Cossacks (Ukrainian: козаки́, kozaky, Russian: казаки́,
kazaki, Belarusian: казакi, Polish: kozacy, Czecho-Slovak:
kozáci, Hungarian: kozákok) were a group of predominantly East
Slavic-speaking people who became known as members of democratic,
self-governing, semi-military communities, predominantly located in
Southern Russia and in South-Eastern Ukraine. They inhabited
sparsely populated areas and islands in the lower Dnieper, Don,
Terek and Ural river basins and played an important role in the
historical and cultural development of both
Ukraine and Russia.
The origins of the first
Cossacks are disputed, though the 1710
Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk
Constitution of Pylyp Orlyk claimed
Khazar origin.[nb 1] The emergence
Cossacks is dated to the 14th or 15th centuries, when two connected
groups emerged, the
Zaporozhian Sich of the
Dnieper and the Don
Cossack Host.[nb 2]
Zaporizhian Sich were a vassal people of Poland–Lithuania during
feudal times. Under increasing pressure from the Polish–Lithuanian
Commonwealth, in the mid-17th century the Sich declared an independent
Cossack Hetmanate, initiated by a rebellion under Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654) brought most of the
Ukrainian Cossack state under Russian rule. The Sich with its lands
became an autonomous region under the Russian-Polish protectorate.
Don Cossack Host, which had been established by the 16th
century, allied with the
Tsardom of Russia. Together they began a
systematic conquest and colonisation of lands in order to secure the
borders on the Volga, the whole of
and the Yaik (Ural) and the Terek Rivers. Cossack communities had
developed along the latter two rivers well before the arrival of the
By the 18th century Cossack hosts in the
Russian Empire occupied
effective buffer zones on its borders. The expansionist ambitions of
the Empire relied on ensuring the loyalty of Cossacks, which caused
tension given their traditional exercise of freedom, democracy,
self-rule, and independence.
Cossacks such as Stenka Razin, Kondraty
Ivan Mazepa and
Yemelyan Pugachev led major anti-imperial
wars and revolutions in the Empire in order to abolish slavery and
odious bureaucracy and to maintain independence. The empire responded
with ruthless executions and tortures, the destruction of the western
part of the
Don Cossack Host
Don Cossack Host during the
Bulavin Rebellion in
1707–08, the destruction of
Baturyn after Mazepa's rebellion in
1708,[nb 3] and the formal dissolution of the Lower Dnieper
Zaporozhian Host in 1775, after Pugachev's Rebellion.[nb 4]
By the end of the 18th century Cossack nations had been transformed
into a special military estate (Sosloviye), "a military class".[nb 5]
Similar to the knights of medieval Europe in feudal times or the
tribal Roman auxiliaries, the
Cossacks came to military service having
to obtain charger horses, arms and supplies at their own expense. The
government provided only firearms and supplies for them.[nb 6] Cossack
service was considered the most rigorous one.
Because of their military tradition, Cossack forces played an
important role in Russia's wars of the 18th–20th centuries, such as
the Great Northern War, the Seven Years' War, the Crimean War,
Napoleonic Wars, the
Caucasus War, numerous Russo-Persian Wars,
Russo-Turkish Wars and the First World War. In the late 19th
and early 20th centuries, the Tsarist regime used
to perform police service.[nb 7] They also served as border guards on
national and internal ethnic borders (as was the case in the Caucasus
During the Russian Civil War, Don and
Kuban Cossacks were the first
nations to declare open war against the Bolsheviks. By 1918 Cossacks
declared the complete independence of their nations and formed the
independent states, the Ukrainian State, the
Don Republic and the
Kuban People's Republic. Cossack troops formed the effective core of
Bolshevik White Army, and Cossack republics became centers
for the anti-
Bolshevik White movement. With the victory of the Red
Army, the Cossack lands were subjected to
Holodomor. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Cossacks
made a systematic return to Russia. Many took an active part in
post-Soviet conflicts. In Russia's 2010 Population Census, Cossacks
have been recognized as an ethnicity. There are Cossack
organizations in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine,
Belarus and the United
2 Early history
2.1 Zaporozhian Cossacks
2.2 Registered Cossacks
2.3 Black Sea, Azov and
Danubian Sich Cossacks
3 Russian Cossacks
3.1 Don Cossacks
3.3 Terek Cossacks
3.4 Yaik Cossacks
3.5 Razin and Pugachev Rebellions
3.6 In the Russian Empire
World War I
World War I and February Revolution
3.7 Civil War,
Holodomor of 1932–33
3.8 Second World War
3.9 Modern times
4 Genetic evidence
5 Culture and organization
5.2 Family life
5.3 Popular image
6 Modern-day Russian Cossack identity
Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation
8 See also
12 Further reading
13 External links
Max Vasmer's etymological dictionary traces the name to the Old East
Slavic word козакъ, kozak, a loanword from Cuman, in which cosac
meant "free man". The ethnonym Kazakh is from the same Turkic
In written sources the name is first attested in
Codex Cumanicus from
the 13th century. In English, "Cossack" is first attested in
Main article: History of the Cossacks
Cossack Mamay--the ideal image of Cossack in Ukrainian folklore.
It is not clear when new Slavic people apart from
Berladniki started settling in the lower reaches of major rivers such
as the Don and the
Dnieper after the demise of the
Khazar state. It is
unlikely it could have happened before the 13th century, when the
Mongols broke the power of the Cumans, who had assimilated the
previous population on that territory. It is known that new settlers
inherited a lifestyle that persisted there long before, such as those
of the Turkic
Cumans and the Circassian Kassaks. However, Slavic
settlements in southern
Ukraine started to appear relatively early
during the Cuman rule, with the earliest ones, like Oleshky, dating
back to the 11th century.
Early "Proto-Cossack" groups are generally reported to have come into
existence within the present-day
Ukraine in the mid-13th century as
the influence of
Cumans grew weaker, though some have ascribed their
origins to as early as the tenth century. Some historians suggest
that the Cossack people were of mixed ethnic origins, descending from
Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Turks, Tatars, and others who
settled or passed through the vast Steppe. However some
Turkologists argue that
Cossacks are descendants of native
Ukraine, who lived there long ago before the Mongol invasion.
In the midst of the growing Moscow and Lithuanian powers, new
political entities had appeared in the region, such as
the Crimean Khanate. In 1261 some Slavic people living in the area
Dniester and the
Volga were mentioned in Ruthenian
chronicles. Historical records of the
Cossacks before the 16th century
are scant, as is the history of the Ukrainian lands in that period for
As early as the 15th century a few individuals ventured into the "Wild
Fields", the southern frontier regions of
Poland-Lithuania from the Crimean Khanate, which was a naturally rich
and fertile region teeming with cattle, wild animals and fish. These
ventures went on short-term expeditions to acquire the region's
natural wealth and this mode of existing—farming, hunting, then
returning home in the winter or perhaps remaining permanently—came
to be known as the Cossack way of life.
Ottoman Turks in battle against the Cossacks, 1592.
In the 15th century Cossack society was described as a loose
federation of independent communities, often forming local armies,
entirely independent from the neighboring states (of, for example,
Poland, the Grand Duchy of Moscow or the Khanate of Crimea).
According to Hrushevsky the first mention of
Cossacks could be found
already in the 14th century; however, they were either of Turkic or
undefined origin. Hrushevsky states that
Cossacks could have
descended from the long forgotten Antes, or groups from the Berlad
territory in present-day Romania, then a part of the Grand Duchy of
Halych, Brodniki. There,
Cossacks may have served as self-defense
formations, organized to defend against raids conducted by neighbors.
By 1492 the Crimean Khan complained that Kanev and
attacked his ship near
Tighina (Bender), and the Grand Duke of
Lithuania Alexander I promised to find the guilty among the Cossacks.
Sometime in the 16th century there appeared the old Ukrainian Ballad
of Cossack Holota about a Cossack near Kiliya.
By the 16th century these Cossack societies merged into two
independent territorial organisations as well as other smaller, still
Cossacks of Zaporizhia, centered on the lower bends of Dnieper,
inside the territory of modern Ukraine, with the fortified capital of
Zaporozhian Sich. They were formally recognised as an independent
state, the Zaporozhian Host, by a treaty with Poland in 1649.
Don Cossack State, on the River Don. The capital of the Don
Cossack State was initially Razdory, then it was moved to Cherkassk,
and later to Novocherkassk.
In addition to these two, one finds mention of the less well-known
Cossacks such as
Nağaybäklär and Meschera (mishari) Cossacks,
of whom Sary Azman was the first Don ataman and which not only were
Don Cossacks but had their own irregular Bashkir and
Meschera Host up to the end of the 19th century. Kalmyk and Buryat
Cossacks should be mentioned as well.
Cossacks are the least known ones now.
Main article: Zaporozhian Cossacks
A Zaporozhian Cossack, 17th–/18th-century traditional clothing.
Zaporozhian Cossacks lived on the
Pontic-Caspian steppe below the
Dnieper Rapids (Ukrainian: za porohamy), also known as the Wild
Fields. They became a well-known group whose numbers increased greatly
between the 15th and 17th centuries.
Cossacks were usually organized
by Ruthenian boyars or princes of the nobility, especially various
Lithuanian starostas. Merchants, peasants and runaways from the
Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth, Moscow state and modern Moldova and
Romania also joined the Cossacks. The first recorded Zaporizhian Host
prototype was formed when a cousin of Ivan the Terrible, Dmytro
Vyshnevetsky, built a fortress on the island of Little
the banks of the Lower
Dnieper in 1552. The
Zaporozhian Host adopted a
lifestyle that combined the ancient Cossack order and habits with
those of the Knights Hospitaller.
Zaporozhian Cossacks played an important role in European
geopolitics, participating in a series of conflicts and alliances with
the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Russia, and the Ottoman Empire. As
a result of the
Khmelnytsky Uprising in the middle of the 17th
Zaporozhian Cossacks briefly established an independent
state, which later became the autonomous Cossack Hetmanate
(1649–1764). It was a suzerainty under protection of the Russian
Tsar from 1667 but ruled by the local Hetmans for a century.
Zaporozhian Sich had its own authorities, its own "Nizovy"
Zaporozhsky Host, and its own land. In the latter half of the 18th
century, Russian authorities destroyed this
Zaporozhian Host and gave
its lands to landlords. Some
Cossacks moved to the
region, where they formed the
Danubian Sich under Ottoman rule. To
prevent further defection of Cossacks, the Russian government restored
the special Cossack status of the majority of Zaporozhian Cossacks.
This allowed them to unite in the Host of Loyal Zaporozhians and later
to reorganize into other hosts, of which the
Black Sea host was most
important. They eventually moved to the
Kuban region, due to the
Zaporozhian Sich lands among landlords and the
resulting scarcity of land.
Victorious Zaporozhian Cossack with the head of a Tatar, 1786 print
The majority of
Cossacks had moved first to the Azov
region in 1828, and later joined other former
Zaporozhian Cossacks in
Kuban region. Groups were generally identified by faith rather
than language in that period, and most descendants of
Zaporozhian Cossacks in the
Kuban region are bilingual, speaking both
Russian and the local
Kuban dialect of central Ukrainian. Their
folklore is largely Ukrainian.[nb 8] The predominant view of
ethnologists and historians is considered to be found in the common
culture dating back to the
Black Sea Cossacks.
The Zaporozhians gained a reputation for their raids against the
Ottoman Empire and its vassals, although they sometimes plundered
other neighbors as well. Their actions increased tension along the
southern border of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Low-level
warfare took place in those territories for most of the period of the
In 1539, the Ottoman
Suleiman the Magnificent
Suleiman the Magnificent asked Grand Duke
Vasili III of Russia
Vasili III of Russia to restrain the Cossacks; the Duke replied: "The
Cossacks do not swear allegiance to me, and they live as they
themselves please." In 1549
Tsar Ivan the Terrible
replied to Suleiman's request that he stop the attacks by the Don
Cossacks, saying, "The
Cossacks of the Don are not my subjects, and
they go to war or live in peace without my knowledge."[citation
needed] The major powers tried to exploit Cossack warmongering for
their own purposes. In the 16th century, with the power of the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth extending south, the Zaporozhian
Cossacks were mostly, if tentatively, regarded by the Commonwealth as
Registered Cossacks formed a part of the
Commonwealth army until 1699.
Bohdan Khmelnytsky's entry to Kiev by Mykola Ivasiuk, end of
the 19th century
Around the end of the 16th century, relations between the Commonwealth
Ottoman Empire were strained by increasing Cossack aggression.
From the second part of the 16th century,
Cossacks started raiding
Ottoman territories. The Polish government could not control the
Cossacks, but was held responsible as the men were nominally their
subjects. In retaliation,
Tatars living under Ottoman rule launched
raids into the Commonwealth, mostly in the southeast territories. In
retaliation, Cossack pirates started raiding wealthy trading
port-cities in the heart of the Ottoman Empire, as these were just two
days away by boat from the mouth of the
Dnieper River. By 1615 and
Cossacks had razed suburbs of Constantinople, forcing the
Sultan to flee his palace.
Consecutive treaties between the
Ottoman Empire and the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth called for the governments to keep the
Tatars in check, but neither enforced the treaties
strongly. The Polish forced the
Cossacks to burn their boats and stop
raiding by sea, but they did not give it up entirely. During this
Habsburg Empire sometimes covertly hired Cossack raiders to
go against the Ottomans to ease pressure on their own borders. Many
Tatars developed longstanding enmity due to the losses of
their raids. The ensuing chaos and cycles of retaliation often turned
the entire southeastern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth border into a
low-intensity war zone. It catalyzed escalation of
Commonwealth-Ottoman warfare, from the Moldavian Magnate Wars
(1593–1617) to the Battle of Cecora (1620) and campaigns in the
Polish-Ottoman War of 1633–1634.
An officer of the
Zaporozhian Cossacks in 1720
Cossack numbers expanded when the warriors were joined by peasants
escaping serfdom in Russia and dependence in the Commonwealth.
Attempts by the szlachta to turn the
Zaporozhian Cossacks into
peasants eroded the Cossacks' formerly strong loyalty towards the
Commonwealth. The government constantly rebuffed Cossack ambitions for
recognition as equal to the szlachta, and plans for transforming the
Polish-Lithuanian two-nation Commonwealth into a
Polish-Lithuanian-Rus' Commonwealth made little progress due to the
idea's unpopularity among the Rus' szlahta of the Rus'
equal to Rus' szlachta. The Cossacks' strong historic allegiance to
Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox Church also put them at odds with officials of
the Roman Catholic-dominated Commonwealth. Tensions increased when
Commonwealth policies turned from relative tolerance to suppression of
the Eastern Orthodox church after the Union of Brest. The Cossacks
became strongly anti-Roman Catholic, in this case an attitude that
became synonymous with anti-Polish.
Main article: Registered Cossacks
The waning loyalty of the
Cossacks and the szlachta's arrogance
towards them resulted in several Cossack uprisings against the
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the early 17th century. Finally, the
King's adamant refusal to cede to the Cossacks' demand to expand the
Cossack Registry was the last straw that prompted the largest and most
successful of these: the
Khmelnytsky uprising that started in 1648.
Some Cossacks, including Polish schlahta, converted to Eastern
Orthodox, divided the lands of Ruthenian szlachta in Ukraine, and
became the Cossack szlachta. The uprising became one of a series of
catastrophic events for the Commonwealth known as The Deluge, which
greatly weakened the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and set the stage
for its disintegration 100 years later.
Kozacy (Cossacks), drawing by Stanisław Masłowski, c. 1900 (National
Museum in Warsaw)
The influential relatives of Russian and Lithuanian szlachta in Moscow
helped to create the Russian-Polish alliance against Khmelnitsky's
Cossacks as rebels against any order and the private property of
Ruthenian Orthodox schlahta,
Don Cossack raids on Crimea leaving
Khmelnitsky without the aid of his usual
Tatar allies. But in Russian
opinion, the rebellion ended with the 1654
Treaty of Pereyaslav in
Cossacks so that to destroy the Russian-Polish
alliance against them pledged their loyalty to the
Russian Tsar with
the latter guaranteeing
Cossacks his protection, recognition of
Cossack starshyna (nobility) and their property and autonomy under his
rule, freeing the
Cossacks from the Polish sphere of influence and
land claims of Ruthenian schlahta. Only some part of the Ruthenian
schlahta of the
Chernigov region, being of the Moscow state origin,
saved their lands from division among
Cossacks and became the part of
the Cossack schlahta. After this, Ruthenian schlahta refrained from
its plans to have a Moscow tsar the king of the Commonwealth, its own
Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki
Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki became the king later. The last,
ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to rebuild the Polish-Cossack
alliance and create a Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth was the
1658 Treaty of Hadiach, which was approved by the Polish King and Sejm
as well as by some of the Cossack starshyna, including
Vyhovsky. The starshyna were, however, divided on the issue and
the treaty had even less support among rank-and-file Cossacks; thus it
Under Russian rule, the Cossack nation of the
Zaporozhian Host was
divided into two autonomous republics of the Moscow Tsardom: the
Cossack Hetmanate, and the more independent Zaporizhia. These
organisations gradually lost their autonomy, and were abolished by
Catherine II by the late 18th century. The Hetmanate became the
governorship of Little Russia, and
Zaporizhia was absorbed into New
In 1775 the Lower
Zaporozhian Host was destroyed. Later, its
high-ranking Cossack leaders were exiled to Siberia, the last
chief becoming the prisoner of the Solovetsky Islands, for the
establishment of a new Sich in the
Ottoman Empire by the part of
Cossacks without any involvement of the punished Cossack leaders.
Black Sea, Azov and
Danubian Sich Cossacks
Black Sea Cossack Host, Azov Cossack Host, and Danube
Cossack wedding. Painting by Józef Brandt.
With the destruction of the Zaporozhian Sich, many Zaporozhian
Cossacks, especially the vast majority of
Old Believers and other
people from the Greater Russia, defected to Turkey and settled in the
area of the
Danube river, founding a new Sich there. Part of these
Cossacks settled on Tisa river in the
Austrian Empire and formed a new
Sich there as well. Some Ukrainian-speaking Eastern Orthodox Cossacks
ran away across the
Danube (territory under the control of the Ottoman
Empire), together with
Cossacks of the Greater Russia origin, to form
a new host before rejoining the others in the Kuban. Many Ukrainian
peasants and adventurers joined the
Danubian Sich afterwards.
Ukrainian folklore remembers the Danubian Sich, while new siches of
Loyal Zaporozhians on the Bug and
Dniester are not famous ones. The
majority of Tisa Sich and
Cossacks returned to Russia in
1828 and settled in the area north of the Azov Sea and became known as
the Azov Cossacks. But the majority of Zaporozhian Cossacks,
especially Ukrainian-speaking Eastern Orthodox, remained loyal to
Russia in spite of the Sich destruction and became known as the Black
Sea Cossacks. Both Azov and
Black Sea Cossacks
Black Sea Cossacks were resettled to
Kuban steppe, which was a crucial foothold for Russian
expansion in the Caucasus.
During the Cossack stay in Turkey, a new host was founded that
numbered around 12,000
Cossacks by the end of 1778. Their settlement
at the border with Russia was approved by the
Ottoman Empire after the
Cossacks officially vowed to serve the Sultan. Yet the conflict inside
the new host, and the political manoeuvres used by the Russian Empire,
led to splits among the Cossacks. After a portion of the runaway
Cossacks returned to Russia they were used by the Russian army to form
new military bodies that also incorporated Greek Albanians, Crimean
Tatars and Gypsies. However, after the Russo-Turkish war of
1787–1792, most of them were incorporated into the
Black Sea Cossack
Host together with Loyal Zaporozhians. The
Black Sea Host moved to the
Kuban steppes. Most of the remaining
Cossacks that stayed in the
Danube delta returned to Russia in 1828 and created the Azov Cossack
Berdyansk and Mariupol. In 1860, more
resettled to the North
Caucasus and merged into the
Cossacks (left) in Paris in 1814
The native land of the
Cossacks is defined by a line of
Russian/Ruthenian town-fortresses located on the border with the
steppe and stretching from the middle
Volga to Ryazan and Tula, then
breaking abruptly to the south and extending to the
Pereyaslavl. This area was settled by a population of free people
practicing various trades and crafts.
These people, constantly facing the
Tatar warriors on the steppe
frontier, received the Turkic name
Cossacks (Kazaks), which was then
extended to other free people in Russia. Many Cumans, who had
assimilated Khazars, retreated to the Ryazan Grand principality (Grand
Duchy) after the Mongol invasion. The oldest reference in the annals
Cossacks of the Russian principality of Ryazan serving the
principality in the battle against the
Tatars in 1444. In the 16th
Cossacks (primarily those of Ryazan) were grouped in
military and trading communities on the open steppe and started to
migrate into the area of the Don.
Ural Cossacks, c. 1799
Cossacks served as border guards and protectors of towns, forts,
settlements and trading posts, performed policing functions on the
frontiers and also came to represent an integral part of the Russian
army. In the 16th century, to protect the borderland area from Tatar
Cossacks carried out sentry and patrol duties, guarding
Tatars and nomads of the
Nogai Horde in the steppe
The most popular weapons used by Cossack cavalrymen were usually
sabres, or shashka, and long spears.
Cossacks played a key role in the expansion of the Russian
Siberia (particularly by
Yermak Timofeyevich), the
Caucasus and Central Asia in the period from the 16th to 19th
Cossacks also served as guides to most Russian expeditions
formed by civil and military geographers and surveyors, traders and
explorers. In 1648 the Russian Cossack
Semyon Dezhnyov discovered a
passage between North America and Asia. Cossack units played a role in
many wars in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries (such as the
Russo-Turkish Wars, the Russo-Persian Wars, and the annexation of
Western Europeans had a lot of contacts with
Cossacks during the Seven
Years' War and had seen Cossack patrols in Berlin. During
Napoleon's Invasion of Russia,
Cossacks were the Russian soldiers most
feared by the French troops. Napoleon himself stated "
Cossacks are the
best light troops among all that exist. If I had them in my army, I
would go through all the world with them."
Cossacks also took part
in the partisan war deep inside French-occupied Russian territory,
attacking communications and supply lines. These attacks, carried out
Cossacks along with Russian light cavalry and other units, were one
of the first developments of guerrilla warfare tactics and, to some
extent, special operations as we know them today.
Frenchmen had had few contacts with
Cossacks before the Allies
occupied Paris in 1814. As the most exotic of the Russian troops seen
Cossacks drew a great deal of attention and notoriety for
their alleged purity[clarification needed] during Napoleon's wars.
Bistrots appeared after the Cossack occupation of Paris.[clarification
Stendhal had, that "
Cossacks were pure as
children and great as Gods".
Main article: Don Cossacks
A Cossack from the Don area, 1821, illustration from Fyodor Solntsev,
Don Cossack Host
Don Cossack Host (Russian: Всевеликое Войско
Донское, Vsevelikoye Voysko Donskoye) was either an independent
or an autonomous democratic republic in the present day Southern
Russia from the end of the 16th century until the early 20th century.
In the year of 948 Byzantine Emperor Constantine mentioned of trade of
goods, between the
Don Cossacks in their home capital. Don Cossacks
had a rich military tradition, playing an important part in the
historical development of the
Russian Empire and successfully
participating in all of its major wars.
The exact origins of
Don Cossacks are unknown. In modern view, Don
Cossacks are descendants of both Slavic people and Khazars, which
assimilated Slavs, Goths, Alans,[nb 9] and possibly of Rugii,
Alans and even Goths-
Alans of the
Black Sea Rus See the
works of Evgueni Goloubinski and
Vasily Vasilievsky about Relations of
Gothoalans (Goths-Tetraxits) and Russian colonists in region of
North-East part of
Black Sea and
Sea of Azov
Sea of Azov as well. The Goths-Alans
came from the Western part of North
Caucasus and from Northern Europe,
Goths intermixed with
Slavs during their trip from Northern Europe.
Alans had moved to Europe, these Goths occupied the part of the
former Alania in Crimea and were called Gothoalans, Russian occupying
another part were called Roxolans. Later people from the western part
Caucasus joined Gotho-
Alans in their
Feodoro principality. It
is believed that Crimean Greeks have the Gotho-Alan ancestry, among
Mikhail Lomonosov was the first to identify Roxolans as
Russians similar to Gotho-Alan identification as Goths. New Slavic
people have come from
Dnepr and Taman, and from
Novgorod Republic and
Principality of Ryazan, both before and after their violent occupation
and subjugation by the Muscovite Tsardom.[nb 10]
The majority of
Don Cossacks are either Eastern Orthodox or Christian
Old Believers (старообрядцы); and prior to the
Civil War in Russia, there were numerous religious minorities,
including Muslims, Subbotniks, Jews, and others.[nb 11]
Kuban Cossacks, late 19th century
Kuban Cossacks are
Cossacks who live in the
Kuban region of Russia.
Although numerous Cossack groups came to inhabit the Western Northern
Caucasus most of the
Kuban Cossacks are descendants of the Black Sea
Cossack Host, (originally the Zaporozhian Cossacks) and the Caucasus
Line Cossack Host.
A distinguishing feature from other Russian
Cossacks is the Chupryna
or Oseledets hairstyle, a roach haircut popular among some Kubanians.
This is due to their traditional roots, going back to the Zaporizhian
Main article: Terek Cossacks
The Terek Cossack Host was a
Cossack host created in 1577 from free
Cossacks who resettled from the
Volga to the Terek River. Aboriginal
Terek Cossacks joined this host later. In 1792 the Host was included
Caucasus Line Cossack Host
Caucasus Line Cossack Host and separated from it again in 1860,
with the capital of Vladikavkaz. In 1916 the population of the Host
was 255,000 within an area of 1.9 million desyatinas.
Main article: Ural Cossacks
Ural Cossacks skirmish with Kyrgyz
A group of Yaik (Orenburg)
Cossacks from Sakmara settlement (1912).
Standing on the left side is Alexander Mertemianovich Pogadaev
The Ural Cossack Host was formed from the Ural Cossacks, who had
settled along the Ural River. Their alternative name, Yaik Cossacks,
comes from the former name of the river, which was changed by the
government after the Pugachev's rebellion. The
Ural Cossacks spoke
Russian and identified as having primarily Russian ancestry, but they
also incorporated many
Tatars into their ranks. Twenty years after
Moscow had conquered the
Kazan to Astrakhan, in 1577,
the government sent troops to disperse pirates and raiders along the
Volga (one of their number was Ermak). Some escaped to flee southeast
to the Ural River, where they joined Yaik Cossacks. In 1580, they
captured Saraichik. By 1591 they were fighting on behalf of the
government in Moscow. During the next century, they were officially
recognized by the imperial government.
Razin and Pugachev Rebellions
The Cossacks, as a largely independent nation, had to defend their
liberties and democratic traditions against the ever-expanding
Muscovy, succeeded by Russian Empire. The
Cossacks tended acted
independently of the
Tsardom of Muscovy, increasing friction between
them two. The Tsardom's power began to grow in 1613 with the ascension
Mikhail Romanov to the throne after the Time of Troubles. The
government began attempting to integrate the
Cossacks into the
Tsardom by granting elite status and enforcing military
service, thus creating divisions within the
Cossacks themselves as
they fought to keep their own traditions alive. The government's
efforts to alter the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Cossacks
caused them to be involved in nearly all the major disturbances in
Russia over a 200-year period, including the rebellions led by Stepan
Razin and Emilian Pugachev.
Stenka Razin Sailing in the Caspian Sea, by Vasily Surikov, 1906
Muscovy regained stability, discontent steadily grew within the
serf and peasant populations. The Code of 1649, under Alexis Romanov,
Mikhail's son, divided the Russian population into distinct and fixed
hereditary categories. The
Code of 1649
Code of 1649 increased tax revenue for
the central government and stopped wandering to stabilize the social
order by fixing people in the same land with the same occupation of
their families. Peasants were tied to the land and townsmen were
forced to take on their fathers' occupations. The increased taxes fell
mainly on the peasants as a burden and continued to widen the gap
between the wealthy and the poor. As the government developed more
military expeditions, human and material resources became limited,
putting an even harsher strain on the peasants. War with Poland and
Sweden in 1662 led to a fiscal crisis and riots across the
country. Taxes, harsh conditions, and the gap between social
classes drove peasants and serfs to flee, many of them going to the
Cossacks, knowing that the
Cossacks would accept refugees and free
Cossacks experienced difficulties under
Tsar Alexis as the influx
of refugees grew daily. The
Cossacks received a subsidy of food,
money, and military supplies from the tsar in return for acting as
border defense. These subsidies fluctuated often and provided a
source of conflict between the
Cossacks and the government. The war
with Poland diverted necessary food and military shipments to the
Cossacks as the population of the Host, the unit of Cossacks
identified by the region in which they resided, grew with the fugitive
peasants. The influx of these refugees troubled the
Cossacks not only
because of the increased demand for food but also because the large
number of these fugitives meant the
Cossacks could not absorb them
into their culture through the traditional apprenticeship way.
Instead of taking these steps of proper assimilation into Cossack
society, the runaway peasants spontaneously declared themselves
Cossacks and lived beside true Cossacks, laboring or working as
barge-haulers to earn food.
Stenka Razin, by Ivan Bilibin
As conditions worsened and Mikhail's son Alexis took the throne,
divisions among the
Cossacks began to emerge. Older
Cossacks began to
settle and become prosperous, enjoying the privileges they earned
through obeying and assisting the Muscovite system. The old
Cossacks started giving up their traditions and liberties that had
been worth dying for to obtain the pleasures of an elite life. The
lawless and restless runaway peasants that called themselves Cossacks
looked for adventure and revenge against the nobility that had caused
them suffering. These
Cossacks did not receive the government
subsidies that the old
Cossacks enjoyed and thus had to work harder
and longer for food and money. These divisions between the elite and
lawless would lead to the formation of a Cossack army beginning in
Stenka Razin as well as to the ultimate failure of that
Stenka Razin was born into an elite Cossack family and had made many
diplomatic visits to Moscow before organizing his rebellion. The
Cossacks were Razin's main supporters and followed him during his
first Persian campaign in 1667, plundering and pillaging Persian
cities on the Caspian Sea. They returned ill and hungry, tired from
fighting but rich with plundered goods in 1669.
Muscovy tried to
gain support from the old Cossacks, asking the ataman, or Cossack
chieftain, to prevent Razin from following through with his plans.
However the ataman, being Razin's godfather and swayed by Razin's
promise of a share of the wealth from Razin's expeditions, replied
that the elite
Cossacks were powerless against the band of rebels. The
elite did not see much threat from Razin and his followers either,
although they realized he could cause them problems with the Muscovite
system if his following developed into a rebellion against the central
Razin and his followers began to capture cities at the start of the
rebellion in 1669. They seized the towns of Tsaritsyn, Astrakhan,
Saratov, and Samara, implementing democratic rule and releasing
peasants from slavery as they went. Razin envisioned a united
Cossack republic throughout the southern steppe in which the towns and
villages of the area would operate under the democratic, Cossack style
of government. These sieges often took place in the runaway peasant
Cossacks' old towns, leading them to wreak havoc on their old masters
and get the revenge for which they were hoping. The rebels'
advancement began to be seen as a problem to the elder Cossacks, who,
in 1671, decided to comply with the government in order to receive
more subsidies. On April 14, ataman Yakovlev led elders to destroy
the rebel camp and captured Razin, taking him soon afterward to Moscow
to be executed.
Razin's rebellion marked the beginning of the end to traditional
Cossack practices. In August 1671, Muscovite envoys administered the
oath of allegiance and the
Cossacks swore loyalty to the tsar.
While they still had internal autonomy, the
Cossacks became Muscovite
subjects, a transition that would prove to be a dividing point yet
again in Pugachev's Rebellion.
Emelian Pugachev in prison
For the Cossack elite, a noble status within the empire came at the
price of their old liberties in the 18th century. Advancement of
agricultural settlement began forcing the
Cossacks to give up their
traditional nomadic ways and to adopt new forms of government. The
government steadily changed the entire culture of the Cossacks. Peter
the Great increased service obligations for the
Cossacks and mobilized
their forces to fight in far-off wars. Peter began establishing
non-Cossack troops in fortresses along the Iaik River, and in 1734 a
government fortress was constructed at Orenburg, giving
subordinate role in border defense. When the Iaik
Cossacks sent a
delegation to Peter to explain their grievances, Peter stripped the
Cossacks of their autonomous status and subordinated them to the War
College rather than the College of Foreign Affairs, solidifying the
change in the
Cossacks from border patrol to military servicemen. Over
the next fifty years, the central government responded to Cossack
grievances with arrests, floggings, and exiles.
Under Catherine the Great, beginning in 1762, the Russian peasants and
Cossacks once again faced increased taxation, heavy military
conscription, and grain shortages, as had characterized the land
before Razin's rebellion. Although Peter III had extended freedom to
former church serfs, freeing them from obligations and payments to
church authorities, as well as freeing other peasants from serfdom,
Catherine did not follow through on these reforms. In 1767, the
empress refused to accept grievances directly from the peasantry.
Peasants fled once again to the lands of the Cossacks; in particular,
the fugitive peasants set their destination for the Iaik Host, whose
people were committed to the old Cossack traditions. The changing
government burdened the
Cossacks as well, extending its reach to
reform the Cossack traditions. Among ordinary Cossacks, hatred of the
elite and central government boiled, and by 1772 an open state of
rebellion ensued for six months between the Iaik
Cossacks and the
Don Cossack in the early 1800s
Emelian Pugachev, a low-status Don Cossack, arrived in the Iaik Host
in late 1772 and claimed to be Peter III, stemming from the
expectations of the
Cossacks that Peter would have been an effective
ruler had he not been assassinated in a plot by his wife Catherine
II. Many Iaik
Cossacks believed Pugachev's claim, though those
closest to him knew the truth. Others that may have known the truth
but did not support Catherine II, due to her disposal of Peter III,
still spread Pugachev's claim to be the late emperor.
The first of the three phases of
Pugachev's Rebellion began in
Cossacks who supported the elite constituted the
majority of the first prisoners taken by the rebels. After a
five-month siege of Orenburg, a military college became Pugachev's
headquarters. Pugachev began envisioning a Cossack tsardom,
similar to Razin's vision of a united Cossack republic. The peasantry
across Russia stirred with rumors and listened to manifestos issued by
Pugachev's Rebellion soon came to be seen as an
inevitable failure. The
Don Cossacks refused to help the rebellion in
the last phase of the revolt because they knew military troops
followed Pugachev closely after lifting the siege of
following Pugachev's flight from defeated Kazan. In September
1774, Pugachev's own Cossack lieutenants turned him over to the
The Cossacks' opposition to centralization of political authority led
them to participate in Pugachev's Rebellion. Their defeat led the
Cossack elite to accept government reforms in the hope of obtaining
status in the nobility. The ordinary
Cossacks had to follow and give
up their traditions and liberties.
In the Russian Empire
Siberia by Yermak, painting by Vasily Surikov.
From the start, relations of
Cossacks with the
Tsardom of Russia
Tsardom of Russia were
varied; at times they supported Russian military operations, and at
others conducted rebellions against the central power. After one of
those uprisings at the end of the 18th century, Russian forces
destroyed the Zaporozhian Host. Many of the
Cossacks who chose to stay
loyal to the Russian Monarch and continue their service later moved to
the Kuban. Others choosing to continue a mercenary role escaped
control by taking advantage of the large
By the 19th century, the
Russian Empire had annexed the territory of
the hosts and controlled them by providing privileges for their
service. At this time the
Cossacks served as military forces in many
wars conducted by the Russian Empire.
Cossacks were considered
excellent for scouting and reconnaissance duties, as well as
undertaking ambushes. Their tactics in open battles were generally
inferior to those of regular soldiers such as the Dragoons. In 1840
the hosts included the Don, Black Sea, Astrakhan, Little Russia, Azov,
Danube, Ural, Stavropol, Mesherya, Orenburg, Siberia, Tobolsk, Tomsk,
Yeniseisk, Irkutsk, Sabaikal, Yakutsk and Tartar voiskos. By the 1890s
the Ussuri, Semirechensk and
Amur Cossacks were added; the last had a
regiment of elite mounted rifles.
Cossack patrol near
Baku oil fields, 1905
By the end of the 19th century, the Cossack communities enjoyed a
privileged tax-free status in the Russian Empire, although they had a
20-year military service commitment (this was reduced to 18 years from
1909). They were on active duty for five years, but could fulfill
their remaining obligation with the reserves. In the beginning of the
20th century, the Russian
Cossacks counted 4.5 million. They were
organized as independent regional hosts, each comprising a number of
Treated as a separate and elite community by the Tsar, the Cossacks
rewarded his government with strong loyalty. His administration
frequently used Cossack units to suppress domestic disorder,
especially during the Russian Revolution of 1905. The Imperial
Government depended heavily on the perceived reliability of the
Cossacks. By the early 20th century, their decentralized communities
and semi-feudal military service were coming to be seen as obsolete.
The Russian Army Command, which had worked to professionalize its
forces, considered the
Cossacks as less well disciplined, trained and
mounted than the hussars, dragoons, and lancers of the regular
cavalry. The Cossack qualities of initiative and rough-riding
skills were not always fully appreciated. As a result, Cossack units
were frequently broken up into small detachments for use as scouts,
messengers or picturesque escorts.
World War I
World War I and February Revolution
Wiosna roku 1905 (Spring of 1905) –
Cossacks patrol at Ujazdowskie
Avenue in Warsaw, picture of 1906 by
Stanisław Masłowski (National
Museum in Warsaw)
At the outbreak of
World War I
World War I the mounted
Cossacks made up 38
regiments, plus some infantry battalions and 52 horse artillery
batteries. By 1916 their wartime strength had expanded to 160
regiments plus 176 independent sotnias (squadrons), the latter
employed as detached units. While about a third of the regular
Russian cavalry was dismounted in 1916 to serve as infantry, the
Cossack arm remained essentially unaffected by modernization.
During the initial stages of the
February Revolution of 1917, the
three Cossack regiments stationed in
Saint Petersburg proved in the
words of a senior officer to be "extremely slack and indecisive" when
deployed in support of the overstretched police. While less than three
thousand Cossack reservists and new recruits from the poorer regions
of the Don and
Kuban regions were involved, their inaction (and that
of the primarily ceremonial Konvoi) came as a psychological blow to
the Tsarist authorities in the city and encouraged defections from
Holodomor of 1932–33
Russian Civil War
Russian Civil War that followed the October Revolution, various
Cossacks supported each side of the conflict.
Cossacks formed the core
of the White Army, but many also fought with the Red Army. Some
Cossack units in the Ukrainian service participated in pogroms against
Jews in Ukraine. Following the defeat of the White Army, the new
Communist regime instituted a policy of harsh repressions, the
so-called Decossackization, which took place on the surviving Cossacks
and their homelands. In 2003, historian Shane O'Rourke announced
finding documentary evidence that the Soviets had issued orders for
exterminating the Cossacks, and that "ten thousand
slaughtered systematically in a few weeks in January 1919". He
says this "was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance
Cossacks as a nation". During Decossackization, the new
regime also divided traditional lands of Cossack Hosts among new
Soviet republics and various autonomous republics of non-Cossack
Cossacks were banned from serving in the Red Army.
Histories of the 21st century document that hundreds of thousands of
Cossacks were killed by the Soviet Government during Decossackization.
According to Michael Kort, "During 1919 and 1920, out of a population
of approximately 3 million, the
Bolshevik regime killed or deported an
estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Cossacks", including 45,000 Terek
Cossacks. The Denikin regime alleged that in 1918–19, 5,598 were
executed in the provinces of the Don; 3,442 in the Kuban; and 2,142 in
Stavropol. Historian Leonid Futorianskiy disputes these recent claims.
He argues that during the preceding White Terror of the Krasnov
regime, between 25 and 40 thousand
Cossacks were killed. The
Cossack homelands were often very fertile. During the Soviets' 1930s
collectivisation campaign, many
Cossacks were killed or died of
starvation, as did the kulaks.
The Soviet famine of 1932–33, called
Holodomor by Cossacks,
impacted the people very hard. Ukraine, lower Volga, Don, Kuban, and
Terek territories (the Northern Caucasus) had high fatalities from
starvation. The famine caused a population decline of about
20–30% in these territories (the population decline in the rural
areas, populated largely by ethnic Cossacks, was even higher, since
urban areas were less affected by the famine); Robert Conquest
estimates the number of famine-related deaths in the Northern Caucasus
to be about 1 million. Government officials expropriated grain and
other produce from rural Cossack families, leaving them to starve and
die. Many families were forced from their homes in the severe
winter and froze to death — Mikhail Sholokhov's letters to
Joseph Stalin document the conditions and widespread deaths, as do
In 1936, under pressure and appeals from Cossack communities, the
Soviet government lifted the ban on
Cossacks serving in the Red
Second World War
Konstantin I. Nedorubov, a Don Cossack, Hero of the
Soviet Union and
Knight of St. George Order. When WWII began, he did not
qualify for the regular draft due to his advanced age (52), but he
volunteered to serve in the 41st
Cavalry division. He was
awarded the title of the Hero of the
Soviet Union for his heroic fight
against Nazi invaders. In particular, he was credited with killing
approximately 70 Nazi combatants during the defence of Maratuki
village in 1942.
During the Second World War, ethnic
Cossacks fought on both sides of
Cossacks who had emigrated to the UK and the USA served
with their military forces. Many
Cossacks joined the Resistance.
Cossacks joined German armed forces, they did so usually
to defect either to the western allies or to the Resistance, to
liberate their compatriots and family members from Nazi work and Nazi
The vast majority of the ethnic
Cossacks fought against the Nazis in
the ranks of the
Red Army and of the Red Navy on all war
theatres. Their service was crucial on the Southern
theatre of the Eastern Front. They were used for frontal patrols and
logistics on the open prairies (steppes), which they knew well. The
Cossacks units were formed as early as 1936; by 1942 there were
17 Cossack corps units in the
Red Army (as opposed to two in the
German forces). Later these corps units were increased in size and
reduced to eight. Their distinction in battle eventually led all to be
merited as Guards.
Oka Gorodovikov formed 49 Cossack cavalry divisions
during the war. Many ethnic
Cossacks served in other divisions of the
Red Army and in the Navy, including Boris Shaposhnikov, Markian Popov,
Aksel Berg, Arseniy Golovko, Oka Gorodovikov, Lev Dovator, Pavel
General Dmitry Karbyshev, Dmitry Lavrinenko, pilot Grigory
Bakhchivandzhi and engineer Fedor Tokarev. A Cossack detachment of the
4th Guards Corps marched in
Red Square during the Moscow Victory
Parade of 1945.
A substantial number of
Cossacks served with the Germans, in response
to the harsh repressions and genocide that their families had suffered
under the policies pursued by Joseph Stalin. Like other people of the
Soviet Union who suffered persecution under Stalin, some Cossacks
greeted the advancing German army as liberators from
Cossacks in German service were former
White Army refugees
or related to them,[nb 12][original research?] many Soviet citizens,
including rank-and-file Cossacks, defected from the
Red Army to join
the "Cossack units" of German armed forces. Native
served as officers. As early as 1941, the German leadership formed the
first Cossack detachments from prisoners of war, defectors and
volunteers. The Dubrovski Battalion formed of
Don Cossacks in December
1941 was reorganised on July 30, 1942 into the Pavlov Regiment,
numbering up to 350 men. The Germans used
Cossacks for anti-partisan
activity in the rear of the German army.[page needed]
The Cossack National Movement of Liberation hoped to gain an
independent Cossack state, to be called Cossackia, after the war.
In 1943, after the
1st Cossack Division
1st Cossack Division was formed under the command
General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Cossack émigrés such as Andrei
Pyotr Krasnov took leading positions in the movement. The
2nd Cossack Division, under the command of
Colonel Hans-Joachim von
Schultz, formed in 1944, existed for a year. Both Cossack divisions
were made part of the XV Cossack
Cavalry Corps, totalling some 25,000
men. They wore regular Wehrmacht uniforms and not Waffen-SS ones, as
has occasionally been incorrectly alleged. Although in 1944 General
von Pannwitz accepted loose affiliation with the Waffen-SS in order to
gain access to their supply of superior arms and equipment, together
with control over Cossack units in France, no pagan SS features had
ever been implemented to respect the
Cossacks and the
Corps command, structure, uniforms, ranks, etc. remained firmly
Kuban Cossacks during the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945
The Corps contained regiments of different Cossack groups, who were
Don, Kuban, Terek and
Siberian Cossacks who had been fighting Tito's
guerrillas in the former Yugoslavia. At the end of the war in 1945,
they conducted a fighting retreat north-eastwards over the Karavanken
Mountains into Carinthia, where they surrendered to the British Army
in Allied-administered Austria. They hoped to join the British to
fight Communism. At the time the
Cossacks were seen as Nazi
collaborators and they were reported to have committed atrocities
against resistance fighters in Eastern Europe. As part of Operation
Keelhaul, the British returned Cossack prisoners of war to Russia.[nb
On 28 May 1945, told they would be resettled in Canada or Australia,
Cossacks were transferred to SMERSH custody at the Soviet
demarcation line at Judenburg. Also included in the transfer were
civilian members of the Kazachi Stan, consisting of old folk, women,
and children, as well as about 850 German officers and
non-commissioned officers of the Corps. At the end of the war, the
British repatriated between 40 and 50 thousand Cossacks, including
families of military, to the Soviet Union. Many of those were reported
as never having been Soviet citizens. An unknown number were
subsequently executed or imprisoned. This episode is widely known as
the Betrayal of the Cossacks.
Following the war, Cossack units, along with cavalry in general, were
rendered obsolete and released from the Soviet Army. In the post-war
years many Cossack descendants were thought of as simple peasants, and
those who lived inside an autonomous republic usually gave way to the
particular minority and migrated elsewhere (particularly, to the
Baltic region).
Perestroika era of the
Soviet Union of the late 1980s, many
descendants of the
Cossacks became enthusiastic about reviving their
national traditions. In 1988 the
Soviet Union passed a law which
allowed formation of former hosts and the creation of new ones. The
ataman of the largest, the All-Mighty Don Host, was granted Marshal
rank and the right to form a new host.
Simultaneously, many attempts were made to increase the Cossack impact
on Russian society and throughout the 1990s many regional authorities
agreed to hand over some local administration and policing duties to
According to 2002 Russia's population census, there are 140,028 people
who currently self-identify as ethnic Cossacks, while at the same
time, between 3.5 and 5 million people associate themselves with the
Cossack identity in Europe and around the world.
Cossacks have taken an active part in many of the conflicts that have
taken place since the disintegration of the Soviet Union: the War of
Transnistria, the Georgian–Abkhazian conflict, the
Georgian–Ossetian conflict, the
First Chechen War
First Chechen War and the Second
Chechen War, as well as the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in
subsequent War in Donbass.
A 2010 genetic study showed that 210
Cossacks from the
distributed among the following Y-DNA haplogroups:
Other haplogroups are present at lower frequency.
A 2008 study showed that 90
Kuban Cossacks are distributed among the
following Y-DNA haplogroups:
R1a (Z282 branch)
Culture and organization
In early times an ataman (later called hetman) commanded a Cossack
band. He was elected by the tribe members at a Cossack rada, as were
the other important band officials: the judge, the scribe, the lesser
officials, and the clergy. The ataman's symbol of power was a
ceremonial mace, a bulava. Today, Russian
Cossacks are led by Atamans,
Cossacks by Hetmans.
Cossack on duty (portrayal of 16th-17th century), painting by Józef
After the split of
Ukraine along the
Dnieper River by the
Treaty of Andrusovo
Treaty of Andrusovo in 1667, Ukrainian
known as Left-bank and Right-bank Cossacks.
The ataman had executive powers, and at time of war, he was the
supreme commander in the field. Legislative power was given to the
Band Assembly (Rada). The senior officers were called starshyna. In
the absence of written laws, the
Cossacks were governed by the
"Cossack Traditions" - the common, unwritten law.
Cossack society and government were heavily militarized. The nation
was called a host (vois’ko, or viys’ko, translated as 'army'). The
people and territories were subdivided into regimental and company
districts, and village posts (polky, sotni, and stanytsi). A unit of a
Cossack troop could be called a kuren.
Each Cossack settlement, alone or in conjunction with neighbouring
settlements, formed military units and regiments of light cavalry (or
mounted infantry in the case of Siberian Cossacks). They could respond
to a threat on very short notice.
A high regard for education was a tradition among the
Ukraine. In 1654, when the Patriarch of Antioch, Makarios, traveled to
Moscow through Ukraine, his son, Deacon Paul Allepscius, wrote the
All over the land of Rus', i.e., among the Cossacks, we have noticed a
remarkable feature which made us marvel; all of them, with the
exception of only a few among them, even the majority of their wives
and daughters, can read and know the order of the church-services as
well as the church melodies. Besides that, their priests take care and
educate the orphans, not allowing them to wander in the streets
ignorant and unattended.
Cossacks founded numerous settlements (called stanitsas) and
fortresses along troublesome borders. These included forts Verny
(Almaty, Kazakhstan) in south Central Asia;
Grozny in North Caucasus;
Fort Alexandrovsk (Fort Shevchenko, Kazakhstan); Krasnovodsk
(Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan); Novonikolayevskaya stanitsa (Bautino,
Kazakhstan); Blagoveshchensk; and towns and settlements along the
Ural, Ishim, Irtysh, Ob, Yenisei, Lena, Amur, Anadyr (Chukotka), and
Ussuri Rivers. A group of
Albazin Cossacks settled in
China as early
Cossacks interacted with nearby peoples, and exchanged cultural
influences (for example, the
Terek Cossacks were heavily influenced by
the culture of North Caucasian tribes). They also frequently married
local residents (non-Cossack settlers and natives), regardless of race
or origin, sometimes setting aside religious restrictions. War
brides brought from distant lands were also common in Cossack
General Bogaevsky, a commander in the Russian Volunteer
Army, mentions in his 1918 memoir that one of his Cossacks, Sotnik
Khoperski, was a native Chinese who had been brought back as a child
from Manchuria during the
Russian-Japanese War 1904–1905; a Cossack
family adopted and raised him.
Siberian Cossack family in Novosibirsk
Cossack family values as expressed in 21st century Russia are simple,
rigid, and seem very traditional compared to those of contemporary
Western culture. In theory men build the home and provide an income;
the women take care of the family and provide for the children and
household. Traditional Russian values, culture and Orthodox
Christianity form the bedrock of their beliefs.
Cossacks, particularly those in rural areas, tend to have more
children than most other people in Russia. Rural
Cossacks often have
traditional kinship systems; they live in large clans of extended
family. These are led by an elder patriarch, usually a grandfather,
who often has the title of Ataman.
Historically, when male
Cossacks waged permanent wars at a great
distance from their homes, the women took over the role as family
leaders. They were also called on to physically defend their villages
and towns from enemy attacks. In some cases, they raided and disarmed
neighbouring villages composed of other ethnic groups. The writer Leo
Tolstoy described such Cossack female chauvinism in his Cossacks
Sergei Korolev's mother was the daughter of a leader of the civil
estate of the Zaporozhian Sich. When Malorossian Cossack regiments had
been disbanded, those
Cossacks who were not promoted to nobility or
did not join other estates were united into a civil Cossack estate,
like Korolev's mother's family.
Cossacks have long appealed to romantics as idealising freedom and
resistance to external authority, and their military exploits against
their enemies have contributed to this favorable image.
Cossacks have become a symbol of repression because of the
role of various horsemen crying "Cossacks" to frighten
people, suppressing popular uprisings in the Russian
Empire, their actions during the
Khmelnytsky Uprising of 1648–1657
and for their role in pogroms In
Ukraine in 1919 headed by Petlura's
Ukrainian People's Republic
Ukrainian People's Republic army and Ataman
A Ukrainian Cossack (Ostap Kindrachuk) playing the bandura and wearing
Literary reflections of Cossack culture abound in Russian, Ukrainian
and Polish literature, particularly in the works of Nikolai Gogol
(Taras Bulba), Taras Shevchenko, Mikhail Sholokhov, Henryk Sienkiewicz
(With Fire and Sword). One of Leo Tolstoy's first novellas, The
Cossacks, depicts their autonomy and estrangement from Moscow and from
centralized rule. Most Polish Romantic literature
deals with themes about the Cossacks. (Roman Catholics, especially
Poles, could be
Zaporozhian Cossacks up to 1635. A lot of landless
Polish Schlahta converted to Eastern Orthodoxy to divide the lands of
Ruthenian Schlahta together with
Cossacks during the Khmelnitsky
uprising. After this
Cossacks used to convert Poles, especially Polish
children, to Eastern Orthodoxy to turn them into Cossacks.[citation
needed] Many Polish and Polish Jewish children were adopted into
Cossack families. All
Poles captured with arms by Russian forces in
the 1812–1814 campaign were enlisted in Cossack Hosts for 25 years,
though without the obligation to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.
However, those who converted to Eastern Orthodoxy might escape from
the Cossack service and from any other exile. Thus "Polish Cossack"
became synonymous with a Polish
Roman Catholic patriot from 1814.
In the literature of Western Europe,
Cossacks appear in Lord Byron's
"Mazepa", Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and
Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game". In
many[quantify] of the stories by adventure writer Harold Lamb, the
main character is a Cossack.
Historiography can interpret Cossackdom in imperial and colonial
In Ukraine, where Cossackdom represents historical and cultural
heritage, some people have started attempting to recreate the images
of Ukrainian Cossacks. Traditional Ukrainian culture is often tied in
with the Cossacks, and the Ukrainian government actively
supports[when?] these attempts. The traditional
Cossack bulawa serves as a symbol of the Ukrainian presidency, and the
island of the Khortytsia, the origin and center of the Zaporozhian
Sich, has been restored.
Since the dissolution of the
Soviet Union in 1991, many[quantify] have
begun seeing Russian
Cossacks as defenders of Russian
Cossacks have not only reestablished all
of their hosts, they have also taken over police and even
administrative duties in their homelands. The Russian military also
took advantage of the patriotic feelings among the
Cossacks and as the
hosts become larger and more organised; it has in the past[when?]
turned over some of its surplus technology to them. On par with that,
Cossacks also play a large cultural role in the South of Russia.
Since the rural ethnic Russian inhabitants of the Rostov-on-Don,
Krasnodar and Stavropol territories, as well as of the Autonomous
republics of the Northern Caucasus, regard themselves as consisting
almost exclusively of at least spiritual Cossack descendants, the
region has had a reputation, even in the Soviet times, for its high
discipline, low crime and conservative views. Such areas have high
rates of religious attendance and of literacy.
Kuban Cossack armed forces patch of the Russian military
Russian Empire organised its
Cossacks into several voiskos
(hosts), which lived along the Russian border, or internal borders
between Russian and non-Russian peoples. Each host originally had its
own leadership and regalia as well as its own uniforms and ranks.
However, by the late 19th century the latter were standardized
following the example of the Imperial Russian Army. Following the 1988
law, which allowed the hosts to reform and the 2005 one that legally
recognised the hosts as a combat service, the ranks and insignia were
kept, but on all military tickets that are standard for the Russian
Army they are given below.
Modern Cossack rank
Equivalent modern Russian Army
Equivalent foreign rank
Junior Warrant Officer
Senior Warrant Officer
*Rank presently absent in the Russian Army
*The application of ranks polkovnik and general is only stable for
small hosts. Large hosts are divided into divisions and consequently
the Russian Army sub-ranks general-mayor, general-leitenatant and
general-polkovnik are used to distinguish the atamans' hierarchy of
command, with the supreme ataman having the highest rank available. In
such a case, the shoulder insignia has a dedicated one-, two- and
three-star alignment, as normal in the Russian Army; otherwise it will
The same can be said about the colonel ranks as they are given to
atamans of regional and district status. The lowest group, stanitsa,
is commanded by Yesaul. If the region or district lacks any other
stanitsas, then the rank polkovnik is applied automatically but with
no stars on the shoulder. As the hosts continue to grow, starless
shoulder patches are becoming increasingly rare.
In addition, the supreme ataman of the largest
Don Cossack Host
Don Cossack Host is
officially titled as marshal, and so wears insignia derived from the
Russian/Soviet marshal ranks, including the diamond Marshal Star. This
is because the
Don Cossack Supreme
Ataman is recognized as the
official head of all Cossack armies (including those outside the
present Russian borders). He also has the authority to recognize and
dissolve new hosts.
A Cossack officer from Orenburg, with a shashka at his side, early
Cossacks were expected to provide their own uniforms. While these were
sometimes manufactured in bulk by factories owned by the individual
host, families often handed down garments or made them within the
household. Individual items might accordingly vary from those laid
down by regulation or be of obsolete pattern. Each Host had
distinctive uniform colourings.
For most hosts, the basic uniform consisted of the standard
loose-fitting tunics and wide trousers typical of Russian regular
troops during the period 1881–1908. The Caucasian Hosts (Kuban
and Terek) wore the very long, open fronted, cherkesska coats with
ornamental cartridge loops and coloured beshmets (waistcoats). These
have come to epitomize the popular image of the Cossacks. Most hosts
wore fleece hats with coloured cloth tops in full dress, and round
caps, with or without peaks, for ordinary duties. These caps were worn
sharply slanted to one side by the rank-and-file of cossack regiments,
over hair trimmed longer than that of ordinary Russian soldiers. The
two Caucasian Hosts wore high fleece caps on most occasions, together
with black felt cloaks (burke) in bad weather.
Siberian Cossack c1890s
Until 1909, Cossack regiments in summer wore white gymnasterkas
(blouses) and cap covers of standard Russian army pattern. The
shoulder straps and cap bands were in the host colour, as detailed
below. From 1910 to 1918, they wore a khaki-grey jacket for field
wear. The dress uniform had blue or green breeches with broad coloured
stripes in the Host colour and these were often worn with the service
Cossacks served as cavalry, several of the larger hosts had
infantry and artillery units. Four regiments of
Cossacks formed part
of the Imperial Guard, as well as the Konvoi—the tsar's mounted
escort. The Imperial Guard regiments wore tailored government-issue
uniforms, which were colourful and elaborate. As an example, the
Konvoi wore scarlet cherkesskas, white beshmets, and red crowns on
their fleece hats. The Guard
Cossacks of His Majesty and the Ataman's
Guard Cossacks, both drawn from the Don Host, wore red and light blue
coats respectively. The Combined Cossack Guard
Regiment (made up of
representative detachments from each of the remaining Hosts) wore red,
light blue, crimson or orange coats according to squadron.
Cherkesska or Tunic
blue with red stripes
blue with crimson stripes
light blue crown
green with light blue stripes
light blue crown
blue with yellow stripes
green with red stripes
green with yellow stripes
green with yellow stripes
green with crimson stripes
green with yellow stripes
*All details are based on the 1909–14 dress uniforms as portrayed in
"Tablitsi Form' Obmundirovaniya Russkoi Armi",
Colonel V.K. Shenk,
published by the Imperial Russian War Ministry 1910–11.
Modern-day Russian Cossack identity
Ethnic or "born" (prirodnye)
Cossacks are those who can trace, or
claim to trace, their ancestry to people and families identified as
Cossacks in the Tsarist era. They tend to be Christian, practising as
Orthodox Christians or Old Believers. This group includes the
edinovertsy, who identify as Slavic.
Others can be initiated as Cossacks, particularly men in military
service. Such initiates may be neither ethnic Slavic nor Christian in
religion. Not everyone agrees that such initiates should be considered
Cossack. There is no consensus on an initiation rite or rules.
In other cases, individuals may put on a Cossack uniform and pretend
to be one, perhaps because there is a large ethnic Cossack population
in the area and the person wants to fit in. Others adopt Cossack
clothing to try to take on some of their mythic status. Ethnic
Cossacks refer to the re-enactors as ryazhenye (ряженые, or
"dressed up phonies").
Because of the lack of consensus on how to define Cossacks, accurate
numbers of the people are not available. According to Russia's
Population Census 2010, there are 67,573 people who identify as being
Cossacks in Russia, while between 3.5 and 5 million people
associate themselves with the Cossack identity in Europe and across
Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation
Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation
Registered Cossacks of the Russian
Federation are the Cossack
paramilitary formation (public) carrier state and other service on the
basis of the Federal
Law of the Russian
Federation dated December 5,
2005 № 154-FZ "On State Service of the Russian Cossacks".
History of the Cossacks
Betrayal of the Cossacks
Hetmans of Ukrainian Cossacks
Persian Cossack Brigade
Registered Cossacks of the Russian Federation
Kossak (as a Polish family name)
Cossacks II: Napoleonic Wars
^ In the 19th century Peter V. Golubovsky of
Kiev University explained
Severians made up a significant part of early medieval
Russians and Khazars. He described the
Khazar state as the "Slavic
stronghold in the East". Many Khazars, like Cossacks, as described in
Cossacks by Leo Tolstoy, could be Slavic-Turkic bilinguals. *(in
Russian) Golubovsky Peter V. (1884) Pechenegs, Torks and
the invasion of the Tatars. History of the South Russian steppes in
the 9th-13th Centuries (Печенеги, Торки и Половцы
до нашествия татар. История
южно-русских степей IX—XIII вв.); available at
DjVu format. Later
Mikhail Artamonov and his school
confirmed many of Golubovsky's conclusions.
^ The Don Host and the Sich region had close ties, and both
participated in numerous joint war expeditions. The best known is Azov
Sitting, when Don and
Zaporozhian Cossacks took over the Azov fortress
and defended it with the aid of volunteers for five years against
Turkish armed forces. A permanent exchange of
Cossacks took place
between the Zaporozhie region and the Don region; Dinskoy (Don) Kuren
(division) was one of the Kurens that made up the Sich. The historical
relation between the groups is reflected in similar names among major
towns in the Don and
Dnieper regions, for example,
Starocherkasskaya stanitsa in the Don region, and
Cherkasy city in
Ukraine. Moscovite chronicles use the exonym
Cherkasy to refer both to
Cossacks (from Polish, Turk, and
Tatar armies) and to Dnieper
Cossacks, even when the latter were allied with Moscow. The Lower
Cossacks often referred to Higher Dnieper
Cherkasy as well.
^ See, for example, Executions of
Cossacks in Lebedin.
^ After the Pugachev rebellion, the Empire renamed the Yaik Host, its
capital, Yaik Cossaks, and Zimoveyskaya Cossack town in the Don
region, to try to encourage the
Cossacks to forget the men and their
rebellions. At the same time the Empire formally dissolved the Lower
Dnieper Zaporozhian Cossack Host and destroyed their fortress (the
Sich per se) on the Dnieper, perhaps in part due to the participation
of some Zaporozhian and other Ukrainian exiles in Pugachev's
rebellion. During his campaign Pugachev issued manifestos to restore
all borders and freedoms of both the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
and the Lower
Dnieper (Nyzovyi in Ukrainian) Cossack Host under the
joint protectorate of Russia and the Commonwealth.
^ The Malorussian
Cossacks (the former "Registered Cossacks" ["Town
Zaporozhian Host" in Russia]) were excluded from this transformation
but were promoted to members of various civil estates or classes
(often Russian nobility), including the newly created civil estate of
^ Lacking horses, the poor served in Cossack infantry and in Cossack
artillery. The Russian navy had no Cossack ships and units. This is
Cossacks served with other people in the navy only.
^ Their use in preventing pogroms is reflected in a story by prominent
Jewish writer Sholom Aleichem, titled "A Wedding Without Musicians",
which describes how a Jewish shtetl in
Ukraine is attacked by a local
mob and the Cossack unit stops the pogrom. See Шолом
Алейхем, "Быть бы свадьбе, да музыки не
нашлось", Гослитиздат, Moscow, 1961..
^ This is also true of the
Don Cossacks of the Lower Don, where the
local dialect is related to Ukrainian. Many Ukrainian peasants joined
Terek Cossacks in the 1820s–30s, influencing local dialects. But the
Cossacks (the part of Terek Cossacks) with deep Adyghe
roots because of intermarriages, still speak an old northern Russian
Viatka dialect. (It likely has connections to the old dialects of the
White Sea shores). Middle Don dialects are related to northern Russian
dialects, the Belorussian language and Volyn dialects of Ukrainian,
the latter dialects are close to Belorussian dialects. Only Upper Don
dialects are southern Russian ones.
^ Notable supporters of this point of view were Gustav von Ewers,
Nicholas I, Peter V. Golubovsky,
Mikhail Artamonov and his school,
Lev Gumilyov etc.
^ See penultimate footnote.[clarification needed]
^ After the
Caucasus war both the Russian Imperial policy and internal
problems made some Muslims, Subbotniks, Molokane, Jews and various
Christian minorities, whether Cossack or non-Cossack, move outside the
Don area, usually to the newly conquered frontier areas or abroad. For
example, many Moslem
Cossacks moved to Turkey because of the lack of
Moslem brides in their villages. The Don Host resisted this policy and
minorities were kept, as was the case of some Moslem
Cossacks and of
Rostov-on-Don non-Cossack Jews
^ The majority of
White Army refugees held the anti-Nazi views and
either refrained from the support of Germans or joined the Resistance.
General Denikin, who had been an anti-Nazi activist and champion of
Western aid to the Red Army, in vain tried to explain to Western
allies that many
Cossacks in Nazi service, such as Old-Believers, had
never been Nazis, had understood nothing of Nazi ideology or
anti-Communism. They believed they were fighting their traditional war
against Eastern Orthodox missionaries, Roman Catholics, etc. Cossacks
saved many Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, Communists, and others from the
Ustashi. They made false marriages to save many Russian prisoners held
in work camps.
^ Lester W. Grau (1993). "The Cossack Brotherhood Reborn: A
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^ R.P. Magocsi, A History of Ukraine, pp. 179–181
^ O'Rourke, Shane (2000). "Warriors and peasants: The
Don Cossacks in
late imperial Russia". ISBN 978-0-312-22774-6.
^ A noted author, Count Leo Tolstoy, wrote "... that all of the
Russian history has been made by Cossacks. No wonder Europeans call
all of us that
... Our people as a whole wish to be Cossacks."
(L. Tosltoy, A Complete Collection of Works, v. 48, page 123, Moscow,
1952; Полн. собр. соч. в 90 т. М., 1952 г., т.48,
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^ "Сопредельные с ними (поселенцами –
Ред.) по "Горькой линии" казаки ...
поголовно обучались Киргизскому
наречию и переняли некоторые, впрочем,
безвредные привычки кочевого народа".
Генерал-губернатор Казнаков в докладе
Александру III, 1875. "Among – Edit. neighbouring
(settlers -Edit.) in Gor'kaya Liniya,
... everyone learnt
Kyrgys language and adopted some, harmless though, habits of nomadic
folks." quote from Report of Governor-
General Kaznakov to Tzar
Alexander III, 1875.
^ Богаевский А.П. Ледяной поход.
Воспоминания 1918 г.
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... the Russian used by the Ukrainian elite of
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries
... was strongly
influenced by the military and bureaucratic terminology of the period
(the hallmark of the Cossack elite's imperial experience)
increasing influence of Russian
... gave evidence of the new cultural
situation in the Hetmanate, which had all the hallmarks of a colonial
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the Napoleonic Wars. Partizan Press.
O'Rourke, Shane (2008). The Cossacks. Manchester University Press.
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Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 50 (Apr., 1898), pp. 242–260,
"The Cossack Corps",
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Le Fiamme di Zaporoze -Flames of Zaporoze – Novel on Zaporozhian
Cossacks of hetman Ivan Mazepa. ISBN 88-6155-268-4
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Cossacks.
Cossacks in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
"Cossacks". Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). 1911.
Cossacks during the Napoleonic Wars
History of Ukrainian
Cossacks at Encyclopedia of Ukraine
Cossacks – an issue of the propaganda journal USSR in
Construction which presents numerous images of Cossack life in Soviet
Cossack Nation Livejournal
Cossack Nation – The Social Network of Ethnic Cossacks
The Congress of
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Pirate, Rebel, Freedom Fighter, Champion of the Poor
Open Public Library "
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