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The Silk Road Series: The Way Across the World Opens

Batu. Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia



This is the story of Russia's Asian past, a story that has relevance for the world we live in today. It is a story that has been lost to the West until now.


Chinggis Khan was the supreme power in Asia during the thirteenth century. Provoked into war by the transgression of Shah Mohammed, the Supreme Khan waged war in Central Asia. He was victorious. The establishment of a khanate in Central Asia ultimtely led to the conquest of Russia. 


Europe at this time was a backwater. It had not recovered from the fall of the Roman Empire, caused by the invasion and the onslaught of the barbarians--Huns, Goths and Visigoths. Capitalism in Europe was still in its infancy. Because of the devastation, the markets were not functioning. Europe was poor. Civilization had suffered. Classical learning had disappeared. China was the most advanced civilization on earth and the Mongols had conquered it. Then they expanded to the West. Russia was in the line of advance.


One of the greatest talents among the successors of the Supreme Khan was Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde. The two century rule of Russia by the descendants of Chinggis Khan (mispronounced Genghis) has been forgotten by the world in modern times, but the Mongol invasion began a momentous period. This book explains the beginning of Russia's Asian past. It is a portrait of the empire that Vladimir Putin is trying to reconstruct. 

The problem with the rule of the Golden Horde in Russia was not that they conquered, but that they did not go away--they ruled for two centuries, until the first of the Romanov czars defeated them and took power. The Romanovs survived until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1927. Then the USSR remained in power until 1991. This is Russian history in a nutshell.


Before the coming of the Mongols, the Russians elected their princes. The government was not as centralized nor as authoritarian. A look at the past is important because we live with the consequences today.

Batu Khan, a grandson of Chinggis Khan, was the senior prince of the imperial family. He ruled the Russian Khanate, the attack wing of the Empire. Russia was rich, with furs, timber, and luxury goods, such as gems from East Asia. Batu was growing fabulously wealthy from taxing the East-West trade. This was the true business of the Mongol Empire.

From his vast camp on the Lower Volga River, Batu Khan mounted an invasion of Europe. The European princes were squabbling and fighting among themselves and were no match for the greatest army of the Middle Ages. The crowned heads of Europe knew nothing of the rise of a new great power in Asia. They were too busy fighting Saracens in the Middle East during the Crusades.

Only the death of the Supreme Khan Ogodei, Genghis Khan's successor, saved Europe. The Mongol Army withdrew from Europe and returned to the East for the election of a new Great Khan. Thus the trouble started.

From his camp on the steppes of the lower Volga, Batu Khan kept his army strong in nomad ways, hunting and training. His army had Mongol troops, but was also composed of troops conscripted from the conquests in Persia, Turkey and Russia.

The army was superbly equipped and each man had five remounts. His horse depot was said to contain a million horses.

He was growing rich from taxing the caravan traffic and the trade of the Europeans and others who had emporia on the Black Sea. He did not want interference in his khanate and he was about to get war from his cousin Guyug. So Guyug had to go.

Batu wanted decent management of the empire, and Guyug was a about to wage war on Batu. He was a spendthrift who delegated the power of the seal of state to those sycophants who had supported him in his election. He wanted Batu's revenues.

Batu decided that he had broken the Code of Chinggis Khan and was unfit for rule. So he decided to put his candidate on the throne.

He conspired with the most remarkable woman of her age, the Princess Sorghagtani. Together they her sons on the throne.

This is was a coup d'etat, a momentous change of rulers. We live with the consequences of this plot today, though these events occurred eight centuries ago.

This campaign struck fear into the hearts of the rulers of Europe. Why has it been forgotten?  My book Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde: The Mongol Khans Conquer Russia explains it all for the reader.

This is a fascinating story about power, greed, betrayal, conspiracy and romance. It is a meditation on the nature of rule, a story for our time.



Advance praise for Batu Khan:


To understand Russia today, we must understand the Mongol conquest and rule, and to understand the Mongol conquest and rule, we must understand Batu Khan.  Famous in Russian history, but little known in the West, Chinggis Khan's grandson Batu Khan's influence lingers in Russian government, culture, and psychology even now.  Diane Wolff brings him alive and introduces this neglected world figure to us.

Jack Weatherford

 author of Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World


Diane Wolff writes well and convincingly, capturing the epic sweep of a fascinating if all too neglected history and presenting it in compelling fashion to a larger audience


Jonathan Addleton, former US Ambassador to Mongolia

Author of Mongolia and the United Stares: A Diplomatic History


This is the story from the other side.


Olga Andreyeva Carlisle,

Author of Solzhenitzyn and the Innter Circle



Taifun: Khubilai Khan Invades Japan by Sea

Why had a man born to the horse taken to the sea? Khubilai Khan was the Emperor of Heaven. He was the first man to sit on the Dragon Throne and rule over all of China in 400 years. He had sent the general out to conquer the south and unify China, and he was the most powerful sovereign in Asia. He ruled over a magnificent court. He was wealthy beyond description. And yet, he was not satisfied.

This is the story told in "Taifun" when a kamikaze or Divine Wind saved Japan from the Mongol fleet of 2300 war junks. Not once, but twice.

Khubilai Khan became obsessed with invading Japan by sea. He tried twice and failed both times and the failure destroyed him.

He was like a character out of Shakespear, King Lear, a man undone. The failure to have Japan submit to him as a vassal, as it had to the greatest emperor of Tang, was a major factor in his descent into depression, alcoholism and obesity.

An Offer He Couldn't Refuse: A Man of Letters in a Military Government

After the fall of the Tang Dynasty in the tenth century, for four hundred years, foreign dynasties ruled North China. Some of the dynasties were Han Chinese and some were conquest dynasties. The North remained divided and a Han Chinese dynasty ruled south of the Yangzi River.

The Tang was rich, powerful and cosmopolitan, the most advanced civilization of its time. It was ruled by the military families of North China. It fell because the feudal military families that ran the country could not protect the frontier against invaders, mounted nomad warriors from beyond the Great Wall.

The alien dynasties of the North were not civilized in the consideration of the Han Chinese who wrote the histories. They had no knowledge of Chinese literature, they did not govern according to moral principles enshrined in the Confucian classics, and they did not live in fixed cities. The Jin and the Mongols who conquered them were nomads, herders of horses and other animals, who lived in white felt tents. The Mongols migrated across the vast grasslands of the steppes with the seasons. When the Arctic winds blew down from Siberia, they migrated to warmer weather at Lake Baikal. In summer, they returned to their native pastures in the Valley of Two Rivers, the best pasture in the steppes. Their life was a life of mobility.

The Emperors of the Jin Dynasty had been established as the rulers of Northeast China for a century when Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan) came to power in the steppes. The Jin were of nomad stock, Manchus. They had wild tigers roaming in the palace and dancing girls gyrating, holding up mirrors to the faces of the courtiers that they might observe the slack look of lust upon their own faces.

Before Teumujin, as Chinggis KHan was known in his youth, came to power, the steppes were a seething hotbed of tribal wars over bride theft, horse theft and other crimes. After overcoming setbacks in a difficult youth, including the betrayal of trusted allies, Chinggis Khan unified the warring tribes of the steppes, proclaimed a nation, and gave his people a Code of Laws. He created a government and gave them a written language, based on the Uighur script. He built a network of roads to carry information to him from all corners of his domains. He created a system of distribution of booty from senior officers through the ranks of junior officers down to the individuals who made up the camp of his followers. 


He was a vassal of the Jin, and fought a war against the Tatar tribe for the Jin Emperor. He paid tribute and he performed the ritual ke-tou, the knocking of the forehead on the ground. He accepted a title from the Jin Emperor, Pacifier of the North. Until one day, he broke with the Emperor, refused to pay tribute and perform the ke-tou, and de3clared a war of national revenge against the Jin, for meddling in the affairs of the steppes for generations.  

This was Chinese foreign policy, taking one tribe as a vassal and fomenting war on the others. When one tribe became too powerful, the Jin switched vassals. The strategy was called "using barbarians to check barbarians."


Chinggis Khan declared a war of national vengeance against China for causing the death of a Mongol king, and for being responsible for the power of the Tatar, who murdered his father, leaving him abandoned, with the loss of his birthright.

This book tells the story of the China campaign, beginning with taking 120,000 troops across the Gobi Desert for an invasion force. This was one of the most staggering feats in military history. As my professor of Chinese history told his class,  the Chinese histories consider the Mongol period a Dark Age. The question is, Why? Here is the story, the opening chapter in the first period of global history. 

The question is: if Chinggis Khan was such a barbarian, why did Chinese generals and officials defect to his side? How could a mere barbarian conquer the most advanced civilization on earth?

He was fond of saying that a man's greatest pleasure was to drive his enemies before him, to take what was theirs and to hold in his arms the loveliest of their women. In his Maxims, he states that his sons and heirs would forget that they owed everything to him.

He was not an educated man, but he surrounded himself by educated men. He even recruited a former official in the highest body of the fallen Jin emperor to become the principal statesman in his own government. This was Yeh-lu Chu-tsai.


Chancellor Yeh-lu witnessed the horrors of the fall, and he went to a Buddhist monastery to meditate. Chinggis Khan sent envoys and summoned him, requesting that he bring the Seal of State.

As a high official in the government of the defeated dynasty, Yeh-lu thought he was to be executed. Instead, Chinggis Khan offered him the post of Secretary, Physician and Astrologer. 

Yeh-lu was a man of letters in a military government. He was fond of saying, "The empire may have been won on horseback, but it cannot be governed from horseback."

It might be said that he saved Chinese civilization, for the Mongol generals wanted to raze all of North China and turn it into pasture for their horses. That didn't happen.

Il-Khan: Why Hulegu Khan Destroyed the Caliphate

In the year 1258, Hulegu Khan, the younger brother of the Emperor Mongke, acted on imperial orders and toppled the Muslim centers of power in the Middle East.

Prince Hulegu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate headquartered in Baghdad.

He rode on Baghdad after destroying the mountain fortresses of the Order of the Assassins, which had been set up all over Iran and Syria. The Shia sect was created in response to the Crusades, and they meant to purify the faith, removing corrupt leaders throughout the Muslim world. The orthodox Sunni regarded the Assassins as heretics and thugs because they were committing murders for hire all over the Muslim world.

Twice a caliph had requested help in ridding the Muslim world of the Assassins and twice Mongol Emperors had declined to enter the Muslim world and become involved in a matter between the branches of Islam.

Why did the Mongol Emperor send his younger brother Hulegu to deliver Orders of Submission to the Caliph of Baghdad? Why did Mongke give Hulegu a decree ordering him to destroy the Assassins? That is the story of this volume.

A new power had risen in the East and it tolerated no insubordination, even from the Muslim Caliphate. The caliph was the pope and emperor of the Muslim world. The caliph acted as the supreme power of the Sunni government. It was headquartered in Baghdad and had been ruling for five hundred years in Baghdad. The city was at the meeting point of the overland Silk Road and the maritime Silk Road. It was a thriving center of commerce, learning and culture. It had had a glorious history, but had been on the decline for a century. Invaders from the Muslim world had come to the gates of Baghdad four times. Arabs, Persians and Turks all had attempted to conquer the caliphate.

The Order of the Assassins were the rival Shia center of power. This was a breakaway sect whose proper name was the Ismailis. They had tried but had been unsuccessful in establishing a rival caliphate in Egypt. Forced to leave Egypt, they took up residence in forts all over Iran and Syria.

Their ruler was the Old Man of the Mountain. This was a New Preaching. They were trying to rid the Muslim world of corruption, mostly by eliminating corrupt Muslim leaders. They had been committing murders for hire all over the Muslim world and the orthodox Sunni caliph wished to be rid of them. The Assassins were considered heretics.

The Assassins tried to kill the Emperor Mongke on his accession to the throne. The Caliph poached lands the Mongols had conquered in their invasion of Russia. The new Emperor was a war hero of the Russian Campaign. His grandfather was Genghis Khan. He was the supreme power in the medieval world and his empire stretched from the Sea of Japan to the Danube. He would not allow any challenge to his throne.

Hulegu destroyed them both and founded the Persian Khanate. He himself was Christian, but his sons converted to Islam and were among the greatest rulers of Islam. How did this happen?

Hulegu did not ride against the Muslims because they were Muslims. The Mongol Empire had been a friend and protector of Islam from the time of its founding.

Hulegu Khan rode against the Caliph and the Old Man of the Mountain for political and financial reasons. The Mongol Empire was the lone superpower of the Middle Ages.

Batu the Khan of Russia, Hulegu's cousin, thought that the twin power centers of Islam would plunge the whole region into war. The result would be the disruption of trade that was making Batu fabulously wealthy.

It was one of the most momentous events of the Middle Ages and even though it echoes down to us from the pulpits of mosques all over the region down to the present day, it has been forgotten to history. This is the story.

It was said that the Tigris and the Euphrates ran red with blood and black from the ink of the thousands of volumes pitched into the rivers from the great libraries of Baghdad.

Diplomat: The Woman Who Saved Europe

She was Chinggis Khan's favorite daughter-in-law. The Supreme Khan had arranged her marriage to his youngest son, Tolui Khan. A gifted diplomat in a culture that prized the advice of women, she who knew how to manipulate the most important families, to engineer a coup d'etat and put her sons on the throne. She took the throne from the weakest successors of Chinggis Khan and set her own sons, able and talented men, at the head of the empire.

As the niece of the most powerful khan in the steppes, Princess Sorghagtani was no stranger to political intrigue. Her youth was a time when tribal warfare turned the steppes into a seething cauldron of violence and a struggle for supremacy. Horse theft, bride theft, many were the causes of war.

Then the man who was to become the most powerful sovereign in Asia, her father-in-law Chinggis Khan, founded the vast empire that ruled from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. He issued a code of laws that brought peace for a century.

The designated successor of Chinggis Khan was a liberal ruler, but not a wise one. The empire was becoming bankrupt. He died and his son inherited the throne. The son was worse than the father. Her sons were the best of men, with intelligence and ability.

She was renowned for upholding the law when the nobility who ruled the central government spent their days violating the law. She was upright and was the most admired woman of her age, not only among the Mongol nobility but also by the Europeans at court, sent to spy on what type of threat the barbarians were for the West.

She watched her father-in-law build the empire and she watched the designated heir destroy it. Her husband had fought alongside The Conqueror in all the battles. Her sons were good men. She had reason to believe that she was entitled to put an end to the destruction.

Sorghagtani could not stand to watch the ruin. She made an alliance with the Khan of Russia, the great Batu, that put her sons on the throne.

How did she do it? Mongol women had more status and freedom than the women of China, or of Greece or Rome, for that matter. While the royal women of China were not allowed to own property and did not ride horses, Sorghagtani did both. She owned property. She was the counselor to khans.

This is why John of Plano Carpini, the envoy of the Pope of Rome to the Mongol court called her the most remarkable woman of her age.

Marco Polo's World

An Excerpt from Batu, Khan of the Golden Horde

Chinese Writing: An Introduction

This work explores the oldest picture-language in the world in narrative and photographs for young readers. It shows how Chinese artists, through the medium of the brush, have captured in their writing the abstract beauty of the line and the energy of nature. Gives an understanding of the art as well as a how-to guild.

Illustrated with photographs from the collection of the modern Chinese painting master, C. C. Wang.

Winner American Library Association Most Notable Book Award, in the year of its publication.

For students and young readers everywhere, as Chinese is widely studied as a foreign language in American high schools. Also for interior design professionals who wish to get a quick but authoritative illustration of the four major styles of Chinese calligraphy with images from masterpieces from the collection of a modern Chinese painting master. BY POPULAR DEMAND, download the original version here.

Diane Wolff Chinese Writing Book (1.91 MB)

Diane Wolff Chinese Writing Book