Stepan Razin

"Razin" redirects here. For places in Iran, see Razin, Iran.
Stepan Razin
Born Stepan Timofeyevich Razin; Степан Тимофеевич Разин
Tsardom of Russia
Died 16 June 1671 (age 40-41)
Moscow, Tsardom of Russia
Cause of death execution by dismemberment
Known for leading uprising against Tsardom of Russia

Stepan Timofeyevich Razin (Russian: Степа́н Тимофе́евич Ра́зин, Russian pronunciation: [sʲtʲɪˈpan (ˈsʲtʲenʲkə) tʲɪmɐˈfʲeɪvʲɪtɕ ˈrazʲɪn]; 1630 – June 16 [O.S. June 6] 1671), known as Stenka Razin (Стенька), was a Cossack leader who led a major uprising against the nobility and tsarist bureaucracy in southern Russia in 1670-1671.

Early life

Razin's parents were from the village of Usman Sobakina, 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) outside of Voronezh. He was first noted by history in 1661, as part of a diplomatic mission from the Don Cossacks to the Kalmyks. That same year Razin went on a long-distance pilgrimage to the great Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea for the benefit of his soul. After that, all trace of him was lost for six years, when he reappeared as the leader of a robber community established at Panshinskoye, among the marshes between the rivers Tishina and Ilovlya, from whence he levied tribute from all vessels passing up and down the Volga.

A long war with Poland in 1654-1667 and Sweden in 1656-1658 put heavy demands upon the people of Russia. Taxes increased, as did conscription. Many peasants, hoping to escape these burdens, fled south and joined bands of Razin's marauding Cossacks. They were also joined by many others who were disaffected with the Russian government, including people of the lower classes, as well as representatives of non-Russian ethnic groups such as Kalmyks, that were being oppressed at the time.

Razin's first considerable exploit was to destroy the great naval convoy consisting of the treasury barges and the barges of the Patriarch and the wealthy merchants of Moscow. Razin then sailed down the Volga with a fleet of 35 vessels, capturing the more important forts on his way and devastating the country. At the beginning of 1668, he defeated the voivode Yakov Bezobrazov, sent against him from Astrakhan, and in the spring embarked on a predatory expedition into Daghestan and Persia, which lasted for eighteen months.


Stepan Razin in a contemporary English engraving

Russia began the 17th century with the Time of Troubles, which lasted from 1598 to 1613. This time marked the end of the Rurik dynasty and the beginning of the Romanov dynasty. Michael Romanov (tsar from 1613 to 1645) and his son Alexis (tsar from 1645 to 1676) both strove to strengthen the power of the tsar in order to stabilize the country after the turmoil of the Time of Troubles. As a result, the Zemsky Sobor and the boyar council, two other bodies of government in Russia, slowly lost influence.[1] The Russian population went from fifteen years of "near anarchy" to the reigns of two strong, centralizing autocrats.[2]

In addition, a deep divide existed between the peasantry and the nobility in Russia.[3] Recent changes in the treatment and legal standing of peasants, including the institutionalization of serfdom in the Law Code of 1649, contributed to the unrest among the peasantry.[2] The Don Cossacks, a lower-class group that lived independently near the Don River and whom the tsar's government supplied in exchange for defending Russia, led Razin's rebellion.[4] Historian Paul Avrich characterizes Razin's revolt as a "curious mixture of brigandage and revolt," similar to other popular uprisings of the period.[5] Razin revolted against the "traitor-boyars" rather than the tsar. The Cossacks supported the tsar because they worked for him.[6]

Departure from the Don

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In 1667, Razin gathered a small group of Cossacks and left the Don for an expedition in the Caspian Sea. He aimed to set up a base in Yaitsk (now known as Oral, located in Kazakhstan on the Ural River) and plunder villages from there. However, Moscow learned of Razin's plans and attempted to stop him.[7] As Razin traveled down the Volga River to Tsaritsyn, the voivodes of Astrakhan warned Andrei Unkovsky (the voivode or governor of Tsaritsyn) of Razin's arrival and recommended that he not allow the Cossacks to enter the town.[8]

Unkovsky attempted to negotiate with Razin, but Razin threatened to set fire to Tsaritsyn if Unkovsky interfered. When he encountered a group of political prisoners being transported by the tsar's representatives on his way from the Don to the Volga, Razin reportedly said, "I shall not force you to join me, but whoever chooses to come with me will be a free Cossack. I have come to fight only the boyars and the wealthy lords. As for the poor and plain folk, I shall treat them as brothers."[5]

When Razin sailed by Tsartisyn, Unkovsky did not attack (possibly either because he felt that Razin posed a threat or because the guards of Tsaritsyn sympathized with Razin's Cossacks). This incident gave Razin the reputation of an "invincible warrior endowed with supernatural powers." He continued his travels down the Volga and into the Caspian Sea, defeating several detachments of streltsy, or armed guardsmen. In July 1667, Razin captured Yaitsk by disguising himself and some of his companions as pilgrims to pray at the cathedral. Once inside Yaitsk, they opened the gates for the rest of the troops to enter and occupy the city. The opposition sent to fight Razin felt reluctant to do so because they sympathized with the Cossacks.[5]

In the spring of 1668, Razin led the majority of his men down the Yaik River (also known as the Ural River) while a small portion stayed behind to guard Yaitsk. However, the government defeated Razin's men in Yaitsk and Razin lost his base there.[9]

Persian expedition

Stepan Razin Sailing in the Caspian Sea by Vasily Surikov, 1906.

After losing Yaitsk, Razin sailed south down the coast of the Caspian Sea to continue his pillaging. He and his men then attacked Persia. Failing to capture the well-defended fortress port of Darband/Derbent in present-day Dagestan, his forces moved south to attack the small port of Badkuba (present Baku) located on the Absheron Peninsula in present-day Republic of Azerbaijan, but at Rasht (in the southwest Caspian Sea in modern Iran) the Persians killed roughly 400 Cossacks in a surprise attack. Razin went to Isfahan to ask the shah for land in Persia in exchange for loyalty to the shah, but departed on the Caspian for more pillaging before they could reach an agreement.[9] Razin arrived in Farahabad (on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea in Iran) and masqueraded as a merchant in the city for several days before he and his men pillaged the city for two days. That winter the Cossacks with Razin fended off starvation and disease on the Miankaleh Peninsula, and in the spring of 1669 Razin built a base on the eastern side of the Caspian Sea and began raiding Turkmen villages.[10] Then in the spring of 1669 he established himself on the isle of Suina, off which, in July, he annihilated a Persian fleet sent against him. Stenka Razin, as he was generally called, had now become a potentate with whom princes did not disdain to treat.

In August 1669 he reappeared at Astrakhan and accepted a fresh offer of pardon from Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich there; the common people were fascinated by his adventures. The lawless Russian border region of Astrakhan, where the whole atmosphere was predatory and many people were still nomadic, was the natural milieu for such a rebellion as Razin's.

Open rebellion

Razin's rebels in Astrakhan, a Dutch engraving from 1681.

In 1670 Razin, while ostensibly on his way to report at the Cossack headquarters on the Don, openly rebelled against the government, capturing Cherkassk and Tsaritsyn. After capturing Tsaritsyn, Razin sailed up the Volga with his army of almost 7000 men. The men traveled toward Cherny Yar, a government stronghold between Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan. Razin and his men swiftly took Cherny Yar when the Cherny Yar streltsy rose up against their officers and joined the Cossack cause in June 1670.[11] On June 24 he reached the city of Astrakhan. Astrakhan, Moscow's wealthy "window on the East," occupied a strategically important location at the mouth of the Volga River on the shore of the Caspian Sea.[12] Razin plundered the city despite its location on a strongly fortified island and the stone walls and brass cannons that surrounded the central citadel. The local streltsy's rebellion allowed Razin to gain access to the city.[13]

After massacring all who opposed him (including two Princes Prozorovsky) and giving the rich bazaars of the city over to pillage, he converted Astrakhan into a Cossack republic, dividing the population into thousands, hundreds and tens, with their proper officers, all of whom were appointed by a veche or general assembly, whose first act was to proclaim Razin their gosudar (sovereign).

After a three-week carnival of blood and debauchery, Razin quit Astrakhan with two hundred barges full of troops. His aim was to establish the Cossack republic along the whole length of the Volga as a preliminary step towards advancing against Moscow. Saratov and Samara were captured, but Simbirsk defied all efforts, and after two bloody encounters close at hand on the banks of the Sviyaga River (October 1 and 4), Razin was ultimately routed by the army of Yuri Baryatinsky and fled down the Volga, leaving the bulk of his followers to be extirpated by the victors.

But the rebellion was by no means over. The emissaries of Razin, armed with inflammatory proclamations, had stirred up the inhabitants of the modern governments of Nizhny Novgorod, Tambov and Penza, and penetrated even as far as Moscow and Novgorod. It was not difficult to stir the oppressed population to revolt by promising deliverance from their yoke. Razin proclaimed that his object was to root out the boyars and all officials, to level all ranks and dignities, and establish Cossackdom, with its corollary of absolute equality, throughout Muscovy.

Stepan Razin on the Volga (by Boris Kustodiev, (1918) State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.)

Even at the beginning of 1671 the outcome of the struggle was doubtful. Eight battles had been fought before the insurrection showed signs of weakening, and it continued for six months after Razin had received his quietus. At Simbirsk his prestige had been shattered. Even his own settlements at Saratov and Samara refused to open their gates to him, and the Don Cossacks, hearing that the patriarch of Moscow had anathematized Razin, also declared against him. The tsar sent troops to suppress the revolt. As Paul Avrich notes in Russian Rebels, 1600–1800, "The brutality of the repressions by far exceeded the atrocities committed by the insurgents." The tsar's troops mutilated the rebels' bodies and displayed them in public to serve as a warning to potential dissenters.[14]

In 1671 Stepan and his brother Frol Razin were captured at Kagalnik fortress (Кагальницкий городок) by a Cossack starshina. They were given over to Tsarist officials in Moscow, where Stepan was tortured then quartered alive at Lobnoye Mesto. However, the rebellion did not end with Razin's death. The rebels in Astrakhan held out until November 26, 1671, when Prince Ivan Miloslavsky restored government control.


Razin originally set out to loot villages, but as he became a symbol of peasant unrest, his movement turned political.[15] Razin wanted to protect the independence of the Cossacks and to protest an increasingly centralized government. The Cossacks supported the tsar and autocracy, but they wanted a tsar that responded to the needs of the people and not just those of the upper class. By destroying and pillaging villages, Razin intended to take power from the government officials and give more autonomy to the peasants. However, Razin's movement failed and the rebellion led to increased government control. The Cossacks lost some of their autonomy, and the tsar bonded more closely with the upper class because both feared more rebellion. On the other hand, as Avrich asserts, "[Razin's revolt] awakened, however dimly, the social consciousness of the poor, gave them a new sense of power, and made the upper class tremble for their lives and possessions."[16]

At the time of the Russian Civil War, the famous writer and White emigre Ivan Bunin compared Razin to Bolshevik leaders, writing "Good God! What striking similarity there is between the time of Sten'ka and the pillaging that is going on today in the name of the 'Third International.'"[17]

In Russian culture and folklore

Volga, Volga mat' rodnaya
Folksong about Stenka Razin performed by Feodor Ivanovich Chaliapin

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Razin is the subject of a symphonic poem by Alexander Glazunov, a cantata by Shostakovich; The Execution of Stepan Razin (1964), a poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and a novel, I Have Come To Give You Freedom, (ru:Я пришёл дать вам волю) by Vasily Shukshin.

Stenka Razin is the hero of a popular Russian folk song, Ponizovaya Volnitsa, better known by the words Volga, Volga mat' rodnaya. The words were written by Dmitri Sadovnikov (Дмитрий Николаевич Садовников) in 1883; the music is folk. The song gave the title to the famous Soviet musical comedy Volga-Volga. The melody was used by Tom Springfield in the song "The Carnival Is Over" that placed The Seekers at #1 in 1965 in Australia and the UK.

The lyrics of the song were dramatized in one of the very first Russian narrative films, Stenka Razin directed by Vladimir Romashkov in 1908. The film lasts about 10 minutes. The screenplay was written by Vasily Goncharov, and the music (the first film music to be specially written to accompany a silent film) was by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov.

Words in Russian Transcribed English-language version

Из-за острова на стрежень,
На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные,
Острогрудые челны.

Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',
Na prostor rechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye,
Ostrogrudyye chelny.

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

На переднем Стенька Разин,
Обнявшись, сидит с княжной,
Свадьбу новую справляет,
Сам весёлый и хмельной.

Na perednem Sten'ka Razin,
Obnyavshis', sidit s knyazhnoy,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyayet,
Sam vesolyy i khmel'noy.

On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side.
Drunk, he holds a marriage revel,
Clasping close his fair young bride

Позади их слышен ропот:
Нас на бабу променял!
Только ночь с ней провозился
Сам наутро бабой стал . . . .

Pozadi ikh slyschen ropot:
Nas na babu promenyal!
Tol'ko noch' s ney provozilsya
Sam nautro baboy stal . . . .

From behind there comes a murmur:
"He has left his sword to woo;
One short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman, too."

Этот ропот и насмешки
Слышит грозный атаман,
И могучею рукою
Обнял персиянки стан.

Etot ropot i nasmeshki
Slyshit groznyy ataman,
I mogucheyu rukoyu
Obnyal persiyanki stan.

Stenka Razin hears the murmur
Of his discontented band
And the lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.

Брови чёрные сошлися,
Надвигается гроза.
Буйной кровью налилися
Атамановы глаза.

Brovi chornyye soshlisya,
Nadvigayetsya groza.
Buynoy krov'yu nalilisya
Atamanovy glaza.

His dark brows are drawn together
As the waves of anger rise,
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing jet-black eyes.

"Ничего не пожалею,
Буйну голову отдам!"
Раздаётся голос властный
По окрестным берегам.

"Nichevo ne pozhaleyu,
Buynu golovu otdam!"
Razdayotsya golos vlastnyy
Po okrestnym beregam.

"I will give you all you ask for,
Head and heart and life and hand!"
And his voice rolls out like thunder
Out across the distant land.

"Волга, Волга, мать родная,
Волга, русская река,
Не видала ты подарка
От донского казака!

"Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Volga, russkaya reka,
Ne vidala ty podarka
Ot donskovo kazaka!

"Volga, Volga, Mother Volga,
Wide and deep beneath the sun,
You have ne'er seen such a present
From the Cossacks of the Don!

"Чтобы не было раздора
Между вольными людьми,
Волга, Волга, мать родная,
На, красавицу возьми!"

"Shtoby ne bylo razdora
Mezhdu vol'nymi lyud'mi,
Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Na, krasavitsu voz'mi!"

"So that peace may reign for ever
In this band so free and brave,
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga,
Make this lovely girl a grave!"

Мощным взмахом поднимает
Он красавицу княжну
И за борт её бросает
В набежавшую волну.

Moshchnym vzmakhom podnimayet
On krasavitsu knyazhnu
I za bort yeyo brosayet
V nabezhavshuyu volnu.

Now, with one swift mighty motion
He has raised his bride on high
And has cast her where the waters
Of the Volga roll and sigh.

"Что ж вы, братцы, приуныли?
Эй, ты, Филька, чёрт, пляши!
Грянем песню удалую
На помин её души!.."

"Shto zh vy, bratsy, priunyli?
Ey, ty, Fil'ka, chort, plyashi!
Gryanem pesnyu udaluyu
Na pomin yeyo dushi!.."

"Dance, you fools, and let's be merry.
What is this that's in your eyes?
Let us thunder out a chanty
To the place where beauty lies!"

Из-за острова на стрежень,
На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные
Острогрудые челны.

Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',
Na prostor rechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye
Ostrogrudyye chelny.

From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.


  1. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 51. ISBN 9780393008364.
  2. 1 2 Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 52. ISBN 9780393008364.
  3. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 53. ISBN 9780393008364.
  4. Perrie, Maureen (2006). The Cambridge History of Russia, Volume 1: From Early Rus' to 1689. New York:Cambridge University Press. p. 610. ISBN 9780521812276.
  5. 1 2 3 Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 70. ISBN 9780393008364.
  6. Perrie, Maureen (2006). The Cambridge History of Russia, Volume 1: From Early Rus' to 1689. New York:Cambridge University Press. p. 612. ISBN 9780521812276.
  7. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 69. ISBN 9780393008364.
  8. Soloviev, Sergei M.; Smith, T. Allen (trans.) (1976). History of Russia, Volume 21: The Tsar and the Patriarch, Stenka Razin Revolts on the Don, 1662-1675. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press. p. 132.
  9. 1 2 Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 72. ISBN 9780393008364.
  10. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 73. ISBN 9780393008364.
  11. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600–1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 82. ISBN 9780393008364.
  12. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 83. ISBN 9780393008364.
  13. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 84. ISBN 9780393008364.
  14. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 109. ISBN 9780393008364.
  15. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 116. ISBN 9780393008364..
  16. Avrich, Paul (1976). Russian Rebels, 1600-1800. New York: Schocken Books. p. 117. ISBN 9780393008364.
  17. Bunin, Ivan Alekseevich; Marullo, Thomas Gaiton (trans.) (1998). Cursed Days: A Diary of Revolution. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. p. 246. ISBN 9781566635165.
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