Stenka Razin

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Stenka Razin

Stepan (Stenka) Timofeyevich Razin (Степан (Стенька) Тимофеевич Разин in Russian) (1630 - 6.6(16).1671) was a Cossack leader who led a major uprising against the Russian government.


Early life

Historians first hear of him in 1661 on a diplomatic mission from the Don Cossacks to the Kalmyk Tatars. That same year Razin went on a long-distance pilgrimage to the great Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea for the benefit of his soul. After that all trace of him is lost for six years, when he reappears as the leader of a robber community established at Panshinskoye, among the marshes between the rivers Tishina and Ilovlya, from whence he levied blackmail on all vessels passing up and down the Volga.

A long war with Poland in 1654-1667 and Sweden in 1656-1658 put heavy demands upon the people of Russia. Taxes increased as did conscription. Many peasants hoping to escape these burdens fled south and joined bands of Razin's marauding Cossacks. They were also joined by many other disaffected with the Russian government, including people of the lower classes as well as representatives of non-Russian ethnic groups that were being forcibly Russified.

Razin's first considerable exploit was to destroy the great water caravan consisting of the treasury barges and the barges of the patriarch and the wealthy merchants of Moscow. Razin then sailed down the Volga with a fleet of thirty-five galleys, capturing the more important forts on his way and devastating the country. At the beginning of 1668 he defeated the voivode Yakov Bezobrazov, sent against him from Astrakhan, and in the spring embarked on a predatory expedition into Persia which lasted for eighteen months.

Persian expedition

Sailing into the Caspian Sea, he ravaged the Persian coasts from Derbend to Baku, massacred the inhabitants of the great emporium of Rasht, and in the spring of 1669 established himself on the isle of Suina, off which, in July, he annihilated a Persian fleet sent against him. Stenka Razin, as he was generally called, had now become a potentate with whom princes did not disdain to treat.

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Stenka Razin Sailing in the Caspian

In August 1669 he reappeared at Astrakhan, and accepted a fresh offer of pardon from the tsar there; the common people were fascinated by his adventures. The semi-Asiatic kingdom of Astrakhan, where the whole atmosphere was predatory and nine-tenths of the population were nomadic, was the natural milieu for such a rebellion as Razin's.

Open rebellion

In 1670 Razin, while ostensibly on his way to report himself at the Cossack headquarters on the Don, openly rebelled against the government, captured Cherkassk, Tsaritsyn and other places, and on June 24 burst into Astrakhan itself. After massacring all who opposed him, and giving the rich bazaars of the city over to pillage, he converted Astrakhan into a Cossack republic, dividing the population into thousands, hundreds and tens, with their proper officers, all of whom were appointed by a veche or general assembly, whose first act was to proclaim Stepan Timofeyevich their gosudar (sovereign).

After a three weeks carnival of blood and debauchery Razin quitted Astrakhan with two hundred barges full of troops to establish the Cossack republic along the whole length of the Volga, as a preliminary step towards advancing against Moscow. Saratov and Samara were captured, but Simbirsk defied all efforts, and after two bloody encounters close at hand on the banks of the Sviyaga River (October 1st and 4th), Razin was ultimately routed and fled down the Volga, leaving the bulk of his followers to be extirpated by the victors.

But the rebellion was by no means over. The emissaries of Razin, armed with inflammatory proclamations, had stirred up the inhabitants of the modern governments of Nizhny Novgorod, Tambov and Penza, and penetrated even so far as Moscow and Novgorod. It was not difficult to revolt the oppressed population by the promise of deliverance from their yoke. Razin proclaimed that his object was to root out the boyars and all officials, to level all ranks and dignities, and establish Cossackdom, with its corollary of absolute equality, throughout Muscovy.

Missing image
Stepan Razin on the Volga.

Even at the beginning of 1671 the issue of the struggle was doubtful. Eight battles had been fought before the insurrection showed signs of weakening, and it continued for six months after Razin had received his quietus. At Simbirsk his prestige had been shattered. Even his own settlements at Saratov and Samara refused to open their gates to him, and the Don Cossacks, hearing that the patriarch of Moscow had anathematized Stenka, also declared against him.

In 1671 he and his brother Frol Razin were captured at Kagalnik, his last fortress, and carried to Moscow, where, after bravely enduring unspeakable torments, Stepan was quartered alive in the Red Square next to the so-called Lobnoye Mesto.


Stenka Razin is the hero of a popular Russian folk song (lyric is by Dmitri Sadovnikov (Дмитрий Николаевич Садовников), music is folk), better known by the words Volga, Volga mat' rodnaya. The melody was plagarised by Tom Springfield in the song The Carnival is Over that placed The Seekers at #1 in 1965 in Australia and the UK.

Words in Russian Transcribed
Из-за острова на стрежень,

На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные,
Острогрудые челны.

Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',

Na prostor rechnoj volni,
Viplivayut raspisnie,
Ostrogrudie chelni.

На переднем Стенька Разин,

Обнявшись, сидит с княжной,
Свадьбу новую справляет,
Сам веселый и хмельной.

Na perednem Sten'ka Razin,

Obnyavshis', sidit s knyazhnoj,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyaet,
Sam veselij i khmel'noj.

А она, потупив очи,

Ни жива и ни мертва,
Молча слушает хмельные
Атамановы слова.

A ona, potupiv ochi,

Ni zhiva i ni mertva,
Molcha slushaet khmel'nie
Atamanovi slova.

Позади их слышен ропот:

Нас на бабу променял!
Только ночь с ней провозилс
Сам наутро бабой стал . . . .

Pozadi ikh slishen ropot:

Nas na babu promenyal!
Tol'ko noch' s nej provozils
Sam nautro baboj stal . . . .

Этот ропот и насмешки

Слышит грозный атаман,
И могучею рукою
Обнял персиянки стан.

Etot ropot i nasmeshki

Slishit groznij ataman,
I mogucheyu rukoyu
Obnyal persiyanki stan.

Брови черные сошлися,

Надвигается гроза.
Буйной кровью налилис
Атамановы глаза.

Brovi chernie soshlisya,

Nadvigaetsya groza.
Bujnoj krov'yu nalilis
Atamanovi glaza.

"Ничего не пожалею,

Буйну голову отдам!" —
Раздается голос вдастный
По окрестным берегам.

"Nichego ne pozhaleyu,

Bujnu golovu otdam!" —
Razdaetsya golos vdastnij
Po okrestnim beregam.

"Волга, Волга, мать родная,

Волга, русская река,
Не хотела ты подарка
От донского казака!

"Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,

Volga, russkaya reka,
Ne khotela ti podarka
Ot donskogo kazaka!

Чтобы не было раздора

Между вольными людьми,
Волга, Волга, мать родная,
На, красавицу возьми!"

CHtobi ne bilo razdora

Mezhdu vol'nimi lyud'mi,
Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Na, krasavitsu voz'mi!"

Мощным взмахом поднимает

Он красавицу княжну
И за борт ее бросает
В набежавшую волну.

Moshchnim vzmakhom podnimaet

On krasavitsu knyazhnu
I za bort eyo brosaet
V nabezhavshuyu volnu.

"Что ж вы, братцы, приуныли?

Эй, ты, Филька, черт, пляши!
Грянем песню удалую
На помин ее души!.."

"CHto zh vi, brattsi, priunili?

Ej, ti, Fil'ka, chert, plyashi!
Gryanem pesnyu udaluyu
Na pomin eyo dushi!.."

Из-за острова на стрежень,

На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные
Острогрудые челны.

Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',

Na prostor rechnoj volni,
Viplivayut raspisnie
Ostrogrudie chelni.

Summary: Barks are a-sailing from behind an isle. Stenka Razin is in the fore one, hugging the Persian princess, celebrating the wedding. The cossacks behind are grumbling that he traded them for a woman, that after a night of fun with a woman he became a woman himself. Stenka hears their mockery and gets angry. He stands up and says: "Volga, you've never got any present from a Don Cossack. To get rid of a discord among the free people, here, Volga, take the beauty!" With these words, he throws the princess into the waves...

It is one of the few Russian folk songs still remembered, and popular as a drinking song, the culmination being, of course:

And he hurls her overboard
Right into the surging wave...

Allegedly, it was also popular in the Nazi German Army during their Drang nach Osten:

Wolga, Wolga, Mutter Wolga
Wolga, Wolga, Russlands Fluß...

The fun being to replace with:

Wolga, Wolga, Deutschlands Fluß...

Template:Livedde:Stenka Rasin it:Stenka Razin


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