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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Nicholas Zharkikh

Nature of the sources

1.1. The main source is the annals by Jan Długosz.

1.2. The chronicle covers events mainly in the Kingdom of Poland and from the Polish point of view, events in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania are reflected only sporadically.

1.3. Not all Tatar raids are recorded in the annals, but only the largest ones, information about which reached the Polish king.

1.4. All sources show very little awareness of Tatar affairs, in particular, they do not know about the existence of several independent khans at that time. Genoese documents from Caffa show a slightly better level of competence. Moscow sources show an incomparably higher level of awareness in Tatar affairs, but for the period and territory under consideration they give almost nothing.

Attacking side

2.1. Out of 16 raids recorded in the sources, Tatars attacked 15 times and Turks once (1476).

2.2. Three times it is recorded that the Tatars were led by Khan Seid-Ahmet, one more attack can be attributed to the Transvolga Tatars (1469). But in the last case it is stated Cossacks raid, that is, free people who did not recognize any state authority over themselves.

2.3. Two raids (1471, 1474) were carried out by the Crimean Tatars (we have not come across this name before).

2.4. The remaining 9 raids were carried out by "just Tatars", about whom our sources could not say anything specific.

The political side of the raids

3.1. At no time did the sources indicate any political purpose for the raids, and in all probability there never was such a political purpose.

3.2. The Polish and Lithuanian governments did not pay attention to the raids and did not attach any importance to them. They developed fantastic plans for alliances with the Tatars, either against the Teutonic Order, or against the Turks, and later against Moscow. Only once (1469) Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had been obtained benefit from political cooperation with Mengli-Girey, from whom the king received valuable information about the upcoming attack.

3.3. The Polish and Lithuanian governments tried to conclude peace treaties with the bandits, thus giving them the status of a political subject. The Tatars accepted the status (along with gifts), and continued to attack.

3.4. At the same time, the Polish and Lithuanian governments had not yet made an attempt to buy off the robbers and establish a regular tribute in their favor.

3.5. At the theoretical level, the Polish government understood the need for an alliance with Moldavia against the Tatars, but in practice the desire to capture Moldavia (1450) or impose a voivode beneficial to Poland (1448) prevailed. During the great war of 1476, the Poles deployed their forces on the Dniester, but did nothing to help Moldavia, which was waging a war on two fronts – against the Turks and against the Tatars – independently.

3.6. Attempts at interstate coordination of the Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania against the Tatars were weak (1439, 1474) and did not have any useful consequences. The personal union between these states did not help matters in any way, and one might even think that the Lithuanians would have shown more energy under the leadership of a separate grand duke.

The territory of the raids

4.1. The northernmost point reached by the Tatars at that time, Moshchanytsia, was 700 km from Perekop and only 35 km south of the modern Ukrainian-Belarusian border. In the west, Volodymyr, Potelych and Gorodok (840..870 km from Perekop) at the modern Ukrainian-Polish border are the extreme points of the raids. That is, the entire modern right-bank Ukraine was available for attacks, it was, as they said in the 15th century, "on the Tatar border."

4.2. Podillja Voivodeship acts as the site of raids 7 times; various areas of the Rus’ Voivodeship were affected by raids 9 times. Volyn was the site of raids 4 times, Kyiv land once. Where there was more Polish nobility, there were more attacks recorded.

4.3. Pobozhzhia region was not the target of the raids. Only Bratslav, through which the Tatars passed, is mentioned twice.

4.4. The depth of the raid was estimated in this paper as the distance between the attack point closest to the Tatars and the farthest point. In 5 cases, it was from 100 to 200 km, in 4 cases – from 201 to 300 km, 1 time – 320 km. In 5 cases, the depth of the raid cannot be estimated.

4.5. The width of the raid zone can be estimated only in 4 cases, it ranged from 40 to 100 km.

4.6. At the time in question, the Tatars never attacked the larger fortified cities (Kamianets-Podilskyi, Lviv, Lutsk).

Attack strategy

5.1. We do not have any documents in which the Tatar side would explain its general vision of politics, and we do not know whether such a general vision existed at all, or whether we are not ascribing something to the Tatars that their political culture did not know.

Summarizing political practice, the following strategic goals can be formulated:

5.2. Security is to surround the life centers of Tatar societies with a "Tatar border" – a war zone 700..1000 km wide, which would make these life centers inaccessible to enemies.

5.3. The economy is to live off constant unimpeded looting of the "Tatar border" and to try to receive regular tribute from the governments of neighboring states.

5.4. The policy is to accept gifts from ambassadors, to see how these ambassadors "fall at their feet" and grovel before the khans, seeking their favors, offering them various treaties and alliances, and feeling themselves worthy descendants of the great Genghis Khan.

Tactics of raids

6.1. The estimate of the Tatar forces at 7 thousand soldiers was given only once (1474), and such an army was considered very large.

6.2. The armament of this army was assessed as poor (1474), which assessment did not prevent the Tatars from winning.

6.3. There is no information about the internal organization of the Tatar army.

6.4. Raids were carried out mainly in the summer, during the harvest. In May – June there were 4 raids, in August – September – 5; 1 raid was dated in April, 1 raid in winter, 3 raids in summer and autumn.

6.6. The Tatars tried to penetrate as deeply as possible into the field of action, and they always succeeded. They started grabbing prey already on the way back.

6.6. We have one piece of information (1466) about the Poles who served Khan Haji-Girey (but we do not know the specific names). We also have one piece of information that the Ruthenians, driven out of their estates by the Poles, fled to the Tatars and served as their guides (1444, we also do not have specific names, except that the mention of Kalina from 1448 is cited here). This shows how the Tatars navigated in an unfamiliar area. In addition, numerous Tatar embassies traveled to the king in Kraków, Vilna and other cities (Lviv, Brest…) and also learned the way (in the most literal sense) for future campaigns.

6.7. In addition to this strategic intelligence, which opened the Tatars to unlimited prospects for looting in the expanses of Eastern Europe, they also had well-placed tactical intelligence, which informed about the actions of enemy forces.

The attack of the Tatars in September 1448 was carried out using fresh information from the ambassador Kalina. In 1469 and 1478, the Poles managed to somewhat limit the raids by putting up curtains (which, however, did not engage in battle with the Tatars). It turns out that the Tatars learned from somewhere about the forces deployed against them and retreated. Also, in 1474, the Tatars retreated before the Polish pursuit set out on a campaign, that is, they also had information about the enemy’s actions.

6.8. We have information that the Tatars were divided into smaller squads to capture prey (1444, 1450, 1452). This made it possible to cover a larger area. We also have one report (1457) that the Tatars moved in two camps, in one of which there were mainly soldiers, and in the other – mainly servants (at least that’s what Długosz thought). The purpose of such an organization is difficult to discern from this information.

6.9. Tatars, bypassing larger, better-fortified cities, attacked smaller castles and captured them (1452 – Riv; 1474 – Zbarazh). In the same year 1474, the castle in Lytvyniv was abandoned by the inhabitants who fled before the attack.

6.10. We have one piece of news from 1457 that the Tatars, using their numerical advantage over the Polish detachment, surrounded it and destroyed it with arrows.

6.11. The distribution of the territories of the raids allows us to suggest that the Tatars took into account which territory they recently plundered, and directed the next raid to another territory. However, more material needs to be involved here.

Defense strategy

7.1. On the Polish side, we have one political memorandum (1457) that touches on the Tatar issue. The Polish government saw its mission as a wall of Christian (= Catholic) civilization against the ferocious godless Tatars.

7.2. The Polish government did not specify exactly where this wall was supposed to go – between Krakow and Warsaw, between Lviv and Lutsk, or between Bratslav and Cherkassy.

7.3. Conversion of the Tatars to Christianity was no longer discussed. Also the destruction of the Tatar states and the conquest of their territories was never discussed.

7.4. With caution, we can assume that the Polish government played the "Tatar card" in European politics, speculating on the fear of a Tatar attack on Europe and trying to exchange assurance from this fear for some real political benefits.

Defense tactics

8.1. The main method of "defense" was to escape from the Tatars. The ordinary population hid in forests and swamps (1469). It can be thought that wealthier people fled to larger fortified cities and / or to nearby castles, but we have no concrete references to such escapes. Instead, we have a mention from 1474 that Mykhailo Buchacki, the owner of the castle in Lytvyniv, fled from it before the Tatars (it is not known where).

8.2. To warn of an raid, a guard was deployed (1452), about whose actions we have no specific data. The existence of a local watch is indirectly confirmed by the events of 1469, when people did not pay attention to the warning due to the fact that there had been many false alarms in the previous time.

8.3. King Casimir obliged the local authorities to monitor the Tatars and report to him (1466); in 1469, he managed to send out warnings about an attack received from Khan Mengli-Girey; in 1474, he did not pay attention to similar warnings received from Kyiv voivode M. Goštautas.

8.4. To strengthen the defense, the construction of new castles was considered. Preference was given to stone castles that could withstand Tatar attacks (Olchedaiv 1452). But the Poles did not have the technical ability to build such castles, and these intentions remained unfulfilled in this period.

8.5. Local nobles built castles to protect their possessions. Historical sources mention such castles on the occasion of Tatar attacks on them. We have mentions of castles that fought back from the Tatars (1474 – Dunajiv, Pomorjany; 1478 – Bratslav), so there was some benefit from the castles.

8.6. The main force against the Tatars was the local nobility. The success of the Tatars in 1452 was associated with the fact that all the local chiefs were at the congress and not at their places. The royal privilege of 1457 was intended to give nobles the opportunity to spend more time in their estates in order to strengthen territorial defense.

8.7. Experience has shown that the mobilization of the local nobility alone is not enough for a successful fight against the Tatars (the defeat of the Galician nobility in the battle of 1438).

8.8. The mobilization of larger forces (from several voivodeships) for actions in Podillja was carried out several times: in 1448, 1450 – against Moldavia, in 1476 – against the Turks. The fight against the Tatars was never considered a task of these forces.

8.9. We have few cases when money was allocated / needed to fight the Tatars (1452, 1474). One can think that they were needed for units of mercenary troops, but we do not have specific data about the role of such units.

8.10. The successful actions of the Podillja nobles against the Tatars in 1453 were connected with the involvement of the Ruthenian peasants. In this episode, we see a successful night attack on the Tatar camp and single combat between commanders (or perhaps the first since the beginning of the 11th century, from the duel between Prince Mstislav Volodymyrovych and Rededja). Similarly, in 1457 there was an attempt to mobilize local peasants against the Tatars.

8.11. In addition to a few field battles, it was practiced to display a curtain against the Tatars (1469, 1478). It was planned to display the curtains in 1452, but this was not done. The curtains did not engage in battles with the Tatars and scared them off by the very fact of their readiness (force-in-being).

8.12. The Poles never had time to react to the invasion of the Tatars, and all actions were taken when the latter were already leaving. The pursuit of the Tatars in 1438 ended with the defeat of the Poles, in 1474 the Poles did not catch up with the Tatars.

8.13. We have few and not very clear references that the Poles managed to free captured prisoners (1444, 1448).

8.14. We have very few references to the actions of the Lithuanian forces. In 1469, the Lithuanians did not dare to attack the Tatars due to the numerical superiority of the latter; in 1474, the Lithuanian detachments also not met the Tatars, and attempts to coordinate actions with the Poles were unsuccessful.

8.15 We have only one and very vague news (1471) that the Ruthenians and Moldavians harmed the Tatars. We do not know what these damages consisted of (from later times we have news about the robbery of Tatar merchants and the seizure of Tatar livestock), but it is important to note that the actions of the Tatars did start to cause opposition – no, not from the governments, but from the local population, and this opposition unfolded in later times.

8.16. In general, the score of field skirmishes in this period was 3:2 in favor of the Tatars (if we count the victory of the Tatars in 1444); the number of captured and uncaptured castles was 3:3.

Tatars’ benefit and Ukraine’s harm from attacks

9.1. The main benefit of one side and the damage of the other consisted in the capture of cattle and captives, about which there are a number of reports (1444, 1448, 1452, 1453, 1471, 1474).

9.2. Large attacks yielded many thousands of prisoners (1453, 1474), smaller ones – up to one thousand (1471, 1473). It should be repeated here that information about minor raids did not reach the higher authorities and was not reflected in our sources.

9.3. We does not see any more delicate goal of attack, such as collecting iron objects or capturing skilled artisans. One should think that the Tatars grabbed everything they could get their hands on.

9.4. We have one piece of news (Lviv, 1456) about a nobleman who took care of the redemption of his wife from Tatar captivity (apparently captured in 1452 during the Tatar raid on Lviv land).

General summary

10.1. The general result of the Tatar raids at the time in question was the transformation of the entire territory of modern Ukraine into a "Tatar border", where the Tatars could do whatever they wanted.

10.2. From this and later times, the word Tatars was firmly established in the Ukrainian people as a standard of something worst: "Baldly, as if the Tatars had crossed over", "An uninvited guest is worse than a Tatar", "People, not Tatars", "Perhaps the Tatars ate you", etc. [Examples from the I. Franko’s collection "»].

Historiography of raids

11.1. Tatar raids on Ukrainian lands, neither in general nor specifically in this period, have never been the subject of special interest during the entire existence of Ukrainian historiography. Review article by O. Galenko [. – Ukrainian Historical Journal, 2003, No. 6, p. 54 – 63] begins counting raids from 1482, ignoring the entire period I have considered. Nothing equal to O. Novoselskyi’s book "The Struggle of the Moscow State with the Tatars in the 1st half 17th century" (Moscow: 1948) we do not have.

11.2. The situation is a little better in Polish historiography, where special articles on this topic appear, but there seem to be no generalizing works.

11.3. In Ukrainian historiography, plots on this topic are considered casually, mainly when studying political events in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and / or the Crimean Khanate.

11.4. A detailed review of the latest monograph by V. Gulevich [: Krym in 1399–1502. – Kazan: 2018] showed numerous errors in chronology and interpretation of sources; in particular, a number of raids are attributed to Seid-Ahmet, the commanders of which were unknown to contemporaries.