“Grey wolves ran from the mouths of the Don and the Dniper; but they were not grey wolves, they were the heathen Tatars, intent upon making war upon all the land of Rus.” – from Zandonshchina by Sofony of Ryazan

Mounting a series of increasing daring and ambitious raids, the Tatars took advantage of Russian divisiveness.

The Tatars (or Mongols) who conquered Rus between 1219 and 1242 were predominantly Turkic. During an exploratory raid into the steppes in 1221, a strong force of Tatars swept out of the Caucasus, defeated a combined Rus and Polovtsian force at the Kalka river (1223), raided the Crimean and lower Dnieper area, moved northeast to the middle Volva – where they suffered one of their few defeats at the hands of the Volga Bulgars – then disappeared into Asia.

The Rus saw no more of the Tatars until 1237 when they returned in force under their commander, Batu, determined to subjugate the Rus and their neighbours to the west. Firth they overcame the Volga Bulgars, then they set upon Vladimir-Suzdal, destroying its wealthy towns. Only the approach of spring saved Novgorod as they thaw would have trapped the invaders in the marshes.

In 1239, the Rus princes failed to form a united front and the Tatars annihilated southwest Rus and sacked Kiev and hundreds of other settlements. By 1240, Rus resistance has virtually ceased.
The principality of novorod, protected by its geographical location escaped invasion and submitted voluntarily to Tatar overlordship. But incessant attack by Swedes and Germans weakened the principality. These attacks were repulsed by Novgorod’s price, Alexander Nevsky, who defeated the Swedes decisely on the neva in 1240, and the Germans on the ice of Lake Peipus in 1242.

The Tatar invasion was to have lasting political, social and economic effects on Russia’s subsequent development. The tribes of the ‘Golden Horde’ Batu’s descendants who were converted to Islam, were tolerant of other religions – allowing Russians to pursue Orthodoxy- and active in trade and agriculture. From their capital at Sarai, they held nine principalities in their power. Tribute was exacted from all inhabitants, irrespective of status and class and leading cities – centres of culture- were destroyed. Yet the Tatars also initiated a population census and influenced the Russian language as well as military (especially cavalry) development. The tatars eventually withdrew to the steppes, restricting their intervention in the interior of Rus to punitive expeditions and collection of taxes.