COSSACKS, tribes who inhabit the south ern and eastern part of Russia, paying no taxes, but performing instead the duty of soldiers. Nearly all of them belong to the Graeco-Roman Church, to which they are strongly attached, and to the observances of which they are par ticularly attentive. They must be divided into two principal classes, both on account of their descent and their present condition — the Cos sacks of Little Russia and those of the Don. Both classes, and especially those of the Don, have collateral branches, distributed as Cossacks of the Azov, of the Danube, of the Black Sea, of the Caucasus, of the Ural, of Orenberg, of Siberia, of the Chinese frontiers and of As trakhan. Writers are not agreed as to the origin of this people and of their name, but they are believed to be of mixed Caucasian and Tartar race. In personal appearance the Cossacks bear a close resemblance to the Russians, but are of a more slender make, and have features which are decidedly more handsome and expressive. Gen erally speaking, they are better educated than their Russian fellow subjects.
Originally their government formed a kind of democracy, at the head of which was a chief or hetman of their own choice; while under him was a long series of officers, with jurisdic tions of greater or less extent, partly civil and partly military, all so arranged as to be able on any emergency to furnish the largest military array on the shortest notice. The democratic part of the constitution has gradually disap peared under Russian domination. The title of chief hetman is now vested in the heir apparent to the throne, and all the subordinate hetmans and other officers are appointed by the Crown. Care, however, has been taken not to interfere with any arrangements which foster the military spirit of the Cossacks. Each Cos sack is liable to military service from the age of 18 to 50 and Is obliged to furnish his own horse. They furnish the empire with one of the most valuable elements in its national army, forming a first-class irregular cavalry and rendering ex cellent service as scouts and skirmishers. In 1570 they built their principal astanitza" and rendezvous, called Tcherkask, on the Don, not far above its mouth. As it was rendered un healthful by the overflowing of the island on which it stood, New Tcherkask was founded in 1895 some miles from the old city to which nearly all the inhabitants removed. This forms
the capital of the country of the Don Cossacks, which constitutes a government of Russia, and has an area of 63,532 square miles and a population estimated in 1912 at 3,591,000, 98 per cent of whom are Cossacks. It has a mili tary organization of its own.
Service begins at the age of 18 and lasts 17 years. All Cossacks able to serve belong, with out age limit, to the reserve forces of the Defense?' Their war strength is said to be about 5000 officers and 175,000 men, with more than 170,000 horses, and a reserve force of over 300,000 officers and men in case of emergency. About 88 per cent are Chris tians out of the whole population living on land assigned to the Cossacks. The non-Christian element is principally composed of Mohamme dans. The Cossack lands cover an area of about 229,000 square miles. Their principal industry is agriculture and the breeding of horses and cattle. They are also greatly inter ested in the fisheries of the Don, Ural and Cas pian, the vine-culture of the Caucasians and the bee-keeping of various districts.
The Don Cossacks have a regular history from 1554. In 1792 the Cossacks of the Cuban or Black Sea (Chernomorski) were formed; and other Cossack lines were subsequently es tablished on the lower Volga, on the Terke, on the Ural River, in western Siberia, in the Transvaikal territory, in the government of Irkutsk, on the Amur, etc. The present military organization dates from Peter the Great; and their adoption of a thoroughly settled life, with its modern characteristics, is largely due to the government of that monarch and of Catherine II assisted by the ordinances of Nicholas I in 1835, of Alexander II in 1875 and of Alexan der III.
The name Cossacks (Kazaku) is a name signifying the original character of these people, who were "freebooters" according to the Turk ish idea. The name Kazak was given by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII, Porphyro gentius, to the Circassians and is still in use (for the same people) among the Georgians. Consult Khoroschin and Von Stein's 'Die Russ ischen Kosakenheere' (in Petermann's (Mittel lungen>) ; Gogol's (Tarns Bulba' ; and Byron's 'Mazeppa> (1820).