BATTLE OF KALKA RIVER 1223
At the beginning of 1223 the head of the western tribal union of Polovetsi
(Kypchaks - Cumans), khan Kotyan, asked for help from prince Mstislav Galitski
against the troops of Ghengis Khan. Mstislav Galitski called for many heroic
deeds. He was successful and called all the princes to assemble to consider the
threat from the Mongols. They assembled in Kiev where the Polovetsi described
how terrible the Mongols were. The princes decided on a joint campaign.
In second half of March the princes started their preparations to conduct the
campaign. The backbone of each princes' forces was his own private druzhina.
The number of members of the druzhina that consisted of their hired mercenary
warriors must have been quite different, from dozens up to 3-5000 troops,
mounted warriors for the very rich princes. The first part of the druzhina was
the heavy cavalry - kopeishchiki (lancers). This part of the druzhina was
called "best" or "elders". The "younger" druzhina
consisted of more lightly armed archers. The warriors belonged in these two
parts were quite different according to their status in the feudal structure.
Besides this the druzhina was divided into two parts, the combat part and the
supply train (oboz ) The combat part was the main striking force of the
detachment of every prince.
The armaments of the druzhiniki consisted of a spear of either the
"steppe" or European type, sword, which did not differ from the
European type, combat axe, bludgeon, spiked mace, shestoper (six flanged mace),
saber, dagger, and knife. After a lot of battles with steppe warriors the use
of bow and arrow spread widely into Russia
The main armor of the warrior was the kolchuga, but in the XIII century almost
all warriors wore over the kolchuga also a pantsir. Pantsir was either of rings
or scales (of Byzantine or west European type) consisting of metal scales
attached to a leather or cloth base or tied together by leather thongs. Also in
use which came from Europe were iron ring stockings or trousers formed of metal
plates on leather. and also different types of knee and shoulder protectors
The shield was large, round or almond shaped. The armament of the warrior was
completed by the helmet with half mask or a metal plate with eye slits (which
were called lichina) that came into use from the end of the XII century in
Europe and Asia.
Besides the druzhina the princes had the ability to appeal to the people
and to assemble from them polki (battles) from the city population. The village
people who were providing supplies for the army rushed to support in case of
These warriors as well as the younger drushina got their armor and weapons from
the prince's or the city arsenal. This armament was not so variable and
consisted mainly of the kolchuga, helmet, sword and spear.
Besides this the troops organized by the prince might be the so called
volunteers which consisted of very different people. They provided their own
At the beginning of April after preparation, the princes began to come to
the assembly place. In this enterprise took part three main groups of Russian
princes. Kievan portion led by grand prince Mstislav Romanovich consisted of
his son, Vsevolod; son-in-law, prince Andrei; and also Svyatoslav Shumski, and
The second group - Chernigovo-Smolenski, led by great prince Chernigovsi,
Mstislav Sviatoslavovich, consisted of troops of prince Oleg Kurski, prince
Putivlski and prince Trubchevski
At head of the third group - the Galitsko-Volinski coalition - was great prince
Galitskii, Mstislav Mstislavovich. His group consisted of troops of Danilo
Romanovich Volinski; Mstislav Yaroslavovich Nemoi; prince of Lutski, prince
Izyaslav Ingvaryevich; and prince of Izyaslav, Vladimirovich Trebovl'ski.
The grand prince of Vladimir-Suzdal, Yuri, did not participate in the
campaign even though many asked him to join in the campaign.
Yuri at that time went on campaign against the Livonian knights and he could
only send the troops of his kinsman Vasili Konstantinovich, prince of Rostov,
but his troops arrived at the battlefield so late that they did not take part
Up the the end of April all troops rallied near the city Zaruba, 50-60 km
below Kiev. The cavalry came on horseback along the river banks and the
infantry by boats on the rivers. The waterways were used to move all the
various supplies and armaments.
Here at the assembly place of the Russian troops the Mongol ambasadors arrived.
The Mongols proposed that the Russians join with them against the Polovetsi and
each would take their spoils from the Polovetsi on the one side or the other.
Bu the Russians did not break their word to the Polovetsi and warriors of Khan
Khotan killed the Mongol ambassadors.
Now the war with Russia, which initially was not in the plan of the
Mongols, according to their custom became inevitable.
The assembly of the Russians was accomplished and by the end of April the
princes transported their forces down the Dnieper; After a few days a second
Mongol embassy arrived, again proposing peace with the Russians. After getting
a new refusal the Mongols said to the Russian princes "If you follow the
advice of the Polovetsi, kill our ambassadors and coming against us - go
against us. But we did not trouble you and only God will make his
The Russian troops began their movement down the right bank of the Dnieper.
On 15 May at the mouth of the River Khortisa the Russian troops assembled The
main part of the Polovetsi troops which mainly consisted of mounted archers
also arrived at this place. Their quivers made from leather or birch bark were
decorated with wooden plates. The richer warriors had sabers, lances with
narrow armour-piercing tips. Their defensive costume consisted of a kolchuga
and scale or plate armor. Polovetsi helmets had a mask having a steel frame
covered by iron plates or pork
The whole number of Russian troops which rallied on the river were about 80 -
100,000 people but only 15-20,000 of them were well armed and skilful warriors.
The next day Mstislav Galitski with part of his druzhina and Polovetsi came to
the other bank of the river and charged against the Mongol outpost. The result
of this enterprise was tremendous. The Mongols fled. Mstislav followed them and
captured the head of the detachment Ghemyabek. He killed him. The day after for
reconnaissance the detachment of Danilo Volinski crossed to the left bank of
the river. They were also successful. Meeting with a small Mongol detachment
they overran the Mongol troops. After returning to base, these leaders without
any trouble convinced the remaining princes to cross the Dnieper and attack the
Mongols. They built a bridge and the troops started to cross the river. This
lasted some days.
A small outpost of Subodai, beginning combat with the Russia troops moved
further and further into the steppe. The Russian troops collected domestic
animals and prisoners so their force became larger and larger. The commander
and chiefs of the Russian troops could not reach a common concept on how to
conduct the battle. All the princes had their own idea about this. This
controdiction among the princes became vivid on the Dniper. Many of them
thought it was no use to cross the Dniper but to conduct the war carefully
without penetrating into the steppe.
Subodai wanted to entice the Russian troops into the steppe.
By very small but active attacks by small groups he damaged the Russian troops.
On 31 May 1223 the united troops reached the Kalka River. After several very
successful clashes with the avantguard of the Mongols, the princes gathered the
council to discuss the problem whether to go further or to stop and take
position for defense. After long discussion of this point with clashes and
contradictions among them, the princes left the council without coming to one
opinion. Prince Mstislav Galitsi crossed the Kalka River and continued his
advance. Later on Mstislav Chernogovski followed him. Then the break between
the separated detachments of the Russian troops was so large that they were
waiting for a long time for this occasion, and gave the signal for a charge.
The marching order for the Mongols consisted of five lines of dzhagunov
(hundreds). The first two of them were made of heavy cavalry of swordsmen
wearing the heavy plate and scale armor. This armor was made from layers of
buff leather with a varnished surface. The durability of this armor was like
iron but much lighter. The head of the warrior was covered by a very light and
solid leather helmet with a very solid back-of-the-head plate which protected
the neck from slashing blows. The peak of the helmet was decorated by a plume
with horsehair or feathers. The quality of the horses of the cavalry were also
well protected. The head of detachments and honorable warriors had metal ring
and plate armor. Very often the Mongols used so called myaki armor with many
layers of cloth or thick fur reinforced by small metal disks. The offensive
weapon consisted of heavy bow. Every warrior had two or three bows and three
quivers full of different arrows. With thirty in each quiver. The Mongols used
different kinds of arrow heads which varied in distance of flight and
penetrating force. There were no equals to the Mongols for sharpening arrows.
Every warrior had a special needle file to sharpen the arrow tips. Besides
the bows the heavy cavalry had curved sabers, lances, sekiri (axe), iron
sticks, long sword, and dagger. In attacking a mounted adversary the Mongols
were very successful using a hoop attacked to the end of the lance, and
javelins. as well as a lasso made from horse hair. The large cavalry, which was
in the three rear lines of battle order, often had no armor and very often used
light armor. They also used kolchuga which the Mongol captured in Central Asia.
Besides bows the light cavalry had sabers and javelins. The very light Mongol
shield, diameter 50-70 cm, was made from flexible twigs woven together which
well protected them from saber slashes. To deflect piercing thrusts in the
center of the shield was a metal boss. Mongols also had small multi- layered
shields covered by leather and a large one which was taken from the middle
As for the detachment of Subedey and Djebe they were much more equiped then the
rest of Mongol troops. Their successful operations in Georgia and Caucasus gave
them the possibility to take armor of high quality from the defeated enemy. So
the number of heavy cavalry in their order of battle was more than usual and
approximately it reached 2/3 of the forces.
The lines of cavalry hundreds were deployed in checkerboard fashion. There
were large intervals between the units. The lines of light cavalry usually
began the battle. They moved through the intervals of the heavy cavalry and
charged the enemy. Firing a hail of arrows, trying to envelop the enemy as much
as possible. If they got resistance or the enemy started a counter attack, the
light cavalry took the rear position and a new attack began with the heavy
cavalry. If they were unsuccessful, they repeated the attack once more trying
to get a victory.
But at that time Subotai changed his tactics. Suddenly the heavy cavalry
attacked the Polovetsi who were following the Mongol outposts. The Mongols
attacked with their whole force. In one moment the Polovetsi were crushed and
overthrown. The troops of prince Danilov were charged by the shouting Mongol
forces. Danilo Romanovich together with voevodas Semen Olyevich and Vasil'ko
Gavrilovich moved forward. Vasilko was struck by the spear and Danilo was
wounded in chest. Mstislav Nemoy threw himself to them for aid but the Mongol
archers bespattered the Volyn troops by arrows. Enveloped on the flanks they
were put to stampede.
Galitski prince Mstislav Uadoloy, beginning to understand what had happened,
ordered to raise the banners and to be ready for battle. Charged by the Mongol
archers the Polovetski troops could not stop and retreated across the Kalka
The troops that had still not crossed the river could not get ready for battle
and were swept away by the wave of cavalry charge. Only prince Oleg who crossed
the river together with the Chernigov troops managed to rush ahead to protect
the Galitski troops and shared with them the sorry lot. Probably this battle
was short. Surrounded by two or three times the number of enemy troops the
Galitski could not fight longer. With heavy losses they began to retreat and
then run away.
The Kievan troops of Mstislav Romanovich observing the battle on the
opposite side of the river managed only to take arms in their hands and
surround themselves with their wagon train when the Mongol troops reached them.
To make a counter attack at such moment was out of the question. The only thing
to be done in this occasion was to start moving back under the shelter of the
wagons. Ordering Tsigirkhan and Teshukhan to besiege the Kievans, Subotai
continued to follow the retreating troops. The Galitski and Volinski troops
were about to reach the crossing of the Dnieper where they had their ships. By
getting in their ships they would be saved from defeat. Mstislav Chernegovski
retreated from the steppe to the north trying to reach his own lands. Mongol
warriors followed him sitting on the tails of his horses and striking and
defeating all the Chernegovski force. Mstislav and his son perished. Smolenski
prince Vladimir was more successful. With the one thousand troops he rallied
about him he rushed to the northwest and more or less successfully defended
himself from the Mongols. He reached the Dnepr and threw off his pursuers.
Meantime surrounded from all sides the Kievans with using frequent sallies
tried to follow to the east but the Mongols did not want to let their last loot
escape. The archers stopped all attempts to escape. The resistance lated three
days. The sallies did not bring success. The Mongol attack became more furious
and the water supply came to an end. Coming back from persuit Subodai decided
to start negociations with Kievans. He proposed for ransom to liberate him and
his troops. There was no other choice for Mstislav and he agreed. But when the
Kievans came out from shelter the Mongols attacked them and killed a lot and
took prisoners of a lot of Kievans. Mstislav and some other princes were
captured. They were tied and thrown under a wooden platform where they were
suffocated by the Mongols partying on top. Thus the Mongols paid back for the
murder of their ambassadors. Having severe losses, the Mongols were forced to
descend down on the left bank of the Volga river and coming to Sarai they moved
further into middle Asia. There on the banks of the Syr Darya River on the
great Kuratai Subodai personally reported to Ghenghis Khan about his long raid.