Notes of The Tale of the Rout of Mamai in the Context of the Collective Imagery Concerning the Battle of Kulikovo

in Russian History
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Representations of military exploits are commonly used as “building material” in the post-Soviet reconstruction of collective identities. In the case of medieval battles, the scarcity of sources as well as temporal distance has allowed the production of relatively liberal representations, making them adjustable material for supporting contemporary ideas and power structures. The Battle of Kulikovo provides an illustrative case study. It took place in 1380 between troops commanded by Muscovite Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich and Mongolian Emir Mamai. In Russian national historiography the battle has been considered as a major turning point. One of the most central sources used by national historians has been The Tale of the Rout of Mamai, presumably originally produced at the turn of the 16th century. In this article the text is examined as a reflection of certain contemporary religious-political developments. It can be claimed that the dualistic approach of the text, which emphasizes unified resistance against an external threat, has been applicable in strengthening ideas of internal cohesion in the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, as well as post-Soviet Russia, creating an anachronistically toned basis for the collective imagery concerning the battle.

Notes of The Tale of the Rout of Mamai in the Context of the Collective Imagery Concerning the Battle of Kulikovo

in Russian History




Hubertus Jahn“‘Us’: Russians on Russianness,” National Identity in Russian Cultureed. Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006) 64–65. Elena Hellberg-Hirn Soil and Soul. The Symbolic World of Russianness (Aldershot: Ashgate 1997) 119–23. John Garrard & Carol Garrard Russian Orthodox Resurgent. Faith and Power in the New Russia (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2008) 224–25 240–41.


N. D. KozlovIstoriia Rossii s drevnikh vremen do nashik dnei. (Moskva: Prospekt2011) 91.


 See e. g. Charles Halperin“Text and Textology: Salmina’s dating of the Chronicle Tales about Dmitrii Donskoi,” Slavonic and East European Review 79no. 2 (2001): 253–54.


OstrowskiMuscovy and the Mongols159. According to A. G. Bobrov the presence of Muscovite archbishops in Novgorod ensured the occasional emergence of certain Muscovite tones and interests in the texts produced in the area during the 15th century (Bobrov Novgorodskie letopisi 165–71 249–50).


OstrowskiMuscovy and the Mongols159–61. Pamiatniki Kulikovskogo tsikla 28–29 63–64.


 See e. g. CrummeyFormation of Muscovy192–200. Richard Picchio “The Impact of Ecclesiastic Culture on Old Russian Literary Techniques” Medieval Russian Culture ed. H Birnbaum and M. S. Flier (Berkeley: University of California Press 1984) 251–52. David Miller “The Velikie Minei Chetii and the Stepennaia Kniga of Metropolitan Makarii and the Origins of Russian Consciousness”. fzog 26 (1979): 314–18. Using constructed concepts of medieval and Middle Ages in the context of history of Rus(sia) is somewhat controversial and over-simplifying; however I choose to use them in this article according to Janet Martin’s broad definition which covers years 980–1584 (Janet Martin Medieval Russia 980–1584 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999).


 See e. g. M. A. Salmina“K voprosu o vremeni i obstoiatel’stvakh sozdaniia ‘Skazaniia o Mamaevom poboishche”Trudy Otdela Drevnerusskoi Literatury T. 56(2004): 251–53. Halperin The Tatar Yoke 122–23.


Mari IsoahoImage of Aleksandr Nevskiy in Medieval Russia: Warrior and Saint (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers2006) 35–40. Victor Terras A History of Russian Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press 1991) 23. Jostein Børtnes “The Literature of Old Russia 988–1730” The Cambridge History of Russian Literature ed. Charles A. Moser (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1992) 5 8. The detailed and eloquent narrative may have also owed to “word-braiding” a literary style developed during the 15th century and applied above all to writing Lives of saints. It has been suggested that Epiphanius the Wise the father of the style would have been behind the original versions of Expanded Chronicle Tale. (Boris M. Kloss “Determining the Authorship of the Trinity Chronicle” Medieval Russian Culture vol. II ed. Michael S. Flier and Daniel Rowland (Berkeley: 1994) 57–72).


Salmina“K voprosu o vremeni i obstoiatel’stvakh sozdaniia ‘Skazaniia o Mamaevom poboishche” 255.


HalperinThe Russian Land and Russian Tsar35. About the concept of “Russian land” see 14–15.


Salmina“K voprosu o vremeni i obstoiatel’stvakh sozdaniia ‘Skazaniia o Mamaevom poboishche” 193.


 See e. g. CrummeyFormation of Muscovy199–200.


 See e. g. Janet MartinMedieval Russia 980–1584 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2007) 236.


Serhii PlokhyThe Origins of the Slavic Nations. Premodern Identities in Russia Ukraine and Belarus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2006) 71–75. Halperin “Text and Textology” 258.


Michael CherniavskyTsar & People. Studies in Russian Myths (New York: Random House1969) 25–26. See also Gail Lenhoff The Martyred Princes Boris and Gleb. A Socio-Cultural Study of the Cult and the Texts (Columbus: Slavica 1989) 87 98–99 113.


CrummeyFormation of Muscovy93.


HalperinThe Russian Land and the Russian Tsar26. Meyendorff Byzantium and the Rise of Russia 205.


M. A. Salmina“K voprosu o vremeni i obstoiatel’stvakh sozdaniia ‘Skazaniia o Mamaevom poboishche” 256–57.


Paul BushkovitchReligion and Society in Russia. The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press1992) 19–20. David B. Miller Saint Sergius of Radonezh His Trinity Monastery and the Formation of the Russian Identity (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press 2010) 63–70; 82–83.


MillerSaint Sergius of Radonezh82–85.


MillerSaint Sergius of Radonezh151. See also E. Golubinskii Istoriia russkoi tserkvi period vtoroi moskovskii tom II (Moskva: Imperatorskoe obshchestvo istorii i drevnostei rossiiskikh pri Moskovskom universitete 1900) 610–47.


CrummeyFormation of Muscovy52.


 See e. g. CherniavskyTsar & People24. Mari Isoaho compares the figures of the warrior monks to that of archbishop Turpin in Song of Roland suggesting that all of them represent the image of a warlike Church fighting Islam (Isoaho Image of Aleksandr Nevskiy in Medieval Russia 260–61). Yet another ecclesiastic figure the Archbishop of Kolomna makes his appearance in The Tale (having been mentioned also in the earlier sources). The prominent role of both the town and the archbishop in the text may be partly explained by the fact that Kolomna was one of the southern frontier towns of Muscovy which had constantly suffered from Tatar raids. In the 1520s and 1530s it was fortified for protection against Crimean Tatar invasions (A. B. Mazurov Srednevekovaia Kolomna v XIV-pervoi treti xvi vv.: kompleksnoe issledovanie regionalʹnykh aspektov stanovleniia edinogo Russkogo gosudarstva (Moskva: Aleksandriia 2001) 126–27 153–66).


CrummeyFormation of Muscovy37–40. Halperin The Russian Land and the Russian Tsar 29.


 See e.g. Picchio“The Impact of Ecclesiastic Culture on Old Russian Literary Techniques” 287.


 See e. g. CherniavskyTsar & People13–14.


HalperinThe Russian Land and Russian Tsar31–32. Cherniavsky Tsar & People 26–27.


 See e. g. CherniavskyTsar & People26–27.


IsoahoImage of Aleksandr Nevskiy in Medieval Russia266. Amel’kin and Seleznev however suggest that the name refers to Alexander the Great (Amel’kin and Seleznev Kulikovskaia bitva 47).


 See e. g. David B. Miller“Creating Legitimacy: Ritual, Ideology, and Power in Sixteenth Century Russia,” Russian History/Histoire Russe 21, No. 3 Fall (1994): 313. Simon Franklin, “Russia in Time,” National Identity in Russian Cultureed. Simon Franklin and Emma Widdis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006) 15.


UsachevStepennaia kniga505. Ostrowski Muscovy and the Mongols 166. Miller “Creating Legitimacy” 315. According to David Miller the relative importance of the Battle of Kulikovo in Stepennaia Kniga may also reflect the idea of the “proper” ruling dynasty winning the battle after some attempts by relatives to seize the grand principality of Muscovy thus retaining inner order and marking the origin of resistance to Tatar dominance (Miller “The Velikie Minei Chetii and the Stepennaia Kniga” 361 364–65).


S. L. Peshtich“‘Sinopsis’ kak istoricheskie proizvedenie,” Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury1958 285. Mazour Anatole G. Modern Russian Historiography (Westport: Greenwood Press 1975) 18. It was this version of The Tale that was widely quoted in popular representations of the battle especially during the 19th century (see e. g. L. N. Pushkarev and L. P. Sidorova “Povesti o Kulikovskoi bitve v russkoi lubochnoi kartinke i knizhke XIX-nachala XX veka” Kulikovskaia bitva v literature i iskusstve ed. O. A. Derzhavina A. S. Eleonskaia and A. N. Robinson (Moskva: Izdatel’stvo “Nauka” 1980) 129–30).


 See e. g. John B. DunlopThe Faces of Contemporary Russian Nationalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press1983) 15 218–19.


David LowenthalHeritage Crusade and the Spoils of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2009) 115.


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