It’s impossible not to marvel at Russian resiliency. For 1,000 years Russia has survived in one form or another. Though even a quick review of its military history raises one important question: how?

10The Battle Of Kalka River
1223

Russia’s historical predecessor was a state—really more of a loose confederation of princes—known as Kievan Rus, centered around what is now Kiev, Ukraine.

During the early 1220s, the Mongols expanded rapidly westward towards Russia, rolling over the smaller kingdoms in their way.

Remnants of those kingdoms sought aid from the Russians and described the growing Mongol threat.

Shortly thereafter, Mongol ambassadors arrived at the Russian court seeking a peaceful accord. The Russians responded by killing the Mongol messengers.

Not realizing just what they were dealing with, the Russian princes assembled what they thought was a formidable army capable of stopping the Mongols.

And their first battle was actually an overwhelming success, putting the invaders on the run.

Worried that the war would end before they got to kill some Mongols themselves, the Russian nobility began a reckless pursuit of the retreating army.

For nine days, they chased the enemy horsemen—who led their pursuers right into the heart of the main Mongol army, which had been lying in wait the whole time.

The overconfident, disorganized Russian army was no match for their ambushers. When one of the leading Russian princes surrendered, the Mongols gladly accepted, then slaughtered him and his army.

As for the captured nobility, the Mongols buried them alive under the floor of their mess tent, then had a feast on top of the vanquished.

The centuries-old Kievan Rus never recovered from the dramatic loss of manpower and rapidly disintegrated in the decades which followed.

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