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The Cossack's of Imperial Russia.

Updated on November 29, 2013

The Cossack's of the old Imperial Russian Empire were relatively unknown to the wider world until the after the end of the Napoleonic era. The Cossack's cultural identity made them stand out from the regular Russian armed forces. The Cossack's of Imperial Russia made a name for themselves whilst fighting Napoleon Bonaparte's French invaders into mother Russia. These people's of the Russian Steppes provided security and warrior's for the mighty Russian Empire, and for over 400 years until the Cossack's showed loyalty for the Tsarist Russian society.

The Cossack's fell out of favour in the Communist era as the Soviet ruler's implemented restrictive policies of to reign in and eradicate the Cossack culture. This was due to the Cossack's loyalty to the Russian Empire, they did not recognise the legitimacy of the Soviet rule and fought with the White Russians in the short lived Russian Civil War.

Cossack Cavalry in action
Cossack Cavalry in action | Source

Who were the Cossack's?

The Cossack's were originally a people who are thought to have descended from the Tartar people's of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Over the year's since the Tartar people's became less prevalent, the Cossack's formed their own completely Christian identity in area's of the Imperial Russian Empire.

The word "Cossack" is derived from the Turkic term Kazak ( as used in the country named Kazakhstan) the word translates as "free man" or "adventurer". The Cossack's united in the 15th century as a semi-independent warrior organization that was loyal only to the Russian Tsar.

Where the Cossack's one group of people?

The Cossack's allowed any Christian from any ethnic group to join their ranks, if they could fight for the people they were classed as a member of the tribe. The Cossack's were mainly situated in the area around the Ukraine, Poland and Russia. They attracted the lower social levels from the wider area and settled in the following area's

  • Zaporozhian ( The land beyond the Rapids)
  • The area around the River Dnieper.
  • The area around the River Volga.
  • The area around the Ural River.
  • The area around the Causica's
  • The area around the River Don.

Memorial to the Don Cossack's who died fighting the Bolshevik's.
Memorial to the Don Cossack's who died fighting the Bolshevik's. | Source

The formation of the Cossack's soon saw them used by the Russia establishment as a military force, this was due to their strong combat ethos and loyalty to the Christian Church and Tsar. The Cossack's would willingly fight other countries or peoples if it benefited a Christian cause. Warfare was a strong presence in Cossack culture, from birth a sword was rested on the newborns hand and the child was taught to ride from the age of Three.

The Cossack's where used by Imperial Russia and the Polish royalty to secure their borders from the 16th Century until after the end of the Imperial Age. The Tsar used the Cossack's to ensure that Siberia became and remained part of the Imperial Russian Empire. The Cossack's defeated the Tartar's to ensure the smooth annexation of Siberia in 1584 AD, and despite a few minor defeats the Cossack's remained very strong. What was surprising in the Cossack victory, was the relatively small force that was sent successfully. This endeared the humble Cossack's to the Imperial Royal family for generation's.

The only time that the Cossack's relationship became strained with the ruling elite, was in the time late 18th Century. The Russian influence on the Empire was becoming more noticeable and the Cossack's simplistic lifestyle was seen as been incompatible with the Russian way of doing things. The Cossack's rebelled but where destined to lose their independent status within the Imperial hierarchy.

By the time of Napoleon advance into Russian territory the Cossack's had reestablished their commitment to the Tsar and their importance to the security of the Russian Empire. The Cossack's were heavily involved in fighting back against Napoleon's French forces and had forged a fearsome reputation among the French. By the end of the Continental War the Cossack's had been able to loot Paris. Napoleon described the Cossack's as " A disgrace to the Human species!"

The demise of the Cossack's in Russian was created by the rise of the Bolshevik's in the Great War. The Cossack's fought bravely alongside their fellow soldiers but upon the Russian Revolution of 1917, they refused to desert the overthrown Tsar. The irony of the situation was that the Cossack's by their nature were quite Marxist in their sharing of wealth.

Their loyalty to the Tsar and their White Russian allies put them at odds with the new Bolshevik leadership. Combined with their overt Christianity they were soon enemies of the people. This lead to nearly 70 years of repression by the Soviet State, and many of the Cossack's either died or fled the lands they had helped defend and create.


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