Streltsi

17 March 2006
Dear George:

Thank you for taking me to one of the most interesting periods of Russian history.

I think it is not very correct to call the streltsi a "militia". The words "strelets" was in the Russian language even before appearance of these regiments, and it described the archer. However, since the 16th century, this word became the name of a new army unit, formed by Tsar Ivan First, emphasizing that the soldiers were equipped with a firearm - the musket. These soldiers were also armed with a shamshir-like sabre (?klitch’) and with a pole weapon ("berdysh"). These army regiments were not a militia since they were on a full-time duty. The first formed in 1550 unit consisted of about 3 thousand men. By the end of the 16th century there were about 20-25 thousand of them, and around 55 thousand by the end of the 17th century (half of them were the streltsi of the Moscow regiment). The streltsi constituted the very first "regular army" in Russia - they were spending all their life in service, and some of them were of a few generations of streltsi. The streltsi was both infantry and horse-mounted. I believe they were the first army troops in Russia having uniforms which are well depicted in the contemporary (upper) drawing.

In fact, the Belibin (lower) drawing is taken from the 17th century gravure printing on an unknown artist.

The streltsi were well paid and taken care by the state. We read in one of the documents that "polkovnik" (colonel) was receiving up to 200 roubles per year, and "polupolkovnik" was getting 100, and "sotnik" (major or captain?) 80 roubles per year. The strelets with no rank was getting about 10-15 roubles per year. That was during the time of the Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, when the money did have some value :). In addition to that, the streltsi were getting from the state their uniform, weapons, medical service, some food, etc. - all for free. In other words, their social security was so high that it could have made most of the modern-days Americans jealous! :)

The streltsi were an elite of Russian army - until the reforms of Prince Golitsyn, who took away most of their salary and benefits, giving them in exchange the land and the right to work on this land, basically converting them into simple peasants.

Since streltsi were always fully supported by the state and were an elite of Russian army, they didn't want any of these new things that Peter the Great was so good at introducing into the Russian traditional life style. That is why they supported the conservative wing of the government and of the ruling family. The result is known. In 1698 they were brutally destroyed, executed, and wiped off the surface of the planet.

Best regards,
Mike T.

 
Editors Notes:
  • Also see berdische.
  • Click on any picture for a larger view.

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