What Was Pugachev's Rebellion?

Pugachev's Rebellion was a Cossack revolt against central state authority and serfdom that began in 1773 against Catherine II the Great of Russia. Don Emelian Ivanovich Pugachev, already a fugitive, was the leader of the rebellion.

The rebellion began among the Ural Cossacks who were resisting pressure from state expansion. After a suppressed Cossack mutiny in 1772, Pugachev became leader of a larger revolt that involved oppressed serfs and lower-class peasants. By 1773, his forces exceeded 2,000 rebels in arms.

Pugachev gained support for the rebellion by claiming to be the deposed Tsar Peter III and questioning Catherine’s validity to the throne of Russia. The rebels captured cities and towns, and they conquered vast amounts of territory before Catherine responded in force with the Russian army. The army squashed the rebellion and captured Pugachev. Catherine had him executed in January 1775, effectively ending Pugachev’s Rebellion.

Although Pugachev’s Rebellion was not successful, it did bring about reforms of Tsarist rule. Catherine granted the Russian nobility more control over their lands and serfs, and she assured them certain privileges in Russian society. The purpose of Catherine’s reforms was to give her nobles the responsibility of maintaining relations with the lower classes. However, in reality, the reforms allowed Catherine to ignore the condition of the serfs, who fell further down Russia’s social ladder.