Dezhnev, Semen Ivanovich

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(c. 16051673), Cossack; explorer of northeastern Siberia.

Originally from the Pomor region, on the North Dvina, Semen Dezhnev entered Siberian service with the Cossacks in 1630. His expeditions, particularly that of 16481649, were an important part of the great push eastward that Russia made into Siberia during the seventeenth century.

Based in Yakutsk, Dezhnev helped to explore and survey the Alazeya and Kolyma rivers in northeastern Siberia. In 1647 he set out to find and map the Anadyr River, but this attempt proved abortive. Dezhnev began again in June 1648, at the head of ninety men. From Srednekolymsk, Dezhnev's party sailed north, then, upon reaching the Arctic Ocean, turned east, along Russia's northern coast.

During the next one hundred days, Dezhnev's party lost six of seven boats. The surviving vessel sailed two thousand miles, rounding the Chukotsk Peninsula, Asia's northeastern tip. Thus Dezhnev and his men became, albeit unwittingly, the first Europeans to navigate what later came to be known as the Bering Strait. Dezhnev also discovered the Diomede Islands. Dezhnev had sailed between Asia and North America, but not for another century, with Bering's Great Northern Expedition, would it be proven conclusively that the two continents were not physically linked.

In October 1648, Dezhnev's boat was cast ashore on Russia's Pacific coast, well south of the Anadyr. Before winter set in, the party marched north, locating the river's mouth. Sixteen men, Dezhnev included, survived the winter encampment. In the spring of 1649, they traveled upriver and founded the outpost of Anadyrsk. In 1650 and 1651, Dezhnev consolidated his control over the river basin, aided by Mikhail Stadukhin and Semyon Motora, who had reached the eastern Anadyr overland. Dezhnev was relieved in 1659 and returned to Yakutsk in 1662. In 1672, shortly before his death, he returned to Moscow.

See also: alaska; bering, vitus jonassen; siberia


Bobrick, Benson. (1992). East of the Sun: The Epic Conquest and Tragic History of Siberia. New York: Poseidon.

Lincoln, W. Bruce. (1993). Conquest of a Continent: Siberia and the Russians. New York: Random House.

John McCannon