The Story of the Great Standoff on the Ugra River

In Spring of 1480, Khan Akhmat of the Great Horde decided to punish Russia for refusing to pay tribute to the Tatars, and set off to attack Moscow. He had reached the Ugra River, a tributary of the Oka River, near Kaluga, where Russian forces were encamped. If the Horde's cavalry could have forced its way across the river, it would only have been three or four crossings before Akhmet's army would be in the capital city. Russian army commanders closed the fords to the Tatars and crossed the river. Battles went on for several days for the Ugra River crossing, and when all attacks had been repelled, the "Standoff on the Ugra" began. This standoff, in the words of the chronicler, was peaceful and quiet. But at that time, all of Russia was praying for the intercession of the Most Pure Mother of God, especially hoping in Her Vladimir icon, which had saved the country from destruction more than once.

Thus, in November, when Prince Ivan III commanded that the Russian forces leave the Ugra for Borovsk, Khan Akhmet thought that they were yielding the banks for a decisive battle, and this frightened him. Thus, he began a hasty retreat. A small Russian Army was sent after the retreating Horde, routing them from the Russian motherland once and for all.

This significant event in Russian history, recorded in the chronicles as "The Story of the Standoff on the Ugra," meant the final collapse of the Tatar-Mongol Yoke. The Russian state became sovereign not only de facto, but also formally.

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Standoff on the Ugra.1480. Miniature from the 16th c. chronicles.
Standoff on the Ugra.1480. Miniature from the 16th c. chronicles.
Word reached the Grand Prince that Tsar Akhmet was advancing with all his forces, with his Horde and princelings, his uhlans and princes, even in collusion with King Casimir [of Poland]—for the king had sent him against the Grand Prince, desiring to crush Christianity.[1] The Grand Prince advanced on Kolomna and stayed at Kolomna, while he sent his son Ivan to Serpukhov, Prince Andrei Vasilievich Menshy to Tarus, and all the other princes and voevodes[2] to other places, with some along the riverbank.

When Tsar Akhmet heard that the Grand Prince was standing at the Oka River, on the bank with all his forces, he went to the Lithuanian land, passing around the Oka River, and waiting for help from the King or his forces, and experienced guides led him to the Ugra River to the fords. The Grand Prince sent his son, his brother and voevode to the Ugra with all their forces, and when they arrived, they stood at the Ugra and occupied the fords and crossings. The Grand Prince himself left Kolomna for Moscow, to the Church of the Savior and the Most Pure Mother of God, to the holy God pleasers, asking for help and protection for Orthodox Christianity, wishing to discuss and think this over with his father, Metropolitan Gerontius, and with his mother, the Grand Princess Martha, and with his uncle, Mikhail Andreyevich, and with his spiritual father, Archbishop Bassian of Rostov, and with his Boyars—for they were all under the siege in Moscow. And they pleaded with him greatly to stand strong for Orthodox Christianity against the infidels.

The Grand Prince heeded their pleas. Having received a blessing, he went to the Ugra, and when he arrived, he stood by Kremenets with a small number of people, and let all the other people go to the Ugra. At that time in Moscow, his mother the Grand Princess, with Metropolitan Gerontius, Archbishop Bassian, and the Abbot of the Holy Trinity [Lavra], Paisius, asked the Grand Prince to reward his brothers. The Prince received their request and asked his mother, the Grand Princess, to send for them, promising to reward them. The Princess sent for them, requesting them to go directly to the Grand Prince to help him quickly.

Meanwhile, the Tsar with all his Tatars went to the Lithuanian land, passing Mtsensk, Liubutsk, and Odoev, and when he arrived, he stood by Vorotynsk, waiting for the King to come to his aide. The King did not come to him and did not send him any forces; he had his own civil wars—Mengli-Girei, the Tsar of Perekop, was fighting at the time for the Polish kingdom, helping the Grand Prince. Akhmet then went to the Ugra with all his forces, wanting to cross the river.

And the Tatars came, began to shoot, while our men shot at them. Some attacked the army of Prince Andrei, many others attacked the Grand Prince, while the third suddenly attacked a voevode. Our men struck many with arrows and harquebus, while the [Tartars'] arrows fell between our men without striking anyone. They were beaten from the banks. They attacked many days, battling, but not conquering, waiting until the river should freeze over. There was a strong frost then, and the river began to freeze. There was fear on both sides—each was afraid of the other. The brothers came then to the Grand Prince, to Kremenets—Prince Andrei and Prince Boris. The Grand Prince received them with love.

When the river froze over, the Grand Prince commanded his son, the Grand Prince, and his brother, Prince Andrei, and all the voevodes with all the forces to come over to him at Kremenets, fearing the Tatars' attack, so that after uniting they might enter into combat with the enemy. In the city of Moscow at that time all were in fear, recalling the inescapable fate of all people, and did not expect help from anyone, only praying constantly with tears and sighing to our Sovereign Savior and Lord God, Jesus Christ, and His Most Pure Mother, the Most Glorious Theotokos. Then a most glorious miracle of the Most Pure Mother of God occurred: when our men pulled back from the riverbank, the Tatars, thinking that the Russians were yielding the banks to them in order to battle with them, fled, overcome by fear. Meanwhile, thinking that the Tatars had crossed the river and were chasing them, our men came to Kremenets. The Grand Prince and his son and brothers and all the voevodes departed to Borovsk, saying, "We shall do battle with them on these fields," but in fact listened evil people—lovers of money, rich and pot-bellied, Christian traitors and pleasers of the infidels—who said, "Run, you cannot do battle with them." The devil himself spoke through their lips—that one who once entered the snake and tempted Adam and Eve. But then the miracle of the Mother of God happened: they both ran away from each other, and no one chased after the other.

The Tsar fled to the Horde, and the Nogai Tsar Ivak came against him, took the Horde, and killed him. Only the tsarevich wanted to take the land around the Oka River, but the Grand Prince sent his brothers, two Andreis; the Tatars heard this and fled. And that is how God and the Most Pure One delivered the Russian land from the infidels. It was very cold then, with a great frost. The [Tatar] Tsar fled on November 2.

On 6989 (1481) the Grand Prince came to Moscow from Borovsk and gave glory to God and the Most Pure Theotokos, saying, "Not an angel, nor a man has saved us, but the Lord Himself has saved us through the prayers of the Most Pure One and all the saints. Amen."

Then, the Grand Prince rewarded his brothers, concluded with them an agreement of Prince Andrei, and Prince Boris, and to Prince Andrei he gave Mozhaisk, and to Prince Boris he yielded his villages; and confirming this agreement by kissing the cross, they dispersed.

That winter, the Grand Princess Sophia returned from her flight, for she had fled to White Lake from the Tatars, although no one was pursuing her. And it was worse for those lands that she traversed than from the Tatars, because of the boyars' lackeys, the bloodsuckers of Christians. Reward them, Lord, according to their deeds and according to the deceit of their actions, the works of their hands. Their women where with them, for they loved women more than the Orthodox Christian Faith and the old churches, where they had been enlightened and begun life in the fonts of holy Baptism; and they agreed to betray Christianity, for they were blinded by their wickedness. But the Most Merciful God did not disdain those created by His hand, He did not disdain the tears of Christians, and had mercy on them according to His mercy and by the prayers of His Most Pure Mother and all the saints. Amen.

We have not written this in order to reproach them, but may not the fools glory in their folly, saying, "We have delivered the Russian land by our weapons", but may they give glory to God and His Most Pure Mother the Theotokos, for He has saved us; and may they reject this folly, and do battle after battle, and bravery after bravery for the sake of Orthodox Christianity against the [works of] infidels, that they may receive mercy from God and praise in this life, and receive incorruptible crowns of our Sovereign God in the Heavenly Kingdom. And may we sinners also receive this through the prayers of the Theotokos. Amen.

O brave, courageous sons of Russia! Labor to save your fatherland, the Russian land, from the faithless. Do not spare your own lives; may not your eyes see the captivity and pillage of your homes, the murder of your children, the violation of your women and children, as other great and glorious lands have suffered from the Turks. I will name them: the Bulgarians, the Serbs, the Greeks, and Trebizond, and Morea, and the Albanians, the Croatians, the Bosnians, and Mangup, and Caffa, and many other lands, which did not find manliness and perished; their fatherland, lands, and state were ruined, and they wander in foreign lands, truly wretched and homeless, weeping much and worthy of tears, reproached and insulted, spat upon for their lack of courage. People who fled with much property, and their wives and children in foreign lands not only lost their gold, but also ruined their souls and bodies, and now envy those who died before them, and were not made to wander in foreign lands, homeless. God knows, I have seen with my own sinful eyes great sovereigns who fled from the Turks with their property, and wandered like wayfarers, asking God for death as a deliverance from these disasters. Spare us Orthodox Christians, O Lord, through the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints. Amen.

Literary monuments of Ancient Russia. Second half of the fifteenth century. From the translation by Y. S. Lurye (Moscow, 1982), 514–521.

Translated by OrthoChristian.com

7/5/2011

[1] The Tatar hordes had accepted Islam by that time, and the Polish King Casimir was Roman Catholic. The Poles had made many attempts to force Russia into accepting Roman Catholicism, but as one can see by the text, the Russians have always considered renouncing their Orthodox faith as tantamount to renouncing Christianity.
[2] A voevode was a medieval Russian knight or army commander.
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