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Halamus Publishing - Archived Articles - # 8, November, 2002



The Articles from the Monthly Newsletters

Written by

M. Lesley Halamek

November, 2002:–

SONG:"Stenka Razin" – Traditional, Russia

Q: Who was Stenka Razin?

Q: What is a Don Cossack?

Q: Why did he drown his beloved new bride by throwing her into the Volga River?

Q: Where is the Volga River? Where is the Don?

A: : Stepan Timofeyevich Razin came from a well-to-do Don Cossack family, and became an ataman (tribal chieftain) though his actual origins are unknown. It is known that he went on a diplomatic mission in 1661 from the Don Cossacks to the Talmuck Tatars, and later in the year, on a thousand mile pilgrimage to the Solovetsky monastery on the White Sea "for the benefit of his soul", and then disappeared.

Six years later, he reappeared as the leader of a robber community based at Panshinskoe, among the marshes between the rivers Tishina and Ilovlya (a tributary of the Don).

From this base, he extorted (illegal) tolls from all shipping on the Volga. His first major 'feat' was to destroy the "great water caravan":– the Treasury barges and the barges belonging to the Patriarch of Moscow (the Rusian Orthodox Church's papal equivalent) and the wealthy Moscow merchants.

His band of Cossacks roamed the countryside, pillaging villages and robbing wealthy travelers. With his fleet of well-built, ornate boats, he sailed the rivers as a pirate. Through 1667 to 1669 Stepan (Stenka) Razin raided and pillaged through the Lower Volga and across the Caspian Sea.

On his return to the Don in 1670, he rebelled against the authority of the Tsar. His band of 7000 landless Cossacks captured Tsaritsyn (Volgograd), Astrakhan (the semi-Asiatic kingdom in the Volga delta), Saratov (upstream on the Volga), and Samara (about halfway between Saratov and Kazan).

After he began proclaiming freedom from officials and landlords, he was joined by thousands of runaway serfs (from Russia), peasants, and non-Russian native tribesmen from the middle and lower Volga region, and his band grew to 20,000, but it had become disorganized and undisciplined.

On one of Stenka Razin's bolder raiding expeditions, he captured a beautiful Persian Princess, fell in love with her, married her out of hand, and celebrated the wedding on board his own boat, the flagship of his fleet. Dissention followed. His crew muttered among themselves. They were jealous, because he had a woman and they didn't. It was a Cossack tradition to share all things equally (e.g. food, shelter, adventure, plunder, etc.).

The pirate was drunk. He was angry at his (drunken) comrades' taunts that his mind was no longer centered on pillage and plunder, and perhaps in his drunken state, he felt that his bride was better dead than shared between his men. Whatever thought (or lack of it) caused his action he picked up his bride and "sacrificed" her to the River Volga.

That was the beginning of the end for Stenka Razin. He was defeated by government troops at Simbirsk (Ulyanovsk), on the Volga between Samara and Kazan, and the rebellion was suppressed.

Stenka Razin fled to the Don, where the land-owning Cossacks, hearing that the Patriarch of Moscow had anathematized him, refused him shelter. In 1671, he was captured at Kagalnik, his last remaining stronghold, taken to Moscow, and publicly executed.

References: (Site no longer exists).

Map   shows Don Cossack territory, and Russian expansion, 1533 to 1914.

Map also shows the Don and Volga rivers, and some of the towns associated with the history of Stenka Razin.

(from: Rand McNally ATLAS OF WORLD HISTORY, 1965)

The green area (between the yellow and pink areas) includes the territory
of the Don Cossacks.

The River VOLGA runs into the Caspian Sea near Astrakhan.

The River Don runs into the Sea of Azov, to the North of the Black Sea.

The River Ilovlya (not shown) is a tributary of the Don, and flows from south of Saratov to join the Don at the first bend north-west from Tsaritsyn, now Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. (Grad = town).

Just north of Tsaritsyn, the Don and the Volga are fairly close together, in fact, a 60 mile long canal now joins the two rivers south of Volgograd.

The yellow area on the map depicts Russia in 1533. The green area shows land Russia "acquired" up to 1598, and includes the territory of the Don Cossacks.


Name given to a group of people (in former USSR) chiefly of Russian and Ukranian stocks, who lived principally on the Steppes that begin north of the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains and extend eastward to the Altai Mountains in Siberia. Those inhabiting the regions of the Don and Kuban rivers are known respectively as the Don and Kuban Cossacks.


Some historians trace the origin of the Cossacks to serfs who fled from the principality of Moscow in the 14th and 15th centuries and established wheat- growing and stock-raising communities in the valleys of the Dnepr, Don, and Ural rivers and in Siberia (e.g. Lake Baikal).

The individual Cossack communities, like other Russian peasant communes of the time, owned land in common. The Cossack communities were governed by village assemblies, presided over by elected village elders called atamans or hetmans. The chief ataman or hetman of a region enjoyed great prestige and exercised the authority of a military chieftain in war and of a civil administrator in peacetime.

From the 16th century, as the czars extended their realm, the Cossacks were subjected to the authority of the Russian government, which tried to incorporate them into the state on the same basis as the other inhabitants of the country.

Therefore, as subjects of the czar, all Cossack males 18 to 50 years of age became liable to military service. They were used most often as cavalrymen and became famous in the wars of the czars against the Tatars in the Crimea and the Caucasus. The Don Cossacks were the largest group and led colonizing expeditions to Siberia.

The Cossacks cherished their traditions of freedom, and conflicts with the czars occurred. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Cossacks, supported by peasants, engaged in two widespread revolts, in 1670-71 and in 1773-74, in the lower Volga valley. In later years, the czars of Russia utilized the Cossacks as border troops and as a special military and police force for the suppression of internal unrest..."

From Funk and Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, Volume 7 © MCMLXXI, etc.

For a playable recording of Stenka Razin, go to: and scroll down to "Stenka Razin"


or a Russian site, with the words in Cyrillic font:
(page no longer exists).

for a .wav download for Windows Media Player, or a zipped mp3 file.
(You may need to let the .wav file download, and then replay it).

There are a number of versions of the Stenka Razin melody, and it has been adapted to different words having no connection with Stenka Razin, e.g. 'Voleli se dvoje mladih' and 'The Carnival is Over', along with variations of these variations….Folk melodies are living melodies which are often adapted to suit different conditions. This is an intrinsic characteristic of a Folk melody.

Stenka Razin

D. N. Sadovnika

1. Iz-za ostrova na stryezhyen',
Na prostor ryechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye,
Ostrogrudyye chyelny.

2. Na pyeryednyem Styen'ka Razin,
Obnyavshis' sidit s knyazhnoy,
Svad'bu novuyu spravlyayet,
On vyesyolyy i khmyel'noy.

3. Pozadi ikh slyshyen ropot:
"Nas na babu promyenyal,
Nochku s nyeyu provozilsya,
Sam na utro baboy stal."

4. Etot ropot i nasmyeshki
Slyshit groznyy ataman,
I on moshchnoyu rukoyu
Obnyal pyersiyanki stan.

5. Brovi chyornyye soshlisya,
Nadvigayetsya groza,
Buynoy krov'yu nalilisya
Atamanovy glaza.

6. "Vsyo otdam, nye pozhalyeyu,
Buynu golovu otdam,"
Razdayetsya golos vlastnyy
Po okryestnym byeryegam.

7. A ona, potupya ochi,
Ni zhiva i ni myertva,
Molcha slushayet khmyel'nyye
Atamanovy slova:

8. "Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Volga, russkaya ryeka!
Nye vidala ty podarka
Ot donskogo kazaka!"

9. "I chtob nye bylo razdora
Myezhdu vol'nymi lyud'mi,
Volga, Volga, mat' rodnaya,
Na —– krasavitsu primi!"

10. Moshchnym vzmakhom podymayet
On krasavitsu-knyazhnu,
I za bort yeyo brosayet,
V nabyezhavshuyu volnu.

11. "Chto-zh vy, chyerti, priunyli?
Ey ty, Fil'ka, shut, plyashi!
Gryanyem, brattsy, udaluyu
Na pomin yeyo dushi!"

12. Iz-za ostrova na stryezhyen',
Na prostor ryechnoy volny,
Vyplyvayut raspisnyye
Styen'ki Razina chyelny.
Tr. Jacob Robbins, 1921

1. From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free,
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

2. On the first is Stenka Razin
With a princess at his side,
Drunken, holds a marriage revel
With his beautiful young bride.

3. But behind them rose a whisper,
"He has left his sword to woo;
One short night, and Stenka Razin
Has become a woman too!"

4. Stenka Razin hears the jeering
Of his discontented band,
And the lovely Persian princess
He has circled with his hand.

5. His black brows have come together
As the waves of anger rise,
And the blood comes rushing swiftly
To his piercing, jet-black eyes.

6. "I will give you all you ask for,
Life and heart, and head and hand,"
Echo rolls the pealing thunder
Of his voice across the land.

7. "Volga, Volga, mother Volga,
Deep and wide beneath the sun,
You have never seen a present
From the Cossack of the Don.

8. And that peace might rule as always
All my free-born men and brave,
Volga, Volga, mother Volga,
Volga, make this girl a grave."

9. With a sudden, mighty movement,
Razin lifts the beauty high,
And he casts her where the waters
Of the Volga move and sigh.

10. Now a silence like the grave sinks
To all those who stand to see,
And the battle-hardened Cossacks
Sink to weep on bended knee.

11. "Dance, you fool, and men, make merry!
What has got into your eyes?
Let us thunder out a chanty
Of a place where beauty lies."

12. From beyond the wooded island
To the river wide and free,
Proudly sail the arrow-breasted
Ships of Cossack yeomanry.

The tune for "Stenka Razin" appears on Page 24 of

"Folksongs for the Violin", Part 2 : The Violin in Major Keys

(A Graded Selection of Melodies for Beginners of All Ages).

Details on the MUSIC PAGE

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