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An oprichnik (Russian: опри́чник, IPA: [ɐˈprʲit͡ɕnʲɪk], 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. This theory comes from a German oprichnik, Heinrich von Staden. Her brother also became a leading oprichnik.
Their 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.
Oprichniki are regarded as the forerunners of Russian and Soviet secret police.
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." They were sometimes called the "Tsar's Dogs" on account of their loyalty to him. 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. They would impale victims, or even tie the victim to a pole and roast him over an open fire.
When Ivan declared himself the "Hand of God", 300 of the Oprichniki were selected to be his personal "brotherhood" that lived within 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.
In the Novgorod incident, the Oprichniks killed an estimated 1500 "big people" (nobles), although the real figure is unknown. By 1572, Tsar Ivan disbanded the Oprichnik due to his realization that they were causing more problems and internal instability than he had planned them to counter. Moreover, despite having created them himself, Ivan made it a capital crime even to mention the name "Oprichnina" or anything in relations to it.
Appearances in modern media
- The Oprichnik is an operatic composition 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 in Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires III. Somewhat reflecting their historical actions, Oprichniki in the game are good at killing villagers and burning down 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.
- Tsar (film) 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.