Town Cossacks

Town Cossacks (horodovi kozaky). Cossack garrisons in fortresses in the steppes along the Dnieper River (especially in Kaniv, Vinnytsia, Cherkasy, Khmilnyk, Bratslav, and Bar), set up in the 16th and 17th centuries by the Lithuanian and, later, Polish authorities to defend the southern borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth against Tatar raids. The town Cossack units were organized by local starostas, and the Polish government introduced a register in the second half of the 16th century to control their number and activities (see Registered Cossacks).

Some historians also use the term ‘town Cossacks’ to refer to the Cossacks of the Hetman state in Left-Bank Ukraine from the second half of the 17th century until the early 1780s. They were organized into regiments, which were named after their chief towns, and formed the bulk of the Hetmanate's military force. The regiments differed in size of territory and population and number of Cossacks. At the beginning of the 18th century there were 40,000 to 50,000 town Cossacks altogether, divided into companies, with 8 to 20 companies per regiment. Each company was to consist nominally of 200 to 250 Cossacks, but actually numbered 700 to 750. The companies were further divided into kurins.

Town Cossacks were exempted from taxes and labor services but were obliged to do military duty without pay. Each man had to equip himself with a horse, arms, uniform, and supplies. Between campaigns the town Cossacks lived at home. According to an ukase of 1735 of the Governing Council of the Hetman Office, which was approved by the Senate in Moscow, a new list of Left-Bank regiments was drawn up. It included 30,000 wealthy Cossacks, who became known as elect Cossacks; most of the rank-and-file Cossacks were stripped of their privileges and turned into Cossack helpers, who were required to supply the Cossack army with forage and provisions and to defend the estates of the elect Cossacks during campaigns. In 1789 all Cossack privileges were abolished by imperial decree, the status of the Cossacks was degraded to that of state peasants, and they became known as Little Russian Cossacks. Some of them were conscripted into lancer regiments.

Arkadii Zhukovsky

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 5 (1993).]

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