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Ataman (variants: otaman,[1] wataman, vataman; Russian: атаман, Ukrainian: отаман) was a title of Cossack and haidamak leaders of various kinds. In the Russian Empire, the term was the official title of the supreme military commanders of the Cossack armies. The Ukrainian version of the same word is hetman. Otaman in Ukrainian Cossack forces was a position of a lower rank.


The etymologies of the words ataman and hetman are disputed. There may be several independent Germanic and Turkic origins for seemingly cognate forms of the words, all referring to the same concept. The hetman form cognates with German Hauptmann ('captain', literally 'head-man') by the way of Czech or Polish, like several other titles. The Russian term ataman is probably connected to Old East Slavic vatamanŭ, and cognates with Turkic odoman (Ottoman Turks). The term ataman may had also a lingual interaction with Polish hetman and German hauptmann.[2]

Suggestions have been made that the word might be of Turkic origin, literally meaning 'father of horsemen'[3][4] or 'father of men', 'pure blooded father' or 'eldest man'. Considering the '-man' suffix in turkic languages means men, person, pure blooded or most.[5][6] Dictionaries assert that the word comes from the German word 'Hauptmann' which means 'head man', 'headman' or 'chieftain' which entered the Russian language through Polish 'hetman'.[7][8] See also Hetman § Etymology.

Ivan Matveevich Krasnoshchekov, Ataman of the Don Cossacks. Portrait is from 1761. The term Ataman is a theme of various Russian folk songs (Watch Russian folk song where Ataman is the theme of the song on YouTube)

Otaman in Ukraine[edit]

Otamans were usually elected by the Host Council or could have been appointed, especially during the military campaigns. The appointed otamans were called acting otaman (наказний отаман, nakaznyi otaman).

In the Cossack Hetmanate, leaders of non-Cossack military units (artillery, etc.) were also called otamans. In the Cossack Hetmanate, the title was used for the administrative purposes, such as the head of the city, City Otaman (городовий отаман). Later such administrative uses were adopted by the Kuban Cossacks and were common in Kuban Oblast with different variations.

There were various types of otaman:

  • Army otaman (військовий отаман), an executive officer in the Zaporizhian Host
  • Campaign otaman (похідний отаман)
  • Kish otaman (кошовий отаман)
  • Kurin otaman (курінний отаман), a commander of a kurin;
  • Sotennyi otoman (сотенний отаман) and city otaman (городовий Отаман) were the sotnyk's lieutenants. Those titles were introduced during the Hetmanate in the 17th century. Together with the osaul (осавул, 'aide-de-camp') and chorąży (хорунжий, 'flag-bearer'), this otoman helped the sotnyk in administrative affairs.
  • Village otoman (сільський отаман), an administrative rank in the 17th to 18th centuries
  • Okruh otaman (окружний отаман), a territorial leader
  • Stanytsia otaman (станичний отаман), a territorial leader
  • Khutir otaman (хутірський отаман), a territorial leader

Otamans were also in charge of general- and regimental-size artillery units, as well as any volunteer military formations and the Zholdak cavalry.

20th century-present[edit]

Atamans were the titles of supreme leaders of various Cossack armies during the Russian Civil War.

When Ukraine acquired its independence in 1918, the rank took on different value. Among the Ukrainian Sich Riflemen and the Ukrainian Galician Army, it was equivalent to a major, as is the battalion executive officer today. In the Ukrainian People's Republic, the title was of a general rank. Chief Otoman (головний отаман) was the general of the Ukrainian Army who was assisted by his deputies, Acting Otomans.

The head of the army of the Ukrainian People's Republic, in particular, Symon Petliura, was called Supreme Otaman (головний отаман).

Russian-Azerbaijani MMA fighter Rafael Fiziev fights with the nickname "Ataman" as a homage to his mixed Central Asian heritage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Otaman" in The Encyclopedia of Ukraine (in English)
  2. ^ "ataman". YourDictionary. Retrieved 2019-07-17.
  3. ^ "The Cossacks: A super-ethnos in Russia's ribs". The Economist. December 21, 1996.
  4. ^ "Ataman". Retrieved July 6, 2012.
  5. ^ Clark, Larry (1996). Turkmen Reference Grammar. Harrassowitz. p. 4. ISBN 9783447040198.,Annanepesov, M. (1999). "The Turkmens". In Dani, Ahmad Hasan (ed.). History of civilizations of Central Asia. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 127. ISBN 9789231038761.,Golden, Peter (1992). An introduction to the history of the Turkic peoples : ethnogenesis and state-formation in the medieval and early modern Eurasia and the Middle East. Harrassowitz. pp. 213–214..
  6. ^ Turkmen Reference Grammar. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. 1998. ISBN 9783447040198.
  7. ^ "Ataman". Collins English Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2012-06-07. from Russian, from Polish hetman, from German Hauptmann (literally: head man)
  8. ^ "ataman". Archived from the original on 2012-06-29. Etymology: [Russ. ataman': cf. Pol. hetman, G. hauptmann headman, chieftain. Cf. Hetman.]

External links[edit]