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Dianne Smith

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Engineer and Supply Services
Guliai Gorod and Tactics
Defensive Lines
Frontier map

Composition of Muscovite Armed Forces
Command, Control, and Military Administration
Order of Battle, March, and Deployment
Army Deployed for Battle
Size of the Army
Weapons Proficiency
War Industry
Medicine and Provisions
Traits of the Muscovite Soldier

Campaign against Kazan
Conquest of Astrakhan
Livonian War
Sweden and Poland Transform The Livonian War
Armistice with Poland
Renewed War with Poland-Lithuania
Poland Declares War
Armistice Between Poland and Moscow
Military operations by Year
Army List
Glossary by Type of Weapon

List of Illustrations

Figure 1 Tsar Ivan IV Vasil'evich
Figure 2 A cavalryman
Figure 3 Another cavalryman
Figure 4 A dismounted cavalryman
Figure 5 The great banner of Ivan IV
Figure 6 Map of Muscovy and neighboring areas
Figure 7 Pantsir and kol'chuga (hauberk)
Figure 8 Bakhterets and kolontar (scale and plate armor)
Figure 9 Baindana and bakhterets (reenforced hauberks)
Figure 10 Iushman - (reinforced hauberk)
Figure 11 Zertsalo - (armored vest)
Figure 12 Mech' and sabli - (cavalry sword and sabers)
Figure 13 Palash and konchar (cavalry sword and rapier)
Figure 14 Mounted voyevode wearing zertsalo, privolok, and erikhonka
Figure 15 Ratniki (troopers) wearing tegiliai and zheleznaia shapka (padded coat and iron caps)
Figure 16 Voevoda on foot
Figure 17 Archer on foot
Figure 18 Berdysh ( type of pole axe)
Figure 19 Strel'tsy
Figure 20 Artillery in action
Figure 21 Pushkari (artillerymen)
Figure 22 Section of guliai-gorod
Figure 23 Assembling a guliai-gorod
Figure 24 Pulling sections of gulai gorod into place
Figure 25 Streltzi in action
Figure 26 The first fortified line constructed in the 16th century
Figure 27 Forces controlled by Razriadnyi Prikaz
Figure 28 Organization of Muscovite armed forces
Figure 29 Command Structure of the Muscovite armed forces
Figure 30 Typical march formation
Figure 31 Typical deployment into line of battle.
Figure 32 Artillery inspection in winter in 16th century
Figure 33 Strel'tsy inspection in 1557
Figure 34 Summary of military operations by year


Information on Muscovite military affairs of sufficient detail to support the efforts of American war gamers is difficult to find. The Xenophon Group has sought to remedy this situation, and several preliminary articles have appeared in the pages of Gorget & Sash. We are now researching and collecting information on Russian military history, focusing particularly on the period from 1300 to 1800. Much material has been obtained, and we are now in contact with Russian historians in Moscow and Leningrad who promise more. While further work is continuing, we want to provide as much information as possible on one part of this historical period: namely, the military organization and campaigns of Ivan IV. For this reason we have combined information written by Lt. Col. Dianne Smith (in part extracted from her Ph.D. dissertation on this period) and information assembled by John Sloan for a forthcoming book on Russian military history. The illustrations of Muscovite arms and armor are taken from the famous series "Istoricheskoe opisanie odezhdi i vooruzhenia rossiiskikh voisk" by Aleksandr V. Viskovatov and reprinted in St. Petersburg in 1899. The illustrations of artillery, guliai-gorod, and strel'tsy are taken from E. A. Razin (Moscow, 1957).
The following is a brief summary of the life and personality of Ivan IV by way of an introduction to the study of his military organization and policy.
Ivan Vasil'evich was born on 25 August 1530 to Vasilii III and Elena Glinskaia. He was three years old when his father died. His mother was regent until she was poisoned in 1538. The regency continued under various nobles (boyars). The period was marked by incessant struggle, murder, executions, and nest-feathering by rival boyar families. Ivan witnessed all this and never forgot. He instituted a continual process of reducing the power of the princes and boyars and raising that of the middle service class military servitors who were beholden to the Tsar. He struck first in 1543, before being crowned Tsar, by ordering the execution of Prince Andrei Shuiskii, one of the principal boyar leaders. Upon his coronation in 1547, Ivan began a program to strengthen both the absolute power of the Tsar in Moscow and the power of Moscow over all the Russian lands. The first ten or more years were spent in a major transformation of the state internal administrative and religious bureaucracy, largely as a part of his program to restructure the military forces.
From the earliest times the conception of the ruling princes in Rus was that they were owners of all their domain including the population living on it, rather than simply rulers over other owners of property. For centuries the princes administered their territories as if they were domestic households and proprietary industrial establishments. With the dramatic increase in territory to the vast expanses obtained by Moscow, such essentially domestic and ad hoc administrative procedures became impossible. Ivan IV created both greatly strengthened central functional departments and local elected governmental officials. The officials, although elected locally, were responsible to the central government. He also reduced without eliminating the power of the princes and boyars by creating councils in which the membership also included service gentry and others. Above all, he brought the concept that everyone was ultimately the slave (possession) of the Tsar into practical effect. In the first centuries of Kievan and medieval Russia the prince's military personnel had received their economic support from the prince in return for their service. Granted that in those times the servicemen easily switched employment to other princes, nevertheless there was a connection between their successful service and their payment. Over the intervening centuries this connection was broken in practice when the senior personnel (boyars) received hereditary land as estates and came more and more to consider themselves independent as far as rendering military service went, in fact if not in theory. Ivan III had made wide scale use of distribution of land strictly on the basis of military service, but he was not able to abolish the boyars' hereditary right to land.
Ivan IV was able to further the process despite desperate opposition. His internal policies were directly interrelated with his foreign policy. He concentrated first in destroying the power of the enemies to the east, the Tatar khanates at Kazan and Astrakhan, and in eliminating any vestiges of independent spirit among the Russians and other national groups living in that direction. He then rejected the advice of the boyar advisors who wanted to concentrate military power against the enemy to the south, the Khanate of Crimea. He recognized that decisive results in that quarter would not be possible and that the results would not be worth the effort. Consequently, he adopted a defensive policy and strengthened the frontier fortifications. He had his eyes on the opportunities that lay to the west and was eager to further expand Muscovite power in that direction, following the policies of his grandfather, Ivan III. His internal policies, such as the creation of the oprichnina and the rise of serfdom, caused great social and economic dislocation; exhaustion from within coupled with the appearance of Stefan Batory of Poland, an innovative and aggressive commander, eventually led to military defeat in the West and the withdrawal of the Baltic coast by his death in 1584.
Ivan IV resembled Henry VIII of England in his use of marriage for political alliances; he married seven times, although the Orthodox Church only recognized the first three as legal. In 1581 Ivan accidentally murdered his son and heir, the Tsarevich Ivan (1554-1581). Ivan was succeeded by his heirless second son, Fedor, who was easily dominated by his wife's brother, Boris Godunov. a third son, by his seventh wife (thus legally illegitimate) did under questionable circumstances. The dynastic crisis following Fedor's death in 1598 ushered in over a decade of civil war, internal conflict, and foreign aggression, ending only in 1613 with the creation of the Romanov dynasty.
Ivan IV, however, left a lasting legacy with the Muscovite army. He went beyond the recruitment of foreigners (for example the Italians who built the Kremlin for his grandfather), to nurture native-born engineers, fortifications specialists, gunsmiths, and artillerists. The development of the auxiliary services that absorbed the new technology of the Gunpowder Revolution was uneven over the course of the sixteenth century, but a permanent infantry force, field artillery, transport corps, combat engineer corps, and military-industrial base did emerge.
The Muscovite army of Ivan IV was a reflection of the society that produced it. Social scientists have remarked that a nation's military is a reflection of its unique terrain constraints, historical experience, ideology, and technological level. The Muscovite army did not develop along "Western lines", but this was not necessarily due to backwardness or an inability to absorb new ideas and methods. The Muscovite army was created to fight in Russia's wooded steppes and plains, criss-crossed by huge rivers. Muscovy was the hostage of its location; there were no natural borders to keep out invaders. Muscovy was surrounded by series of states each jockeying for domination; Muscovy's ultimate victory, even her ultimate survival, was never inevitable. What made her successful was the creation of a large military force capable of absorbing organizational and technological change. To keep that army in the field, however, the tsar' demanded the subjugation and subordination of all elements of Russian society. The great irony of the Muscovite army was that it was created to defend the Muscovite state, but ultimately all economic, social, political, and religions institutions were brought under centralized control to support the army.

- The cavalryman (ca. 14th to second half of 17th century) is wearing a bakhterets. He has naruchi on his forearms and buturliki on his legs. On his head he has a shelom. He is throwing a dzhid and has several more in a case on the left side of the saddle. His bow is in its quiver and his quiver of arrows is on his right side.
Another cavalryman is wearing a bakterets over a kol'chuga. He has a shishak with yelovetz on his head. His face is protected by a misyurka prilbitsa. He has ponozhi ( single- piece buturliki) covering his calves. He carries a sabel and kop'ya.
- The dismounted cavalryman of late 14th to first half of 17th century is wearing a pantsir and a kuiak with naruchi on his forearms. He has a shapka medianoi (bronze hat) on his head. His saber is attached to the wrist with a cord. His quiver full of arrows is slung at his right side and his bow is not visible.
- The Great Flag during the Reign of the Tsar Ivan the Terrible. The scene represents the Apocalypse. The standard is made of taffeta material. Its dimensions: height (at the staff) 3 A. 2"* [213.30+8.90=222.20 cm, or 2.22 meters]; along the top border 8.5 A; width of the canted side is 5 A. 12"; length of lower border is 2 A. 10". The left rectangle (between the staff and the triangular part) is sky-blue, the triangle is écrue [French word for unbleached, most likely "brownish" color]. Two borders: one outside, about the whole banner, colored airelle [bilberry or huckleberry, most likely a dark blue]; the other inside (on the two sides of the triangle, colored pavot [poppy, most likely a orange-red]; both have gold piping. Inside the rectangle is deep (or dark) sky-blue, gold piping and [presque entièrement entouré de chérubins] almost entirely little opening of the angels [?]. In the circle, Christ in white, mounted on a white horse, surrounded by stars and disks of gold. In lower part -- the heavenly army, dressed in white and mounted on white horses. Further below, in the border near the staff, the apostle Saint John.
In the triangle, a white circle with gold stars and disks, with the Archangel Michael on a white horse with golden wings, holding in his hands a sword and a cross. In the corner of the triangle, an iron sword with a gold guard. In the exterior border -- a long inscription in gold letters; in the border colored pavot [poppy, most likely a orange-red] -- birds, disks and stars od gold. On the other side of the banner are the identical designs, but about Christ stars are in place of the inscriptions and the text in the lower border is different.
* Early Russian dimensions were given in arshin (represented by a A) which equalled 71.1 centimeters, and the verchok (represented by a ") which equalled 4.45 centimeters.


Sixteenth century Russia was hostage to her terrain. To the east, the expansion into Siberia necessitated fortresses to protect settlers from hostile tribesmen. In the south, each year Crimean Tatar horsemen carried off tens of thousands of men, women, and children to the Moslem slave markets. To the west, the extensive frontier with Poland was a continual battlefield. In the north, Karelia was an avenue for Swedish invasion. The absorption of Kazan and Astrakhan brought the Volga River basin under Russian control, but moved Muscovy's borders even closer to the armies of the Ottoman Empire. An abortive war with Livonia (1558-1583) temporarily awarded Moscow a Baltic port that predated Peter the Great's "Window to the West" by 150 years, but the struggle ultimately bled Russia white.
B. H. Liddell Hart once remarked that the nature of armies is determined by the nature of the civilization in which they exist. The army was the predominant institution in sixteenth--century Russia. Tsar Ivan IV (1533-1584) inherited an army of gentry militia cavalry and transformed it into a combined arms force, integrating cavalry, infantry, artillery, engineers, and a logistics corps. By the end of the century, the burden of maintaining this army had forced fundamental changes upon the economic and social fabric of Muscovite society. The army was created to defend the state, but the state now existed to support the army.
The fifteenth century gentry militia cavalry derived from the court of the Muscovite Grand Prince. It consisted of a hierarchy of nobles who held hereditary estates called votchiny, (singular votchina) and gentry servitors who held estates called pomestiia (singular pomestie), in exchange for military service. Pomestie estates were to provide the servitor a livelihood during the tour of service only. When the service ended, the estate reverted back to the ruler for redistribution to a new cavalryman.
The early Muscovite princes supplemented this cavalry with some urban regiments, a peasant levy, and a hodgepodge of Lithuanian princes and Tatar allies. Cossacks provided reconnaissance along the southern frontier. Artillery, mostly located in fortresses, and arquebusiers (musketeers), utilizing primitive matchlocks, constituted limited firepower. It was this army which threw off the last vestiges of the "Mongol Yoke" (1240-1480) and reconsolidated the patchwork quilt of independent princedoms.



The sixteenth century army was composed of gentry cavalry, infantry, artillery, engineers, and a logistics corps. A young man reached adulthood at age 15 and was considered ready to assume the responsibilities not only of military service, but also of the administration of the pomestie lands which went with it. The Military Service Decree required each pomestie holder, called a pomeshchik (plural pomeshchiki) to appear on demand with one horse (two horses for long campaigns), provisions, and personal weapons in exchange for each 100 chetverti of land.(1) For each additional 100 chetverti apportioned, one servitor on a horse with armor (two horses for long campaigns) was to accompany the pomeshchik. In theory, a man with 400 chetverti of land would bring along four troopers. The majority of pomeshchiki held less than 200 chetverti, and even large landholders rarely brought a proportional number of servitors. The servitor was often a slave, a Russian who had voluntarily sold himself into slavery to pay off debts.
Cavalry weapons included the bow and arrow, spear, saber, axe, dagger, and, at the end of the century, a small number of pistols. (See Glossary for a complete listing of weapons.) The bow used was the "composite bow," standard among eastern horsemen. It was constructed of laminated horn, horn and wood, or apparently sometimes of metal. It was very effective. A one-half ounce "flight arrow" could be fired to 600 yards. The two-ounce, 24" war arrow was more common in wartime. The three-foot bow had a 118-pound pull and could shoot the war arrow 300 yards or pierce a 1/2" wooden plank at 100 yards.(2) Arrows were carried in a quiver (kolchan) worn on the right side, the bow was stored in a bow case (naluch'e) worn on the left side. Cavalrymen also used a long-shafted spear with an iron tip (kop'e). The boar spear (rogatina) was characterized by a pole-axe blade. javelins, spears (dzhidy) were carried in a case holding three (called a dzherid or sulitsa), also carried on the left side. Also popular was an iron bludgeon with thorns, strengthened by chain links to the shaft (kistan).(3)
Extensive use was made of defensive body armor. Shirts of iron links, called kol'chuga, were traditional wear. In the mid-sixteenth century two new styles became increasingly popular: the iushman, a short-sleeved chain mail shirt with square plates of metal in the midsection, and the zertsalo, a circular metal plate over the chest with plates on the sleeves and neck area. Rich servitors wore an undershirt of velvet under coats of mail; poorer servitors wore linen. Lower--class servitors and servants often wore a quilted caftan called a tegiliai. The tegiliai consisted of leather or strengthened linen, stuffed inside with wadding and tightly sewn. Richer servitors might have tegiliai made of velvet trimmed with ermine or linen with a metal lining.(4)
The earliest and most basic form of body armor was the chain mail hauberk similar to that worn by the Normans and others throughout Europe. The kol'chuga was somewhat simpler and coarser than the pantsyr, which was developed later.
In the 15th century the vest of scale or plate armor was worn over the kol'chuga to reinforce protection against more powerful missile weapons. The bakhterets combined rings and small scales or plates into one garment.
During the 14th to late 17th centuries, the baidana differed from the standard kol'chuga in that the diameter of the rings were much larger.
The iushman was a later type of reinforced kol'chuga worn during the 14th to the second half of the 17th centuries in which various forms of scales or plates were attached into the basic chain mail.
The final development in body armor prior to the introduction of the cuirass was the zertsalo. This vest was worn over the kol'chuga or pantsyr. The zertsalo owned by the wealthy nobility frequently was inlaid with gold and silver ornamentation and engraving. A zertsalo belonging to the Tsar could be worth 1,000 times the price of a simple pantsyr of a serviceman.
Cavalrymen also carried a variety of knives, swords (straight bladed) and sabers (curved bladed). The medieval mech was a heavy sword that could be swung two--handed. Sabers (sablia, plural sabli) included models with and without protective crossguards. Some of these were carried attached to the saddle. From earliest times sabers were common in many varieties due to the constant interaction of the Russian states with the Near Eastern and Central Asian nations. Contemporary swords included the more refined rapier such as the konchar, but the average cavalryman wielded a more basic weapon like the palach or machete style tesak to hack his way through the fray. Foreigners noted the Turkish influence on both dress and tactics. Anthony Jenkinson, an English soldier of fortune, noted:
" When he rideth on horseback to the wars or any journey, he hath a sword of the Turkish fashion and his bow and arrows of the same manner. They use saddles made of wood and sinews with the tree gilded with damask work and the seat covered with cloth, sometimes of gold and the rest saffian leather, well stitched."(5)

Giles Fletcher, the English ambassador, was also interested in the military skill of the gentry cavalrymen.
" The common horseman hath nothing else but his bow in his case under his right arm and his quiver and sword hanging on the left side....The undercaptains will have commonly some piece of armor besides, as a shirt of mail or such like. Their swords, bows, and arrows are of the Turkish fashion. They practice like the Tatar to shoot forwards and backwards as they fly and retire."(6)

This method was not without its drawbacks. Herberstein noted that "they sit on horseback with feet so drawn up, that they cannot sustain any more than commonly severe shock from a spear or javelin."(7)
Each year the cavalrymen had to muster for a review by Muscovite officials. The purpose of the inspection was to examine equipment, to check the amount of land held against the number of servitors brought, and to verify enrollment rosters. Those not appearing were liable to imprisonment or corporal punishment. Heinrich von Staden, a German mercenary, commented that "those who did not appear at the muster were deprived of their estates and beaten publicly in the marketplace or in the camp, with lashes and whips. Even if one was deathly ill, he had to be carried or led to the muster."(8)
Even with the threatened punishment, absenteeism was a problem. According to the register book for Serpukhov in 1556, 174 gentry cavalry were to appear for review, but only 92 actually appeared. It was not as bad as it appeared on the surface. Of the 82 absent, the following excuses were given: 30 were serving in Kazan, seven in Sviiazhsk, two in Nizhnii Novgorod, eight were Nogai Tatar prisoners of war, two were already involved in a campaign, three were serving as local government officials, one was on a mission to Lithuania, one in Moscow, four were ill and 34 were on garrison duty along the southern frontier. Thus, only two were actually missing.(9)
The inspection of equipment at muster showed a wide range of preparedness. A Smolensk review of 92 pomeshchiki and 504 men-at-arms analyzed the equipment brought by the gentry and their servitors. Of 596 troops reviewed, only 210 had complete gear (helmets, body armor, arm and knee protection), 219 had partial gear and 164 wore only quilted body armor. Only two-thirds had any metal protection. Partial gear included 68 pieces of metal armor, 58 iron helmets (zheleznye shapki), three papier-mâché helmets (shapki bumazhnie), three pairs of arm protectors (naruchi), and one pair of kneecap pieces (buturlyki).(10) A 1577 review in Kolomna revealed that only one-half had horses, armor, helmets, bows and arrows, and sabers. Of the slave servitors, one-half had armor and weapons equivalent to gentry standards, and the remainder either had no weapons or equipment equal to the poorest pomeshchik servitor. Wealthy gentry could generally afford to outfit their servants well, while poor pomeshchiki with one servitor were hard pressed to provide the additional equipment.(11)
Cavalry forces also included auxiliary troops, Cossacks serving as fortress Cossacks, and irregular cavalry. Fortress Cossacks consisted of free servitors, settled in southern fortress towns. They received pomestie estates along the border in exchange for conducting defensive sorties and reconnaissance patrols outside the fortresses. Fortress Cossacks could also serve as infantry, guarding towns. Irregular cavalry auxiliaries such as the Cheremissians, Mordvinians, and Cossacks were part of the Muscovite army, but not fully integrated into it. They continued to live in the Volga, Don, and Dnieper river valleys and on the Tatar steppes. Independent detachments were attached to regiments, especially those tasked with reconnaissance. They kept their own command structure.(12)

The illustration shows the elaborate, expensive, artistic work lavished on the armor of a wealthy nobleman. He is wearing a zertsalo over his pantsir (chain mail shirt) and privolok (undergarment) and has both naruchi and buturliki. He is wearing a erikhonka (helmet). His saber is worn on the left side.
This illustration shows two low ranking men--at--arms (possibly poor pomestchik or their servants). They are wearing the padded quilt coat (tegiliai) that closely resembled the west European gambeson. They each have the standard compound bow with saadak (set of quiver and bowcase), the glaive, and sabers. Note how simple the saddle, saddle cloth, and scabbard are in comparison to those of the voevoda.
The voevoda is wearing mail, two pantsyri, naruchi (vambrances), buturliki (leg guards), and erikhonka (helmet). He is carrying a shestoper (six-vaned mace) and is armed also with a sablia (saber) and kinzhal (poniard or dagger).
The trooper is wearing a kolontar over a pantsyr or kol'chuga and has a barmits on his shoulders and guards on his forearms. His head protection is a shapka bumazhnaia. He is firing his luk (compound bow) and has his sablia attached to the wrist by a cord for immediate availability. The naluch'e (bow case) and kolchan (quiver) are attached at his waist. The collective term for bow, arrows (strely), case, and quiver was saadak. For protection in foul weather there was an outer covering, called a tokhtui.


The first standing, permanent infantry force was the strel'tsy. The conventional date of its founding is 1550. In that year Ivan IV supposedly selected 3,000 musketeers for a permanent force, ordered them to live in a special sloboda (district) in Moscow, and selected officers from among the gentry. They were organized into six detachments of 500 men, and subdivided further into hundreds and tens. These detachments were later known as prikazy or battalions. Only freemen (no slaves or serfs) or foreigners could join.(13) The average soldier received four to seven rubles a year, 12 chetverti of rye and oats, shot, cloth, and a small garden plot.(14) To supplement their salary, the strel'tsy engaged in handicrafts in garrison towns and sold produce from their plots. The strel'tsy commander was given a pomestie estate similar to his cavalry counterparts. Subcommanders were given 30-60 rubles a year and 300-500 chetverti of pomestie land. Commanders of hundreds received 12-20 rubles.(15)
Strel'tsy were divided into Muscovite and urban strel'tsy. Mounted Moscow strel'tsy were responsible for the tsar's person and the security of the tsar's treasury and foreign embassies. Infantry Moscow strel'tsy performed guard duty and accompanied artillery pieces and supplies on the march. Infantry urban strel'tsy were sent to local garrisons where they supplemented other forces, especially local fortress Cossacks. In wartime they might accompany field regiments, travelling with water forces.(16) Urban strel'tsy garrisons ranged from 1,000 in Kazan, Smolensk, and Pskov, to units of 100 in a number of small forts such as Gdov and Izborsk.(17)
Razin provides the following table of strengths of typical town garrisons in northwest Russia about 1585-1588.

Town Strel'tsy Pushkari cannoneer Armorers & blacksmiths Gateguards Cossacks
Gdov 100 11 -- 5 --
Izborsk 100 15 -- 2 --
Ostrov 100 20 1 2 --
Opochka 100 34 2 6 --
Sebezh 54 31 5 15 137

The strel'tsy were armed with muskets, sabers, and a large axe with a half-moon shaped blade called a berdysh. This was distinctive to infantry troops because it required both hands to wield. It was also equipped with a pointed metal butt for sticking into the ground, a valuable adjunct to the unwieldy musket, since it could be used as a musket rest.(18) Fletcher was not overly impressed with strel'tsy armament.
The strel'tsy or footman hath nothing but his piece in his hand, his striking hatchet at his back, and his sword by his side. The stock of his piece is not made cleaver-wise, but with a plain and straight stock, somewhat like a fowling piece; the barrel is rudely and unartificially made, very heavy, yet shooteth but a very small bullet.(19)
The musket's effectiveness was also hampered by the excessive time it took to reload and the difficulty in firing rapidly. Foreigners' accounts estimated that in battle the strel'tsy could average only 12-16 shots apiece.(20)
The strel'tsy were unique for their time in that they were uniformly armed, uniformly clothed, and uniformly trained. They did not fight in open spaces, but instead were used to defend or attack fortified places. Their assault on the fortress of Kazan in 1552 is regarded as the decisive factor in the final Russian conquest of the city two years after their founding. The strel'tsy were similar more to the Turkish Janissaries than to western-style arquebusiers in that they were recruited for life and their sons followed them into service. The strel'tsy were founded because the gentry cavalry had proven unsuccessful against Polish and Swedish infantry, but tactically they were employed with cavalry because the Russians had not yet developed a corps of pikemen to protect the infantry from enemy cavalry, as in the West. (See battle)
The berdysh was a peculiar type of pole ax commonly found only in Russia and Poland. It became a kind of signature weapon of the strel'tsy. The common spear or boar spear (rogatina) were the typical weapons of the lower classes.
The earliest available illustration of strel'tsy is from 1613; however, it is not likely that their costume varied much over time. (See strelt'sy) These strel'tsy are standing in front of the Cathedral of St. Basil and the Kremlin walls. They are wearing long caftans and steel helmets introduced in the 17th century. Their arms are the berdysh, sablia, and flintlock musket. Powder horn and ammunition are carried on a wide shoulder belt.


The third component of the Muscovite army was the artillery (nariad). Russian artillery was divided into fortress cannon and field artillery. Fortress cannon had a 25-centimeter caliber, a range of up to three kilometers, and could be fired up to eight times a day. By the end of the sixteenth century 3,000 to 3,500 such guns existed. Field artillery guns were lighter, with a caliber of nine to ten centimeters, and a maximum range of 600 meters. Artillery projectiles included solid shot (stone and iron), explosive rounds (jugs filled with gunpowder), incendiary rounds (stone shot covered with a combustible substance), and illuminating shells.(21) Russian historians have glorified a multi-barrelled weapon known in documents as the sorok, which they claim predated the Gatling gun by three centuries.(22) However, none exist to the present day and their significance is overrated. The Russian fascination with size was early apparent in the development of monster cannon such as the Tsar Pushka, an 89-centimeter caliber gun measuring five meters long and weighing 40 tons.(23)
Artillerymen were also permanent forces and resembled the strel'tsy in privileges and allotments. Artillerymen in Moscow were paid three rubles a year, one-and-a-half-puds of salt a month, plus flour and clothing worth two rubles. On campaign they received additional rations. Fortress cannoneers received one ruble a year, plus two puds of salt and 12 chetverti of rye and oats. Many artillerymen were also allotted plots of land and supplemented their earnings as artisans and tradesmen.
In peacetime they guarded their weapons, tested new guns, prepared and transported gunpowder, supervised the preparation of shot and repaired the cannon. Each cannoneer entering service swore a special oath to fulfill his service in war and peace, to be loyal to the Muscovite state, to refrain from drinking, not to steal from the Treasury, and not to divulge the secrets of artillery science. Those bringing in new recruits were answerable with their heads for those whom they recruited.(24)
The clothing of artillerymen did not change much over several hundred years. Note the voevoda ot nariada wearing two pantsyri and carrying a shestoper. (Artillery and artyman.)

Engineer and Supply Services

Engineer and logistical duties were performed by peasant levies called pososhnye liudi, taken from the agricultural unit, sokha, from which they were recruited.(25) Each rural sokha had to provide 22 men per campaign. The mobilized peasants performed construction work (bridges and roads), transported supplies by cart and boat, and provided general auxiliary services as needed. They also constructed fortresses and river craft for the transport of troops and military supplies. The pososhnye liudi were commanded by a special golova u posokhi from the gentry service class. The number of the pososhnye liudi could exceed that of combat troops. For example, according to contemporary sources, during the 1563 Polotsk campaign there were approximately 45,000 combat troops and 80,000 pososhnye liudi. They were supported by a national tax called the pososhnye den'gi levied on sokha residents and townspeople.(26) Additionally, they played an important role in the movement of artillery. Mounted pososhnye liudi transported shot and gunpowder and built gun positions while on campaign.(27)

Guliai Gorod and Tactics

One unique institution of the Muscovite army was the portable field fortification known as the guliai gorod. The mobile wooden fortresses were constructed from prefabricated sections and transported by wagon or sled. (See gulai 1, gulai 2). The separate pieces were made to facilitate rapid assembly. When assembled the wall could extend in a single row from two to ten kilometers, although it was usually constructed to form a rectangle. The guliai gorod was designed to provide a fortress for the strel'tsy when fighting in open steppe land. The enclosed fortress was three meters wide to allow the internal deployment not only of strel'tsy troops but also of small cannon. See (Gulai) Firing ports were cut in the walls for weapons. Smaller fortresses could be erected to provide mobile strong points with interlocking fire, or a single guliai gorod could be constructed in a "W" shape to provide mutual fire support. Cavalry were deployed in front and on the flanks. Usually the battle would begin with a cavalry charge designed to strike a decisive blow against the enemy. If this did not immediately defeat the enemy, the cavalry returned to support the flanks while strel'tsy and artillery continued to fire. The decisive blow was then to be the counterattack of a reserve force hidden behind the guliai gorod, which would attack from the flanks and rear while fortress artillery fire pounded the enemy from the front. Against steppe opponents such as the Crimean Tatars, armed with little more than bows and arrows, this triple threat of strel'tsy, cavalry, and artillery could be very effective.

While a cavalry picket observes the enemy in the distance, the strel'tsi quickly slide the sections of the guliai-gorod into position and lock them together. (See battle.) Several strel'tsy are checking the field of fire from their gun ports.

Defensive Lines

The southern defense line, known as the zasechnaia cherta, or zaseka, was an extensive system of fortifications dating to the twelfth century. The first line of fortresses (Tula Cherta), connected by abatis, ramparts, stockades, and ditches, stretched from Kozel'sk to Nizhnii Novgorod. In 1533 a 250--kilometer extension from Kolomna to Kaluga was added. The Tula Cherta was referred to as the bereg (shore); it was as if Moscow regarded the steppes as a grassy ocean and the Tula Cherta its shoreline. During the reign of Ivan IV this line was strengthened by constructing a second line from Putivl' to Alatyr on the Sura River. During the 1560s a line south of the Oka River from Riazan to the upper reaches of the Zhizdra River (500 kilometers) and a 1,000--kilometer line from Krapivna to Skopin were added. At the end of the century a third cherta was constructed in two segments: Kromy to Elets and Kursk to Volonovezh.(28) The purpose of this system was to provide early warning of enemy attacks and a series of strong points from which to resist until reinforcements could arrive. Regular patrols departed the line at intervals to discover the enemy's approach. The entire network was administered by the Razriadnyi Prikaz until 1577 when a short-lived Zasechnyi Prikaz was founded. Three years later it was abolished and the system was put under the Artillery Prikaz.(29) Maintenance of the system was financed by a special tax on the population called the zasechnye den'gi.

Map of Frontier Defense Lines


Composition of Muscovite Armed Forces

The following two diagrams (figures 21 and 22) show the composition of the Muscovite army. The first shows the various components under the direct control of the Military Chancellery (Razradnyi Prikaz), the closest equivalent to a general staff and ministry of defense in sixteenth century Muscovy. The second shows all the elements in the armed forces, by type, and includes the elements that were controlled by other prikazi.

The vast majority of the Muscovite army was composed of the service people, that is, cavalrymen who received estates in exchange for service. They were divided into the dvoriane and deti boiarskie. Dvoriane included certain rank holders in both the Moscow metropolitan nobility and provincial elite and zhil'tsy (servitors who ranked just below Moscow dvoriane, but above provincial dvoriane and deti boiarskie). Deti boiarskie "boyar's children" referred to the rest of the provincial gentry (also known as the "middle service class". Deti boiarskie were subdivided into select (vybornye), urban (gorodovye), and court (dvorovye). The tsar also utilized fortress cossacks (gorodovye kazaki) who served in border garrisons as infantry in exchange for nearby pomest'e estates.
The category service tatars includes tribes which had sworn their allegiance to the tsar. They retained their tribal ranks of chief and murza. Those who accepted the Orthodox faith were kept in a separate category, "newly baptized." They served on the southern and eastern frontiers as part of garrison forces under a Russian voevoda. During campaigns, the army called up temporary infantry recruits mustered by urban and rural communes. Known as "registered people" (datochnye liudi), they were either mounted or dismounted, but both served as infantry levies.

Command, Control, and Military Administration

Command and control were centralized. At the head was the tsar, advised by his noble council, the Boyar Duma. An infant system of chancelleries, called prikazi (not to be confused with the prikazi - strel'tsy units), administered the government. Prikazi were either functional or geographical. When an area was conquered initially, a prikaz was established to administer it, e.g., the Kazan Prikaz. Such prikazi were also responsible for raising troops from among Tatars, Cossacks, and native tribes within their jurisdiction. Other prikazi were created whenever the tsar perceived a need to administer some activity. The Ambassadorial Prikaz handled diplomatic affairs, but was also responsible for foreign troops and Volga, Don, and Ukrainian Cossacks. The Postal Prikaz handled post houses and military communications. One prikaz constructed cannon, another made the gunpowder, and another built the fortresses in which they were deployed. Duties overlapped in a chaotic and inefficient manner.
The army itself was administered by the Razriadnyi Prikaz, which served also as the Muscovite war ministry and general staff. It managed reviews of the gentry, compiled registers of all fighting men, and functioned as a centralized personnel office. It established precedence lists used in ceremonial functions, made wartime command appointments, and appointed military governors (voevoda, plural voevody) for Moscow's fortress cities and regions. In wartime the Razriadnyi Prikaz was the direct agent for planning and controlling operations. According to Chernov, it issued an order (nakaz) which laid out for the senior commander (Bolshoi Voevoda) the identity of the enemy, which cities and provinces would provide service personnel to participate in the campaign, when and where the individual regiments would meet and what the makeup of the army would be, who would command specific regiments, who would be in charge of wages and supplies, the route of march of the separate regiments, and the war plans for operations.(30) The Razriadnyi Prikaz secretaries, with their clerks, comprised the war staff. Buganov cited even more responsibilities: it kept lists of service people for every voevoda, directed military operations, kept records and handled mestnichestvo (precedence) affairs, appointed servitors for yearly garrison service, provided men for the border guard services, and kept detailed records on marriage registers and geography.(31) Representatives dispatched by the prikaz also oversaw the mobilization process and accompanied field commanders on campaign.
Each polk was commanded by two or more commanders (voevody). Subordinate to them were subcommanders called golovy (singular golova). Some voevody assumed specialist duties. A voevoda ertaul'nyi headed the light cavalry and reconnaissance. A voevoda ot nariada was in charge of artillery. The voevoda guliaivyi oversaw the guliai gorod. The third voevoda of the Main Polk was often the first voevoda of artillery until a separate artillery polk appeared in the second half of the century commanded by a normal polkovoy voevoda. He was assisted by two or three clerks (d'iaki) and a second and third voevoda ot nariada.
Control measures on the battlefield included the use of banners and music. Each polk had a special banner with an image of Christ or Saint George. Special banners with emotional ties or religious icons might accompany the army to induce patriotism. For example, during the 1552 Kazan campaign, Ivan IV brought along the banner carried by Dmitrii Donskoi at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380. The unwrapping of the banner signalled the beginning of a battle or siege. Special voevody or golovy were entrusted with the defense of the banner.(32) Music was also a means to issue commands and signals during battle; trumpets, oboes, percussion instruments, and the zourna-flute were used. A special drum, mounted on four horses, heralded the start of a battle or was used during smaller skirmishes. Another drum was used daily to signal the mounting and dismounting of horses.(33)

Order of Battle, March, and Deployment

The army was divided into six large formations called Polki (singular polk) similar to medieval western "battles": the Main Polk, Advanced Polk, Guard Polk, Right Wing, Left Wing, and Reconnaissance Polk.(34) When the tsar himself went on campaign, a special unit, the Sovereign's Polk, was organized from court officials and service personnel in the Moscow area. When the tsar was not present, these personnel were absorbed into the other polki.
On the march, a column formation was used. Scouts preceded the light cavalry of the Reconnaissance Polk. Behind it were the pososhnye liudi preparing roads and bridges for the main body. These lead elements could be as many as five days' march in front of the main body. The Advanced Polk led the main body. Behind it was the Main Polk, composed of cavalry and infantry. The two wing regiments provided flank security. Artillery and transport trains followed the Main Polk, while the Guard Polk brought up the rear.
Often the army was divided into two parts. Part of the army travelled by land on multiple axes (in part to lessen the logistical burden of cavalry living off the land). The other half, known as the sudovoi troops,(35) travelled via the extensive Russian water network. This generally included infantry, artillery, and logistic forces. The two columns met at an assembly area prior to the battle. The length of an army column was usually 15 kilometers, but it could extend up to 30. To prevent traffic jams special officers were dispatched to anticipated bottlenecks to direct traffic and maintain the planned order.(36) Movement was always slow due to the large amount of transport. Movement averaged 15 versts(37) daily, although 20-30 versts were not unknown.(38)
Security was provided on the march and in camp. One responsibility of the rear unit was to collect stragglers looking for forage and plunder. The Guard Polk also appointed a special guard detachment for convoy security.(39) After finding a camp site with sufficient water, trees, and pasture land, additional security was provided by surrounding the camp with trenches, ditches, and the transport carts.(40)
The march formation was transformed into battle formation in one of two fashions. If the guliai gorod was not present, the army formed in the shape of a Saint George's cross. The Main Polk formed the center with the command headquarters. The two wings provided flank security. Advance pickets scouted the enemy situation, while the Advanced Polk lead the attack, usually by means of a semi-organized charge with much yelling and screaming of war cries to frighten the enemy. The Main Polk was to administer the crushing blow while the wings protected against enemy cavalry charges. The Guard Polk provided rear security and a reserve. In combat a temporary grouping, the Ambush Polk, might also be formed for flank attacks.

Army Deployed for Battle

The following diagram illustrates one possible organization for battle. It was also possible for the individual polki to operate independently or to shift their relative positions in accordance with terrain considerations.

Size of the Army

The total size of the Muscovite army has long been disputed. Few historians take the sixteenth century figures at face value. Epifanov argues that enemy forces were as large as noted: 60,000 Crimean Tatar cavalry in yearly raids; 100,000 Polish warriors in 1568; 80,000 Turks in 1569; 120,000 Crimean Tatars at Molodi in 1572; and 100,000 Poles with Stefan Batory against Pskov in 1581. He accepts equally inflated numbers for Muscovite forces--numbers not confirmed by the few existing documents.(41)
Even on the southern steppes, unfettered by terrain limitations, it is impossible to imagine 100,000 Russians being controlled by sixteenth century battlefield command and control procedures. Chernov argued that during times of danger the country could muster up to 200,000 men, if cavalry, infantry, pososhnye liudi, artillery, militia, and Cossacks all were activated.(42) Razin believed 70,000 was an optimistic number. On campaign, 35,000 would be exceptional, while on the average it would be difficult to mobilize more than 20,000.(43) Richard Hellie estimates that the army of Ivan IV included 17,500 middle service gentry, 4,000 foreigners, 12,000 strel'tsy, 6,000 Cossacks, 3,000 artillerymen, 10,000 auxiliaries (Tatars, Mordva tribesmen, etc.) and 17,500 slaves.(44)
Part of the difficulty in assessing the size of Muscovite forces comes not only from inaccurate sources, but also from the extreme fluctuation of size of each polk in a given army and per campaign. For example, during the 1524 campaign against Kazan, sources list the Reconnaissance Polk at 5,000 and the Advanced Polk at 15,000--a difference of 10,000 men.(45) More than one field army might be simultaneously deployed on separate fronts with greatly varying sizes and force structures. In 1885 the Vitebskaia Starina reprinted the three sole surviving documents of the Military Chancellery listing army and polk figures. They covered armies in Livonia for 1563, 1577 and 1578. In the Polotsk campaign of 1563, the army totalled 29,053. Figures are broken down by polk, plus attached Cossacks and Service Tatars, and shown in the table:
Urban troops recruited from various towns were assigned to the Sovereign's Polk (1,165), and the Advanced Polk (940) for a total of 31,158.(46) The army of 1577 totalled 32,235 (including 12,724 pososhnye liudi), while 39,681 went on campaign in 1578.(47) These numbers do not include the construction and logistics levies (pososhnye liudi) who might number twice as many as the combat forces. Additionally, official figures do not include the armed servitors (often slaves) each servitor was required to bring along (dependent upon the size of his land grant). See Richard Hellie's Slavery in Russia for a discussion of these slave warriors.

Reconnaissance 1,012 383 482 1,877
Advanced 1,866 260 1,046 3,172
Right Wing 2,004 966 1,009 3,979
Left Wing 2,008 825 605 3,438
Sovereign's 4,824 -- -- 4,824
Main 2,865 1,629 1,295 5,789
Artillery 1,391 -- 1,048 2,339
Guard 1,855 1,111 569 3,535
Total 17,825 5,174 6,054 29,053

Weapons Proficiency

Weapons qualification in the sixteenth century was extremely simple. Pomeshchiki taught their sons how to use the bow and arrow, axe, and spear before they entered service. Gentry cavalry did not have to demonstrate proficiency with weapons. The purpose of periodic reviews was to verify that they had weapons, not that they knew how to use them.
It was a bit more complicated with firearms. Artillery and musket skills were taught upon entry into the corps and were tested annually by the tsar himself. Each December the artillery and strel'tsy met in a field outside Moscow to perform for the tsar and his nobility. A wall of ice (two--feet thick, six--feet high and a quarter of a mile long) was built. All 5,000 strel'tsy appeared, marching in formation with their guns on their left shoulder and their matches in their right hands. (Streltsy inspection) They alternated standing on a wooden scaffold and firing at the wall of ice until it was flattened. Then it was the artillery's turn. (Arty inspection) Two houses, filled with dirt and whitewashed, were positioned down field. The guns fired, from smallest to largest, until the two houses were kindling. Then the tsar and his party departed.(48)


Awards took the shape of land grants, special prizes, and a gold medal (zolotoi). Special awards for major events, such as the 1552 conquest of Kazan, included fur coats, horses, armor, gold, velvet cloth, and money totalling 48,000 rubles.(49) Margeret noted that the sovereign recompensed those who had performed some service, such as taking a prisoner, killing one of the enemy, or receiving a wound. Some were given money. Depending on the quality of the person, a servitor might receive a piece of cloth of gold or other silk cloth to make a garment for himself.(50) According to V. Durov, the medal system originated in eleventh century Kievan Russia when a golden grivna was awarded to war heroes. By the fifteenth to sixteenth centuries the custom of awarding all the participants in a campaign special gold medals existed. Commanders received large gold coins on a heavy gold chain, while rank--and--file warriors received lightweight small badges, often not even golden, but of slightly gilded silver.(51) Giles Fletcher described the custom at the end of the sixteenth century:
If any behave himself more violently than the rest or do any special piece of service, the emperor sendeth him a piece of gold stamped with the image of Saint George on horseback, which they hang on their sleeves and set in their caps. And this is accounted the greatest honor they can receive for any service they do.(52)
Numerous examples exist of such medals. In 1559 the zolotoi was presented to Daniil Adashev for his actions during a Cossack campaign (with strel'tsy) against the Crimean Tatars and Turks at Ochakov. In the autumn of 1564 voevody from Chernigov were awarded the zolotoi for capturing the banner of Sapegina.(53)
In October 1565 Aleksei Basmanov and his son Fedor were granted the zolotoi for their defense of Riazan against 60,000 (sic) Crimean Tatars.(54)


The Muscovite army was hampered, at times even paralysed, by an institution called mestnichestvo, from mesto (place). The idea originally had merit. As the grand prince absorbed new territories and nobles from each new patrimony entered Muscovite military service, the system developed to ensure that no one had to serve under a commander inferior to him in rank and clan. Mestnichestvo was a hierarchical ladder which regulated service relationships in military, administrative, and court positions. "An individual's place on the ladder, in theory, at least, was defined in terms of both genealogical and service elements. The standing of his clan and his own position within it played a role, as did the service career of the person himself and his ancestors."(55) The position of a servitor in comparison to that of others was calculated both according to his standing within his own clan and other clans, determined on the basis of the service registers for state and army officials and other documents.(56) What this meant in a nutshell is that a voevoda could not be forced to serve under another voevoda who was inferior to him in social standing. Once a service list was published, a voevoda could petition the Razriadnyi Prikaz to be relieved of such service and reassigned.
The tsar attempted to mute mestnichestvo by issuing a decree in 1550 which prohibited petitions once the campaign was underway. He could declare campaigns bez mest (without place), which promised that any unsatisfactory assignment could not damage the social standing of the voevoda or his clan. Generally the tsar would declare a campaign bez mest before the list was published to avert controversies. Mestnichestvo limited who the tsar could place together in a senior-junior relationship. It did not force the tsar to make any given officer a commander. The tsar could appoint any exceptional officer commander in chief and structure the other commanders to match his level of precedence. The tsar had at his disposal a variety of means to bypass mestnichestvo and force petitioners to do his will, such as verbal chastisement, disgrace, threat of exile, and imprisonment.
Disputes over precedence were not unique to Russia during the sixteenth century, nor were they unique to that century--one may only look at the complex set of relationships governing Louis XlV's court at Versailles. In reality, although mestnichestvo petitions were a time-consuming process, they resulted in few command readjustments. Likewise, not all of the disputes passed down to historians were genuinely concerned with rank; an unknown number of such petitions might be based on factors such as personal rivalry, envy, disgust, a quick temper, jealousy, or a reluctance to serve under a known incompetent. The fact remains that servitors had to serve, and the tsar had the final word.

War Industry

Moscow was able to support the war effort with a domestic munitions industry and technical assistance from foreign advisers. Italian artisans, specialists in Renaissance fortification, first came to Russia during the reign of Ivan III (1462--1505). By 1485 Russia was producing bronze cannon.(57) Gunpowder and iron industries founded by the state to support armaments production grew to great size. For example, there is an account of a terrible explosion in a powder works near Moscow in 1531 which is said to have killed more than 200 workers.(58) Although there were numerous complaints (not necessarily unfounded) that England was sending war supplies to Muscovy during the Livonian War, the fact remains that domestic Russian production was more than sufficient to support the military. This abundance is noted by Reinhold Heidenstein who witnessed the Polish conquest of Velizh in 1580, and noted, "Provisions, forage, gunpowder, and ammunition were found in such quantities that not only did they suffice for all our troops, but enough remained for the whole garrison."(59)

Medicine and Provisions

Medical facilities within Muscovy were virtually nonexistent. No established medical services existed and treatment was based on folk remedies, herbal cures, or magic. Ambrogio Contarini, Venetian ambassador to Persia, traversed Russia. He treated a local sailor's abscessed tooth with "a little oil, bread, and flour [and] in three days, by good fortune, the abscess broke and he was cured."(60) Antonio Possevino, a Jesuit emissary of Pope Gregory XIII, advised future envoys to bring along their own doctors, for "nowhere in that enormous expanse of Muscovite territory can one receive medical attention except at the court of the Grand Prince himself and he...will not permit his doctors to visit even those who are dying."(61) Home remedies prescribed fungi or extracts made from them to threat wounds. Shell fungi were used as a poultice. Fly agaric and false hellebore were common for anti--mosquito and anti--lice respectively.(62) Other folk cures treated wounds. For example, to ward off gangrene from an infected wound, the folk practitioner took black bread (rye or whole wheat), covered it with salt and chewed the bread until it became completely permeated with human saliva; then the "doctor" tightly packed the bread around the infected wound and bandaged it. Another option was to take a piece of cow's or lamb's liver, absolutely fresh and unwashed, and apply it directly on the infected area. The small surface boils that then appeared were opened with a knife and the pus squeezed out. The treatment was repeated with fresh pieces of meat until the boils failed to appear. The roots of the common geranium were considered effective for stopping hemorrhaging.(63) In general, however, one survived through blind luck. In a society in which service was for life, mutilation, serious wounds, and death were the only grounds for retirement.
Muscovite soldiers were to appear at muster with retainers, horses, weapons, and sufficient provisions to feed them all while on campaign. Before the advent of tin cans, powdered eggs, and spam, it is important not to take all of this for granted. A 120-pound man carrying a moderate load for eight hours needs 3,400 calories, 70 grams of protein, and two quarts of water a day simply to avoid malnutrition, much less maintain peak fighting stamina. This is compounded by the realization that if 25,000 servitors each brought two horses, forage and pasturage for 50,000 animals a day was also required.
The Russian diet centered around rye, barley, oats, and buckwheat. A variety of wild berries was abundant throughout the forested regions of Russia, to include cranberries, currants, wild strawberries, and bog whortleberries. Dried fungi found in the woods, such as mushrooms, were an excellent source of nutrition, containing up to 73% protein. The Russian diet favored fish over meat, especially sturgeon, salmon, herring, flounder, and cod, which could be dried easily.(64)
Foreign travellers mention a variety of rations comparable to those which could be eaten on campaign. Contarini was fed a dish called thur made from rice mixed with milk which had been dried in the sun. He also feasted on wheat flour biscuits and salted sheep's tail.(65) During negotiations to end the Livonian War, Possevino saw the Muscovite envoys arrive with a party of 300 people. "To reduce expenses they brought in supplies from Novgorod, some 200 miles away, which included food already cooked and preserved in the cold."(66) Fletcher noted that every man brought sufficient goods for four months, and "if need require, to give order for more to be brought unto him to the camp from his tenant that tilleth his land or some other place."(67) He continued, "They bring with them commonly into the camp for victual a kind of dried bread (which they call sukhar') with some store of meal which they temper with water and so make it into a ball or small lump of dough called tolokno. And this they eat raw instead of bread. Their meat is bacon or some other flesh or fish dried after the Dutch manner."(68) An English sea captain, Stephen Burrough, outfitted in 1556 by Russian fishermen was presented with "six ringes of bread which they call colach, four dried pykes, and a packe of oatmeal...acquavitae and meade."(69)
The problem of feeding animals was met in a variety of ways. Polki often travelled individually to a central assembly point so as to avoid overusing grasslands. Supplies could be purchased from local peasants, and in some areas the government stockpiled supplies of grain. Because invasion routes were used over and over again, those providing the best forage were well known.(70) Additionally, the Russian army quite often campaigned in the winter when the frozen ground was better suited for cavalry operations. At that time of year peasants would have harvested and stored their crops for the year, all the better for "conscription."
The extensive baggage trains of the pososhnye liudi could also carry food supplies as well as gunpowder and ammunition. Fortresses sometimes stockpiled supplies at traditional jump-off sites on invasion routes. When river routes were used, boats could also transport food supplies. The forests provided wild game, honey, fruit, and nuts. However, during campaign, the bulk of the troops subsisted on starches, which provided calories, but no nutrition.

Traits of the Muscovite Soldier

The fortitude of the Russian soldier and his ability to absorb pain and persevere under harsh conditions are well documented. Richard Chancellor, an Elizabethan sea captain, observed:
When the ground is covered with frost, this Russe hangs his mantle, or soldier's coat, against that part from whence the wind and snow drives, and so, making a little fire, lieth down with his back towards the weather; this mantle of his serves him for his bed, wall, house, and all....The hard ground is his featherbed and some block or stone his pillow.(71)
Possevino praised the Russians' "stubborn endurance and dedication," for:

When one soldier is killed...another takes his place. No one spares his energy or his life. The Polish king told me that he had found Muscovite soldiers in Livonian fortresses who had subsisted on a diet of water and oat dust. Most were dead, but those who managed to survive, although scarcely breathing, were still fearful that their surrender would constitute a betrayal of their oath to serve their Prince to the death.(72)
Many observers, however, were quick to comment that Russians fought better on the defensive and did not oppose the enemy vigorously on the regular field of battle. Fletcher remarked, "If the Russe soldier were as hardy to execute an enterprise as he is hard to bear toil and travail, or were otherwise so apt and well trained for wars as he is indifferent for his lodging and diet, he would far excel the soldiers of our parts."(73) The Russian would fight to the death in the defense, but his conduct on an open plain was less commendable. "For the Russe soldier, if he begin once to retire, putteth all his safety in his speedy flight. And if once he be taken by the enemy, he neither defendeth or entreateth for his life, as reckoning straight to death."(74)
Of course, this is understandable if one recalls the severity of discipline and punishment in Muscovite Russia. Corporal punishment (even of officers), hostage--taking of families, "disgrace" and banishment, and imprisonment were common. Punishment might also extend to family members and servants. Execution was legally retained for only the most extreme crimes, such as treason. Von Staden related that execution was the automatic punishment for any commander who surrendered to the enemy, regardless of circumstances.
If the people of the Grand Prince surrender a city, a fortress, or castle, and they return to Russia alive, they are killed along with all their relatives, and those who guaranteed the arquebusiers. They know very well that if they go over to the enemy, no one will think much of them; they know that they are going against their oath, and that in churches of Russia on every feast day prayers will be said urging their eternal damnation.(75)
Such extreme measures might limit outright negative actions on the part of servitors, but did little to create a sense of discipline and combative spirit. Faced with the knowledge of almost certain death at home for misdeeds or simply ill-fortune, some Muscovite commanders might fight to the last man, but others might instead flee to the enemy to avoid prosecution. This only served to create an even more extreme reaction in Moscow, sparking an ever dangerous escalation, which in turn caused servitors to avoid initiative. It was safer to do nothing well than attempt something and fail.


Muscovy was the hostage of its location. Situated in the heart of the steppe land, there were no natural borders to keep out invaders. Moscow was surrounded by cavalry societies, descended from the same Mongol Empire, each regarding itself as the natural inheritor of the reins of power. Moscow's survival was not inevitable. What made her successful was the development of an effective cavalry and the evolution of auxiliary services to conduct combined arms warfare tailored to match the specific enemy at hand, that is, a cavalry army with artillery and infantry support in the south, and an artillery and infantry army with cavalry support in the northwest. Moscow was able to manufacture the terrain features God had not seen fit to bestow on her. The guliai gorod fortresses moved throughout the southern frontier. The zaseka line with its tiered defense in depth not only produced a defensible border, but it produced a defensible, mobile border. The military history of the sixteenth century was largely that of the gradual expansion of the zaseka system southward as the borders of the state grew larger.
The cavalry was the core around which the Muscovite army was founded. It was an army inherently tied to the land. Estates replaced the wages paid mercenaries in the West. Forces were mustered according to the location of the servitor's pomestie. Thus, men fought with friends and neighbors; the peer bonding and pressure to do well before men one had to live with when the battle was done did as much to unify Muscovite cavalrymen as the threat of punishment.
The development of the auxiliary services which absorbed the new technology of the Gunpowder Revolution was uneven over the course of the sixteenth century. But a permanent infantry force, field artillery, a transport corps, and combat engineers did emerge.
The Muscovite army did not develop along "Western" lines, but this was not due to backwardness or inability to absorb new ideas and methods. Rather, the tsars of Muscovy sought to develop a military that could defend the state and carry out policy aims without becoming a threat to the state itself. Muscovy was a principality constantly in a state of flux. Its borders were constantly expanding and absorbing new peoples. The army was an instrument of subjugation and assimilation which made this expansion a reality. But during this process it took on a life of its own; it existed to preserve the state, but the state increasingly came to exist to preserve the army.


Compiled by John F. Sloan


Sigismund Augustus, King of Poland, took advantage of the minority of Ivan IV and Elena Glinskaia's preoccupation with suppressing internal rebellions of the boyars to invade Muscovy. Lithuanian troops attacked Smolensk. The Muscovites successfully defended it along with Starodub and Chernigov.
During this war, the Crimean Khan, Saip Gerei, tried to capture Kazan and Astrakhan. The struggle between the rival Tatar leaders resulted in the plunder of large areas. Saip was murdered, and a new khan was named.


The Italian architect Peter Priazin laid the stone foundations for the new Moscow wall on 16 May 1535. Elena continued the program of Vasilii III of building frontier fortresses.(76)


When the new Crimean Khan, Saip Gerei, was preparing to invade Muscovy, Prince Andrei Glinskii, Ivan IV's uncle, refused to send his army to help defend Moscow.


King Sigismund of Poland asked for peace. The Muscovite army, freed from war in the west, marched east to control the Tatars.(77)


The Kazan Tatars conducted raids.


Khan Safa Gerei advanced from Kazan but met resistance from the Russian army led by Prince Ivan Shuiskii. Then, Saip Gerei and a combined Tatar and Turkish army moved up the Don River. The Russian scouts reported that the Tatar army stretched beyond the horizon. Moscow prepared for a siege.(78)


On 31 July the Tatar Khan reached the Oka River. The Muscovite Advance Guard Polk stood on the opposite bank, where it was mistaken for the whole Russian army. The Tatars prepared to cross under cover of a heavy artillery bombardment opened by the Turkish artillerists. Then the rest of the Muscovite army arrived. The Khan, realizing he had a major battle to fight if he wanted to cross the river, followed the usual Tatar practice and retreated.(79)


In April the 15--year--old Ivan IV proclaimed a campaign against Kazan. The army went by barge and by land, winning several minor victories on the way.


Ivan proclaimed another campaign against Kazan. The army set out in January 1548, but the Volga ice broke up unexpectedly and many men and cannon were lost. Ivan waited for a new freeze, but in vain; therefore, he returned to Moscow.


Ivan started again in the winter of 1549-50. The army reached Kazan on 14 February 1550 despite great hardships in the cold. After elaborate preparations, 60,000 Muscovites attacked without any gains. On the second day of the attack, an unusual thaw flooded the river and made the ground turn into mud, forcing Ivan to retreat again. Ivan now gave urgent attention to military reform, especially to curtailing mestnichestvo.(80)
In March 1550, reports that Saip Gerei was advancing from the Crimea reached Ivan. He sent troops south from Moscow and went himself to Kolomna and Riazan to inspect the defenses. In July Ivan decreed the confirmation of his order abolishing mestnichestvo in the field and strengthening the command of the chief voevoda of the Main Polk. The decree established a chain of command and prohibited precedence considerations on campaign. In the summer, Ivan created the Strel'tsy as a personal guard of infantry. This was not a completely new device, as there already were units of town arquebusiers. In October, Ivan proclaimed a new project as a part of the military reforms. It was the formation of a special guard of 1,000 picked men to be settled on land around Moscow. Actually, 1,078 were chosen, but the plan was frustrated by lack of available land near the capital. By the 1550's the government generally lacked land to give to the new service gentry, especially around Moscow. Ivan's solution was to seize the patrimonial lands and the church lands. In 1551 he asked a church council to secularize the church lands, but it refused.(81)


Ivan sent the ex-Khan of Kazan, Shig Alei, with 500 Tatars and Moscow troops to Kruglaia hill at the mouth of the Sviiaza River to build a new fort. Prince Peter Obolenskii went with troops from Nizhnii Novgorod to supervise this project. The main army arrived on 14 May and quickly completed the new town of Sviiazhsk, which greatly impressed the local Tatars, Mordvins, Cheremish, Chuvash, and others.
The Kazan Tatars wanted peace, but their Crimean rulers did not, so Kazan expelled the Crimeans and asked Ivan to send Shig Ali to Kazan. Ivan annexed the northern part of the Khanate and appointed a governor. This made the Kazan Tatars change their minds again and revolt. Ivan then sought a complete and final conquest.(82)

Campaign against Kazan


A momentous event in Muscovite history occurred in this year when Ivan IV conquered Kazan and added its territories to his growing empire. Ivan began the campaign by ordering the armies to proceed as usual by boat and over land. A plague in Sviiazhsk and a Mordvin rebellion reduced morale in the army and delayed the campaign. At Kazan, Ediger Mohammed arrived with 500 Nogai Tatars to lead the defense. He was a good leader who kept the spirits of the Kazan population high. On 16 June Ivan set out for Kolomna. Enroute, he received word that the Crimean Tatars were advancing again. They captured Riazan and Tula before Ivan, who had sent troops to meet them, decided to go south himself. When Ivan arrived, the Khan retreated; the Muscovite army followed and defeated the Tatars near the Shivoron River. On 3 July Ivan again started for Kazan via Vladimir. By then, the plague was over and the voevoda, Mikulinskii, had defeated the Mordvins and Chuvash. On 15 August Ivan crossed the Volga and sent a demand for surrender to Kazan. He reached the city on 2 August and began the siege on the 23d. Ivan gathered the officers and men and unfurled the banner of the Virgin and showed the cross of Dmitri Donskoi in an effort to instill a religious fervor in the army. The Tatars also had strong religious beliefs. Defending Kazan there were 30,000 local Tatar troops and 2,700 Nogais, plus the town population. The well--fortified Kazan wall consisted of oak beams reinforced on the inside. The towers were of stone.(83)

The first action was a sortie of 15,000 Tatars that expended its full force on the strel'tsy, forcing them to retreat. Ivan ordered deti boiarskie reinforcements forward, and the strel'tsy reformed and forced the Tatars back into the city. Then a rainstorm deluged the Russian camp and sank the supply barges, while a high wind blew down the Tsar's tent and many other structures. These were bad omens for the soldiery who took great alarm. Ivan calmed them and sent for more supplies, including warm clothing for a possible winter siege. The soldiers worked hard making trenches and palisades. Ivan was busy inspecting and encouraging the troops, who were on short rations and lacking for sleep. Tatar pressure increased when Prince Yapancha launched a series of attacks on the Russians from woods behind the Russians. The Tatars used signals from the walls to coordinate attacks launched from the town with those of the forces in the woods. On 30 August the Russians defeated Prince Yapancha and captured 340 Tatars. They tied the prisoners to stakes in front of the town walls. Ivan urged the city to surrender and promised that the prisoners would be freed, but the Kazantsii shot them with arrows rather than let the Russians kill them. Ivan was astounded at this display of hatred and fanaticism. The next day he ordered his Danish engineer to blow up the town water supply, which came from a spring and underground stream. On 4 September the Russians exploded eleven barrels of powder, killing many Tatars and breaching the wall. Still, the Muscovite assault failed. The Tatars found a new spring. Meanwhile, Muscovite morale was suffering from more bad weather and from superstition. For example, Prince Kurbskii reported that at dawn the Tatar sorcerers appeared on the walls to cause the bad weather. Being concerned, Ivan ordered a special miracle--making cross to be brought from Moscow. The weather then improved.

The Russians built high towers and mounted guns on them, moving the towers close to the city wall so they could fire down on the defenders. Ivan ordered the construction of new mines. On 30 September the Danish engineer blew up a large part of the city wall, at which the Tatars panicked, but then rallied and attacked. The hand--to--hand fighting lasted several hours with no gains on either side. On 1 October Ivan ordered a general assault to be launched on the next morning. The troops took communion and awaited the detonation of 48 barrels of powder in the mines. The Tatars discovered the mines and counter--mined while the Russians hurried everything into readiness. Near dawn the explosion shook the ground. The Russians immediately attacked, but the Tatars held firm, waiting until the Russians were very close before firing salvos from their cannon, arquebuses, and bows. Many Russians died but more came on using ladders and towers to reach the parapets from which the Tatars poured boiling pitch and dropped heavy beams and stones.

The Russians fought their way into the city, house by house, in a fierce battle with the heavily outnumbered Tatars. The Russian attack faltered and the men began looting. The Tatars counterattacked and nearly drove the Russians back through the breach. Ivan then sent officers to kill anyone found looting and he himself went to the main gate with the holy banner to stop the retreating soldiers. He sent in fresh units that forced Khan Ediger to retreat to the fortified palace and then to a tower. The last Tatars climbed down the tower wall and fought their way to the river, where Princes Andrei and Roman Kurbskii caught and held them until a large Russian force, under the command of Princes Mikulinskii, Glinskii, and Sheremetev could come up and kill them. The Russians killed or wounded 5,000 Tatars. Ivan received Khan Ediger as his prisoner and gave a formal thanksgiving service.
On 11 October he started for Moscow, having appointed Alexander Gorbatyi and Vasilii Serebrianyi as governors. Some of Ivan's advisors urged him to keep many troops in the town to quell possible outbreaks. He did not agree and only left a small strel'tsy garrison. The rest of the army, being the feudal levy, had to return home, as usual.(84) See also our entries on Kazan city and on the siege.


Ivan IV became ill and asked all the princes and boyars to swear allegiance to his son. Many refused, preferring Ivan's brother to his baby son. This convinced him he could not trust his generals.
There were Tatar revolts at Kazan. In September Princes Mikulinskii, Ivan Sheremetev, and Andrei Kurbskii arrived with strong armies to crush the revolt. They captured 6,000 Tatar men and 15,600 Tatar women and children. Ivan used the Tatar feuds to split the opposition. In October 1553 the Nogai Tatars asked Ivan's help to depose the Khan of Astrakhan, which he agreed to do. Prince Andrei Kurbskii fought 20 major engagements during the year to suppress the Cheremish and other rebels around Kazan.(85)

Conquest of Astrakhan


In the spring the Russian army sailed down the Volga to Astrakhan. Prince Iurii Pronskii-Shemiakin had 30,000 Muscovite troops plus the troops of Viatka under Viazemskii and the Nogai Tatars. They routed Khan Yamgurchei's army and installed Derbysh as Tsar of Astrakhan.(86)


Yamgurchei, with some Nogais, Crimeans, and Turkish Janissaries tried to retake Astrakhan. Ivan sent additional troops, and in the confused fighting between the two parts of the Nogai horde and the other Tatars, Derbysh fled from Astrakhan and the Russians took over direct control. The Cossacks then settled at key points along the river.
During the summer Ivan showed the new Russian belief in Tatar weakness by mounting an attack on Crimea. He was the first Muscovite ruler to carry the war into the Crimean lands lying just north of Perekop. Khan Devlet Gerei retaliated with a 60,000--man army by invading Muscovy. In May he sent an envoy to Ivan to conceal his war preparations, and in June he neared Tula with his army. Ivan sent Prince Ivan Mstislavskii with the Kolomna troops and those of Ivan IV's cousin, Prince Vladimir Andreevich, to the front. The Khan retreated. Ivan Sheremetev took 13,000 Russians to pursue the Tatars and fell into an ambush. This victory caused the Khan to advance again on Tula, to which Ivan also moved. The Khan then retreated again.(87)


In March Ivan sent two reconnaissance parties to check on the Crimean Khan's offensive plans and to raid Tatar territories. Ivan himself went with the army to Tula, and when the Khan, advancing on Moscow, found Ivan ready, he retired again to Crimea. One reconnaissance party under the command of the Diak (clerk) Szhevskii, with Putivl Cossacks as guides, went down the Dnieper to Ochakov on the Black Sea. The Starosta of Cherkasy, Prince Dmitrii Vishnevetskii, provided help with Cherkasy cossack units. The force raided Ochakov successfully and did much damage to towns along the way, then returned to Moscow.
Ivan was delighted and Devlet Gerei was dismayed. The Tatars expected a full--scale attack on Crimea and appealed to the Sultan for help. Then Prince Vishnevetskii decided to build a fort on the Dnieper (Zaporozhie) on Khortitsa Island to control the Cossacks. He completed the fort in the summer of 1556 and successfully defended it from the immediate Tatar attacks. Prince Vishnevetskii asked for assistance from the Polish king, who refused it. He then applied to Moscow for aid and received direct help plus the town of Belev on the Oka as a base of operations.(88)

Livonian War


In 1557 Ivan turned his attention westward and undertook the task started by his grandfather of conquering the western lands and securing an outlet on the Baltic Sea. From the start, Ivan's policy was not popular with the boyars, who still supported war against the Tatars and alliance with the western powers. The service people, dvoriane and deti boiarskie, supported war in the west as a means to obtain pomestie land.(89)

Ivan opened the war by ordering his Tatar general, Shig Alei, to move to the Livonian border at the head of the 40,000--man Muscovite army supported by the eastern tribal detachments.


On 17 January the Russian army crossed the Livonian border from Pskov to a depth of 150 miles, ravaging everything. Shig Alei then withdrew and sent a courier to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights asking him to submit to Ivan. During the cease fire, the Livonians from Narva attacked Ivangorod, so Ivan ordered the capture of Narva.
In January, Prince Vishnevetskii with Russian Cossacks and strel'tsy, sailed down the Dnieper to Perekop, which he raided. He then returned to Khortitsa Island.
On 21 January the Russians received word that Devlet Gerei, learning that the Russians had invaded Livonia, planned a maximum effort Tatar campaign against Moscow. He gathered 100,000 Tatars from the Crimea and the Great and Lesser Nogai under a galaxy of murzas and his son, Mahmet Gerei, and sent them north. The Tatars crossed the Donets and attacked Tula, Riazan, and Kashira, then continued north to the Mech River. There they received word that the Russians had massed their armies across the Oka. Blocked in their main objective of raiding Moscow, the Tatars turned south, followed at a short distance by the three Russian polki on "shore duty."
In February Ivan offered King Sigismund an alliance against the Tatars, but the Polish king, concerned with the Russian invasion of Livonia and also with the possible Turkish reaction to a campaign against the Tatars, therefore declined the offer.
Meanwhile, the Russians captured Narva on 11 May 1558 and then invaded Livonia, destroying or capturing many other towns. The Grandmaster, von Furstenburg, was old and unfit for campaigning. He therefore resigned the office and the knights elected Gottgard Kettler as the new Grandmaster. In July Prince Peter Shuiskii, with a strong force, captured Dorpat. By September the main army withdrew, leaving strong garrisons in the towns. Kettler then attacked the Russian garrisons. During this time, Prince Vishnevetskii conducted a second, larger raid on Perekop.(90)


In January 130,000 Muscovites and their allies again invaded Livonia, methodically laying waste the country and killing all the people they captured, including the children.(91) Kettler asked Sweden and Denmark for aid but they refused. He also asked Sigismund II Augustus of Poland and began negotiations for an alliance.
In February Prince Vishnevetskii moved to the Donetz River for an advance on Kerch and Daniel Adashev sailed down the Dnieper. On 11 March Ivan discussed the situation with the boyars to decide how to act against Devlet Gerei. Five polki went to Tula and I. Veshniakov joined to strengthen Prince Vishnevetskii's army.
Devlet Gerei, strengthening his Crimean army with Great Nogais, had intended a major attack. The gathering of the Russian forces and their active operations forced him onto the defensive. In April Vishnevetskii reported that he had defeated the Crimeans on the Aidir River as they were trying to penetrate toward Kazan. In July, Adashev, with his 8,000 men, was diverted from the Crimea for a raid on Ochakov, which he attacked while Vishnevetskii intercepted the Nogais headed for Crimea and defeated them. Adashev then embarked his men in boats, captured two Turkish ships, landed in Crimea, damaged two towns, and freed Russian prisoners.
In August the voevoda, I. Fedtsov, took an army from Dedilov to Tikhaya Sosna and posted it in the Serbolov forest to guard the Kalmusskii Trail, a favorite Tatar attack route. An observation force went to Dedilov and the border towns. In August the government considered the danger of Tatar attack had passed and released the main voevoda, Prince I. D. Bel'skii, from service on the 23d.
In April Ivan, via the mediation of the King of Denmark, had granted a six--month truce to Livonia. Kettler used this time to negotiate an agreement that Poland signed on 16 September. According to the Russian sources, Kettler then mobilized the Livonian army and broke the truce in September with an invasion of the Dorpat area held by the Russians. The Muscovites then raided Livonia twice.
The Tatars made two attacks later in the year. At Pronsk voevoda Buturlin defeated them. At Tula and Rostov voevoda Prince F. I. Tatev could not intercept the 3,000--man force of Murza Shirinski because the Russian troops did not assemble in time.(92)


Lithuania-Poland asked Ivan to stop the war in Livonia, but he refused. The commander of the army in Livonia was Daniel Adashev. Prince Kurbskii captured the fortress of Fellin.
To defend against the Tatars, five polki assembled at Tula and later three polki moved to Bistra Sosna under command of Prince A. I. Vorotynskii. After the departure of the main voevoda, they received the news of the advance of 3,000 Tatars led by Divea Murza on Ryl'sk. The voevoda at Tula went after the Tatars who then retreated. There were 20,000 Tatars united on the Udakh River under the crown princes, sent by Devlet Gerei to lead a campaign, but it did not take place. The Tatars did attack Temnikovski later in the year.(93)

Sweden and Poland Transform The Livonian War


In this year Ivan found himself faced with some unexpected opposition as Sweden and Poland entered the arena in place of the moribund and rapidly expiring Livonia. In June Revel swore allegiance to the King of Sweden, Erik XVI, to obtain protection from the Russians. Kettler negotiated with Nikolai Radziwill, the Voevoda of Vilna; and on November, Livonia became part of Lithuania, while Kettler became Duke of Courland. Polish troops had entered Livonia already in June and Lithuania began mobilizing her army to attack the Russians. Radziwill launched the offensive in September with the capture of Tarvast. The Russians won a battle against the Lithuanians at Pernau and then razed Tarvast.
There was no Tatar attack in 1561. Ivan sent an ambassador with a letter to Devlet Gerei who informed Ivan that the Sultan, Suleiman, planned to dig a canal between the Don and the Volga, to unite the Moslem nomads for a campaign against Russia, to build fortresses at Tsaritsyn, Perevolok, and at the mouth of the Volga, and to recapture Kazan and Astrakhan. The Crimean Tatars preferred not to come under such direct Turkish control, so they alerted the Russians about these plans.(94)


King Sigismund II Augustus made an extra effort to obtain Tatar help. Moscow heard of the Tatar--Polish plans and sent several polki to the "shore." Prince Vladimir Andreevich and Princes M. and A. Vorotynskii marched to Serpukhov while the Tsar himself went to Mozhaisk on the 21st of May. On the 28th of May, Prince A. M. Kurbskii captured Vitebsk. On 6 May Devlet Gerei and his sons arrived at Mtsensk where they stayed in front of the city for two days, burning part of the area. They had only 15,000 Tatars. Therefore, when they found out that the Tsar was in Mozhaisk and that the Russian forces were gathering at Serpukhov, the Khan ordered a withdrawal. The voevoda, V. Buturlin, prevented the Tatars from devastating a larger area and Princes M. and A. Vorotynskii followed them to Kolomna and Merchik, but did not catch them.
In September the Tsar returned to Moscow. In November Ivan began sending peace feelers to Poland and sent a message to Devlet Gerei about renewing the peace treaty. In December the Tsar moved to Polotsk.(95)


After a two--week siege, Polotsk surrendered to Ivan's strong army. Ivan appointed three voevody for the army: Peter Shuiskii, Vasilii Serebrianyi, and Peter Serebrianyi. He left Prince Obolenskii to command the town when he left Polotsk on 26 February. The army advanced on Vilno and went into winter quarters at Velikie Luki. Lithuanian envoys arranged a truce until 15 August.
During the period 4 April to 12 May, while the Tsar completed the capture of Peremyshl', Odoev, and Belev, 10,000 Tatars, under the Tsarevich, Mahmet Gerei, and several Mirzas, attacked Mikhailov. The Polish king congratulated Devlet Gerei on his successful campaign.(96)


The Lithuanian army under Nikolai Rudy defeated the Muscovites under Prince Petr I. Shuiskii, who was killed, at Chashniki on the Ulla River near Polotsk in January 1564. An army of 40,000 Poles defeated Prince Kurbskii's 15,000 Russians near Nevel north of Vitebsk. In April the polki assembled at Kaluga but they did not defend the border against the Tatars, but the Poles. Relying on a peace and friendship agreement with Devlet Gerei, Ivan did not post major troop units to the southern border but only sent small detachments. Prince Kurbskii, now a defector, persuaded King Sigismund to bribe the Khan to attack Riazan with 60,000 Tatars. Kurbskii commanded a unit in the 70,000--man Polish army of Nikolai Rudy that was attacking Polotsk. From September 16th to October 4th Prince Petr Shcheniatev successfully defended Polotsk. Devlet Gerei obtained information on the disposition of the Russian forces united at Kaluga, far from the point of attack. The Tatars stayed in front of Riazan and burned the area. Riazan and the whole area were defenseless. The deti boiarskie were not there, but a small garrison of the local people who had managed to get into the town in time held out under the command of Alexander I. Basmanov. The rest of the population crossed the Oka as did the Tatars on 17 October. The voevoda, I. P. Yakovlev, went to the "shore" with his small force from Moscow and when he reached the Oka, he found that the Tatars had already turned for home.
On 3 December Ivan "abandoned the state," and moved first to the Troitsa Monastery and then to Alexandrovsk, where he arrived on Christmas. He was in great disfavor with the boyars, religious leaders, and military people. The boyars and voevody accused him of "not defending us from Crimea and from Litov and from the Germans." Ivan called special military service men to himself and ordered the creation of the Oprichnina.(97)


On 3 January 1565 Ivan sent documents to Moscow proclaiming his abdication. After negotiations, on 3 February he returned and made a ceremonial entry into Moscow. At an assembly he announced the oprichnina. The first step was the requisition of land and the selection of men. He took land in the central area first and land in the north later.
In the spring, during Lent, Prince Kurbskii led a Lithuanian raid on Velikie Luki and looted the area. The Lithuanians had their local Tatars in their army, also. Sigismund sent a peace mission but Ivan rejected the terms. The Ottoman Sultan was still planning his campaign on Astrakhan. He pressured the Crimean Khan into joining this campaign to recover Kazan, but the Khan opposed the plan as he did not want greater Turkish control over Crimea. He negotiated with Ivan, but when Sigismund sent him presents, if he would attack Moscow, the Khan agreed.
The Russian forces concentrated in the south. In the spring, Princes I. D. Bel'skii and I. F. Mstislavskii and the boyars moved south. The Main Polk and the Left Polk were in Kolomna, the Right Polk was in Kashira, the Guard (Storozhevoi) Polk in Serepukov, and the Lead polk was in Kaluga. On 19 May they received word of the Tatar movement toward the Muravskii Trail. This caused all "shore service" units to be called into active service and hastily posted by the voevody to locations on the frontier. The alarm was groundless.
On 15 September new dispositions for organizing at Tula under Prince Vladimir Andreevich began, but were not completed before a new order shifted the units back to the "shore." On 21 September news arrived of a Tatar concentration at Kamenskii ford and on the upper Tora River and of movement for two days across the Sabinskii ferry on the Donets River on the Izumskii Road. Beginning in October, Devlet Gerei himself arrived in Volkhov. The voevody concentrated their forces from the border towns against him. He would not risk a battle and retired. After his retreat, the Khan sent word that he would agree to peace if Ivan would give up Kazan and Astrakhan. Instead, Ivan secured Kazan by building seven fortresses near there and by transferring Tatars from there to the Volga region. He also strengthened Astrakhan and planned a fort on the Terek to protect the lands of his father-in-law's Circassians.(98)


He reached an agreement with the Poles, making relations better. Ivan therefore sent back the Nogai Tatars, who were coming to the aid of Muscovy. He built several towns to defend Polotsk, and took defensive measures along the entire frontier. Orel was built on the Orel River. The Tsar conducted small military actions from 29 April to 28 May at Kozel'sk, Belev, Bolkhov, Aleksin, and other border towns on the Crimean side. The polki were at Kaluga, but there was no Tatar attack. By order of the Sultan, Mahmet Gerei took many Tatars into Hungary. Toward the end of 1566 Devlet Gerei went to attack Sigismund. Sulemian the Magnificent died, thus setting back the projected campaign on Kazan, but his son, Selim, soon pushed for the campaign.(99)


The Crimea was in a state of indecision. In January 1567 a Tatar messenger arrived in Moscow with the suggestion that peace and friendship should be established and with the news of the campaign of Devlet and his allies against Poland. Simultaneously, Devlet began negotiations with the Polish king on peace and unity against Moscow. Turkey entered the war (with an agreement with Poland signed in 1568). In April there were 5 polki on the shore in Kolomna, Serpukhov, and Kashira. In May the Murzi, Osman and Selim Shirinski, with 6,000 Tatars, raided toward Moscow, but Devlet Gerei withdrew 3,000 of the troops. With the remainder, Murza Osman continued the raid, and by the end of 1567, there were signs of a raid on the Severskii lands by Izmail Murza.(100)


There are indications that there was a Tatar raid by Devlet Gerei's sons toward Moscow and that there were polki at Kaluga.(101)


In the spring Sultan Selim mounted the campaign against Astrakhan. He had 17,000 Turks when he reached Kaffa in Crimea, and he then proceeded to Azov and began to dig a canal at Perevalok on the Don. The Turks were joined by 50,000 Crimean Tatars. It was too hot to dig, so the force proceeded toward Astrakhan, but retreated when a large Russian force approached. Ivan sent gifts to the Khan and tried to get a peace treaty with the Sultan. There were five polki on "shore duty," three across the rivers and three in Riazan during the summer.(102)


Ivan decided there was treason in Novgorod, so he conducted a 5--week torture of the town in January in which the chronicles say 60,000 people were killed. (The number is disputed by modern historians).

Armistice with Poland

Ivan agreed to an armistice with Poland to be ready for the Tatars. He made his vassal, Prince Magnus of Denmark, King of Livonia. Sweden was also at war with Poland and Denmark and sought alliance with Russia. Then the Swedes deposed Eric and made John the king. He was anti-Muscovite so Ivan agreed to have Magnus capture Reval from Sweden. The Polish king, even while conducting truce negotiations with Ivan, tirelessly urged the Tatars to attack Moscow. The Russian polki were on "shore duty" as usual, and the voevody were ordered not to leave the defense of the river line, even if the Ukrainian towns were attacked. On 13 May a Tatar force of 500-600 men under Mahmet and Algi Gerei appeared between the Mzh and Kolomna Rivers on the Muravskii Trail and approached Riazan and Kashira. On 22 May Ivan decided to go on campaign in person but on 21 May the Tatars retreated so there was no campaign. Beginning in September there was news of a new Tatar move on the upper Berek and Tora Rivers between Psl' and Vorskla. The voevoda sent the news to Moscow from which the Tsar moved to Serpukhov. The Tatars advanced only to Novosil with 6-7,000 men.(103)


On 21 February 1571 an agreement on a new border service was accepted after long discussions with M. I. Vorotynskii, its originator, as the head of the service. It did not come into immediate practice, as the events soon after show.
King Sigismund Augustus urged the Tatars to decisive action. He said that so far no one had taken anything from the Moscow Prince's lands. The Russians had 50,000 troops deployed on the Oka River line in three polki under the commanders D. Bel'skii, Ivan Mstislavskii, and Mikhail Vorotynskii at Kolomna, Kashira, and Serpukhov. Ivan was at Serpukhov with his Oprichniki army. Devlet Gerei finally penetrated the Oka line with 120,000 Tatars.(104) Traitors showed the Tatars the fords, which they crossed and made straight for Moscow. Ivan retreated to Rostov while his generals rushed for Moscow where they arrived on 23 May, just one day before the Tatars. The Tatars set fire to the city, burning many inhabitants and preventing the defenders from fighting back effectively. The Tatars took 150,000 prisoners but could not loot the burning city. The Nogai also participated in this attack and simultaneously Nogai Tatars attacked Kazan. The Nogai told the Muscovite envoys that the raid was by people separate from the Great Nogai Horde, but clearly the Horde did participate.(105)


On 7 July King Sigismund Augustus died. The Polish kingship had been hereditary in practice in the Jagellon family, but was now free for election. The Poles elected Henry of Valois, but he soon left to be king of France. Then Stefan Batory, Prince of Transylvania, was elected king.
During the summer Ivan was at Novgorod. Mikhail Vorotynskii was commander-in-chief of the defense line on the Oka with his Main Polk at Serpukhov. The Right Polk was at Tarus, the Lead at Kaluga, the Guard (Storozhevoi) at Kashira and the Left at Lopasna. In August Devlet Gerei repeated his advance and approached Serpukhov. He sent 2,000 of his 120,000 men off in a feint, but Vorotynskii was not fooled. The Tatars crossed the Oka but met strong opposition in a series of battles south of Moscow near Molodi and were forced to retreat. The Russians captured Devei Mirza in the battle. The successful battle was a result of the strengthening of the line and the building of fortifications along the Oka and of the new border service that gave timely warning of Tatar movements.
There was an uprising in Kazan beginning in 1572 that continued and required large forces to suppress. In the fall, the Tsar sent five polki to Kazan and the Cheremish lands. The campaign continued into the winter.
On 2 August Ivan heard of Vorotynskii's victory. He returned to Moscow, disbanded the Oprichnina, and prepared to invade Estonia.(106)


There were five polki on the Oka and five polki at Kazan suppressing the rebellion there. In September the Crimean tsarevich approached Riazan. At first the voevody of the border cities encountered him. Then the voevoda of the Main Polk at Serpukhov, Prince C. D. Pronskii, marched against him. The Kazan inhabitants, learning of the large force sent against them, asked for negotiations. The Russian answer to the participation of the Great Horde Nogai in the raids of 1571 and 1572 was a swift campaign of repression by military forces from Tsaritsyn.(107)


The Nogai chief, Tinekmhat, asked Devlet Gerei for help, as the Nogai had helped the Crimeans in 1571 and 1572, but Devlet did not send any help. In the fall the Crimeans and Nogai raided on the Riazan border. The voevoda, Prince B. Serebrianyi, defended the area. The Kazan Tatars also raided near Nizhnii Novgorod. The Cossacks were also busy, capturing the suburbs of Azov and freeing many Russians.(108)


Mikhail Vorotynskii, the victor at Molodoi and commander of the frontier service, was arrested for the second time and sent to a monastery, but he died on the way due to Ivan's torture. Ivan placed Prince Simeon Bekbulatovich on the throne as Tsar while Ivan lived outside the city. There were no Tatar raids in 1575.(109)


Tsar Ivan and his son were at Kaluga. Devlet Gerei began a campaign into Russia but the voevody on duty stopped him in August and captured Islam Kermin in the engagement. Ivan and the chief voevody then returned to Moscow leaving the second rank voevody in charge along the "shore" with deti boiarskie, strel'tsy, Don Cossacks, and Cherkassy forces in the usual polk distribution. In September the Tatars approached Novgorod Severskii and the Orel region so the disposition of the polki was reviewed. A council of military people was called in Novgorod for Christmas. Tsar Ivan decided to attack Poland-Lithuania and Sweden early in the next year.(110)

Renewed War with Poland-Lithuania


On 23 January 1577 the Russian army began the siege of Revel. The Swedish garrison held the town successfully. In the spring, Ivan assembled one of his strongest armies in Novgorod and Pskov for the attack on Poland. The Poles and their German mercenaries retreated, and the Russians captured six towns. On 8 July the Tsar went to Livonia in person, and the campaign continued successfully with the seizure of many towns. It was the last success and the cities were soon lost.
Ivan ordered King Magnus to capture Wenden, but while the king was beginning the operation, Ivan decided that he was a traitor and had him arrested. Ivan then undertook the siege himself. The German troops of Magnus locked themselves in the fortress which Ivan then bombarded with artillery for two days. As the walls began to collapse, the Germans blew themselves and their families up and destroyed the fort. The explosion ruined the town and killed most of the inhabitants. Ivan continued his conquest; only Riga and Revel remained. He returned to Alexandrovsk, satisfied with his victory.
The southern guard polki were in Serpukhov, Tarusa, Kaluga, Kolomna, and Kashira for this year. On 29 June Devlet Gerei died, and a civil war began between his sons. Mahmet Gerei soon won and continued the attacks on Russia. The Tatars launched raids on both Poland and Russia and the Great Nogais also attacked Muscovy. The Swedes attacked Narva and set fire to the wooden fort, while other Swedish forces ravaged the Kexholm area. The Lithuanians captured Duneburg. King Batory's German mercenaries captured Wenden. When Ivan sent his best generals to retake the town, King Batory came in person and drove them away.(111)


King Stefan Batory hoped to open his main campaign in 1578, but was unable to mass his army in time. Many Poles opposed the war. He did organize a Cossack regiment of 500 men under the Starosta of Cherkassy, Prince Mikhail Vishnevetskii. This was the beginning of the "registered" Cossacks.(112) During the war of 1579-81, Mikhail Vishnevetskii and other leaders conducted many Cossack raids on the towns of Severia and looted the area of Starodub, but they would not cooperate with the regular Polish army in the siege of Pskov. The Zaporozhie Cossacks did not participate at all, as they were more interested in fighting the Turks and Tatars.(113)
The Tatar Mursa, Esineu Diveev, repeated the usual raids with 6,000 Tatars from Kaziev, 2,000 from Azov, 2,000 from the Great Horde, and 2,000 other Nogais.(114)

Poland Declares War


Stefan Batory sent his declaration of war to Moscow in June and attacked Polotsk with 60,000 well--equipped Polish and German troops. Ivan was ready with his troops mobilized early. He had detachments on the Volga, Don, Oka, and Dnieper Rivers to guard the border. The main army was at Novgorod, Pskov, and Smolensk, expecting an attack in Livonia. Polotsk was well fortified with two forts and the River Dvina making a natural moat, so the Russians did not expect an attack there. The siege began on 11 August with a heavy bombardment that soon made the Russians surrender. In August Ivan sent 20,000 Asiatic troops into Courland to ravage the area and sent detachments to defend Karelia and Izborsk from the Swedes. He sent a small force to help Polotsk, but the commander did not dare attack Batory. Ivan might have overwhelmed the Poles, if he had sent his main army to Polotsk. He was probably too cautious to risk all on one battle while not trusting his generals. The western armies now had trained mercenaries, who quickly showed the military inferiority of Moscow, especially in infantry. Batory returned to Vilna and prepared for the 1580 campaign, while Ivan prepared to defend all the southern and southeastern frontiers against the Tatars and the northwest against the Swedes, who attacked Narva and Kexholm. Fortunately, there was no Tatar attack in 1579.(115)


King Stefan Batory again surprised the Russians by appearing at an unexpected place. This time he sent 2,000 men toward Smolensk and with 50,000 men himself, besieged Velikie Luki. The Poles bombarded the city and burned the walls, then the Hungarian troops led the assault that culminated in the sack of the town. This ended the campaign except for minor operations that lasted through the winter. The Swedes invaded and captured Kexholm in Karelia, Padis in Estonia, and Wesenberg in Livonia. The Russians had to be content with ravaging the Lithuanian towns again. The Poles did not support Batory's idea of conquering Moscow, so he could not count on their strong support.(116)
The Great Horde Nogai Tatars again went to war with Muscovy. They began in the winter of 1579 to call for Tatar warriors from the south. They sent to the Cheremisy to tell them of the impending campaign against the Meshchersk and Riazan areas.(117)


The Nogai Horde made a large--scale attack on the right bank of the Volga and began a raid into Russia in the spring. Although only the Mursa, Tinbau, reached Muscovite lands with 8,000 men. The total party contained over 25,000 Nogais plus the Cheremish, Azov Tatars, and Lesser Nogai. At the head of this army were the Crimean tsarevich and the Azov leader, Dosmahmet. The raid covered a large territory including Belev, Kolomna, and Alator. Simultaneously, an uprising in Kazan caused the Moscow government to send four polki to Kazan. The same year Prince Uris of the Nogais, in retaliation for a Cossack raid on Saraichik, sold the Muscovite ambassador, P. Devochkin, and his party as slaves to Bukhara and other eastern countries. This brought Muscovite retribution in the form of sizeable raids on his villages.
Stefan Batory set Pskov as the objective of his third campaign. It was the most strongly fortified city in Muscovy even including the capital. Batory overestimated his strength and the quality of his troops. The Pskov garrison of 50,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry was under the command of V. F. Skopin-Shuiskii and I. P. Shuiskii and had plenty of supplies. On 26 August Batory's army of 100,000 laid siege. The Polish cannon breached the walls, but their assault failed with heavy losses. The Poles expended all their powder and had to await new supplies. They tried to continue the siege through the winter, but the Polish troops nearly mutinied. The Polish general, Jan Zamolski, conducted the siege at Pskov, while the Lithuanian Hetman, Christopher Radziwill, attacked from Velikie Luki. The Swedes made serious attacks on Narva and captured it as well as Ivangorod, Iam, and Kopor'e.
In September Ermak Timofeev with 800 men began the conquest of Siberia with battles at Babason and on the Irtysh River. It was a contest of his firearms versus the Tatar bows. The Tatars had many more men, but Ermak defeated them on the Irtysh and again at their capitol, Tobol. On 23 October he again defeated them.(118)


The ambassador of Emperor Rudolf II, Erich Lassota, visited the Sech, located on Tomakovka Island lower down the Dnieper than Khortitsa Island. He found the Cossack army had 3,000 men in reserve in the Ukraine. The Sech was a military camp known as the Kosh, (from a Turkish word) and divided into Kuren (from a Mongol word for a circle of tents). The commander was the Kosh Ataman. The army was divided into 500--man polki of 5 sotni each. It had its own banners, band of music, treasury, artillery, and river flotilla.(119)

Armistice Between Poland and Moscow


On 6 January Moscow and Poland agreed to a ten--year armistice. The siege of Pskov was not succeeding, so Stefan Batory decided to take his gains. Moscow lost the whole of Livonia plus Polotsk and Velizh. After the Livonian War's conclusion, Ivan could return to suppress the uprising in Kazan. In 1582 he made a large-- scale campaign to the east. He sent two polki to the Kama River region against the Nogai. In April the polki went down the Volga by boat to Kazin Island, and in October several other polki went against the Luga Cheremisy. Besides their participation in the Kazan uprising, the Great Nogai attacked the Moscow border.(120)
The peace in the Livonian war enabled the Moscow government to make major changes on the southern defense line. First, in 1582 a second line of polki deployed parallel with the traditional line along the "shore" that is, the Oka. The new line was across the river and was under the control of the Ukraine Razryad. Only after 1582 were there enough troops available to man both these lines. The new stations were Tula, Dedilov, and a third town that varied. This greatly strengthened the defense line. The two lines remained until 1598, then in 1599 the "shore" line was abandoned and the polki located only in the Ukraine towns. This moved the line considerably forward. The Main polk was then at Mtsensk, the Lead at Novosil, and the Guard (Stroshovoi) at Orel.(121)


During the 1580s the Moscow government undertook to strengthen the southeastern border by building many fortified towns and strengthening the defenses of Kazan. The war in the Kazan area continued throughout 1583. A Muscovite campaign army stayed on the Volga, building forts such as Kazmodem Ianski Ostrog.(122)
Tsar Ivan IV died in 1584, leaving the throne to his young son, Feodor.

Military operations by Year

The following chart depicts conflicts in which Ivan IV's Russia and neighboring states were engaged for the years shown.

Army List


Troop Type Weapons Class % of total
Dvoriane Heavy Cavalry Bow, sword, javelins D 10%
Deti boiarskie, MC Bow, sword, javelins D 20%
Servants, LC Bow, sword D 25%
Other Light Cavalry Lance, sword D 5%
Cossack horse, LC Bow, sword D 15%
Tatar horse, LC Bow, sword E 15%
Strel'tsy, LI

W/ guliai-gorod

Arquebus, berdysh, sword C 5%
Cossack foot, LI Bow, sword, or Arquebus D in garrisons
City militia, LI Spear, sword E 1%
Artillery Heavy cannon 5%

This table is provided as a suggestion for those who desire to organize a Muscovite army for table-top wargaming. All these troops fight in open order, except the strel'tsy, who deploy in regular order. Cavalry in the open field seeks to avoid contact and to use the bow as long as possible. When standing on the defensive, dvoriane, deti boiarie, and their servants may dismount and form in closer order.
The army is organized in mixed bodies of cavalry and infantry of 5,000 to 10,000 troops, except the reconnaissance force of all cavalry. These polki may move separately and concentrate near the field of battle or city to be sieged. Percentages listed are a "best case" scenario. As discussed previously , the actual weapons brought for "review" were often quite below this standard. This became increasingly more common toward the end of the century as economic strain inhibited the servitors' ability to pay for more complex equipment.

Glossary by Type of Weapon


chekan - ice pick, a type of war axe, iron or copper blade, shaft up to 60 cm. long, although usually shorter than the klevets.
- ice pick type of war axe, iron or copper blade, shaft up to 60 cm long
posol'skii topor - large ceremonial axe carried by tsar's bodyguards (ryndy)
topor - war axe, usually used by infantrymen or dismounted cavalrymen
toporik - hatchet style axe, used by horsemen


bulava - mace, usually for parade or show
kisten' - iron flail attached to wooden shaft by linked chain up to 50 cm long
palitsa - mace, club
pernach - multi-vaned mace
shestoper - six-vaned mace (shest'=six), known as the "horseman's scepter"


berdysh - spear with half-moon blade, usually carried by strel'tsy infantrymen
Dzherid - javelin/spear very similar to sulitsa, carried in sets of three in dzhid
dzhid (troinoi)
- javelin case
ialebarda - halberd
kop'e - basic spear, various shaped points, sometimes a lance
proazan - partizan spear, straight blade
rogatina - boar spear, heavy point 5-6.5 cm wide, shaft up to 60 cm long
sovnia/sovna - version of rogatina with half-moon blade
sulitsa - javelin/spear up to 1.5 meters long, carried in sets of three in dzhid


konchar - thin, straight rapier sword
mech - heavy sword with straight blade of medieval period
palash - heavy, straight-bladed sword carried by cavalrymen
shpagi - generic sword
tesak' - broadsword, machete style


sablia (plural sabli) - saber(s) with curved blade
shashka - curved blade, no crossguard for hand protection


kinzhal' - dagger
kortik - dirk
nozh - knife, poniard
nozh poiasnyi - short, straight-bladed knife, hung from the belt
nozh podsaidashnyi - thick, curved bladed knife worn on the left side under the bow and arrow set (saadak)
nozh zasapozhnyi/zasapozhnik - thin, curve-bladed knife carried behind the top of the right boot (sapogi=boots)


shchit - shield, round or oblong almond shape
tarch - round shield with hole in center for left arm to push through up to the elbow, usually used by fortress defenders


barmitsa - mail (of rings) attached to a helmet
elovets - square of mail extending from helmet over the face like a veil
erikhonka - conical helmet with ear flaps and neck protector
kolpaki - conical helmet similar to shishak without pointed peak
misiurka - round, curved skull-cap from which hung mail net from all sides, from Arabic "misr" (Egypt) frequently worn under another helmet or cap
naushi - mail attached to helmet, similar to barmitsa
shapka - helmet

shapka bumazhnaia - paper mache helmet, worn by poorer servitors
shapka mednaia - copper helmet
shapka zheleznaia - iron helmet
shelom - round topped helmet, often with earguards
shishak - oriental, Persian-style helmet with elongated pointed peak extended from the top ("shisho")
shlem - medieval helmet with rounded cylindrical sides with conical top, could include noseguard


kolchan - quiver for holding arrows, carried on right side
luk - bow
naluch'e - bowcase carrying luk, carried on left side
saadak/ sagadak - set of quiver and bowcase
samostrel - crossbow
strela - arrow
toktui - paraphanelia (straps) for holding together kolchan, naluch'e and dzhid
- quiver


baidana/ polubaidana - collarless mail body armor, made from large-diameter, thick, ring-shaped washers stamped from iron sheet, weighing approximately 25 pounds (12.5 kg)
bakhterets - body armor made from a combination of ring mail with metal plates woven together placed over chest and back area
dospekh - generic term for body armor
dospekh is platin - plate armor
dospekh is chestui - scale armor
feriazi - undergarment worn under armor, similar to provoloki
- body armor made from a combination of wire mesh rings and large flat plates situated on front and sides; the iushman wraps around the body like a double-breasted jacket and stays in place with thongs or hooks; short sleeves and turned down collar; exists but very rarely in the 16th century
kol'chuga - mail shirt, made of rings cut from round wire, earliest form like Western hauberk
kolontar - sleeveless body armor in which rectangular metal plates are sewn onto the mail from waist to shoulder on both sides, front, and back; worn with separate arm protectors, e.g. naruchi
- brigantine, solid circular metal pieces joined together on mail
pantsyr' - mail shirt made from relatively finely woven mesh of wire rings (called ploskovaty); it was the most common of all body armor and relatively light-weight
privolok - undergarment worn under armor, made from linen, velvet, etc.
tegiliai - padded full length coat worn in place of body armor, made from flax or hemp with heavy padding and cross stitching
zertsalo - vest of large central armor plate joined to surrounding plates by metal mesh rings; it is worn over other armor and attached by hooks or thongs; large plate may be decorated with rosettes, wild animals, etc.


buturlyk - leg guard
nakolennik - knee guard
natokotniki - arm protector, similar to naruchi
naruchi - forearm / wrist protector (vambrance)
rukavitsa - gauntlet


arkebuza - arquebus
arkebuza s kolestsovym zamkom - wheel-lock arquebus
chekhol - holster
pishchal' - arquebus
pistolet - pistol
pistolet s kremnevym zamkom - flintlock pistol
ruzh'e - musket, gun
ruzh'e s kremnevym zamkom - flintlock gun
ruzh'e samopal s fitil'nym zamkom - matchlock gun
samopal - snaphance pistol
shustser - breach-loaded flintlock carbine
zamok livonskii - Russian colloquialism for wheel lock pistol

pishchal' - cannon
pishchal' bronzovaia - early bronze cannon
pishchal' zatinnaia - cannon
pushka - mortar-type weapon
pushka bronzovaia - bronze cannon


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1. A chetvert' was equivalent to one-half desiatina (2.7 acres). Under the three-field system, therefore, one chetvert' was equal to one-and-a-half desiatinas or 8.1 acres.
2. George Gush, Renaissance Armies, 1480-1650 (Cambridge, England: Patrick Stevens, 1975), 11.
3. P. P. Epifanov, "Oruzhie i snariazhenie," Ocherki russkoi kul'tury XVI veke (Moscow, 1976), 296.
4. Ibid., 296-7
5. E. D. Morgan and C. H. Coote, eds., Early voyages and Travels to Russia and Persia, Vol. 1 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1886), 57.
6. Lloyd Berry and Robert Crummey, eds., Rude and Barbarous Kingdom: Russia in the Accounts of Sixteenth Century English Voyagers (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968), 183-4.
7. Sigismund von Herberstein, Notes on Russia, Vol. 1 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1851), 96.
8. Heinrich von Staden, Land and Government of Muscovy, ed. Thomas Esper (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press, 1967), 38-9.
9. M. M. Denisova, "Pomestnaia konnitsa i ee vooruzhenie v XVI-XVII vv," (Service gentry cavalry and their armament in the 16th-17th centuries) Trudy Gosudarstvenogo Istoricheskogo Muzei, Voenno-istoricheskii Sbornik, 20 (1948): 33.
10. Ibid.
11. S. K. Bogoiavlenskii, "Vooruzhenie russkikh voisk v XVI-XVII vv," (Armaments of Russian Forces in the 16th-17th Centuries), Istoricheskie zapiski, 3-4 (1938), 264.
12. A. V. Chernov, Vooruzhennye sily russkogo gosudarstva v XV-XVII vv. (Armed forces of the Russian State in the 15th-17th Centuries), (Moscow, 1954), pp. 86-8.
13. About 4,000 foreigners eventually served in Ivan's strel'tsy.
14. When referring to grain, a chetvert' was equal to 4-8 puds of grain. A pud was 36 American pounds.
15. Chernov, 82.
16. Ibid. 83-4.
17. P. P. Epifanov, "Voisko i voennaia organizatsia," (Forces and military organization) Ocherki russkoi kul'tury XVI veka, (Notes on Russian culture in the 16th century), ed. V. A. Artsikhovskii (Moscow, 1975), 346.
18. Bogoiavlenskii, 82.
19. Berry and Crummey, 184.
20. S. L. Margolin, "Vooruzhenie streletskogo voiska," (Weapons of the Strel'tsy forces), Trudy Gosudarstvennogo Istoricheskogo Muzei, (Works of the State Historical Museum), 20 (1948), 98.
21. E. A. Razin, Istoriia Voennogo Iskusstva (History of Military Art), (Moscow, 1961), II, 346.
22. Chernov, 101.
23. Razin, II, 345.
24. John Sloan, "Evolution of the Russian Army: The 16th Century," Gorget and Sash, 1, No.1 (October 1980): 32.
25. A sokha was a unit of arable land used as a tax unit, reckoned differently in various parts of Russia. Most commonly it was equal to 800 chetverti of good land in one field, 1,000 chetverti of medium quality, or 1,200 chetverti of poor land.
26. Epifanov, "Voisko," 360-1.
27. Chernov, 93-4.
28. A. V. Nikitin, "Oboronitel'nye sooruzheniia zasechnoi cherty XVI-XVII vv." (Defensive fortifications of the Zaseka defensive line in the 15th-17th centuries), Materialy i issledovaniia po arkheologii Moskvy, 44 (1955), 120-26.
29. Hellie, 175.
30. Chernov, 98.
31. V. I. Buganov, Razriadnye Knigi poslednei chetverti XV-XVII v. (Service books of the last quarter of the 15th-17th century), (Moscow, 1962), 5-7.
32. Epifanov, "Oruzhie," 311.
33. Ibid., 313-314.
34. These divisions were much like the West European medieval "vaward or vanguard, or avant garde," "main-battle," "wing," and "rearward battle." They were organized for a particular campaign and could vary greatly in size. Individual service gentry might be assigned to one Polk one year and to another for a different campaign.
35. Taken from sudno, boat.
36. Epifanov, 360.
37. One verst equals 0.66 miles.
38. Baiov, 81.
39. Epifanov, "Voisko," 369.
40. Baiov, 81-2.
41. Epifanov, "Voisko," 342.
42. Chernov, 33.
43. Razin, II, 342.
44. Richard Hellie, Enserfment and Military Change in Muscovy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971), 267.
45. Chernov, 35.
46. S. M. Seredonin, Sochenenie Dzhil'sa Fletchera "Of the Russe commonwealth" kak istoricheskii istochnik (The Work of Giles Fletcher "of the Russe Commonwealth" as an historical source), (St. Petersburg, 1891), 336-8.
47. Ibid. The complexity of reconstructing these figures is immense, for the documents do not list forces by polk totals. This, for the Soverign Polk, the official count is 2736. Seredonin counts 2380. Epifanov looks at the same source material and adds up 5566 ("Voisko", p 368). Seredonin notes an official for total Russian force at 16,025, but his total is 17,658; adding his figures gives a total of 17,825. Such is the confusion of 16th century record keeping.
48. Robert Best, "The voyage wherin Ossepp Napea, the Muscovite ambassador, returned home into his country" Early Voyages and Travels to Russia and Persia (London: Hakluyt Society, 1886), Vol. 73, part 2, 360-1.
49. Ibid., 313.
50. Jacques Margeret, The Russian Empire and Grand Duchy of Moscovy: A Seventeenth Century French Account. Trans. and ed. by Chester Dunning (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1983), 51.
51. V. Durov, Russian and Soviet Orders. (Moscow: Lenin State Library Museum, undated pamphlet), 5.
52. Berry and Crummey, 186.
53. Epifanov, "Oruzhie," 312.
54. Sinbirskii Sbornik. I, ed. by D. A. Valuev (Moscow: 1844), 7.
55. Ann Kleimola, "Up Through Servitude: The Changing Condition of the Muscovite Elite in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Russian History, 6, part 2 (1979), 484.
56. Ibid.
57. A. N. Kirpichnikov, Voennoe delo na Rusi v XIII-XV vv., (Military Affairs in Russia 13-15th centuries), (Leningrad, 1976), 76.
58. Ibid., 60.
59. R. Wipper, Ivan the Terrible, (Moscow, 1947), 208.
60. Joseph Barbaro and Ambrogio Contarini, Travels to Tana and Persia, (London: Hakluyt Society, 1873), 147.
61. Antonio Possevino, The Moscovia. Trans. and ed. by Hugh F. Graham (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1977), 37.
62. R. E. F. Smith, Peasant Farming in Moscovy, (Cambridge, England: Oxford University Press), 77-80.
63. Paul Kourennoff and George St. George. Russian Folk Medicine. (New York: Pyramid Books, 1971), 182-3.
64. Smith, 33-5, 57-63.
65. Barbaro and Contarini, 151-2.
66. Possevino, 20.
67. Berry and Crummey, 184.
68. Ibid.
69. A. F. Meyerdorff, "Anglo-Russian Trade in the 16th Century," Slavonic Review, 25 (1946-7), 113.
70. They were equally well known to the Crimean Tatars who would often burn the grasslands in front of a Muscovite cavalry force to stave off their approach.
71. Berry and Crummey, 28.
72. Possevino, 7-8.
73. Berry and Crummey, 184.
74. Ibid.
75. Von Staden, 63.
76. Grey, Ivan the Terrible, p. 40.
77. Ibid., 38, 47.
78. Ibid., 49.
79. Ibid.
80. Ibid., 92; Edward Keenan, "Muscovy and Kazan; Some Introductory Remarks on the Patterns of Steppe Diplomacy," Slavic Review, Vol. XXVI, No. 4, (December 1967), 553-557.
81. Ian Grey, Ivan the Terrible, 95; A. V. Chernov, in Vooruzhenie Sily Russkogo Gosudarstva v XV-XVII Veke, already footnoted, gives a detailed study of Ivan's military reforms. Ivan's need to seize church lands to reward his followers is similar to the same need experienced by Henry VIII in England about the same time.
82. Grey, Ivan the Terrible 94-96; A. M. Sakharov, Obrazovanie i Razvitie Rossiiskogo Gosudarstva v XIV-XVII Veke, (Formation and Development of the Russian State in the 14th-17th centuries), (Moscow, 1969), 99. The author explains that the fort at Svaiiazhsk was prefabricated and test-assembled in Moscow, then disassembled and shipped to the site and erected there to the amazement of the Tatars. The engineer in charge was Ivan Verodkov. See also D. V. Pankov, Iz Istorii Russkogo voenno-inzhenernago Iskusstva, (History of Russian art of Military Engineering), pp. 29-31.
83. The strength figures given according to contemporary chronicles credit Ivan with 150,000 men and some Soviet writers accept them. However, we may be excused for cutting this number in half or less. On the other hand, if the number includes all the peasants, fishermen, and merchants who provided labor, transportation, and supplies along the way, then the larger figure may be closer to the truth.
84. This account of the siege of Kazan is given by Ian Grey in Ivan the Terrible, pp. 98, 99.
85. Ibid., 120, 151.
86. Ibid., 121.
87. Ibid., 122-3; George Vernadsky, The Tsardom of Moscow, 227.
88. Ibid.
89. Sakharov, op.cit., 103. For an account of the war see Razin, op.cit., 370-384.
90. Grey, Ivan the Terrible, 124, 131; Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 228. A. A. Novosel'skii, Borba Moskovskogo Gosudarstvo s Tatarami v XVII veke, (Struggle of the Muscovite State with the Tatars in the 17th century), Moscow: 1948, 427. This book is by far the best on the subject; unfortunately it only has information on the Russian--Tatar wars of the period 1558-1650.
91. If the Russian armies totalled anywhere near this many troops, they certainly were not in one army, but were spread over a very wide area.
92. Grey, Ivan the Terrible, 124; Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 229-30; Novosel'skii, op.cit., 427.
93. Novosel'skii, op.cit. 428; Grey, op.cit. 134; Sakharov, op.cit. 103. Ivan IV's wife died in this year. She was credited with being a restraining influence on him. Her death, which he considered to be by poison, and an attack on himself, led him to conduct extreme repressive measures.
94. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 428; Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 233; Grey, op.cit., 144.
95. Novosel'skii, op.cit., 428.
96. Ibid., 427; Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 236; Grey, op.cit., 145-6.
97. Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 237-240; Grey, op. cit., 152-161; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 428. For a Stalinist account of the military aspects of the oprichnina see R. Wipper, Ivan Grozny, translated by J. Fineberg, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1947, 104.
98. Grey, op. cit., 163-4, 185-196; Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 240; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 429.
99. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 429.
100. Ibid.
101. Ibid.
102. Ibid., 430; Grey, op. cit., 197.
103. Grey, op. cit., 178-197; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 430.
104. The large number reported in the Russian chronicles seems exaggerated.
105. Grey, op. cit., 199-207; Chernov, op. cit., 72; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 430.
106. Grey, op. cit., 199-207; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 430.
107. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 430.
108. Ibid., 431.
109. Ibid; Grey, op. cit., 208. The incident of Ivan's use of Prince Simeon Bekbulatovich as a kind of front man has puzzled many historians. Even Michael Florinsky treats it as a kind of joke (Russia, A History and an Interpretation, New York; Macmillan, 1953, 186, 187). R. Wipper, op. cit., 250, notes that Bekbulatovich was Khan of Kazan, but does not point out the significance of this. Omeljan Pritsak has noted that Bekbulatovich, whom he points out was Khan of Kasimov, not Kazan, was a descendent of Chingis Khan, hence invested with great charisma in the eyes of the Tatars. His elevation to the titular rule in Moscow was no joke, but an effort to strengthen Ivan's hold over one of his chief military assets, his Tatar forces, while hopefully reducing the zeal of some of his Tatar opponents. Bekbulatovich had a long and distinguished career as a leading general in Ivan's army. Omeljan Pritsak, "Moscow, the Golden Horde, and the Kazan Khanate from a Polycultural Point of View," Slavic Review, XXVI, 4, (December 1967).
110. Grey, op. cit., 216-218; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 431.
111. Ibid.
112. Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 262. He notes that in 1572 the Polish Hetman, Jerzy Jazlowiecki, had created a 300--man Cossack detachment, but it was disbanded three years later.
113. Ibid.
114. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 431.
115. Grey, op. cit., 221; Sakharov, op. cit., 111; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 431.
116. Grey, op. cit., 223.
117. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 432.
118. Grey, op. cit., 224-225; Novosel'skii, op. cit., 432. For the Siege of Pskov, see Razin op. cit., 378-383.
119. Vernadsky, op. cit., IV, 257.
120. Novosel'skii, op. cit., 432.
121. Ibid., 44.
122. Ibid., 35, 432.

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