The Mongol invasion of Europe

In the winter of 1241 CE, the Mongol armies found themselves in Europe. The immediate reason was that they were in pursuit of the Cumans, a nomadic people whom the Mongols regarded as their subjects. The Cumans had left their regular grazing lands north of the Black Sea and sought refuge in Hungary. The Mongols had insisted that the Hungarian king return them, and when he refused the Mongols came looking for them.

The Mongols had no problems operating during the winter months. Indeed, this was when rivers were frozen and easier for their horses to cross, but winter-warfare was not common in medieval Europe. The Mongols operated with two separate armies –  one in Hungary and one in Poland. Altogether they may have assembled between 100,000 and 150,000 men. Eventually they came as far as the walls of Vienna and they also reached several towns under the control of the Hanseatic League of Baltic Sea merchants. On March 24, 1241, they sacked Krakow in today’s Poland.

After the initial confusion, the Europeans eventually put together a common defense. The Mongols were met by a collection of Polish, Czech and German forces, together with a contingent of chivalric knights sent by the pope. Two battles ensued – at Legnica, Poland, on April 9, 1241, and, in a far larger confrontation, at Mohi, Hungary, two days later. The Europeans were defeated on both occasions. In fact, the European armies seem to have been more or less obliterated. In the summer of 1241, Europe was defenseless against further attacks. But the Mongols did not invade Europe. Europe had large forests which were difficult for their cavalry to penetrate and besides, compared with the prosperous cities of Persia and the Middle East, there was not much for them to loot. Although the Mongols conducted new raids in Poland in 1259, 1286 and 1287, they never again bothered with a large-scale invasion.

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