Yemelyan Pugachev

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Emelyan Pugachov

Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev (Template:Lang-ru), born in 1740 or 1742 and executed in 1775, was a pretender to the Russian throne who led a great Cossack insurrection during the reign of Catherine II. Alexander Pushkin wrote a remarkable history of the rebellion; and he recounted some of the events in his novel Captain's Daughter (1836).



Pugachev, the son of a small Don Cossack landowner, married a Cossack girl, Sofia Nedyuzheva, in 1758, and in the same year participated in Seven Years' War as part of the Cossack expedition to Prussia under the command of Count Zakhar Chernyshev. In the first Russo-Turkish War (17681774), Pugachev, now a Cossack khorunzhiy (corresponding to the regular army rank of podporuchik, or junior lieutenant), served under Count Peter Panin and participated in the siege of Bender (1770).

Invalided home, Pugachev led for the next few years a wandering life. More than once the authorities arrested and imprisoned him as a deserter. In 1773, after frequenting the monasteries of the Old Believers, who exercised considerable influence over him, he suddenly proclaimed himself tsar Peter III and organised the insurrection of the Yaik Cossacks which ignited the flames of a full blown insurrection in the lower Volga region.

Insurrection 1773–1774

The story of Pugachev's strong resemblance to the murdered tsar Peter III, whom his wife, the future empress Catherine II, had overthrown in 1762, comes from a later legend. Pugachev was a Don Cossack and deserter of Catherine's Imperial army. Pugachev told the story that he and his principal adherents had escaped from the clutches of Catherine, and had now resolved to redress the grievances of the people, give absolute liberty to the Cossacks, and put Catherine herself away in a monastery.

Under the guise of Peter III, Pugachev built up his own bureaucracy and army which copied that of Catherine's. Some of his top commanders took on the pseudonyms of dukes and courtiers. Zarubin Chika, Pugachev's top commander, for example, took the guise of Zakhar Chernytsev. The army Pugachev established, at lest at the very top levels of command, also mimicked that of Catherene's. The organisational structure Pugachev set up for his top command was extraordinary, considering Pugachev defected as an ensign from Catherine's army. He built up his own War College and a fairly sophisticated intelligence network of messengers and spies. Even though Pugachev was illiterate, he recruited the help of local priests, Mullahs, and Starshins to write and disseminate his "royal decrees" or ukazy in Russian and Tatar dialects. These Ukazy were copied, sent to villages and read to the masses by the priests and Mullahs. In these documents, he begged the masses to serve him faithfully. He promised to grant to those who followed his service land, salt, grain, and lowered taxes, and threatened punishment and death to those who didn't. For example, an excerpt from an Ukaz written in late 1773:

"From me, such reward and investiture will be with money and bread comensation and with promotions: and you, as well as your next of kin will have a place in my government and will be designated to serve a glorious duty on my behalf. If there are those who forget their obligations to their natural ruler Peter III, and dare not carry out the command that my devoted troops are to receive weapons in their hands, then they will see for themselves my righteous anger, and will then be punished harshly." (Pugachevshchina vol. 1 document 7 author's translation from the Russian).

From the very beginning of the insurgency, Pugachev's generals carried out mass recruitment campaigns in Tatar and Bashkir settlements, with the instructions of recruiting one member from every or every other household and as many weapons as they could secure. He recruited not only cossacks, but Russian peasants and factory workers, Tatars, Bashkirs, Chuvash. Pugachev’s primary target for his campaign were not the people themselves, but their leaders. He recruited priests and Mullahs to disseminate his decrees and read them to the masses as a way of lending them credence.

Priests in particular were instrumental figures in carrying out Pugachev’s propoganda campaigns. Pugachev was known to stage “heroic welcomes” whenever he entered a Russian village, in which he would be greeted by the masses as their sovereign. A few days before his arrival to a given city or village, messengers would be sent out to inform the priests and deacons in that town of his impending arrival. These messengers would request that the priests bring out Salt and Water and ring the church bells to signify his coming. The priests would also be instructed to read Pugachev’s manefestos during mass and sing prayers to health of the Great Emperor Peter III. Most priests, although not all complied with Pugachev’s requests. One secret report of Catherine’s War College, for example, tells of one such priest, Zubarev, who recruited for Pugachev in Church under such orders. “[Zubarev], believing in the slander-ridden decree of the villanous-imposter, brough by the villianous Ataman Loshkarev, He read it publicly before the people in church. And when that ataman brought his band, consisting of 100 men, to their Baikalov village, then that Zubarev met them with a cross an with icons and chanted prayers in the Church; and then at the time of service, as well as after, evoked the name of the Emperor Peter III for suffrage.” (Pugachevshchina Vol. 2, Document 86. Author's translation)

With his army and the coordination of his generals, Pugachev was able to overtake much of the region stretching between the Volga River and the Urals. Pugachev's greatest victory of the insurgency was the Taking of Kazan.

The popular interpretation of the insurgency was that Pugachev's men followed him out of the desire to free themselves from the oppression of Catherine's reign of law. However, there are documents from Pugachev's war college and eye witness accounts that contradict this theory. While there were many who believed Pugachev to be Peter III and that he would emancipate them from Catherine's harsh sould taxes and policies of serfdom, there were many groups, particularly of Bashkir and Tatar ethnicity, whose loyalties were not so clean cut. In January of 1774, for example, Bashkir and Tatar generals led an attack on the City of Kungur. Pugachev's troops suffered from a lack of food and gun powder. Many fighters deserted including one general who left the battle and took his entire unit with him. One general wrote in a report to his superior, V. I. Tornova, "For the sake of your eminence, we humbly request that our Naigabitskiaia Fortress is returned to us with or without a detachment, because there is not a single Tatar or Bashkir detachment, since they have all fled, and the starshins, who have dispersed to their homes, are presently departing for the Naigabanskaia fortress." (Dokumenty i Stavki E. I. Pugacheva, povstancheskikh vlastei i ucherezhdenii, 1773-1774. Moskva, Nauka, 1975. Document number 195. Author's translation)

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Pugachov Administering Justice to the Population.

The Russian government at first made light of the rising. At the beginning of October 1773 it simply regarded Pugachev as a nuisance, and offered a mere 500 roubles as a reward for the head of the troublesome Cossack. At the end of November it promised 28,000 roubles to whomsoever should bring him in, alive or dead. Even then, however, Catherine, in her correspondence with Voltaire, affected to treat l'affaire du Marquis de Pugachev as a mere joke, but by the beginning of 1774 the joke had developed into a very serious danger. Reports were being received, saying that all the forts on the Volga and Ural had now come into the hands of the rebels. The governor of Moscow reported great restlessness among the population of central Russia. The governor of Kazan, Fon Brandt, also reported massive amounts of unrest and insurrection amongst those in the outlying provinces. Pugachev's forces captured Kazan early on in the insurgency. Pugachev's troops, mostly Bashkir and Tatar regiments reduced most of its churches, monasteries, and factories to ashes, and all who refused to join Pugachev's army were either maimed or publicly executed.


General Peter Panin thereupon set out against the rebels with a large army, but difficulty of transport, lack of discipline, and the gross insubordination of his ill-paid soldiers paralysed all his efforts for months, while the innumerable and ubiquitous bands of Pugachev gained victories in nearly every engagement. Not until August 1774 did General Mikhelson inflict a crushing defeat upon the rebels near Tsaritsyn, when they lost ten thousand killed or taken prisoner. Panin's savage reprisals, after the capture of Penza, completed their discomfiture. On September 14, 1774 Pugachev's own Cossacks delivered him up when he attempted to flee to the Urals. Aleksandr Suvorov had him placed in a metal cage and sent to Moscow for a public execution, which took place on January 10 1775.


  • N. Dubrovin, Pugachiev and his Associates (Rus.; Petersburg, 1884)
  • Catherine II., Political Correspondence (Rus. Fr. Ger.; Petersburg, 1885, &c.)
  • S. I. Gnyedich, Emilian Pugachev (Rus.; Petersburg, 1902).
  • "Dokumenty stavki EI Pugacheva, povstancheskikh vlastei i uchrezhdenii, 1773-1774

gg." AN SSSR, In-t istorii SSSR, TSentr. gos. arkhiv drev. aktov (Rus. Moscow, 1975.)

  • Pugachevshchina. Moskva : Gosizdat, 1926-1931.

External links

fr:Iemelian Pougatchev fi:Jemeljan Pugatšov zh:叶米里扬·普加乔夫


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