So who were these people a flippant answer might be

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So who were these people? A flippant answer might be that the Cossacks were part-timepeasants, part-time warriors and part-time brigands. And as mentioned before, in connection with Yermak’s conquest of Sibir. The Cossacks often acted independently. With a bit of exaggeration and distortion, you could see the Cossacks as the Russian/Ukrainian equivalent of the Pirates of the Caribbean. They did hire out as warriors – fighting for the Poles, the Russians, the Tatars or the Turks – or, for that matter against them. And when they were not fighting for a king or state, they did quite a bit of raiding on their own. South to Crimea, north into the settled
40areas, or into the Ottoman-controlled Balkans. At times, they even used boats to raid Anatolia, Turkey proper, on the other side of the Black Sea. These Cossack raids, which the Cossacks oftenlaunched on their own, frequently complicated their relations with their neighbours to the south and north alike. They complicated the relations between say Russia or Poland – which hadmany other problems between them originating elsewhere. The Cossack raids also created problems for these states, in their relations with the Khans of Crimea or with the Ottoman Empire. To give a concrete example of an incident when Cossack initiative caused some serious headaches in Moscow: in 1637, the Don Cossacks, acting on their own, seized the Ottoman stronghold of Azov. They turned to Moscow to give them support. Moscow turned them down, as it might have involved them in a war against a major power, at a time during which they had more important worries elsewhere. As it was, the Khans of Crimea and the Ottomans frequentlycomplained about the Cossacks, demanding that Russia or Poland should be able to restrain them more effectively. Some have seen the Cossacks as free farmers who spent some of their time fighting, butothers have seen them as brigands who did not really do that much farming or working that they preferred to get the stuff they needed differently, by seizing it from others. But there are testimonies suggesting that they could be generous, selfless, good-natured, democratic and all that - as well as vicious. Easy going – or irresponsible? That may depend on the attitude of the observer. And, before passing judgement, bear in mind that they live on the frontier, in a rather dangerous neighbourhood. Again parallels with the pirates of the Caribbean come to mind. Take your pick! Early in the 17thCentury, Cossacks played a significant role in the conflicts between the Poles and the Muscovites. They played a role in the selection of Michael Romanov as the new czar in 1613 – we’ll be getting to that shortly.The high point of the Cossack existence came in the middle of the 17thCentury. At that point, most Cossacks living along the Dnieper River rebelled against their Polish overlords. Therewere the grievances of the registered vs. the unregistered Cossacks, then there were the religious issues, most Cossacks were Orthodox, while the Poles tried to impose some form of

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