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For the opera, see The Oprichnik.
Oprichniki, painting by Nikolai Nevrev.

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). It is thought by some scholars that it was Ivan's second wife, the Circassian Maria Temryukovna who first gave the Tsar the idea of forming the organization.[citation needed] This theory comes from a German oprichnik, Heinrich von Staden.[citation needed] Her brother[who?] also became a leading oprichnik.[citation needed]

The Oprichniki oath of allegiance was:

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.[1]


The Oprichniki were in charge of the suppression of internal enemies of the Tsar. Guided by Ivan, they laid waste to civilian populations. They dressed in black garb, similar to a monastic habit, and bore the insignia of a severed dog's head (to sniff out treason and the 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".[citation needed] They were sometimes called the "Tsar's Dogs"[by whom?] on account of their loyalty to him.[citation needed] They also rode black horses in order to inspire greater terror. The Oprichniki were given orders to execute anyone who was disloyal to Ivan IV.

The Oprichniki would supposedly use various methods of torture, including tying each limb to a different horse and riding in opposite directions or dropping the person into a vat of boiling water .[citation needed] They would impale victims or even tie victims to poles and roast them over open fires .[citation needed]

When Ivan declared himself the "Hand of God", 300 of the Oprichniki were selected to be his personal "brotherhood" who lived in Ivan's castle at Aleksandrovskaia Sloboda near Vladimir. Every night at 4 AM, these Oprichnik "monks" would attend a sermon given by Ivan himself before the morning's ritual executions. The Oprichniki would lead an externally ascetic lifestyle, like the monks they emulated, but there would be mad outbreaks of cruelty and debauchery. Ivan would sing while they ate, himself not eating till everyone had finished. He would go to bed at 9 PM, with three blind men telling him stories.[citation needed]

In the Novgorod incident, the Oprichniks killed an estimated 1500 "big people" (nobles), although the real figure is unknown.[2] By 1572, Tsar Ivan disbanded the Oprichnik due to his realization that they were causing more problems, such as internal instability, than they were resolving. Moreover, despite having created them himself, Ivan made it a capital crime even to mention the name "Oprichnina" or anything related to it.

Appearances in modern media[edit]

The street in the town: people fleeing at the arrival of the Oprichniki (set to the opera The Oprichnik by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, 1911)


  1. ^ Isabel de Madariaga, Ivan the Terrible, page 183
  2. ^ Ruslan Skrynnikov, Ivan Groznyi (Moscow: AST, 2001); A. A. Zimin, Oprichnina Ivana Groznogo (Moscow: Mysl’, 1964).
  3. ^ Di Filippo, Paul. ""Day of the Oprichnik": The fascinating world of Soviet science fiction". Salon.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.