On November 11, 1480, the so-called “Standing on the Ugra River” took place which put an end to the 200 year-long Tatar-Mongol yoke over the Russian land.
The powerful nomadic Tatar-Mongols tribes took over Russian land at the beginning of the 13th century, from then on systematically robbing and burning villages and towns all across Russia. The Tatar-Mongol khan, the head of the Golden Horde, the Tatar-Mongol state, imposed a heavy tribute on the Russian rulers and had the final say in electing the Grand Prince of Russia. Overall, the Tatar-Mongol yoke had a devastating effect on Russia with long-lasting negative consequences, and ending it meant a huge breakthrough for the Russian state in many respects.
As much as the yoke itself was destructive, the final battle turned out to be just as sensational and somewhat ridiculous. Instead of the carnage one would expect after 200 years of opposition to unwelcome rule, the two armies simply retreated in the opposite directions without firing so much as a single shot. Though seen by many contemporaries as a divine sign, in reality it was nothing but the result of a huge misunderstanding.
By the summer of the 1480, the Russian state had advantages over the weakening and fragmenting Golden Horde. In 1476, the Moscow Grand Prince Ivan III stopped paying tribute to the Khan. In 1480 he refused to any longer consider the Russian state a subject of the Big Horde, the largest portion of the split-up Golden Horde, and tore Khan’s letter of credence and crushed his official stamp. Responding to such insolence, Khan mounted a military campaign in late June of that year.
The two armies met by the Ugra River to the south of Moscow. Ivan III collected all the troops under his banners near Kolomna and returned to Moscow to hold the counsel with his mother and his brothers. While some of his subjects lent him support, others were outraged about him leaving his army alone and mistook his departure as a sign of weakness, thus spreading the rumor that the Grand Prince didn’t have enough courage to confront the Tatar-Mongols and was likely to subdue.
Once Ivan III returned to the Ugra River in October, he located his army on the steep river bank so the mounted Tatars were unable to access them, and had to retreat under the Russian artillery bombardment. Cannon fire was used for the first time by the Russian army and was very successful.
Discouraged and depleted, the Tatar-Mongols stopped their advancement, while Ivan III called a truce in order to try and negotiate with the enemy. Again, some of his subjects questioned his bravery. But the negotiations reached a deadlock, entailing a final battle.
As the cold was settling in, Ivan III, fearing the river would freeze and thereby allow the Tatar horses to cross over, decided to relocate his troops further back, in preparation for the upcoming battle. For the boyars and the generals, already in doubt about their Prince’s fighting spirit, it was the last straw, as they thought the Prince was planning to retreat. As a result, the Russian regiments simply ran away from the battlefield.
On seeing the Russian army running away, the already threatened Khan thought the only reason for such behavior was to lure him and his army into a trap and decided to leave, preferring to pamper himself with one last mass robbery of the neighboring towns and villages. The two armies ran away from each other, with no pursuit from either side, thus ending the 200-year-long Tatar Mongol occupation.