Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Mongol invasion of Europe

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21 Dec 1237 – 11 Apr 1241

Mongol invasion of Europe Mongol invasion of Europe

Eastern and Central Europe, the Caucasus, and the Balkans

Mongol Empire, Kingdom of Hungary, Teutonic Order, Novgorod Republic, Second Bulgarian Empire


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The Mongol invasion of Europe in the 13th century was the military effort by an Asian power, the Mongol Empire, to invade and conquer parts of Europe. It involved the severe and rampant destruction of East Slavic principalities and major cities, such as Kiev and Vladimir. Mongol invasions also affected Central Europe, leading to conflict with the Kingdom of Hungary (in the Battle of Mohi, 11 April 1241) and causing the fragmentation of Poland (in the Battle of Legnica, 9 April 1241).


Mongol invasion of Europe Mongol Invasions of Europe under Subutai 12231242 AD 1798 x 1421

The operations were masterminded by General Subutai (1175-1248) and commanded by Batu Khan (c. 1207–1255) and Kadan (died c. 1261), both grandsons of Genghis Khan. As a result of the invasions, many of the conquered territories would become part of the Golden Horde empire.

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 Historians regard the Mongol raids and invasions (of which the invasions in Europe formed a minor part) as among the deadliest conflicts in human history up through that period.

Mongol invasion of Europe Mongols invade Europe 12221242

Warring European princes realized they had to cooperate in the face of a Mongol invasion, so local wars and conflicts were suspended in parts of central Europe, only to be resumed after the Mongols had withdrawn.

Mongol invasion of europe part 1

Invasions and conquest of Rus' lands

Ögedei Khan ordered Batu Khan to conquer Rus' in 1235. The main force, headed by Jochi's sons, and their cousins, Möngke Khan and Güyük Khan, arrived at Ryazan in December 1237. Ryazan refused to surrender, and the Mongols sacked it and then stormed Suzdalia. Many Rus' armies were defeated; Grand Prince Yuri was killed on the Sit River (March 4, 1238). Major cities such as Vladimir, Torzhok, and Kozelsk were captured.

Afterward, the Mongols turned their attention to the steppe, crushing the Kypchaks and the Alans and sacking Crimea. Batu appeared in Ukraine in 1239, sacking Pereiaslav and Chernihiv. Most of the Rus' princes fled when it became clear resistance was futile. The Mongols sacked Kiev on December 6, 1240 and conquered Galich and Volodymyr-Volynskyi. Batu sent a small detachment to probe the Poles before passing on to Central Europe. One column was routed by the Poles while the other defeated the Polish army and returned.

The Mongols had acquired Chinese gunpowder, which they deployed in battle during the invasion of Europe to great success.

Invasion into Central Europe

The attack on Europe was planned and executed by Subutai, who achieved perhaps his most lasting fame with his victories there. Having devastated the various Rus' principalities, he sent spies into Poland and Hungary, and as far as eastern Austria, in preparation for an attack into the heartland of Europe. Having a clear picture of the European kingdoms, he prepared an attack nominally commanded by Batu Khan and two other familial-related princes. Batu Khan, son of Jochi, was the overall leader, but Subutai was the strategist and commander in the field, and as such, was present in both the northern and southern campaigns against Rus' principalities. He also commanded the central column that moved against Hungary. While Kadan's northern force won the Battle of Legnica and Güyük's army triumphed in Transylvania, Subutai was waiting for them on the Hungarian plain. The newly reunited army then withdrew to the Sajo River where they inflicted a decisive defeat on King Béla IV of Hungary at the Battle of Mohi. Again, Subutai masterminded the operation, and it would prove one of his greatest victories.

Invasion of fragmented Poland

The Mongols invaded Central Europe with three armies. One army defeated an alliance which included forces from fragmented Poland and members of various Christian military orders, led by Henry II the Pious, Duke of Silesia in the battle of Legnica. A second army crossed the Carpathian Mountains and a third followed the Danube. The armies re-grouped and crushed Hungary in 1241, defeating the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohi on April 11, 1241. The devastating Mongol invasion killed half of Hungary's then-population. The armies swept the plains of Hungary over the summer and in the spring of 1242, regained impetus and extended their control into Dalmatia and Moravia. The Great Khan had, however, died in December 1241, and on hearing the news, all the "Princes of the Blood" of Genghis Khan went back to Mongolia to elect the new Khan.

After sacking Kiev, Batu Khan sent a smaller group of troops to Poland, destroying Lublin and defeating an inferior Polish army. Other elements—not part of the main Mongol force—saw difficulty near the Polish-Galich border. As for Poland, the Mongols were just passing through and the efforts of king Wenceslas amounted to little in Mongol strategic considerations.

The Mongols then reached Polaniec on the Czarna Hańcza, where they set up camp. There, the Voivode attacked them with the remaining Cracovian knights, which were few in number, but determined to vanquish the invader or die. Surprise gave the Poles an initial advantage and they managed to kill many Mongol soldiers. When the invaders realized the actual numerical weakness of the Poles, they regrouped, broke through the Polish ranks and defeated them. During the fighting, many Polish prisoners of war found ways to escape and hide in the nearby woods. The Polish defeat was partly influenced by the initially successful Polish knights having been distracted by looting.

Invasion of the Kingdom of Hungary

The Hungarians had first learned about the Mongol threat in 1229, when King Andrew II granted asylum to some fleeing Russian boyars. Some Magyars (Hungarians), left behind during the main migration to the Pannonian basin, still lived on the banks of the upper Volga (it is believed by some that the descendants of this group are the modern-day Bashkirs, although this people now speaks a Turkic language, not Magyar). In 1237 a Dominican friar, Julianus, set off on an expedition to lead them back, and was sent back to King Béla with a letter from Batu Khan. In this letter, Batu called upon the Hungarian king to surrender his kingdom unconditionally to the Tatar forces or face complete destruction. Béla did not reply, and two more messages were later delivered to Hungary. The first, in 1239, was sent by the defeated Cuman tribes, who asked for and received asylum in Hungary. The second was sent in February 1241 by the defeated Polish princes.

Only then did King Béla call upon his magnates to join his army in defense of the country. He also asked the papacy and the Western European rulers for help. Foreign help came in the form of a small knight-detachment under the leadership of Frederick II, Duke of Austria, but it was too small to change the outcome of the campaign. The majority of the Hungarian magnates also did not realize the urgency of the matter. Some may have hoped that a defeat of the royal army would force Béla to discontinue his centralization efforts and thus strengthen their own power.

Although the Mongol danger was real and imminent, Hungary was not prepared to deal with it; in the minds of a people who had lived free from nomadic invasions for the last few hundred years, an invasion seemed impossible, and Hungary was no longer a predominantly soldier population. Only rich nobles were trained as heavy-armored cavalry. The Hungarians had long since forgotten the light-cavalry strategy and tactics of their ancestors, which were similar to those now used by the Mongols.

The Hungarian army (some 60,000 on the eve of the Battle of Mohi) was made up of individual knights with tactical knowledge, discipline, and talented commanders. Because his army was not experienced in nomadic warfare, King Béla welcomed the Cuman King Kuthen (also known as Kotony) and his fighters. However, the Cuman invitation proved detrimental as Batu Khan justified his invasion of Hungary as Béla giving asylum to the Cumans, a group Batu Khan regarded as rebels and traitors to the Mongol Empire. After rumors began to circulate in Hungary that the Cumans were agents of the Mongols, some hot-headed Hungarians attacked the Cuman camp and killed Kotony. This led the enraged Cumans to ride south, looting, ravaging the countryside, and slaughtering the unsuspecting Magyar population. The Austrian troops retreated to Austria shortly thereafter to gain more western aid. The Hungarians now stood alone in the defense of their country.

The Hungarian army arrived and encamped at the Sajó river on April 10, 1241 without having been directly challenged by the Mongols. The Mongols began their attack the next night; quickly it was clear the Hungarians were lost. While the king escaped with the help of his bodyguard, the remaining Hungarian army was mercilessly killed by the Mongols or drowned in the river as they attempted escape. The Mongols now systematically occupied the Great Hungarian Plains, the slopes of the northern Carpathian Mountains, and Transylvania. Where they found local resistance, they ruthlessly killed the population. Where the locale offered no resistance, they forced the men into servitude in the Mongol army. Still, tens of thousands avoided Mongol domination by taking refuge behind the walls of the few existing fortresses or by hiding in the forests or large marshes along the rivers. The Mongols, instead of leaving the defenseless and helpless people and continuing their campaign through Pannonia to Western Europe, spent the entire summer and fall securing and pacifying the occupied territories. On Christmas day 1241, The Mongol's siege of Esztergom destroyed the capital and economic center of the Kingdom of Hungary, forcing the capital to be moved to Budapest.

During the winter, contrary to the traditional strategy of nomadic armies which started campaigns only in spring-time, they crossed the Danube and continued their systematic occupation, including Pannonia. They eventually reached the Austrian borders and the Adriatic shores in Dalmatia. The Mongols appointed a darughachi in Hungary and minted coins in the name of Khagan. According to Michael Prawdin, the country of Béla was assigned to Orda by Batu as an appanage. At least 20%-40% of the population died, by slaughter or epidemic. Rogerius of Apulia, an Italian monk and chronicler who witnessed and survived the invasion, pointed out not only the genocidal element of the occupation, but also that the Mongols especially "found pleasure" in humiliating local women. But while the Mongols claimed control of Hungary, they could not occupy fortified cities such as Fehérvár, Veszprém, Tihany, Győr, Pannonhalma, Moson, Sopron, Vasvár, Újhely, Zala, Léka, Pozsony, Nyitra, Komárom, Fülek and Abaújvár. Learning from this lesson, fortresses came to play a significant role in Hungary. King Béla IV rebuilt the country and invested in fortifications. Facing a shortage of money, he welcomed the settlement of Jewish families, investors, and tradesmen, granting them citizenship rights. The King also welcomed tens of thousands of Kun (Cumans) who had fled the country before the invasion. Chinese fire arrows were deployed by Mongols against city of Buda in December 25, 1241, which they overran.

During the spring of 1242, Ögedei Khan died at the age of fifty-six after a binge of drinking during a hunting trip. Batu Khan, who was one of the contenders to the imperial throne, returned at once with his armies to Asia, leaving the whole of Eastern Europe depopulated and in ruins (before withdrawal, Batu Khan ordered wholesale execution of prisoners). But because of his withdrawal, Western Europe escaped unscathed.

Some Hungarian historians claim that Hungary's long resistance against the Mongols actually saved Western Europe, though many Western European historians reject this interpretation. They point out that the Mongols evacuated Hungary of their own free will. Other European and American historians have questioned whether the Mongols would have been able to, or even wished to, continue their invasion into Europe west of the Hungarian plain at all, given the logistical situation in Europe and their need to keep large number of horses in the field to retain their strategic mobility.

Another theory is that weather data preserved in tree rings points to a series of warm, dry summers in the region until 1242. When temperatures dropped and rainfall increased, the local climate shifted to a wetter and colder environment. That, in turn, caused flooding of the formerly dry grasslands and created a marshy terrain. Those conditions would have been less than ideal for the nomadic Mongol cavalry and their encampments, reducing their mobility and pastureland, curtailing their invasion into Europe west of the Hungarian plain, and hastening their retreat.

The Mongolian invasion taught the Magyars a simple lesson: although the Mongols had destroyed the countryside, the forts and fortified cities had survived. To improve their defense capabilities for the future, they had to build forts, not only on the borders but also inside the country. During the remaining decades of the 13th century and throughout the 14th century, the kings donated more and more royal land to the magnates with the condition that they build forts and ensure their defenses.

Invasion of the Kingdom of Croatia

During the Middle Ages, the Kingdom of Croatia was in a personal union with the Kingdom of Hungary, with Béla IV as a king.

When routed on the banks of the Sajo River in 1241 by the Mongols, Béla IV fled to today's Zagreb in Croatia. Batu sent a few tumens (roughly 20,000 men at arms) under Khadan in pursuit of Bela. The major objective was not the conquest but the capture of the Arpad king. The poorly fortified Zagreb was unable to resist the invasion and was destroyed, its cathedral burned by Mongols. In preparation for a second invasion, Gradec was granted a royal charter or Golden Bull of 1242 by King Béla IV, after which citizens of Zagreb engaged in building defensive walls and towers around their settlement.

The Mongols' pursuit of Béla IV continued from Zagreb through Pannonia to Dalmatia. While in pursuit, the Mongols under the leadership of Kadan (Qadan) suffered a major defeat at Klis Fortress in Croatia in March 1242. The Mongols pursued Béla IV from town to town in Dalmatia, while Croatian nobility and Dalmatian towns such as Trogir and Rab helped Béla IV to escape. After their defeat against the Croatian soldiers, the Mongols retreated and Béla IV was awarded Croatian towns and nobility. Only the city of Split did not aid Béla IV in his escape from the Mongols. Some historians claim that the mountainous terrain of Croatian Dalmatia was fatal for the Mongols because of the great losses they suffered from Croat ambushes set up in mountain passes. Most historians claim that the death of Ögedei Khan (Croatian: Ogotaj) was the primary reason for retreat. In any case, though much of Croatia was plundered and destroyed, long-term occupation was unsuccessful.

Saint Margaret (January 27, 1242 – January 18, 1271), a daughter of Béla IV and Maria Laskarina, was born in Klis Fortress during the Mongol invasion of Hungary-Croatia in 1242.

Impact on Romanian principalities

The 1241 Mongol invasion first affected Moldavia and Wallachia (situated east and south of the Carpathians). Tens of thousands of Wallachians and Moldavians lost their lives defending their territories from the Golden Horde. Crops and goods plundered from Wallachian settlements seem to have been a primary supply source for the Golden Horde. The invaders killed up to half of the population and burned down most of their settlements, thus destroying much of the cultural and economic records from that period. Neither Wallachians nor the army of Hungary offered much resistance against the Mongols. The swiftness of the invasion took many by surprise and forced them to retreat and hide in forests and the enclosed valleys of the Carpathians. In the end, however, the main target of the invasion was the Kingdom of Hungary.

Failed invasion of Vienna

The subjugation of Hungary opened a pathway for the Mongol Horde to invade Vienna, and in turn, the rest of Western Europe. Using similar tactics in Eastern Europe, the Mongols first launched small squadrons to attack isolated settlements in the outskirts of Vienna in an effort to instill fear and panic among the populace. In 1241 the the Mongols raided Wiener Neustadt and its neighboring districts, located south of Vienna. Wiener Neustadt took the brunt of the attack and like previous invasions the Mongols committed horrible atrocities on the relatively unarmed populace. The Duke of Austria, Frederick II, had previously engaged with the Mongols in the initial stages of the Battle of Mohi. Unlike in Eastern Europe however, Vienna under the leadership of Duke Frederick and his knights, together with their foreign allies, managed to rally quicker and annihilate the small Mongolian squadron. In this battle, his figures consisted of Mongols losing over 300 to 700 men while the Europeans only losing 100. Austrian knights also subsequently defeated the Mongols at the borders of the River March in the district of Theben. After the failed initial raids, the rest of the Mongols retired back into Russia after learning of the Great Khan Ögedei's death.

European tactics against Mongols

The traditional European method of warfare of melee combat between knights ended in catastrophe when it was deployed against the Mongol forces as the Mongols were able to keep a distance and advance with superior numbers. The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 29 says that "Employed against the Mongol invaders of Europe, knightly warfare failed even more disastrously for the Poles at the Battle of Legnica and the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohi in 1241. Feudal Europe was saved from sharing the fate of China and Muscovy not by its tactical prowess but by the unexpected death of the Mongols' supreme ruler, Ögedei, and the subsequent eastward retreat of his armies."

However, during the initial Mongol invasion and the subsequent raids after, heavily-armored knights and cavalry did proved more effective in fighting the Mongols than their light-armored counterparts. During the Battle of Mohi for example, while the Polish light cavalry and infantry were decimated by Mongol forces, the heavily armored knights in their employ (such as the Knights Templar) fought significantly better. During the Battle of Legnica, the Knights Templar that numbered between 65-88 during the battle lost only three knights and 2 sergeants. During the Second Mongol invasion of Hungary, King Béla IV hired the help of the Knights of St. John, as well as training his own better-armed local knights, in successfully fighting off the invasion. In the decades of Mongolian raids on European settlements, Western armies (particularly Hungary) have started to adapt to the Mongol tactics by building better fortifications against siege weapons and improving their heavy cavalry.

By that time as well, many Eastern European countries have stopped their hostilities with one another and united to finally drive out the Mongols.

Mongol diffusion of Chinese gunpowder to Europe

Several sources mention Chinese firearms and gunpowder weapons being deployed by the Mongols against European forces at the Battle of Mohi in various forms, including bombs hurled via catapult. Professor Kenneth Warren Chase credits the Mongols for introducing gunpowder and its associated weaponry into Europe.

A later legend arose in Europe about a mysterious Berthold Schwarz who is credited with the invention of gunpowder by 15th- through 19th-century European literature. However, it is known that William of Rubruck, a Flemish missionary who visited the Mongol court of Mongke Khan at Karakorum and returned to Europe in 1257, was a friend of English philosopher Roger Bacon, who recorded the earliest known European recipe for gunpowder in his Opus Majus of 1267. This came more than two centuries after the first known Chinese description of the formula for gunpowder in 1044.

End of the Mongol advance

In A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, Winston Churchill wrote:

But Asia too was marching against the West. At one moment it had seemed as if all Europe would succumb to a terrible menace looming up from the East. Heathen Mongol hordes from the heart of Asia, formidable horsemen armed with bows, had rapidly swept over Russia, Poland, Hungary, and in 1241 inflicted simultaneous crushing defeats upon the Germans near Breslau and upon European cavalry near Buda. Germany and Austria at least lay at their mercy. Providentially in this year the Great Khan died in Mongolia; the Mongol leaders hastened back the thousands of miles to Karakorum, their capital, to elect his successor, and Western Europe escaped.

During the summer and autumn of 1241, most of the Mongol forces were resting on the Hungarian Plain. In late March, 1242, they began to withdraw. The most common reason given for this withdrawal is the Great Khan Ögedei's death on December 11, 1241, which supposedly forced the Mongols to retreat to Mongolia so that the princes of the blood could be present for the election of a new great khan. This is attested to by one primary source: the chronicle of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, who after visiting the Mongol court, stated that the Mongols withdrew for this reason; he further stated that God had caused the Great Khan's death to protect Latin Christendom. By Carpini's account, a messenger would have to be able to make the journey from Mongolia to Central Europe in a little over 3 months at a minimum; according to Carpini, the messenger actually arrived in January, meaning he took about 1 month in the middle of winter. Carpini himself accompanied a Mongol party in a much shorter journey (from Kiev to Mongolia) during the summer and fall of 1246, where the party "made great speed" in order to reach the election ceremony in time, and made use of several horses per person while riding nearly all day and night. It took five months.

The true reasons for the Mongol withdrawal are not fully known, but numerous plausible explanations exist. The Mongol invasion had bogged down into a series of costly and frustrating sieges, where they gained little loot and ran into stiff resistance. They had lost a large number of men despite their victories (see above). Finally, they were stretched thin in the European theater, and were experiencing a rebellion by the Cumans in what is now southern Russia, and the Caucasus (Batu returned to put it down, and spent roughly a year doing so). Other argue Europe's bad weather had an effect: Hungary has a high water table so it floods easily. An analysis of tree rings there found that Hungary had a cold wet winter in early 1242, which likely turned Hungary’s central plain into a huge swamp; so, lacking pastures for their horses, the Mongols would have had to fall back to Russia in search of better grasslands.

Regardless of their reasons, the Mongols had completely withdrawn from Central Europe by mid-1242, though they still launched military operations in the west at this time, most notably the 1241–1243 Mongol invasion of Anatolia. In fact, Batu specifically decided against attending the kurultai in favor of staying in Europe, which delayed the ceremony for several years.

The historian Jack Weatherford claims that European survival was due to Mongol unwillingness to fight in the more densely populated German principalities, where the weather affected the glue and sinew of the Mongol bows. However, a counter to this assertion is that the Mongols were willing to fight in the densely populated areas of Song China and India. Furthermore, the Mongols were able to conquer Southern China which is located in a tropical climate zone and would have received far more rainfall and humidity than anywhere in Europe. The territory of Western Europe had more forests and castles than the Mongols were accustomed, and there were opportunities for the European heavy cavalry to counter-attack. Also, despite the steppe tactics of the Avars and early Hungarians, both were defeated by Western states in the 9th and 10th centuries. A significant number of important castles and towns in Hungary had also resisted the formidable and infamous Mongol siege tactics.

Sir John Keegan claimed the Mongols failed against the geographical and weather conditions of Europe:

"[The Mongol armies], ferocious though they were, ultimately failed to translate their light cavalry power from the semi-temperate and desert regions where it flourished in to the high-rainfall zone of Western Europe. Whenever [they] encountered... peoples living by intensive agriculture, accumulating thereby food surpluses which enabled them to sustain campaigns longer than the foraging nomads ever could, and breeding on their rich grasslands horses which outmatched the nomad pony in battle, [they] had to admit defeat. Light cavalry conquerors were in time either forced back into the arid environment where nomadism flourished, as on the borders of Western Europe, or, as in China, corrupted by the softness of agricultural civilization and absorbed by it.",

Some historians believe that the reason for Batu's stopping at the Mohi River was that he never intended to advance further. He had made the Russian conquest safe for the years to come, and when the Great Khan died and Batu rushed back to Mongolia to put in his claim for power, it ended his westward expansion. Subutai's recall at the same time left the Mongol armies without their spiritual head and primary strategist. Batu Khan was not able to resume his plans for conquest to the "Great Sea" (the Atlantic Ocean) until 1255, after the turmoil after Ögedei's death had finally subsided with the election of Möngke Khan as Great Khan. Though he was capable of invading Western Europe, he was no longer interested.

Mongol infighting

From 1241 to 1248 a state of almost open warfare existed between Batu, son of Jochi, and Güyük, son of Ögedei. The Mongol Empire was ruled by a regency under Ögedei's widow Töregene Khatun, whose only goal was to secure the Great Khanate for her son, Güyük. There was so much bitterness between the two branches of the family that Güyük died in 1248 on his way to confront Batu to force him to accept his authority. He also had problems in his last years with the Principality of Halych-Volhynia, whose ruler, Danylo of Halych, adopted a policy of confronting the Golden Horde and defeated some Mongol assaults in 1254. He was only defeated in 1259, under the Berke's rule. Batu Khan was unable to turn his army west until 1255, after Möngke had become Great Khan in 1251, and he had repaired his relations with the Great Khanate. However, as he prepared to finish the invasion of Europe, he died. His son did not live long enough to implement his father and Subutai's plan to invade Europe, and with his death, Batu's younger brother Berke became Khan of the Kipchak Khanate. Berke was not interested in invading Europe as much as halting his cousin Hulagu Khan from destroying the Holy Land. Berke had converted to Islam and watched with horror as his cousin destroyed the Abbasid Caliph, the spiritual head of Islam as far as Berke was concerned. The Mamluks of Egypt, learning through spies that Berke was both a Muslim and not fond of his cousin, appealed to him for help and were careful to nourish their ties to him and his Khanate.

Both entities were Turkic in origin. Many of the Mamluks were of Turkic descent and Berke's Khanate was almost totally Turkic also. Jochi, Genghis Khan's oldest son, was of disputed parentage and only received 4,000 Mongol warriors to start his Khanate. His nearly 500,000 warriors were virtually all Turkic people who had submitted to the Mongols. Thus, the Khanate was Turkic in culture and had more in common with their Muslim Turkic Mamluks brothers than with the Mongol shamanist Hulagu and his horde. Thus, when Hulagu Khan began to mass his army for war against the Mamluk-controlled Holy Land, they swiftly appealed to Berke Khan who sent armies against his cousin and forced him to defend his domains in the north.

Hulagu returned to his lands by 1262, but instead of being able to avenge his defeats, had to turn north to face Berke Khan, suffering severe defeat in an attempted invasion north of the Caucasus in 1263, after Berke Khan had lured him north and away from the Holy Land. Thus, the Kipchak Khanate never invaded Europe; keeping watch to the south and east instead. Berke only sent troops into Europe twice, in two relatively light raids in 1259 and 1265, simply to collect booty he needed to pay for his wars against Hulagu from 1262-65.

Later campaigns

The Golden Horde campaigns in the 1280s (those in Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland), were much greater in scale than any campaign since the 1241–1242 invasion, due to the lack of civil war in the Mongol Empire at the time. They have sometimes been collectively referred to as "the second Mongol invasion of Europe", or "the second Tatar-Mongol invasion of central and south-eastern Europe".

Against Poland (1259 and 1287)

In 1259, eighteen years after the first attack, two tumens (20,000 men) from the Golden Horde, under the leadership of Berke, attacked Poland after raiding Lithuania. This attack was commanded by general Burundai with young princes Nogai and Talabuga. Lublin, Sieradz, Sandomierz, Zawichost, Kraków, and Bytom were ravaged and plundered. Berke had no intention of occupying or conquering Poland. After this raid the Pope Alexander IV tried without success to organize a crusade against the Tatars.

An unsuccessful raid followed in 1287, led by Talabuga and Nogai Khan. 30,000 men (three tumens) in two columns under Nogai (10,000 Mongol cavalry) and Talabuga (20,000 Mongols and Ruthenians) respectively invaded Lesser Poland to plunder the area and meet up north of Kraków. Lublin, Mazovia, and Sieradz were successfully raided, but the Mongols failed to capture Sandomierz and Kraków and were repulsed with heavy casualties when they attempted to assault the cities, although the cities were devastated. Talabuga's main army (the rest of his column having dissolved across the countryside for raiding) was defeated by Duke Leszek II at the Battle of Łagów. After this severe setback, Talabuga linked back up with the raiding parties and fled Poland with the loot that was already taken. Nogai's column, after suffering losses during the assault on Kraków, split up to raid the lands both north and south of the city. One detachment headed towards the town of Stary Sącz, another to Podolínec, and others to the Duchy of Sieradz. The first detachment was surprised and defeated by the Poles and their Hungarian allies in the Battle of Stary Sącz, while the second devastated the area of Podhale while skirmishing with the locals. After the defeat at Stary Sącz, Nogai's whole column retreated into Ruthenia.

Against Byzantine Thrace (1265, 1324 and 1337)

During the reign of Berke there was also a raid against Thrace. In the winter of 1265, the Bulgarian czar, Constantine Tych, requested Mongol intervention against the Byzantines in the Balkans. Nogai Khan led a Mongol raid of 20,000 cavalry (two tumens) against the territories of Byzantine eastern Thrace. In the spring of 1265, Michael VIII Palaeologus confronted the Mongols, but his army apparently had very low morale and was quickly routed. Most of them were cut down as they fled. Michael was forced to retreat to Constantinople on a Genoese ship while Nogai's army plundered all of Thrace. Following this defeat, the Byzantine emperor made an alliance with the Golden Horde (which was massively beneficial for the latter), giving his daughter Euphrosyne in marriage to Nogai. Michael also sent much valuable fabric to Golden Horde as tribute.

Also during Uzbeg Khan reign Thrace suffered raids in 1324 and 1337.

Against Bulgaria (1241, 1242, 1271, 1274, 1280 and 1285)

After the death of Khan Ögedei, Batu decided to return from Hungary to Mongolia. Part of his army invaded Bulgaria, but was defeated by the Bulgarian army under Tsar Ivan Asen II. The successors of Tsar Ivan Asen II – the regency of Kaliman Asen I decided to pay tax to the Golden Horde. In 1271 Nogai Khan led a successful raid against the country, which was a vassal of the Golden Horde until the early 14th century. Bulgaria was again raided by the Tatars in 1274, 1280 and 1285. In 1278 and 1279 Tsar Ivailo lead the Bulgarian army and crushed the Mongol raids before being surrounded at Silistra. After a three-month siege, he managed to once again break through the elite Mongol forces, forcing them to retreat north of the Danube. In 1280 a rebellion inspired by Byzantium left Ivailo without much support, and so he fled to Nogai's camp, asking him for help before being killed by the Mongols. Tsar George I, however, became a Mongol vassal before the Mongol threat was finally ended with the reign of Theodore Svetoslav.

Against Hungary (1285)

In 1285 Nogai Khan led an invasion of Hungary alongside Talabuga. Nogai led an army that ravaged Transylvania with success: Cities like Reghin, Brașov, and Bistrița were plundered and ravaged. However Talabuga, who led the main army in Northern Hungary, was stopped by heavy snow in the Carpathians and the invading force was defeated near Pest by the royal army of Ladislaus IV and ambushed by the Székely in the return. Nogai's own column suffered serious casualties at the hands of the local troops (Saxons and Vlachs), and was harried on his withdrawal by the royal army, fresh from their victory over Talabuga. As with later invasions, it was repelled handily, the Mongols losing much of their invading force. The outcome could not have contrasted more sharply with the 1241 invasion, mostly due to the reforms of Béla IV, which included advances in military tactics and, most importantly, the widespread building of stone castles, both responses to the defeat of the Hungarian Kingdom in 1241. The failed Mongol attack on Hungary eliminated its military power and caused them to stop disputing European borders.

Against Serbia (1291)

In 1291 a large Mongol-Bulgarian alliance raided into Serbia, where Serbian king Stefan Uroš II Milutin defeated them. However, the Serbian king acknowledged Nogai's supremacy and sent his son as hostage to prevent further hostility when Nogai threatened to lead a punitive expedition himself.

Counter-Invasions of Europe

By the mid-14th century the grip of the Golden Horde over Central and Eastern Europe has started to weaken. Several European kingdoms started various incursions into Mongol-controlled lands with the aim of reclaiming captured territories as well as add new ones from the Empire itself. The Kingdom of Georgia, under the leadership of King George V the Brilliant, restored Georgian dominance in their own lands and even took the Empire of Trebizond from Mongol hands. Lithuania, which has been previously untouched by Mongols during their invasion of Europe, started an invasion of their own, defeating the Mongols at the Battle at Blue Waters and the Battle of Kulikovo, as well as conquering territories of the Golden Horde all the way to the Dnieper River before being halted after their defeat at the Battle of the Vorskla River. Russia has also started to reclaim many Rus lands. In 1345, the Kingdom of Hungary, took the initiative and launched their own invasion force into Mongolian territory, capturing what would become Moldavia.

By this point, some Western European armies have also started to meet the Mongols in their conquered territories. In Caffa for example, when the Mongols under Janibeg besieged it after a large fight between Christians and Muslims began, a relief force of the Italian army came and defeated the Mongols, killing 15,000 of their troops. A year later, the Italians blockaded Mongol ports in the region, forcing Janibeg to negotiate, and in 1347 the Italians were allowed to reestablish their colony in Tana.


Mongol invasion of Europe Wikipedia