Stenka Razin

Stenka Razin

Razin, Stenka, d. 1671, Don Cossack leader, head of the peasant revolt of 1670. As commander of a band of propertyless Don Cossacks, he raided and pillaged (1667-69) through the lower Volga valley and across the Caspian Sea. On his return (1670) to the Don, Razin rebelled against the authority of the czar. His force of some 7,000 men took Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd), Astrakhan, Saratov, and Samara, and was joined by serfs, peasants, and non-Russian tribes of the middle and lower Volga region. However, he was defeated by government troops at Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) and fled to the Don, where the propertied Cossacks delivered him to the government. Razin was executed at Moscow. His exploits have long been celebrated in song and legend.
For the place in Azerbaijan, see Stepan Razin, Azerbaijan.

Stepan (Sten'ka) Timofeyevich Razin (Russian: Степан (Стенька) Тимофеевич Разин, ; 1630 – June 16, 1671) was a Cossack leader who led a major uprising against the nobility and Tsar's bureaucracy in South Russia.

Early life

He is first noted by history in 1661, as part of a diplomatic mission from the Don Cossacks to the Kalmyks. That same year Razin went on a long-distance pilgrimage to the great Solovetsky Monastery on the White Sea for the benefit of his soul. After that, all trace of him is lost for six years, when he reappears as the leader of a robber community established at Panshinskoye, among the marshes between the rivers Tishina and Ilovlya, from whence he levied blackmail on all vessels passing up and down the Volga.

A long war with Poland in 1654-1667 and Sweden in 1656-1658 put heavy demands upon the people of Russia. Taxes increased as did conscription. Many peasants hoping to escape these burdens fled south and joined bands of Razin's marauding Cossacks. They were also joined by many other disaffected with the Russian government, including people of the lower classes as well as representatives of non-Russian ethnic groups, such as Kalmyks, that were being oppressed.

Razin's first considerable exploit was to destroy the great naval convoy consisting of the treasury barges and the barges of the patriarch and the wealthy merchants of Moscow. Razin then sailed down the Volga with a fleet of thirty-five galleys, capturing the more important forts on his way and devastating the country. At the beginning of 1668 he defeated the voivode Yakov Bezobrazov, sent against him from Astrakhan, and in the spring embarked on a predatory expedition into Daghestan and Persia which lasted for eighteen months.

Persian expedition

Sailing into the Caspian Sea, he ravaged the Persian coasts from Derbend to Baku, massacred the inhabitants of the great emporium of Rasht, and in the spring of 1669 established himself on the isle of Suina, off which, in July, he annihilated a Persian fleet sent against him. Stenka Razin, as he was generally called, had now become a potentate with whom princes did not disdain to treat.

In August 1669 he reappeared at Astrakhan, and accepted a fresh offer of pardon from tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich there; the common people were fascinated by his adventures. The lawless Russian border region of Astrakhan, where the whole atmosphere was predatory and many people were still nomadic, was the natural milieu for such a rebellion as Razin's.

Open rebellion

In 1670 Razin, while ostensibly on his way to report himself at the Cossack headquarters on the Don, openly rebelled against the government, captured Cherkassk, Tsaritsyn and other places, and on June 24 burst into Astrakhan itself. After massacring all who opposed him (including two Princes Prozorovsky) and giving the rich bazaars of the city over to pillage, he converted Astrakhan into a Cossack republic, dividing the population into thousands, hundreds and tens, with their proper officers, all of whom were appointed by a veche or general assembly, whose first act was to proclaim Stepan Timofeyevich their gosudar (sovereign).

After a three weeks carnival of blood and debauchery Razin quit Astrakhan with two hundred barges full of troops to establish the Cossack republic along the whole length of the Volga, as a preliminary step towards advancing against Moscow. Saratov and Samara were captured, but Simbirsk defied all efforts, and after two bloody encounters close at hand on the banks of the Sviyaga River (October 1st and 4th), Razin was ultimately routed and fled down the Volga, leaving the bulk of his followers to be extirpated by the victors.

But the rebellion was by no means over. The emissaries of Razin, armed with inflammatory proclamations, had stirred up the inhabitants of the modern governments of Nizhny Novgorod, Tambov and Penza, and penetrated even so far as Moscow and Novgorod. It was not difficult to stir the oppressed population to revolt by promising deliverance from their yoke. Razin proclaimed that his object was to root out the boyars and all officials, to level all ranks and dignities, and establish Cossackdom, with its corollary of absolute equality, throughout Muscovy.

Even at the beginning of 1671 the issue of the struggle was doubtful. Eight battles had been fought before the insurrection showed signs of weakening, and it continued for six months after Razin had received his quietus. At Simbirsk his prestige had been shattered. Even his own settlements at Saratov and Samara refused to open their gates to him, and the Don Cossacks, hearing that the patriarch of Moscow had anathematized Stenka, also declared against him.

In 1671 he and his brother Frol Razin were captured at Kaganlyk, his last fortress, and carried to Moscow, where, after tortures, Stepan was quartered alive in the Red Square at the Lobnoye Mesto.

Razin is the subject of a symphonic poem by Alexander Glazunov and a cantata by Shostakovich.


  • Sakharov, Andrei Nikolaevich (1973) Stepan Razin (Khronika XVII v.) Moskva, "Mol. gvardiia", 319 p. Biography in Russian.
  • Field, Cecil (1947) The great Cossack; the rebellion of Stenka Razin against Alexis Michaelovitch, Tsar of all the Russias London, H. Jenkins, 125 p. Biography in English.


Stenka Razin is the hero of a popular Russian folk song (lyric is by Dmitri Sadovnikov (Дмитрий Николаевич Садовников) 1883, music is folk), better known by the words Volga, Volga mat' rodnaya. The song was dramatized in the very first Russian feature film, shot by Vasily Goncharov in 1908 and entitled Ponizovaya Volnitsa. The melody was used by Tom Springfield in the song The Carnival is Over that placed The Seekers at #1 in 1965 in Australia and the UK.
Words in Russian Transcribed English language version
Из-за острова на стрежень,
На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные,
Острогрудые челны.
Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',
Na prostor rechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnye,
Ostrogrudye chelny.
From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.
На переднем Стенька Разин,
Обнявшись, сидит с княжной,
Свадьбу новую справляет,
Сам веселый и хмельной.
Na perednem Sten'ka Razin,
Obnyavshis', sidit s knyazhnoy,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyaet,
Sam veselyi i khmel'noy.
On the first is Stenka Razin
With his princess by his side
Drunken holds in marriage revels
With his beauteous young bride
Позади их слышен ропот:
Нас на бабу променял!
Только ночь с ней провозился
Сам наутро бабой стал . . . .
Pozadi ikh slyschen ropot:
Nas na babu promenyal!
Tol'ko noch' s nej provozilsja
Sam nautro baboy stal . . . .
From behind there comes a murmur
"He has left his sword to woo;
One short night and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman, too."
Этот ропот и насмешки
Слышит грозный атаман,
И могучею рукою
Обнял персиянки стан.
Etot ropot i nasmeshki
Slyshit groznyi ataman,
I mogucheju rukoju
Obnjal persijanki stan.
Stenka Razin hears the murmur
Of his discontented band
And his lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.
Брови черные сошлися,
Надвигается гроза.
Буйной кровью налилися
Атамановы глаза.
Brovi chornye soshlisya,
Nadvigaetsya groza.
Buynoy krov'yu nalilisya
Atamanovy glaza.
His dark brows are drawn together
As the waves of anger rise;
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing jet black eyes.
"Ничего не пожалею,
Буйну голову отдам!" —
Раздаётся голос властный
По окрестным берегам.
"Nichevo ne pozhaleyu,
Bujnu golovu otdam!" —
Razdayotsya golos vlastnyi
Po okrestnym beregam.
"I will give you all you ask for
Head and heart and life and hand."
And his voice rolls out like thunder
Out across the distant land.
"Волга, Волга, мать родная,
Волга, русская река,
Не видала ты подарка
От донского казака!
"Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Volga, russkaya reka,
Ne vidala ty podarka
Ot donskovo kazaka!
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Wide and deep beneath the sun,
You have never seen such a present
From the Cossacks of the Don.
Чтобы не было раздора
Между вольными людьми,
Волга, Волга, мать родная,
На, красавицу возьми!"
Shtoby ne bylo razdora
Mezhdu vol'nymi ljud'mi,
Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaja,
Na, krasavitsu voz'mi!"
So that peace may reign forever
In this band so free and brave
Volga, Volga, Mother Volga
Make this lovely girl a grave.
Мощным взмахом поднимает
Он красавицу княжну
И за борт ее бросает
В набежавшую волну.

Moshchnym vzmakhom podnimaet
On krasavitsu knyazhnu
I za bort eyo brosaet
V nabezhavshuyu volnu.
Now, with one swift mighty motion
He has raised his bride on high
And has cast her where the waters
Of the Volga roll and sigh.
"Что ж вы, братцы, приуныли?
Эй, ты, Филька, черт, пляши!
Грянем песню удалую
На помин ее души!.."
"Shto zh vy, bratsy, priunyli?
Ej, ty, Fil'ka, chert, pljashi!
Grjanem pesnyu udaluyu
Na pomin ee dushi!.."
"Dance, you fools, and let's be merry
What is this that's in your eyes?
Let us thunder out a chantey
To the place where beauty lies."
Из-за острова на стрежень,
На простор речной волны,
Выплывают расписные
Острогрудые челны.

Iz-za ostrova na strezhen',
Na prostor rechnoy volny,
Vyplyvajut raspisnye
Ostrogrudiye chelny.
From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free
Proudly sailed the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

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