By the mid-fourteenth century, the power and influence of the Golden Horde had begun to weaken. Following the deaths of their dynamic leaders, the western Mongol empire became overly involved in succession disputes for nearly twenty years. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania took advantage of the political instability and attacked the Golden Horde in the early 1360’s.
Grand Duke of Lithuania, Algirdas, was responsible for organizing and leading the campaign. His goal was to expand the Duchy southward, especially into Kiev, which was already partially under Lithuanian control. Due to lack of leadership, the Golden Horde was unable to prevent the Lithuanians from reaching its territory near the capital of New Saray. The two armies met near the town of Torhovytsia in modern-day Ukraine.
Few accounts of the actual battle survive, but legend states that the Mongol army formed a semi-circle around the Lithuanian army and pelted them with arrows. The Europeans, however, were armed with spears and swords and easily defeated the Mongols. Lithuania gained a vast amount of land from this battle, including Ukraine, passage to the Black Sea, and the city of Kiev. This victory made Lithuania a serious competitor with its European neighbor, the Duchy of Moscow.
This battle has not been studied as much as other European-Mongol wars. This is partly due to a lack of historical sources. However, the true reason is far more political. Lithuania merged with Poland shortly after this battle, and the Polish government tried to diminish Lithuania’s claim to the land. Only in the last century, when Lithuania regained sovereignty, did Lithuanian historians again begin to emphasize the importance of this victory.
Map of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania after the Battle of Blue Waters. Here you can see the vast amount of territory that the Duchy conquered, and why it became a rival of the neighboring Grand Duchy of Moscow. Image courtesy of M.K.