Ermak Timofeevich (1532-1585) – the famous Cossack ataman. This is one of the historical heroes of Russia, considered the conqueror of Siberia. Today the memory of Ermak lives not only in historical literature, but also in the numerous names of cities, villages, streets and squares.

That’s just the activities of this character has unfolded so long ago that since then it has acquired many myths and legends. The rumor about Ermak’s exploits passed from generation to generation, gathering new details.


Ermak conquered Siberia.

History says that in the autumn of 1582 a detachment of Cossacks under the command of Yermak went on a campaign against the Siberian Khanate. The way went through the Ural mountains. On November 5, the army of Khan Kuchum was defeated, several times exceeding the number of Cossacks. Ermak entered the capital of the Khanate, Kashlik (Isker). This place was located 17 kilometers from modern Tobolsk. And then the Cossacks surrounded the tribes of the surrounding tribes on behalf of their king. In the summer of next year, an embassy was sent to Moscow, who reported to Ivan the Terrible that his people, led by the ataman Yermak Timofeev, had taken the Siberian kingdom and “many foreigners were brought under tsarist rule.” But in fact, calling the march of 1582-1585 the conquest of Siberia is impossible. The Cossacks could not get past the Irtysh, and the whole military campaign in general remained after all Kuchum. And in the summer of 1585 the Khan’s soldiers killed Ermak at night, returning with his detachment from another sortie to the enemy’s borders. After that the Cossacks were left less than a hundred. They decided that in Siberia they could no longer restrain themselves and went back, beyond the Urals. And Kuchum returned to himself and his capital, and previously lost land. Nevertheless, his power was already undermined. Moscow began to send troops to Siberia, which gradually crushed the Khanate. Already half a century after the death of Yermak, the pioneer Ivan Moskvitin saw the waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Ermak was a noble natives of the Nogai horde.

It turns out that the story of Ermak, the conqueror of Siberia, was popular not only in Russia. In the Turkic legends, the ataman came from the Nogai horde and even had a certain status, though not as high as that of the prince. But a love affair with the princess infuriated her brother. Then Ermak had to flee and leave for the Volga region. There he became a Cossack. Relatively recently, in 1996, in the journal Science and Religion, a fantastic version appeared that Ermak was actually called Er-Mar Temujin. And he was, like the Siberian Khan Kuchum, a descendant of Genghis Khan. And in Siberia, Ermak went to conquer the throne laid to him by birth’s right. But this version does not confirm any source. In the domestic chronicles nothing is said about the eastern origin of Ermak. But several places of his probable birth are indicated. Some legends say that the ataman was born on the banks of the river Chusovaya, on others – he was a pomor.

Ermak is the real name of the ataman.

It is not known exactly the birthplace of Ermak, so his real name remains a mystery. It can be a colloquial version of the Russian Ermalaya. The historian Gilyarovsky called him Ermil Timofeevich. There is a version that the name was derived from Herman or Eremey. In one chronicle the Christian name of the ataman is indicated as Vasily, and Ermak is considered a nickname. Irkutsk historian Sutormin believes that the ataman was called Vasily Timofeevich Alenin. Perhaps, the nickname went from the Cossack word “armak”, which means a common cauldron. The surname of the ataman is also unknown. In those days it was generally not for many. And they called the ataman at that time or Ermak Timofeev, or Ermolai Timofeevich Tokmak. The version of the Turkic origin of the name is based on the word “Irmak”, meaning “rapidly breaking key”, or Tatar “Irmak” (chop, dissect).

Ermak went with his detachment to conquer Siberia for the tsar.

In one historical song, the Cossacks even directly declare that they want to conquer the kingdom of Siberia for the “white king”. In fact, everything was far from obvious.The decision to act on behalf of the tsar was made after the first successes of the Cossacks at their general meeting. We can assume that initially the army was hired by the Ural salt producers Stroganov, who wanted to strike back khan Kuchum. It hurt painfully he ravaged his raids on the Russian lands. Tsar Ivan the Terrible himself was initially even against such initiative in matters of foreign policy. His deputy Vasily Pelepelitsyn, who sat in Cherdyn, the main fortress of the Perm region, even wrote a denunciation on the Stroganovs. Industrialists did not help defending the fortress from Siberians, but they sent the expedition far beyond the Urals. And the complaint turned out to be effective. In November 1582, the tsar ordered Stroganov to return Ermak to his comrades from the campaign, threatening his disgrace. True, when the letter was only written, the Cossacks were already in the conquered capital of the Khanate.

Ermak was a robber of the Persian embassy, ​​and for the Urals he fled because of fear of execution.

Folklore often empowers characters with idealized traits. So Ermak seems like a kind of noble robber, an analogue of Robin Hood. The Sovereign forgives his former sins for courage and service to the Motherland. In the annals there is a story about how Ermak and his comrades robbed Persian ambassadors who sailed across the Volga. Their Cossacks were mistaken for merchants. But after the captivity, the error became clear. The ambassadors were released, but the tsar ordered the capture and execution of the criminals. Then Ermak and his retinue decided to go to Siberia. In this story, no nobility of the Cossacks is visible. And the big question is whether he was at all? Such a scandalous incident did occur, but it happened already the next year after the death of the ataman. And his associates, Nikita Pan, Savva Boldyr and Ivan Koltso, a year before the campaign began, were marked by an attack on the embassy of the Nogai Horde. At that time, Russia was waging a military campaign in the west and the conflict in the east was not needed. Ivan the Terrible could well order to seize and punish the unreasonable Cossacks who, by their actions, undermined the country’s foreign policy. So they could enjoy the long journey.

The military cunning of Yermak helped the tsar to take Kazan in 1552.

And again the myth originates in historical songs. Ermak asks the tsar to give him the opportunity to take Kazan, promising to do it in three hours. But these later narrators attributed to Ivan the Terrible’s famous victory ataman Ermak. It was said that he advised the tsar to make a dig under the fortifications of the enemy and blow up the walls. And Ermak himself and his friends entered the city in the guise of mercenaries. In Kazan, the Cossacks captured guns and opened the gates to the Russian army. The legend sounds beautiful, but not a single written source mentions Ermak as a participant in that campaign. And its decisive contribution is not worth talking about.

Ermak sent five thousand people to his campaign against the Siberian Khanate.

This figure appeared, thanks to the Tobolsk historian Semyon Remezov, who lived in the XVII-XVIII centuries and tried to make a chronicle for his “History of the Siberian”. However, the data were obtained from local legends, which are not always reliable. The Cossacks themselves in Moscow reported to the tsar that there were 540 people in the detachment. It was this figure that got into the report in the Posolsky order. In Stroganov’s archives there was a mention of the reinforcement of the detachment of Ermak by another three hundred people. But in this there are doubts. The historian Skrynnikov, who studies the period of Moscow Rus, believes that the salt producers desperately lacked the strength to fight the raids. Hardly could they send more than fifty people with the Cossacks. It is this figure that appears in this specialist.

Ermak brought Christianity to Siberia.

This myth is stated in the Synodic Ermakov Cossacks. This text from the XVII century in the church remembered the Siberian pioneers. It was mentioned that the ataman and his comrades decided to take part in a difficult and dangerous campaign, wishing, among other things, to convert local pagans and Muslims to the Orthodox faith. And their wicked and wicked temples Cossacks wanted to destroy.The synodic was compiled in 1621-1622 by the first archbishop of Tobolsk, Cyprian. Then the city was an important outpost of Russia in Siberia. And it was important for the priests to present the Cossacks as martyrs for their faith. So the church in the region received additional authority. In fact, the Cossacks were interested in the subordination of the Siberians to the Russian Tsar. They were not interested in questions of faith and did not promote it. Even when the Cossacks took an oath of loyalty from the new tributaries, they demanded that they kiss not the cross, but the sword, as required by their own customs. And Ermak himself did not shy away from pagan rituals. In the Kungur chronicle it is indicated that the ataman applied for predictions to a Siberian shaman.

Yermak had his own double.

In the summer of 1581 the Russian army attacked the Polish city of Mogilev. The commandant in his memoirs of those events mentioned and ataman Ermak Timofeevich. But since in some chronicles the beginning of the campaign dates back to September 7090 from the creation of the world (1581 according to the modern calendar), some historians stated that there were two historical persons with the same name and patronymic. After all, Ermak could not find himself simultaneously in two places. However, the already mentioned historian Ruslan Skrynnikov proved that the march to Siberia began still a year later, in 1582. This means that the ataman could well wait for a truce with Lithuania, and from the west to go to the Urals in search of new opportunities to enrich themselves.


Ermak fought with the help of supernatural power.

In the Urals, there are tales that speak of several demon-shishigas serving Ermak. And the ataman exhibited demons where he did not have enough troops. True, in the legends the ataman is called a useful magician, since he used his power over the evil spirit for good needs. But it is in folk folklore that the military mastery of generals is explained not by talents, but by magic. It seemed incredible to people that it was possible to defeat the enemy’s superior forces. So there were stories about the features that helped Ermak. But his contemporary, ataman Michael Cherkashin, said that he was conspired from bullets and he was able to speak cannons. But this did not save the brave from the death in the defense of Pskov.

For his exploits Ermak received from the king the title of Prince of Siberia.

This rumor first appeared in folk tales, from there it was removed in the annals of the 17th century, and then it appeared in modern encyclopedias. But in the archives of the Posolsky order there are no documents on this topic. And hardly Ivan the Terrible would give such a loud title to a simple ataman of free Cossacks, who went to Siberia, in addition, on his personal whim. And even more so, such an unreliable person deserved full power in the region.

The royal armor killed Ermak.

Armor appeared in the same legends. Allegedly, the king not only gave the ataman the title, but sent him another coat from his shoulder, and gold-trimmed mail. It is believed that these armor were on the ataman in his last battle. And when Ermak rushed to the Irtysh, trying to get to the boat, heavy armor dragged him to the bottom. But Skrynnikov studied the documents of the archives of the Posolsky order. The Tsar awarded the Cossacks in full accordance with the existing practice and in accordance with the rank. Ordinary warriors received money and cloth, and their ataman Ermak with commanders – gold coins. About some fur coats from the royal shoulder or precious armor is not known.

Ermak’s body was found by enemies.

It turned out to be miraculous. This myth came from the Remezov Chronicle. Legends say that the remains of Ermak were caught from the Irtysh by a Tatar fisherman. Soldiers of the Siberian Khan came to see the body of the famous ataman. They pierced the corpse of an arrow, and from there blood flowed from the living. The soldiers were surprised that the body of their enemy has not been decayed for several weeks. It turned out that it could also heal the wounds. Then the pagans began to worship Yermak as their deity and buried him with honors and sacrifices.In fact, this is another unconfirmed legend. What happened to Ermak’s body is still unknown, his grave has not been found.

Ermak served Stroganov.

Ivan the Terrible himself believed that the campaign of the Cossacks was the initiative of the industrialists, to whom Ermak also served. This legend was picked up several centuries later by the descendants of the Stroganovs, wishing to receive their portion of glory. However, it is worthwhile to understand that the industrialists knew very well who was opposing them. It is difficult to count on success, sending several hundred Cossacks against the troops in several thousand heads. This correlation of forces of success did not promise. Shortly before the campaign of Ermak, the Stroganovs’ estates were threatened by Tatars Tsarevich Alya. But the Cossacks managed to rebuff the enemy first at Chusovy towns, and then completely destroy the enemy from Sol Kama. Then Ermak began to think about going to Siberia. And when it became clear that Aley was tied up near Cherdyn, the capture of the defenseless Kashlyk seemed a promising event. But the help of the Stroganovs in the campaign was not decisive. And for some reason they did not give “their” Ermak a large number of people, limited to a few dozen. The conquest of Siberia was the continuation of the spontaneous movement of the development of new lands.

Ermak’s campaign became the first Russian military campaign in Siberia.

This patriotic myth shows that Ermak and his comrades fell into some unknown and wild country. In fact, he is far from being the first to enter Siberia from the west with his army. The first information about the raids of Russian militia dates back to 1384. Then Novgorod went to Pechora, and from there through the Urals to the Ob. But the information about that raid remained extremely fragmented. It is not known how many soldiers were in the detachment, who commanded them, and what goals were pursued. After the transition of Novgorod under the rule of the Moscow princes, new voivods became interested in the Urals and Siberia. If earlier Rus was interested in trade, now there are political motives. Moscow wanted to add new lands and force new citizens to pay tribute. So, in 1465 the voevoda Vasily Skryta visited Ugra, where he imposed a quitrent on the local population. And in 1472, the governor Fyodor Pestry as a result of a major campaign captured Perm. There appeared the city of Cherdyn – a Russian outpost in the local lands. In 1483 the princes Fyodor Kurbsky and Ivan Saltykov-Travkin defeated the army of the Pelym principality and marched up the Ob to the confluence with the Irtysh. From there the voevody came to the mouth of Tobol and returned home. And in 1499 the army of princes of Kurbsky and Ushaty from 4 thousand people passed through the Subpolar Urals up to the mouth of Sosva. Over 6.5 thousand versts were overcome, 40 townships, 58 local princes and bogatyrs were captured. And the inhabitants of these lands were forced to pay tribute. So the northern part of the Eastern Urals was conquered by the Russians even 80 years before Ermak.

Ermak subdued the Siberian Khanate of Russia.

Ermak simply could not subordinate the Khanate, since it had formally been a vassal of the Moscow Tsar since 1555. At one time, Khan Yediger requested assistance from Ivan the Terrible and promised to pay tribute. At that time Bukhara Khan Kuchum made a successful trip to the Irtysh, reaching almost the capital of the Siberian Khanate. The defeat forced Ediger to seek allies. This role was chosen by Ivan the Terrible, who shortly before conquered the mighty Kazan. Khan recognized himself as a vassal of Moscow, pledging to pay tribute in the form of three thousand sables every year. But it seemed to the tsar little. He arrested the ambassadors, and declared himself the master of the entire Siberian land. Boyarsky son Dmitry Nepeytsyn was appointed as the collector of tribute. And the tsar’s messenger even made his way to the capital of Iskar, trying to calculate the number of new subjects. However, local residents handed over not 3 thousand skins, and not 10 thousand, as the tsar wanted, but only 700. The khan himself swore allegiance to the tsar. Ivan the Terrible had no choice but to reduce the tribute. But he refused to provide military assistance to Yediger. Khan died in 1563 and all this time about the vassal nature of Siberia knew both in Central Asia and in Europe.After the death of Ediger, the legacy issue arose, and the new khan was the representative of influential Bukhara, Kuchum. As a result, the khanate did not refuse formally from the tribute to Moscow. The new ruler promised the Russian ambassador to collect a tribute, but it did not go beyond the words. Kuchum even began to send mocking letters to Moscow. And according to the political norms of that time, the Siberian Khanate should be recognized as the actual vassal of Bukhara. Attempts in the Stroganoff lands to place the troops resembled a police operation against the rebels. In such a situation, Ermak’s campaign was a pure initiative of the Cossacks themselves. To annex Siberia there was no need – the tsar and so considered her his. Cossacks obviously just wanted more to rob. And after capturing the capital by offering, they tried to appease the king and earn the remission of their sins. Today it seems a paradox that the ruler accepts a gift from his own vassals, and even awards robbers. But then it was considered normal.


The trek to the east of Ermak gave the start to the Russian resettlement.

This myth appeared in the domestic patriots. It was Ermak who gave a “wiggle” to the resettlement of Russians from the Middle Volga basin to the Urals and Siberia. That’s only resettlement it started about a hundred years before the campaign. At Ermak people simply fled from the king’s oprichniki to the outskirts of the country, including the East. There was no fundamental difference between the tsar’s oprichniks and Ermak. But the first plundered the provinces at the behest of the tsar, and the latter – on their own initiative. Both those, and those mercilessly exterminated the population, regardless of nationality.

Yermak’s campaign marked the beginning of the voluntary annexation of Siberia.

It is often said that Ermak’s campaign to Siberia was a continuation of the popular movement. The first settlers were free people, which affected the fate of the region. However, Ermak forced the subjugated peoples to pay tribute to the tsar. Many chronicles have survived to prove this. For example, in the Aremzam Volost, the Cossacks of the best hunters were hung upside down and shot. The rest were forced to swear on bloodied sabers. The evil fate awaited the capital of the Khanate. The scale of plundering Siberia is amazing. In 1595, 20 thousand martens, 40 thousand sables, 330 thousand squirrels were sent to Europe. The people of Siberia himself Ermak perceived as “filthy busurman”, which is required to deprive of wealth. Naturally, no one wanted to voluntarily part with the acquired property.

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