chapter  3
29 Pages

The Mongol invasions of 1241–4

There can be little doubt that Europe ranked low in the order ofMongol priorities alongside China; though possibly this impression rests largely on the fact that our sole extant Mongol source, the ‘Secret History’, devotes merely a few vague lines to Batu’s great westward campaign of 1236-42 and confuses it with earlier operations by Sübeïetei.1 Unfortunately, no contemporary sources have come down to us from the Golden Horde – the power Batu founded in the Pontic and Caspian steppe – that might have recorded the expedition.2 But we are not entirely without a more detailed Mongol account of these events. JuwaynÇ, whose informants were presumably Mongols he met during his journey to Mongolia in 1252-3, provides a short section on the campaign against the ‘Keler and Bashgird’, i.e. the Hungarians;3 and RashÇd al-DÇn, who at one point reproduces JuwaynÇ’s data, also later inserts material gleaned from a different (but surely Mongol) source.4 Overall, however, we are dependent on authors from within the Latin world. The most important are the Croatian cleric Thomas, archdeacon of Spalato (Split), whose work was begun between 1245 and 1251 (though not completed until 1266), and Roger of Torre Maggiore, a canon of Várad (Grosswardein; Nagyvárad; now Oradea in Rumania), who wrote in 1243-4.5 But valuable information also emanates from annalists writing in Germany and Poland, and from contemporary letters written in Eastern Europe during the crisis by the Mongols’ victims or in the West by those to whom they appealed for help. Many of these are known only from texts incorporated in the Chronica majora of the English Benedictine Matthew Paris, a problematic source in view of the author’s tendency to insert material of his own fashioning and of his desire to glorify the Western Emperor Frederick II and denigrate the Pope.6 A few additional details can be gleaned from the reports produced in 1247-8 as a result of the papal embassies to the Mongols (see below, chapter 4), notably the ‘Tartar Relation’.