Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

The Hero of the Don

Ivan the gentle allowed his neighbors to take advantage of him and ride over him. Oleg of Riazan marched through his lands, burned his villages, and insulted his military lieutenants. The men of Novgorod laughed at his authority, and, despising him, turned to Constantine of Suzdal. Olgerd, Grand Prince of Lithuania, and his son, Andrew, took his tribute towns. The civil wars in Riazan and Tver, the quarrels of the rival factions in the Commonwealth of Novgorod, were of no account to this peace-loving prince. He let his bishops settle all difficulties; he had not the will even to punish the men who murdered one of his officers. At his death the Kan of the Golden Horde appointed Dimitri of Suzdal grand prince, and for a season Moscow ceased to be the capital. But St. Alexis, the Metropolitan of Moscow, who had acquired great influence among the Tartars by reason of a miraculous cure, was watchful of the interests of Ivan's young children. When Dimitri, the oldest son, was twelve, Alexis bade him declare himself Grand Prince and the rival of Suzda1. The dispute was taken to Murut Kan, who, influenced by St. Alexis, "a man whose prayers preserved his life and strengthened his armies," gave the title to the grandson of Ivan Money Bag.  At the head of a strong army the boy-prince marched triumphantly into Vladimir, and was crowned in the ancient cathedral by his faithful friend, the Metropolitan, St. Alexis.

Dimitri's jealous uncles and cousins were by no means willing that this lad should become grand prince.

Dimitri of Suzdal gained the ear of the fickle Murut, and with his support came back to Vladimir, but the brave boy was ready for him, and met him with an army and drove him away with great rout. They then signed a treaty of peace, and the victorious prince bade St. Sergius, the founder of the Trinity Monastery, lay Lower Novgorod under a curse, and thus bringing it to terms, he gave it to his rival and married his daughter, and ever after stood by him as a friend, as was no more than fair.

Then the princes of Starodub, or Old Oak  , and Galitch rebelled against him. He brought them to terms and made his cousin, Vladimir, the son of Andrew, call him father and serve him faithfully all his life. Like his father and grandfather, he became involved in a quarrel with the house of Tver. Michael, whose grandfather and father and unde and brother had all perished at the Horde on account of their rivalry with the princes of Moscow, was disputing "Tver the ancient, Tver the rich," with one of his uncles. The Grand Prince of Moscow and the Metropolitan took the uncle's part, but Michael cared not for this decision. His sister, Juliana, was the wife of the great pagan, Olgerd, Prince of Lithuania, whose armies had won for him the whole basin of the Dnieper and overrun all Western Russia. With the army of his brother-in-law he took Tver, conquered his uncle in Kashin, and in a space of four years thrice led his •troops, burning and pillaging, to the very walls of the Moscow Kreml. At last the great Olgerd died, the Lithuanians deserted his standard, and Dimitri and his allies and the men of Novgorod, who had not forgotten Michael's evil deeds in their lands, closely besieged him in Tver, and brought him to such straits that he was glad to forswear Novgorod and Vladimir and promise never again to molest the allies of Dimitri, his "elder brother," but to follow his course toward the Tartars, whether in paying tribute or waging war.

Even longer and fiercer was Dimitri's war with Oleg of Riazan, who had braved his father, the gentle Ivan II., and now defied his warlike son. Dimitri defeated him, and installed a prince of Pronsk on the throne; but Oleg came back and drove out his weak successor, and the quarrel began anew.

Meantime the power of the Tartars was fast waning. The ravages of the Black Death  , the ceaseless civil wars of rival kans, the growth of wealth and luxury, were fatal to the vast Empire of the Kipchak. Little by little the Russian princes came to see that their disobedience was followed by no quick revenge. A Tartar chief came against Riazan: Oleg defied him to do his worst. Dimitri, the new prince of Lower Novgorod, defeated Bulat-Temir in person, and the princes of Suzdal put a band of Mordva to death and delivered up their chiefs to be torn in pieces by the dogs of Novgorod.

Dimitri of Moscow had a summons from the ferocious Mamai Kan to repair to the Horde. He had the courage to obey, in spite of his many acts of disobedience, and was allowed to return to Moscow in safety. Five years later he sent a great expedition down the Volga, captured Kazan, capital of Bulgaria, and forced two Tartar princes to. pay him tribute. He followed this victory with a still more brilliant feat of arms. He conquered Mamai's army on the banks of a little river near Riazan, and as he saw the T~ fly, he cried,—

"Their day is over, and God is with us."

Mamai, carried away by blind fury, and caring not whom he struck, turned upon his enemy's rival, Oleg of Riazan, and ravaged his country far and wide. Then for two years he worked in secret to prepare a great vengeance. He gathered an immense host of every nation and tongue,—Turks and Circassians, Jews and Kumans; even the colonists of Genoa, on the shores of Azof and the Caspian Sea, had to send their sons to join the Tartar army.

When the Grand Prince was warned of the coming storm he was nothing daunted, but called upon the princes and nobles to meet in Moscow with every man they could bring. They came, filled with the long thirst for vengeance and with enthusiasm, nobly prepared to die, flocking into the Kreml walls, greeted with cheers and words of welcome:—

"Along the river Moskva coursers were neighing;

Trumpets sounded in Kolomna;

Drums were beat in Serpukhof;

Many were the standards which rose

On the banks of the mighty Danube."

Before he took the field Dimitri went out to the aged hermit of Trinity, and the saint prophesied in these words:—

"Thou wilt triumph, but only after a terrible fight. Thou wilt vanquish the foe, but thy laurels will be sprinkled with the blood of countless Christian heroes."

St. Sergius sent two of his monks, brave men who had not forgotten the cunning of battle, to go with the prince, and on their cowls he made the sign of the cross, and said,—

"Behold a weapon which never proveth false."

Dimitri, at the head of his warriors, eager to measure their swords in battle with the Tartars, and feeling the joy of coming victory, little heeded the news that Oleg of Oleg of Riazan was playing the traitor, or that Michael of Tver was a craven prince. Down the smiling valley to the Don marched the Russian army, one hundred and fifty thousand strong, with banners flying and cavalry in superb array. Never before had Russia sent so brave a host into the field.

Warned by St. Sergius to go forward, Dimitri crossed the Don, and on a bright September day drew up his army in the wide field of the Wood-Cocks, through which flowed a little stream, a tributary of the Don.

The old chronicle tells how, on the evening before the battle, Dimitri and his cousin, Dimitri of Volynia, mounted horse and rode out of the camp to consult the earth-mother. After they had ridden a short way the Grand Prince's cousin dismounted and pressed his ear close to the ground and listened long and earnestly. And the Grand Prince said,—

"What is it, my brother? Tell me." But the listening prince gave no answer; and then Dimitri came nearer and begged him to speak, and when he saw him weeping he was afraid, and said,—

"My brother, speak to me, for my heart suffers cruel pangs."

And his cousin said,—

"I will tell thee, my lord and prince, but hold the secret fast. There are two omens,—one of great joy, one of great sorrow. As I pressed my ear upon the ground I heard the earth groaning in two places, bitterly, terribly. One place was like a woman who utters vain shrieks, crying in the Tartar tongue, wailing for her children who fight, shedding her tears like a river; the other place was like a young girl weeping, sobbing with a plaintive voice, like a reed, in great grief and sorrow. I have seen many battles, and ofttimes I have watched these fore-signs, and to me they are plain. Trust in God. Thou wilt conquer, but a host from thy army will fall by the edge of the sword."



In the centre of the field of the Wood-Cocks was the Grand Prince with his own men and the men of Pskof and Briansk; the other princes were set upon the right and left; Dimitri's cousin Vladimir, and the brave Dimitri of Volynia led the reserve. The Tartar host drew nigh, slowly and in solid ranks. For three long hours the battle raged with unequalled fury. The Grand Prince's body-guard was cut to pieces; the day seemed lost. Suddenly from their ambush behind a dense wood, with loud hurrahs, came Vladimir and the wily Dimitri and the fresh strength of the reserve. They fell upon the wellnigh victorious but exhausted Tartars and drove them back like a whirlwind. Mamai Kan, standing on an ancient burial-mound in the midst of the plain, saw his troops fly by in confusion pursued by the shouting Russians, and in despair he cried aloud,—

"The God of the Christians has won the fight!" A hundred thousand of his men were killed upon the field or drowned in their attempts to swim the stream. Mamai's whole camp, with his chariots and his tents, his horses and his camels, his cattle and his precious treasures of silks and Eastern robes, were the booty of the Russian princes. It was a glorious victory, but St. Sergius's prophecy and the fore-signs given by "mother earth" were fulfilled. A host of brave warriors lay upon the field; a long week the Russians spent in burying their dead. Among the fallen were the two monks of Trinity, one of them fast clasped in the mighty arms of a Kuman giant who had perished with him in a hand-to-hand fight. The Grand Prince for a long time was missing; at last two soldiers found him in a swoon, with his armor bloody and broken, amid a heap of the slain.

As he turned to leave the battle-field Dimitri cried aloud a farewell to the dead:—

"Brothers, nobles, and princes, a place of resting has been found for you between the Don and the Dnieper. on the field of Kulikovo by the river Napriadva. You have your lives for the holy churches, for the Russian soil, for the faith of Christ. Farewell and be blessed! For you all is the eternal crown."

Although the tradition of Tartar supremacy was broken, the Russians were not yet free from their oppressors. A new conqueror appeared at the Horde. Toktamish, of Tamerlane's generals, put Mamai to death, and, revolting from his master, seized the throne of the Kipchak. He then sent a messenger to Dimitri, the hero of the Don, saying,—

"I have triumphed over Mamai, our common foe. Come to do me homage at the Golden Horde."

Dimitri, proud of his last victory, sent back a defiant answer and waited the result. The Kan waited two years, and then marched with an immense host straight upon Moscow.

Dimitri, not aided as before by the other princes, left his capital in the hands of one of his boyars, and hastened to Kostroma to raise an army.

For three days the Tartars besieged the Kreml gate and made their assaults in vain. It was only by a ruse that they managed to surprise the garrison and enter the city. Twenty-four thousand of the citizens perished by the sword; scarcely more than the walls were left standing. After the Tartar army, laden with booty, had scattered through the province, carrying fire and sword to the other cities, Dimitri came back and wept over the ruins of his beautiful capital.

"Our fathers," he cried, "who never triumphed over the Tartars, were less unhappy than we."

Nevertheless he set bravely to work to build his city again, and continued his war with the "Traitor," Oleg, who ravaged the land of Kolomna. Dimitri sacked Riazan, the home of renegades, but at last, by the intercession of St. Sergius, who went in person, a perpetual peace was signed, and Dimitri married his daughter, Sofia, to Oleg's son, Theodore.

Novgorod still resisted Dimitri's authority and refused to obey his Metropolitan. With an army furnished by twenty-five provinces he marched against the commonwealth, and forced it to pay a great sum of money for the ravages of the freebooters, and to promise a yearly tribute.

At the time of Dimitri's death his principality of Moscow was the largest of the Russian states of the North, and Moscow, the capital, was beginning to surpass Vladimir, though that ancient city of Andrew God-loved was quite as well situated. Each had its Kreml-crowned hill and its water-way down the Oka, to the mighty" Mother Volga," which flows in a majestic stream, a thousand meters wide for eight hundred leagues, till it reaches the Caspian by a hundred mouths. To-day Vladimir is a quiet town of fourteen thousand souls, while Moscow is one of the great cities of the world with more than half a million of inhabitants.

In Dimitri's reign the Russians began to trade with the West through the merchants of Genoa and Venice who settled in Azof and Kaffa; silver and copper coins, with the head of a knight, and with Tartar and Slav inscriptions upon them, took the place of marten-skins or the heads and ears of squirrels; cannon began to be used the very year that Dimitri died.

The Stone Belt


In his reign a monk named Stephen went up into the Ural Mountains, "the stone belt" of Russia, and entered the country of the Permians, who lived along the sources of the Kama. There stood the marvellous temple of the god Iumala, which was so richly ornamented with precious stones that it was said to illuminate all the land around. There sat the" Golden Old Woman," holding in her arms her son and grandson, while magical trumpets blew weird sounds. The sturdy missionary overthrew the idols, put the sorcerers to shame, and stopped the sacrifice of reindeer; he built the first church, founded schools, and died the bishop of the land.

An old Russian poem tells how Dimitri of the Don was warned that his death was at hand:—

"In the holy Cathedral of the Assumption St. Cyprian, the Metropolitan, was chanting the mass. Prince Dimitri was there with his Princess Eudoxia, with his princes and •his boyars, with his famous captains.

"Suddenly Prince Dimitri ceased to pray; he fell back against a column. He was rapt away in spirit; the eyes of his soul were opened, he saw a strange vision.

"He sees no longer the candles burn before the holy pictures; he hears no longer the sacred songs. What he sees is the level plain, the battle-field of Kulikovo. It is sown with Christian and with Tartar dead; the Christians are like melted wax, the Tartars are like filthy pitch. Across the field of the Wood-Cocks  walks slowly the Holy Mother of God; behind her the angels of the Lord, the angels and the holy archangels with shining lamps. They sing sacred hymns over the ashes of the heroes who fell in the faith. The Mother of God herself swings the censer, and from heaven descend upon them crowns of amaranth. And the Mother of God asks,—

"'But where is Prince Dimitri?' And the Apostle Peter replies,—

"'Prince Dimitri is in his city of Moskva in the holy Cathedral of the Assumption, where he is hearing the liturgy, he and his Princess Eudoxia and his princes, his boyars, and his famous captains.'

"Then said the Virgin Mother,—

"'Prince Dimitri is not in his place; he must lead the choir of martyrs, and his princess must join my holy band.'

"Then the vision vanished. In the temple the candles shone, on the pictures the precious jewels gleamed. Dimitri awoke; his tears flowed, and he said,—

"'The hour of my death is at hand; soon I shall rest in the tomb and my princess shall take the veil.'"