Fortified Frontier Lines

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Fortified Frontier Lines


a system for the defense of state borders.

Fortified frontier lines were in use in ancient Egypt (the Pelu-siac wall on the Isthmus of Suez), Rome, China (the Great Wall), and elsewhere. The first fortified frontier line in Europe in the Middle Ages was established in the eighth to ninth centuries on the northern and eastern borders of the Frankish state. The line began on the North Sea and ran to the headwaters of the Danube and on to the Mediterranean Sea. It consisted of individual fortifications on important routes and observation towers from which the approach of an enemy could be signaled. In the tenth century, fortresses were built. In the 17th century, France and other Western European states adopted the fortress system of covering frontiers, developed by A. Deville and Vauban.

Fortifications were built on the borders of the Russian state in the ninth century in the form of fortified points and walls, primarily on river lines. In the 14th century, as the Grand Principality of Moscow grew stronger, a frontier watch line was created along the Khoper, Voronezh, and Don rivers. In the 16th and 17th centuries, abatis lines were erected on the southern, southeastern, and eastern borders of the Russian state. As the borders of Russia expanded in the 18th century, the system of fortified frontier lines, based on experience with the abatis lines, developed. The lines consisted of fortresses and fortified cities between which field fortifications were established, usually in the form of a rampart, sometimes with a palisade on top and a moat. Abatises were set up in front of the moat, and chevaux-de-frise were set out to protect against cavalry. The wall had protuberances in the form of redoubts every 200–600 m, which made it possible to defend the approaches to the wall by flanking rifle fire. The detachments of line troops and cossacks that defended the fortified frontier lines were deployed in towers or earthen fortifications behind the wall. Signal towers were built, and barrels of fuel were placed in them to be ignited upon the approach of an enemy.

From 1706 to 1708 a fortified frontier line was established on the western border along the Pskov-Smolensk-Briansk line, and from 1718 to 1723 the Tsaritsyn line was built in the region between the Don and Volga rivers. In 1724, Peter I introduced the fortress system of defending borders (primarily in the west), but Russia could not completely give up fortified frontier lines because of the great extent of its borders in the south and east. From 1731 to 1735 the Ukrainian line was built to protect against the Crimean Tatars, but it became superfluous when the Dnieper line was built.

In 1735 the construction of the Kizliar fortress marked the beginning of the Caucasian line, which was later continued to the mouth of the Kuban’ River. During the Caucasian War of 1817–64, the line was advanced to the Sunzha River, and a series of new lines was established in the Caucasus, including the Lezgin, Laba, and Black Sea coastal lines. After the Crimea and the Caucasus became part of Russia in 1783 and 1864 respectively, the southern lines ceased to be important. From 1731 to 1736 the new Trans-Kama line was built 35–85 km in front of the old abatis line and partially coinciding with it to consolidate the territories beyond the Volga. In 1736 construction of the Orenburg line was begun. Later it was divided into the lower Urals, Samara, Sakmara, Krasnogorsk, Orsk, and Kizil sectors. The Urals and Ui lines were built later.

Construction of the Siberian line, which was divided into the Tobol-Ishim, Irtysh, and Kolyvan’-Kuznetsk lines, was begun as early as 1716. By the early 19th century, it consisted of 124 fortresses and fortifications. The line gradually advanced south and in the mid-19th century reached Fort Vernyi (now the city of Alma-Ata) in the east and the mouth of the Syr Darya in the west.

After Middle Asia became part of Russia in 1868, all these fortified frontier lines were abolished. The Nerchinsk and Selenga lines continued to exist in Eastern Siberia until the late 19th century. They consisted of cossack posts to protect against smugglers and Manchurian and North Chinese bandits, or hunghus, and to capture escaped convicts. In the late 19th century, the fortress system of guarding borders was adopted everywhere in Russia and continued to exist as in other states until World War I, after which it was replaced by the system of fortified regions in the USSR or by lines in France.


Laskovskii, F. F. Materialy dlia istorii inzhenemogo iskusstva v Rossii, parts 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1858–65.
Friman, L. L. Istoriia kreposti v Rossii, part 1. St. Petersburg, 1895.
Shperk, V. F. Istoriia fortifikatsii. Moscow, 1957.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.