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Not to be confused with Kazakhs.

The Cossacks are a traditional community of people living in the southern steppe regions of Eastern Europe and Asian Russia, famous for their self-reliance and military skills, particularly horsemanship.

Cossack may also refer to a member of a Cossack military unit. Originally Cossacks were runaway Ukrainian and Russian peasants who escaped Polish and Muscovite feudal pressure and settled in the southern steppes.

The name entered the English language from the French Cosaque, in turn, probably via Polish from the Ukrainian Kozak rather than the modern Russian Kazak. It is ultimately derived from a Turkic social term qazaq meaning "adventurer" or "free man". This term is first mentioned in a Ruthenian chronicle dated 1395. Cossacks (Qazaqlar) were also border keepers in the Khanate of Kazan.

Cossacks became first widely known in western Europe in the mid-seventeenth century as a result of the great revolt<ref>Chevalier, Pierre (2001). Histoire de la guerre des cosaques contre la Pologne. Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1-4212-3269-3.</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref> of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the Zaporozhians in Ukraine against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which shook the geopolitical foundations of eastern Europe.

Famous were the Cossacks (Каза́ки, Kazaki) of the Don, Terek and Ural regions, as well as areas of Siberia (such as the Baikal Cossacks). Their numbers grew during late medieval times, joined by numerous Russian serfs fleeing from their owners. Eventually Cossacks became guardians of ethnic and state boundaries. Cossacks served in the Russian regular army in various wars throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the Russian Civil War they fought on both sides although the Don Cossack Host was one of the main military forces resisting the Bolsheviks. As a result during Soviet times, Cossack culture was subject to intensive Bolshevik persecution and Cossack lands survived several famines. Cossack military regiments were, however, reformed prior to the Second World War. Currently in Russia, Cossacks are seen as either ethnic descendants, or by their active military service, and often both. The latter category was listed as a separate group in the census and there are currently up to 150,000 Cossacks in military service in Russia and up to several million descendants aware of their Cossack heritage, which is now experiencing a revival, particularly in the south of Russia.

Also famous were the Cossacks (Козаки́, Kozaky) of the Zaporozhian Host, who lived on the southern steppes of modern Ukraine. Their numbers increased greatly between the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, fed by poor Ruthenian boyar-noblity, merchants and runaway peasants from Poland-Lithuania. The Zaporozhian Cossacks played an important role in European geopolitics, undergoing a series of conflicts and alliances with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Muscovy, and the Ottoman Empire. Although since the end of the eighteenth century most of their descendants have moved to the Kuban area of Russia and do not identify themselves as Ukrainians, they are nevertheless considered progenitors of the modern Ukrainian nation by some historians. Presently there are a number of Ukrainian social organisations that try to regenerate the Cossack lifestyle and influence often with varying political and religious slants.

Less well-known are the Polish Cossacks (Kozacy) and the Tatar Cossacks (Nağaybäklär).

The name 'Cossacks' was also given to a kind of light cavalry in the army of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.


[edit] History

[edit] Origins

It is not clear when the Slavic people started settling in the lower reaches of the Don and the Dnieper. It is unlikely it could have happened before the thirteenth century, when the Mongol hordes broke the power of the Cumans and other Turkic tribes on that territory.

Proto-Cossack groups most likely came into existence within the territories of today's Ukraine in the mid-thirteenth century. In 1261 some Slavic people living in the area between the Dniester and the Volga were mentioned in Ruthenian chronicles. Historical records of the Cossacks before the sixteenth century are scant. In the fifteenth century, the Cossack society was described as a loose federation of independent communities, often forming local armies, entirely separate from the neighbouring states (of, e.g, Poland, Grand Duchy of Moscow or the Khanate of Crimea).

By the sixteenth century these Cossack societies merged into two independent territorial organizations as well as other smaller, still detached groups.

Some historical documents of that period refer to those states as sovereign nations with unique warrior cultures, whose main source of income was derived from the pillaging of their neighbours. They were renowned for their raids against the Ottoman Empire and its vassals, although they didn't shy away from pillaging other neighbours. Their actions increased tension along the southern border of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Kresy), which resulted in almost a constant low-level warfare taking place in those territories for almost the entire existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

In 1539 the Grand Duke Vasili III of Russia asked the Ottoman Sultan to curb the Cossacks and the Sultan replied: "The Cossacks do not swear allegiance to me, and they live as they themselves please." In 1549, Czar Ivan the Terrible, replied to a request of the Turkish Sultan to stop the aggressive actions of the Don Cossacks, stating, "The Cossacks of the Don are not my subjects, and they go to war or live in peace without my knowledge." Similar exchanges passed between Russia, the Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, each of which tried to exploit Cossack warmongering for its own purposes. Cossacks for their part were mostly happy to plunder everybody more or less equally, although in the sixteenth century, with the dominance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth extending south, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were mostly, if tentatively, regarded by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as their subjects. Registered Cossacks were a part of the Commonwealth army until 1699.

A Ukrainian Cossack in the times of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Painting by Dariusz T. Wielec.

Around the end of the sixteenth century, relations between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire, which were not very cordial to begin with, further worsened with the growing number of independent actions by the Cossacks. From the second part of the sixteenth century, Cossacks started raiding territories under Ottoman rule. Although subjects of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Polish government could not control the fiercely independent Cossacks, and so was held responsible for the raids by their victims. Reciprocally, the Tatars living under Ottoman rule launched raids into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, mostly in the sparsely inhabited south-east territories. Cossack pirates, however, were raiding the heart of the Ottoman Empire, its wealthy merchant port cities, which were just two days away by boat from the mouth of the river Dnieper. By 1615, Cossacks had even manage to raze the townships on the outskirts of Constantinople. Consecutive treaties between Ottoman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth called for both parties to curb Cossacks and Tatars, but its enforcement was almost non-existent on both sides of the border. In internal agreements, forced by the Polish side, Cossacks agreed to burn their boats and stop raiding. However, boats could be rebuilt fast, and the Cossack lifestyle glorified raids and booty. During this time, the Habsburg Empire sometimes covertly employed Cossack raiders to ease Ottoman pressure on their own borders. Many Cossacks and Tatars shared an animosity towards each other due to the damage done by raids from both sides. Cossack raids followed by Tatar retaliation, or Tatar raids followed by Cossack retaliation were an almost regular occurrence. The ensuing chaos and string of retaliations often turned the entire south-eastern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth border into a low-intensity war zone and led to the escalation of the Commonwealth-Ottoman warfare, from the Moldavian Magnate Wars to the Battle of Cecora and Wars in 1633–1634.

Cossack numbers expanded with peasants running from serfdom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Attempts by the szlachta to turn the Zaporozhian Cossacks into serfs eroded the Cossacks' once fairly strong loyalty towards the Commonwealth. Cossack ambitions to be recognized as equal to the szlachta were constantly rebuffed, and plans for transforming the Two-Nations Commonwealth (Polish-Lithuanian) into Three Nations (with the Ruthenian Cossack people) made little progress due to their lack of popularity within the Commonwealth. The Cossack's strong historic allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the Commonwealth dominated by the Catholicism increased the tensions, especially when the Commonwealth policies turned from relative tolerance to suppression of the Orthodox church, which made the Cossacks strongly anti-Catholic which at the time was synonymous to anti-Polish.

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 seventeenth century. Finally, the King's adamant refusal to cede to the Cossack's 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. The uprising became one of a series of catastrophic events for the Commonwealth known as The Deluge, which led to the disintegration of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The rebellion ended with the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav where Cossacks pledge their loyalty to the Russian Tsar with the latter guaranteeing Cossacks his protection, recognition of Cossack starshyna (nobility) and the autonomy under his rule,<ref name="EB_Pereyaslav">"In 1651, in the face of a growing threat from Poland and forsaken by his Tatar allies, Khmelnytsky asked the tsar to incorporate Ukraine as an autonomous duchy under Russian protection... [T]the details of the union were negotiated in Moscow. The Cossacks were granted a large degree of autonomy, and they, as well as other social groups in Ukraine, retained all the rights and privileges they had enjoyed under Polish rule. "Pereyaslav agreement". Encyclopædia Britannica. (2006).</ref> freeing the Cossacks from the Polish sphere of influence. The last, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to rebuild the Polish-Cossack alliance and create a Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian Commonwealth was the 1658 Treaty of Hadiach approved by the Polish King and Sejm as well as by some of the Cossack starshyna, including ataman Ivan Vyhovsky.[1] The starshyna was however divided on the
Image:Wesele Kozackie.jpg
Cossack's wedding. Painting by Józef Brandt.
issue and the treaty had even less support among Cossack rank-and-file, thus ending in a failure.

Under Russian rule the Cossack nation of the Zaporozhian Host was divided into two semiautonomous republics of the Grand Duchy of Moscow: the Cossack Hetmanate, and the more independent Zaporizhia. A Cossack organization was also established in the Russian colony of Sloboda Ukraine. These organizations gradually lost their independence, and were abolished by Catherine II by the late 18th century. The Hetmanate became the governorship of Little Russia, Sloboda Ukraine the Kharkiv province, and Zaporizhia was absorbed into New Russia. In 1775 the Zaporozhian Host was dissolved and high ranking Cossack leaders were granted titles of nobility (dvoryanstvo). Most of the Zaporozhians resettled to colonise the Kuban steppe which was a crucial foothold for Russian expansion in the Caucasus. Some however ran away across the Danube (territory under the control of the Ottoman Empire) to form a new host before rejoining the others in the Kuban.

During their stay there, a new host was found which by the end of 1778 numbered around 12000 Cossacks and their settlement at the border with Russia met with the approval of the Ottoman Empire after the Cossacks officially vowed to serve the Sultan. Yet the conflict inside the new host of the new loyalty, and the political manoeuvres used by the Russian Empire had a direct split in the Cossacks themselves. After a portion of the runaway Cossacks
Image:Kub kaz.jpg
Late 19th century
returned to Russia they were used by the Russian army to form new military bodies that also incorporated Greek Albanians and Crimean Tatars. However after the Russo-Turkish war of 1787–1792, most of them were incorporated into the Black Sea Cossack Host which moved to the Kuban steppes. The remaining Cossacks that stayed in the Danube delta returned to Russia in 1828 and created between Berdyansk and Mariupol Azov Cossack Host. In 1864 all of them were resettled to North Caucasus and merged into the Kuban Cossack Host.

[edit] Russian Cossacks

The native land of the Cossacks is defined by a line of the 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 Dnieper via 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 which was then extended to other free people in northern Russia. The oldest reference in the annals mentions Cossacks of the Russian city of Ryazan taking part in the city's service in the battle against the Tatars in 1444. In the sixteenth century, the Cossacks (firstly those of Ryazan) were grouped in military and trading communities on the open steppe and started to migrate into the area of the Don (source Vasily Klyuchevsky, The course of the Russian History, vol.2).

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 sixteenth century, to protect the borderland area from Tatar invasions, Cossacks carried out sentry and patrol duties, observing Crimean Tatars and nomads of the Nogai Horde in the steppe region.

Russian Cossacks played a key role in the expansion of the Russian Empire into Siberia (particularly by Yermak Timofeyevich), the Caucasus and Central Asia in the period from the 16th to 19th centuries. 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 Simeon Dezhnev opened a passage between America and Asia. Cossack units played a role in many wars in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries (such as the Russo-Turkish Wars and the Russo-Persian Wars, annexation of Central Asia).

During Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Cossacks were the Russian soldiers most feared by the French troops. Cossacks also took part in the partisan war deep inside French-occupied Russian territory attacking communications and supply lines. These attacks, carried out by 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.

Western Europeans had had few contacts with Cossacks before the Allies occupied Paris in 1814. As the most exotic of the Russian troops seen in France, Cossacks drew a great deal of attention and notoriety for their alleged excesses during the 1812 campaign.

[edit] Cossack settlements

Image:Orenburg cossack.jpg
A Cossack from Orenburg, with a shashka at his side

Russian Cossacks founded numerous settlements (called stanitsas) and fortresses along "troublesome borders" such as 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, towns and settlements at Ural, Ishim, Irtysh, Ob, Yenisei, Lena, Amur, Anadyr (Chukotka), and Ussuri Rivers, just to name a few.

[edit] Cossacks during the final years of the Russian Empire

At the end of the nineteenth century, the Cossack communities enjoyed a privileged tax-free status in the Russian Empire, although having a military service commitment of twenty years (reduced to eighteen years from 1909). Only five years had to be spent in full time service, the remainder of the commitment being spent with the reserves. In the beginning of the twentieth century Russian Cossacks counted 4.5 million and were organised into separate regional Hosts, each comprising a number of regiments.

Each Host had its own distinctive uniform of either grey-brown , blue or green with red, crimson, yellow or light blue facings. Cossacks were expected to provide their own uniforms. While these were sometimes manufactured in bulk by factories owned by the individual Host, garments were often handed down or cut out within a family. Individual items might accordingly vary from those laid down by regulation or be of obsolete pattern.

Cossack patrol near Baku oil fields, 1905.

For most Hosts the basic uniform comprised the standard loose fitting tunics and wide trousers typical of Russian regular troops during the period 1881-1908. However the Caucasian Hosts (Kuban and Terek) wore the very long, open fronted, cherkesska coats with ornamental cartridge loops and coloured beshmets (waistcoats), that epitomise the popular image of the Cossacks. Most Hosts wore fleece hats with coloured cloth tops in full dress with peaked caps for ordinary duties. The two Caucasian Hosts however appear to have worn high fleece caps on most occasions.

Until 1909 white blouses and cap covers of standard Russian army pattern were worn by the Cossack regiments in summer. The shoulder straps and cap bands were in the Host colour as detailed below. From 1910 to 1918 a khaki-grey jacket was worn for field wear with the blue or green breeches and coloured stripes of the dress uniform.

While most Cossacks served as cavalry, there were infantry and artillery units in several of the hosts. Three 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 of spectacular and colourful appearance. As an example, the Konvoi wore scarlet cherkesskas, white beshmets and red crowns on their fleece hats.

In 1914 the line Cossack Hosts were:

  • Cossacks of the Don (year of establishment 1570; 1914 dress uniform blue with wide red trouser stripes, red cloth crown on fleece hat, blue shoulder straps),
  • Cossacks of the Ural, year of establishment 1571; 1914 dress unifom blue with crimson trouser stripes, crimson hat crown and crimson shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of the Terek, year of establishment 1577. As a Caucasian Host 1914 dress uniform comprised grey-brown cherkesska with light blue shoulder straps, light blue beshmet and light blue crown of fleece hat.
  • Cossacks of the Kuban, year of establishment 1696. As a Caucasian Host 1914 dress uniform comprised grey-brown cherkesska with red shoulder straps, red beshmet and red crown of fleece hat.
  • Cossacks of Orenburg, year of establishment 1744. 1914 dress uniform green with light blue trouser stripes, light blue hat crown and light blue shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of Astrakhan, year of establishment 1750. 1914 dress uniform uniform blue with yellow trouser stripes, yellow hat crown and yellow shoulder straps.
  • Siberian Cossacks, early 1750s (?). 1914 dress uniform green with red trouser stripes, red hat crown and red shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of Gor'kaya Liniya (Ishim and Irtysh rivers, often referred to as a southern subsidiary of Siberian (Fortification) Lines and Siberian Cossacks), year of establishment 1753(?)
  • Transbaikalian Cossacks, year of establishment 1851. 1914 dress uniform green with yellow trouser stripes, yellow hat crown and yellow shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of the Amur, year of establishment 1858. 1914 dress uniform green with yellow trouser stripes, yellow hat crown and green shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of Semiretshensk, year of establishment 1867. 1914 dress uniform green with crimson trouser stripes, crimson hat crown and crimson shoulder straps.
  • Cossacks of the Ussuri, year of establishment 1889. 1914 dress uniform green with yellow trouser stripes, yellow hat crown and yellow shoulder straps.

[edit] Cossacks after the Russian Revolution

In the Civil War that followed the Russian Revolution, the Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict. Many officers and experienced Cossacks fought for the White Army, and some of the poorer ones joined the Red Army, including notable commanders like Semyon Budennyi. Following the defeat of the White Army, a policy of Decossackization (Raskazachivaniye) took place on the surviving Cossacks and their homelands since they were viewed as potential threat to the new regime. This mostly involved dividing their territory amongst other divisions and giving it to new autonomous republics of minorities, and then actively encouraging settlement of these territories with those peoples. This was especially true for the Terek Cossacks land. The Cossack homelands were often very fertile, and during the collectivization campaign many Cossacks shared the fate of kulaks. The famine of 1933 hit the Don and Kuban territory the hardest. 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" <ref name=Sharpe-2001>Kort, Michael (2001). The Soviet Collosus: History and Aftermath, p. 133. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-0396-9.</ref>.

Nevertheless, in 1936, under pressure from former Cossack descendants like Semyon Budyonny, it was decided to reintroduce Cossack forces into the Red Army. During the Second World War Cossacks found themselves on both sides of the conflict again, as most of the Nazi collaborators came from former White Army refugees. Red Army Cossacks fought on the Southern theatre of the front, where open steppes made them ideal for frontal patrols and logistics. A Cossack detachment marched on Red Square during the famous victory parade in 1945.

24 June 1945, Victory Parade

One notable group of those who fought for the Germans in the Wehrmacht was the XV Cossack Cavalry Corps under the German General Helmuth von Pannwitz in combat against the Serbian partisans in Yugoslavia. They surrendered to the British Army in Austria in 1945, hoping to join the British to fight Communism. There was little sympathy at the time for a group who were seen as Nazi collaborators and who were reported to have committed atrocities against resistance fighters in Eastern Europe. They were accordingly handed over to the Soviet Government, to be executed or imprisoned. At the end of the war, American and British commanders "repatriated" more than 150,000 Cossack men, women, and children to the Soviet Union. Many of these people had never been Soviet citizens. This event is commonly known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks or the Secret Betrayal.

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 thought of themselves as simple peasants, and those who lived inside an autonomous republic usually gave way to the particular minority and migrated elsewhere (notably, to the Baltic region).

In the perestroika-enlightened USSR of the late 1980s, many successors of the Cossacks became enthusiastic about reviving their national traditions. In 1988 the USSR passed a law which allowed formation of former hosts and the creation new ones. The ataman of the largest, the All-Mighty Don Host, was granted Marshal rank and the right to form a new host. The Cossacks have taken an active part in many of the conflicts that took place afterwards: Transdniestr, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kosovo and Chechnya. While their impact on the outcome of the conflict rarely garnered mass-media attention, Cossacks again became known for their high morale and bravery.

At the same time many attempts were made to make the Cossack impact on the Russian society and throughout the 1990s many regional authorities agreed to hand over some local administration and policing duties to the Cossacks. However in April 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin introduced a bill "On the State Service of the Russian Cossacks" (O gosudarstvennoy sluzhbe rossiyskogo kazachestva) to the State Duma, which was passed in the first reading on May 18, 2005. For the first time in decades the Cossacks were recongnised as not only a destinct ethnocultural entity but also as a potent military service. Although their full ambition to administer wholly the territory stretching from Transdniester all the way along the steppe to the Ural river might be distant, the bill made a significant step towards achiveing it.

[edit] Cossack organization

In early times, Cossack bands were commanded by an ataman (later called hetman). 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 even the clergy. The ataman's symbol of power was a ceremonial mace, a bulava.

Image:Kozak na stanowisku.jpg
"Cossack on duty", painting by Józef Brandt.

After the split of Ukraine along the Dnieper River by the Polish-Russian Treaty of Andrusovo, 1667, Ukrainian Cossacks were known as Left-bank Cossacks 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, translated as 'army'), and subdivided into regimental and company districts, and village posts (polky, sotni, and stanytsi).

Each Cossack settlement, alone or in conjunction with neighbouring settlements, formed one or more military units and regiments of light cavalry (or mounted infantry, for Siberian Cossacks) ready to respond to a threat on very short notice.

[edit] Cossacks and religion

Although there was a small minority of Muslim, Buddhist (Kalmyk Cossacks) and Old Believer Cossacks in Russia, the majority of Cossacks are of the Russian Orthodox faith. The relationship between Cossacks and the Orthodox Church runs very deep, and has had strong influences on both the history of the Cossacks and that of the Orthodox Church. Traditionally, Cossacks are considered the protectors of the Church and Orthodox Christians.

Although Cossacks are sometimes regarded as xenophobic, some Cossacks readily adapted to the cultures and customs of nearby peoples<ref name="Kaznakov"> "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 (to settlers -Edit.) in Gor'kaya Liniya Cossacks [...] everyone learnt Kyrgys language and adopted some, harmless though, habits of nomadic folks" quoted Report of Governor-General Kaznakov to Tzar Alexander III, 1875.</ref> (for example, the Terek Cossacks, who were heavily influenced by the culture of North Caucasian tribes) and frequently married local residents (other 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 families. One of the Russian Volunteer Army commanders, General Bogaevsky mentions in his book one of his Cossacks unit's servicemen, sotnik Khoperski, who was Chinese by origin and brought from Manchuria during the Russian-Japanese War 1904-1905 as a child, adopted and raised by a Cossack family. <ref name=Bogayevsky>Богаевский А.П. Ледяной поход. Воспоминания 1918 г. </ref>.

[edit] Cossacks in the Russian Empire

From the start, relations of Cossacks with Muscouvy were very much varied, at times this involved combined military operations, and at others there were famous Cossack uprisings. One particular example was the dissolution of the Zaporozhian Host, which took place at the end of the 18th century. The divisions of the Cossacks within was clearely visible between those that chose to stay loyal to the Russian Monarch and continue the service (who later moved to the Kuban) and those that chose to continue their pro-mercinary role and ran off the Danube delta.

Nevertheless by the 19th century, the Russian Empire managed to fully annex all the control over the hosts and instead rewarded the Cossacks with privileges for their service. At this time the Cossacks were actively participating in many Russian wars. Although the cavalry tactics in open battles were generally inferior to primary soldiers such as Hussars, nevertheless Cossacks did make excellent scouting and reconossaince duties, as well as ambushes.

Cossack patrol near Baku oil fields, 1905

The Cossack sense of being a separate and elite community gave them a strong sense of loyalty to the Tsarist government and Cossack units were frequently used to suppress domestic disorder, especially during the widespread worker and peasant unrest of 1905–06. The Imperial Government depended heavily on the perceived reliability of the Cossacks, although by the early twentieth century their separate communities and semi-feudal military service were increasingly being seen as obsolete. In strictly military terms the Cossacks were not highly regarded by the Russian Army Command, who saw them as less well disciplined, trained and mounted than the hussars, dragoons and lancers of the regular cavalry ("The Cossacks" by Albert Seaton SBN 85045 116 7). 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.

When revolution came in February 1917, the Cossacks appear to have shared the general disillusionment with Tsarist leadership and the Cossack regiments in Saint Petersburg joined the uprising. While only a few units were involved, their defection (and that of the Konvoi) came as a stunning psychological blow to the Government of Nicholas II and speeded his abdication.

[edit] Popular image of Cossacks

Cossacks have long appealed to romantics as idealizing freedom and resistance to external authority, and their military exploits against enemies of the Russian people have contributed to this favourable image. For others they have been a symbol of repression because of their role in suppressing popular uprisings in the Russian Empire, as well as their assaults against Jews.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many have begun seeing Cossacks as defenders of Russian sovereignty. Cossacks not only reestablished all of their hosts, they also took over police and even administrative duties in their homelands. The Russian military also took advantage of the patriotic feelings amongst the Cossacks and as the hosts become increasingly larger and more organised, has in past overturned some of its surplus technology to them. On par with that the Cossacks also play a large cultural role in the South of Russia. Since the whole rural population of the Rostov, Krasnodar and Starvropol territories as well as the Autonomous republics of the Northern Caucasus consists almost exclusively of Cossack descendants (amongst the ethnic Russian population) the region was always known, even in the Soviet times for its high discipline, low crime and conservative sentiments, like having one of the highest rates of religious attendance and literacy rates. The result was that, amongst Russian youth, Cossacks began to represent order and, in some cases, hope, especially when compared with the presently unpopular Russian Army.

Image:Kozacka piesn.jpg
A Ukrainian folk musician, Ostap Kindratchuk, playing the bandura on an Old Market in Poznań wearing the traditional cossack outfit.

In Ukraine where the Cossackdom represents historical and cultural heritage, some people have been attempting to recreate the images of Ukrainian Cossacks, that survived through Soviet times via various propaganda images, like the glorification of the Pereyaslvl Rada. Presently traditional Ukrainian culture is often tied in with these images and a result the Ukrainian government actively supports this, like having the Bulava club as its national symbolism and the restoration of the Hortytsia island, where the famous Zaporozhian Sech once dwelled.

Literary reflections of Cossack culture abound in Russian and Ukrainian literatures, particularly in the works of Nikolai Gogol, Taras Shevchenko and Mikhail Sholokhov. Moreover, they were portrayed in the Henryk Sienkiewicz's book With Fire and Sword, where Bohun, bold and desperate Cossack, is one of the main characters.

Cossacks are also portrayed in Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

The Cossacks' uniforms heavily influenced the design of the Vostroyan First Born regiment of the Imperial Guard from the tabletop wargame Warhammer 40,000.

[edit] Terminology

[edit] Russian Cossacks

In the Russian Empire, the Cossacks were organized into several voiskos (hosts), which lived along Russian borderland, or internal borders between Russian and non-Russian peoples. Each host had its own leadership and regalia as well as uniforms as well as ranks. However by the late nineteenth century the latter were standardised of 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 bellow.

Ataman Kommandir Commander
Modern Cossack rank Equivalent Russian Army Equivalent foreign rank
Kazak Ryadovoy Private
Prikazny Yefreitor Corporal
Mladshy Uryadnik Mladshy Serzhant Junior Sergeant
Uryadnik Serzhant Sergeant
Starshy Uryadnik Starshy Serzhant Senior Sergeant
Mladshy Vakhmistr Mladshy Praporshik* Junior Warrant Officer
Vakhmistr Praporshchik Warrant officer
Starshy Vakhmistr Starshy Praporshchik Senior Warrant Officer
Podkhorunzhy Mladshy Leitenant* Junior Lieutenant
Khorunzhy Leitenant Lieutenant
Sotnik Starshy Leitenant Senior Lieutenant
Podyesaul Kapitan Captain
Yesaul Mayor Major
Voiskovy Starshyna Podpolkovnik Lieutenant-Colonel
Kazachy Polkovnik Polkovnik Colonel
Kazachy General** General General

*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 will have a dedicated one, two and three star alignment as normal in the Russian Army otherwise it will be blank.

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 host continue to grow, starless shoulder batches are becoming increasingly rare.

In addition to all that, the Supreme Ataman of the largest Don Cossack Host, is officially titled as Marshal and consequently wears insignia that is derived from the Russian/Soviet Marshal ranks, including the diamond Marshal Star. This is because the Don Cossack Supreme Ataman is recognised as the official head of all Cossack armies (including those outside the present Russian borders). He also has the authority to recognise and dissolve new hosts.

[edit] Ukrainian Cossacks

  • Hetman - a Ukrainian Cossack supreme military leader.
  • Koshovyi Otaman - leader of the Zaporozhian Host.
  • Starshyna - a general name for higher officers.
    • Polkovnyk - a head of military territorial unit "polk" (army corps); his rank corresponds to general in westtern armies; member of starshyna
    • Pysar - a secretary, member of starshyna
    • Suddya - a judge, member of starshyna
    • Oboznyi - a head-conveyor, member of starshyna
    • Osavul - a common name of Cossack leader
    • Khorunzhyi - a standard keeper
    • Desiatnyk - a leader of 10 men Cossack company
    • Sotnyk - a leader of 100 men Cossack company
    • Tysiachnyk - a leader of 1000 men Cossack company
    • Serdiuks - mercenary foot Cossacks, bodyguards of Hetman
    • Companions - mercenary cavalry Cossacks, bodyguards of Hetman
    • Plastuns - scouts and special agents in Cossack army
    • Otaman - a title of Cossack leaders of various kinds (Koshovyi Otaman, Kurinnyi Otaman).
  • Tabor - a tactic using a set of horse-drawn wagons, mastered by Cossacks in 16-17th century
  • Bulava - a ceremonial mace, a symbol of Hetman's authority
    • Kharakternyks - legendary Cossack magicians of 16-17 centuries

[edit] References


[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • H. Havelock, The Cossacks in the Early Seventeenth Century, English Historical Review, Vol. 13, No. 50 (Apr., 1898), pp. 242-260, JSTOR

[edit] External links

cs:Kozáci da:Kosak de:Kosaken es:Cosacos eo:Kozakoj fr:Cosaques ko:코자크 기병대 he:קוזאקים nl:Kozakken ja:コサック pl:Kozacy pt:Cossaco ro:Cazac ru:Казаки simple:Cossack sr:Козаци fi:Kasakat sv:Kosacker vi:Cozak tr:Kazaklar uk:Козак zh:哥薩克


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