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The rebellion managed to consolidate support from various groups including the peasants , the Cossacks , and Old Believers priesthood.

Cossack Officials in Sloboda Ukraine: from Local Elite to Imperial Nobility?

At one point, its administration claimed control over most of the territory between the Volga River and the Urals. One of the most significant events of the insurrection was the Battle of Kazan in July Government forces failed to respond effectively to the insurrection at first, partly due to logistical difficulties and a failure to appreciate its scale. However, the revolt was crushed towards the end of by General Michelsohn at Tsaritsyn. Pugachev was captured soon after and executed in Moscow in January Further reprisals against rebel areas were carried out by General Peter Panin.

The events have generated many stories in legend and literature, most notably Pushkin 's historical novel The Captain's Daughter It was the largest peasant revolt in Russia 's history. As the Russian monarchy contributed to the degradation of the serfs , peasant anger ran high. Peter the Great ceded entire villages to favored nobles, while Catherine the Great confirmed the authority of the nobles over the serfs in return for the nobles' political cooperation.


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The unrest intensified as the 18th century wore on, with more than fifty peasant revolts occurring between and These culminated in Pugachev's Rebellion, when, between and , Yemelyan Pugachev rallied the peasants and Cossacks and promised the serfs land of their own and freedom from their lords. There were various pressures on Russian serfs during the 18th century, which induced them to follow Pugachev. The peasantry in Russia were no longer bound to the land, but tied to their owner.

The connecting links that had existed between the peasant community and the tsar, which had been diminishing, was broken by the interposition of the serf owners; these private lords or agents of the Church or state who owned the land blocked serfs' access to the political authority.

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Many nobles returned to their estates after and imposed harsher rules on their peasants. The relationship between peasant and ruler was cut off most dramatically in the decree of , which completely prohibited direct petitions to the empress from the peasantry. In addition, a strong inflationary trend resulted in higher prices on all goods.

There were natural disasters in Russia during the 18th century, which also added strain on the peasants. Frequent recurrence of crop failures, plagues and epidemics created economic and social instability. The most dramatic was the epidemic in Moscow, which brought to the surface all the unconscious and unfocused fears and panics of the populace.

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Each ruler altered the position of the Church, which created more pressure. Peter the Great gave the Church new obligations, while its administration assimilated to a department of the secular state. The unrest spurred constant revolt among Church serfs. He had not resisted his overthrow, but had left to wander the world.

He had come to help the revolt, but he did not initiate it; according to popular myth, the Cossacks and the people did that.

Moscow. Povarskaya str. Mansions of russian aristocrats. [Moscow Travel Guide]

Pugachev offered freedom from the poll tax and the recruit-levy, which made him appear to follow in the same vein as the emperor he was impersonating. Pugachev attempted to reproduce the St. Petersburg bureaucracy. He established his own College of War with quite extensive powers and functions. It is important to emphasize that he did not promise complete freedom from taxation and recruitment for the peasants; he granted only temporary relief.

His perception of the state was one where soldiers took the role of Cossacks, meaning they were free, permanent, military servicemen. Pugachev placed all other military personnel into this category as well, even the nobles and officers who joined his ranks. All peasants were seen as servants of the state, they were to become state peasants and serve as Cossacks in the militia.

Pugachev still expected the peasants to continue their labor, but he granted them the freedom to work and own the land. They would also enjoy religious freedoms and Pugachev promised to restore the bond between the ruler and the people, eradicating the role of the noble as the intermediary.

Cossack Officials in Sloboda Ukraine: from Local Elite to Imperial Nobility? | IWM

Some of his top commanders took on the pseudonyms of dukes and courtiers. Zarubin Chaika, Pugachev's top commander, for example, took the guise of Zakhar Chernyshev. The army Pugachev established, at least at the very top levels of command, also mimicked Catherine's.

The organizational structure Pugachev set up for his top command was extraordinary, considering Pugachev defected as an ensign from Catherine's army.


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  6. He built up his own War College and a fairly sophisticated intelligence network of messengers and spies. Even though Pugachev was illiterate, he recruited the help of local priests, mullahs , and starshins to write and disseminate his "royal decrees" or ukases in Russian and Tatar languages. These ukazy were copied, sent to villages and read to the masses by the priests and mullahs. In these documents, he begged the masses to serve him faithfully. He promised to grant to those who followed his service land, salt, grain, and lowered taxes, and threatened punishment and death to those who didn't.

    For example, an excerpt from a ukase written in late From me, such reward and investiture will be with money and bread compensation and with promotions: and you, as well as your next of kin will have a place in my government and will be designated to serve a glorious duty on my behalf. If there are those who forget their obligations to their natural ruler Peter III, and dare not carry out the command that my devoted troops are to receive weapons in their hands, then they will see for themselves my righteous anger, and will then be punished harshly.

    Emancipation of Russian Nobility, 1762-1785

    From the very beginning of the insurgency , Pugachev's generals carried out mass recruitment campaigns in Tatar and Bashkir settlements, with the instructions of recruiting one member from every or every other household and as many weapons as they could secure. Famous Bashkir hero Salawat Yulayev joined him. He recruited priests and mullahs to disseminate his decrees and read them to the masses as a way of lending them credence. A few days before his arrival to a given city or village, messengers would be sent out to inform the priests and deacons in that town of his impending arrival.

    These messengers would request that the priests bring out salt and water and ring the church bells to signify his coming. And when that ataman brought his band, consisting of men, to their Baikalov village, then that Zubarev met them with a cross and with icons and chanted prayers in the Church; and then at the time of service, as well as after, evoked the name of the Emperor Peter III for suffrage.

    Author's translation. For example, after the very first attack on Yaitsk , he turned not towards the interior, but instead turned east towards Orenburg which for most Cossacks was the most direct symbol of Russian oppression. The heterogeneous population in Russia created special problems for the government, and it provided opportunities for those opposing the state and seeking support among the discontented, as yet unassimilated natives.

    Non-Russians, such as the Bashkirs, followed Pugachev because they were promised their traditional ways of life, freedom of their lands, water and woods, their faith and laws, food, clothing, salaries, weapons and freedom from enserfment. This realization led to the formation of a new alliance between the state and the nobility, based on a mutual fear of peasant revolt and expressed first in the provincial reforms of and finally in Catherine's Charter to the Nobility of In the 's Catherine had hoped to forestall peasant uprisings by improving the lot of the serfs and limiting the authority of the serf-owners.

    But faced with the choice between controlling the serfs in a way open to abuses and eliminating abuses in a way that might lead to loss of control, Catherine chose the former. Her Charter committed the state to the preservation of serfdom and the reactionary ancien regime. Originally published in The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press.

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