Date of birth unknown; died Aug. 6, 1585. Cossack hetman. Leader of the expedition to Siberia that began its annexation and assimilation to Russia.
In 1558 the Stroganov family of merchants and industrialists received the first charter for “the plentiful places on the Kama river” and in 1574 a charter for the lands beyond the Urals along the Tura and Tobol rivers, as well as permission to build fortresses on the Ob’ and Irtysh rivers. Around 1577 they engaged Ermak and his detachment to protect their possessions from attack by the Siberian khan Kuchum.
In 1579 or 1581, Ermak began a campaign into the heart of Siberia. After a series of victories over the troops of the Siberian khanate, Ermak’s detachment crushed Kuchum’s main forces in a three-day battle (Oct. 23–25, 1582) on the bank of the Irtysh on Cape Podchuvash. The remnants of Kuchum’s army retreated into the steppe. On October 26, Ermak’s band occupied the capital of the Siberian khanate, Kashlyk (17 km from Tobol’sk). Kuchum, however, still had significant military forces. During the night of Aug. 6, 1585, Kuchum unexpectedly fell upon Ermak’s detachment and annihilated it. Wounded, Ermak attempted to swim across the river Vagai (a tributary of the Irtysh), but, because of his heavy chain mail, he drowned. The remainder of his force under the command of M. Meshcheriak retreated from Kashlyk. Part of Ermak’s detachment remained to spend the winter in the Ob’ fortress. Songs were composed about Ermak as early as the 16th century. Later, he attracted the attention of many writers and artists.
REFERENCESBakhrushin, S. V. “Ocherki po istorii kolonizatsii Sibiri v XVI-XVII vv.” In Nauchnye trudy, vol. 3, part 1. Moscow, 1955.
Istoriia Sibiri s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, vol. 2. Leningrad, 1968.
A. I. KOPYLOV