Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

Basil and the Tartars

Ivan the great had finally captured Kazan and punished the Tartars, but they were by no means subdued. Kazan was still able to raise an army of thirty thousand men, and the new Kan Magmed Amin rebelled against Basil, who sent his brother Dimitri and Prince Bielski to bring him to terms. The Tartars, however, outflanked the Russians as they drew near the city, and cut them to pieces. Basil was angry and sent another army with artillery and terrible threats of destruction. The people of Kazan saw that they were unequal to fight in open battle with the Russians, and contrived how they might outwit them by a stratagem. They pitched their camp near the city and posted their bravest men in ambush, and then fled as though struck with a panic. The Russians threw themselves upon the deserted tents and gave themselves up to pillage and feasting. While they were eating and drinking and making merry, the Tartars suddenly came out from their hiding-places and completely overwhelmed them. A few only fled to the boats and brought the tidings back to Moscow.

The next year Magmed Amin sent envoys and sued for peace, which Basil was glad to grant on account of the war with Lithuania.

Mengli Girei, the old ally of Ivan the Great, turned against his son Basil, and his successor, Magmet Gird, was Russia's deadliest foe. After the death of the Kan of Kazan, a quarrel arose between Magmet Gird and Basil, as to who should be the successor of Magmed Amin. Basil succeeded in getting the throne for his client, Shig Alei, a grotesque Mussulman with an enormous belly, a small head, and a weak face. His subjects grew so to hate and despise him that they again revolted and offered to submit to Sahib Gird, the brother of Magmet Gird.

Shig Alei fled to Moscow with his wives and property, and the Krim Kan brought his brother to Kazan with a great army, and then turned upon the Grand Prince and crushed the army brought against him by Prince Dimitri Bielski and Basil's brother Andrew. He crossed the Oka, and laid waste the whole region around Moscow. The Grand Prince acted precisely as two of his ancestors had done: he left the capital in command of his brother-in-law, Peter, a Christianized Tartar Kan, and fled. According to Herberstein, so great were his fright and despair that he hid himself for some time under a haystack. The Tartars drew near; everywhere they left ashes and ruins. An immense host of fugitives fled to Moscow for protection; helpless old men, women, and children, carriages and carts of all sorts, crowded into the gates in such haste that many were trampled under foot and perished. There was great danger of pestilence, for it was summer. The Kreml was provided with cannon, but there was no powder.

Such was the dismay in the city that a hundred Tartar horsemen might easily have stormed it. But they took no advantage of this state of things, and the Kan received the envoys sent with rich gifts by the garrison, and agreed to depart, on condition that the Grand Prince should bind himself by a writing to pay tribute as his ancestors had done. Basil had to yield. Magmet Girei went next to Riazan, and his assistant, the chief of the Dnieper Kazaks, showed the governor the treaty and demanded to enter the city. The governor suddenly opened upon him with cannon, and the Tartars made off in all haste, leaving the humiliating treaty behind them.

The Kan returned to the Crimea laden with booty and prisoners: the old and infirm served as targets for Tartar boys; those who were not stoned or drowned were sold as slaves to the Turks in the markets of Kaffa and Astrakan.

The next year Basil got together a great army on the banks of the Oka, and strengthened his position with cannon and machines of war, and sent a challenge to the Kan asking for a fair fight in open field; since the year before he had attacked him without notice, after the fashion of thieves and outlaws.

The Tartar answered,—

"In warfare, chances are as good as weapons. I never consult my enemies, but I choose my own time for fighting."

A Cossack


Instead of coming against Moscow, Magmet Gird got the aid of Mamal, Kan of the Nogai Tartars, and fulfilled his long-cherished wish of taking Astrakan. But his reign was short; his ally turned against him and put him to death.

Magmet's successor immediately sent to Basil promising to be his friend if he would pay a small tribute of silver rubles and make peace with the Tsar of Kazan. Basil answered that he would pay no tribute, nor send gifts to any Tartar tsar, or tsar's son, or tsar's daughter, under any circumstances; and as for the Tsar of Kazan, he would not cease to make war upon him, because in the first place he was tsar without permission of the Grand Prince, and in the second place he had put Russian merchants and envoys to death.

Basil then sent Prince Ivan Bielski against Kazan with an army of a hundred and fifty thousand men. Sahib Gird fled to the Turks, and the Kazan Tartars chose his nephew, the thirteen-year-old son of Magmet Gird, and prepared to meet the siege. The Russian fleet, abundantly provided with stores and guns, covered the wide Volga and came down to the Island of Merchants near Kazan. While they were waiting for the cavalry the wooden fortress of the town was smeared with pitch and set on fire. It burned to the ground, but this golden chance was thrown away.

The cavalry was delayed; precious time was lost; famine began to threaten them; robber tribes, allies of Kazan, attacked their provision boats under cover of a fog, and captured ninety of the largest of them, manned by nearly three thousand men. At last, after the commander had shown the last degree of mismanagement and cowardice, the army withdrew. A peace was signed, and Basil, against his will, allowed Kazan to keep its new kan.

He struck a hard blow at the commercial interests of the town, however, by founding two rival cities and a fair on the Volga, and forbidding his subjects, under pain of a forfeit, to trade with Kazan. It was this fair which was afterwards removed to Lower Novgorod.