An oprichnik (Russian: опри́чник, IPA: [ɐˈprʲitɕnʲɪk], man aside; plural Oprichniki) was a member of an organization established by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to govern the division of Russia known as the Oprichnina (1565-1572). Some scholars believe that Ivan's second wife, the Circassian Maria Temryukovna, first had the idea of forming the organization. This theory comes from Heinrich von Staden, a German oprichnik. Maria Temryukovna's brother[who?] also became a leading oprichnik.
The Oprichniki were required to swear an oath of allegiance:
I swear to be true to the Lord, Grand Prince, and his realm, to the young Grand Princes, and to the Grand Princess, and not to maintain silence about any evil that I may know or have heard or may hear which is being contemplated against the Tsar, his realms, the young princes or the Tsaritsa. I swear also not to eat or drink with the zemschina, and not to have anything in common with them. On this I kiss the cross.
Modern theorists suggest that the motivating purpose for the organization and existence of the Oprichniki was to suppress people or groups opposed to the Tsar. Known to ride black horses and led by Ivan himself, the group was known to terrorize civilian populations. Sometimes called the "Tsar's Dogs"[by whom?] because of their actions and blind loyalty, they dressed in black garb, similar to a monastic habit, bearing the insignia of a severed dog's head (to sniff out treason and enemies of the Tsar) and a broom (to sweep them away). The dog's head was also symbolic of "nipping at the heels of the Tsar's enemies".
The Oprichniki were ordered to execute anyone disloyal to Ivan IV and used various methods of torture to do so, including tying each limb to a different horse and riding in opposite directions, death by boiling, impalement, and roasting victims tied to poles over an open fire.
When Ivan declared himself the "Hand of God", he selected 300 of the Oprichniki to be his personal "brotherhood" and live in his castle at Aleksandrovskaia Sloboda near Vladimir. At 4 a.m., these select Oprichniki attended a sermon given by Ivan, then performed the day's ritual executions. The Oprichniki sought to lead an externally ascetic lifestyle, like the monks they emulated, but it was punctuated by acts of cruelty and debauchery. Ivan sang while his Oprichniki ate, eating only when they had finished. At 9 p.m. he went to bed, listening to stories told by three blind men.
In the Novgorod incident, the Oprichniks killed an estimated 1500 "big people" (nobles), although the actual number of victims is unknown. By 1572, the Oprichnik had become a destabilizing force and were disbanded by Ivan. It became a capital offense to say or discuss "Oprichnina."
Appearances in modern media
- The Oprichnik is an opera by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, after the drama The Oprichniks (Опричники) (1842) written by Ivan Lazhechnikov
- In Ivan the Terrible, the classic historical epic film part 1 (1944) and part 2 (1946) directed by Sergei Eisenstein, Oprichniki Malyuta Skuratov, Alexei Basmanov and his son Fyodor Basmanov are main characters.
- The Oprichniki appear as a unique Russian unit in Ensemble Studios' Age of Empires III, which is specifically good at killing villagers and burning buildings.
- The song "Dog and Broom" on Arghoslent's Hornets of the Pogrom album focuses specifically on the Oprichniki.
- The Twelve Wallachian mercenaries in the 2009 novel Twelve by Jasper Kent are named after the original Oprichniki, but are not directly connected to them.
- Author W. E. B. Griffin's novel Black Ops claims as a plot point that all subsequent Russian secret police agencies such as the SVR are descendants of the Oprichniki.
- The novel Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin imagines the return of the Oprichniki in a futuristic-theocratic Russia.
- The Oprichniki appear in Tsar, a 2009 Russian drama film directed by Pavel Lungin.
- Latter-day Oprichniki appear in Eric Flint's 1636: The Kremlin Games.
- Isabel de Madariaga, Ivan the Terrible, page 183
- Ruslan Skrynnikov, Ivan Groznyi (Moscow: AST, 2001); A. A. Zimin, Oprichnina Ivana Groznogo (Moscow: Mysl’, 1964).
- Di Filippo, Paul. ""Day of the Oprichnik": The fascinating world of Soviet science fiction". Salon.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.