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The Zaphorozian Cossacks
By TJK, 2004; Revised
Categories: Steppes and Central Asia: 1200 AD, Early Modern: Political History, Medieval Europe: Political History
|The Origin of Cossacks|
The word "Cossack" - a man being of Turkish and Tatar descent - was used for the first time in a dictionary of a language of Polovci (Kumans) - Codex Cumanicus of 1303.
At this time it meant a sentry or an advance guard. In XIV and XV centuries many steppe robbers on services of Genua cities in Crimea peninsula were often designated by this word. They were mostly of Tatar descent. The question is: can we really recognize them as the ancestors of Ukraine Cossacks?
Most of modern historians assume that this term was transferred to free communities formed spontaneously within Ukraine territory, thus having had nothing to do with ancient "Cossacks".
In the XV century they inhabited territories near the end of Braclaw, Cherkassy and Chernihov. From there they sperad South to Black Sea's coast were steppes called the Wild Fields or Zaporozhia (the latter name derived from the territories located behind stone thresholds on Dniepr - porohy in ruthenian langueage). Poorly inhabited and without efficient administration, their territories attracted refugees of feudal oppression, wanderers and criminals. In time, however, due to the threat of rapacious Tatar invasions, these communities began to form into bigger groups. They chose chiefs (atamans) and developed a military organization.
The ethnic make-up of Cossacks is difficult to specify - obviously, the Ukraine element prevailed, but still there were many Poles, Russians, Tatars, Moldavians and even Germans and Hungarians. In the XVI centuries the number of Cossaks increased rapidly. In 1534 their number was assessed to be 2000, in 1553 to be 3000 and in the beginning of the XVII century to be more than 20000.
Since Poland maintained small forces on the borderlands, the Cossacks were often the only defenders for Ukraine against Tatars raids, apart from private armies of borderlands magnates. In fact, they sometimes started rapacious forays into lands of Crimean Khanate.
The borderlands starostas (officers of Polish /Lithuanian administration) noticed the great military capabilities of Cossacks and tried to use them in struggles against the Tatars. The earliest mention about Cossacks in state service comes from a turn of the years 1523/1524 when a Great Lithuanian Duke (and the king of Poland at the same time) Sigismund the Old told Semen Polzowicz and Krzysztof Kmitycz to carry out a recruitment of Cossacks and invade the Tatar lands.
Particularly famous was the Starosta of Cherkassy, Ostafi Daszkowicz who commanding the Cossacks fought off a foray of the Crimean Khan in 1532, and in retaliation he wreaked havoc on many Crimean settlements. Another leader of the Cossack, Starosta of Bar, Jakub Pretficz, reportedly fought more than 70 victorious battles and skirmishes with the Crimean Horde. However the most famous of XVI centuries Cossack leaders was Duke Dymitr Wioniowiecki who was descended from the noble related to Jagiellonians house.
In 1563 he set off to Moldavia, subordinated to Turkey, with 4.000 Cossacks in the hope that he would take a throne. But he was defeated in battle captured by Stefan Tomza - future Hospodar. After that he was sent to Istambul where he was finally executed.
The so called Cossacks "chadzki" (rapacious sea excursions) against territories subordinated to Turkey continued. As a result, relations between Poland and Ottoman Empire became increasingly strained and many retaliatory Tatar invasions on Ukraine took place.
In this situation an attempt to return the Cossacks to order was taken. In August 1568 King Sigismund called upon Cossacks to return to Ukraine and promised them well-paid service in a Polish army.
In 1572 a register, a census of Cossacks being on duty in a special separated regiment, was created. The Polish nobleman Jan Badowski became commander of the regiment which amounted to 300 men.
Eventually, 500 Cossacks were on duty in this regiment under the command of Iwan Oryszewski. The registered Cossacks were released from payment of all taxes, with their own judiciary power and hospital granted to them. At the same time Batory told the Ukraine Starostas not to sell gunpowder and arms to the rest of Cossacks. He also sentence to death people guilty of violating peace with the Ottoman Empire.
He sentenced the famous Cossack Ataman Ivan Podkowa to be beheaded who in 1577, who following Wisniowiecki's footstep, invaded Moldavia with a unit of a couple of hundred Cossacks and took o throne for a short time.
The registered Cossacks distinguished themselves in a Polish-Moscow war. In recognition of their achievements, Batory gave them the lands in Ukraine and increased the registered unit to 600 soldiers. Because of this, the Cossacks would tell tales of a king benevolent to them.