Battle of Kulikovo

The Battle of Kulikovo – also known as the Slaughter of Mamai – was fought on 8 September 1380. The battle was named after the meadowland lying between the rivers Don, Neryadova and Krasivaya Mech in the south-west of modern-day Tula Region.

The Russian forces were commanded by Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich of Moscow and Vladimir. The Tatar-Mongol hordes were led by Mamai. The forces were more or less equal, with 100,000 to 150,000 men on each side.

The two armies clashed on 8 September – the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin. Before the battle began, the Russian forces prayed to the holy icon of Our Lady of the Don, vowing to fight to the end.

Although Prince Dmitry managed to defeat and scatter Mamai’s army, the Russians also suffered heavy losses. When Mamai’s successor, Tokhtamysh, attacked Moscow in 1382, there was no one left to defend the city. Tokhtamysh sacked the city and forced Rus to pay a large tribute.

On the feast-day of St Demetrios of Soluneia, patron saint of soldiers, St Sergius of Radonezh performed a special mass in memory of those killed at the Battle of Kulikovo. Every year, on 8 November, the Russian Orthodox Church holds a special religious event called St Demetrios Parental-Ancestors Sabbath in commemoration of those who died fighting the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo.

St Sergius of Radonezh contributed to the Russian victory at the Battle of Kulikovo, supporting Prince Dmitry with his advice and prayers. He called on all the Russian princes to submit to the command of the grand prince of Moscow. Before setting off for Kulikovo, Prince Dmitry visited Sergius to receive his blessing. The saint prophesied his victory and survival.

Approaching the River Don, Dmitry hesitated, unsure whether or not to cross the river. He took the decision to cross upon receipt of a letter from St Sergius, urging him to attack the Tatars as quickly as possible. In 1389, the prince asked the saint to countersign his spiritual testament, establishing a new order of inheritance whereby the throne passed to the sovereign’s eldest son.

St Sergius of Radonezh was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1452. Prince Dmitry became known as “Dmitry Donskoi” (“of the Don”) in honour of his victory at the Battle of Kulikovo. During his reign, Moscow emerged as the leading Russian princedom. When he died, he passed the throne to Basil I – for the first time without the sanction of the Golden Horde.

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