That year Crimea was subjugated, and Chernigov and Perjaslavl were destroyed. This was the most dominant and prosperous city in Russia at the time, though its power had been waning; it was a hub of trade and fierce rival of Venice.
The Mongols, unlike most of the other steppe peoples, had mastered the art of the siege and assault, and they gave their best to this city.
The country has never been the same since.[iv] And the former Byzantine trading network, now controlled since the Fourth Crusade by Venice, never again had serious competition from the north.
Having now established their supply lines, secured their flanks, expanded their pool of conscripts, and eliminated all potential enemies to the rear, Subotai and Batu moved into Eastern Europe. Europe hung in the balance, on the edge of total destruction – and few of them even realized it. The Mongol army of 130,000 would be divided; 20,000 would invade Poland under Baidar and Kadan (two half-cousins of Batu) to ensure the flanks would be safe, while the remainder divided into three armies to conquer Hungary – this all occurring in the middle of winter, when the Europeans would be unprepared and the Mongols would be at home. The Teutonic Knights and the Polish barons threw aside their extreme dislike for one another to unite against this strange and sudden foe.
There were the Persians who fought the Greeks, and the grandchildren in the United States who defied England and got away with it.
But only once in the whole history of this continent has there been danger of the complete extinction of Western Civilization as we know it.
Europe was fragmented into a number of small kingdoms; furthermore, the one man who could have successfully led a unified army against the Mongols, the brilliant Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, was locked in a deadly power struggle with Pope Gregory IX, and did not pay attention to the invasion on his doorstep.[ii] As the Mongols obliterated one kingdom after another, both Emperor and Pope studiously averted their attention and focused on destroying one another.Such was fate that hung at Europe’s doorstep in 1242, and which was avoided by a hairsbreadth – not by any feat of military valour, but by the unexpected death of the Great Khan Ogedei in Karakorum, five thousand miles away.By 1235, the year when the Mongols decided to invade Europe, the Mongols had already stretched an empire from Persia to China.The Mongols crossed the frozen river Vistula and divided their forces in two, Kadan raiding through Mazovia, and Baidar striking at Krakow.
Baidar came near enough to the city walls for Vladimir, commander of the Polish army, to see them, and then began retreating.
In general, Europeans have had a fairly good record in wars, nearly always winning out over Asia, Africa, and America with only a few exceptions.