One of the defining battles of Medieval Russia, Kulikovo was fought on 8 September 1380 on the fields of the Kulikovo Podye near the confluence of the Nepryadva and Don rivers.
The battle traces its origins to a previous battle, fought on 11 August 1378 at the Vozzha river, where the Grand Prince of Moscow decisively defeated a horde lead by Murza Begich. Bolstered by this victory and capitalizing on divisions emerging within the ranks of the Golden Horde, Dmitri Ivanovich, Prince of Moscow and Grand Prince of Vladimir, lent troops to other Russian principalities to repel horde raids on their territories, and was thus able to rally other increasingly confident Russian princes to his banner.
Seeking to revenge the defeat at the Vozzha, the Khan Mamai recruited a large horde in 1380, whose size is estimated between 125,000 and 300,000. In addition to the Mongol horsemen, its ranks included Polovtsy, Khazar Turks, Circassians, Yasses, Armenians and a continent of Genoese mercenaries from the Crimea. They advanced, expecting to be joined en route by additional contingents arranged by advance with Prince Yagailo of Lithuania and Prince Oleg of Ryazan.
The Russian army, estimated from 80,000 to 150,000 strong, marched to the river Don to meet them. Grand Prince Dmitri convened a council of war, and all the princes voted to cross the river and give battle on the open fields beyond. The next morning, the Russians filed across the bridge and into the Kulikovo Podye, where Dmitri arrayed his army in three lines. An outpost regiment was placed in advance across the front of the Russian army. Then the main line was composed of a large central regiment, with smaller regiments covering each flank, their flanks covered by woods in turn. A third line comprising the reserve deployed in the rear in the fields adjacent to the River Neprayadva. Acting on the counsel of his strategist, Dmitri Bodrok, Prince of Volynia, the Grand Prince concealed a picked force of cavalry under Vladimir, Prince of Serpukhov, in the woods adjacent to his left flank, covering his line of retreat.
Arriving on the field, Mamai deployed his horde opposite the Russian front. The battle opened just before noon with a single combat between Alexander Peresvet, a Russian monk, and the Mongol champion Temir-murza (aka Chelubey or Cheli-bey). They charged with lances; both striking killing blows on the first pass. Temir-murza fell from his saddle, while Peresvet's body remained mounted, which the Russians took as a favorable omen for the battle to come.
In the ensuing three hour battle, Mamai pressed home with his superior numbers, overrunning and destroying the Russian advance regiment and striking hard against the main Russian battle line. The Russian line held, giving and taking heavy casualties. Gradually, however, the flanking regiment began to give ground, either due to the heavy Mongol pressure or by prearranged tactic. Seeing the retrograde movement, Mamai committed his reserves and the Russian left wing began to swing backward as if on a hinge. Prince Dmitri committed his reserves to stabilize the flank but they made little headway against the surging Mongol horde. At that key juncture, with the Mongols now attacking the crumbling Russian line from the flank, Prince Vladimir and his elite horsemen emerged from concealment in the wood and fell on the rear of the Mongol columns. Taken by surprise, the Mongols broke and fled. The Russian cavalry pursued until nightfall, killing tens of thousands in flight. His horde effectively destroyed, Mamai escaped only to be poisoned while in exile in Crimea.
The Russian losses were so heavy it reputedly took seven days to gather the bodies for burial. The victory, however, was considered decisive. Grand Prince Dmitri took the moniker Donsky ("of the Don") in honor of the victory. Russian historians marked the battle as a turning point in Russia's struggle with the Horde. Khan Tokhtamysh was able to regroup the Golden Horde, however, and launch a devastating raid into Russia in 1381 that ended only after the Russian princes agreed to resubmit to his suzerainty.
Grand Prince Dmitri Ivanovich of Vladimir with Russian allies (DBA IV/44a with 3Cv option)
Khan Mamai of the Golden Horde (DBA IV/47 with 4Cb option)
Russians deploy first at or behind the line indicated on the map (9 inches from their baseline). One element of Russian cavalry (but not the CnC) can be held off-board and deployed using the special Ambush rules provided.
The Golden Horde deploys next and acts as the invader.
The battle should be fought on a 30" square board. The open gap between the woods should be no more than 20 inches at the narrowest point.
Terrain notes: The rivers represents the conjunction of the Nepryadva and Don rivers. Both rivers are considered difficult. A single bridge across the Don is indicated, near the Russian camp. Green represents areas of bad going forest. The balance of the board is plain good going.
The view of the Kulikovo Polye from across the Don (facing toward the historic battlefield)
Ambush: The Russian commander may designate one element of Cavalry as being deployed in ambush in either one of the two woods on the Russian flanks. The element is placed off table until deployed. The planned deployment location should be recorded on a concealed piece of paper during the deployment phase. The element must be placed on the table if any enemy element moves within 100P of its recorded position. Otherwise, the Russian commander may deploy the element at any point during the game as a 1 PIP move by placing it in good going, with its rear edge adjacent to the wood (at any point along the wood edge.) The Mongol player will thus have a 50% chance of guessing on which side the ambush is placed.
Last Update: 5 December 2005