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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(streletskoe voisko; semiprofessional musketeers), from the 16th to early 18th centuries, Russian troops equipped with firearms.

The strel’tsy were created in the 1540’s and 1550’s out of detachments of pishchal’niki (infantry harquebusiers). They were initially recruited from the free urban and rural populace. Their service was subsequently made lifelong and hereditary. The strel’tsy viere divided into the vybornye strel’tsy, later known as Moscow strel’tsy, and the gorodovye strel’tsy, who were quartered in other Russian cities. The Moscow strel’tsy protected the Kremlin, performed guard duty, and took part in various military operations. The gorodovye strel’tsy did garrison and frontier duty and executed the orders of local administrators.

The strel’tsy were administratively subordinate to the Streletskii Prikaz (Musketeers’ Prikaz) and, in time of war, to military commanders. The gorodovye strel’tsy were subordinate to the local voevody (commanders or governors) as well. The strel’tsy wore regulation uniforms, underwent the same training, and carried standard weapons, namely, hand-held matchlocks, muskets, heavy axes in the shape of half-moons (berdyshi), sabers, and, in some cases, pikes. The leading military-administrative unit of the strel’tsy was the pribor, later known as the prikaz and from 1681 known as the regiment (polk). The prikazy were headed by commanders known as streletskie golovy (heads), and the regiments by colonels, all of whom were appointed by the government from among the nobility.

The prikazy were subdivided into units of 100 and further into units of ten. Some strel’tsy were mounted (stremiannye), and others were foot soldiers. The strel’tsy lived in individual slobody (tax-exempt settlements) and were paid by the treasury in money and in grain. In some areas they were allotted, in lieu of a salary, land set aside for use in common by the entire sloboda. By the late 16th century, Russia had 20,000 to 25,000 strel’tsy, and in 1681,55,000, including 22,500 Moscow strel’tsy.

The strel’tsy engaged in crafts and in trade, which led to pronounced property inequalities among them. Depending on their occupation, some tended to merge with the urban populace, and others, the “plowmen” strel’tsy, with the peasantry.

The strel’tsy demonstrated their military prowess during the siege of Kazan in 1552, during the Livonian War, in the defeat of the Polish-Swedish intervention of the early 17th century, and in military operations against Poland and the Crimea. From the second half of the 17th century, however, their backwardness was apparent, at least by comparison with infantry and cavalry regiments trained on Western European models. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, because of service hardships, constant delays in the payment of salaries, and abuses by local administrators and the strel’tsy commanders, the rank-and-file strel’tsy, especially the poorest, took part in the various outbursts against serfdom—for example, the peasant wars of the early 17th century and the period 1670–71 (under S. Razin) and urban uprisings, such as the Moscow uprising of 1682, the strel’tsy uprising of 1698, and the Astrakhan uprising of 1705–06. At the same time, caste interests kept most strel’tsy loyal to the government. From the late 17th century the Moscow strel’tsy actively intervened in the struggle for power among government factions, supporting the ideologues of the schism and opposing foreign innovations.

After the fall of Sofia Alekseevna in 1689, the government of Peter I gradually curtailed the military and political role of the strel’tsy. Eight Moscow strel’tsy regiments were removed from Moscow to “permanent residence” in Belgorod, Sevsk, and Kiev.

After the strel’tsy uprising of 1698 and the strel’tsy disturbances in Azov, Peter ordered the strel’tsy disbanded. After the defeat at Narva in 1700, however, the government stayed the order. The best strel’tsy regiments fought in the major engagements of the Northern War and in the Prut Campaign of 1711. They were gradually absorbed into the regular army. At the same time, however, the gorodovye strel’tsy were abolished. By the 1720’s, the elimination of the strel’tsy was virtually complete; the gorodovye strel’tsy persisted in some areas—as “state servitors of the old service”—almost until the end of the 18th century.


Chernov, A. V. Vooruzhennye sily Russkogo gosudarstva v XV-XVII vv. Moscow, 1954.
Rabinovich, M. D. “Strel’tsy v pervoi chetverti XVIII v.” In the collection Istoricheskie zapiski, vol. 58. Moscow, 1956.
Buganov, V. I. Moskovskie vosstaniia kontsa 17 v. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.