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FROM the time when the Russians laid the foundation of their present domin. ion on the shores of the Black Sea, they have shown themselves constantly solicitous to limit the intercourse between these countries and the rest of Europe to the commerce carried on at the seaport towns, and to place such restrictions even on this mode of communication as might render it almost impracticable to acquire any accurate information on the existing state, resources, and population of these provinces, and the condition of the indigenous tribes by which they are principally inhabited. With this view, the acquisition of the Krimean territory was immediately followed by the organization along its shores of a complicated and tedious system of quarantines, with other vexatious sanitary and fiscal regulations, which, though professedly framed to raise a barrier only between Turkey and her late Tartar dependencies, had in reality the further effect of throwing such impediments in the way of all travellers arriving from Constantinople or the Mediterranean at the ports of the Black Sea, that the few details which we till of late possessed, relative to the Cossack territory and the other south ern provinces, were derived almost solely from Clarke and Heber, who reached them by the tedious overland route from St Petersburg and Moscow. The former writer observes, that 66 even in Reymann's map, published in Berlin in 1802, the territory of the Don Cossacks, Kuban Tartary, and the Krimea, appear only as a forlorn blank : * * ** as it is a maxim in Russian policy to maintain the ignorance which prevails in Europe concerning those parts of her dominions.
* The courses of the Dniester, the Bog, and the Dniepr, as well as the latitude and soundings of the coast near their embouchures, have never been accurately surveyed: the only tolerable charts are preserved by the Russian government, but sedulously secreted from the eyes of Europe."
The topography of the coasts was in some degree elucidated by the valuable plans which Clarke himself, at the imminent hazard of his own safety, procured at Odessa, and deposited in the British Admiralty; but the interior remained unvisited and almost unknown; for so effective had the system of repulsion apparently been rendered, that few, if any, of the crowds of travellers who flocked to Constantinople ventured to extend their researches to the northern shores of the Euxine. The treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, by which the islands at the mouth of the Danube, and the control of the Dardanelles, were surrendered to the Czar, converted the Black Sea into a Russian lake: and the success of the exclusive system would have been complete, had not the circumstances attending the blockade of the Circassian coast, and the piratical seizure of the Vixen, given the European world a full insight into the motives which had so long actuated Russia in drawing a preventional cordon around her Black Sea provinces, and shown at the same time how frail a hold she has yet acquired over the numerous warlike tribes, which, during a long course of years, she has subjected either by force or fraud to her sceptre.
The interest excited by these transactions has, during the few last years, drawn the attention of Europe powerfully towards the present position of these regions, and has partially raised the veil with which the jealous caution of Russia had covered them; and the result of this newly roused spirit of enquiry has been, to demonstrate that it is not among the Circassians and Lesghis only that the yoke is detested, though these only have as yet risen in arms to repel it; but that by the Cossack and Tartar races, who constitute the great numerical majority of the population in the southern districts of European Russia, the Muscovites have never ceased to be regarded as strangers and aliens, differing in religion and manners, and even in lan
* The greater part of the Cossacks are Roskolniks, or heretics, a schismatic sect of the Greek church: the Russians Proper being of the orthodox denomination. The persecution carried on against the Roskolniks was formerly so unceasing, that many
guage, from the native inhabitants, among whom the Russian civil and military functionaries are treated as foreigners, and the very term Moscofski* used as a by word of contempt and reproach. The introduction of the abominable system of slavery (though in a mitigated form) among the remaining Tartar peasantry of the Krim, soon followed the seizure of that ill-fated country in 1783: and though the numbers, martial habits, and ancient spirit of independence of the Cossacks, have preserved them from the attempt to impose this last and most hateful badge of Russian domination, their old privileges and immunities have been, especially since the commencement of the present century, repeatedly encroached upon and invaded. The ukase of 1837, by which the Cossacks of the Don were, for the first time, made liable to the punish ments of perpetual military service and exile to Siberia, filled up the measure of their discontent: disaffection manifested itself so openly in the campaign of last year against the Circassians, by repeated desertions and acts of insubordination, as to render the withdrawal of most of the Cossack regiments from the army of the Caucasus matter of imperative necessity; and at the present moment, as far as can be gathered from the accounts which have escaped the vigilance of the Russian authorities (who are ever on the alert to prevent the dissemination of unfavourable intelligence), the whole of the Cossack country is in a state bordering on open revolt.
Though the achievements of the Cossacks in the late wars made their name familiar throughout Europe, as designating a peculiar and formidable description of irregular cavalry, the fact of their existence from the earliest period as a separate people among the Russians, has been either disregarded or imperfectly understood; and their singular history and institutions are even now almost unknown, although the latter present the only remaining vestige of the popular forms and municipal system which once per
vaded Russia, and the annihilation of which (as is correctly remarked by Mr Parisht) has been, from the day of the destruction of the republic of Novogorod to the present moment, the aim of the system of centralized despotism by which the country is now governed. But though thus presenting a link between the ancient and modern history of Poland and Russia, and abounding in wild and martial passages which might vie with the chronicles of western border warfare, the annals of the Cossacks have remained unknown to the English reader, except by the scanty notices scattered through the histories of Russia (the projected work of Heber having, unfortunately, remained a mere fragment); and the notoriety into which the Cossacks of the Don have risen during the last half century, has only increased the confusion, by leading the mass of readers to attribute to them the exploits of their western brethren, the Cossacks of the Dniepr and Ukraine, whose name stood conspicuous in the past annals of those regions, ere the Don Cossacks were heard of beyond their native steppes. A sketch of the past history and present position of these military communities will not be without use and interest at the present moment, not only as elucidating the points above referred to, and showing at how early a period the system of making the protection extended to independent tribes a pretext for depriv ing them of their liberties, found a place in the wily policy of Russia; but also and most especially, as pointing out the real weakness of that power, and the quarter in which she is most assailable, by proving how ill cemented is her union with a people, who have hitherto been considered one of the most formidable weapons in her hands.
The origin of the Cossacks has been traced, by Tooke and other writers, as high as the tenth century of the Christian era, on the supposed authority of the Greek Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, who mentions a country called Kasachia, between the Euxine
Cossack tribes who held those tenets quitted Russia for the territories of the Tartar khans; and even in 1806, Heber was assured that they were burdened with a double capitation tax, and not allowed the public exercise of their religion.
Life of Heber, i. 234.
+ Diplomatic History of Greece, p. 49.
and the Caspian, at the foot of the Caucasian range; but this claim of antiquity does not appear to rest on any better grounds than the casual similarity of name; and the traditions of the Cossacks themselves, which would refer their establishment in their present habitations to an even earlier period, are too manifestly irreconcilable with the known facts of history to deserve attention. Rubruquis and Plancarpin, who traversed the southern steppes of Russia on their way to the court of the Khan, soon after the Tartar conquest in 1236 by the grandson of Jenghiz, make no mention of them; and, in fact, their historical existence cannot be ascertained much before the latter part of the fifteenth century, when the fall and dismemberment of the great Mogul empire of Kaptchak finally emancipated Russia from Tartar bondage, and enabled her to retaliate on the shattered fragments of that once mighty monarchy, the Khanates of Astrakhan, Kasan, and Krim, the long series of oppression and cruelties which for two centuries and a half had marked the domination of the "Golden Horde." At this date the predatory communities of the Cossacks are first mentioned in Russian history, sheltered in the islets and marshes of the Dniepr, Don, and Volga, and spread over the vast desert plains, which, extending from the frontiers of Podolia to the Caspian, formed a sort of "debatable land," dividing Russia and Poland from the Tartar territories. primitive stock, and the derivation of the name, have both been differently stated by various authors: De Guignes conjectures them to have been descendants of the Comanians or Poloutzi, who were expelled by the Moguls from their ancient seats in Kaptchak, of which word he considers the title Cossack to be a corruption; but this etymology, improbable on other grounds, is disproved by the prevalence of the same term, in the sense of a light-horseman or plunderer,
throughout India and Eastern Asia, where the ancient Kaptchaks were unknown; and the most satisfactory explanation seems that given to Heber by the Ataman Platof, who derived the name from the form of their swords, coss implying any crooked weapon, as a scythe or sabre.
The separation of the Cossack stock into two great branches, those of the Dniepr and of the Don (from the latter of which the Cossacks of the Volga and Yaik were offshoots), appears to have been almost coeval with their origin; but it is uncertain on which river the earliest settlements were established: they appear to have originally consisted of fugitives from the intolerable oppression of the Moguls, who took refuge in the labyrinths of rocks and islets formed by these mighty rivers, and from these inaccessible retreats pursued the double occupation of fishermen and pirates. The devastating civil wars which preceded the breaking-up of the Khanate of Kaptchak, reinforced their numbers by the accession of Russian, Polish, and even Tartar refugees, till by insensible degrees they overspread the open country, occupying stanitzas or villages, defended by abattis of trees and brushwood-and assuming the appearance of a regular military republic, governed by atamans and other officers, chosen by open election from their own body, and acknowledging no subjection to any of the surrounding monarchies. Their roving and predatory habits, and martial temperament, pointed them out as the natural antagonists of the Tartars, with whom their difference of religion placed them in a state of perpetual warfare; while the rapid increase of their power and numbers, made both Poland and Russia solicitous for an alliance which might convert these restless communities into a rampart for their frontiers, against the renewed power of the khans of Krim Tartary, who, having since 1474† secured their do
One of the brothers of Ahmed, the last Khan of the Golden Horde, is said by De Guignes to have borne the name of Cosak-Sultan.
This Tartar sovereignty remained under the suzeraineté of Turkey for three centuries, during all which period its internal independence remained inviolate, and the succession of the line of Menghli Kherai uninterrupted. In 1774 it was transferred by the treaty of Kutchuk-Kainardji to the protecting care of Russia: but in nine years from the transfer, the internal dissensions of the Tartars gave Catharine II. a
minions by placing them under the potent protection of the Ottoman Porte, began to revive the terrors of the Tartar name by the myriads of wild cavalry which they annually poured forth from their peninsular strongholds. In 1521, Sahhib. Kherai, brother of the reigning Khan, having expelled from Kasan a prince of his own family who had become a vassal of Russia, advanced upon Moscow at the head of a countless host, and compelled the Grand-Prince Basil to purchase his retreat by submission and tribute but the effects of this invasion were not lasting; and in the subsequent war for the recovery of Kasan, the Cossacks of the Don and Volga are for the first time noticed as sending a regular force into the field, having joined the army of the exiled sovereign, Sheikh-Ali, to the number of ten thousand men, all infantry, on the footing of independent auxiliaries. During the continuance of the contest, which terminated in 1554 by the final subjugation of both Kasan and Astrakhan, the Don-Cossacks signalized themselves as partisans on the side of Russia; and, as a recompense for their exertions, the Czar Ivan the Terrible guaranteed to them, by a formal treaty concluded at Tzaritzin in 1549, the exclusive possession of their lands and fisheries on the Don and Volga, free from all imposts or taxes, with full acknowledgment of the independent jurisdiction of the Ataman in all internal affairs, and numerous other immunities and privileges, to be held by the tenure of military service on the frontier against the Tartars. They now became the principal bulwark of Russia in this quarter: and it is to their prowess (aided, however, by a mutiny of the Tartar contingent in the Ottoman force) that contemporary historians ascribe the failure of the remarkable
expedition dispatched in 1569 by Sultan Selim II., the son of Soliman the Magnificent, for the reconquest of Astrakhan, and the construction of a navigable canal, which, by uniting the Don and the Volga, might facili tate the transmission of troops and stores from the Euxine to the Caspian, and thus render Persia assailable on the coasts of her north-western provinces. The prevalent belief in a former union between the waters of the two seas, which is attested by the Turkish annalist Evliya Effendi," probably suggested the idea of this stupendous undertaking: but its execution was impeded by the superstitious scruples of the Turkish engineers, who urged that the shortness of the midsummer night, in those northern climates, interfered with the due performance of the nightly prayers prescribed to the faithful: the Tartars deserted, and returned to their own country: and the enterprise was finally abandoned on the total defeat, by the Cossacks, of a corps of janizaries detached to occupy Astrakhan. only acquisition which the Porte derived from this campaign, (the first occasion on which the Turks and Russians came into collision,) was the allegiance of the Nogai Tartars, 30,000 families of whom abandoned their former habitations near Astrakhan, and were located on the plains near the Don, north-east of the Krimean peninsula, as a barrier against the future incursions of the Cossacks: who nevertheless, the following year, emboldened by their recent successes, pushed their frontier down the river to Tcherkask, only forty miles from the Turkish. fortress of Azoph, and made that town the residence of their Ataman
But the power of the Ottomans at that period was too great to be defied with impunity; and the chastisement
pretext for dethroning the Khan, and incorporating his dominions with her own empire-such is the comparative good faith of Russian and Ottoman protection! Moldavia and Wallachia are even now apparently on the point of affording a fresh example.
* "In old times the peninsula of Krim, the plains of Heïhat, and the whole country of the Sclavonians, were covered with the waters of the Black Sea, which reached as far as the Caspian. Having accompanied the army of Islam-Kherai Khan in his campaign against the Moskov, I myself have passed over the plains of Heïhat, and at certain encampments, where it was necessary to dig wells, I found all kinds of marine remains, as the shells of oysters, crabs, cockles, &c., by which it is evident that this great plain was once a part of the Black Sea. Verily, God hath power over every thing !"
of Russia was deputed to the Tartar Khan, Dowlut-Kherai, who, in 1571, burst into the country at the head of a vast undisciplined host of his own subjects, aided by some regular troops and artillery from Constantinople. The Czar Ivan, fully occupied by the Swedes and Poles in Livonia, and distrusting his nobles, whom he had alienated by his cruelties, could offer little resistance to this new invader; and the Khan penetrated, almost with out opposition, to Moscow, which was taken by storm, and given up to fire and sword. It may not be uninteresting to transcribe, as a parallel to the descriptions of a similar event in our own times, the quaint narrative of this former conflagration of the Russian capital, given by Fletcher, the ambassador from England in 1588.
"Then you might have seen a lamentable spectacle: besides the huge and mightie flame of the citie all on light fire, the people burning in the houses and streets, but most of all such as laboured to passe out of the gates farthest from the enemie, where meeting together in a mightie throng, and so pressing every man to prevent another, wedged themselves so fast within the gate, and streets neere unto it, as that three rankes walked one upon the other's head, the uppermost treading down those that were lower; so that there perished at that time (as was said) by the fire and the presse, the number of 80,000 people, or more. The Chrim having thus fired the citie, and fed his eyes with the sight of it all of a light flame, returned with his armie, and sent to the Russe emperour a knife (as was sayd) to sticke himselfe withall." This, however, was the last grand effort by which the Tartars attempted to assert their ancient preponderance in Russia; for though they continued for more than a century subsequently to lay waste the southern provinces of the empire by frequent inroads, they never again appeared in such force as to threaten the stability of the monarchy, or the safety of the capital.
The Cossack communities on the
Don, in the mean time, increased in numbers and martial renown; and, in 1579, we for the first time find mention of a Cossack corps serving at a distance from their own country with the Russian army in Livonia. But their connexion with Russia proved ineffectual to restrain their propensity for plunder; and their repeated depredations on the caravans traversing their country from Persia and Bokhara, at length drew down on them the wrath of the Czar, who dispatched an army to chastise them; but the principal delinquents made their escape from his vengeance, and passing over into Asia, under the guidance of Yermak, one of their atamans, succeeded, after a long series of conflicts and victories, in reducing the city of Sibir, the capital of a descendant of Jenghiz, who ruled in Siberia, and in annexing these vast and almost unknown regions to the Russian sceptre. This splendid conquest, which was laid by Yermak at the feet of the Czar as an atonement for his former transgressions, occasioned a further division of the Cossack family, great numbers being transplanted from the Volga and Yaik to reinforce the original followers of Yermak, and assist them in retaining the newly subdued tribes in their allegiance: and thus originated the Siberian Cossacks,* who, by degrees, overspread the whole country from the Caspian to the Eastern Ocean ;† but their subsequent annals afford no materials for history.
While the Eastern Cossacks pursued a career of conquest in the remote regions of Northern Asia, the Cossacks of the Dniepr had become equally renowned for their enterprises, both by sea and land, against more redoubtable antagonists. The fertile plains watered by the Bog and Dniepr, afforded abundant pasturage to their cattle, and the almost inaccessible rocks and islets among the thirteen cataracts of the latter river, were fortified as places of arms or depositories of plunder, and garrisoned by detachments of select youth, ‡ termed Zaporogians or Zaporofski, (a compound
* Many other subordinate denominations of Cossacks, of no historical importance, are enumerated by Tooke and other writers.
† Kamtschatka was not finally subdued till 1701.
No one was admitted among the Zaporogians who had not ascended all the thirteen cataracts in a skiff, according to Beauplan, who gives an amusing account of Cos