Prince Jogaila of Lithuania, were late to the battle. According to a theory put forward by historian Dmitri Balashov, Oleg was actually not willing to join any side at all, and probably even sent some of his aforementioned "defectors" to help Dmitri, while pretending that Ryazan in general remained loyal to the Horde.

The old Russian poem Zadonshchina lists 150,000 Russians and 300,000 Tartaro-Mongols as taking part in the battle, but the actual size of the Kulikovo Field would not allow such a number of troops, the figures were more likely closer to 60,000 Russians (including 7,000 rebel Lithuanians) and 125,000 Tartaro-Mongols. Mamai's army included an unknown number of mercenaries he hired in a Republic of Genoa fortress Caffa (modern Feodosia, Crimea).[6]


Ancient sources do not give a precise description of the site of the battle, as a result, until the 19th century the precise location of the battle was unknown until Stepan Nechaev came up with what he believed was the exact location of the battle and his hypothesis was accepted.


Dmitri Donskoy in the thick of the fray; painting by Adolphe Yvon.
An exhausted Dmitri having his wounds cared for after the battle. By Vasily Sazonov

On September 7, Prince Dmitri was told that Mamai's army is approaching, he passes the river at the Don's intersection with Nepryadva and chooses a position on the fields of Kulikovo. The Grand Prince arranged his army in multiple lines, the first line was made up of elite troops (making up the vanguard of the Russian army). In the second line, the Russian center was made up of a larger force surrounded by troops that made up the left and right wings. Behind them waited the reserves, the army's flanks were covered by dense forests which destroyed any hope the horde might have had for a surprise flank attack. Under the command of Vladimir Andreevici Serpuhovschi and Bobroc, the Russians hid another part of their army (mainly consisting of cavalry). Mamai placed his entire army on a single line, on the morning of September 8, a thick fog covered the fields of Kulikovo, preventing battle from being joined. The fog cleared around 11 a.m., and both armies began to advance.

The battle opened with single combat between two champions, the Russian champion was Alexander Peresvet, a monk from the Trinity Abbey sent to the battle by Saint Sergius. The Horde's champion was Temir-murza (also Chelubey or Cheli-bey). Though each champion killed the other during the first pass of the contest, Peresvet did not fall from the saddle, while Temir-murza did (according to Russian sources).

During the battle, Dmitri exchanged his armor with young Moscow boyarin Mikhail Brenok, in order to pretend to be an ordinary knight. Brenok was instructed to imitate the Prince, bearing his banner and wearing his armor, the trick was successful: the Tatars aimed their fire at Dmitri's banner and ultimately killed Brenok, believing he was the Prince. Dmitri himself survived, although wounded, and immediately after the battle fainted from exhaustion and loss of blood.

The Russian vanguard routed after holding the horde for some time, after which the horde advanced towards the following lines of units, after approximately three hours of battle (from noon to 3pm) the Russian forces were successful, despite great casualties, in holding off the Horde's attack. The cavalry of Vladimir, Prince of Serpukhov (Dmitri's cousin), led by Prince Bobrok (Prince Dmitri's brother-in-law), launched a surprise counterstrike on the Horde's flank, which led to the collapse of the Horde's line, after the horde was routed, the Russians chased the Tatars for over 50 kilometers, until they reached Krasivaya Mech river.


Upon learning of Mamai's defeat, Prince Jogaila turned his army back to Lithuania. Prince Oleg of Ryazan was forced to accept Prince Dmitri as his sovereign and to sign a treaty of peace. Mukhammad-Bulek, Mamai's figurehead Khan, was killed in battle. Mamai escaped to the Genoese stronghold Caffa in Crimea and was soon assassinated by the mercenaries, whom he failed to pay. Mamai's rival, khan Tokhtamysh, was left in uncontested control of the Horde.

Prince Dmitri, who became known as Donskoy (of the Don) after the battle, did not manage to become fully independent from the Golden Horde, however; in 1382, Khan Tokhtamysh launched another campaign against the Grand Duchy of Moscow. He captured and burned down Moscow, forcing Dmitri to accept him as sovereign. However, the victory at Kulikovo was an early sign of the decline of Mongol power; in the century that followed, Moscow's power rose, solidifying control over the other Russian principalities. Russian vassalage to the Golden Horde officially ended in 1480, a century after the battle, following the defeat of the Horde at the great stand on the Ugra River.


The site of the battle is commemorated by a memorial church, built from a design by Aleksey Shchusev. A minor planet, 2869 Nepryadva, discovered in 1980 by Soviet astronomer Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh, was named in honor of the Russian victory over the Tataro-Mongols.[7]

Archaeological finds[edit]

A collection of artifacts related to the battle is present in the state museum Kulikovo Polye, and a significant amount of finds is open to the public in other Russian museums, the first relics were discovered on the Kulikovo field in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, though their fate is hitherto unknown; fragments of weapons were reported to have been frequently discovered by 18th-century peasants during plowing, and it is known that at the time some of the finds were collected by economist Vasily Lyovshin, who had a personal interest in the history of the battle. A large number of antiquities were discovered in the 19th century and their relatively large number led to the publication of the first catalogue of Kulikovo artifacts by Ivan Sakharov, Secretary of the Department of Russian and Slavic Archaeology of the Imperial Russian Archaeological Society. Historian Stepan Nechayev noted in his writings that during their agricultural operations local peasants discovered old weapons, crosses, chainmails, and used to find human bones before; some of those finds were purchased by him, and their description appeared on the pages of Vestnik Evropy. In 1825, it was reported by a famous Russian adventurer that the "precious things" from the field, once numerous, were "scattered across Russia" and formed private collections, such as those of Nechayev, Countess Bobrinskaya and other noble persons, the fate of these collections is not always clear and not all of them have been preserved to this day; General Governor Alexander Balashov and educator Dmitri Tikhomirov pointed to the fact that in their time iron objects were often collected, melted down by peasants and used for their purposes. One of such cases occurred recently, in 2009, when a Persian blade dug out from the field was discovered in the house of a local family and transferred to the Kulikovo field museum, after visiting the field and the village of Monastyrschina, Tikhomirov noted that "swords, axes, arrows, spears, crosses, coins and other similar things" that were of value were frequently found there and owned by private persons. Numerous fragments of weapons, crosses and armour were also noted by the famous 19th-century Tula historian Ivan Afremov, who suggested building a museum for these artifacts, some of the finds are known to have been sent as gifts to government officials and members of the Imperial family; in 1839 and 1843, the head of a mace and the blade of a sword were gifted to Emperor Nicholas I by a Kulikovo nobleman. While preparing his work "Parishes and Churches of the Tula Diocese" (1895), editor Pavel Malitsky received reports from inhabitants of the Tula Oblast, who had found spearheads, poleaxes and crosses on the field. Spears and arrows dug out by the locals are also mentioned in the worksheets of the Tula provincial academic archival commission. Many artifacts were collected by noble families that owned Kulikovo, such the Oltufyevs, the Safonovs, the Nechayevs and the Chebyshevs, whose rich collections were still remembered by local citizens in the 1920-1930s, their estates were situated around the village of Monastyrschina, close to the site of the battle, but during the Civil War most of their collections were lost and only a significant part of the Nechayevs’ collection survived the revolutionary period, whereas the extensive use of agricultural machinery in the field contributed to a loss of remaining artifacts. A number of antiquities, however, were found and transferred to museums in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.[8] Works on relics from Kulikovo were published in the 1920s and 1930s by local lore specialists Vladimir Narcissov and Vadim Ashurkov. Most recent descriptions of Kulikovo weaponry and other artifacts have been presented in publications by Vasily Putsko, Oleg Dvurechensky and other historians.[9][10][8]


The memorial column on the Kulikovo field was designed by Alexander Brullov in 1848

The historical evaluation of the battle has many theories as to its significance in the course of history.

  • The traditional slavophile Russian point of view sees the battle as the first step in the liberation of the Russian lands from the Golden Horde dependency. It should however be noted that most parts of the old Kievan Rus at this time were controlled by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania,
  • Some historians within the Eastern Orthodox tradition view the battle as a stand-off between the Christian Rus and non-Christians of the steppe.
  • Russian historian Sergey Solovyov saw the battle as critical for the history of Eastern Europe in stopping another invasion from Asia, similar to the Battle of Châlons in the 5th century and the Battle of Tours in the 8th century in Western Europe.
  • Other historians believe that the meaning of the battle is overstated, viewing it as nothing more than a simple regional conflict within the Golden Horde.
  • Another Russian historian, Lev Gumilev, sees in Mamai a representative of economic and political interests from outside, particularly Western Europe, which in the battle were represented by numerous Genoese mercenaries, while the Moscow army stood in support of the rightful ruler of the Golden Horde Tuqtamış xan.

See also[edit]

"The Field of Kulikovo" (1890s). A large-scale hand-drawn lubok by I.G. Blinov (ink, tempera, gold).


Related battles[edit]


  1. ^ Janet Martin, Medieval Russia 980-1584, (Cambridge University Press, 1996), 214.
  2. ^ a b L. Podhorodecki, Kulikowe Pole 1380, Warszawa 2008, s. 106
  3. ^ Разин Е. А. История военного искусства VI — XVI вв. С.-Пб.: ООО «Издательство Полигон», 1999. — 656 с. Тираж 7000 экз. ISBN 5-89173-040-5 (VI — XVI вв.). ISBN 5-89173-038-3. (Военно-историческая библиотека)[1]
  4. ^ Карнацевич В. Л. 100 знаменитых сражений. — Харьков., 2004. - стр. 139
  5. ^ Мерников А. Г., Спектор А. А. Всемирная история войн. — Минск., 2005.
  6. ^ a b Lev Gumilev. From Rus to Russia
  7. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 236. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. 
  8. ^ a b The history of research of relics of the Battle of Kulikovo // State Military-Historical and National Museum “The Kulikovo Field” (in Russian)
  9. ^ Двуреченский О. В., Егоров В. Л., Наумов А. Н. Реликвии Донского побоища. Находки на Куликовом поле / авт.-сост. О. В. Двуреченский. — М.: Квадрига, 2008. — 88 с. — (Реликвии ратных полей / Гос. ист. музей, Военно-ист. и природный музей-заповедник "Куликово поле"). — ISBN 978-5-904162-01-6
  10. ^ М. В. Фехнер Находки на Куликовом поле // Куликово поле: Материалы и исследования. Труды ГИМ. М., 1990. Вып. 73

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 53°39.15′N 38°39.21′E / 53.65250°N 38.65350°E / 53.65250; 38.65350