Mordvin (300 - 1500 AD)
A DBA 2.0 Variant Army List

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In most historical atlases of Eastern Europe/Asia in the Dark Ages to early medieval period, you see the areas controlled by the Rus/Early Russian principalities in the west and the Volga Bulgars to the east, with various nomadic tribes controlling the southern steppes in turn. Little mention is given to the vast area that lies between these compass points, which comprises the middle Russian highlands within the broad loop of the Volga River. This area roughly encompasses the modern Russian Republic of Mordovia, which is named for the Finno-Ugaric tribes who populated the region from the earliest recorded histories, and who were were dubbed the Mordens (Mordvin) by the Gothic historian Jordanes writting in the 6th Century AD.

In addition to several smaller tribes (Tengushev, the Teryukhan and the Karatay), there were (are) two large and linguistically distinct Mordvin peoples that branched from common Finno-Urgaric roots -- the Moksha, who settled the Oka-Don lowlands in the west, and the Erzya, who settled the Volga uplands in the east. Modern day Mordvin range from fair-headed, grey-eyed and light skinned to dark with black hair and black eyes. As a point of distinction, Erzya commentators often suggest that Mokshan have rounder faces characteristic of the Tatars and Chuvash. Mordvin women are famous for their very colorful dress, and the Mordvin are also famous for their folk music.

According to Jordanes, in the 3rd Century, the Ostrogoth King Hermanaric "subdued many warlike peoples of the north and made them obey his laws" including the "Mordens", who were forced to pay tribute. In the 8th century, the Erzya were tributaries of the Bulgars who settled in the Volga region (Volga Bulgars). The Erzya and Moksha were mentioned in a 10th century diplomatic message by the Khazar Khagan Joseph. In 1172, the Russian principalities of Suzdal, Ryazan and Murom joined forces to conquer the Mordvin capital at Nizhniy Novgorod. Russian expansionism continued, with Muscovy joining in the land grab. Russian peasants were resettled in the region and the colonized terroritory then annexed by the Russian principalities. The Hungarian monk traveller Julianius (Rubrook) traveled through Mordvinia in 1236 AD, taking note of the "Morduans" who were still very warlike and took human heads as trophies.

In the mid-13th Century, the Mordvin suffered the Mongol conquest as it passed enroute from the Volga Bulgars to Russia, and thereafter fell under the rule of the Golden Horde. Eventually, they allied themselves with the Russian resistance. When the last Kazan Khanate fell in 1552 AD, the Mordvinians were annexed to the newly emerging Russian state without significant resistance.

Army Characteristics

The Mordvin terrain type is classed as "Forest", which is consistent with the Rus, Bulgars and other armies of the region. Aggression is set at 0; although very warlike, the recorded history of the Mordvin is of peoples defending their lands from invaders.

Enemies of the Mordvin include the Volga Bulgars (III/32), the Rus (III/48), the Early Russian (III/78), the Mongols (III/35), and the Golden Horde (IV/47), as well as fellow Mordvin resulting from tribal conflicts.

Mordvin (Ezyra) may ally with Volga Bulgars against Mordvin (Moksha) and Early Russians. The Mordvin (Moksha) may take Rus/Early Russian allies. Mordvin may also ally with Golden Horde (as subject foot).

Army Composition

1x 3Cv or 2Lh (Gen) Mordvin CnC and his retainers.
5x 3Ax Mordvin foot, armed with spears and throwing axes.
5x 3Bw or 2Ps Mordvin archers, equipped with a distinctive flat bow.
1x 3Cv or 2Lh or 3Ax or 2Ps More of the above, to round out the army.

The Mordvin variant list is extrapolated from three DBM army lists in which the Mordvin are listed as allies. In the Volga Bulgar list (III/32), a Mordvin ally general can be fielded as Irr Cv (O), with an additional 2-4 Irr Cv (O), 4-12 Irr Bw (I) or Irr Ps (O) and 4-12 Irr Ax (O). Barker notes that the Mordvin Erza tribe allied with the Bulgars while the Mordvin Moksha tribe sided with the Rus. Despite a shortage of horseflesh and the difficulties of their home terrain, they developed cavalry in emulation of their Steppe neighbors, but were best known for their archers, who used "flat" wooden bows, as well as their foot equipped with spear and throwing axes.

Interestingly enough, Barker doesn't list Mordvin allies on the Rus (III/48) list, but does provide for an allied contingent with the Early Russian list (III/78), which essentially mirrors the Mordvin option in the Volga Bulgar list outlined above. Similarly, Mordvins are not listed in the army of the Mongol Conquest (IV/35) which overran the Volga Bulgars, Mordvinia and most of Rus, but are elements of the Golden Horde, the Mongols who stayed to occupy that region. The Golde Horde can include 2-8 elements of Irr LH (S), which represents Alan, Circassian, Burta, Mordvin or Karbudian cavalry (so presumeably not all 8 elements would be Mordvin).

From these tid-bits, it appears that a Mordvin army would have a small mounted command, with the balance of the army comprised of approximately equal portions of foot (Auxilia) and archers (Bow or Psiloi). I have made the mounted contingent optional as 3Cv or 2Lh to reflect the differences in the Volgar Bulgar/Early Russian vs. the Golden Horde lists, although it is probable that the 2Lh of the Golden Horde represents "Mishars," who are described variously as Mordvin adventurers and/or as a distinct Finno-Ugaric tribe, either of which had mingled with the Tatars around the 8th Century AD or thereafter and absorbed their Steppe lifestyle.

Notes on Miniatures

I have not been able to identify any specific Mordvin ranges or figures in any scale. Rus, Slav and/or Bulgar foot and mounted figures can be employed.  The basic footman with spear and belt axe, with tunic and cloak, can be adapted from various Dark Ages ranges. I am also intrigued by the forthcoming range of Siberian tribal and Tatar figures to be offered by Kremlin Miniatures, in their Conquest of Siberia range.


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Picture:  Mordvin and Chuvash LH in Mike Garcia's Golden Horde army.

Essay by Chris Brantley. Comments, questions or suggested additions
to this page can be sent to the author at IamFanaticus@gmail.com.

Last Updated: 18 Aug. 2006.