The Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe, and especially its sudden withdrawal from Hungary in 1242
CE, has generated much speculation and an array of controversial theories. None of them, however, considered multifaceted environmental drivers and the coupled analysis of historical reports and natural archives. Here we investigate annually resolved, absolutely dated and spatially explicit paleoclimatic evidence between 1230 and 1250 CE. Documentary sources and tree-ring chronologies reveal warm and dry summers from 1238–1241, followed by cold and wet conditions in early-1242. Marshy terrain across the Hungarian plain most likely reduced pastureland and decreased mobility, as well as the military e ectiveness of the Mongol cavalry, while despoliation and depopulation ostensibly contributed to widespread famine. These circumstances arguably contributed to the determination of the Mongols to abandon Hungary and return to Russia. While overcoming deterministic and reductionist arguments, our ‘environmental hypothesis’ demonstrates the importance of minor climatic uctuations on major historical events.