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The Hajduk were Hungarian irregular or mercenary soldiers in the 16th and 17th centuries, and a liveried bodyguard of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 17th and 18th centuries. In Serbia and the Banat region in the 18th century, hajduk referred to an infantry soldier, though the term is now used for a brigand (see Hajduk). The term has numerous alternative spellings in English including heyduck, hayduck, heyduk, and haiduk.
The Hungarian term hajdú (hajdúk is the plural) may derive from hajtó which meant (cattle) drover. In 16th century Hungary, cattle driving was an important and dangerous occupation and drovers traveled armed. Some of them ended up as bandits or retainers in the service of local landowners and many may have become soldiers. In any case, the term hajduk came to be used in the 16th century to describe irregular soldiers. There is probably an etymological link between hajdú and the Turkish word hajdud which was used by the Ottomans to describe Hungarian infantry soldiers, though it is not clear whether the word traveled from Hungarian to Turkish or vice versa.
In 1604-1606, István Bocskay, Lord of Bihar, led an insurrection against the Habsburg Emperor, whose army had recently occupied Transylvania and begun a reign of terror. The bulk of Bocskay's army was composed of serfs who had either fled from the war and the Habsburg drive toward Catholic conversion, or been discharged from the Imperial Army. These peasants were known as the hajduk, a term associated in the Hungarian language with the cattle drovers of the Great Plains. As a reward for their service, Bocskay emancipated the hajduk from the jurisdiction of their lords, granted them land, and guaranteed them rights to own property and to personal freedom. The emancipated hajduk constituted a new "warrior estate" within Hungarian feudal society. Many of the settlements created at this time still bear the prefix Hajdú.
The word hajduk entered the Polish language from Hungarian in the late 16th century. It was initially a colloquial term for a style of footsoldier, Hungarian or Turco-Balkan in inspiration, that was introduced by King Stephen Bathory in the 1570s, and who formed the backbone of the Polish infantry arm from the 1570s until about the 1630s. Unusually for this period, Polish-Lithuanian hajduks wore uniforms, typically of grey-blue woollen cloth, with red collar and cuffs. Their principal weapon was a small calibre matchlock firearm, known as an arquebus. For close combat they also carried a heavy variety of sabre, capable of hacking off the heads of enemy pikes and polearms. Contrary to popular opinion, the small axe they often wore tucked in their belt (not to be confused with the huge half-moon shaped berdysz axe, which was seldom carried by hajduks) was not a combat weapon, but rather was intended for cutting wood.
In the mid 17th century hajduk-style infantry largely fell out of fashion in Poland-Lithuania, and were replaced by musket-armed infantry of Western style. However, commanders or hetmans of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continued to maintain their own liveried bodyguards of hajduks, well into the 18th century as something of a throwback to the past, even though they were now rarely used as field troops. In imitation of these bodyguards, in the 18th century wealthy members of the szlachta hired liveried domestic servants who they called hajduks, thereby creating the meaning of the term 'hajduk' as it is generally understood in modern Polish.
- Brzezinski 1987, pp. 21, 39-41