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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

History of the Ukraine
By Dmytro Doroshenko

printed by
The Institute Press, Ltd.
Edmonton, Alberta,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 10

 p134  Chapter IX

 * * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(40) The Cossacks and Their Importance in Ukrainian History. (41) The Circumstances and Conditions Under Which This Class Developed. (42) Polish Government and Ukrainian Cossacks in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century.

 * * * *

[image ALT: A sketch map of the surroundings of the Black Sea, showing the Danube, Dniester, Dnieper, Don, and Kuban rivers flowing into it, and the towns of Constantinople, Varna, Kilia, Bilhorod, Ochakov, Bakhchisaray, Kaffa, Kerch, Trebizond, Samsun, and Sinope.]

Black Sea Area

Showing points of interest in Cossack times.

40. The Cossacks and Their Importance in Ukrainian History.

The new forms of social and political life that shaped themselves and began to take root on Ukrainian territories after the Lublin Union encountered steady opposition from the Ukrainian population as early as the end of the Sixteenth century. This opposition very soon took the state of open conflicts, complicated by religious differences. The Cossacks, the new social class, played the leading part in these conflicts. This class of warrior-farmers was engendered by the special circumstances of life of the Ukrainian population in the steppe in the close vicinity of nomadic Asiatic hordes who constituted a permanent danger to the agricultural population. The Ukrainian Cossacks were the outcome of the century-long warfare between the settled agricultural population and the nomadic invaders who appeared in the Tenth century as the Pechenegs, later as Polovtsi, and finally, as Tatars, and who systematically ruined the products of civilization. It was in self-defence that this class of half-military half-agricultural settlers developed and now took, under the name of "Cossack" a leading part in Ukrainian history. The Cossacks formed the new aristocracy of the population of the Ukrainian State, and became what is largely considered to be a unique phenomenon in history. The Cossacks existed not only in the Ukraine; analogous conditions such as constant danger from the Tatars settled in the Crimea and Astrakhan, created in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries in Russia a similar class of Cossacks of the Don and Ural.  p135 Social oppression introduced in the Ukraine after the Lublin Union furnished the Cossacks with recruits from among the peasants who fled from the bondage of serfdom; and the enormous taxes and duties which the Moscow princes imposed on their subjects made the Russian Cossacks the shelter and refuge of the discontented. Accordingly, many Russian historians consider the Russian Cossacks to be a rebel element. Though they rendered great service to the Moscow State in conquering and colonizing vast tracts in the Urals and Siberia, the Russian Cossacks were always in opposition to the government that employed them, and conflicts existed as late as the end of the Eighteenth century. The Russian government definitely conquered their Cossacks and transformed them into submissive, though irregular troops.

The Ukrainian Cossacks were of a different character. They also were constantly in opposition to the Polish government, but the Ukraine was governed by foreigners, and the opposition was not only of a social but of a political, national and religious character. This is why the part played by the Cossacks in the Ukraine was quite different.

The Cossack period is not only the most brilliant and striking of all periods of Ukrainian history, it was also the time of the highest intensity of the national energies of the Ukrainian people, and the culmination of their political, social and national creative powers. It was at this period that the most characteristic features, positive as well as negative, of the Ukrainian national genius were revealed, and found their most complete expression. The Ukrainian Cossacks were recruited from among the best and most active elements in the Ukrainian population. They were a true aristocracy in the real meaning of the word and played the leading part among the Ukrainian people in place of the old aristocracy which had become polonized and lost to the Ukraine. The Ukrainian Cossacks re‑organized the Ukrainian population in the Seventeenth century and renewed the Ukrainian  p136 State in the form of the Ukrainian Cossack State under the Ukrainian Hetmans. It is true, this State did not long retain its complete political independence, but it preserved the Ukrainians from being assimilated first by the Poles then by the Russians. It preserved Ukrainian culture and the spirit of Ukrainian independence. The name of "Cossack nation" was thus quite natural and appropriate. This term, created in the Seventeenth century, remained in use for a considerable time.

The Cossacks became the ideal of the Ukrainian nation as expressed in popular songs and in literature. A Cossack in the popular Ukrainian songs, is an idealistic, freedom-loving, gallant and independent man who fights for the well-being of Ukraine, and is ready to sacrifice his life for his country, his religion and his freedom. In the popular songs of the Ukrainian women the word "Cossack" is an epithet applied to an ideal young man, brave and daring, who embodies best the characteristics of masculine nature. In the romantic period of Ukrainian literature, especially in the poetry of the beginning and middle of the Nineteenth century, we see the same glorification of the Cossacks, whose real apotheosis is to be found in the poems of Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national poet. The whole of Ukrainian literature of the Nineteenth century shows a poetic and idealistic treatment of the Cossacks, and this view long influenced Ukrainian historical writers also. Modern scientific Ukrainian investigators, however, have taken a stand against this idealistic romanticism and sentimentality, and have given an impartial history of the origin of the Cossacks, their historical development and the part they played in Ukrainian history.

41. The Circumstances and Conditions Under Which This Class Developed.

As we stated above, the Cossacks originated and developed as an organic outcome of the peculiar conditions of life in the Ukraine, especially during the Fifteenth and  p137 Sixteenth centuries on the border of the steppes in close vicinity to the nomads and Tatars then settled in the Crimea.

The origin and the process of formation was very slow. Its separate stages were inconspicuous and escaped general notice, the more so as the life led by the Cossacks took them to remote places in the steppe far from civilized centres. This led to the fact that when the Cossacks at last appeared on the stage of history as a fully organized military class, no one could give adequate and definite answer to the question: "whence did they come?" "How, and when did they come into existence?"

Already at the beginning of the Sixteenth century, if not earlier, there are evidences of the interest which the Cossacks aroused. Polish, German and other foreign writers faced with the fact of the existence of a peculiar social class unknown in other lands, tried to explain it each in his own way. Some sought for analogies in antiquity, others in early Mediaeval European history. Three German dissertations written in the Seventeenth century are devoted to the investigation of the origin of the Cossacks. Chr. Engel, a German author of the Eighteenth century, compared the Cossacks to the ancient Spartans. Ukrainian chroniclers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries were not less enterprising than foreign writers in inventing the most fantastic tales about the origin of the Cossacks, tracing their descent sometimes from the Sarmatians or from the Khazars and so on. The Russian, Polish and Ukrainian historians of the early Nineteenth century put forward some of these far‑fetched theories and parallels. It was not until recent times that the question of the origin of the Cossacks can be considered to be fairly settled by historical science. The Cossacks, as we have said, formed part of the local Ukrainian population and were an outcome of those specific historic and geographical conditions to which the attention of the reader has been sufficiently directed in this and preceding chapters.

After the Tatar invasion of the Thirteenth century  p138 the population on both sides of the Middle Dnieper became very sparse and almost disappeared. We know of settlements along the Middle Dnieper only as far south as Cherkassy. Further south and east on both sides of the river stretched the "Wild Steppe". During the Lithuanian period this borderland was to some extent fortified at different points with defence works which, though they bore the proud title of castles, were only earthen mounds surrounded by a ditch. But they were sufficient to keep back the enemy who had neither guns nor equipment for laying siege. This enemy from the end of the Fifteenth century, was the Crimean Tatar. After the terrible invasion of 1475 and succeeding years which devastated even Kiev and all the Ukrainian territories as far as the forest zone of Chernigov, there was hardly a summer that the Tatars did not show themselves in more or less numerous hordes, carrying away the most valuable spoil, and taking both sexes prisoner. These regular inroads of the Tatars did not, of course, contribute to the increase of the population of the "Wild Steppe". On the contrary, those who were left had to take refuge in the forests and swamps or retreat to the protection of the fortified towns of Volynia and western Podolia. The Lithuanian princes provided no other means of protection than those "castles", built here and there, and their defence was thrust upon the local population, poor and scanty as it was. The organization of defence practically lay in the hands of the local border administration, the Ukrainian starosts (heads of the districts) chiefly that of Kaniv and Cherkassy in the Kiev voevodstvo and Bar in that of Podolia. These starosts received far‑reaching powers from the princes but very little means. They had to look out for themselves on the spot for such defence as was possible. Indeed, they had not to go far. The local population was accustomed to self-defence, and left as it was to itself, did not lack initiative or discipline. They were excellent material from which to recruit the defence force of the border.

Notwithstanding the danger of living in those conditions,  p139 the population did not diminish; on the contrary, it began to increase. The territory was too rich in natural wealth not to attract adventurous men, in spite of the constant danger. The Dnieper and its numerous tributaries were full of excellent fish, the country abounded in game, and valuable fur‑bearing animals, such as beaver, marten, fox, bear and others. The fertile soil required a minimum of effort in order to return a hundred fold. According to a Polish author, who wrote about 1590: "Ukraine is the richest land known. Its steppes are to be compared with Elysian fields. They are boundless, broken only from time to time by gentle hills, valleys and groves. Their aspect is fertile and lively. There is such wealth of cattle, game and birds that you might think it were the home of Diana and Ceres. Such quantities of honey are taken from the countless hives that you could forget the Sicilian Gela and the Attic Hymettus. Grapes grow there in plenty, and the vine can be easily cultivated. Walnuts are in such plenti­ful abundance that the Ukraine might once have been an Italian land. It would be impossible to enumerate all the fish-ponds, lakes and rivers. But why should I vainly scatter magnificent descriptions when I might say in a word that Ukraine is the Promised Land that our Lord spoke of to the Jews, the land that flows with milk and honey. Once to have been in the Ukraine is never to leave it, it draws everyone as a magnet draws steel, on account of its many advantages. The sky above the Ukraine is smiling, its climate is healthy, its soil fertile. . . ."

There is no wonder that such a rich country attracted a daring and active population who would settle in Kaniv or Cherkassy and go out from there in summer hunting and fishing in the steppes. They did not, of course, go singly but in small armed bands. It was always possible when hunting or fishing in the steppe to meet Tatars and be obliged to fight. The lower Dnieper offered the most attractions. The Dnieper in its middle course passes through the fertile plain of Chernigov and Kiev, and then across the steppe to Ekaterinoslav. About 45 miles south  p140 of this town it has to force its way through the granite offshoot of the Carpathian mountains which interrupts the course of the Dniester and the Boh also, and for a distance of 25 miles rapid succeeds rapid (Ukr. porih). The drop of the river in that distance is 155 feet. The roads form a serious obstacle to navigation, and it is only for a few weeks when the river is in flood that they are passable, and even then the venture is not without risk and can only be undertaken with the assistance of special pilots. On that part of the river beyond the rapids where the Dnieper divides into countless arms and armlets, small rivers and lakes forming many islands and grassy plains, the hunters and fishermen found their richest harvest spoil. This was the "Great Meadow" which the Cossacks later called their "Foster-father". Bands of hunters and fishermen usually gathered early in spring in Kaniv, Cherkassy and other populous centres on the Dnieper beyond the rapids, remaining there till late autumn. They returned with rich spoil that was mostly sold in Kiev. The governors of Kiev received the tenth part of the profit.

[image ALT: A sketch map of the lower course of the Dnieper River from just north of its confluence with the Samara, showing the rapids at Kodak, Sursky, Lokhan, Zvonets, Nenasitets, Vovnihi, Budilo, Lishny, Vilny, and Kichkas; and further south around the westward bend in the river, the Cossack forts of Tomakhivka, Mikitin Rih, Stara Sich, Nova Sich, and Bazavluk.]

Dnieper River

Rapids and Cossack Strongholds

Defending themselves against the Tatars, these men adopted all the methods of the steppe guerilla war and often did not merely remain on the defensive but attacked such of the Tatar herdsmen as advanced too far with their cattle and sheep or waylaid caravans of Turkish, Tatar or other foreign merchants. Life amidst constant danger, under the menace of a daily encounter with the foe hardened and tempered them into daring, resource­ful, and persistent people. Coming home for the winter with rich spoil earned by their hands or taken from the enemy, these men brought with them the free spirit of the steppe, a spirit of independence and revolt against every restraint, the spirit of "unsubmissiveness and rebellion" as it was expressed at that time. In the eyes of the peaceful inhabitants of an inner province, these men were more like wild adventurers than ordinary hunters and fishermen. They were feared and admired. At the end of the Fifteenth century they were so numerous that they already  p141 constituted a separate social class of the population and had their own name; they were called Cossacks.

The name "Cossack" is of Turkish origin. We find it for the first time in a vocabulary of the speech of Polovtsi compiled by an Italian traveller in 1303 called the Codex Cumanicus preserved in the library of St. Mark at Venice. There, the word "Cossack" has the meaning of "sentry", "watch". In the Turkish dictionary of Radlov the word Cossack means a free independent man, a vagrant. We find this name, however, not only in dictionaries. Some old documents have preserved for us the different uses of the name "Cossack". Thus in a Fifteenth century document about 1449, we find a series of notices about Tatar Cossacks who were a body of light horsemen used for sentry duty in Kaffa and other Genoese colonies in the Crimea and showed an independent behaviour. In the year 1492 we find Ukrainian Cossacks mentioned. The Khan of Crimea complained to the Lithuanian Prince that men from Cherkassy had wrecked and plundered a Turkish vessel at the mouth of the Dnieper and in response to this complaint, the Prince promised to call these "Cossacks" to account. When, in 1492, Prince Bohdan Hlinski, then starost of Cherkassy, stormed Ochakov, a Turkish fortress at the mouth of the Dnieper, the Khan called his men "Cossacks". From all this we may conclude that in adopting the methods of Tatar warriors, the Cossacks also adopted their name. Nothing is known later about the Tatar Cossacks, whereas the renown of the Ukrainian Cossacks has grown steadily ever since.

The Cossacks provided very good recruiting material for border warfare, and we see they were used by local voevods and starosts for military purposes. Quite a number of them, as early as the end of the Fifteenth century, had Cossacks as permanent troops or engaged them for certain campaigns. Among the first organizers and leaders of the Cossacks was Ostap (Eustace) Dashkevich, who was starost of Cherkassy from 1514 to 1535. He was considered in Lithuania as the first authority on  p142 the Tatar question. His campaign sometimes led him as far as the Crimea. At other times he had Tatars for allies in the Lithuanian wars against Moscow. The Khan of Crimea, roused by his attacks himself laid siege to the town of Cherkassy in 1532 but did not succeed in taking it.

Besides Ostap Dashkevich history has preserved for us the names of Predslav Lanskoronski, starost of Khmelnik, known for his campaign against Bilhorod (Akerman) in 1516; Bernat Pretvich, starost of Bar; Semen Polosovich, starost of Cherkassy; Prince Bohdan Rusinski; Prince Bohdan Hlinski and others. Legends about these first Cossack leaders were introduced into the Cossack Chronicles, where they are called the first Cossack Hetmans. Hetman, in Lithuania and Poland, meant the Commander-in‑Chief of the Army. The Cossacks adopted this name for their first leader. Since the time of Bohdan Khmelnitsky, Hetman in Ukrainian means not only the military leader of the Cossacks, but also the Head of the Ukrainian State. The fame of Cossack exploits against the Tatars spread in Lithuania and Poland and attracted many adventurous men from among the nobles to take part in these campaigns. "Try chivalrous life and fortune" was a contemporary expression. Indeed, among the members and leaders of the Cossacks in these guerilla wars against the Tatars and Turks, we find the names of very power­ful noble families of Ukrainian magnates such as the Princes of Vishnevets, the Princes Zaslavsky, Zbarazky, Koretsky and others.

The most famous among them was Prince Dmitri Vishnevetsky, surnamed "Baida", who was a remarkable leader, although somewhat of an adventurer. He started in 1550 organizing a Cossack army against the Tatars. Displeased with the Lithuanian Prince Sigismund August II, Vishnevetsky was ready to go over to the Turks, but was appointed by the Lithuanian Prince to fortify the island of Khortitza on the Dnieper beyond the rapids which he did so thoroughly that the Khan could not take it. In 1556, Vishnevetsky took part in the campaign of Moscow against the Tatars and entered into the service of Moscow.  p143 At the head of his Cossacks and Muscovian troops he went in 1558 as far as Perekop. He submitted to the Lithuanian Prince in 1561, and took over the fortifications on the Khortitza. Two years later, Vishnevetsky was involved in Moldavian affairs, perhaps hoping to obtain the throne of Moldavia, but was defeated by the Turks, taken prisoner and tortured to death in Constantinople in 1563. The personality of Baida Vishnevetsky, his exploits and death must have had a deep impression on his contemporaries in Ukraine because popular songs about him and his career sprang up throughout Ukraine, which have been preserved and are sung even to this day.

Vishnevetsky's fortifications on the island Khortitsa, the so‑called "sich" (hewn wood fort) served as proto­type and model for later Cossack military fortified camps, called "Sich" which were built like those on Khortitsa, beyond the rapids of the Dnieper in the wilderness, face to face with the Tatars and far from the control and intervention of the authorities.

The fortified camp beyond the rapids, or "Zaporogian Sich" was entirely a military camp. Zaporogian in Ukrainian means "Beyond the rapids". The Cossacks of Ukraine were called Zaporogian Cossacks. There were no other inhabitants of the camp besides the Cossacks, and women were not allowed to enter it at all. The Zaporogian Cossacks were organized as a half-monastic half-military community and formed an Order or Brotherhood of bachelor-warriors with their own code of rules and customs gradually confirmed by tradition and perfectly adapted to the severe conditions of permanent warfare. About 1580 there already existed beyond the rapids a fully established "Sich" where those of the Cossacks who found life in the towns of Kaniv or Cherkassy too confined and restricted under the eye of the administration, found shelter and freedom. Here, beyond the rapids, the Cossacks only obeyed their own authorities elected from among themselves. They lived in very severe Spartan conditions, in plain wooden huts and were used to cold, hunger, and lack of the necessities of life.  p144 Constant danger and a life full of privation developed among them peculiar ascetic views on life, and a contempt for pleasures and luxuries. Though often enriched by rich spoils after a success­ful campaign, there remained the question of what use to the Cossack Brotherhood could such treasures and riches be? Only horses and valuable arms taken from the slain foe could give pleasure to a stern Zaporogian Cossack. "But it was this wilderness beyond the rapids", said the Ukrainian historian Kulish, "which was the home of the freedom that gave to the Cossacks their permanent epithet of free Cossacks. Here they now came for hunting and fishing not only from the neighboring provinces, but from the whole of Ukraine and even from other lands. The Cossacks brotherhood had no hierarchy. All were equal, even the leader who held dictatorial powers lived amidst them and dressed like the rest. Putting on fine rich garments was not considered to be bad form and bad taste if these fine clothes had been taken with their own hands from the slain Tatar or Turk. This brotherhood, poor by choice, founded the famous Zaporogian Sich or fortified camp beyond the rapids, where they stored war munitions, where young men came to be instructed in chivalry and military arts, and where no woman could be admitted. The Zaporogian Sich was the refuge and in a way the home of all the Cossacks in Ukraine, and every Ukrainian Cossack unit wherever it was, took the name of 'Zaporogian'." Thither complaints were later sent from all parts of the Ukraine about the oppression of the Polish nobles and their agents, and it was from thence that punishments were dealt to the oppressors. The Zaporogian Sich was, so to speak, the Cossack Order, and what was decided there, was accepted by the whole Cossack population.

42. Polish Government and Ukrainian Cossacks in the Second Half of the Sixteenth Century.

At first, the Lithuanian, and later the Polish governments tried to keep the Cossacks under the control of the  p145 local administration. Later attempts were made to organize special units from among the Cossacks and take them into regular service on pay. These units were put under the control of local administrators. In this way it was thought an effective control could be exercised over the Cossacks.

The early history of the Cossacks was long shrouded in a mist of legend and fantasy, which very soon found a place in the pages of Seventeenth and Eighteenth century authors, and later on, was canonized by Ukrainian historians at the beginning of the national revival in the early Nineteenth century. Only slowly and after long and persevering labor did scientific historical investigation succeed in clearing up the circumstances of the origin and early history of the Cossacks, selecting facts and rejecting fables. One of these legends only quite recently rejected was the so‑called "Reform of Bathory". All the Cossack Chronicles unanimously state that King Stephen Bathory in 1576 chose six thousand men from among the Cossacks, divided them into six regiments, nominated a Hetman, six colonels, officers and judges, gave them their insignia, the seal with the coat of arms and guns and ordered them to defend the border against the Tatars. Besides the town of Chihirin, he also gave them, we are told, another town, Trakhtemyriv on the Dnieper, for their winter quarters, and as a hospital for their wounded and sick.

Historical criticism has proved that there never was such a thing as the "Reform of Bathory" and that the historical facts were much simpler. Endeavors to organize the Cossacks into separate units and take them into service on pay were certainly made as early as the beginning of the Sixteenth century and in this the border administration took the initiative. For instance, the above-mentioned Ostap Dashkevich, starost of Cherkassy, proposed in the Seim of 1533 to keep two thousand to defend the frontier against the Tatars, but this suggestion was left unconsidered as were also later many similar ones, coming from the border administration. The Government had no money and no understanding of the need.  p146 Indeed, the Government began to look with suspicion and fear on the Cossacks, especially after they began to mix in Moldavian affairs, because it led to complications with the Turks. Thus in 1577 one of the Cossack pretenders to the Moldavian throne, Ivan Pidkova, at the head of the Cossacks, occupied Moldavia, but the Polish government arrested and beheaded him in Lvov in 1578. The experiment of transforming the Cossacks into a paid army though in a modest form, was made as early as 1572 by King Sigismund August. This experiment was only of short duration, but the fact of organizing the Cossacks by order of the King and exempting them from the jurisdiction of the local authorities had an important influence on the development of the Cossacks as a distinct military class and their immunity from ordinary administration.

King Stephen Bathory regarded the Cossacks as an independent, unruly element whose activities led him into diplomatic difficulties with the Turks. But he was a soldier, and in the interests of border defence and in order to keep the Cossacks more under his control, he recruited a unit of about five hundred men on special conditions with a treaty and a written grant to them and put this military unit under the leader­ship of Prince Michael Vishnevetsky, starost of Cherkassy. The Cossack Hetman was to be under his orders and he was expressly forbidden to begin any campaign without his knowledge. This treaty was to last during the war with Moscow that began at that time, and the Cossacks received the town of Traktemiriv on the Dnieper between Kiev and Kaniv for their headquarters. After the war with Moscow was over there is no mention of the renewal of this treaty.

The roll of the Cossacks adhering to this Treaty has been preserved. Ukrainians form 83%, besides which are Poles, Russians, Rumanians, Germans, a Serb and two Caucasians. Among different professions mentioned, we find a medical man and one graduate of a University, a Bachelor of Arts.

During the last two decades of the Sixteenth century  p147 several other recruitments of the Cossacks were made. Though their contingents were small — 500, 600, and 1000 men — the mere fact of treating the Cossacks as a distinct military class was important and furnished a precedent. These numbers included only a very small part of the Cossacks who were at the time already numerous and had their own centre practically independent of the Polish authorities.

The Zaporogian Sich lay, about the year 1530, on the river Basavluk, a small tributary of the Dnieper on the right bank beyond the rapids. This camp was visited in 1594 by Erik Lassota, an envoy from the Emperor Rudolph II, who left a description of this visit in his well-known diary. He arrived at the Sich on June 6th, 1594. The Cossacks met him with salvos of guns. Their Hetman, Bohdan Mikoshinsky, was absent on a campaign with 1500 men, thus Lassota had to wait for his return, living in an ordinary Cossack hut. The guard of the camp was composed, according to him, of 400 men. In camp there were about 6000 Cossacks altogether. When the Hetman returned, a meeting of all the Cossacks was held, on which occasion Lassota was officially received by the whole Brotherhood, and explained his mission. The negotiations lasted for several days, and when the proposals of the Emperor were accepted, he was again greeted with a salute of ten guns, fanfares of trumpets and beating of drums; there were fireworks at night. On leaving the Cossacks, Lassota was presented with a fur coat of marten from the treasury of the Sich, and a fur bonnet of black fox. He was conducted on a galley — spoil from the Turks — with more salvos of guns, trumpets and music. He speaks of a numerous fleet of galleys and smaller rowing vessels called by the Cossacks "Sea‑gulls", which carried fifty men. He also mentions a considerable number of horses bred by the Cossacks, which he saw grazing in the meadows. From his descriptions we conclude that there was a completely organized military camp with considerable stores, war supplies and other necessities.

Ten years earlier, another foreigner, an Italian named  p148 Gamberini, took down a detailed description of the Zaporogian Cossack organization from a former Cossack who was taken prisoner by the Turks and escaped to Italy.

"Some of the Cossacks", Gamberini relates, "are in the service of the Polish King and follow an appointed Hetman. Their number is about fifteen hundred men under arms appointed to defend the frontier against the Tatars. Other Cossacks, and these are more numerous, numbering about fifteen thousand men, do not recognize any authority but their own elected Hetman. They live on spoil and are ready to face every danger. They are armed with muskets and swords and are unfailing shots. They excel in warfare both on foot and horseback. They live in wooden huts and are very frugal, subsisting on face and game of their own killing. They do not eat bread and only drink fresh water.

Most of them are men from neighboring provinces, but there are also among them Poles, Germans, French, Spaniards, Italians and all sorts of refugees. Here they find refuge and no hand can reach them. They live on a small island. When more join them, they move to a bigger island. There is much wood there, and they are skilful in building forts that even if the Dnieper is frozen they are not afraid of the foe, they cut the ice around their camp and build walls with ice blocks. In summer, it is impossible to reach them. It is even difficult to find the way to their camp if one does not know its exact whereabouts. Cossacks are also very good at sea. They have a fleet of all sorts of vessels, and set out plundering the Turkish towns on the shores of the Black Sea".

This is quoted at length because it is very typical. Since the end of the Sixteenth century we have in Polish, German, French, Dutch, English, and other European languages similar descriptions of the life of the Ukrainian Zaporogian Cossacks including numerous writings verging on fictions because in addition to the facts they contain much that is exaggerated and incorrect. For instance some speak of the international character of the Cossacks;  p149 we can say with certainty that the majority were Ukrainians, the others being exceptions.

As a power­ful military organization of this sort making use of their own considerable war munitions and military equipment, the Zaporogian Cossacks not only made war on the Tatars and Turks on their own initiative, but very soon began to conduct their own international policy. This was one of the reasons for a considerable number of the conflicts with the Polish Governments.

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Page updated: 12 Jun 22