In the centuries-old history of the confrontation between Russia and the Steppe, a special place is occupied by the long, confusing and extremely contradictory relationship of our ancestors with the nomadic people, who entered Russian chronicles under the name of the Polovtsy. The Russian princes not only fought with them. There were also periods when they not only fought, but also became related and even went on joint campaigns against, as they say today, “third parties”. With whom and when did the Russians and Polovtsians fight shoulder to shoulder?
First of all, it is worth remembering that the appearance of this tribe on Russian territory is attributed to the year 1055 in the chronicle sources. Then everything worked out: the Pereyaslavl prince Vsevolod Yaroslavovich and the Polovtsian khan Bogush dispersed peacefully, patting each other on the shoulders and even exchanging “souvenirs”. Problems with the aliens began a little later and very quickly took on a serious scale – at first the same Vsevolod suffered a defeat from them, and his principality became the object of plundering, and already in 1068 the Polovtsian hordes defeated the united army of the sons of Yaroslav the Wise on the Alta River.
It was after this tragic event that the steppe dwellers, to put it simply, became insolent to the limit and began to go to the Russian lands for prey and regularly. As a rule, these raids were quite successful: the Polovtsians were quite good warriors, and go and follow the nomads, like the wind blowing from the steppe and dissolving in it with the loot.
Moreover, after the death of Yaroslav the Wise, with the beginning of a series of princely feuds that engulfed Russia, the Polovtsians began to play the role of mercenary detachments, which certain contenders for power from among the Yaroslavichs and their relatives attracted to the ranks of their troops. The dubious glory of leadership in this matter is attributed to Oleg Svyatoslavich, who decided, while his uncles Izyaslav, Svyatoslav and Vsevolod were dividing the principalities, to snatch a piece of power for himself. Later, this turned into a normal and almost generally accepted practice – it was with the military help of the Polovtsians that the relatives were expelled from Murom Izyaslav Vladimirovich, and from Chernigov – Vladimir Monomakh.
It was this prince who later became the one who managed to give a shortcut to nomads who were too presumptuous and too much into the taste of more than a kind of participation in Russian politics. As a rule, the payment for bringing them into hostilities was the right to surrender the captured cities to fire and sword, and the Polovtsian khans were already looking closely at our lands with a very specific interest – for settling on them. An end to such plans and generally free raids on Russia was put by the joint actions of the princes undertaken at the initiative of Monomakh, who switched from passive attempts to repel raids to active defense. That is, for campaigns in the Polovtsian steppes and battles against the enemy in nomadic camps.
When such expeditions were undertaken in an orderly and thoughtful manner, they were invariably crowned with success. How the attempts of individual amateur performance ended, tells the well-known to all of us “The Lay of Igor’s Campaign.” However, the events described in this work date back to times much later, when the nomads driven back by Vladimir after his death cheered up and again began to torment Russia with their raids. Even the fact that by this time many of her princely families had blood ties with the Polovtsy did not even help – Monomakh’s two sons were married to the steppe “princesses”, daughters and granddaughters of the khans. There were other similar precedents.
There are also known cases in history when the Polovtsians acted as allies of the Russian princes not in internal “showdowns”, but in repelling external aggression. The most striking among them can be considered the battle on the Vagra River in the vicinity of Przemysl, in which the warriors of the grandson of Yaroslav the Wise David Igorevich, shoulder to shoulder with the warriors of the Polovtsian Khan Bonyak, defeated the army of the Hungarian King Kalman I Knizhnik, many times superior to them. At the same time, good ingenuity and coherence of different detachments were shown: fifty Polovtsians, showered with arrows on the Hungarians, drove them to such a frenzy that they rushed to pursue the enemy headlong, as soon as they began a pre-planned “retreat”. Ultimately, this maneuver led the royal warriors into an ambush, lurking in a narrow gorge, where numerical superiority no longer played any role. The losses of the Hungarian “expeditionary corps” in the battle, which resulted in mass exodus and carnage, were terrible and for a long time discouraged the desire to go to Russia.
According to many researchers, it was precisely the fairly close military-political alliance of the Polovtsy and some Russian princes that had developed by the 13th century that brought the latter to the banks of the Kalka, in the battle in which they, who had not yet encountered the Mongol conquerors moving from the East, entered to support their Polovtsian associates and relatives. Some, by virtue of this, even try to blame the Polovtsians for the ensuing enemy invasion. It is doubtful enough: it is unlikely that the hordes of Batu would have bypassed the richest lands of Russia, which lay in their way. However, this is a completely different story. The main thing is that the Russian people survived the confrontation with the Golden Horde. But the Polovtsian – no … Although the Polovtsian assimilation is also a separate issue.