1902 Encyclopedia > Cossacks


COSSACKS, certain Bussian tribes originally settled on the southern frontiers of Bussia in Europe, but now dis-tributed through various parts of the empire, and largely modified by successive intrusions of alien blood. They probably derive their name, which in Bussian appears as Kazak, from a word synonymous in Tartar with a free-booter and in Turkish with a light-armed soldier. Ethno-graphically and historically they are divided into two principal sections, the Cossacks of Little Bussia, or of the Dnieper, and the Cossacks of Great Bussia, or of the Don.
The former or Malo-Bussian branch seems to have grown up in the 13th and 14th centuries, and probably owed its existence to the confusion caused by the Tartar invasion. Bands of hardy refugees from the surrounding regions, mainly with Bussian blood in their veins, gathered together for mutual defence in the islands of the Dnieper, where the natural character of the situation of itself afforded them considerable protection. Their numbers were rapidly in-creased, and before long they formed a strong and active community. In the 16th century they were enrolled among the vassals of Poland, but were permitted to retain a num-ber of privileges which put them on a level with the Polish nobility. Their constitution was consolidated, their territory extended, and their valour utilized by the able policy of King Stephen Bathori. Meanwhile the more ardent adventurers amongst them were united into a strict military confederation, not unlike in many respects to those orders of knights which in similar circumstances sprung up in Western Europe for the defence of Christendom. They established their setcha, or fortified camp, on an island in the Dnieper, to the south of the Porogi, or cataracts, and from this circumstance acquired the name of Zaporogians, or Dwellers beyond the Cataracts. The members were bound by a vow of celibacy; but as every one was welcome to join the association who was willing to submit to its rules, so every one was free to depart as soon as he found it irksome to obey. Freedom and independence were of the first necessity to the Cossacks; their constitution was purely democratic ; their hetmans or leaders were chosen by popular election, and held their office only for one year. This independent spirit was abundantly displayed in their policy ; they lent their services now to the king of Poland, now to Russia, now to the Sultan, and now, it might be, even to the Tartar Khan himself. In 1571, when their leader was put to death by Bathori for having invaded Moldavia on his own authority, thousands of his followers left the country, and went to join their brethren on the Don ; and in the following century, the main body which had remained behind, after carrying on a successful war against Poland under the astute Khmelnicky, put themselves under the protection of Bussia, whose right to the whole country of the Cossacks, with the exception of a small portion to the west of the Dnieper, was formally recognized by the peace of Badzine in 1681. In 1708 the famous Ivan Stevanovitch Mazeppa, who had succeeded in raising himself to the office of hetman, joined the standard of Charles XII. of Sweden ; and this revolt brought down on the Cossacks the vengeance of Peter the Great, who ultimately deprived them of all their privileges and abolished their military organization. The Zaporogians, who left the country after the capture of their setcka, were recalled by the Empress Anne ; but they proved SO' obstinately obstructive to the civil settlement of the country that they had again to be expelled. They retired for the rnjst part to the Crimea, and on the incorporation of that district with the Russian empire they were deported to Kuban to defend the frontiers against the Caucasian tribes. A small band which had migrated to the Balkan, was re-called in 1828 by the Emperor Nicholas, and sent to form a sort of coast-guard on the Sea of Azoff. The character of the Zaporogian fraternity which was thus destroyed has been t!ie object of very divergent judgments,-—some writers seeing in it little more than an organized band of ruffian alventurers, while others raise its members to the dignity of patriots and martyrs who fought and died in defence of n itional and religious liberty. The last view is well pre-sented by Kulish, one of the most recent of the historians of Little Russia, and it receives no small support from the popular songs in which their virtues and valour are still commemorated among the people of the Ukraine.
The Cossacks of the Don have all along had more direct connection with the empire than their brethren of the Dnieper ; and their insurrections, though numerous, have hid less of the character of genuine revolt. About seven y3ars after the foundvtions of their capital Cherkask had b3en fixed in the marshes of the Don, Ivan IV., irritated at their conduct, despatched against them his general Murashkine. At the approach of the formidable invader the Cossacks dispersed ; one band under Yermak pushed eastwards, and effected the conquest of Siberia; another company established themselves in the Ural Mountains aid expelled the Tartars from Jaik (Uralsk); while a third probably found a refuge in the Caucasus, where their descendants are still known as the Grebenski, or Mountain Cossacks. In 1637 the portion still left on the Don enpelled the Turks from the town of Azoff; and they managed to keep possession of it till 1642 without aid from the Russian Government. Exasperated by the execu-tion of some of their number, and by an attempt to introduce alterations in their religion, they were easily excited to rebellion by the freebooter Stenka (or Stephen) Razine ; but after it had risen to a formidable height, the insurrection wi3 suppressed, and its leader executed at Moscow in 1671. In the following century another ad-venturer found in the discontent of the Cossacks a formid-able means of supporting his pretensions; but the success of Pugacheff was as temporary a3 that of Razine, whom the local superstition imagined to have come to life in his person. The result to the Cossacks was a serious diminution of their privileges, and an extension of Russian control.
Gradually brought under a more rigid military discipline, this restless and warlike race has furnished the empire with one of the most valuable elements in its national army; and their services in the protection of the frontiers from the Caucasus to China are almost incalculable. They form a first-rate irregular cavalry, and render excellent service as scouts and skirmishers; but their steadiness can hardly be trusted in an important engagement. So great is their superstition, that in the midst of a conflict they have been known to give chase to a hare in order to avert the omen by its destruction, and they still retain a large measure of the freebooter's fondness for plunder.
According to their present distribution the Cossacks are distinguished as Cossacks of the Don, of the Azoff, of the Danube, of the Black Sea, of the Caucasus, of the Ural, of Orenburg, of Siberia, of the Chinese frontiers, and of Astrakhan. In their organization they retain the com-munistic habits of earlier times. The territory is the common property of the stanitza or township; the hay can only be cut after public notice by the Ataman; and no fish can be captured except at prescribed periods, when the whole community join in the enterprise.
Among the privileges still retained by the Cossacks the most important are freedom from taxes, and the right of distilling, brewing, hunting, and fishing.
See Houpel, " Sur les Cosaques," in Miscellanées du Nord, 1790 ; Lesur, HistoiredesKosaques, Paris, 1814; Bronevski, IstoriaDonskova Vbiska, St Petersburg, 1834 ; Wagner, Der Kaukasus und das Land der Kosaken, 1850 ; Haxthausen, Études sur la Russie-, Berlin, 1853, vol. iii. ; Prosper Mérimée, Les Cosaques d'autrefois, dealing only with the insurrections of Chmielnicky, and Stenka Razine, and based on the works of N. Kostmaroff, the Malo-Russian historian ; Alfred liambaud, "L'Ukraine et ses chansons historiques," in Revue des Deux Mondes, 1877.

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