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GREAT HISTORY OF A SMALL RIVER

Дата публикации: 10 сентября 2018
Публикатор: Александр Павлович Шиманский
Рубрика: ТУРИЗМ И ПУТЕШЕСТВИЯ
Номер публикации: №1536600025 / Жалобы? Ошибка? Выделите проблемный текст и нажмите CTRL+ENTER!


Author: By Galina MASSALITINA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), senior researcher, Ugra National Park

 

The River Ugra, flowing across the Russian Plain, stands for quite a few chapters in the history of this country-its heroic and tragic pages. For decades it was a national border of the Russian Principality and the historic events which took place on its banks (inroads of the Polovtsy nomads, Russo-Lithuanian border conflicts, etc.) were the subject of chronicle narratives since 1147. But one of the most momentous events on the banks of the Ugra took place in the autumn of 1480. This military confrontation has been known since as "the standoff on the Ugra" and it marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of Rusits ultimate liberation from the Tatar yoke.

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The area which was the scene of the historic drama of 1480 (the valleys of the Ugra, Zhizdra and the left bank of the Oka with a small patch near the village of Vorotynsk) now belongs to the Ugra National Park. This major wild life preserve was set up in 1997 for the protection and restoration of some unique natural and historico-cultural complexes located within its limits*. And we focus our particular attention on the site associated with the historic "standoff on the Ugra" with the collection of historical evidence about the 15th century military campaign starting from the foundation of the Park. In the year 2000 we developed a comprehensive program for the identification, studies and preservation of the legacy associated with this historic battle of the Russian troops with the Tatar invaders.

"The standoff on the Ugra" took place a century after the famous Battle of the Kulikovo Field (1380) during which Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich of Moscow routed the invading hordes of Khan Mamai. But the military victory was not final and Rus had to keep paying tribute to the Golden Horde for another hundred years, while remaining the target of devastating Tatar inroads.

In the meantime Muscovite Russia continued to rally new provinces around itself-"the gathering of Russia"-gaining strength and independence from the Mongol khans. Finally, Grand Prince Ivan III (Vasilyevich) publicly renounced any allegiance to the Golden Horde and stopped paying the regular tribute to the khan. The then ruler of the Horde, Khan Ahmad (from 1465) decided on an all-out effort against the disobedient Russians. He made an alliance with Cazimir IV of Lithuania, and taking advantage of the strife among the Russian princes, invaded Muscovite territory.

Being warned of the Khan's intentions, Ivan III sent his troops to the Oka in advance, a move that forced the Mongol cavalry to withdraw to the Ugra - a region ruled by Russian apanage princes in the vassalage dependence from Lithuania. There the Ahmad hordes waited for the arrival of his Lithuanian ally Cazimir. Finally, getting no promised support, Ahmad decided to act on his own, but his attempts to cross the Ugra were beaten back. Moscow troops, stretched on a front of 60 km on the right bank of the river, offered stubborn resistance to the invaders. In those circumstances the khan decided to open negotiations which continued for a month and ended in a deadlock. The historical events of the "standoff on the Ugra" reflect this episode in the


* See: V. Novikov, "The Ugra National Park", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2002. - Ed.

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dramatic campaign. In the meantime the general political situation changed, but not to the Mongols' advantage. The Lithuanian and Polish troops of Cazimir IV failed to appear on the scene, the strife among the Russian appanage princes died down and severe winter frosts set in. Failing to take advantage of his strategic initiative, the khan hurriedly withdrew from his positions on the Ugra. This marked the end of the last inroad of the Golden Horde on Muscovite territory and of the nearly two and a half centuries of the Tatar yoke.

Many episodes of the autumn campaign of 1480 remain "points at issue" to this day, mainly due to a controversial nature of the available written sources. For example, we do not know for sure whether Khan Ahmad was planning a flank strike across the Ugra from the very beginning, or this was his forced decision taken under the circumstances. In any case the Tatars were advancing along the watershed of the Don and the Oka from where they could turn towards the Lithuanian border or move on to the Oka directly. But it was along the banks of the Oka that Ivan III had lined up his regiments, focusing his main forces on the area of Serpukhov and Tarusa. This deployment of troops made it possible for the Grand Prince to maneuver: if there was a direct enemy strike at Moscow, the Russians could be rushed to Kolomna and if Khan Ahmad chose to break through the Russian defences across the Lithuanian possessions, they could be moved to Kaluga.

The crossing of the Oka by the Tatars left no doubts as to the direction of their main strike-they were headed for the Ugra. And the war entered a new stage. Ivan III regrouped his forces with the bulk of them being moved towards Kaluga, the mouth of the river, and the remaining regiments taking up positions further upstream. In this way the bank of the Ugra became the main and final line of Russian defense at which the enemy advance had to be stopped.

Nor is there one clear answer about the choice of site for the ultimate and decisive engagement. The available written sources name specifically the town of Opakov and the estuaries of the Vorya and Ugra. The relief around the latter offers a serious natural barrier to the movements of large cavalry detachments: apart from the thick local forests, the whole of the right bank of the river is cut across with deep ravines and minor tributaries. An assessment of

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the numerous local fords across the Ugra (width, access, the nature of the opposite bank) proves that they could not offer convenient crossings to the invading Tatars, with only separate detachments of them being able to operate successfully.

Most students of this particular chapter of Russian history agree that it was the spot near the mouth of the Ugra which was the site of the main four-day battle during which the Mongols made an attempt to cross the river on a broad front. This stretch of land is strategically the best for offensive strategic maneuvers: there is a crossing and a broad and low flood plain stretching up to the mouth of the Rosvyanka river; and about 1 km away there was the main road leading to Vyazma.

Other historians, however, regard the mouth of the Vorya as the site of the historic drama. This area as the place of a possible troops crossing is underestimated by many scholars although this is quite convenient for an advancing army, having convenient accesses and gently sloping banks. One of the opponents of this choice is a contemporary historian V. Kargalov who argues that the site is located off the main route of the invading force and has several natural barriers to it: several rivers and very thick forests on the way to Moscow. This being so, one has to bear in mind that the historical Gzhatsky high road passed just a few kilometers away from the mouth of the Vorya and sections of it can be seen to this day. Its history can be traced in the chronicles from the 17th century, but in all probability it had replaced some even more ancient road. The available historical sources leave the problem unresolved, but a road of this kind did exist it was only natural for Khan Ahmad to take advantage of it.

As for the unsuccessful crossing of the Ugra near the town of Opakov (now the village of Palatki, Kaluga Region), the Vologda-Perm chronicle (16th century) tells us that Ahmad himself did not take part in the attempt, but sent there his "chieftains" and he gave them no order to fight their way across the Ugra. It rather appears that the Khan did not expect to encounter any serious resistance in that area and way trying to arrange a secret crossing for his troops. But the Russian voivodes (army commanders in medieval Rus) never lost sight of the enemy movements, and near the town of Opakov the Mongol cavalry run not into some Russian military outpost (as the Khan had

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expected), but into full-strength detachments, which foiled all enemy attempts to smash Russian defenses. As for Khan Ahmad himself, he was waiting for reports at his headquarters in Luza, near Opakov, some 2 km upstream from the mouth of the Ugra.

As is often the case in historical publications, the drama of 1480 is painted as a long and passive stay of the main Mongol and Muscovite armies facing each other on the opposite banks of the Ugra after which the Mongols suddenly broke camp and rushed back into the steppe. In actual fact there were large-scale military operations based on a clash of strategic ambitions of two major military leaders: Khan Ahmad of the Big Horde and Ivan III "the autocrat of All Russia". The "standoff' as such was but the final episode of a military campaign which lasted for almost half a year. As a whole, scholars regard the successful defensive stand on the Ugra (which in itself was far from a serious water barrier) as a proof of the tactical skill of the Russian army leaders and a truly dramatic page in the history of this country.

Chronicle writers, and then church historians, hailed the outcome of the "standoff on the Ugra" as an act of Divine Providence. The victory over Khan Ahmad was hailed as an act of the Intercession of the Blessed Virgin, who cast Her salvific girdle upon the Ugra. This veneration accounts for the poetic description of the river as "the Protective Girdle of the Theotokos". This poetic metaphor reflects the popular comprehension of the historic role of the Russian outlying frontier lands. And the legend was later materialized in the construction of many churches and monasteries built along the banks of the Ugra and Zhizdra and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

It should be pointed out here that until recently research into the providential events of 1480 and the analysis of their military and political aspects had been based on the available written sources exclusively. And the site itself of the historic military confrontation (the Ugra valley) was overlooked. And in recent time a new class, or category of protected historical sites has gained official recognition in our historico- cultural and natural heritage-the sites of historic battles. And the definition covers large areas which had "lived through" various historic events. This approach provides the basis for the program developed by the staff of the Ugra National Park.

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While not expecting any rapid solutions of the historiographical problems at issue, we have been pursuing our studies in different directions. This includes archeological and toponymical investigations, tracing and mapping ancient roads and crossings, sites and settlements mentioned in the chronicles, studies into the pattern of the population of the Ugra valley in the period under investigation of the paleohydrology of the river, etc. And, naturally enough, a place of prominence in this program is given to archeological studies because many of the towns mentioned in the chronicles in connection with the events of 1480 are located within the boundaries of our Park: Vorotynsk and Opakov have already been "localized" and traces of the old settlements have been preserved near the present-day villages of Vorotynsk and Palatki. The location and identification of Dmitrov (the historical site of Zhary-?), Zalidov (the site of Svinukhovo-?), Luza (the site of Spas-Gorodok-?)-all are the objects of scientific research.

Often mentioned in the chronicles in connection with the "standoff' is the town of Vorotynsk. In the shadow of its walls Khan Ahmad was waiting in vain for the arrival of his ally Cazimir IV (of Lithuania and Poland), and then burned it down together with other towns in Lithuanian possessions (such as Zalidov) where he made his way after the failure of his campaign. Random excavations of Vorotynsk had been conducted before, but at the present time we are conducting them in a purposeful and systematic way. The cultural top layer of the site with artifacts of the 14th-16th centuries convincingly attest to the existence of a major urban center on this site. Strong earthen fortifications, preserved to this time, had been built in two stages: in the 14th century there was a low rampart which was later elevated-evidence of the troubled life of a border town. And it was during these excavations that traces of a fire were found on the rampart which were not traced within the town itself.

Another object of constant attention in our Park is an ancient settlement of Zhary near the estuary of the Vorya. It is located near the former village of Dmitrovets. Local historical publications identify this site with the Dmitrovets of the chronicles mentioned in connection with the events of 1480. Archeological excavations in Zhary have been going on for only 2 years, and specialists have traced the old rampart erected in the 14th-15th centuries. The presence of a large settlement around the strong central fortress suggests its urban nature, but the problem of its identification with the Dmitrovets of the chronicles remains unresolved.

In recent time members of our staff have begun the reconstruction of the paleo- landscape situation of the time of the "standoff on the Ugra". Studies are based on palinological analyses of soil samples from the already dated cultural layers from archeological monuments. On the one hand, this can help to clear up the details of the actual course of events under investigation. On the other hand, we can identify contemporary natural complexes which can be defined, with a share of approximation, as the historical landscape of the period under investigation.

The scarcity and contradictory nature of the available sources, not to mention the time gap from the events of 1480, leave little or no hope for any detailed historical reconstruction. And in formulating our Program our researchers cherished no dreams of this kind. One of our central objectives was to bring to the public attention the fascinating details of the historical drama on the Ugra and restore historical justice. The significance of the Russian victory of that time is no match to its present-day assessments. And we do believe that some of the facts we have established in the course of the implementation of this Program can be used by historians in reconstructing the Ugra drama of 1480.

Опубликовано 10 сентября 2018 года




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