Zaporizhian Sich: Wikis


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Zaporizhian Sich showing the fortified walls.

Zaporizhian Sich (Ukrainian: Запорізька Січ, Zaporiz'ka Sich) original Ukrainian name "Zaporizhska Sich'" was the center of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, who were a power in the steppes north of the Black Sea from the 16th century to the 18th century. It was located on an island in the middle of the Dnieper River in what is now the Zaporizhia region of Ukraine. The term has also been metonymically used as an informal reference to the whole military-administrative organisation of the Zaporizhian Cossack Host.



Initially the Zaporizhian Sich was a fortified military camp, the foundation for which was laid out on the Isle of Khortytsia in 1556 by Dmytro Vyshnevetsky. But only in 1618 did Hetman Petro Konashevych Sahaidachny order his Cossacks to build the earthen perimeter with the log walls on top of it. The log fort was surrounded with а massive abatis made from entire trees. Hence the term "Sich" — a noun derived from the verb in Ukrainian: сікти (sikty) "to chop" or "cut", meaning to clear a forest for an encampment, or to build a fortification with the trees that have been chopped down.[1]

The remoteness of the location and rapids on the Dnieper River provided effective protection from attack.

Organisation and Government

The Zaporizhian Host was led by the Sich Rada that elected a Kosh Otaman as the leader of the host. He was aided by a head secretary (pysar), head judge, head archivist. During the military operations the Otaman carried an unlimited power supported by his staff as the military collegiate. He decided with an agreement from the Rada whether or not to support a certain Hetman (such as Bohdan Khmelnytsky) or other leaders of state.

Some sources refer to the Zaporizhian Sich as a "cossack republic",[2] as the highest power in it belonged to the assembly of all its members, and because the leaders (starshyna) were elected. The Cossacks formed a society (hromada) that consisted of "kurens" (each with several hundred cossacks). There was a cossack military court that severely punished violence and stealing among compatriots; the bringing of women to the Sich; the consumption of alcohol in periods of conflict, etc. The administration of the Sich provided Orthodox churches and schools for the religious and secular education of children.

The Sich population had an international component, and apart from Ukrainians included Moldovans, Tatars, Poles, Lithuanians, Jews and Russians. The social structure was also complex, consisting of: destitute gentry and boyars, szlachta, merchants, peasants, outlaws of every sort, run-away slaves from Turkish galleys, run-away serfs (as the Zaporizhian polkovnyk Pivtorakozhukha), etc. Some of those that were not accepted to the Host formed gangs of their own claiming to be Cossacks as well. However, after the Khmelnytsky Uprising these formations largely disappeared and were integrated mainly into Hetmanate society.


Army and Warfare

The Cossacks developed a large fleet of light fast light vessels. Their campaigns were targeted at rich settlements on the Black Sea shores of the Ottoman Empire, and several times took them as far as Constantinople[3] and Trabzon (formerly Trebizond).


"Zaporizhian Camp" by Józef Brandt, oil on canvas; 72 × 112 cm. National Museum in Warsaw

The Zaporizhian Sich emerged as a natural method of defense by the Ukrainian people against the frequent and devastating raids of Crimean Tatars, who captured hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, Belarusians and Poles. Such slaving operations were called "the harvesting of the steppe".

Because of the Tatars' constant interference, Ukrainians found it hard to survive, let alone make a living. They created a self-defense force, the Cossacks, fierce enough to stop the Tatar hordes.

Some researchers say that the constant threat from the Crimean Tatars was the impetus for the emergence of cossackdom. During the raids of retribution to the Black Sea shores of the Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate, the cossacks not only robbed rich settlements, but liberated their compatriots from slavery.



Zaporizhian Cossack, 18th century
Zaporizhian Cossacks Prayer, fragment of the icon of Protection of Holy Virgin Mary

In later years the Sich became the center of Cossack life south of the borders of Russian Tsardom. The Zaporizhian Host was governed by the Sich Rada and the term Zaporizhian Sich was applied to the "Cossack state".

After the Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654), the Host was split into two, the Hetmanate with its capital at Chyhyryn, and the more autonomous region of Zaporizhia which continued to be centred on the Sich. During this period the Sich changed location several times.

During the reign of the Russian Tsar Peter, cossacks were taken to Russia proper (and new Russian conquests) for the construction of canals and fortification lines. An estimated 20–30 thousand were sent each year to Northern Russia for construction of canals at Lake Ladoga. Hard labour in the cold and unfamiliar climate led to a high level of mortality among the cossacks. Only an estimated 40% returned home.[4]

After the Battle of Poltava the original Sich was destroyed in 1709, and Mazepa's capital - Baturyn - was razed. This is sometimes referred to as the Old Sich (Stara Sich). From 1734 to 1775 a New Sich (Nova Sich) was constructed.

Fear of the independence of the Sich resulted in the Russian Administration first abolishing the Cossack Hetmanate in 1764 and finally totally destroying the Zaporizhian Sich itself by military force in 1775.

By the late 18th century, the Cossack officer class in the Ukraine was incorporated into the Imperial Russian nobility (Dvoryanstvo). The rank and file Cossacks, however, including a substantial portion of the old Zaporozhians, were reduced to peasant status. They were able to maintain some freedoms and continued to provide refuge for those fleeing serfdom in Russia and Poland. This aroused the anger of the Russian empress Catherine II. Also, tension rose after the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, when the need for a southern frontier ended after the annexation of the Crimea. With the colonisation of New Russia, tensions were created between the Cossacks and numerous Slav colonists. Using that as the excuse, Catherine II decided to disregard the Pereyaslav Treaty and disband the Sich.


In May 1775, General Pyotr Tekeli received orders to occupy the main Zaporizhian fortress, the Sich, and to destroy it. The order was given by Grigory Potemkin, who was formally admitted into Cossackdom a few years earlier. Potemkin was given direct orders from Empress Catherine.

On June 5 1775, General Tekeli surrounded the Sich with artillery and infantry. He postponed the assault and even allowed visits while the head of the Host, Petro Kalnyshevsky, was deciding how to react to the Russian ultimatum. Under the guidance of the starshyna Lyakh, a conspiracy was formed among a group of 50 Cossacks to pretend to go fishing in the river Inhul next to the Southern Buh in the Ottoman provinces. The pretext was enough to allow the Russians to let the Cossacks out of the siege, who were joined by numerous others. The fleeing Cossacks travelled to the Danube Delta where they formed a new Danube Sich, as a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire.

When Tekeli realised the escape, there was little left for the remaining Cossacks. The Sich was razed to the ground. Petro Kalnyshevsky was arrested and exiled to the Solovetsky Islands (where he reputedly lived to the age of 112 in the Solovetsky Monastery). All high level starshynas were repressed or exiled. Lower level starshynas who remained and went over to the Russian side were given Army ranks and all the privileges that accompanied them, and allowed to join Husar and Dragoon regiments. Most of the ordinary cossacks were made state peasants and serfs.[5] The Ukrainian writer Adrian Kaschenko (1858-1921) [6] and historian Olena Apanovich [7] note that the final abolition of the Zaporizhian Sich, the historic Cossack stronghold perceived as the bastion of the protection of the Ukrainians and their ways of life, had such a strong symbolic effect that the memories of the event remained for the long time in local folklore.

See also


  1. ^ Dmytro Yavornytsky (1892, reissued 1990) Історія Запорізьких Козаків (the History of the Zaporizhian Cossacks) Vol.1 ISBN 5-11-000647-4 (Ukrainian)
  2. ^
  3. ^ Cossack Navy 16th - 17th Centuries
  4. ^ Володимир Антонович. Про козацькі часи на Україні. - Дев'ята глава
  5. ^ Turchenko F. (ed), "Ukrains'ke kozatstvo. Mala entsyklopediia", Kyiv, 2002
  6. ^ Adrian Kashchenko, "Opovidannia pro slavne viys'ko zaporoz'ke nyzove", Dnipropetrovsk, Sich, 1991, ISBN 5777503012
  7. ^ Olena Apanovich, "Ne propala ihnya slava", "Vitchizna" Magazine, N 9, 1990

External links


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