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Oprichniki, painting by Nikolai Nevrev.

Oprichnik (Russian: опри́чник, IPA: [ɐˈprʲitɕnʲɪk], man aside; plural Oprichniki) was the term given to a member of the Oprichnina, an organization established by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to govern a division of Russia from 1565 to 1572. Some scholars believe that Ivan's second wife, the Circassian Maria Temryukovna, first had the idea of forming the organization.[1] This theory comes from Heinrich von Staden, a German oprichnik.[citation needed] Maria Temryukovna's brother also became a leading oprichnik.[citation needed]

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.[2]


Modern theories 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,[citation needed] 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".[citation needed]

The Oprichniki were ordered to execute anyone disloyal to Ivan 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,[citation needed] impalement, and roasting victims tied to poles over an open fire.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In the Novgorod incident, the Oprichniks killed an estimated 1500 "big people" (nobles), although the actual number of victims is unknown.[3] By 1572, the Oprichnik had become a destabilizing force and were disbanded by Ivan. It became a capital offense to say or discuss "Oprichnina".[citation needed]

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. ^ A. P. Pavlov and Maureen Perrie (August 2003). "Ivan the Terrible". Pearson Education. pp. 116–7.
  2. ^ Isabel de Madariaga, Ivan the Terrible, page 183
  3. ^ Ruslan Skrynnikov, Ivan Groznyi (Moscow: AST, 2001); A. A. Zimin, Oprichnina Ivana Groznogo (Moscow: Mysl’, 1964).
  4. ^ Di Filippo, Paul. ""Day of the Oprichnik": The fascinating world of Soviet science fiction". Salon.com. Retrieved 22 February 2012.