free men who formed cossack communities along the Iaik River (called the Ural River after 1775). The Iaik Cossacks were Russian peasants, kholopy (slaves), and posadskie liudi (merchants and artisans) who had fled from feudal exploitation in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In the 16th century they formed a cossack host. The main occupations of the Iaik Cossacks were fishing, hunting, and salt mining.
The host was governed by a council (krug) that met in Iaitskii Gorodok along the middle course of the Iaik River. All of the cossacks originally had an equal right to the use of cossack lands and an equal vote in electing the ataman and starshina (officials) of the host. In the second half of the 16th century the tsarist government commissioned the Iaik Cossacks to defend the southeastern frontier of Russia and to carry on military colonization; at first the government allowed the host to continue harboring fugitives. In the 17th century, a wealthy elite (also known as the starshina) emerged; the elite supported the government, which was trying to subjugate the cossacks.
In 1718 the government appointed an ataman and assistant ataman; some of the cossacks were declared fugitives and were ordered to be returned to the pomeshchiki (landowners). In 1720 there were disturbances among the Iaik Cossacks, who refused to obey the tsarist order to return the fugitives; they replaced the ataman appointed by the government with one they had elected. In 1723 the disturbances were suppressed, and their leaders were executed; election of atamans and of the starshina was forbidden.
There were further disturbances among the Iaik Cossacks in 1738 and 1748. In 1748 a permanent organization known as the shtat was introduced to govern the host, which was divided into seven regiments; the council that had governed the cossacks lost the last remnants of its power. Dissatisfaction with the new order resulted in the Iaik Cossack Uprising of 1772 and caused the Iaik Cossacks to take part in the Peasant War of 1773–75. After the war was brought to an end in 1775, the Iaik Host was renamed the Ural Cossack Host.