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The European expedition was to be a major Mongol effort,
comparable in scope to the war against China. It was to become a
catastrophe of monumental proportions for medieval East
Europeans, who were confronted with devastating wars and serious
social disruption. Nominal command was to be exercised by Batu,
because this was the part of the world he had inherited from
Chinggis. The actual commander was the aging, but still
brilliant, Subetei. He was probably the most gifted of all Mongol
generals, after Chinggis himself, and he had been one of the
commanders of the momentous reconnaissance that had swept through
southern Russia fifteen years earlier.
The Bulghars were defeated in 1236, and in December 1237
Subetei and Batu led an army of 600,000 across the frozen Volga
River. The Mongols spread destruction and death through Russia.
Moscow, Vladimir, and other northern Russian principalities were
destroyed before summer 1238. Subetei then turned south to the
steppe region around the Don, to allow his army to rest, to
regain strength, and to prepare for new advances. Apparently his
timetable was delayed for a year by a dispute between Batu and
other royal princes commanding various
hordes (see Glossary).
Nonetheless, this additional time gave Subetei an opportunity to
accumulate still further information about central and western
Europe from his spies.
In November 1240, after the rivers and marshes of what, in
modern times, is the Ukraine had frozen enough to take the weight
of cavalry, the Mongol army crossed the Dnieper River. On
December 6, it conquered Kiev, the seat of the grand prince and
the Metropolitan See of Rus'. Subetei continued westward, his
army advancing, typically, on a broad front in three major
To the north was the horde of Kaidu Khan, three tumen
strong, protecting the right flank of the main body. Kaidu swept
through Lithuania and Poland; on March 18 he destroyed the Polish
army at Cracow. He detached a tumen to raid along the
Baltic coast and with the remainder headed westward into Silesia.
On April 9, 1241, at Liegnitz (Legnica, in Poland), the more
disciplined Mongol army decisively defeated a numerically
superior combined European army in a bitterly contested battle.
Meanwhile, a horde of three tumen under Kadan, another
son of Ogedei, protected the southern flank and advanced through
Transylvania, into the Danube Valley, and into Hungary. In midApril Kadan and Kaidu joined the main body--under Batu--in
Batu led the central force across the Carpathian Mountains in
early April 1241, lured the army of King Bela IV of Hungary into
battle at the Sajo River on April 11, and annihilated it. The
Mongols then seized Pest, and they spent the rest of the year
consolidating their control of Hungary east of the Danube River.
Late in 1241, the Mongols were ready to move again. In
December the army crossed the frozen Danube. Scouting parties
raided into northern Italy toward Venice and Treviso, and up the
Danube toward Vienna. But suddenly the advance halted. Word had
come, by way of the incredibly swift Mongol messenger service,
that Ogedei had died on December 11.
The yasaq explicitly provided that after the death of
the ruler all offspring of the house of Chinggis Khan, wherever
they might be, must return to Mongolia to take part in the
election of the new khan. From the outskirts of Vienna and
Venice, the tumen countermarched, never to reappear. They
moved through Dalmatia and Serbia, then eastward where they
virtually destroyed the kingdoms of Serbia and Bulgaria before
crossing the lower Danube. They evacuated Hungary for lack of
sufficient pasture and moved into the south Russian steppe.
Advances into India also ceased.
Data as of June 1989