Zaporozhe Sech

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Sech’, Zaporozh’e


(Lower Zaporozh’e Host), a sociopolitical and military organization of Ukrainian cossacks beyond the Dnieper rapids from the 16th to 18th centuries.

The Zaporozh’e Sech’ arose as Lithuanian, Polish, and Ukrainian feudal lords made inroads into the middle Dnieper region and eastern Podol’e (Podolia). In the early 16th century certain cossack enterprises involved in fishing, hunting, and salt extraction and stock-raising farmsteads (zimovniki) sprang up in Zaporozh’e. Subject to unrelenting attacks by the Crimean Tatars and Polish-Lithuanian feudal lords, the cossacks had to take up arms in defense of their freedom and to build small wooden fortresses, called gorodki or sechi. In about the 1530’s the individual cossack organizations of the various sechi were unified, and the Zaporozh’e Sech’ was established. The name Zaporozh’e Sech’ came from the name of the main fortress, the seat of the kosh (the central administrative body); with time it was applied to the organization as a whole.

Originally, the Zaporozh’e Sech’ was located on the island of Tomakovka, near what is now the city of Marganets, Dnepropetrovsk Oblast. From 1593 it was on the island of Bazavluk, near the village of Kapulovka, Nikopol’ Raion, Dnepropetrovsk Oblast. From 1636 to 1652 it was probably in Mikitin Rog, now the city of Nikopol’. From 1652 it was at the mouth of the Chertomlyk River, near the village of Kapulovka.

Economically, the Zaporozh’e Sech’ was based on fishing, hunting, and extensive stock raising. In theory, all cossacks were free and equal; in fact, however, the rich cossacks were the ruling stratum. The latter, the proprietors of the various enterprises and the rich stock raisers were opposed by the toiling cossacks, especially the golota (poor cossacks).

The Zaporozh’e Sech’ was a singular kind of cossack “republic.” Until 1654, that is, until the unification of the Ukraine with Russia, its highest body was the Rada, or assembly. The Rada elected the host’s starshina, or elders, who were headed by a kosh ataman. The host was divided into kureni— in its twilight the Zaporozh’e Sech’ had 38—each headed by a kuren’ ataman. Each cossack was obliged to do military service at his own expense. The forms of cossack self-government were primitive, and there was no written law. Because of the unending struggle against the Tatars and Turks and because the Polish-Lithuanian government pursued policies aimed at isolating the Zaporozh’e from the central Ukraine, the area could not be colonized on a large scale, and until the end of the 17th century it was sparsly populated. Existence was difficult and danger constant, and there were few family settlements in the Zaporozh’e. The Zaporozh’e Sech’ was a military organization with certain democratic features, although a rich elite dominated it.

The Zaporozh’e Sech’, long independent, played an important role in international relations. It waged a heroic struggle against the Ottoman sultans and the Crimean khans, especially in 1589, 1604, 1614, and 1615, when its forces reached the coast of Crimea and penetrated the Ottoman Empire as far as Instanbul and Sinope. It thereby sapped the military power of these states and aided the national liberation movement among the oppressed peoples of the Ottoman Empire. Several European states sought military alliance with the Zaporozh’e Sech’, and some established diplomatic relations with it.

The Zaporozh’e Sech’ was prominent in the struggle aginst the oppressive feudal order and against national and religious persecution in the Ukraine, which took an added impetus after the Union of Lublin of 1569. The Zaporozhtsy actively fought in all the great peasant-cossack rebellions from the late 16th century, those led by K. Kosinskii from 1591 to 1593, S. Nalivaiko from 1594 to 1596, Pavliuk and K. Skidan in 1637, and Ia. Ostrianin and D. Gunia in 1638. They imparted a certain organization to the rebel struggle, giving it the benefit of their experience and providing talented leaders. The Zaporozh’e Sech’ was not merely a refuge for the oppressed; it was also a springboard for popular uprisings. The uprising in the Zaporozh’e Sech’ in January 1648 against Rzeczpospolita rule in the Ukraine initiated the war of liberation of the Ukrainian people, led by B. Khmel’nitskii.

After the unification of the Ukraine and Russia in 1654, the Zaporozh’e Sech’ gained the same privileges the other cossack hosts in Russia had—self-government and asylum for refugees. In the south the Zaporozh’e cossacks still defended against invasion; at the same time, they participated in the struggle of the popular masses of the Ukraine and Russia against the growing oppression of the feudal order—in the peasant war under the leadership of S. T. Razin in 1670–71 and to an even greater extent in the Bulavin Revolt of 1707–09.

After the suppression of the uprising on the Don in 1708, many of the insurgents fled to the Zaporozh’e. The Ukrainian hetman I. S. Mazepa tried to exploit this circumstance when he went over to the Swedes in the Northern War of 1700–21. Threatening that the cossacks would meet with reprisals from the tsarist government, Mazepa called upon them to support him. However, only a few cossacks, led by the kosh ataman K. Gordienko, joined Mazepa, and they by no means took an active part in military actions on the side of the Swedes. On May 14, 1709, under the pretext of fighting the traitors, the tsarist army destroyed the Staraia (Old) Sech’, the heart of the anti-feudal protest. The cossacks initially left for the mouth of the Kamenka River, 120 km southwest of Nikopol’, but in 1711 moved on to Aleshki, now the city of Tsiurupinsk in Kherson Oblast but then ruled by the Crimean khans.

In 1734 the Russian government permitted the Zaporozh’e cossacks to return to their homeland, and they established the Novaia (New) Sech’ on the island of Chertomlyk, at the mouth of the Podpil’naia River and near the present-day village of Pokrovskoe in Nikopol’ Raion. During the period of the Novaia Sech’, peasant colonization of the Zaporozh’e sharply increased as serfdom in the central Ukraine grew more oppressive. And as more people settled in the area during the 30 years of peace with the Ottoman Empire (1739–68), stock raising, crop cultivation, fishing, and commerce expanded. Large zimovniki evolved into full-fledged farms using hired labor and producing for the market. The large-scale fishing enterprises, which also used hired labor, were in effect a kind of manufactory or simple capitalist cooperative. On the other hand, the starshina aspired to enserf the population and, especially during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768–74, introduced labor obligations, thus forcing the population to work its zimovniki.

Territorially, the Novaia Sech’ consisted of eight palanki, or regions, each under a starshina named by the kosh. The population of the slobody (villages) in the palanki was divided into cossacks and the pospolity (taxable peasants having no cossack status), each of which made up a separate community (gromada) and chose its own ataman. The primary obligation of the cossacks was to provide military service at their own expense; the host comprised 20,000–30,000 men and fought in the Russo-Turkish wars of 1735–39 and 1768–74. The pospolity were relieved of military service but performed other duties for the host and paid taxes in coin. The main privilege of the cossacks was their right—with the permission of the kosh—to occupy lands of the zimovniki and to participate in the Rada. However, the cossacks and the pospolity did not form closed castes and could move from one category to another.

As society became more differentiated, ruined cossacks and pospolity filled the ranks of the poor (golota, seroma)—a stable reserve of labor power—or became podsusedki, who, in a manner much like the enserfed peasants of the Left-bank Ukraine, worked for the well-to-do but retained their personal freedom. As social inequality grew, the prosperous cossacks increasingly burdened the golota with the primary obligation of the cossacks—military service—by maintaining the Sech’ garrison at the host’s expense or by surreptitious hiring of substitutes. The golota resisted the rich cossacks, as in the movement of the haidamaks—a partisan war by workers on the zimovniki and in the fisheries against growing capitalist oppression; outside the Zaporozh’e Sech’ local haidamaks joined the struggle of the golota against serfdom. From the Zaporozh’e poor emerged M. Zhelezniak, the talented leader of the peasant revolt in 1768 in the Right-bank Ukraine.

After the suppression of the peasant war under the leadership of E. I. Pugachev of 1773–75, during which disturbances had erupted in the Zaporozh’e Sech’, the tsarist government decided to bring an end to the Sech’. Early in June 1775, tsarist troops surrounded the Zaporozh’e Sech’, forced the cossacks to surrender, and destroyed the fortifications. The Zaporozh’e Host was formally abolished. Its lands were given to Russian and Ukrainian landlords. Members of the population were enserfed, made state peasants, or fled to Dobruja in the Ottoman Empire, where they founded the Zadunaiskaia Sech’. In 1787 some of the former Zaporozhtsy, who had settled in the border regions on the Iuzhnyi Bug, formed the Black Sea Cossack Host, which in 1792 and 1793 was resettled in the Kuban’ area.


Evarnitskii, D. I. Istoriia zaporozhskikh kozakov, vols. 1–3. St. Petersburg, 1892–97.
Golobutskii, V. A. Zaporozhskoe kazachestvo. Kiev, 1957.
Skal’kovskii, A. A. Istoriia Novoi Sechi, ili Poslednego kosha Zaporozhskogo, parts 1–3. Odessa, 1885–86.
Holobuts’kyi, V. O. Zaporiz’ka Sich v ostanni chasy svoho isnuvannia: 1734–1775. Kiev, 1961.


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