The vast Tatar-Mongol1 empire of Chinghis Khan was created in a remarkably short period. At the beginning of the thirteenth century the nomadic tribes inhabiting the north of what is now Mongolia and the lands around Lake Baykal lacked any form of political cohesion. In 1206, however, a kuriltai^ or gathering of the leaders of the clans, appointed as supreme ruler the head of one of the Mongol tribes, Temuchia, who had brought under his control the dominant tribes of the Tatars, the Keraits, and the Naimans. He was given the name and title of Chinghis Khan. After a period of consolidation and military organization Chinghis Khan began his great campaign against Northern China. Although the war was to continue off and on for twenty years, by 1215 Peking was already in Mongol hands and most of northern China and Manchuria was under Mongol rule. After conquering the Central Asian kingdom of Kara Khitay, the Mongols proceeded to overcome the huge but disunified empire of Muhammed II of Khorezmia comprising the present-day Uzbek, Tadzhik and Turkmen republics, as well as Afghanistan and the greater part of Iran. On reaching Azerbaijan, the westernmost district of Khorezmia, Chinghis’s gen­ erals, Jebe and Subetey, asked the supreme khan’s permission to proceed north and reconnoitre the ‘Western lands’. While Chinghis and his three sons, Juchi, Chaghatay and Ogedey, rounded off their conquest of Khorezmia, Jebe and Subetey crushed Azerbaijan and Georgia and moved into the north Caucasian plain. There, in the second half of 1222, they came up against the ‘Alans’ (i.e. Ossetians) and ‘Kipchaks’ (i.e. nomadic Polovtsians). According to the Arab historian Ibn al-Athir ( 1160™ 1233), although the Ossetians and Polovtsians united to resist the Mongols, they were disunited by a trick - a trick repeated later in 1223 in an unsuccessful attempt to alienate the Russians from the Polovtsians (see below, p. 65): envoys were sent to the Polovtsians bribing them and urging them to abandon the Ossetians on the grounds that the Mon­ gols and Polovtsians were ‘of the same blood’, whereas the Ossetians were of alien stock. It worked, and the Mongols proceeded to rout first the Ossetians and then their ‘blood brothers’ the Polovtsians.2 After taking Sudak (Surozh) on the south coast of the Crimea in early 1223» the Mongols appear to have regrouped in the south-Russian steppes - the Desht-i-Kipchak - before con-

tinning their ‘reconnaissance’ in the ‘Western lands". The Russians, it seems, had no intelligence of the campaigns and conquests

of the armies of Chinghis Khan, or if they had they either ignored it or left it unrecorded. The information that a new enemy had appeared in the southern steppes was brought to Mstislav Mstislavich in Western Galich by his fatherin-law Khan Kotyan, whose nomadic territory was probably dose to the east­ ernmost bend of the Dnepr.3 Within a short time the Russians had suffered their first defeat at the hands of the Tatars.