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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Battle of the Vorskla River in 1399

Nicholas Zharkikh

After writing a few articles about the sources for the campaign of Vytautas at Vorskla I naturally enjoy their fruits, and write the history of this event in the true sense.

Let me remind you:

– the most detailed and competent source is story S1LSI (1418); its later editions of Great-Russian annals and chronicles of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania totally dependent on S1LSI and are not primary sources; Nikon Chronicle gives a historical novel based on S1LSI but crowded own inventions of the late author;

– in German chronicles there are three independent stories, the most meaningful of which – Johann von Posilge; record successor Dietmar von Lubeck is short and little competent, and the annals of Torun even less competent;

– among Polish chronicles only Miechow annals served a brief post regarding current events; in Dlugosz we have a historical novel, which shows the complete incompetence of the author; all subsequent Polish works directly or indirectly dependent on Dlugosz.

Now the work is little: 1, to give account of the events on the basis of reliable sources; 2, reproached those historians who later enjoyed fantasies (they have the same capabilities to identify reliable sources that I am, and if you do not – who do they blame?).


1. Battle of the Vorskla River is relatively well covered in the written sources, created by contemporaries of the events. These sources were written in Moscow, Marienburg and Krakow. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania there was no own memory of this battle has been preserved, its details were borrowed from Moscow, and later – also from Polish historical works.

2. For a campaign led by Vytautas were concentrated large forces of the coalition of Catholic states (Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Teutonic Order, Poland). The march was attended by Orthodox princes – Vytautas vassals, and a detachment from Moldova, but they do not play an independent political role.

3. The aim of the campaign was the assertion Tokhtamysh on the throne of the Golden Horde and its subordination to the authority of Vytautas.

4. Khan Temir Kutlug took seriously the threat and concentrate more power to resist.

5. Defeat Lithuanian army was due to tactical advantage of the Tatars, who were able to properly dispose of their existing forces.

6. Vytautas’ defeat marked the termination of the expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the south, its border has not moved farther south than Cherkassy for all subsequent time (up to 1569). Strategic refusal of military activity has put the Lithuanian ownership on the lands of modern Ukraine in the borderland position, open to the constant attacks of the Tatars.

7. As regard to area of mobilization, coalition forces participating complexity, duration of the campaign (5 months from May to September 1399), this war must be considered very ambitious for its time. For all these indicators, it is significantly higher than the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, and can be compared only to that of the battle of Nikopol 1396.

Kyiv, March 12 – April 11, 2017