Razin, Stepan (known as Stenka; 1630?–1671)

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RAZIN, STEPAN (known as Stenka; 1630?1671)

RAZIN, STEPAN (known as Stenka; 1630?1671), leader of one of the more destructive Cossack rebellions in Russian history. Razin was born near Cherkassk on the southern Don around 1630. His father was a prominent figure within the Don Cossack Host, his mother a Turkish or Tatar captive; Host hetman Kornilo Iakovlev was his godfather. In 1658 Stepan Razin was among a delegation of Cossacks sent from the Host to the Ambassadors' Chancellery in Moscow. He subsequently played an important role in negotiations with the Kalmyks on behalf of the Host and the Ambassadors' Chancellery.

By the mid-1660s Muscovite military colonization of the southern frontier districts of the Belgorod Line had produced a cascade migration of thousands of deserters and fugitive peasants southward into the Don Host. Moscow's semiannual cash, grain, and gunpowder subsidies to the Host were not increased accordingly, however, and Cossack impoverishment on the upper Don was further exacerbated by harvest failures. Furthermore, the Don Host now faced fewer Moscow-sanctioned opportunities to plunder the Crimean Khanate and Ottoman towns on the Black Sea coast, for Moscow was trying to rein in the Host to convince the Ottoman Sultan to restrain the Crimean Tatars from further raiding in Ukraine.

In 16671669 some eight hundred Don Cossacks desperate for plunder defied Moscow's ban and followed Stepan Razin on a campaign of piracy in the Caspian and raids in Daghestan and northern Persia. They successfully overcame halfhearted attempts by Muscovite troops from the lower Volga garrison towns to block their access to the Caspian. This appears to have convinced Razin he was unlikely to receive the tsar's pardon, but also that he had little to fear from the weak Muscovite garrisons on the Volga.

Upon his return to Cherkassk in April 1670 Razin defied efforts to arrest him, killed the Muscovite envoy to the Host, and exploited his newfound popularity among rank-and-file Cossacks to turn against Hetman Iakovlev and form his own renegade Host, which soon attracted about seven thousand followers. In March 1670 Razin's forces began pushing up the Volga; by autumn they had captured Astrakhan, Tsaritsyn (Volgograd), Saratov, and Samara. Razin's addresses to his council (krug) of Cossack lieutenants allegedly proclaimed his intention of marching on Moscow itself to punish particular powerful boyars and chancellery directors as oppressors of the people, and for a while he kept in his entourage a pretender tsarevich and impostor patriarch. His forces did find some support among the lower clergy, townsmen, garrison musketeers, burlak boatmen, peasants, and the Chuvash and Mordvin ethnic minorities. But Soviet historiography exaggerated in painting the Razin insurgency as an emerging general antifeudal class war; Razin's probable objective was, rather, to seize garrison resources on the lower Volga and expand the scale of Cossack piracy in the Caspian region.

Razin's forces failed to take control of the Volga north of Samara; Simbirsk and Kazan' did not fall to them. Detachments under his brother Frolka unsuccessfully tried to carry the war to the eastern end of the Belgorod Line (SeptemberOctober 1670). In late 1670 Stepan Razin fell back to the lower Don. He tried but failed to overthrow Hetman Iakovlev and bring the rest of Don Host under his control. Iakovlev's Cossacks finally captured Razin at Kagal'nik in April 1671. In June 1671 Razin was executed at Moscow.

See also Cossacks ; Russia .


Avrich, Paul. Russian Rebels, 16001800. New York, 1972.

Chistiakova, E. V., and V. M. Solov'ev. Stepan Razin i ego soratniki. Moscow, 1988.

Khodarkovsky, Michael. "The Stepan Razin Uprising: Was It a 'Peasant War'?" Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 42, no. 1 (1994): 119.

Brian Davies