What Was the Golden Horde?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Golden Horde is a Russian name for the Islamic khanate that existed from the 1240s to 1502 in Russia and Eastern Europe (present-day Ukraine, Moldova, Kazakhstan, and the Caucasus). The Golden Horde was founded in the 1240s by Batu, the eldest son of Genghis Khan, one of the greatest conquerors of land in history. Genghis and his grandson Batu were Mongols, from present-day Mongolia. In a few decades, Genghis, his sons, and two grandsons had conquered most of Asia.

Kazakhstan was once under control of the Golden Horde.
Kazakhstan was once under control of the Golden Horde.

The Golden Horde was made out of Mongolians and numerous Turkic peoples that Batu had enlisted after conquering them. In 1235, Batu and the great general Subedei invaded westward from the Asian central steppes region, conquering the Bashkirs (in the southern Urals) and Volga Bulgaria in 1236. In 1237, he conquered Ukraine, thus moved north to begin the historic Mongol invasion of Rus, an invasion which would shape the region culturally and socially for centuries to come. After victory, he spent three years subjugating the local Russians, then moved west to destroy the armies of Hungary and Poland. This is considered one of the greatest military victories of all time, and it marked the furthest western extent of Mongol expansion. Soon after victory, Batu had to return east to handle a succession crisis caused by the death of his uncle, the Great Khan Ogedei.

Kiev, which is now the capital of Ukraine, was one of the cities subjugated by the Golden Horde.
Kiev, which is now the capital of Ukraine, was one of the cities subjugated by the Golden Horde.

Though Batu eventually died, his plans to conquer Europe never coming to fruition, the Golden Horde continued subjugating Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Kazakhstan for centuries. The Golden Horde were early-adopters of Islam, the majority being Turkic people, with the leaders being the descendants of Batu's original Mongol warriors. These people came to be known as Tartars by the native Russians, and many Russians today have Tartar blood in them.

The capital of the Golden Horde's empire, Sarai Berqe, became one of the largest cities in the medieval world, with over 600,000 inhabitants. Due to low levels of literacy, much of the activity in this time and area is poorly documented. In the 1340s, the empire began to slowly fall apart, succumbing to extensive infighting and massive casualties due to the Black Death, which was sweeping Eurasia at the time. In 1480, the Muscovite Russians finally broke free of the Horde's control, annexing their territories and setting the stage for the Russia of today, dominated by ethnic Russians.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments


Many of the Mongols who went to conquer Russia were ethnic Tatars, but not all of them. The term stuck to all of them, however, much like the crusaders were all referred to as "Franks." It is typical of history to slap homogenous labels on nuanced people groups.


The Mongols never crossed over sea, they were not a strong seafaring horde. When they tried to make an incursion into Japan, the "divine wind" or kamikaze, drove them back, and they were unable to conquer the island. At some point in ancient history, however, Japan had been settled by Altaic speaking people, as evidenced by their genetics and language.


The Mongols and Huns did not end up distinguishing between people groups, but distinguished friends from allies in a diverse army of massive numbers of people from different tribes and peoples. These were not merely Mongolian or Turkic, but came to comprise members of various ethnic groups in a milieu of town-burning and gold-thirsty conquering hordes.

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