Russian Ethnic Clothes: Cossacks


Figure 1.--This Georgia boy wears a Cossack outfit in a portrait taken about 1905. This outfit was probably more of a special folk costume than a coat he wore everyday, but this is just a guess. Russian boys before the Revolution saw the Cossacks as valiant frontierssmen and loved to have their picture taken dressed like one. Image coutesy of the MD collection.

The cossacks, were the highly independent, some would say predatory horsemen of the Russian steppe and Causcasus Mountains. Their range extended east to Siberia. Today the former range of the cossacks is more in the Ukraine and newly independent Cucasian republics, but continue to be strongly associated with Russia in the popular mind. Some historiand trace the origins of the cossacks to the Russian serfs from the principality of Moscow who fled the increasingly repressive regime of serfdom in the 14th and 15th centuries and settled in the valleys of the Dnipper, Don, and Ural Rivers and in Siberia. They were the marvelously skilled horsemen of the Western Steppe. The lengends of the cossacks claim that boys were taught to ride before they could walk. They are perhaps best known for effectively harassed Napoleon's Grande Armée as it retreated from Moscow after the 1812 invasion. Napoleon called them "a disgrace to the human race". They are also remembered for their plundring of Jewish villages inthe vicious Tsarist pogroms.

Description

The cossacks, were the highly independent, some would say predatory horsemen of the Russian steppe and Causcasus Mountains.

Geographic Range

Their range extended east to Siberia. Today the former range of the cossacks is more in the Ukraine and newly independent Cucasian republics, but continue to be strongly associated with Russia in the popular mind.

Horsemen

They were the marvelously skilled horsemen of the Western Steppe. The lengends of the cossacks claim that boys, learned "to shoot from the saddle as soon as he could ride, and to ride as soon as he could walk". One author was told as a boy that other countries could have armies, but that the Cossacks were an army. They lived as nomadic clans ruled by elected hetman or ataman. They lived in the Caususes along the Don River of southern Russia between the Black and Caspian Seas.

Origins

Some historians trace the origins of the cossacks to the Russian serfs from the principality of Moscow who fled the increasingly repressive regime of serfdom in the 14th and 15th centuries and settled in the valleys of the Dnipper, Don, and Ural Rivers and in Siberia. Another source describes their origins as Mongol or Tartar nomads. [Ure] Their erhnic origins, however, seem more that of Serb peasants than Mongols.

History

There are many legendary figures in Cossack history. One of the most fanous is Yermack who in the 16th century led the Cossocks into Siberia, fighting indigenous tribes. Bogdan in the 17th century was the scourge of the Poles, avening the murder of his son and mistress. Stenka Razin terrorized the Turks. Other Cossacks like Mazeppa and Pugachev, threatened the Tsarist throne. The Cossacks are perhaps best known for effectively harassed Napoleon's Grande Armée as it retreated from Moscow after the 1812 invasion. The retreat began as an orderly withdrawl back to Warsaw and supplies prepositioned in Poland. The Cossacks who by the 19th century were the main element in the Tsarist calvary, began to prey on stranglers and the long drawn out French line of retreat. Gradually the Cossacks and Russian Army turned the Grande Armée into fleeing rabel. Napoleon himself escaped. His Army was virtually destroyed. Napoleon called them "a disgrace to the human race". The Cossacks took no prisionors and robbed the dead and dying. French soldiers referred to them as the "vultures of the battlefield". The Cossacks played a role in the Great Game, the contest between Russia and Britain over Central Russia. In the Russian Revolution, many Cossacks supported the Tsar but were suppressed by the Red Army. They were percecuted by Stalin in the 1930s. Some fought with the Germans and were either killed in the War or by Stlain after thewar.

Operations

The Cossacks were said to require few provisions. They obtained supplied from plundering civilians and opposing military forces. The French after their experience in Russia were terrified of them, believing that they barbequed and ate children. The cry "the Cossacks are coming" terrified the people of Easter Europe long before the French invaded Russia.

Pogroms

They are also remembered for their plundring of Jewish villages in the vicious Tsarist pogroms.

Image

The image of the Cossacks depended on who you were. The French, Poles, Jews, and Turks considered them to be ruthless mersenariues. Russian schoolboys before the Revolution were taught that the Cossacks were the frontiersmen that extended Russis's boundariest east to Siberia. As a result, boys might be dressed up in cossack costumes to have their photographs taken. The Tsars used the Cossacks to ruthlessly supress political opposition. During the Revolution, the Cossacks sided with the Whites. As a result, the Soviets presented the Cossacks as not only backward and stubborn, but enemies of the people. Boys were no longer dressed up in Cossock outfits.

Clothing

The Cossacks tall shaggy hats, and lengthy sheepskin coats. Perhaps the most characteristic garment wre tunic-like coats with slots for rifle cartridges sewn on to the front.

Sources

Ure, John. The Cossacks: An Illustrated History (Overlook), 288p.






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Created: March 3, 2003
Last updated: April 28, 2003