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5-03-2015, 20:53

Art and Culture in Mongol Russia

The khans of the Golden Horde did not inherit the same rich cultures that existed in China and Persia. In many ways, they remained truer to their native Mongol culture. Still, historians believe they did promote some arts and sciences, though the historical evidence is weak.

In Russia, major support for the arts came from the Russian Orthodox Church. The Mongol policy of religious tolerance helped the church thrive, and it was able to build churches and commission religious artwork. The most common form of art was the icon, a painting on wood of saints and other holy figures. People kept icons in their homes and considered them holy objects. Icons were powerful symbols of the importance of the Christian faith, especially among uneducated peasants who could not read the Bible. Although icon painting developed centuries earlier in the Byzantine Empire, icons became more common during the Mongol era, especially in the cities of Novgorod and Moscow. During the first years of Mongol conquest, icon painting suffered. When the Mongols ended their attacks and simply collected tribute, the art form regained strength.

The Russian Orthodox Church also shaped musical development in Russia. The introduction of Christianity brought chanting, a form of sung prayer. The Russians combined Byzantine chanting traditions with their own folk songs, creating what was called znamenny chant. This musical form survived through the Mongol era, although written records of the

Chants did not.

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Chant Today

In recent decades, some Western music fans have become interested in the religious chants of medieval times, recorded by modern singers. Although znamenny chant eventually lost popularity among most Russians, some featuring traditional Orthodox Church music have been recorded on CDs. Orthodox chant has also inspired a number of modern composers, including John Tavener (b. 1944). A British composer who was received into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977, he studied znamenny chant and uses elements of it in his music.

Russian literature during the Mongol period was mostly limited to chronicles. These recorded historical events of the city-states that emerged before and during the Golden Horde’s rule. But the chronicles also had elements of myth or fable, so they cannot always be trusted as true history. Most of the chronicles focused on religious and political events and ideas, trying to build pride in the Orthodox Church and local leaders. The Mongols, not surprisingly, begin to appear in the chronicles after the first Mongol invasions, though at times the authors.