Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don Cossacks II

kindjal, 2 inch-wide blade, 24 inches long
As a child among cossacks reaches the age of three, they are put on a horse and trained to ride it. Children as young as five are able to ride easily for five to ten miles a day, and it is on their sixth birthday that they are given their first weapons.  This weapon, the kindjal dagger, is an elaborate, beautiful weapon that is cherished by cossacks until surrendered upon death, or given to another young child.
shashka hilt with tassel

shashka, absent tassel
Children are trained with the weapon and with horses until they reach maturity, by which time they are trained to use the shashka - a very sharp, single-edged, single-handed and guardless sword - that is, possessing no cross-guard.  The pommel, as well, is minimal, though a tassel is added to aid the grip. The point of the shashka was curved and not expressly pointed.  While the weapon would undergo transformation in the centuries to come (the gods have foreseen it), the shashka used by the Don Cossacks would be only slightly curved and a mere 30 inches in length. This would make the 'short scimitar' highly effective from horseback; the weapon was worn 'on the wrong side,' blade up, so that as it was pulled it did not require a sweeping motion to the right of the mount.

The minimal grip of the weapons allows considerable manipulation of the weapon with both hands.  Sword art is a skill gained by cossacks from a very early age.

As well, having been raised upon horses all their lives, many of age cossack warriors are able to ride while standing on the back of a horse, and even shoot from that position.

In their raids, cossacks are nearly always outnumbered considerably by their enemies, particularly in their late summer raids.  Attacks against armed groups were carefully staged ambushes at river fords, against foraging parties and the like.  Cossack tactics are punitive, vindictive and selfish.  They freely burn, raze, murder and pillage, rarely take prisoners and aim to destroy property rather than seizing it.

One great strength is in their considerable mobility of attack, as every cossack is able to ride brilliantly.  More important, however, is that cossack raiding parties tend to be less interested in common peasants.  Their tactic is to demand enough food to enable them to travel lightly to another village upon their route, while viciously destroying small villages that fail to offer food.  When finding an estate, however, they will steal the gold and light valuables, burn everything, then return home by the same route.  As such, they will share some of their bounty with villages that willingly supplied them.

This has encouraged many poor villages to happily give the cossacks food, expecting an eventual return for their loss - they may even greet the arrival of a band of cossacks with good cheer.  It does not mean that a grateful village may go unscathed, as cossacks are known to kill perceived enemies or callously seize members of the village, raping them before murdering them.  There is little the villagers can do in such cases.

The support of villages, however, allows the cossacks to raid very deeply into the surrounding lands, as they receive aid from Russian, Polish or Safavid peasants.  In battle, because they travel very light, they are able to surprise, strike effectively for two or three rounds, then break free.  Choosing their ground, they can drop down into a gulley or into a break of trees, disappearing and rapidly outdistancing their opponents.

1 comment:

Arduin said...

History is so kickass.

That is all.