At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Mongols under Chingis (or Genghis) Khan began the great conquests that brought upon the Russian principalities the much-lamented Mongol or Tatar ‘yoke’. (Although strictly different, the two terms have often been used interchangeably and will be here.) According to Grekov, who on this occasion speaks for many historians before 1917 and after 1991 as well as for his Soviet colleagues, Rus in the heyday of Kiev ‘was ahead of many European countries which only later outstripped her when she bore the impact of the Mongolian hordes and acted as a shield to Western Europe’.1 To Mongol historians, on the other hand, Chingis Khan is an Alexander the Great, and the empire set up by him constitutes a high point of history rather than a low. Chinese historians have also stressed the positive side of the Mongol impact, one of them, Han Ju-Lin, writing of Chingis Khan that ‘his war horses broke through the iron walls of forty large and small states in which the people had become locked. As a result their peoples came to see a broader world in which they could act and become familiar with a higher culture from which they could learn.’2 And for the ‘Eurasian’ school of historians, G. V. Vernadsky was an eloquent spokesman, who saw in the Mongol expansion of the thirteenth century ‘one of those crucial and fateful eruptions in the history of mankind which from time to time change the destinies of the world’.3 The views of Vernadsky and his followers will be pitted against those of their opponents below.
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