On August 26, 1382, the Tatar-Mongol khan Tokhtamysh burned down and savagely ransacked the city of Moscow. The Golden Horde had once again reestablished their authority over Russia and forced payment of tribute.
The attack came two years after the combined Russian armies under the command of Grand Prince of Moscow Dmitry Ivanovich (also known as “Dmitry of the Don” or “Dmitry Donskoy”) defeated the Tatar-Mongol khan Mamai in the bloody battle of Kulikovo field near the Don River. But the new Tatar invasion proved that the union between Russian principalities was not yet so strong.
The new leader of the Golden Horde, Tokhtamysh, launched his own mission to restore suzerainty over Russia, and headed straight for Moscow. The duke of Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod, Dmitry, sent his two sons to Tokhtamysh with gifts acknowledging his subjection to the Horde. The khan also gained cooperation from Oleg of Ryazan and crossed the Oka River approaching Moscow.
When Dmitry Donskoy recognized the lack of forces and absence of unity, he decided to leave his city. Meanwhile, Moscow was well-fortified and able to hold off the approaching enemy long enough for Dmitry to bring back reinforcements from the north.
After the Mongol army violently stormed the city gates for three days and three nights without success, Tokhtamysh took the city by deceit. He proffered peace to the inhabitants, offering to negotiate. When two Russian princes accompanying Tokhtamysh vouched for the integrity of his words, the Muscovites opened the gates to their city. Tokhtamysh’s army fell upon the Muscovites, slaughtering them in the streets and robbing their homes.
When the pillaging had finished, Moscow was set on fire and reduced to ashes. “All at once its beauty perished and its glory disappeared” a chronicler wrote of Moscow after the Tatars were done with it. “Nothing was left except smoking ruins, bare earth and piles of corpses.”
Having returned to his capital, Dmitry Donskoy found nearly twenty five thousand dead bodies scattered in the ruins. Almost the entire population of Moscow was killed that day and thousands more were taken as slaves. Dmitry ordered those bodies still unburied to be interred, for a fee of one ruble for every eighty corpses.
Having captured an important political and army center of Russia, Tokhtamysh directed his army towards Pereyaslavl, Vladimir, Yurev, Zvenigorod and other cities near Moscow. Russia’s dukes were shortly all paying tribute to the Golden Horde’s new ruler. Unable to unite his allies of the Kulikovo campaign behind him again, Dmitry Donskoy submitted as well. Moscow remained part of the Mongol Tatar Empire of the Golden Horde until 1480, and was nominally expected to pay tribute to the Tatar rulers all this time.