I regret that this issue is a bit rushed this quarter. Work has sent me on a surprise trip to the West Coast, just a few days before I depart to the Baltics on a vacation, and I find that I have only an afternoon to get the newsletter done. Our marvelous contributors this month should more than make up for the inadequacies of the editorship.
I did want to thank Carol Grabowski for her donation that is underwriting the cost of producing this issue. I also wanted to plug the latest Compleat Anachronist (#128), “A Polish Miscellany” featuring articles Zygmunt Nadratowski, Maria Piekneplotno, and a short article by myself. There’s even a nice mention in there for SIG on the back page.
By Marija Kotok
Greetings! I have volunteered to coordinate a meeting of SIG at Pennsic this year! No time or place has been ironed out as of yet. If you feel you can help with this in any way please let me know. Or if you have ideas or suggestions (or even requests), let me know what would be helpful to you! Last year we discussed having it last longer. Maybe 2 or 3 hours. And having people bring projects and materials to share. If you have been working on anything special please bring it. Have any great books? Bring them along to share.
I will be at Pennsic for the full two weeks and will post a campsite location when I have it so folks can contact me! I hope to have the time and place of the meeting set up and posted before Pennsic. It will also go in the Pennsic paper and on the notice boards.
My contact information (Marilyn Kinyon, 1598 Sawmill Rd, Hedgesville WV 25427, 706-862-6439, email@example.com). Thanks!
By Zygmunt Nadratowski
Thanks to its tolerant attitude, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania had a wide variety of cultures living in its borders by the later part of our time period – including Ruthenians, Jews, Germans, and Tatars, to name but a few. Each of them had their own distinct way of dressing. This article will focus on the dress of the Szlachta, the ruling class of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This is due to the distinct nature of this class, and since many of the previously mentioned cultures often imitated the Szlachti by dressing as close to that style as they could afford.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s, a lot of information on cultures enslaved by the Soviets became available to Westerners. Some of it even managed to become translated into English. However, sometimes those translations left a lot to be desired. In my research I discovered that, while a work might be read in English, that didn’t mean it was understandable.
This is my effort to syncretize some of the work done by Turnau, Bartkiewicz, and Gutchowska, as it applies to our use in the SCA.
Until the middle of the1500s, Polish fashion followed that of Western Europe. Polish court fashion will not be examined in this work, since it would  generally follow the trend of other Western courts (Spain, England, etc); or  follow the court fashion favored by its foreign-born King (e.g., the Spanish style favored by the Swede Sigismund III Vasa (reigned 1587 – 1632)). Sometimes the queen was foreign as well, and that influenced the ladies (see Bona Sforza, and Anne of Austria (1605, married to one of the Vasa Kings)). However, dressing according to court style would be appropriate if you wanted to have a Polish persona but not dress in the native fashion – or if you were Royalty! In period, the gentry often mocked their foreign Monarchs and other Szlachta for dressing in anything “Un-Polish”. Poland’s foreign kings often dressed in part, or in whole, in “Polish dress” to curry favor with the Szlachta.
Whenever possible, Oriental (i.e., Persian or Turkish) flair was used to accessorize or to even modify the overall garment itself. Captured Oriental items were displayed proudly in the home, and such things as knives were used as well as displayed. This Oriental influence is pervasive. Here are just a few noteworthy items:
• It is the basis for the use of the caftan as a base for the zupan.
• The origin explaining why many men’s garments (e.g., zupan, delia) are buttoned with the right breast overlapping the left.
• Why sashes were used as well as belts (the Turks used them).
• The saber is the preferred weapon and one of the symbols of the nobility.
• The Persian/Turkic use of simply cut clothing which was made from ostentatious and expensive fabric to display wealth, rather than expensive trims and complicated construction.
Another thing to keep in mind regarding male clothing is that  its length varies based on the age and activity level of the man; and  it is meant to be worn on horseback. This last can not be emphasized enough. Turnau clearly states that male clothing was shorter for younger and active men, but that older men often preferred longer zupany since it was showy, and they weren’t as physically active.
Turnau also shows that men’s clothing (such as the zupan and the outer coats like the delia) was wide both to display wealth, as well as to drape completely over the wearer and a saddle, while keeping the legs warm and covered in the stirrups.
Turnau quotes the poet Klemens Janicki as saying that a distinct Polish fashion existed in 1542. This date is probably the latest to pin the formation of a distinct “Polish” style. She also states that the zupan began being mentioned in probate inventories in the years 1550-1574. Using her rule (in which she states that clothes in this time typically begin being worn 10-20 years before they begin being widely mentioned in wills), the zupan could then have been first worn in the 1540s. George Braun made a woodcut of a Szlachta in a zupan and delia in 1572. By 1578, the combination of a zupan and delia was so established that King Stefan Bathory had a state portrait done. Even as the zupan gained popularity, the giermak, a coat with Hungarian origins, was another popular garment for szlachta. It is the opinion of this author that, since Turnau mentions that the giermak “was popular among the nobility and burghers,” the giermak would be worn by poorer szlachta, but in the most expensive fabric they could afford.
Base garb: Tight fitting breeches, linen undershirt, baczmagi (tall) or boczkorki/ciszmy riding boots (both ankle length, with a turn down top). In many probate inventories, only the more expensive linen undershirts were mentioned, or those made of homespun that had linen cuffs. This was because linen was more expensive than homespun. It was not uncommon to have quite a few linen undershirts – one inventory mentions the owner as having over 20! We have to assume that they also had a large number of homespun undershirts that were not mentioned, since the perception was that they were peasant wear.
The boots were colored, if worn by wealthy nobility (saffron or red [dyed by using sumac] the favorite colors), black if poor nobility. Since Turnau mentions the boots being made of saffian or cordovan leather, thinner leather likely is another indicator of wealth. A small leather bag held important belongings. Sabers were attached with thin belts, made of colored & worked leather, often studded with metal. Sashes worn under the saber belts protected the expensive zupany.
1550s – 1570s – Colpak, homespun or linen undershirt, giermak or zupan, delia.
1570s – 1650s – Colpak, linen undershirt, zupan, kontusz (starting 1620’s, since the delia is old fashioned at this time).
Like women other places in Europe, female Szlachta wore a chemise as a standard under dress. Until the 1640’s, the ladies preferred to wear them with home-embroidered cuffs. In the 1640’s, ruffs and farthingales began to be worn as embellishments as well. Female dresses were, like male dress, of a simple cut but made from whatever expensive fabrics they could afford. This was usually velvet and satin, and could be decorated with silk applique. One of these expensive fabrics was known as zlotoglowia or “shot,” a smooth golden fabric with gold weft and red, blue and green warp, especially used as lining for fancy delias and dresses.
The letnik is the base dress for Polish women in our period, having its origins in Byzantine dress and mentioned for the first time in the 1470’s. Unlike the Russian garment of the same name, the Polish letnik followed the figure based on the wearer’s preference. Rather than being fastened with buttons, it was pulled on over the head.
Quite often, women’s coats were in the same style as the men. The most popular women’s overcoat was fur lined and called a szubka (or jubka). Another coat, the mentlik, was longer, and could be worn instead. For very cold weather, a shorter fur lined kitlik could be added.
From the 1530s to the end of our period, women had a variety of options for headwear. The two main types seem to be the rantuch and the podwika. The rantuch was popular, and was worn as early as the 1530s. It was made up of a veil that was secured by a cord with the aid of another lady. Married women seemed to be able to wear these as well as a podwika.
Translation: “Long rantuch under fur hood, coat, skirt of embroidered zlotglowia tied with thin ribbons with loops sewn on velvet” [From Turnau, citing Maria Bartkewicz]
“Rantuchy are often found in 17th C. woman’s clothing as a cover bonnet. They typically were made with rich, embroidered decorated edge trim. Generally they are embroidered with a floral motif, finished with silk in several colors, with gold and silver thread. One can find simply –executed rantuchy in the inventory of women who decorate themselves with black or red silk (using a silk embroidery method of a luxurious kind called ‘red stitching’ or ‘black stitching’). Rantuchy among women of the Royal Court were so fine as to be translucent, and came into use starting in the 1650s. Indeed some rantuchy were made with fine Flemish linen originally intended for church alter cloths. People dressed in the new style of rantuchy more. It was decorated with artistic embroidery, an ornament that does not seem characteristic of the 17th C. to modern eyes.”
Married women typically wore a coif that was decorated with embroidery and lace, called a podwika. It was usually draped down across the head and shoulders (sometimes even the chin), although the size fluctuated according to preference and prevailing fashion. The podwika was popular enough that even some queens wore it. The fanciest headpiece was a hair net, sometimes decorated with pearls (or other gemstones), known as a bramka.
Photo of effigy of Katharine Opalinski-Czarnkowski, from sometime between 1570 – 1580. She is wearing a letnik and a podwika over her head. [From Turnau]
1570s – 1640s – Bramka (head kerchief of linen/silk, bordered w/pearls), chemise, letnik with or without sleeves and with fancy embroidered cuffs.
•Bartkiewicz, Maria. Polski ubiór do 1864 roku, Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich. 1979.
•Gutkowska-Rychlewska, Maria. Historia Ubirow [History of Costume]. Warsaw, 1968.
•Turnau, Irena. History of Dress in Central and Eastern Europe from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. Institute of the History of Material Culture, Polish Academy of Sciences. 1991.
Another view of a Letnik and Podwika. This podwika is different in that it doesn't cover the bottom half of her face. A photo of the effigy of the Duchess of Wielki, a Mrs. K Tenchinsky [From Turnau]
More letniks and podwikas , from an artists drawing of a painting . The lady on the right also is wearing a bramka over her podwika. Her outer coat is the Polish version of the Szuba , made from zlotglowia [ From Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
Another bramka and rantuch . An artists drawing of a painting (so be careful of using this as a primary or secondary source) [from Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
A photo of two different extant pieces of fabric, from the 1 st part of the 16 th century. The one on the right is damask [From Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
A photo of an extant woman's metal belt from the late 1500's. Each ball is a hinge in a link [From Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
Translation: “Fur kolpaks , worn by female nobles from Poznan”. This is in the North West of Poland, and as such you can see the German influence in their dresses. Lady “a” is wearing what looks to be the female version of the delia [ From Turnau]
A photo of extant rantuch fabric, ca. 1600s [From Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
These are out of the SCA's period. While they aren't solid enough to be a citable source, they are a good starting place for these hard to find garments. The lady on the left is a jacket known as a kazjaka, based on a doublet pattern. Her dress is over a farthingale (‘fortugale' in Polish), ca. 1630s. The lady on the right is from Krakow, and is also wearing a kazjaka, but not a farthingale [From Gutchowska-Rychlewska]
By Ivan Matfeevich Rezansky
[Author’s Note: I recently finished reproducing a 16th century Russian pelena, or embroidered icon hanging. This article, part two of three, is the result of that project and the accompanying research. Last issue, I discussed the origins of Orthodox ecclesiastical embroidery in Byzantium and its adoption in medieval Russia. In part three, I’ll discuss the methods used and lessons learned in my reproduction.]
Orthodox embroidered works were primarily created in specialized workshops. Although in Byzantium these were sometimes secular guilds of artisans, in Russia they were almost always affiliated with a monastery, sometimes sponsored and housed by a wealthy household. There is evidence that both men and women were trained and worked as embroiderers in Byzantium, but in Russia, the embroidery workhouses, called svetlitsy, were almost exclusively filled by women. The head of the workshop was typically the female head of the household, herself often a trained embroiderer. In both traditions, it’s apparent that the needle-working skills were learned through a period of apprenticeship.
Embroidered works were typically a collaborative effort of multiple artisans. The plan for the image was laid out by a master iconographer and transferred in ink onto the fabric. Since many pieces incorporated inscriptions or dedications, another iconographer might be employed to lay out the wording. The work was then turned over to the embroiderers. The inscriptions on some larger pieces indicate that they took up to 10 years to complete, and even within that time frame, it is likely that these works were likely completed by multiple artisans stitching side by side. Although their work was directed by the icon master’s plan, the embroiderers appear to have held a good deal of creative power over the final interpretation. Details like stitch direction, color selection, and ornamentation vary widely between works, even when they depict the same person or scene. This would seem to indicate that these details were largely driven by the embroiderers’ tastes, the color of the foundation fabric, and the availability of materials.
Byzantine ecclesiastical embroidery was worked almost entirely in metallic thread, with only the face or hands of figures worked in colored silk. Dark red or blue silk fabric was typically used as the ground material. Both silver and gold threads were used in Byzantine art. The metallic thread most frequently used, called chryssonima, was constructed from a thin flat strip of metallic foil wrapped spirally around a silken core. The core was typically yellow, although other colors are also found. The length of metallic thread was folded in half or laid down in dual rows, and couched to the piece using silk thread. These couching threads were often a slightly darker color than the metallic thread in order to create a slight visual contrast. In a variation called underside couching, the embroiderer would pull the couching thread tight enough to draw a small loop of the gold thread through to the reverse side of the work, creating a tiny fold in the metal. Using these techniques, the embroiderer could create complex patterns in the goldwork, including zig-zag, brickwork, basket-weave and other effects. In Byzantine items, the embroidery was almost always worked either horizontally or vertically, sometimes alternating to create contrast between adjacent sections. The metallic thread was rarely “modeled” to follow the curves or outlines of the object depicted. The areas of silk embroidery used for the hands and face of figures are relatively small in comparison to the predominance of metallic thread . This emphasis on goldwork produces a sumptuous, extravagant effect.
In Byzantium the gold, silk, and rich fabrics used for religious embroidery were likely all produced locally. For the Russian svetlitsy, these materials would typically have been imported from Byzantium, Italy, or even Persia. The richest fabrics available were used in a wide array of colors – my research showed a spectrum including dark blue and red silks, green and yellow damask, and orange and pink satins. Russian embroidery also used gold and silver chryssonima, although the artists appear to have experimented more with technique. About the only component which did not need to be imported was the freshwater pearls used quite liberally on Russian works. These were drilled and strung on silken thread then couched to the work, sometimes flanked by couched rows of gold cord.
One look at Russian works of ecclesiastical embroidery, and the viewer is immediately struck by the predominance of color when compared to the mainly metallic appearance of Byzantine works. It is believed that Russian folk art already had emphasized the use of color and embroidery well before the conversion to Christianity, and it would appear that this tradition was incorporated by the Russian svetlitsy. Gold and silver thread is still used liberally for angels, divine figures, and inscriptions as in Byzantine works, but in Russian works, figures and the background are commonly embroidered in brilliantly colored silk. The effect is a much warmer and immediate connection between the viewer and these works than is experienced with their Byzantine counterparts. Although the gold chryssonima would have been imported from abroad, enough metallic embroidery is still seen in Russian works that it seems unlikely that the predominance of colored silk was the result of availability alone. Instead, the use of color seems to be an example of local taste and preferences influencing the Russian style of religious embroidery.
•Gosudarstvennye muzei Moskovskogo Kremlia. Treasures from the Kremlin: An exhibition from the State Museums of the Moscow Kremlin at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 19-September 2, 1979, and the Grand Palais, Paris, October 12, 1979-January 7, 1980. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1979. pp. 110-123, 195-203.
•Johnstone, Pauline. The Byzantine Tradition in Church Embroidery. London: Alec Tiranti, Ltd., 1967.
•Lemon, Jane. Metal Thread Embroidery: Tools, Materials, and Techniques. London: B.T. Batsford, Ltd., 2002.
•Maiasova, N. A. Drevnerusskoe Shit’e. Moscow: Isskustvo, 1971.
•Manushina, Tat’iana Nikolaevna. Khudozhestvennoe shit’e drevnei rusi v sobranii Zagorskogo muzeia. Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1983.
By Paul Wickenden of Thanet
A few months ago, a call went out on SIG-L for help in assembling a Pelican scroll in period Russian. The project was a bit daunting on several levels. First of all, there was the question of how to translate certain SCA expressions into Russian, especially ones that were distinctly Western European or peculiar to the SCA itself. Then there was the issue of how write the language forsoothly. Truth be told, the idea of creating the scroll in actual period Russian was quickly rejected as no one had the expertise in Old Church Slavonic to produce such a work. What we opted for instead was a mixture of modern Russian, with some 19th century (and older) mannerisms to give it that “forsooth” feeling. That said, native speakers will probably find all sorts of errors in the text and while it might be nice to correct those mistakes, I have to say that I am happy with the text “as is” because I think it reflects the SCA’s “homemade spirit” and a labor of love for all involved. Having it be perfect just wouldn’t have been the same!
Aryenne did the bulk of the translation. I added the blazon of the arms. And Jan Janowicz Bogdanski did the illumination (which he notes is in the style of the Gospels of Tsar Alexander.
First of all, the text:
And the final result on the scroll:
By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo
Crusades are funny things. From a social and political aspect they often have a slow start, a period of strife and finally a period in which they seem to fizzle out. Often, the same deity is called upon in different languages, under different names, under different versions of faith formulas, but still the very same deity. The crusades in the West are well documented, irregardless of whether they were Christian versus Moslem or the two Christian on Christian versions. One element they all shared in common was that the religions in conflict did not change, and in some cases produced weird hybrids whose most familiar characteristics we would probably recognize in the modern day. Not so with the Eastern crusades!
I speak of the mid-13th century Germanic Crusade in the Baltic, at the instigation of Pope Pious IX to expel the Pagan Prussians and continue along the Baltic and into Poland. The popular cultural myth concerning the Brothers of the Sword and the sub-sept Livonian Order are that the Germanic crusaders reasoned that the Holy Land was far whereas enemies of the True Faith lay much closer to hand to the immediate east in the guise of pagans and Orthodox Christianity! By the end of the crusades in the Holy Land in the 1240s, this Teutonic Order of crusaders had pushed up the Baltic coastal areas and consolidated their hold in Estonia, at the borders of the principalities of the Rus in Pskov and Novgorod. With further Papal encouragement, the Prince-Bishop of Dorpat Hermann I of Buxoeveden, accompanied by the Teutonic Knights and brothers, and their Estonian feudal levies invaded the Novgorodian western territories of Pskov and Izborosk. Their viewpoint was that Orthodox Christianity represented a new kind of “paganism” ripe for “conversion” to Catholic Christianity by hook, crook or sword!
At this same point in time, the Rus principalities had been being dismembered by one of the many Mongol Horde armies operating from the Red Sea to the White Sea and pushing northwestward under the banners of Batu Khan and his general, Subutoi. Originally meant only as a reconnaissance in force, to the politically fractured and hence militarily outnumbered Rus princes, the Mongol force had all the effect of an invading army. Only Novgorod the Great had submitted to the Khan’s envoys, which turned into a military asset. The Novgorod Vech hastily re-called 20 year old Prince Alexander Nevskii, repulsor of the Swedes on the Neva River the year before, from exile in Pereslavl who called upon the Khan for troops as his vassal to aid in repelling the invading Teutonic Order. According to contemporary Russian Chronicles, after hours of savage hand to hand fighting, Prince Alexander released the archers in the wings to attack the Teutonic flanks, initiating a retreat , which turned into full scale flight across the thin April ice by the heavily armored Teutonic knights when fresh Rus cavalry attacked. Whether this intervention initiated the subsequent simultaneous westward campaigns into Poland and Hungary in 1242 or were later elements of a larger, multi-phase campaign strategy has been the subject of many historians bids for academic tenure and a steady paycheck is a hotly debated subject periodically.
The fact remains the Battle on the Ice is the first recorded confrontation between Pagan Mongols and Teutonic Crusaders, culminating in the full strength direct confrontation at the Battle of Liegnitz two years later. In Mongol tactics, subject peoples were required to provide troops and manpower, which was then invariably utilized as cannon fodder in the first phases of a battle to wear down the new enemy and weaken their formations before the full onslaught of the Mongol main force drove home the primary attack. Fifteen years after this battle, Prince Aleksandr succeeded in getting an exemption for the Russians principalities from Mongol military drafts, but that was not the case in 1242.
So my question is, were there Rus troops in the Mongol ranks that day in Germany, as there had been Mongol horse archers in the Rus wings of their formations two years before facing the Germans at The Battle on the Ice in Northern Russia? And in the southern thrust, were the Povlotsii / Cuman forces over-run by the Mongols forces on their drive westward through the Pontic Plain north of the Black Sea eventually confronted by their cousins who had fled west into service with the Hungarians twenty years before? How many gods were called upon in how many languages on those battlefields? How many men on both sides called on their old familiar deities or on newly embraced deities with their last breathes or in the midst of thousands of others screaming as they attacked?
These are often the unanswered questions of any crusade, and of history in general!
Other Rus Princes had tried various methods to lighten the Mongol yoke on the Rus Principalities, almost from the very year that their domination began in 1240, but several factors had minimalized or utterly destroyed these efforts. Fairly frequent marriage between Mongol and Rus nobility, Mongol military strength, their ruthlessness in punishing Rus rebellion, the internecine fighting of the Rus themselves, etc. had all been factors in prolonging this state of affairs and denying each effort even small victories. Through all, the Orthodox Church encouraged the dream of freedom and nurtured the ambitions of those Princes in their various bids towards this goal. While not nearly as militant as the Western Church, their support was political and financial, often manifesting itself behind the scenes between the Princes and in their support of those Princes as leaders in public to their subjects.
A series of dynastic struggles started in 1357 with the death of Janni Beg, Khan of the Golden Horde, which then included the future Khanates of Kazan, Sibir, Astrakhan and Crimea. In modern terms these areas comprised western Siberia, the Ural Moutains to the Volga River, the Lower Volga to the Caspian Sea and the Northern shore and Plains of the Black Sea, respectively. Khan Janni Beg’s sudden death left no named successor so the control of the Silk Road wealth fueled fierce dynastic struggles and left the Golden Horde seriously weakened politically and fragmented the reliability of its military resources. In the chaos, regional Hetmen had began building independent powerbases that were weaker militarily but more autonomous. The eventual winner of these struggles was Mamai, a general of great repute but hampered by lukewarm support by the regional Hetmen within the Golden Horde. Mamai was in desperate need of a very public and profitable victory to solidify his position as Khan against his chief general and dynastic rival, Tokhtamysh.
Mamai’s choices for this victory were slim indeed. The White Horde in Persia and modern day Iraq was still strong, as was the expanding Ottoman Empire to the west in the Balkans and along the western Black Sea. Only to the north in the fractious and fragmented Rus principalities were the riches and weak military forces that would offer Mamai the victory and spoils he so desperately needed, safe from the high casualties his other choices would inflict. Or so he thought… And to sweeten his choice, the Rus princes had also taken advantage of the political chaos of the dynastic struggles to refuse to send the customary tribute to the Golden Horde capital at Sarai on the southern reaches of the Volga River.
Unbeknownst to Mamai, in the twenty of so years of the Horde’s lax rule many new Rus princes had assumed their patrimonies and grown used to their freedom. They were loath to lose the additional revenues they had kept for themselves, though none seemed ready to risk position, family and title in openly leading a rebellion in their own names. The Moscow prince, Dmitry Ivanovich, was one of these new princes and also was on a roll himself. His ancestor, Ivan I, named Kalita or “Moneybags,” had bribed and ingratiated his way into an appointment by the Khan as Grand Prince and official tax collector in 1328. Ivan Kalita had also gained considerable political clout for Moscow when he persuaded the Metropolitan of the Rus to leave his traditional seat in Vladimir, joining his fortunes with those of the Metropolitan and making Moscow the Spiritual center of the Rus Orthodox Church.
If Prince Dmitry succeeded, he would have unhindered funding and the political clout to further consolidate his power among the other Rus Princes, free of interference from the Golden Horde. If defeated, his lands, title and life were probably forfeit to Mamai, after his capital torched and his people led off to the Black Sea slave markets run by the Venetians and Genoese, under Ottoman license. Like many of his ancestors before him, Dmitry was ready to roll the dice for the big prize and ruthless enough to take any opportunity that fate offered. The stage was set.
Using every advantage to minimalize the horrible risk of defeat, Prince Dmitry persuaded the Metropolitan to bless the enterprise as a Holy mission of Christian against Moslem overlord and oppressor. Such a public stance encouraged reciprocal sermons down through the Church hierarchy resulting in a groundswell of support from the populace. Gathering under the banner of the Prince of Moscow in late August, by September 6, 1380 the Rus hosts had already crossed the Oka River and reached the upper reached of the Don River, crossing that river the night of September 7th and drawing themselves up into battle formations the next morning at Kolikovo Polye, “Snipes Field.” Prince Dmitry’s military council of Princes deployed in the traditional three line defense, Outpost regiment in the van with the Front regiment behind it, both designed to blunt any attack. Behind both was the main host situated on a very slight rise, the bulk of which were household hosts and the better armed merchants and town troops. The flanks of the Russian host were secured by the Nizhni Dubik and Smolka River “cliffs”, both heavily wooded and each hiding separate Ambush hosts of noble Rus cavalry. All were under the various Princes banners and Holy images of the Madonna, Jesus and Saints Michael and George.
Mamai faced him across the field, the hosts of his hetmen forming three long blocks across the field, backed by hired Genoese mercenaries and the Horde’s best cavalry. His Lithuanian allies had yet to arrive and Dmitry had insured that Mamai would not be able to wait by inflicting a series of stinging and destructive night raids on the Mongol host during its advance on the Don. By the time Mamai’s host had drawn up their battle formations across the field and witnessed several duels by champions for both sides, including the death of a Mongol champion at the hands of a Rus warrior monk in single combat, his hetmen were barely in control of their hosts. By eleven that morning the Mongol forces attacked the Rus Van and Outpost hosts, who eventually retreated into the main host after savage fighting repeled the Mongol attack.
Mamai then attacked the Rus left flank in force, eventually succeeding in penetrating the Rus lines. By early afternoon the Mongol breakthrough threatened the rear of the Rus main host, a thrust that the Rus reserves could not stop. At this critical moment the encircling Mongol forces were themselves attacked in the rear by the Rus Ambush host from the woods, signaling the Moscow host under Prince Dimity to attack the main Mongol host from the Rus right flank, along with the cavalry from the other Rus Ambush host encircling the Mongol host.
In that moment panic struck the Mongol host and Mamai’s army shattered, each warrior seeking his own safety, leaving their surrounded hosts in the Rus rear to be cut down and destroyed, along with the Mongol infantry and the Genoese mercenaries. The route continued into the night and the next day, leaving Mongol bodies littered across the steppe from the Don to the Volga and Mamai’s tenure as Khan of the Golden Horde in ruin. The mercenaries were ransomed back to their masters, as were the Mongol leaders, the rank and file enslaved and hobbled to await toil and death or liberation by the Golden Horde’s eventual counter stroke.
But both sides had been weakened significantly in manpower, for the battle had been hard fought with no quarter given and none expected. For the Rus it had been a Holy Crusade of Orthodox Christian against Moslem oppressor, earning him the name Dmitry Donskoi, to commemorate his victory. For the Mongols, it had been a rebellion to be crushed and riches to be won, as it had always been. But this victory was fleeting. Mamai had been overthrown and executed by his rival Tokhtamysh soon after his defeat. This new Khan had immediately resorted to the old Mongol tactic of bribing the Rus Princes with money, promises and titles to reduce Dmitry’s strength. In truth, all the Princes hosts had suffered damage through casualties and needed time to recover, time that Tokhtamysh had no intention of allowing them to have.
In 1382, Tokhtamysh launched his own secular crusade with the goals of punishing the Rus for their victory, crushing Prince Dimitry as a threat and re-establishing the tarnished reputation of the Golden Horde. As soon as his power as Khan was secure, Takhtamysh defeated Prince Dimitry’s hastily gathered and largely outnumbered host in battle, devastated Rus lands, looted and burned Moscow. But this victory was also short-lived, for Tokhtamysh was defeated and the Golden Horde utterly destroyed as a political and military force forever by Tamerlane, also known as Timur the Lame six years later. The next seventy years would see the rise of the Khanates and the consolidation of Moscow’s power, resulting in the next Eastern Crusade, under the banners of Grand Prince Ivan Vasilivich, called “Ivan the Great,” grandfather to another Ivan Vasilivich, called “Ivan the Terrible,” and leader of his own crusade as well.
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