Kulikovo Field, Russia (1380 AD)
The Battle of Kulikovo was one of the most important battles of the Mongol Wars, and a turning point which marked the beginning of the slow decline of Mongol power in Central Asia. It also made a national hero of Dmitri Ivanovich, the Grand Duke of Moscow, and set the stage for the foundation of the Russian Empire, which would go on to become one of the world’s great powers. The site of the battle, long thought lost, was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 19th century. It is now considered one of the great national military historic sites of Russia.
By the end of the 13th century, virtually all of what is now Russia was under the dominion of the Mongol Empire. While the Mongols had already witnessed military defeats in Japan, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, in the 14th century they had yet to face their match on the European frontier. For nearly a hundred years, the Mongol tribe known as the Golden Horde ruled the lands of Western Russia. But in the 1360s, one of their tribute states, the Moscow, began to grow in power and absorb nearby territories.
After conquering several important rival realms, the Grand Duke sought recognition of his new state from the Mongol Khan, Mamai. Instead, Mamai decided to reassert his power in the region, and the two sides geared up for war. Over the course of several years, the fortunes of war shifted several times. In 1380, Mamai decided to deal with the Rus once and for all, and secured an alliance with several of the Duchy’s enemies.
Dmitri Ivanovich, the Prince of Moscow, rallied his own forces, and launched a preemptive strike against the Mongols and their allies before the armies could link up. The Rus met the Mongols at Kulikovo Field in what is now the Tula District. Other than managing to catch the Mongol armies divided, the fight was fairly conventional by medieval standards.
According to legend, the battle began as a single combat between two of the champions (the one for the Rus sent by none other than Saint Sergius) who subsequently killed each other. A three hour fight then commenced, during which time the Rus, parodying Mongol tactics, managed to hold off the horde long enough to launch a surprise attack at the enemy rear. For the first time on European soil, a Mongol army crumbled, and was virtually slaughtered in its entirety, though the Russians lost nearly a third to a half of their army as well. Although the Mongols later returned and defeated the Rus, the damage was done, and the Mongol aura of invincibility destroyed forever.
The Kulikovo Battlefield, long forgotten, was rediscovered by religious leader and amateur historian Stepan Nechayev in the mid 1800s, and the site was generally accepted as legitimate. A number of monuments have been constructed on the site, most notably a memorial column dating from 1848. Also nearby is the Kulikovo Field Museum with exhibits on the history of the battle.
The battlefield is located in the village of Kulikovo Field in the Tula District, approximately 100 miles south of Moscow. The battlefield is an open site. The memorial column and museum are open year-round 10:00am-4:00pm (longer hours in Summer, closed Tuesdays in Winter). Admission prices were not available. Web: kulpole.ru (official website).