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Prince Dmitry Donskoy: Victor of the Battle of Kulikovo, who was the first to bring glory to Rus’ and unite it

12 October 2018

The 668th anniversary of the birth of the legendary commander, Grand Prince of Moscow and Vladimir, Saint Dmitry Donskoy will be celebrated on October 12, 2018.

The future liberator of Russian lands was born into the family of Prince Ivan II of Moscow (Ivan Krasny) in 1350. He was orphaned early - at the age of 9. He was 13 years old when he ascended the Moscow throne. Those were troubled times: the iron-willed Mongol-Tatar yoke seemed unshakable and oppressed Russia severely. “The Historical Word of Praise to Dmitry Donskoy” (1827) by the historian A.V. Kazadayev, which is available on the portal of the Presidential Library, sheds light on those times.

The young ruler of Moscow seemed to be a saviour. People at once noted that he was smart and wise for his age. “Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy, Grand Prince of Moscow” (1823), by the writer and philosopher F. G. Pokrovsky reads that from the early age Dimitry loved God and as a boy he began going to his holy churches. “He was very generous to the poor and willingly gave alms to beggars, showed respect for older people and was always kind to them; avoided useless conversations, bitter mockery  and harmful games; never uttered empty words, particularly those which offended the honor and morals; by any means he avoided the society of evil people. He was righteous - without hypocrisy; fair - without cruelty; generous - without wastefulness; sensible - without vanity. Dimitry was born to rule”.

It goes without saying, that Prince Dmitry was born for military glory as well. As soon as he started to rule Moscow, he faced the need to repel the devastating raids of the Golden Horde: greedy khans demanded larger tribute and were cruel when encountered the slightest resistance. But this time, Khan Mamai faced a worthy enemy. The young prince, however, put off the frontal attack – it was clear that people of Rus’ were not ready for the fight and needed time to get prepared. “It was not the Golden Horde that the struggle against the Tatars was begun with. It seemed that he remained their humble tributary. Nevertheless, he launched several attacks in the neighboring Tatar lands in Kama Bulghar, in Mordovia, etc. Thus, the Russians gradually learned to attack and even subordinate former rulers, the Tatars”, “The Victory of Kulikovo of Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy” (1880) of the Russian historian D. Ilovaysky reads. The digitized book can be found on the portal of the Presidential Library.

The first serious battle with the Horde took place in August 1378. The 50,000 strong Mongol and Tatar army set off on a campaign against the Moscow principality, expecting an easy victory. But the Khan's army and hopes were completely destroyed near Ryazan. The hordes of the oppressor suffered a disastrous defeat by the army of Prince Dmitry Ivanovich. The outcome of the battle is described by I. O. Katayev, the teacher at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy, in the book entitled “Dmitry Donskoy and the Battle of Kulikovo” (1863).

It is worth noting, that it was not just at the battlefield that the young prince of Moscow had good luck. He was happy in the personal life as well. Princess Eudoxia encouraged and strongly supported her husband. The rare book “The Tales of the Russian Land” (1913) reads: “We have seen many virtuous princesses and happy marriages in Ancient Russia, but the marriage of Dmitry Ivanovich of Moscow had a special blessing of God; the young princess Eudoxia was an absolutely exceptional woman in terms of extraordinary godliness, gentleness and deep affection for her husband ... The family happiness gave Dmitry the unbelievable strength to deal with unexpected, complex and extremely threatening circumstances, that occurred during his great reign” .

Meanwhile, Mamai, having licked his wounds after the defeat on the Vozha River, gathered a new many thousand strong army, which this time included mercenaries from Genoa. The Horde ruler was certain that such an impressive army would definitely seize control of Moscow. Prince Dmitry was aware of those plans and understood that it was impossible to defeat the enraged Khan alone - to oppose the enemy it was necessary to join the efforts of princes of the divided Russia. Thus, it was the first attempt made in the ancient Russian history to unite the lands. The above-mentioned book by I. O. Katayev “Dmitry Donskoy and the Battle of Kulikovo” reads that the prince’s attempt succeeded, the troops under the command of Dmitry totaled 200,000 soldiers – an unprecedented number at that time.

And at last the hour struck. The famous battle with the army of the Golden Horde under the command of Mamai took place on September 8, 1380 at the Kulikovo Field, near the Don River. It marked the beginning of the fall of the Mongol-Tatar yoke and after the battle Prince Dmitry Ivanovich became known as Donskoy. During the Battle of Kulikovo he showed great courage and set an example for the entire Russian army. “He took part in the battle, unlike his enemy, Khan Mamai, who watched the battle with his close generals and bodyguards at the top of Krasny Hill, - “The Victory of Kulikovo of Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy” (1880) reads.

The significance of the battle of Kulikovo cannot be overestimated. It was more than just a victory. In fact, the defeat of Mamai outlined a clear course to the final fall of the Golden Horde and unification of the whole Russia. F. G. Pokrovsky notes: “By destroying numerous hordes of Mamai, the Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich called Donskoy, presented to descendants an example and even the way of how Russia could get rid of the shameful and oppressive dominion of the Tatars. Later it remained just a shadow on the horizon of Russia”.

The glory of the Grand Prince has inspired Russian commanders and rulers of our country at all times. The emperor Alexander I was compared with Dmitry Donskoy, the defeat of Napoleon's troops with the victory over Mamai’s army at the Kulikovo Field.

During his 30-year reign, Dmitry Donskoy became famous both as a statesman and a religious leader. He was trying to make the Russian Orthodox Church independent from Constantinople.  The first white-stone Kremlin, Simonov Monastery and Andronikov Monastery of the Saviour were erected in Moscow, and the first silver coin went into circulation during his reign.

Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy died in 1389. He passed the throne on to his son Vasily for the first time without asking the permission of the Golden Horde. In 1988 Dmitry Donskoy was canonized. In 2004 the Russian Orthodox Church established the Order of the Saint Prince Dmitry Donskoy. By tradition, the ships of the Russian Navy are named after him. The armored cruiser Dmitry Donskoy, like the Grand Prince himself, showed firmness and unparalleled courage. The documentary “Dmitry Donskoy Cruiser. To the Glory of the Russian Flag!” (2016) is also available on the portal of the Presidential Library. During the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 the ship fought against ten enemy ships. It hit two of them, but was badly damaged. The crew did not want to surrender to the enemy. Without lowering the flag, the cruiser was sunk in the Sea of ​​Japan near Vladivostok.