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Don Cossacks (Russian: Донские казаки) were Cossacks who settled along the middle and lower Don. The Don Cossack Host (Russian: Всевеликое Войско Донское, Vsevelikoye Voysko Donskoye) was either an independent or an autonomous democratic republic in the present day Southern Russia from the end of the 16th until the early 20th century. Don Cossacks had a rich military tradition, playing an important part in the historical development of the Russian Empire and successfully participating in all of its major wars.
Etymology and origins 
The name Cossack (казак, козак) was widely used to describe "free people" as opposed to others with different standing in a feudal society (i.e., peasants, nobles, clergy, etc.). The word 'cossack' was also applied to migrants, free-booters and bandits.
The exact origins of Cossacks are unknown. In modern view, Don Cossacks are descendants of Slavic people, who have come from Dnepr, Novgorod Republic, and Principality of Ryazan, and of Goths-Alans people originating from the Western part of North Caucasus.
Early history 
More than two thousand years ago the Scythians lived on the banks of the river Don. Many Scythian tombs have been found in this area. Then the area was inhabited by the Khazars and the Polovtsians. The steppes of the Don River were called "The Wild Field" (Дикое Поле). The area was under the general control of the Golden Horde, and numerous Tatar armed groups wandered there and attacked Russian and foreign merchants.
The first Christians on territories around the Don were the Jassi and Kosogi tribes. After the fall of the Golden Horde in 1480, more Russian colonists started to come on this lands from the Novgorod Republic after the Battle of Shelon and from neighboring Principality of Ryazan. Until the end of the 16th century, the Don Cossacks was independent free territories.
After the Golden Horde (1480 through the 17th century) 
Cossacks of Ryazan are mentioned in 1444 as a defenders of Pereslavl-Zalessky against the units of Golden Horde and in a letter of Ivan III of Russia since 1502. After the Golden Horde fell in 1480, the area around the Don River was divided between the Crimean west side and the Nogai east side. On their border since the 14th century the vast steppe of the Don region was populated by those people who were not satisfied with the existing social order, by those who did not recognize the power of the land-owners, by runaway serfs, by those who longed for freedom. In the course of time they turned into a united community and were called "the Cossacks". At first the main occupation of these small armed detachments was hunting and fishing—as well as the constant struggle against the Turks and the Tatars who attacked them. Only later they began to settle and work on the land.
The first notes about the Cossack villages, the "stanitsa", dates back to 1549. In year 1552 Don Cossacks under command of Ataman Susar Fedov join Army of Ivan the Terrible during the Siege of Kazan in 1552. On 2 June 1556 Cossack unit of Ataman Lyapun Filimonov together with Army of Moscovits Strelets conquered and annexed the Astrakhan Khanate.
During the reign of Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV), the ataman Yermak Timofeyevich went on an expedition to conquer Siberia. After defeating Khan Kuchum in the fall of 1582 and occupying Isker, the capital of the Siberian Khanate, Yermak sent a Cossack detachment down the Irtysh in the winter of 1583. The detachment led by Bogdan Bryazga (according to other sources, the Cossack chieftain Nikita Pan) passed through the lands of the Konda-Pelym Voguls and reached the walls of the town of Samarovo. Taken by surprise by the Cossack attack, the Ostyaks surrendered. In fall 1585, shortly after Yermak's death, Cossacks led by voevoda (army commander) Ivan Mansurov founded the first Russian fortified town in Siberia, Obskoy, at the mouth of the Irtysh river on the right bank of the Ob river. The Mansi and Khanty lands thus became part of the Russian state, finally secured by the founding of the cities of Pelym and Berezov in 1592 and Surgut in 1594. As a result of Yermak's expedition, Russia was able to annex Siberia.
During the Polish–Russian War (1605–1618), the Polish-Lithuanian noble Aleksander Józef Lisowski founded a cavalry mercenary group (named Lisowczycy after his death) from various outlaws, partly Don Cossacks. This group served under the Polish Crown; after the war with Muscovites Lisowczycy took part in the Moldavian Magnate Wars (Battle of Humenné (November 23, 1619) at Upper Hungary, (now eastern Slovakia), later they plundered Silesia and Moravia as allies of Habsburg armies in The Bohemian Revolt - first phase of Thirty Years' War. This phase culminated in the Battle of White Mountain - November 8, 1620 (near Prague, the capital of Lands of the Bohemian Crown, (now the Czech republic), where the Lisowczycy were sent by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly against Hungarian cavalry. They were victorious, capturing twenty standards. After the battle, they terrorised village people around Prague and other cities, so they were expeditiously paid and released from service in May 7, 1621. Some returned to Poland, others served under Habsburg Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria.
Under Peter the Great and subsequent rulers, the Don Cossacks participated in numerous military campaigns, which resulted in the expansion of the Russian Empire from the Black Sea to the Baltic Sea. For years, the Cossacks waged war against the Ottomans and the Crimean Khanate. The Siege of Azov in 1641 was one of the key actions in Don Cossack history. After total taking of the Free Territories of Don Cossacks under the Moscovits control, Don Cossack history is totally intertwined with the history of the rest of Russia. In exchange for protection of the Southern borders of medieval Russia, the Don Cossacks were given the privilege of not paying taxes and the tsar's authority in Cossack lands was not as absolute as in other parts of Russia.
The Napoleonic wars and the Russian empire 
Don Cossacks are credited with playing a significant part in repelling Napoleon's Invasion of Russia. Under the command of Count Matvey Ivanovich Platov, the Don Cossacks successfully fought in the number of battles with the Grande Armée. In the Battle of Borodino, Don Cossacks made raids to the rear of the French Army. Platov commanded all the Cossack troops and successfully covered the retreat of the Russian Army to Moscow. The Don Cossacks distinguished themselves in all the subsequent campaigns, and took part in the capture of Paris. Napoleon is credited with declaring, "Cossacks are the finest light troops among all that exist. If I had them in my army, I would go through all the world with them."
After 1786, their territory was officially called Don Voisko Lands, and was renamed Don Voisko Province (Russian: Oblast’ Voyska Donskogo) in 1870 (presently part of the Rostov, Volgograd, and Voronezh regions of the Russian Federation as well as part of the Luhansk region of Ukraine).
The Russian Revolution and the 20th century 
In 1916, the Don Host enlisted over 1.5 million cossacks for World War I. It was disbanded on Russian soil in 1918, after the Russian Revolution, but the Don Cossacks in the White Army and those who emigrated abroad, continued to preserve the traditions, musical and otherwise, of their host. Many found employment as trick riders in various circuses throughout Europe and the United States. Admiral Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak, one of the leaders of the White Movement during the Russian Civil War, was of Don Cossack descent.
Following the defeat of the White Army in the Russian Civil War, a policy of decossackization ("Raskazachivaniye") took place on the surviving Cossacks and their homelands, since they were viewed as a threat to the new Soviet regime. The Cossack homelands were often very fertile, and during the collectivisation campaign many Cossacks shared the fate of the kulaks. According to historian Michael Kort, "During 1919 and 1920, out of a population of approximately 1.5 million Don Cossacks, the Bolshevik regime killed or deported an estimated 300,000 to 500,000". The region also suffered greatly during the Soviet famine of 1932–1933 as a result of the Soviet policies.
During World War II, the Don Cossacks mustered the largest single concentration of Cossacks within the German Army, the XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps. A great part of the Cossacks were former Russian citizens who elected to fight not so much for Germany as against the Soviet Union. The XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps included the 1st Cossack Division and the 2nd Cossack Division.
Today the Russian state is very different. Between 1917 and 1941, more than half of the Don Cossacks population were killed or deported. The heirs of those deported during the Soviet Terror cannot return to their homeland. This is because the law of Restitution does not recognize them as victims of communism. The pro-governmental Host divided in two different organisations. Was revived in the early 1990s and was officially recognised by the Russian Federation Government in 1997. Still exist several Organisations of Cossacks Anti-communists Outside Russian Federation. The most known is Almighty Don Host Outside Russia under chief Major general and last chevalier of the Order of St. George Ataman N.V. Fedorov (1901—2003) and Miheev J.L. from February 2006.
National symbols of Don Cossacks 
Flag of Don Cossacks 
The Don Cossacks flag 3:4 was inaugurated during the Don Cossacks assembly in Novocherkassk, Don Republic, on 4 May 1918 under chiefing of Ataman Pyotr Krasnov. The motif describing the three groups of citizens of the Don Republic. The flag has the colours: blue (for Don Cossacks), red (for Russians) and yellow (for Kalmyks who was included into Don Army).
Coat of arms 
Don Cossacks Coat of Arms known from the 17th century and was inaugurated as a symbol of Don Republic on 15 September 1918.
Anthem of Don Cossacks 
Всколыхнулся, взволновался православный Тихий Дон written by Fedor Anisimov in 1853. (Russian)
The Cossacks faith is a Pravoslavny one and they see themselves as its protectors. On other hand big percentage of Cossacks on Don was of Starovers. Even in 1903 minimum 150000 from total 2.500.000 parish of Don Eparchy was of Starovers. Ataman count Matvei Platov was of Popovtsy Old Believers Family.
Traditions and culture 
The Cossacks had a democratic society where the most important decisions were made during a Common Assembly (Казачий Круг). The assembly elected temporary authorities — atamans.
Don Cossacks were masters of horse riding and had superb military training, due to their long conflict with the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire. They sold their military services to different powers in Eastern Europe. Together with the Polish King, they raided Moscow during the Time of Troubles (Смутное Время) and under Russian authority carried out raids and expeditions against Turkey and Persia.
Though there are some differences in traditions and customs, the Don Cossacks speak the Russian language and have always related themselves to greater Russia, while maintaining their own unique national identity.
The Don Cossacks have a tradition of choral singing and many of their songs, such as Chyorny Voron (Black Raven) and Lyubo, Bratsi, Lyubo (It's good, brothers, good) became popular throughout the rest of Russia. Many of the songs are about death in war.
Up to the 18th century marriages and divorces took place in the Common Assembly (Казачий Круг). If a Cossack wanted to marry a girl, he should have brought her to the Common Assembly and present her to it. If the Common Assembly gave an approval, the marriage followed. The same procedure took place if there was a divorce. Later on, Peter I banned marriages and divorces in the Common Assembly, so Cossacks could marry only in the church.
A Cossack marriage is a complex ritual, accompanied by songs, dances and performances. A bridegroom arrives on horseback and takes his bride to the church. A marriage train with a bridegroom and a bride comes to the church. After a wedding everybody goes to the bridegroom's house. Parents bless the young couple, break a loaf of bread above their heads, and sprinkle them with wheat, nuts, sweets and hops. Then comes a rite of unbraiding the bride's hair.
When a son was born to a Cossack family, his relatives presented him an arrow, a bow, a cartridge, a bullet and a gun. All these things were hung on the wall, over the boy's bed. At the age of three, the boy could ride a horse, at the age of 7–8 he was allowed to ride in the street, to go fishing and hunt with grown-ups.
Cossacks liked horse races. A rider was to hit the mark. The most dexterous did it, standing on a horseback. It was a tradition in Cossack families to provide a young Cossack with two horses, a uniform and arms.
Cossack leave-taking was always festive. All leaving Cossacks used to gather in the church, then hang a small bag around their necks containing a pinch of the native soil and set off with a song. Having left their stanitsa, they drank a cup of vodka and said good-bye to their native land.
Don Cossack Choir Serge Jaroff 
The Don Cossack Choir Serge Jaroff was a group of former officers of the Russian Imperial Army, discovered singing in Çilingir (near Constantinopel), where they had fled after the defeat of their army in the Crimea. They made their formal concert debut in Vienna in 1923, led by their founder, conductor and composer, Serge Jaroff.
They were immensely popular in America, Japan and Europe, touring the world in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, till today. The men, dressed as Cossacks, sang a cappella in a repertory of Russian sacred and secular music, army, folk and art songs. Cossack dancing was eventually added to their programmes.
In popular culture 
Mikhail Sholokhov's monumental work, And Quiet Flows the Don, deals sympathetically with the Don Cossacks and depicts the destruction of their way of life as a result of World War I and the Russian Civil War.
See also 
Notable Don Cossacks 
- Kondraty Bulavin
- Alexei Kaledin
- Pyotr Krasnov
- Matvei Platov
- Emilian Pugachev
- Stenka Razin
- Yermak Timofeyevich
- Ivan Turchaninov – Union army brigadier general in the American Civil War
- Aleksandr Khanzhonkov
- Don Cossacks noble families
Don Cossacks government and policy 
Don Cossack books 
Genocide of Don Cossacks 
- Victims of Yalta
- Betrayal of the Cossacks
- Genocides in history
- Human rights in the Soviet Union
- Population transfer in the Soviet Union
See also 
- Demoscop Weekly - As separate nation in Russian Census (2010)
- Russian History Dating Back to the Most Ancient Times by Vasily Tatishchev Vol.1., Chapter 33:7. 1739
- В.О. Ключевский. «Курс русской истории.»
- See works of Evgueni Goloubinski and Vasily Vasilievsky about Relations of Gothoalans (Goths-Tetraxits) and Russian colonists in region of North-East part of Black Sea and Sea of Azov
- Ancient DNA provides new insights into the history of south Siberian Kurgan people. Haplogroup R1a (Y-DNA)
- "Black hoods": the Russian ancestors of the Don Cossacks
- Urban Cossacks
- Cossacks of the Novgorod Republic
- Ryazan Cossacks (in a letter of Ivan III of Russia, 1502)
- Facts about Cossack: habitation of Don River basin, as discussed in Don River (river, Russia): History and economy: - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- , pp. 8–9
- Talk Of Napoleon At St. Helena. General Baron Gourgaud
- History of the Cossacks (in English)
- Kort, Michael (2001). The Soviet Colosus: History and Aftermath, p. 133. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 978-0-7656-0396-8.
- http://a-pesni.org/grvojna/bel/vskol1918.php Anthem of Don Cossacks in Russian Civil War.
- http://www.apocalypse.orthodoxy.ru/zenkovskij/37.htm Don Cossacks in defies of Old Faith
- Report of Antiraskol and antiheretic mission of Don Eparchy for 1903 (Отчет о деятельности Противораскольнической и противоеретической миссии Донской епархии за 1903 г.)
- Woorgaft S.G., Ushakov I.A. Old Believing. Moscow, 1996. (Вургафт С. Г., Ушаков И. А. Старообрядчество. Лица, события, предметы и символы. Опыт энциклопедического словаря, Москва, 1996)
- (Ukrainian) http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=5897017