Yermak in Siberia 1580


From Yermak's Campaign in Siberia 

A selection of documents translated from the Russian by Tatiana Minorsky and David Wileman

Hakluyt Society, London, 1974


In the 1580 A Volga Cossack Ataman and his otherwise troublesome associates were invited by the Stroganov family to explore and conquer eastward.  The Stroganovs had a lock on the Siberia trade concession and ran a Hudson Bay Company-like operation with Salt and Fur as mainstays, and a dozen other interests such as Iron mining as well.

5000 or so took the offer, apparently in exchange for some supplies and the prospect of plunder; apparently only 1600 stayed with the force as far as Siberia proper. There followed a few years of the usual bloodbaths in fights with Tatars and native finns and samoyeds and votyaks,  and eventually Yermak penetrated several hundred miles to the heart of Tatar lands and captured the city of Siber.  Although his force was eventually defeated and Yermak was himself drowned wearing the mail shirt gifted to him by the Tsar, the Western part of this conquest stuck, and in the following century Muscovy was to claim, with the Cossacks again on point, all this land which remains today part of the Russian federation.  

Vasily Surikov. The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak.

A contemporary chronicle was made, but the original was lost in the 17th C.  Also, a Stroganov version of the story was prepared in the 17th C.  Between 1696 and 1700, the Remezov chronicle was prepared, fully illustrated, which was laid out like a modern panel comics strip.

These were made by a man who had traveled and worked extensively in Siberia, prepared maps and ethnographic studies, reported on resources, etc. He worked with Cossacks and Tatars regularly, probably daily. He knew the artifacts and people first hand from 1650s-1690s (but not 1580s, of course, but he would have known about antique stuff from that time).  It it not known if he, his sons, or someone else did the drawings, but they were probably under his close direction.

So, these may represent what people and things looked like in the 1600s, which some select details from an earlier time.  Notice that in the first panel, the young Yermak is shown firing what appears to be a doglock or flintlock pistol.  These would have been available in Muscovy in the mid 1600s, but not in the 1570s.  However, it does represent what happened a lot in 1580- 130 illustrated pages of gory slaughter , and in the end, the light of God ("Since ancient times Siberia was darkened by idolatry but today the Siberian land and country... have become filled with the holy glory of divine manifestations...".)

Below, a small sampling...

Yermak Training.jpg (1325991 bytes) Yermak learning his trade as a youth..

Whack.jpg (1358634 bytes) Because Yermak and the cossacks are committing piracy on the Caspian and highway robbery everywhere else, Tsar Ivan sends a punitive expedition. What to do with those pesky cossacks?


Mayham.jpg (1202442 bytes) Send them to Siberia!

Still 5000 strong, on the 9th of May they head up the Tobol river but the going is slow and they get lost, and have to fight the natives all the way. They start and continue the practice of stealing all the food and reindeer from any native group they encounter.

Sleighs.jpg (901265 bytes)...the chyusovaya ... and... the voguls who travel by reindeer....

tatarfight.jpg (1092297 bytes) Cossack and Tatar camps.  Down to 1600 cossacks. On the first day of August they took Tyumen, and great stores and riches, and stayed the winter there.

Bang.jpg (820020 bytes) On Tobol river, Berezoviw Yar, yet another great battle.  "The infidels were like sheep rushing out of their folds but with God's help and the manifestations of heavenly hosts they too were defeated"

NoFur.jpg (664341 bytes) Natives paying tribute.  March 5 1582, .".. 50 men to all the Nazym districts and bring them to the true faith, and to collect a poll-tax.  On reaching the first district he attacked and captured the stronghold, and hanged many of the best stalwarts by one leg and shot them.  And he gathered tribute by his sword which he laid bloody on a table with orders to give a loyal oath of allegiance to the lord tsar to serve him and to pay tribute every year without fail. And they took fro, then to Sibir the tribute and provision of corn and fish which they sent to the city.  All the natives were seized with terror, and awed by the threat, not only dared not lift a hand but even to utter a word ...."